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).

What is Faith? – Guy Richard – January “Tabletalk”

What is Faith? by Guy Richard | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-Jan-2015As we have noted here on Mondays this month, the January issue of Tabletalk carries the theme “The Good News.” That is, in a series of seven articles, it asks and answers the question, “What is the gospel?”

I read two more of these articles yesterday, the one linked above and quoted from below, as well as “What are Justification and Sanctification?” by Dr.Guy Waters. Both are profitable reads, although Richard’s article focuses more on the necessity of repentance than on the nature of saving faith, as you will see.

I leave you with this profitable quote from Richard’s article, encouraging you to follow the links so that you too may read them both in full.

One of the statements I have found myself repeating most frequently over the last fifteen years of ministry is J.I. Packer’s insightful comment that half-truths masquerading as whole truths are whole lies. Packer’s observation is a beautiful reminder that half-truths are just that: half-truths. When they are presented as though there is nothing more to say, the result is that the truth is compromised.

…My fear is that many of us in the church today may be dangerously close to violating this precept in our preaching of the gospel. There is no question that the call of the gospel is to believe in Jesus Christ, which is why our preaching must regularly call people to faith. But if our preaching stops there without ever calling people to repentance, it is dangerously close to presenting a half-truth as though it were the whole truth. Repentance and faith are inseparable. They are two sides of the same coin. Faith is the positive side of turning to Christ, and repentance is the negative side of turning away from sin. It is impossible to turn to Christ and to turn to sin, just as it is impossible to travel in two different directions at the same time. By definition, traveling east means not traveling west, and turning to Christ correspondingly means not turning to sin. Faith and repentance necessarily go together.

Grace Privileges Lead to Grace Duties – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonAs promised, we post this follow-up to our post last Sunday on the gracious privileges that belong to us as NT believers – privileges of God’s covenant of grace. Continuing to treat the warning passages in Hebrews, Sinclair Ferguson has this to say about the duties that are also ours as members of God’s covenant:

Faith and repentance are not static, the decision of a moment; they are the lifelong realities  of a new heart (8:10; 10:16). Yes, our faith and repentance have a starting point, but it is the beginning of a pilgrimage we share with the community of the new covenant. If we do not walk in faith and repentance, we may be among the visible people of Christ, but we are not a living part of them because we never mix the promise of God with faith (Heb.4:2).

So we already ‘have come to Mount Zion… the heavenly Jerusalem.’ But we have not yet finally entered it. We hear its worship; we experience its power; its light illumines our camping ground (Heb.6:4-5). The doors of the city are never shut (Rev.21:25), but we do not yet dwell inside the city gates. There is a river still to be crossed. God’s covenant faithfulness calls for faith that perseveres to the end.

When we have seen the privileges that are already ours, we have every reason to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and persevere in penitential faith until that which is now ours in part becomes ours in whole and forever.

Taken from In Christ Alone (Kindle ed.)

Our Privileges as NT Believers: Members of an Assembly, a Family, and a Kingdom!

In Christ Alone - SFergusonIn his book In Christ Alone and chapter 33, “Privileges Bring Responsibilities”, Sinclair B. Ferguson has some wonderful thoughts about both our privileges and our responsibilities as NT Christians based on the passage in Hebrews 12:18-29. This week I plan to share some of these thoughts with you, beginning with these which relate to our worship today.

What are our privileges? They are truly amazing. ‘For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest…. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering’ (Heb.12:18,22, ESV).

In the days of promises and shadows, believers came to an assembly convened at a mountain engulfed with a sense of awful judgment. By contrast, in the full blaze of light that has appeared in Christ, we have come to the abiding city of God, angels in festal gathering, the assembly of Christ, and the spirits of departed believers. Indeed, we have come to God Himself, not with Moses, but to Jesus. We have received the new covenant in His shed blood.

This is the assembly in which we gather for worship to hear the voice of Christ in His Word, to lift up our voices under His choral direction in praise, to share His trust in His Father, and to gather around Him as His brothers and sisters (cf. Heb.2:10-13). Consequently, this is also our family – composed of the redeemed from among all mankind and the elect among the angelic host. This is the kingdom in which our names are enrolled as citizens (12:23). It is a kingdom, unlike all the kingdoms and empires of this world, that cannot be shaken (12:27-28).

What riches are ours in these three dimensions of the life of grace! An assembly, a family, a kingdom! And they are already ours in Christ! Here and now our lives are punctuated by special visiting rights to heaven’s glory as we assemble with our fellow believers. We are brothers and sisters together – for Christ’s blood creates a deeper lineage than our genes. Thus, we have the full rights of family members and citizens in the city of God.

No wonder we should be grateful (12:28)!

Bible Reading Plans for 2015 – Ligonier Ministries Blog

Bible Reading Plans for 2015 by Nathan W. Bingham | Ligonier Ministries Blog.

2 Tim 3-16Many Christians like to begin the new year with a firm resolve to read the inscripturated Word of God all the way through in one year or at least with some daily consistency. To this end, many Bible reading plans have been devised.

Ligonier Ministries recently posted on their blog (Dec.26, 2014) an excellent list of such plans and resources. It would be worth your time to browse this list and pick a plan, whether for your personal devotions or family devotions.

Here’s Ligonier’s short description; visit the link above to find a plan that fits your purpose and needs.

Many Christians take the beginning of a new year to evaluate their Bible reading habits, and then change or begin a Bible reading plan.

For your convenience, we’ve compiled a list of Bible reading plans for you to choose from. Maybe in 2015 you will read more of the Bible each day. Perhaps you’ll slow down your reading and instead spend more time considering what you read. Whatever it is you’re looking for in a reading plan, you should find it below (then follows their list, which see above for the link):

I might also point you to the daily devotional feature on the PRC website, since this also includes at the bottom of each devotional a plan for reading through the Bible in a year.

Also, as an encouragement to spend time in God’s Word each day, I post this recent Grace Gems devotional adapted from a work by the Puritan Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) on the Scriptures as God’s love-letter to His people – a reminder of the value and blessing of the Bible:

The Scripture is God’s love-letter to men.

Here the lamb may wade–and here the elephant may swim!

The blessed Scriptures are of infinite worth and value!
Here you may find . . .
a remedy for every disease,
balm for every wound,
a plaster for every sore,
  milk for babes,
meat for strong men,
comfort for the afflicted,
support for the tempted,
solace for the distressed,
ease for the wearied,
a staff to support the feeble,
a sword to defend the weak.

The holy Scriptures are . . .
the map of God’s mercy–and man’s misery,
the touchstone of truth,
the shop of remedies against all maladies,
the hammer of vices,
the treasury of virtues,
the exposer of all sensual and worldly vanities,
the balance of equity,
the most perfect rule of all justice and honesty.

Ah, friends, no book befits your hands like the Bible!

The Bible is the best preacher.
This book, this preacher will preach to you . . .
in your shops,
in your chambers,
in your closets,
yes, in your own bosoms!
This book will preach to you at home and abroad;
it will preach to you in all companies; and it will
preach to you in all conditions.

By this book you shall be saved–or
by this book you shall be damned!
By this book you must live.
By this book you must die.
By this book you shall be judged in the great day!

Oh, therefore . . .
love this book above all other books,
prize this book above all other books,
read this book before all other books,
study this book more than all other books!
For he who reads much–and understands nothing,
is like him who hunts much–and catches nothing!

A Word Fitly Spoken: “Year” – Rev.W.Langerak

A popular rubric in the Reformed magazine the Standard Bearer is a word feature called “A Word Fitly Spoken”. The regular writer for this rubric is Rev.W. (Bill) Langerak, pastor of our SE PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.

For the Jan.1, 2015 issue of the “SB” he penned his latest word study, appropriately for the new year on the word “year.”

Since we missed a “word Wednesday” feature yesterday, we post this one today. May it serve to give us spiritual perspective and purpose for our lives in 2015.

year of our Lord

Year

Rev. Bill Langerak

The beginning and ending of each year is a rather momentous time for mankind. It is celebrated with festivities the world over. We consider the year a significant marker of time, and remember important events by the year in which they occur. The church also recognizes each new year’s connection to Christ by holding worship services, referring to it as ‘the year of our Lord,’ and assigning it a date ‘AD’ that denotes the years that have passed since Jesus’ first coming. Yet how often do we consider the biblical importance of this prominent, universal, and regular unit of time?

The significance of the year is derived from its origins. The year is not of human origins. Nor is it an arbitrary unit of time. And certainly is not determined, as is commonly supposed, by a random explosion resulting in some chance position and velocity of earth in relationship to the sun. Certainly the year is due to our relationship to the sun. Geographically it is the time the sun takes in its course through heaven to return to its original position, and astronomically, the time it takes earth to journey around the sun.

But the year has divine origins, and the precise unit of time it measures is deliberate. In His wisdom, the eternal I AM determined to have all of human history measured by the year. And so fundamental is it, God created special creatures assigned the task of maintaining each year of time. Not clocks or calendars, but stars. For in the beginning God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven …for seasons, for days, and for years” (Gen. 1:14).

The biblical significance of the year is that it represents the universal constancy and regularity of human life, both good and evil, and yet its dependence, finiteness and brevity in relationship to God. To everything in each year there is a season, and a time to every purpose; there is not only a time to be born but also a time to die (Eccl. 3:1-2). Although each year is new, yet it is of old time—essentially the same journey regularly we make around the sun, dependent upon Him for life until our years be ended (Eccl. 1:10). And this constant regularity is a gift of God that allows us rightly ‘to consider the days of old, the years of ancient times’ (Ps. 77:5).

Significantly, the Eternal One Himself records our history in years. Although this record includes many things, two are notable. First, the birth and death of His covenant people. Significant it is that after informing us that God created the year, the next reference in Scripture is to tell us Adam lived 130 years, begat Seth, lived 800 more years and died (Gen. 5:3). So also He records by year every birth and death of the covenant line before the flood, and every covenant patriarch up to Jacob (interestingly, the last is son Joseph, not Judah, from whom Christ comes). How different if God had simply begun His story as so many fairy tales with ‘once upon a time,’ or saying only Methuselah ‘lived a long time’ or forgetting when Abraham was born. God remembers we are dust, and our lives are precious in His sight (Ps. 103:14; 116:15).

A second striking feature is that God records the years His children suffer affliction. Over 16 times Scripture mentions the 40 years of wilderness wandering wherein God was grieved but still patiently cared for His people (Neh. 9:21). Repeatedly we are told of the 430 years of Israel’s bondage (Ex. 12:41), the years under foreign invaders (Acts 13:20), years of famine (Jam. 5:17) and years of captivity (Dan. 9:2).  Although we are told only the approximate age Jesus begins His ministry and length of it, God records in detail the years many suffered affliction before rescue by His grace—a widow of 84 years, a daughter dead at 12 years, a woman bleeding 12 years, a woman bent over 18 years, a man infirmed 38 years, and man lame in the temple over 40 years (Acts 4:22). He remembers our life is spent with grief and our years with sighing (Psa. 31:10).

And so in your own upcoming journey this year, consider the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2), who preached the acceptable year of our Lord (Luke 4:18). Contemplate how we spend our years as a tale that is told (Psa. 90:9). Remember that He also crowns the year with goodness (Ps. 65:11), and makes us glad in the years in which we have seen evil (Ps. 90:15).

Don’t forget in this brief year that God is the same and His years have no end (Ps. 102:17). And ‘be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years’ (2 Pet. 3:8).

The Prayers of J.Calvin – Jeremiah Lectures (6)

JCalvinPicContinuing our posts of the prayers of John Calvin following his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah, today we post a brief section from his fifth lecture and the prayer that concludes it. This covers Jeremiah 2:6-11.

The section from which I quote pertains especially to v.9 where the Lord says to His apostatizing people, “Wherefore I will yet plead (i.e., contend) with you, saith the LORD, and with your children’s children will I plead.” Here is one application Calvin makes to us:

Let us then learn from this passage, that whenever God reproves us, not only in words, but in reality, and reminds us of our sins, we do not so suffer for one fault as to be free for the future, but that until we from the heart repent, he ever sounds in our ears these words, ‘Still God will contend with you;’ and a real contention is meant; for Jeremiah speaks not of naked doctrine, but intimates that the Jews were to be led before God’s tribunal, because they ceased not to provoke his wrath….

And then this prayer ends this section:

Grant, Almighty God, that since thou hast made thyself known to us in so plain a manner, not only by thy law and prophets, but also by thine only-begotten Son, that the knowledge of thy truth ought to have already struck deep roots in us, — O grant, that we may continue firm and constant in thy holy vocation, and make continual progress in it, and ever hasten forward to the goal: and do thou so humble us under thy mighty hand, that we may know that we are paternally chastised by thee, and profit under thy discipline, until being at length purified from all our vices we shall come to enjoy that immortal life, which has been made known to us by Christ, when we shall be able fully to rejoice in thee. -Amen

The Prayers of J.Calvin – Jeremiah Lectures (5)

JCalvinPic1The next prayer of John Calvin that we post follows his fourth lecture on the prophecy of Jeremiah, covering chap.1:18-19 and chap.2:1-5. But before posting the prayer, once again we quote from a portion of his lecture. In connection with vss.1-2 of chap.2 of Jeremiah, Calvin has these wonderful things to say about the steadfastness of God’s covenant love for His wayward people:

Now this is a remarkable passage; for God shews that his covenant, though perfidiously violated by the Jews, was yet firm and immutable: for though not all who derive their descent according to the flesh from Abraham, are true and legitimate Israelites, yet God ever remains true, and his calling, as Paul says, is without repentance (Rom.x1. 29) We may therefore learn this from the Prophet’s words, – that God was not content with one Prophet, but continued his favour, inasmuch as he would not render void his covenant. The Jews indeed had impiously departed from the covenant, and a vast number had deservedly perished, having been wholly repudiated; yet God designed really to shew that his grace depends not on the inconstancy of men, as Paul says in another place, for it would then presently fail (Rom.iii. 4;) and that were all men false and perfidious, God would yet remain true and fixed in his purpose. This we learn from the Prophet’s words, when it is said, that God remembered the people on account of the kindness of their youth (71).

And then this beautiful prayer follows:

Grant, Almighty God, that as thou continuest at this day, both morning and evening, to invite us to thyself, and assiduously exhortest us to repent, and testifiest that thou art ready to be reconciled to us, provided we flee to thy mercy, – O grant, that we may not close our ears and reject this thy great kindness, but that remembering thy gratuitous election, the chief of all favours thou hast been pleased to shew us, we may strive so to devote ourselves to thee, that thy name may be glorified through our whole life: and should it be that we at any time turn aside from thee, may we quickly return to the right way, and become submissive to thy holy admonitions, that it may thus appear that we have been so chosen by thee and called as to desire to continue in the hope of that salvation, to which thou invitest us, and which is prepared for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. – Amen (76).

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