What Are the Themes of the Psalter? R. Godfrey

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017In the fourth chapter of his new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017), author W. Robert Godfrey addresses the themes of the OT book of Psalms.

In “Recurring Themes in the Psalms” he points out that “a great aid to our study of the Psalms is recognizing the major themes that occur over and over again in the Psalter. Certain basic themes unite the Psalms and underscore essential truths about God and His care for His people” (p.16).

From there he seeks to answer the question, What is the great theme that dominates the Psalter? Here is his answer:

John Calvin in his five-volume commentary on the book of Psalms suggested that the great theme of the Psalter is the providence of God, specifically God’s preservation of His own. Hesitant as I am to try to improve on Calvin, I would expand on his thought by saying that the great theme of the Psalter is God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous. God is always good in ways completely compatible with His holiness. And in His goodness, He never fails in His love and care for those who belong to Him [p.16].

And what about the personal, subjective side to this grand theme? What about the response of these righteous ones who are so loved and cared for by the good God? This is what Godfrey adds:

As this truth of God’s goodness and love is celebrated throughout the Psalter, the regular response of God’s people is clear: they praise Him. When we really think about who God is and what He does for us, the only possible reaction is praise. Indeed, the book of Psalms derives its Hebrew name, the Book of Praises, from this principal reaction – praise – to the principal theme – God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous [pp.16-17].

Do you agree with the author? Is this the central message you find in the precious book of God’s Word? And if you do, do you and I also response with praise – personal and private, as well as corporate and public?

Today, in the house of our great and glorious, good and loving Father we have the opportunity again to see and hear this theme, and to respond in thankful praise. Shall we do this? Let us. For our God is worthy.

The Cross and Our Sanctification; “Fall on your knees, …and worship.” – D. Powlison

How-sanctification-powlison-2017We have started to look at another new Crossway title – a short book on sanctification. The title is How Does Sanctification Work?,  the author being noted teacher and counselor David Powlison (executive director of Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation).

I have received the book for review and make it available to someone who is interested in the subject. In the meantime, I am profiting from this brief and easy read.

In the third chapter, “Truth Unbalanced and Rebalanced,” Powlison has a section treating how the cross relates to our sanctification. He writes:

…It is also important to remember that Christ’s cross has multiple implications. His dying and death express a number of ways that Scripture is relevant to forming our faith and our obedience.” {p.35]

He proceeds to give seven meanings of the cross that “explain a glory before which we must bow.” I give two of them here for our benefit.

First, consider how the cross reveals the character of God. Mercy meshes with justice. Steadfast love joins holy wrath. The ‘competing sides of God’s self-revelation demonstrate their complete complementarity. God is light so bright that no man can dwell in his presence; God is love so tender that he makes his dwelling place with man.

In other words, the cross is not just about us. Innumerable men and women have found this reality profoundly humbling, comforting, and sanctifying. Something incomprehensibly wonderful unfolds before our eyes. Fall on your knees, put your hand over your mouth, acknowledge your incomprehension, and worship. The cross says, “O come, let us adore him.”

And then he has this for the fifth meaning of the cross as it relates to our sanctification:

Fifth, consider that innumerable children of God find encouragement in the friendship of Christ. A man lays down his life for his friends – and Christ has befriended us. We were once his enemies, but he has won us over and won our hearts. The cross tangibly demonstrates how much God loves, and his love has a winsome effect. His love is more than a benevolent feeling of affection. He makes known his intimate counsel. He shows it by what he does. The cross says, “You are my friend. I open my heart to you and lay down my life for you” (cf. Ps.25:14; John 15:15). [pp.36-27]

Doctrine that “takes possession of the entire soul” – J. Calvin

Little-book-christian-life-calvinResponding to those “nominal Christians” who want the name but “possess nothing of Christ,” John Calvin wrote:

For true doctrine is not a matter of the tongue, but of life; neither is Christian doctrine grasped only by the intellect and memory, as truth is grasped in other fields of study. Rather, doctrine is rightly received when it takes possession of the entire soul and finds a dwelling place and shelter in the most intimate affections of the heart. So let such people stop lying, or let them prove themselves worthy disciples of Christ, their teacher.

We have given priority to doctrine, which contains our religion, since it establishes our salvation. But in order for doctrine to be fruitful to us, it must overflow into our hearts, spread into our daily routines, and truly transform us within.

Even the philosophers rage against and reject those who profess an art that ought to govern one’s life, but who twist that art hypocritically into empty chatter. How much more then should we detest the foolish talk of those who give lip service to the gospel?

The gospel’s power ought to penetrate the innermost affections of the heart, sink down into the soul, and inspire the whole man a hundred times more than the lifeless teachings of the philosophers.

Taken from the fresh translation and edition of John Calvin’s short work on the Christian life,  A Little Book on the Christian Life (Reformation Trust, 2017), pp.14-15 (slightly edited). For my previous post on this “golden booklet,” visit this page.

The Presbyterian Philosopher: Gordon H. Clark (4)

presby-philosoper-clark-douma-2017It has been a few months since we considered the new biography by Douglas J. Douma on Gordon H. Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf & Stock, 2017. 292 pp.). Today let’s return to it, looking at chapter 3 – “Gordon Clark and the Formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.”

In this chapter Douma traces the great theological battles that took place in the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) in the early part of the 20th century, the fundamentalist-modernist battles that were going on in all the major Protestant denominations.

This battle in the PCUSA would lead to the departure of sound Presbyterian defenders of the Westminster Confession such as J. Gresham Machen, H. McAllister Griffiths, Murray F. Thompson, as well as Clark himself in the 1930s. Led by Machen, these defenders of the Presbyterian faith would begin a new seminary – Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) in Philadelphia, and a new denomination (first named the Presbyterian Church in America [PCA]), which would become known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

Early in that fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the PCUSA Clark would speak to the fundamental issue, the inerrancy of holy Scripture. Douma addresses that in his own words as well as those of Clark:

When the Auburn Affirmation first appeared in print [the modernist statement adopted in 1924 in response to the five fundamentals adopted by the conservatives in 1923], Clark was an undergraduate senior at the University of Pennsylvania and a ruling elder in the PCUSA. Though Clark opposed the Affirmation from the moment he read it, he only attacked it in print ten years later in an article that redubbed it the ‘Auburn Heresy’ and described it as a ‘vicious attack on the Word of God.’ Clark knew the Auburn Affirmation challenged a critical doctrine of Christianity: the inerrancy of Scripture. In his view, it was absurd to argue that the doctrine of inerrancy impaired or weakened the biblical message. [Something the modernists claimed.] In fact, it was contradiction, he thought, to say that something truly inspired by God also contained error. On this point Clark wrote, ‘If [the signers of the Affirmation] say that they believe the Bible is the Word of God, and at the same time claim that the Bible contains error, it follows, does it not, that they call God a liar, since He has spoken falsely?’ Ultimately for Clark, the Auburn Affirmation was a sign that the modernists had ‘excommunicated the orthodox.’ This, he felt, necessitated action on the part of the fundamentalists to recover the orthodoxy of the church. [pp26-27].

The rest of the history of the formation of the OPC and its early struggles, especially after the sudden death of Machen in early 1937, make for fascinating reading. Part of that early struggle involved the significant Clark – VanTil controversy, into which Herman Hoeksema would enter because it involved the doctrine of common grace vs. particular grace. Douma has more on this later in the book, but mentions the beginning of it in this chapter.

Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. ClarkI might also mention that Douma has also contributed to a second volume on Gordon Clark, this one focusing on his correspondence: Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark. For more information on that title and to purchase it (I ordered two copies today, one for the seminary library and one for the bookstore), visit this website.

The Goal of Reading the Bible: White-Hot Worship

It’s Monday. We returned to our work-week today. We were busy in our daily callings. High things and mundane things. Important things and small things.

But worship must still be on our minds. The worship of yesterday in God’s house. The worship of today in serving the Lord with our work and tasks. The worship of reading the Bible and prayer, personally and with our wives and families.

Reading-Bible-Supernaturally-Piper-2017And it ought to be “white-hot worship”, as John Piper points out in his new book Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017). For this is the purpose God Himself gives us for revealing Himself in His Word, that we might read about His great glory and might worship Him with “supremely authentic and intense” worship.

This is how Piper puts it in Chapter 2, “Reading the Bible toward White-Hot Worship”:

Our ultimate aim in reading the Bible, I am arguing, is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in everlasting, white-hot worship. When I use the phrase ‘white-hot-worship,’ I am calling out the visceral implications of the words ‘supremely authentic and intense.’ ‘The reason words like these are important is that there is a correlation between the measure of our intensity in worship and the degree to which we exhibit the value of the glory of God. Lukewarm affection for God gives the impression that he is moderately pleasing. He is not moderately pleasing. He is infinitely pleasing. If we are not intensely pleased, we need forgiveness and healing. Which, of course, we do [p.59-60].

May we keep that in mind as we read God’s Word this week. How “hot” is our worship of God? How much do we value His glory as revealed in that Word we read?

Key Quotes From Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” | Monergism

As the heading above indicates, the referenced article from the website Monergism.com provides “key quotes” from Martin Luther’s classic work The Bondage of the Will.

That work is a response to the Dutch humanist and Roman Catholic priest Desiderius Erasmus, who, while critical of Roman Catholic teaching in some areas, strongly defended her views on salvation, free will, and grace.

Luther obliterated Erasmus’ arguments and posited in their place the truths of salvation by grace alone due to the total sovereignty of God and the utter inability of the sinner.

Monergism gives a short introduction before providing some of Luther’s powerful answers to the man from Rotterdam. Here is part of that introduction:

The following quotes hit the crux of the issue: whether Christ alone saves or whether salvation is synergistic cooperation of man and God. This is still extremely relevant for today’s Christian, for many of us carry the unbiblical assumption that Erasmus held, which wrongly concludes any command from God to believe or obey the gospel, must somewhow imply the moral ability to to do so. Large numbers of evangelicals today make this same jump in unaided logic and build a whole theology on it but as Dr. Luther said to Erasmus, “when you are finished with all your commands and exhortations … I’ll write Ro.3:20 over the top of it all” (“…through the law comes knowledge of sin.”). In other words, the commands exist to reveal not our ability but rather our inability, and this moral impotency does not take away our responsibility to obey.

And here are a few of the “key quotes”; to find more visit the link below.

And, let me add, in this year of commemorating the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation of the 16th century, it would be good for us to read (or re-read) this mighty classic of Protestantism.

“For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?” Martin Luther BW pg. 149

“…’if thou art willing’ is a verb in the subjunctive mood, which asserts nothing…a conditional statement asserts nothing indicatively.” “if thou art willing”, “if thou hear”, “if thou do” declare, not man’s ability, but his duty. pg 157

“the commandments are not given inappropriately or pointlessly; but in order that through them the proud, blind man may learn the plague of his impotence, should he try to do as he is commanded.” pg. 160

Speaking to Erasmus, “Throughout your treatment you forget that you said that ‘free-will’ can do nothing without grace, and you prove that ‘free-will’ can do all things without grace! Your inferences and analogies “For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?” Martin Luther BW pg. 149

“Even grammarians and schoolboys on street corners know that nothing more is signified by verbs in the imperative mood than what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should be expressed by words in the indicative. How is it that you theologians are twice as stupid as schoolboys, in that as soon as you get hold of a single imperative verb you infer an indicative meaning, as though the moment a thing is commanded it is done, or can be done? pg 159

“The passages of Scripture you cite are imperative; and they prove and establish nothing about the ability of man, but only lay down what is and what not to be done.” pg 161

Source: Key Quotes From Luther’s Bondage of the Will | Monergism

Spring 2017 PRT Journal Available

The Spring 2017 issue of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal is now available in print form and in multiple digital forms (Vol.50, No.2).

PRTJ-cover-April-2017-2

As you will see from the cover image, this issue contains a variety of significant Reformed reading material.

Prof. R. Cammenga, editor of the PRTJ, gives these “notes” at the beginning in summary of this issue:

This is the second and last issue of the fiftieth volume of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal.  We welcome our readers to its pages.  Included are several articles.  The Rev. Thomas Reid favors us with the transcript of the second of two speeches that he gave last spring before the faculty, student body, and area Protestant Reformed ministers.  The article highlights the labors and contributions of a recent French Reformed theologian, Auguste Lecerf.  PRCA pastor, Rev. Thomas C. Miersma, contributes an article on the special offices and gifts in the New Testament church.  He asks whether these gifts and offices continue in the church today, and if not, why not?  The undersigned has two contributions to the issue.  The first is the second part of my examination of the teaching of common grace in light of the five solas of the Reformation.  The contention of the series is that the doctrine of common grace vitiates the five solas that constitute the Reformation’s enduring contribution to the New Testament church.  The second contribution is another installment of the “John Calvin Research Bibliography.”  A number of our readers have expressed appreciation for the bibliography as a useful tool for doing research into all the main areas of Calvin’s theology.  The bibliography arose out of my work in crafting a special interim course on the theology of John Calvin.  The course is scheduled to be taught once again as the winter interim between the two semesters of the 2017-18 school year.

      Included in this issue is what we hope will be a regular feature from the seminary’s librarian, Mr. Charles Terpstra.  Mr. Terpstra highlights the significant recent additions to the seminary library.  We include this not merely for the information of our readers.  But we invite our readers to make use of our library for study and research.  We are even open to loaning our books to our constituency and friends.

      And, of course, we have our section of book reviews—a goodly number of reviews in this issue.  We want to do what we can to inform our readers of new books of special interest that are being published.

      Read and enjoy!

    Soli Deo Gloria!                                                                                                      —RLC

If you wish to receive a free print copy of this issue, or to be added to our mailing list, contact our secretary at the email found on our home page. To download free print edition, use the link given above.

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The Ultimate Purpose of Reading the Bible: the Praise of God’s Glorious Grace

Reading-Bible-Supernaturally-Piper-2017Redemption begins in eternity past in the heart of God. He predestines a people ‘for adoption…through Jesus Christ.’ Paul tells us the deepest root and the highest goal of this predestination. He says it is rooted in ‘the praise of his will’ (Eph.1:5). And he says its ultimate goal is ‘the praise of his glorious grace’ (Eph.1:6).

How quickly do we pass over that last statement! Whose purpose is being expressed in the words ‘he predestined us for adoption…to the praise of his glorious grace’? It is God’s purpose. And what is that purpose? That we praise. That we praise what? His glory. The peculiar glory of his grace. So from all eternity, God’s plan was to have a family adopted ‘through Jesus Christ’ who would praise his glory to all eternity. There are few things more important to know than that. Few things will shape more of your life than that – if it penetrates to the center of your soul.

The plan from eternity past was praise for eternity future. The one who planned and the one to be praised are the same God. And the focus of the praise is his own peculiar glory – which shines most brightly as the glory of grace in the person and work of Jesus [pp.46-47].

Quotation by John Piper, taken from Chapter 1, “Reading the Bible toward God’s Ultimate Goal” in Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017).

As proof for the fact that the glory of God is what we should ultimately have in view as we read the Bible, Piper refers to the “six stages of redemption” as they are set forth in Scripture: predestination (the section quoted from above), creation, incarnation, propitiation, sanctification, and consummation.

The Value of the Reformed Confessions on Justification by Faith Alone

In his most recent book, Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed, David J. Engelsma makes appeal at the outset to the distinctive Reformed confessions on the doctrine of justification – and with good reason, as he himself explains in chapter five.

In defense of the historic biblical doctrine over against the heresies of Rome, Arminianism, the New Perspective on Paul, and the Federal Vision, the Reformed creeds have great value. Here is one reason, as the author explains:

One reason is that for some two thousand years the Spirit of truth has guided the Christian church into a clear understanding of most of the cardinal doctrines of scripture. The ecumenical and Reformation confessions are the outstanding products of that divine guidance. The Reformed confessions, which address the truth of justification specifically and at length, have been a blessing on Reformed churches and Christians for nearly half a millennium. Especially in circumstances of controversy over justification, the Reformed churches must avail themselves of the Spirit’s work in the churches in the past [p.66].

And there is more. Engelsma gives another reason why he begins with the confessions:

Yet another reason for beginning an examination of the doctrine of justification with a study of the Reformed confessions, especially in controversy, is that the confessions enable the members of the congregations to judge the teachings of their officebearers. Every false teacher claims, loudly, even indignantly, to be teaching the truth. Invariably, he couches his false doctrine in careful, clever, deceptive, and biblical language. Like the serpent in the garden of Eden, he is subtle. As the Dutch proverb puts it, in the heretic Satan does not come noisily in wooden shoes, but stealthily in slippers. As scripture puts it, Satan’s ministers transform themselves as ‘ministers of righteousness,’ just as ‘Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light’ (2 Cor.11:14-15). Usually, the heretic manifests himself as a jovial, friendly, loving, sweet Christian besides.

Without the confessions, the members of the Reformed churches are virtually at the mercy of the false teachers and their spiritual master. With the confessions, the Reformed laity are able to discern and withstand heretical teachings [p.71].

To this the author adds yet one more reason for the value of creeds in this battle for the gospel truth of justification:

There is still another reason that a defense of justification by faith alone against its contemporary assailants within the Reformed churches does well to begin with a consideration of the Reformed confessions. This reason concerns a benefit of the confessions that is often overlooked. The confessions contain succinct but thorough and penetrating analysis of many of the false doctrines that trouble the Reformed church throughout the ages. As the fruit of the profound study of specially gifted and godly Reformed theologians, in the case of the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster standards the fruit of the deliberations of large bodies of extraordinary servants of Jesus Christ, and the fruit of the special guidance of the church by the Spirit of Christ, the confessions lay bare the essential errors of perennial heresies.

This exposure of false doctrines is of great help to Reformed churches and Christians. Heretics are always deceptive, as Jesus warned in Matthew 24:11….

The confessions cut through all the deception, ambiguity, and verbiage of the heresies, as well as through the heretics’ claims of fidelity and piety, to the fundamental errors. The confessions make the errors plain not only to learned theologians, but also to every member of the church – man, woman, and child [pp74-75].

Here, then, are further reasons for us to know and study our Reformed creedal heritage. Do you know what the Reformed confessions say on justification, the heart of the gospel of our salvation in Jesus Christ?

Loving God and Our Minds – R.C. Sproul

TT-June2017-BeatitudesIn the new issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ devotional magazine, R.C. Sproul, Sr. has an edifying article on “Loving God with Our Minds.”

After pointing out the effects of sin on our minds, Sproul reminds us that our salvation by grace involves the renewal of our minds, and that this is in part why God calls us to love Him with all our mind.

For this Monday, as we begin our work week and the use of our minds and our hands in our God-given callings in life, Sproul’s thoughts are useful in guiding us in how to love God with our minds.

Jonathan Edwards once said that seeking after God is the main business of the Christian. And how do we seek after God? By pursuing the renewal of our minds. We don’t get the love of God from a hip replacement, a knee replacement, or even a heart transplant. The only way we can be transformed is with a renewed mind (Rom. 12:1–2). A renewed mind results from diligently pursuing the knowledge of God. If we despise doctrine, if we despise knowledge, that probably indicates that we’re still in that fallen condition where we don’t want God in our thinking. True Christians want God to dominate their thinking and to fill their minds with ideas of Himself.

Isn’t it strange that our Lord says that we are called to love God with our minds? We don’t usually speak of love in terms of an intellectual activity. In fact, most of our understanding of love in our secular culture is described in passive categories. We speak not of jumping in love but falling in love, like it was an accident.

But real love is not an involuntary thing. It is something we do purposefully based on our knowledge of the person we love. Nothing can be in the heart that is not first in the mind. And if we want to have an experience of God directly where we bypass the mind, we’re on a fool’s errand. It can’t happen. We might increase emotion, entertainment, or excitement, but we’re not going to increase the love of God because we can’t love what we don’t know. A mindless Christianity is no Christianity at all.

If we want to love God more, we have to know Him more deeply. And the more we search the Scriptures, and the more we focus our minds’ attention on who God is and what He does, the more we understand just a tiny little bit more about Him and the more our souls break out in flame. We have a greater ardor to honor Him. The more we understand God with our minds, the more we love Him with our minds.

To read the rest of the article, follow the link provided in the title above.

And, as you will see, this month’s issue is on the Beatitudes of Jesus. I have started to read those, including this one – “To Be Blessed” by Dr. Brandon D. Crowe.