The Elect Deceived? Yes! and How to Safeguard Against It – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonFortunately,’ we may say to ourselves, ‘the elect are in no danger. For Jesus’ words [Matt.24:24] imply that we are incapable of falling prey to Satanic deception.’ But to read the text in this way is to miss the point, for two reasons:

It fails to take account of the evidence of history. Christians have been, and are, capable of being deceived. Have none of the elect been deceived in recent years into supporting ‘ministries’ that have proved so tragically different in reality from what they professed to be? Sadly, we are more easily addicted to the spectacular (‘signs and wonders’) than to the substantial, to novelty (‘false prophets’) than to wholesome orthodoxy. If we think Christians cannot be deceived, the deception has already begun.

It misunderstands the nature of the impossibility. Jesus did not say the elect were incapable of being deceived. We are all only too capable of it. Nevertheless, we are given this assurance: God will protect and preserve His people. Like Simon Peter, they will be shielded by the prayers of Christ and the power of God (Luke 22:31-32). This is accomplished through the activity of faith (1 Peter 1:5).

And so Ferguson continues by showing us how to avoid such deception:

But how can we guard ourselves against spiritual deception?

By developing sensitivity, we become aware of Satan’s strategies in our lives (2 Cor.2:11).

Have you learned what they are?

By developing self-knowledge, we recognize how weak we are. Since nothing good dwells in our flesh (Rom.7:18), we need constantly to depend on the Lord.

Do you?

By developing an appetite for God’s Word, we are ‘trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil’ (Heb.5:14 ESV), and we grow in discernment.

Is that true of you today?

Taken from Chapter 42 of Sinclair Ferguson’s In Christ Alone (Kindle ed.).

The Prayers of J.Calvin (15)

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

This lecture covers Jeremiah 4:1-6, which includes Calvin’s commentary on God’s call to true conversion on the part of His erring people in v.4 – “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem…”:

‘For why’, he says, ‘has circumcision been enjoined? Does not God by this symbol shew, that if a man rightly aspires after true religion, he ought to begin by putting off all the evil propensities of his flesh? Is he not to deny himself, and to die as it were both to himself and to the world? for circumcision includes all this.’

Then the Prophet shews that the Israelites had no excuse, that they went not astray through mistake or through ignorance; but they were acting perversely and deceitfully with God; for circumcision, by which they had been initiated into God’s service, sufficiently taught them, that God is not rightly nor faithfully served, except when men deny themselves.

…Circumcision was their great boast; but only before men; for nothing but ambition and vanity ruled in them, while they openly exulted and boasted that they were God’s holy and peculiar people. Hence the Prophet bids them not to value what was of no importance, but to become circumcised to Jehovah; that is, he bids them not to seek applause before the world, but seriously to consider that they had to do with God (204-5).

This lecture Calvin fittingly concludes with this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we cease not daily to alienate ourselves from thee by our sins, and as thou yet kindly exhortest us to repent, and promisest to be appeasable and propitious to us, – O grant, that we may not perversely go on in our sins, and be ungrateful to thee for thy great kindness; but that we may so return to thee, that our whole life may testify that our repentance has been unfeigned, and that we may so acquiesce in thee alone, that the depraved lusts of our flesh may not draw us here and there, but that we may continue fixed and immovable in our purpose, and so labour to obey thee through the whole course of our life, that we may at length partake of the fruit of our obedience in thy celestial kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Being Productive = Being Fruitful in Good Works – M.Perman

Whats Best Next -PermanAs I read chapter five of Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014), I found many good thoughts (even if they were not new). Yet, on the whole, I was disappointed – not so much for what was said as for what was left out. Let me explain.

Chapter five is titled “Why the Things You Do Every Day Matter,” and as he continues to apply the gospel to our daily work (being productive, that is, getting the right things done), Perman is answering the question, “What, then, does God want done?” And his answer is “good works. What God wants done are good works” (73). This calling he then ties to Matt.5:16, which Perman states is “the purpose of the Christian summed up for us in one sentence. The entire purpose of our lives – what God wants from us – is to do good for others, to the glory of God” (74). And he concludes by redefining productivity in this way: “Productive things, then, are things that do good. Productivity always has to be understood in relation to a goal, and God’s goal is that we do good works. Hence, we can redefine productivity this way: to be productive is to be fruitful in good works” (74).

From there, Perman emphasizes our calling to be fruitful (abundant) in good works: “We are not to be scant and scarce in our good works, or even nominal and mediocre, but abundant and liberal in doing good” (75). And in answer to the further question, “Where do we do this good?”, he properly emphasizes that the doing of good works is not limited to those “rare, special, extraordinary, or super spiritual things we do,” but to the everyday things we do – our daily work and tasks done in faith – “anything we do in faith” (77).

As such, as I have no issue with this. A bit simplistic, perhaps, but true nonetheless. This is, in fact, how the gospel does transform the way we get things done. BUT, what was missing, to my mind, was the vertical relationship – our relationship to GOD. Over and over Perman defines good works as those which are done for the good of the neighbor. He stresses the fact that being productive is being loving for the neighbor’s good. That is, good works are fulfilling the second table of God’s law. Proper and important, to be sure.

BUT, the first table of the law is, well, first. Good works are those done first and foremost out of love for God and in service to Him. Our lives are to be primarily concerned with doing the good God wants us to do in relation to Him – having no god but Him, worshiping Him alone (and in the right way!), confessing His name always and everywhere, and resting in Him on His day – the first four commandments of God’s law.

If productivity is doing the right things to the best of our ability to the glory of God (being fruitful in good works), then before we can be properly productive in relation to the neighbor, we must be properly productive in relation to God. If I don’t love Him, I cannot love my neighbor. If I don’t worship Him alone, I cannot serve my neighbor rightly. If I don’t confess His name in my daily work, I cannot do any good for my neighbor’s name. If I don’t use my risen Lord’s special day to rest (Sunday), I cannot work for six days and do anything useful for the neighbor.

That, to my mind, is the missing element and emphasis in this chapter. If it’s still coming in the book, I stand to be corrected. But if it’s not coming, then we should get it straight now. God is first, always and ever. That’s the gospel. And that gospel transforms my life – and my work.

Does God Care About Our Productivity? – M.Perman

Whats Best Next -PermanIn this early part of our new work-week, it is good to reflect on how we do our work and why it matters. We have been examining this of late as I work my way through Matt Perman’s recent book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014).

In his fourth chapter Perman seeks to answer this question: Does God care about getting things done? Unsurprisingly, he answers with a resounding, Yes! The quote from John Piper under the title of this chapters gives that answer away too: “Aimless, unproductive Christians contradict the creative, purposeful, powerful, merciful God we love” (Don’t Waste Your Life).

Perman shows from Scripture (and thus, the gospel) that God does care about how we get things done. In fact, He commands us to be productive and to be productive in the right way. Perman points us, for example, to the original creation mandate in Gen.1:28 and to the work that the Creator called and equipped Adam and Eve to do in the garden. He then takes us to the parable of the talents recorded in Matt.25:14-30, where the faithful stewards of God’s gifts were rewarded with high commendation (“Well done, good and faithful servant.”) and with an everlasting reward (“Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”).

Finally, Perman directs us to Eph.5:15-17 to show us that God cares about how we get things done because He calls us to make wise use of our time and to know and do His will, also in our daily work. It is from this section that I quote today:

We are not to breeze through life, taking whatever comes. we are to ‘look carefully” [‘See then’ in the KJV] how we walk. You don’t just walk through a store with your eyes closed, buying whatever you touch, and expect it to turn into a wardrobe. And neither should you do that with your life. Likewise, we are to ‘make the most’ of the time [‘Redeeming the time, KJV]. The time doesn’t make the most of itself; we are to take back the time from poor uses and turn it to good uses.

Further, a concern for good use of our time is a characteristic that the Bible expects us to have. Consider Psalm 90:12: ‘Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.’ I like how the New American Standard Bible puts this: ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.’ Even our growth in wisdom and our ability to manage ourselves is something we do for God and present to him.

…Knowing how to get the right things done – how to be personally effective, leading and managing ourselves well – is indeed biblical, spiritual, and honoring to the Lord. It is not unspiritual to think about the concrete details of how to get things done; rather, this is a significant component of Christian wisdom (65-66).

“Think upon Christ in that upper room!” – Rev.M.De Vries

SB-March1-2015The March 1, 2015 issue of the Standard Bearer is out and it opens with a wonderful meditation by Rev. Michael DeVries, pastor of our Kalamazoo, MI PRC. Appropriate for the church season of remembering and reflecting on our Savior’s suffering and death, Rev. DeVries bases his meditation on the familiar passage in John 13 and the recorded event of Christ’s washing of His disciples feet.

He titles his meditation “Christ’s Example of Servanthood”, and after explaining its significance for Christ and His humiliation, he points us to its significance for us. It is from this section that I quote tonight, leaving you with some of his practical thoughts about what Christ’s example means for us, who also profess to be His disciples.

But what about this example?  Plainly there is a calling here that falls to each one of us in the communion of the saints:  “Ye ought also to wash one another’s feet”!  Jesus said, “If I then, your Lord and Master do this…”  What about it?  Is this beneath us?  Do we suppose that we are somehow exempt?  Or that we are too good, too important, too popular, too talented?  Are there some things that Jesus did that are simply beneath our dignity?  If this be the case, we are proud!  And we show that we have not learned the first thing about the kingdom of heaven.  “Be clothed with humility.”  That, is the heavenly example we must follow!  The followers of Christ are to manifest that humility that is in Him so beautifully and wonderfully!

What a struggle it is to count others better than ourselves, to be concerned, first, not with our own welfare and advantage but with the welfare of others.  Let us seek not the praise and honor of men, but the approval of the God of our salvation!  Our Heidelberg Catechism puts it so beautifully in Answer 55:  “… that every one must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts, for the advantage and salvation of other members.”    Do you seek the good and spiritual welfare of the brother or sister?   That is the implication of washing one another’s feet.  Do you help one another in the daily battle of faith?  Do you do that as servant, not in haughty pride, not looking down your nose at the erring brother or sister, but in the humility of a servant, loving the brother, seeking the salvation of his soul?

How is that possible?   Christ is the power of our humility!  Always the humility that characterizes the life of the saints is a humility that is rooted in regeneration.  It is a virtue that comes by grace alone.  It is worked in us through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.  By His Spirit He works the humility of His own cross within our hearts.  Never does this humility come of ourselves!  God forbid that we should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14)!

…Let us pray then for the beautiful grace of humility!  May humility more and more characterize all of our lives.  Think upon Christ in that upper room!  Esteem each other better than yourself!  In love serve one another!  And in that way we truly serve our God.

To learn more about the contents of this issue of the “SB”, click on the cover image here. To learn about how to subscribe to this edifying Reformed magazine, visit the website link above.

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).

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