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).

The Prayer of Faith (2) – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonThis is a follow-up to my post last Monday, in the place where Dr.Sinclair Ferguson is treating the proper idea of “the prayer of faith” (contra Pentecostal teaching) based on the passage in James 5:15, “And the prayer of faith shall save him….”

These are the immediately following paragraphs to that section from Ferguson’s book In Christ Alone:

The struggles we sometimes experience in prayer, then, are often part of the process by which God gradually brings us to ask for only what He has promised to give. The struggle is not our wrestling to bring Him to give us what we desire, but our wrestling with His Word until we are illuminated and subdued by it, saying, ‘Not my will, but Your will be done.’ Then, as Calvin again says, we learn ‘not to ask for more than God allows.’

This is why true prayer can never be divorced from real holiness. The prayer of faith can be made only by the ‘righteous’ man whose life is being more and more aligned with the covenant grace and purposes of God. In the realm of prayer, too (since it is a microcosm of the whole of the Christian life), faith (prayer to the covenant Lord) without works (obedience to the covenant Lord) is dead (Kindle ed.)

Advent: The Faith-Visit of the Magi

Last week we took for part of our Sunday meditation in this Christmas season a word feature on the word “star” in the Bible. Today we will continue with that theme as we post part of an exposition of Matthew 2:1-2 Rev.George Lubbers did for The Standard Bearer (Jan.1, 1963).

magi visitLed outwardly in their journey by Christ’s star in the East and illuminated in their hearts by the Spirit of Christ through His prophetic Word, the wise men came to Bethlehem to worship the One “born King of the Jews.”

Here is a portion of Rev.Lubbers beautiful explanation of this wonder, revealing the “Star power” of Christ, the Savior of mankind. To read the full article, follow the link above.

For notice that these were men who had faith—saving faith, justifying faith; they had a faith that worked by love which was shed in their hearts by the Holy Spirit and which is worked by God through the preaching of the Gospel. Their faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For, mark you well, their faith was such that it combined spiritual things with spiritual, it combined the sign of the “star” with the fulfillment of the word of promise concerning the Messiah which was to come. For do these men not appear in Jerusalem with the certain confidence that the King of the Jews “is born,” and that He is born with the intent of becoming the renowned King, promised in the prophetic word? They say to Herod: Where is He that is born King of the Jews; for we have seen His star in the east and are come to worship Him! They are as certain of the fulfillment of prophecy as were the shepherds “that this thing had come to pass,” told them by the angels.

Besides, these Magi believe that this King of the Jews is worthy of worship. He is God. He is the mighty God; He is the true God and eternal life. Furthermore, there is not any doubt in their mind that Jerusalem ought to know about the birth of this long foretold King; that His birth has the birth of this long foretold King; that His birth has peculiar and unique meaning for this city of the great King.

And thus in faith these Magi are earnest seekers.

Small wonder that Matthew writes about the appearance of these men on the streets of Jerusalem, at such a time as Jesus’ birth. “Behold, there appear wise men from the East!” This was truly a unique phenomenon. It was the fulfillment of Scripture itself. For these do not come as captives of war behind the triumphal wagon in the procession of some worldly monarch and conqueror, but they come drawn by the inner compulsion of the love of God and faith wrought by the Holy Spirit. And they ask: Where is he that is born King of the Jews? They seek the Savior. This is not merely an intellectual quest, for they do not rest until they have seen the Lord’s Christ! They came toworship Him. What a longing, a hunger and a holy thirst of the soul. Is not this Christ the hope of Israel and the light of the nations?! All else has failed to satisfy the longing of their heart, the need of their souls. The secrets of heathen cults do not show them God; but here is the Mystery of God, hid in God before endless ages, but now manifest in the fullness of time! He is not a great teacher amongst other teachers; here lies in Bethlehem, in the arms of the blessed among women, the Redeemer, the God of Israel and of the Nations, who Abraham saw from afar, and of whom Baalam prophesied saying: I see Him but not now, behold! a star shall rise in Jacob. Here is the day-spring from on high!

Their hope is not put to shame.

The Prayer of Faith – S.Ferguson

praying man-1This, then, is the prayer of faith: to ask God to accomplish what He has promised in His Word. That promise is the only ground of our confidence in asking. Such confidence is not ‘worked up’ from within our emotional life; rather, it is given and supported by what God has said in Scripture.

Truly ‘righteous’ men and women of faith know the value of their heavenly Father’s promises. They go to Him, as children do to a loving human father. They know that if they can say to an earthly father, ‘But, father, you promised…,’ they can both persist in asking and be confident that he will keep his word. How much more our heavenly Father, who has given His Son for our salvation! We have no other grounds of confidence that He hears our prayers. We need none.

Such appeal to God’s promises constitutes what John Calvin, following Tertullian, calls ‘legitimate prayer.’

Some Christians find this disappointing. It seems to remove the mystique from the prayer of faith. Are we not tying down our faith to ask only for what God already has promised? But such disappointment reveals a spiritual malaise: would we rather devise our own spirituality (preferably spectacular) than God’s (frequently modest)?

Taken from chap.31, “The Prayer of Faith” (in connection with James 5:15), in In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson (Kindle version).

The Prayers of J.Calvin (3)

Back on November 23 I started to post the prayers of the great Reformer John Calvin, as these are found first of all in his lectures on Jeremiah. Last week I jumped ahead a week as we did a special post to mark the installation of our new pastor.

JCalvin1So tonight I post this third prayer of Calvin, but from his second lecture on Jeremiah, which covers vss.8-12. Along with that, I include part of his lecture, in which he speaks of our duty to obey God’s call in spite of whatever weakness and insufficiency we see in ourselves.

Good thoughts with which to begin our week in His service, whatever our calling and station may be.

And it is especially necessary to know this doctrine (in connection with the call of Jeremiah): for as we ought to undertake nothing without considering what our strength is, so when God enjoins anything, we ought immediately to obey his word as it were with closed eyes. …For whence is it that many have so much audacity and boldness, except that they hurry on through extreme self-confidence?

Hence in all undertakings, this should be the first thing, that every one should weigh well his own strength, and take in hand what comports with the measure of his capacity. Then no one would foolishly obtrude himself, and arrogate to himself more than what is right. But when God calls us, we ought to obey, however deficient we may in all things be….

And then this prayer at the end:

Grant, Almighty God, that since thou art pleased kindly to invite us to thyself, and hast consecrated thy word for our salvation, — O grant that we may willingly, and from the heart, obey thee, and become so teachable, that what thou hast designed for our salvation may not turn to our perdition; but may that incorruptible seed by which thou dost regenerate us into a hope of the celestial life so drive its root into our hearts, and bring forth fruit, that thy name may be glorified; and may we be so planted in the courts of thine house, that we may grow and flourish, and that fruit may appear through the whole course of our life, until we shall at length enjoy that blessed life which is laid up for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. — Amen.

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