M. Luther: Bold Reformers Rest in the Sovereign God

Luther's95ThesesIt is easy to idealize men like Luther and set aside their sins and struggles. Luther was a sinner like anyone else and wrestled fervently with indwelling sin. He battled pride. He waged war with a temper that posed problems on the battlefield. He uttered words that were not befitting of a Christian man. Yet, this sinful man rested in the sovereignty of God.

It is no secret that Luther battled fear and anxiety, an ailment sometimes referred to as spiritual depression. Luther referred to these bouts of spiritual depression as anfechtungen. The German term is difficult to translate but has the connotation of being ‘under assault.’ The word is closely associated with ‘temptation’ or ‘despair.’ It has connotations with what is typically referred to as ‘the dark night of the soul.’

Then after describing Luther’s personal experiences with these soul struggles at Wittenberg, Worms (Diet), and the Wartburg (castle), Steele asks, “How did he [Luther] battle his fear, anxiety, and despondency? How did he face the dread of anfechtungen?” And he points out that Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” provides us to the answer: “Bold reformers rest in the sovereignty of God.” He quotes these lines:

For still our ancient foe
does seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

Which leads the author to say this by way of summary:

Martin Luther was a man who rested in the sovereignty of almighty God. This bold reformer not only taught about the sovereignty of God, he breathed it and lived it. Luther’s faith in God’s sovereign control over all things in clearly revealed in Wittenberg, Worms, the Wartburg Castle and beyond. May bold reformers in this generation draw strength and courage form the life and legacy of Luther, a man who rested in the sovereignty of God.

bold-reformer-steeleTaken from chapter 5, “Bold Reformers Rest in the Sovereignty of God” in Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther by David S. Steele (Kindle version).

The Calvinistic (Biblical) Way to View and Handle Afflictions – J. Calvin

…But the believer must in these same circumstances [of calamity and loss] consider the mercy and fatherly kindness of God. If the believer, then, should see his house made lonely by the loss of those nearest to him, even then he must not stop praising the Lord. Rather, he must turn himself to this thought: ‘The Lord’s grace continues to dwell in my home and will not leave it desolate.’ If the believer should see his crop consumed by drought, disease, or frost, or trampled down by hail and famine threaten him, even then he must not despair within his soul, nor should he become angry toward God. Rather, he must persist with confidence in this truth: ‘But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever.’ (Ps.79:13). God, then, will provide for us, however barren the land. If the believer should be afflicted by illness, he must not be so stung by the severity of his hardship that he erupts in impatience and demands from God an explanation. Rather, he must, considering the justice and gentleness of God’s discipline, recall himself to patience.

Indeed, the believer should accept whatever comes with a gentle and thankful heart, because he knows that it is ordained by the Lord. Moreover, he must not stubbornly resist the rule of God into whose power he has placed himself and all his affairs. So let the Christian make it his priority to drive from his breast that foolish and unfortunate comfort of pagans, who, in order to bolster their spirits against all adverse events, credit those events to fortune. They think it’s silly to be angry at fortune, since she is reckless, aimless, and blind – inflicting her wounds equally on the deserving and the undeserving. In contrast, the rule of godliness is to recognize that God’s hand is the sole judge and governor of every fortune, and because His hand is not recklessly driven to fury, it distributes to us both good and ill according to His orderly righteousness.

Little-book-christian-life-calvinTaken from the fresh translation and edition of John Calvin’s short work on the Christian life,  A Little Book on the Christian Life (Reformation Trust, 2017). This is taken from the end of chapter 2, “Self-Denial in the Christian Life”, pp.52-54.

God: The Winner of Souls – September 2017 “Tabletalk”

The September 2017 issue of Tabletalk has been out for over a week now and it is time to introduce its theme and contents. Editor Burk Parsons introduces this issue on “Soul Winning” with his editorial “Rescuing Souls from Death.”

The first featured article is Dr. David Strain’s “God: The Winner of Souls,” in which he emphasizes that fundamental to our reason and motive for evangelizing is the truth that God is the One who saves sinners by His sovereign grace in Jesus Christ.

Here are a couple of paragraphs that bring that home – one at the beginning of the article and the other at the end:

Though we may not realize it, behind and before our “lisping, stammering tongues” ever manage to proclaim the good news about Jesus, before we can muster the courage to speak a word for Him, God Himself has been in hot pursuit of sinners to save. Few truths offer more encouragement to us in our efforts to share the gospel than this: God is the great winner of souls.

…So here is the liberating truth: God is the true and great soul winner. The Father purposed to save sinners in love, and so He sent His Son for us. The Son of God has loved us and given Himself for us. The same Spirit who rested upon Christ now gives life to dead sinners, uniting us to Christ, and He empowers us in turn to bear witness for Christ. When we realize these great truths, when we see that God is the Evangelist, evangelism will cease to be a fearful work, pursued in an effort to curry divine favor. Instead, it will become a joyful expression of gratitude and an outpouring of holy zeal that others might know the salvation that has been lavished upon us by Almighty God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Read the full article at the link below. And, by the way, Ligonier has made a new special website for Tabletalk, with more content and featured articles available online. Check it out when you visit the link below.

Also, the daily devotions continue on the doctrines and practices restored to the church at the time of the great Reformation. This month they are on “The Reformation of Worship.” Want a sample of what they are like? Here’s part of the devotional for Sept.1:

Often when we think of the Protestant Reformation and what it accomplished, we focus on the doctrinal reforms related to such topics as divine grace, justification, and the authority of Scripture. This association of doctrinal reform with the Reformation is, of course, good and proper, for the Reformers were concerned to conform Christian doctrine to the teaching of God’s Word. However, the Reformers understood that there could be no true doctrinal reform without a corresponding reform of the church’s worship. In fact, in The Necessity of Reforming the Church, written to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, John Calvin listed the reform of Christian worship first in his explanation of why the Reformation was necessary. Our worship and our theology are inextricably linked.

Source: God: The Winner of Souls

Summer Creation Marvels

When we are daily surrounded by God’s creative and providential work in this season of summer, it is easy to overlook these miraculous marvels, large and small.

Gorgeous Hibiscus and Asian lilies at my parents’ flower garden.


Lilies amid other blossoms in my rock garden.

I have been taking pictures throughout the summer, here and there, and share a few of them with you tonight.


A trip to Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids after dinner out in June.


Storm clouds over the area this past Thursday.

New family of deer (fawns) at seminary.

Lying down in the shade this past week.


View of the one of the lakes at Millennium Park in Grand Rapids (another bike ride).


Catching a turtle with grandsons on the 4th of July (It was fish we were trying to catch!).

It was the last one my wife and I saw tonight by the Grand River that especially prompted me. Enjoy! Isaiah 40:31

Yes, a bald eagle was perched above the river at Grand Ravines Park (new Ottawa County park along the Grand River just north of where we live). Earlier in the week I rode my bike there and enjoyed this serene scene.

Published in: on August 5, 2017 at 9:15 PM  Comments (2)  

Regeneration: God’s Sovereign Act – D. Phillips

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsOne of the Kindle books I continue to make my way through is Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011). I had put it aside for a few months to read some other things, but returned to it yesterday to read a couple more chapters from Section 3 on God’s way of salvation.

Phillips has back-to-back chapters on justification and regeneration as the ways in which God deals with our sin problem – the guilt of it and the filth of it, respectively. Both are good chapters, laying out the Scripture’s teaching on these two aspects of God’s saving work.

Today I quote from the chapter on regeneration, what he calls the “second towering truth – born from above (“How God deals with our bad nature”). In that connection he proves the plain biblical teaching on God’s sovereignty in this work, in the face of what much of modern Evangelicalism teaches about the relation between regeneration and faith:

Though I realize this knocks heads with a lot of evangelicals’ notions (including the view I myself cherished for many years), I do now know any other honest way of handling John 1:12-13: ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.’ There we have the certain fact that all who are born again believe in Jesus Christ. But their new birth is expressly traced – not to anything they had inherited from their parents, nor to any exercise of their own will or any decision they made, but to the kingly grace and work of God.They believed savingly in Jesus because God had given them new birth before their embrace of Christ.

Later in this chapter, after pointing to other Scriptures that prove this proper relation, Phillips concludes with this:

So which the chicken, which the egg? [that is, which is first, faith or regeneration] Because I see all of Scripture (and these specific passages among others) giving God all the glory, and tracing regeneration to God’s action preceding our faith, it does not shock me to find that the Bible teaches that regeneration precedes and necessarily provokes saving faith.

To which we give our hearty “Amen”!

Tabletalk Past, Present, and Future

This month (May 2017) Tabletalk magazine celebrates its 40th anniversary with a special issue. With the theme “Why We Are Reformed,” the magazine highlights some of its history and some of the core doctrines of the Reformed faith it seeks to broadcast.

Featured articles are on God’s sovereignty (Derek Thomas), biblical authority (Stephen Nichols), justification by faith alone (Robert Godfrey), salvation by grace alone (Steven Lawson), God’s covenant people (Sinclair Ferguson), and a closing one on the courage to be Reformed (Burk Parsons).

In his editorial, Parson writes about the nature of the magazine as Reformed:

Tabletalk is Reformed, and we mean it. We are not ashamed of being distinctively Reformed in all that we do. We are Reformed because we believe that to be Reformed is to be biblical. To be Reformed is not only to stand firmly on the same doctrine as our Reformation forefathers, it is to stand firmly on the Word of God. To be Reformed is not only to believe that God is sovereign over salvation, but to believe that He is sovereign over everything. To be Reformed isn’t simply to accept the doctrines of grace, but to take great comfort in them, to teach them graciously, and to defend them courageously. To be Reformed is to believe that God has one glorious covenantal plan of redemption, and that He is carrying out that plan. To be Reformed is not to give mere lip service to the historic Reformed confessional standards, but to affirm them heartily and study them diligently. To be Reformed means not only that we are professing members of a local Reformed church but that we are regular, active worshipers and participants in the life, community, and mission of our local churches as we take the gospel to the ends of the earth. To be Reformed is not to be a complacent, smug, arrogant, or apathetic people, but to be a gracious, dependent, humble, prayerful, evangelistic, joyful, loving people who believe that God not only ordains the end of all things but that He ordains the means of all ends in us and through us by the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit for His glory alone.

In the final article of this issue various editors answer questions about the magazine. The opening one gives a bit of the history:

TT: How did Tabletalk begin? How has the magazine changed over the years?

TT: To answer that question, we have to go back to Martin Luther. Luther was a great teacher. He taught from the pulpit, in the classroom, and by writing books. But, like any good teacher, he taught in the ordinary moments of his life. He taught when fellowshipping with believers. These teachings, gathered by his students over a lifetime of ministry, became the first Table Talk. Table Talk was a book, a collection of sayings. These sayings came from conversations that were often had while talking over a table—that is, while sharing a meal with Martin Luther.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is also a great teacher. Every moment with him is an opportunity for learning. Casting a backward glance at Luther’s Table Talk, Dr. Sproul began Tabletalk in 1977, after the Ligonier Valley Study Center had been in existence for several years. It began as a newsletter with Dr. Sproul’s column, Right Now Counts Forever, and an assortment of other content. It was black and white, and it came in a large newsletter format. Then, in 1989, Tabletalk became a daily Bible study magazine and changed to a digest format. Now, forty years from its start, Tabletalk continues. Today, the magazine enjoys a circulation of more than one hundred thousand and a readership of more than 250,000 people, and it still serves as a tool for teaching the Bible to people around the world.

For more on this issue and its special articles, visit the link below or this one.

Source: Tabletalk Past, Present, and Future by The Editors of Tabletalk

World-Tilting Gospel: God’s Grand Salvation Plan Accomplished by Christ

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsThe truth of God’s saving plan and its culmination in Christ makes us world-tilters because we now know where our rescue comes from. What did mankind contribute to this operation? What was our part?

We contributed:

  • The traitor
  • The corrupt politicians
  • The religious hypocrites
  • The lynch mob
  • The soldiers
  • The whips
  • The thorns
  • The cross
  • The nails
    …and, most especially…
  • The sins under the burden of which Christ groaned, suffered, bled and died

So we know that the world is wrong in looking for deliverance within its own corrupt and deceitful heart. We know that the world is wrong in whistling past the graveyard, kidding itself that sin is not a big issue to God. The world is equally wrong to deny God, or to seek Him within or in nature.

We know that God is transcendent and holy. And we know that He has launched one and only one rescue operation. We know that the plan was laid in eternity. And we know that it was executed by the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that He accomplished what we could not.

But too much of the church is wrong, too. Those parts of the church that sideline Christ’s saving work, His Gospel, this age-spanning rescue plan of God, are terribly wrong. …Eager to be accepted by the world, they offer the world what the world wants on the world’s terms with just a light sprinkling of God-dust.

Given that Christ and His cross are central to God, they must be central to the church of God as well. Given that God pivots everything on the person and work of Christ, the church of Christ should do the same in its preaching, thinking, worship, and practice.

To put it bluntly: If we think we have something better to offer, then we think we know something God doesn’t know.

Taken from Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011), Chapter 6, “God’s Rescue Operation Executed” (Kindle version), which I read tonight. I simply had to share this end-of-chapter quote with you on this Sunday night.

Are we truly thankful for this world-tilting gospel of our sovereign God?! Let it be plain in all we say and do as those redeemed by the Lamb’s precious blood.

World-tilting Truth: God is Wise

If Creation is an act of unimaginable power, it is no less a work of immense wisdom. Every vast and staggeringly complex movement issues from His mind. He needs no manual, counsel, or outside authority.

…When you watch those marvelous nature specials [on TV or the Internet], you are beholding an exhibition of God’s wisdom. Though the narrator blathers on about ‘Mother Nature,’ you should know better. These are the works of God’s hands, and He made them all in wisdom (Ps.104:24).

….God has both an infinite array of facts at His command, and infinite wisdom concerning the meaning, significance, and weight of all those facts in every possible arrangement. He has that knowledge, because He created them and rules over them.

All of this is also a world-tilting truth. The current mind-set makes much of the supposed meaninglessness of ‘life, the universe, and all that.’ The common subtext of many media’s storylines is that life is meaningless in itself; that we must choose our meaning and define ourselves. But history itself has no aim, meaning, or purpose.

This truth [that God is wise and possesses perfect wisdom] demolishes that notion, insisting that we have neither the right nor ability to redefine the universe, since it is a created universe, and since every fact has a value assigned to it by the Creator. Including us. We have neither the right nor ability to assign meaning to the universe. Its Author is the one who assigns definition and meaning. At best, we discover and uncover that meaning.

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsTaken from Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011), Chapter 4 “The God Who Plans” (Kindle version).

In this chapter, Phillips is preparing the way to introduce God’s amazing salvation plan for lost sinners fallen in Adam (see my previous post on this book). He discusses three of God’s attributes – holiness, love, and wisdom – to explain how they come together in His sovereign purpose to save sinners – that’s chapter 5 – next time! The above quote is from the section where he treats the wisdom of God, especially as it relates to His work of creation.

 

New Review Books – Reformation Trust

A few weeks ago I received from Reformation Trust Publishing (a division of Ligonier Ministries) a couple of their new publications.

no-other-macarthur-2017One is None Other: Discovering the God of the Bible by John Macarthur (2017, 133pp.). The publisher gives this by way of summary:

The Bible’s teaching on God’s love, holiness, and sovereignty is often met with questions about human responsibility, suffering, and evil. If God is in control of everything, can we make free choices? If God is good and all-powerful, how can we account for natural disasters and moral atrocities? Answers to these questions are often filled with technical jargon and personal assumptions that don’t take into account the full scope of biblical truth.

In None Other: Discovering the God of the Bible, Dr. John MacArthur shows that the best way to discover the one true God is not through philosophical discourse but a careful study of Scripture—the primary place where God has chosen to reveal Himself.

These are the chapter titles:

  1. The God of the Bible is Gracious [strikingly about sovereign election!]
  2. The God of the Bible is Sovereign
  3. The God of the Bible is Good and Powerful
  4. The God of the Bible is Holy
  5. The God of the Bible is Loving
  6. The God of the Bible is a Saving God

In that first chapter Macarthur makes this statement, which sets the tone for all he says about God’s sovereign election of some sinners to salvation in Christ:

Frankly, the only reason to believe in election is because it is found explicitly in God’s Word. No man, and no committee of men, originated this doctrine. It’s like the doctrine of eternal punishment: it conflicts with all the natural inclinations and preferences of the carnal human mind. It’s repugnant to the sentiments of the unregenerate heart. And – like the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the miraculous birth of our Savior – the truth of election, because it has been revealed by God, must be embraced with simple, solemn, settled faith. If you have a Bible and you believe what it says, you have no choice (p.8).

time-for-confidence-nichols-2016The second new RTP title is A Time for Confidence: Trusting God in a Post-Christian Society, authored by Stephen J. Nichols (2016, 152pp.).

Concerning it the publisher gives this brief summary:

As members of a society that is quickly abandoning its Christian past, followers of Christ often feel disoriented or even frightened. When human leaders and political advocates fail us, doubts arise and the road to compromise beckons.

In this book, Dr. Stephen J. Nichols points to the almighty God as the source and ground of our confidence. Though the whole world may shake around us, His kingdom is unshakable. This is a time for confidence.

The chapter headings are as follows:

  1. A Time for Confidence
  2. Confidence in God
  3. Confidence in the Bible
  4. Confidence in Christ
  5. Confidence in the Gospel
  6. Confidence in Hope

In that first chapter, after describing the dark and dangerous time in which we are living – culturally and ecclesiastically, Nichols writes this:

We live in a momentous time. Through the technological advances of our age, information can be disseminated instantly. Change, even dramatic and substantive change, can occur rapidly. Consequently, the stakes are high. Change occurs rapidly, and it already has. There seems to be a seismic shift occurring. We easily think of the changes occurring now as indicating that far worse things are to come. Like tremors before an earthquake, we all simply assume the worse is yet to come.

We see the cultural shifts and capitulations and we instinctively know they only portend worse things yet. The world is coming to an end (again).

But this is not a time to cower, cave, or capitulate. It is a time for confidence, and our confidence must be in the right place. Or, better to say, our confidence must be in the right person. Our confidence must be in God. All else will disappoint” (pp.14-15).

If either of these books is of interest to you for reading and reviewing in the Standard Bearer, let me know. Both look to be good reads!

Presidential Inaugurations and the Bible

Today here in the United States our forty-fifth president, Mr. Donald Trump, is being inaugurated, along with his vice-president, Mike Pence.

As is the custom of those being inaugurated into office, these men will swear their oath of allegiance on the Bible, God’s Holy Word. Whether or not they profess to be Christian and take that vow seriously, those who take office stand before God and are responsible to honor and obey that Word on which their hands will rest. And God will judge them according to that oath and that Word.

CNS News reported yesterday on the special Bibles that Trump and Pence will use for their swearing-in ceremony:

Both President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence will swear their oaths of office Friday on historic Bibles used by former Republican Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) announced.

Trump will be sworn-in by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts using the same Bible that President Lincoln used during his swearing-in by Chief Justice Roger Taney on March 4, 1861.

In addition, Trump will also use another Bible that was given to him by his mother in 1955 when he graduated from Sunday Church Primary School at the First Presbyterian Church in New York.

…Pence will be sworn-in by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas – who will become the “first African-American in history to administer the oath of office to the Vice President or President of the United States” – using the Reagan Family Bible. He will be the first official since Reagan to do so.

The Reagan Family Bible is on permanent display behind bulletproof glass at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California. During Pence’s swearing-in, it will be “open to the same passage used during President Reagan’s two inaugurations,” according to the PIC.

[Reagan Family Bible. (Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute)]

That passage is from II Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

The Museum of the Bible posted a couple of videos recently on past presidents and the Bibles they used for their oath of office. Below is one of them.

As is our own duty before God and according to His Word, let us pray for our new president, vice-president, and their cabinet, as those entrusted with a sacred and solemn responsibility. And let us give them due honor and submission, as unto the Lord Who has set them in office for this time and for His purpose (Rom.13; 1 Tim. 2).

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