Pentecost Meditation – “The Spirit of Jesus”

holy-spirit-pentecost-1On this Pentecost Sunday we post another prayer/devotional from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by A.Bennett (Banner of Truth, 1975). This one is titled “The Spirit of Jesus”, and is a fitting prayer for us to make personally as we remember our Lord’s gift of the Holy Spirit to His church and people.

LORD JESUS CHRIST,

Fill me with thy Spirit
that I may be occupied with his presence.
I am blind — send him to make me see;
dark — let him say, ‘Let there be light’!
May he give me faith to behold
my name engraven in thy hand,
my soul and body redeemed by thy blood,
my sinfulness covered by the life of
pure obedience.
Replenish me by his revealing grace,
that I may realise my indissoluble union with thee;
that I may know thou hast espoused me
to thyself for ever,
in righteousness, love, mercy, faithfulness;
that I am one with thee,
as a branch with its stock, as a building
with its foundation.
May his comforts cheer me in my sorrows,
his strength sustain me in my trials,
his blessings revive me in my weariness,
his presence render me a fruitful tree of holiness,
his might establish me in peace and joy,
his incitements make me ceaseless in prayer,
his animation kindle in me undying devotion.
Send him as the searcher of my heart,
to show me more of my corruptions
and helplessness
that I may flee to thee,
cling to thee,
rest on thee,
as the beginning and end of my salvation.
May I never vex him by my indifference
and waywardness,
grieve him by my cold welcome,
resist him by my hard rebellion.

Answer my prayers, O Lord,
for thy great name’s sake.

Doctrine and the Necessity of Creeds – May “Tabletalk”

TT May 2015Yesterday before worship services I read two more articles in this month’s Tabletalk, which has the theme of “Doctrine for All of Life.”

The first is by Robert Rothwell, an associate editor of Tabletalk. His article is “Where Did I Go Wrong?”, and addresses the importance of Christians standing with the church of all ages when it comes to embracing sound doctrine.

This is how he opens his treatment of this subject:

It’s a thrilling episode—Martin Luther, standing before the Diet of Worms, the only faithful Christian in his day, proclaiming his God-given right to read the Bible however he saw fit: “Unless I am convinced by my self-determined understanding of Scripture, I will not recant. Here I stand, I can do no other.”

Obviously, I’ve embellished the account. No historically informed Protestant would say outright that Luther was the only faithful believer in His day. Neither would an informed Protestant confess that Luther’s protest came from his private reading of Scripture apart from the work of his theological forefathers and contemporaries.

Yet I fear that the way many people tell Luther’s story betrays an implicit belief that the German Reformer was a mad individualist for whom the supreme arbiter of truth was his own opinion and who sought to turn the church into a collection of like-minded individuals with no theological authority over its members. But while Luther’s work was driven in large measure by his quest for a personal assurance of salvation, he was not a radical individualist. Luther certainly didn’t endorse the belief that we should have “no creed but the Bible” or that the work of studying and formulating doctrine is left up to the individual.

And later he adds this:

God never meant for us to study doctrine as isolated individuals. The study and formulation of doctrine is first and foremost a communal doctrine. After all, the Lord revealed Himself to a corporate body. The Bible is not written just to me personally but to all the saints of God. Thus, God designed us to plumb the depths of His revelation together as individual congregations and larger church assemblies. There should be no such thing as autonomous doctrinal study, but we should examine doctrine in concert with our forebears and contemporaries. We should read their works, check our reading of Scripture against theirs, and doubt our conclusions if no one else has reached them. In this, the reformers are our model. Though they affirmed the Bible as the sole infallible source of doctrine, they understood the proper role of God’s corporate people in knowing His truth. They charged that the medieval church had abandoned the best of its earlier thinking, but did not say that we should cast off all who studied Scripture before us.

The second article I read is this one by Dr. David W. Hall, titled “Why Creeds and Confessions?” You would do well to read his contribution as well. Here are a few paragraphs to get you  started:

As Christians, we must embrace a mature biblical norm of confessing our faith. Let me offer briefly five reasons why a written confession is helpful:

First, written confessions represent maturity. A confessional communion is more than fly-by-night. It is relatively easy to produce a personal statement of faith or a position paper on a narrow subject. However, only those confessions that are tested by many generations endure. Just as yesterday’s pop music hardly inspires anymore, so a transient confession is slightly embarrassing. But classic creeds, produced by seasoned Christians, stand the test of time. a confession is a mature, proven set of beliefs. Wouldn’t you rather be guided by such a statement than by an ill-defined set of beliefs or an immature statement of faith?

Second, written confessions keep believers from having to reinvent the wheel. Creeds and confessions can put the student at the head of the class in a hurry. If one need not formulate every bit of doctrine himself, that is, if he is humble enough to listen quickly to other saints (James 1:19), he can spare himself considerable time and countless dead ends. He will avoid paths that are “useless to further reconnoiter,” as theologian Abraham Kuyper recognized.

How Do We Renew Our First Love and Drive Out Worldliness? – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonToday I read chapter 49 in Sinclair Ferguson’s collection of essays on the Christian life titled In Christ Alone. This forty-ninth chapter has the heading “Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection”, and in it Ferguson takes off from the famous but forgotten (probably by several generations now) sermon of Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.”

The question Ferguson faces and answers is the one I have placed in the heading to this post. Every Christian faces the reality in his life that he is not as inflamed by the gospel as he once was, resulting in a fresh wave of worldliness in one’s life. So how do we overcome this and renew our first love?

Ferguson’s counsel on this point is wise and simple. I pray that it also helps give you guidance in what is a frustrating reality in our lives as God’s children.

How can we recover the new affection for Christ and His kingdom that once so powerfully impacted our lifelong worldliness and caused us to crucify ‘the flesh with its passions and desires’ (Gal.5:24)?

What was it that created that first love? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin.

We are not naturally capable of loving God for Himself; indeed, we hate Him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much (Luke 7:47). We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God Himself (Rom.5:2, 2, 11). This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities – Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God – filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable, that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.

The way in which we maintain ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’ is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still ‘amaz- ing’ – when we return to Christ and the cross where God’s love for us was demonstrated to us (Rom.5:8) – does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.

Many of us share Cowper’s sad questions:

Where is the blessedness I knew,
when first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?

Let us remember the height from which we have fallen, repent, and return to those first things (Rev.2:5). Kindle ed.

Ascension Thoughts: Seeing Jesus Crowned – Rev.M.De Vries

The May 15, 2015 issue of the Standard Bearer is out, and the meditation this time focuses our attention on the glorification of Jesus Christ in His ascension to heaven and sitting at God’s right hand. Rev.Michael DeVries, pastor of Kalamazoo PRC, is the author of this instructive and comforting article.

To view more of the content of this latest issue of the “SB”, click on the image to the left. For information about subscribing to this solidly Reformed periodical published by the RFPA, visit the link above.

Here are a few of Rev.M. DeVries’ thoughts on the glory of our ascended Savior-King:

“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Hebrews 2:9

Like the multitudes of Jesus’ day many today want an earthly Jesus who will satisfy their carnal desires by creating an earthly kingdom of peace and prosperity. They minimize and ignore His ascension and its significance. But by grace we rejoice in the ascension and exaltation of Christ. We see how necessary it was for the salvation of the church. We understand that were Christ to have remained here on this earth, His coming in our flesh would contain no advantage for us at all.

But even more, by faith we see Jesus crowned with glory and honor at God’s right hand! No, we could not be there with the disciples to see this side of the ascension. But by faith we see Christ exalted on the glorious, heavenly side! We behold His coronation and see Him set at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, (Ephesians 1:20, 21). The very sight of Him in His glory ought to fill our hearts with joy and peace. And see Him we do according to this Word of God!

And then, after explaining the nature of this exaltation and its purpose in the plan of God for our salvation, Rev. DeVries closes a note of comfort:

What comfort the exaltation of Christ affords us! We may face the future with courage and confidence. With the natural eye what we see is frightening and discouraging. For as we note from the preceding verse, “But now we see not yet all things put under him.” We see man far, far lower than the angels, yea, in the depths of depravity. We see abounding iniquity and immorality. We see a generation of the ungodly having apparent control in this world, committing horrible atrocities. We see the faithful church hated and persecuted as never before. We see the powers of darkness increasing in their bold and wicked attempt to destroy the church of God. We see our place in this world becoming smaller and smaller.

…But let us not despair! For we see Jesus, crowned with glory and honor!

With the eye of faith we see Him in perfect control over all these enemies of the church. We see Him with the Book of the seven seals of God’s counsel. He faithfully and powerfully causes all things to come to pass which must shortly occur in order that He may return to glorify His Church. By faith we see that we are secure and that our salvation is absolutely sure. Seeing Jesus crowned with glory and honor means that the victory is already ours! We are now more than conquerors!

As long as we see Him there all is well. How blessed it is to look into heaven by faith and see Jesus there in His glory and honor, working all things for our good! Make no mistake, all things work together for good exactly because Christ was crowned with glory and honor for all those for whom He tasted death.

God Is His Own Answer – O.Strachan

TT May 2015This weekend’s Tabletalk devotional contained a fine little article by Dr. Owen Strachan dealing with the only answer that suffering people need. It is the answer of God Himself. You will understand what he means by that as you read on.

Scripture gives us a place to wrestle through the hard things of life. The psalmists in particular ask hard questions of their God (for example, Ps.22). But the Bible has a stronger answer than this. When biblical figures boggle at the realities of the human condition, God frequently directs His struggling people to one theological principle: His ‘Godness.’

We see this in Isaiah 40. The people of God feel abandoned. They do not have clean answers to their vexing queries. In response, the Lord offers point-by-point rebuttal. He leads His people to think afresh about Him [At this point, Strachan quotes Is.40:27-28].

…To a suffering people, Isaiah offers a simple but stunning prescription: God. The people need more of Him, and less of everything else.

…A skeptical age demands that heaven issue a press release when trials come: ‘Explain yourself, God!’ But the Lord does not immediately resolve every dilemma. Rather, He lifts our eyes to the hills. We contemplate His greatness. We consider the depth of love poured out in the death of Christ. We dry our eyes, and we remember afresh that our trials will soon fade, and we will live with this awesome God forever.

Which leads him to conclude with these words:

The human heart asks for precise accounting from God. His common reply is not a flashy sign but a reminder of His presence. In truth, it is not an explanation we need. It is the Godness of God. God, we could say, is His own answer (p.49).

These are good thoughts for us going to our Sunday worship.

Fighting Temptation (2) – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonThis is a follow up to the previous post, in which S.Ferguson concludes his look at temptation. I repeat here the context of his analysis.

In the forty-sixth chapter of his book In Christ Alone, Sinclair Ferguson treats the subject of temptation, plainly and powerfully, under the title “An Anatomy of Temptation.” The content speaks specifically to men (although women face the same evils and often in the same ways), as Ferguson deals with two parallel passages: David’s fall into sin recorded in 2 Sam.11:2ff. and the “anatomy of temptation” described in James 1:14-15.

I found his entire treatment soul-searching and faith-building, as he warns us about the power of sin within and without. Here is what he says about the fourth stage of temptation:

Stage 4:Temptation unresisted leads to death.

The death of David’s son illustrates the final fruit of sin. Its wages are death (Rom.6:23) – death as the destruction of blessing, death as separation from God, death as decay, loss, and darkness. If only David had asked, ‘Where will these desires lead me?’ But when our desires bring their objects near, vision is obscured. We forget Scripture’s sobering warnings that we reap what we sow, that the mind set on the flesh is death, that only those who put to death the misdeeds of the flesh can live (Gal.6:7-8; Rom.8:6,13).

Fourth Antidote: Always ask where an action will lead you, and what its final destination will be, before you become volitionally or affectionally drawn into it. Live always for the future, and in such a way that you will not be ashamed at Christ’s coming.

Yes, we fail [painfully true!]. But here is a word of encouragement from one who likewise failed: ‘Brothers… if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:10-11, NIV).

What things? [At this point Ferguson takes us back to vss.3-8 of 2 Peter 1, which we would do well to read and pray over.]

And he concludes:

Here is the apostolic medicine for sickly souls – prescribed by one who fell grievously ill but was raised up!

Praise be to the amazing mercy and grace of God! May we weigh these things well, fellow brothers in the Lord, and heed the only wisdom there is – Christ’s.

Fighting Temptation (1) – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonIn the forty-sixth chapter of his book In Christ Alone, Sinclair Ferguson treats the subject of temptation, plainly and powerfully, under the title “An Anatomy of Temptation.” The content speaks specifically to men (although women face the same evils and often in the same ways), as Ferguson deals with two parallel passages: David’s fall into sin recorded in 2 Sam.11:2ff. and the “anatomy of temptation” described in James 1:14-15.

I found his entire treatment soul-searching and faith-building, as he warns us about the power of sin within and without. Here is what he says about the third stage of temptation:

Stage 3: Temptation conquers when unguarded inclinations meet opportunity.

Sometimes when we have strong sinful desires we lack the external opportunity to satisfy them. At other times, opportunities arise when our desires have been diverted to other pursuits. But we would be naive to confuse these situations with an ability to resist temptation at its full height. Then we need to be able to wield the Spirit’s sword.

David’s escape route could not have been clearer. The directions were written on his palace walls: ‘You shall not covet… your neighbor’s wife'; ‘You shall not steal'; ‘You shall not commit adultery'; ‘You shall not bear false witness'; ‘You shall not murder’ (Ex.20:13-17). But if he saw them, he was blind to their importance. Bathsheba was so near that she obscured all heavenly wisdom from his vision.

Third antidote: When inclinations to sin encounter opportunities, remember and keep the commandments. ‘Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble’ (Ps.119:165). Kindle ed.

Published in: on May 12, 2015 at 10:32 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Peace of Mind in the Daily Grind – M.Perman

Whats Best Next -PermanAs I continue to make my way through Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014), I found chapter eight also to be edifying and encouraging. In this chapter Perman shows us how to be care (anxiety) free in the midst of life’s daily press of work, meetings, commitments, promises, etc. – all the while trying to remain as productive as we can (doing the best things in the best way, serving others and glorifying God – in case you forgot the “big picture”).

I like the title to this chapter: “Peace of Mind without Having Everything under Control.” And the dominant Scripture the author refers to in this section is Phil.4:6-7. Here’s a part of why this passage is good for us in striving to be productive and at-peace workers:

I find it helpful to keep an inventory of all my actions and projects. But I can’t always keep this up. What Paul teaches us here is that there is a way to have peace even when we can’t keep everything under control: coming to God in prayer with our anxieties.

This approach is not based on our own efforts. We let all our requests be made known to God in prayer, and then God gives us peace. We don’t have to keep a written inventory of our commitments, and we don’t even have to go through the process of negotiating the ones that are beyond us. We just lay them all out before God.

In other words, ongoing peace of mind comes through faith in Christ expressed in day-to-day life. This is the kind of peace that can endure even when everything is going haywire and we are simply unable to keep up with things. Why? Because it is not based on us. Just as we do good works from justification rather than for justification, we are also to do good works from peace rather than for peace.

With gospel-centered productivity, peace comes first, not second. The mistake we often make is to make peace of mind the result of things we do rather than the source. It is true that we can and should have a sense of satisfaction from our work, and  even from having our work defined. That’s part of how God made us.

…But as Christians, we are ultimately able to act from a sense of peace that comes independent of our ability to keep track of our work when circumstances (or energy levels) just make it impossible. And we are able to be more productive in this way because we are not tripped up by the anxiety of always having to get our system fully up to date through our own efforts (p.120).

The Prayers of J.Calvin (18)

JCalvinPic1On this Sunday night we continue our posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014 and now in 2015), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979). Tonight we post a brief section from his seventeenth lecture and the prayer that concludes it.

This lecture covers Jeremiah 4:23-30, which includes Calvin’s commentary on v.27, “For thus hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end.” Here is what he says on this passage:

I indeed allow that God’s threatenings cannot avail for our salvation, unless connected with the promise of pardon, so that being raised up by the hope of salvation we may flee to him: for as long as we deem God inexorable, we shun every access to him; and thus despair drives us into a rage like that of fiends. Hence it is that the reprobate rage so much against God, and make a great clamour: and they would willingly thrust him from his throne.

It is therefore necessary that a hope of salvation should be set before us, so that we may be touched with repentance: and as this promise is perpetual, whatever may happen, even if earth and heaven were mixed together, and ruin on every side were filling us with dread, we must still remember that there will be ever some remnant according to the passages we have referred to in the first and tenth chapters of Isaiah (pp.241-42).

And then follows this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that though we are torpid in our vices, we may yet be attentive to these examples of thy wrath, by which thou designest to warn us, so that we may learn by the misery of others to fear thee: and may we be also attentive to those threatenings, by which thou drawest us to thee, as thou failest to allure us by thy kindness: and may we, in the meantime, feel assured that thou wilt ever be propitious and merciful to all miserable sinners, who will from the heart seek thee and sincerely and unfeignedly repent; so that we may contend with our vices, and with real effort strive to deliver ourselves from those snares of Satan which he ever spreads for us, in order that we may more freely devote ourselves altogether to thee, and take such delight in thy righteousness, that our object and aim through the whole course of our life may be to please thee, and to render our services approved in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Amen (p.248).

Forgiveness and Life in the Church of Christ – H.Hoeksema

Our pastor will be preaching on the truth of the believer’s confession of the forgiveness of sins as found in the Apostles’ Creed (Art.10) and explained by the Heidelberg Catechism in Q&A 56. In his commentary on the HC, Herman Hoeksema has this to say about the connection between our confession of forgiveness and our confession of the holy catholic church, the communion of saints (Art.9 in the AC):

In the fellowship of the Church, and, therefore, in the communion of saints, the believer lays hold upon this blessing, and makes this confession. This is the connection between the article concerning the Church and that concerning the forgiveness of sins.

Outside of the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, there are no spiritual benefits, the forgiveness of sins cannot be appropriated. If, for some reason, the believer severs himself as far as his conscious life is concerned, from that communion, the first effect of this error is always that he lacks the joy of forgiveness. Perhaps, for a time, he lives in hatred over against some of the brethren; or he envinces an unforgiving spirit; or he seeks the friendship of the world; or he lives in whatever other sin may sever his fellowship with the saints, and disturb the exercise of the communion of saints: in that state of separation from the body of believers, he forfeits the forgiveness of sins (p.88).

And then, after demonstrating this from several passages of Scripture, Hoeksema explains this relation further at the end of this treatment:

Nor is it difficult to understand why this relation between our living in the communion of saints and in the joy of forgiveness exists, and is so inseparable that the one cannot be enjoyed without the other.

It is never in our own power to lay hold on the forgiveness of sins. That we are sorry for sin, repent, seek forgiveness, and obtain it, is the work of Christ Himself. By His Spirit and grace He works the true sorrow after God in our hearts. By that Spirit, He brings us to repentance, leads us to the cross, and assures us of redemption, even the forgiveness of sins in His blood. But that Spirit, on Whose constant indwelling and operation our appropriation of the forgiveness of sins continuously depends, is the Spirit of Christ, and, therefore, the Spirit of the body, that is, the Church. For there is one Lord, and one Spirit, and that one Spirit dwells in the one body. He does not dwell in you or in me, individually, apart from the body, but in the body as a whole, and, in the individual believers, only in fellowship with the body. Hence, outside of that body the Spirit does not operate to bestow the blessings of salvation upon men. If, therefore, through some sin, the believer separates himself from the body, and does not live in the communion of saints, he immediately forfeits the forgiveness of sins.

And as he loses the forgiveness of sins, he necessarily forfeits all the blessings and joy of salvation; for the remission of sins… is basic for all other benefits in Christ.

The article concerning the forgiveness of sins, therefore, occupies a most proper place in the Apostolicum.

By its very position, we are exhorted to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace! (pp.89-90).

Triple-Knowledge-HHoeksemaTaken from volume V, Abundant Mercy of Hoeksema’s The Triple Knowledge (Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1949) and now reprinted by the RFPA in the same ten volume format (2015).

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