Book Alert! “Luther on the Christian Life” – C.Trueman

Luther on Chr Life -TruemanCrossway Publishers has just released its seventh volume in its “Theologians on the Christian Life” series (edited by Stephen Nichols and Justin Taylor), and this one focuses on the great Reformer Martin Luther’s view of the Christian life. The title of this book is Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom, and is penned by Carl R. Trueman, professor of church history at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia.

At the title link above you will find the best price (WTS – $11) and a video of Trueman explaining his purpose in writing this volume for the series.

I have ordered a copy for the library already (it’s in and processed!) and I requested a review copy from Crossway this week. Today I quote from Trueman’s instructive “Introduction”, which he sub-titles “What Has Geneva to Do with Wittenberg?” (slightly edited) Here he explains why Luther on the Christian life is important to the church, including those who are Reformed:

Given all the caveats necessary when the modern readers approaches Luther, what is unique about this man that makes him particularly useful as a dialgue partner on the Christian life? Obviously, as noted above, he defined many of the terms of Protestant debates about Christianity in general. Yet there is much more to him than this. As a theologian who was also a pastor, he was continually wrestling with how his theological insights connected to the lives and experiences of the people under his care. This gave much of his writing a distinctly pastoral dimension.

Further, he was (for a theologian) unusually forthcoming about his own life and experiences. There was a personal passion to Luther that finds no obvious counterpart in the writings of other significant Reformers. Calvin’s letters contain insights into his private life, but his lectures, commentaries, and treatises offer little or no light on the inner life of the man himself. John Owen outlived all eleven of his children, yet he never once mentioned the personal devastation that this must have brought to his world.

Luther was different: he lived his inner life as a public drama. Unlike many today on chat shows and Twitter and personal blogs, he did not do so in a way that boosted his own prestige; he did it with irony, humor, and occasional pathos. But he did it nonetheless, and this makes him a fascinating study in self-reflection on the Christian life (25-26).

Reading God’s Providence Backwards (2) – S.Ferguson

In the thirty-sixth chapter of his book In Christ Alone, Sinclair Ferguson has a wonderful piece on the providence of God (go here for the first post on this).

His starting point is his contact with an long-time Christian friend, for whom God’s providence had led in ways of affliction and pain after an auto accident, and Ferguson’s own struggle to understand God’s ways with this godly man who had had such an influence on him in his youth.

The Mystery of Providence (Puritan Paperbacks)

It is at this point that Ferguson introduces what he calls “Flavel’s Law”, named after the Puritan who wrote a significant book on the providence of God. He pulls a quote from Flavel that goes like this: “The providence of God is like Hebrew words – it can only be read backwards.”

I plan to pull a few quotations from this chapter so that we may all benefit from Ferguson’s thoughts on this “law” concerning God’s providence. I believe that Ferguson’s thoughts will resonate with all of us as believers.

Here is the next part of this chapter from which I quote:

One great reason for this principle [that is, that God’s providence is best read “backward”] is to teach us to ‘Trust in the LORD with all [our] heart, and lean not on [our] own understanding’ (Prov.3:5). So perverse are we that we would use our knowledge of God’s will to substitute for actual daily personal trust in the Lord Himself.

Flavel’s Law… has widespread relevance for Christian living, but is particularly important in four ways:

The Big Decisions

It is true of the big decisions of life. God does guide His people, leading them in the right paths (Ps.23:3). It is a great thing to come to a major decision with the assurance that it is His will. But we would be mistaken to imagine that we therefore know in detail the reasons behind His plan.

Many Christians have discovered that obedience to what they believed to be God’s will led to great personal difficulties. When this happens to us, it is only later that we discover God’s purpose in leading us to a new orientation or situation may have been very different from the extrapolation we made from the first points we saw on the divine graph of or lives.

The Tests

It is true of the tests of life. We struggle to endure them for what they are in themselves. Afterward, we are relieved to have them at our back.

But in fact, earlier testing is often designed to strengthen us for later trials. Only when we have been brought through the later ones do the earlier ones more fully ‘make sense.’

Ash Wednesday: Picking and Choosing our Piety – Reformation21

Ash Wednesday: Picking and Choosing our Piety – Reformation21.

Ash WednesdayToday is Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent on the church’s calendar – at least if you are Roman Catholic (preceded by “Fat Tuesday” and Mardi Gras, those paragons of piety!), Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican (especially later).

But of late it has also become fashionable for Protestant groups (“evangelicals”) and even Reformed folk to get excited about Lent and start practicing its customs, from fasting and fish-feasting to having ashes put on one’s forehead.

That’s why I appreciated Carl Trueman’s forthrightness in addressing this evangelical trendiness in this online article posted at Reformation21. He makes some excellent points about why Reformed Christians do not need Lent – with or without its ashes.

I give a few paragraphs here, encouraging you to read the full article at the “Ref21″ link above.

It’s that time of year again: the ancient tradition of Lent, kick-started by Ash Wednesday. It is also the time of year when us confessional types brace ourselves for the annual onslaught of a more recent tradition: that of evangelical pundits, with no affiliation to such branches of the church, writing articles extolling Lent’s virtues to their own eclectic constituency.

… The imposition of ashes is intended as a means of reminding us that we are dust and forms part of a liturgical moment when sins are ‘shriven’ or forgiven. In fact, a well-constructed worship service should do that anyway. Precisely the same thing can be conveyed by the reading of God’s Word, particularly the Law, followed by a corporate prayer of confession and then some words of gospel forgiveness drawn from an appropriate passage and read out loud to the congregation by the minister.

An appropriately rich Reformed sacramentalism also renders Ash Wednesday irrelevant. Infant baptism emphasizes better than anything else outside of the preached Word the priority of God’s grace and the helplessness of sinless humanity in the face of God. The Lord’s Supper, both in its symbolism (humble elements of bread and wine) and its meaning (the feeding on Christ by faith) indicates our continuing weakness, fragility and utter dependence upon Christ.

…Finally, it also puzzles me that time and energy is spent each year on extolling the virtues of Lent when comparatively little is spent on extolling the virtues of the Lord’s Day. Presbyterianism has its liturgical calendar, its way of marking time: Six days of earthly pursuits and one day of rest and gathered worship. Of course, that is rather boring. Boring, that is, unless you understand the rich theology which underlies the Lord’s Day and gathered worship, and realize that every week one meets together with fellow believers to taste a little bit of heaven on earth.

The Right Balance (in Work and Rest) – Scott Redd

The Right Balance by Scott Redd | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT - Feb 2015The third feature article on this month’s “TT” theme (“Labor and Rest: Finding the Right Balance”) is the one linked above.

Penned by Dr. Scott Redd, president and associate professor of OT at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., the article points us to the way to find the “right balance” in our labor and rest by helping us see the two extremes to be avoided – what he calls “work idolatry” (workaholism) and “rest idolatry” (sloth or laziness).

I found much profit in Redd’s thoughts and share a portion of them here. The quotation below is from the part of his article where he is describing the extreme of work idolatry, and showing us the importance of the rest God built into our lives by His own work and rest in the beginning.

The life that is marked by extended restlessness does not merely indicate a lack of wisdom; it indicates rebellion. We can see the weight of Sabbath-keeping in the way that humanity is called to care for the land throughout the Old Testament. In the Genesis account, God forms the man adam from the ground adamah (Gen. 2:7), closely connecting the two. He charges man to care for and rule over the ground, a charge that is often referred to as the “cultural mandate” (Gen. 1:28). Moses taught that such a charge over the land in Israel included the responsibility to set aside certain seasons of rest when the land ceased from the difficult work of producing food for God’s people (Lev. 25:1-7). Rest for the land was so significant that the failure of the Israelites in this regard is the trigger that Moses (Lev. 26:34) and the Chronicler (2 Chron. 36:20-21) give for the exile—the land had not been allowed its proper Sabbaths. Such passages should sober us since they indicate that a personal rejection of rest may result in a divine imposition of it.

We resist rest to our own detriment because it is through rest that we find rejuvenation and renewal for the work to come. More primarily, it is through rest that we acknowledge the Lord who calls us to this life of work and rest. Therefore, we ought to work and rest to His glory (1 Cor. 10:31).

The “Problem” of Unanswered Prayer (2) – H.Hanko

When-You-Pray -HHankoIn connection with our church’s (Faith PRC) Sunday night discussion groups, we have been considering some of the subjects covered in Prof. Herman Hanko’s book on prayer, When You Pray (for the previous posts on this book, visit the Sunday posts beginning in January of this year; look at the calendar on the upper right-hand side of the homepage and click on the Sunday dates).

As I pointed out last Sunday, in chapter 14 (“a problem connected with petitionary prayer”) Hanko treats something every believer has wrestled with – the problem of “unanswered” prayer, or perhaps better, “unfulfilled” prayer, since as Hanko points out, no prayer of the Christian is unanswered; God answers every single one.

Today I quote from the section where Hanko continues to give the“solution to the problem” of apparent unanswered prayer in the life of the Christian. May these thoughts also serve to provide us peace as well as direction as we pray.

…The solution lies in a close examination of Jesus’ words [His ‘seemingly unconditional promise to give us whatever we ask’, Matt.7:7-11]. These words will make clear to us that whatever we ask will be given us only when we ask according to God’s will or ask in Jesus’ name. This is important and a severely limiting qualification. The text makes clear that we will be given what is the will of God because it speaks of asking in Jesus’ name.

If we look at this qualification from the viewpoint of God himself, the meaning very obviously is that he will grant us only what he has willed to grant us. Never will he give anything contrary to his will. And he will grant us only that which Christ, who perfectly knows the will of God for us, asks the Father to give.

We may be thankful for this, for only what God has willed, and what Christ asks, will serve our salvation. Anything else would destroy forever the possibility of our being saved.

But if we look at this qualification from our viewpoint, the limiting factor means that we are to make our prayers with the humble petition that God’s will be done. We may ask whatever we desire from our Father, but we must always qualify our requests with the prayer ‘Thy will be done.’ This should not be a routine addition that we hope will, after all, be a magic formula to secure for us what we want, but it needs to be our humble confession that we want nothing else but God’s will.

When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are really praying for God’s will to be done. We ask in the full consciousness that all that the Father gives us comes only because of the meritorious work of our Savior. We deserve nothing, after all. …What have I deserved? What have I merited with God? Nothing, for all is forfeited by sin. What we do receive is given us according to the will of God through Jesus Christ.

Thus we pray, always in humble dependence upon the great wisdom of our God. The unconditional promises are made concerning true prayer; and true prayer is always made by one who lives in conscious dependence on God and prays in humble submission to his will (121-122).

Productivity and Our Sanctification – M.Perman

Whats Best Next -PermanFor this Saturday, the end of the work week, I want to post an excerpt from the new book I have started reading – Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan 2014).

As I stated in my first post on this new title, this is indeed a book on productivity in the Christian’s life; that is, about how to do our daily work in the most effective way for the glory of God. Which means only by His grace and in the power of the cross of Jesus Christ. That’s the connection Perman makes between our productivity as Christians and the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

And Perman is quick to point out that this is true for every believer, no matter what our station and calling in life is. The principles he sets forth are for the man in the office and on the construction site as well as for the busy wife and mother.

Here are a couple of points Perman also makes at the beginning of the book that reveal his “gospel-driven” perspective on productivity (which are under the heading, “Why we need to care – greatly – about personal productivity”):

3. A good productivity approach enables us to be more effective in doing good for others. As Christians, we are here to serve (Matt.20:25-28). When we are being productive, we are actually doing good works, which is part of the purpose for which God created us (Eph.2:10). A good approach to getting things done reduces the friction in doing good and also amplifies our ability to do good. The result is that we can be of more benefit to others with less snags, stress, and confusing systems.

…As Christian, we ought to care about this and be excited about this, for it is not only exciting in itself, but one of the chief ways God is glorified in our lives.

4. Knowing how to get things done is a component of our sanctification. Since productivity includes serving people and doing good works, it is actually a component of sanctification and Christian discipleship.

Growing in holiness doesn’t mean running to the hills to make your own clothes and grind your own wheat until Jesus comes, but living the everyday life that is right in front of you for the glory of God. And, interestingly, our everyday life is the arena of projects and tasks and goals and calendars and email and meetings and strategic planning and all of these very ‘practical things’ – that is, productivity. Since our everyday lives are the arena of our sanctification, knowing how to get things done thus puts us squarely in the realm of sanctification and discipleship. It is therefore a critical tool for living the life God calls us to in this current era (22-23).

“Know your Christian Duties and Fulfill Them” – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonThis post follows up on the previous quotation from Sinclair Ferguson’s edifying book In Christ Alonewhich I continue to work through, reading mainly on Sundays.

Tonight’s quotation is also taken from chapter 34, “Where God Looks First”, and here Ferguson shows that the Christian life of sanctification (holiness, personal consecration to God) is one of fulfilling our duties in obedience to God – glad, grateful grace-founded obedience.

Listen to what he has to say, and be encouraged as you start the new work-week tomorrow. May I say, especially you Christian wives and mothers (keep reading).

Second, the past masters of the Christian life stressed that it is not lived on the basis of our feelings but in fulfilling duties. Sanctification is not a mood condition, but the submission of our wills to the will of God.

In recent decades, evangelicalism has become so sensitive to the heresy of ‘Boy Scout Christianity’ (‘I promise to do my best, to do my duty…”) that it has truncated the Christian gospel to a half-Christ (Savior, but not Lord) and a half-salvation (blessings, but not duties). How foolish we have been, when so much of the New Testament catalogs the specific duties that arise out of our relationship to Jesus Christ and therefore are in fact among our blessings.

…Are we frightened that fulfilling our duties will overturn the grace of God? Look at the busy housewife whose entire life is governed by her multifaceted responsibilities. While her husband enters his own world (often exciting and challenging), she makes the lunches, drives the children to school, shops, cleans, washes, irons, mends, prepares the meals, cleans up, and gets the children to bed. Why? Duty. These are the duties of love, devotion, and commitment.

Love for God and duty are two parts of the same thing. How foolish we have been to separate them and to regard duty as a bad word. It nourishes Christlikeness (John 4:34). Therefore, know your Christian duties and fulfill them (Kindle ed.).

Preaching Without Fear or Favor – B.Gritters

SB - Jan15-2015As a good complement to today’s earlier post about the importance of preaching to ourselves, Prof.B.Gritters (PRC Seminary) writes about the importance of faithful ministers of the Word preaching “without fear or favor” (of man) in their congregations.

This is the title of his editorial in the latest issue (Jan.15, 2015) of The Standard Bearer, the Reformed semi-monthly magazine unofficially tied to the PRC. Prof.Gritters uses the Latin expression for his title: “Sine Timore Aut Favore (that is, “without fear or favor”): A Motto for Preachers.”

In this editorial he points out that it is not only true that the pulpit impacts the pew (“preaching changes lives”) but also that the pew can impact the pulpit – and not always for good. The temptation is great for the preacher to cater to the sinful weaknesses of his congregation – out of “fear or favor” of certain members, so that the pew silences the pulpit from addressing the very sins the members needs to repent of.

This is how he addresses this great danger at the end of the article:

The longer there is silence, or a muted sound, on a particular weakness in the congregation, the more difficult it will become ever to speak about it again. The easier it will be simply to abandon this particular aspect of the Christian faith or life.

All the parties involved must pull together to keep the church from this sad end. Ministers must be bold. Indeed wise, careful, and patient, but also bold. Let the fear and favor of God, not man, govern what and how he speaks. And the favor of God upon the congregation that is sanctified by bold preaching will be all the reward any faithful minister needs, even if he loses favor of some men.

Elders will help the ministers to be fearless. They can begin by praying for their ministers to be bold… and wise. To preach without fear or favor.

And we who sit in the pew will take heed to the words spoken, object to them if they are applications improperly made, and follow them if they are truth.

For more on this issue of the “SB”, visit this news item on the PRC website.

Carefulness in Prayer – H.Hanko

When-You-Pray -HHankoIn the chapter following that on prayer and chastisement in his book When You Pray (RFPA, 2006), Prof. (emeritus, PRC Seminary) Herman Hanko has a chapter on “Carefulness In Prayer”, where he gives instruction on yet another important aspect of our prayer life.

I quote today from the opening part of this chapter where Hanko is explaining why carefulness is important:

…Although we must always be careful in our prayers to pray according to the will of God, carefulness is especially necessary when the Lord chastises us. It is possible, when chastised, to be resentful and rebellious, unwilling to submit to God’s will, determined to escape his chastening hand in whatever way we are able. At least our first reaction to chastisement is almost always such rebellion. And it is a temptation against which we fight as long as God is not pleased to remove his chastening hand.

There are other reasons as well why we ought to be careful in our prayers. It is entirely possible that we ask the Lord for the wrong things. We may do this because we think that somehow God is making a mistake in his dealings with us. Or perhaps we are of the opinion that we ought to have something that he has not been pleased to give. And so we are insistent on our desires, and we clamor incessantly for what we want, much as a child continues to beg and cajole a reluctant parent for something he really ought not to have. We are even able to persuade ourselves, by some specious argumentation, that for God to give us what we seek from him would enable us to serve him better, to make great contributions to the cause of his kingdom, and to be more effective in the calling to witness to Christ in word and deed (93).

After showing the spiritual danger of praying for the satisfaction of such lusts from the biblical example of the Israelites in the wilderness (cf. Numbers 11 with Psalm 106:14-15), Hanko makes this application:

We have to be careful when we want something so very badly that we clamor almost without interruption for our desire to be satisfied. Be careful! It may very well be that God, in anger and disgust, finally says, ‘All right, I will give you what you want. But you will soon learn that what you want is not good for you and does harm to your spiritual life. What you want brings more troubles and sorrows than you can possibly imagine’ (94).

Good food for thought as often as we pray privately and publicly.

“Live well in secret” – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonI continue to share with you a few nuggets from Sinclair Ferguson’s edifying book In Christ Alone. 

This quotation is taken from chapter 34, “Where God Looks First”, where Ferguson is stresses the importance of our personal and private devotion to God.

These are thoughts that I need, and that I trust you need to keep in mind too.

First, they learned [our spiritual fathers of the past] that it is in secret, not in public, that what we really are as Christians becomes clear. It is not my visible service so much as my hidden life of devotion that is the index of my spirituality. That is not to despise my public life, but to anchor its reality to the ocean bed of personal fellowship with God. I may speak or pray with zeal and eloquence in public. I may appear to others to be master of myself when in company. But what happens when I close the door behind myself and only the Father sees me?

…How easily in our culture we are deceived into thinking that it is what is seen in public that really matters. How curious it would have seemed to the apostles that the services of worship in which we can so easily be visible spectators are so much better attended than our meetings for closed-eye prayer. Will the bubble of our visible success ever burst?

…Just as abuse of or inattention to the body reveals itself in older age, so does the abuse of the spirit. Inevitably it manifests itself in stunted, ill-disciplined, or twisted character. The Father has a way of rewarding us openly – one way or another (Matt.6:5-6). Therefore, live well in secret; be molded by Scripture; learn to pray; and control your thought life by God’s grace (Kindle version).

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