Study Bibles as Theological Tool Kits – Justin Taylor

Source: Study Bibles as Theological Tool Kits by Justin Taylor | Reformed Theology Articles at

TTCover-Sept-2015The above-linked article is the third featured one in this month’s issue of Tabletalk, which is on the theme of Study Bibles. In this article Justin Taylor shows us how a good study Bible functions as a useful “theological tool kit”. At the end, he also gives us some practical pointers on how to use a study Bible well.

This too is a profitable article in learning whether you want to use a study Bible or not, and if so, how to use it best. I give you the first part of Taylor’s article and encourage you to use the link to read the rest.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to his young friend and pastoral protégé Timothy, he gave him a clear command about how to handle the Scriptures: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). We may draw several implications from this brief exhortation. First, handling God’s Word takes effort and skill. Timothy is to be a “worker,” doing his “best”—that is, striving by the Spirit to deploy careful excellence—as he undertakes this sacred task. Second, though Timothy is to interpret Scripture for himself and to serve others—so that he can know the truth and can teach it faithfully to others—interpretation is ultimately done in the presence of God and for the glory of God. It is before the Sovereign Author that our interpretations stand or fall. Third, there is a right way and a wrong way to handle God’s Word. Paul encourages Timothy to interpret “rightly” so as to avoid being “ashamed.”

Study Bibles can be a gift from God to help us understand His Word rightly and to plumb its depths. They can give us guidance in understanding history, practicing exegesis, and making theological application. I will explore these one at a time, quoting from the ESV Study Bible to illustrate—not because it’s the only good study Bible, but because it’s the one I know best.

And a little further into his article Taylor adds this specifically about how a good study Bible assists us theologically:

A good study Bible can help us become better theologians. First, it can show us how theology is derived from Scripture. For example, a note on John 1:1 will explain that this verse contains “the building blocks that go into the doctrine of the Trinity: the one true God consists of more than one person, they relate to each other, and they have always existed.”

Second, a good study Bible can help you avoid theological misinterpretation. When Paul says in Colossians 1:15 that Jesus is the “firstborn of all creation,” the ESV Study Bible note helps us understand what this is and is not saying:

It would be wrong to think in physical terms here, as if Paul were asserting that the Son had a physical origin or was somehow created (the classic Arian heresy) rather than existing eternally as the Son, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in the Godhead. What Paul had in mind was the rights and privileges of a firstborn son, especially the son of a monarch who would inherit ruling sovereignty. This is how the expression is used of David: “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27).

Third, many study Bibles contain theological articles that go into greater depth on theological truths of the faith. All of these tools can be a great aid in helping us become better theologians.

Communion with God the Son – J.Owen/S.Ferguson

Trinitarian-Devotion-Ferguson-2014Thus, Owen’s great burden and emphasis in helping us to understand what it means to be a Christian is to say: Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly Father gives you to Jesus and gives Jesus to you. You have Him. Everything you can ever lack is found in Him; all you will ever need is given to you in Him. ‘From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.’ For the Father has ‘blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places.’ It is as true for the newest, weakest Christian as for the most mature believer; from the first moment of faith, we are fully, finally, irreversibly justified in Christ.

In this way, like Calvin before him, at a stroke Owen transforms our understanding of the nature of grace and salvation. To explore fellowship with Christ, then, means that we need to explore both ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’ with whom we have fellowship, and how it is that we have ‘fellowship’ with Him in His grace.

…Since all the fullness of God dwells in Him, and He received the Spirit without measure, His bearing the judgment of God on the cross could not exhaust and destroy Him. Because He is so perfectly suited to our needs, therefore, Christ endears Himself to believers. He is just what we need and He is all that we need:

[Here Ferguson quotes Owen]

There is no man that hath any want in reference unto the things of God, but Christ will be unto him that which he wants.

I speak of those who are given him of his Father. Is he dead? Christ is life. Is he weak? Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Hath he the sense of guilt upon him? Christ is complete righteousness.

He hath a fitness to save, having pity and ability, tenderness and power, to carry on that work to the uttermost; and a fulness to save, of redemption and sanctification, or righteousness and the Spirit; and a suitableness to the wants of all our souls.

And so Ferguson concludes:

From beginning to end, therefore, communion with Christ is all about Christ. When He fills the horizon of our vision, we find ourselves drawn to Him, embraced by Him, and beginning to enjoy Him.

Taken from chapter four “Communion with the Son”, in the new book by Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen, published by Reformation Trust, 2014 (pp.64-67).

“To desire peace at the expense of truth is hypocrisy and weakness – and highly displeasing to God. ” ~ Abraham Kuyper

Moreover, there can be no real and lasting peace in the church of God without full harmony of opinions and belief. If doctrines were so toned down and moderated that they were capable of more than one interpretation, those who differed in opinion would still argue and each would do all he could to uphold and spread his own interpretation. For what a man conscientiously accepts as truth, he desires others to believe also. The false unity would not last.

We must indeed seek peace, with all earnestness. Bitterness, ill will, malice, and love of dispute should never characterize a Christian in his defense of the truth. Instead, there should be a sincere interest in the honor of God and in the well-being of our fellowmen. Paul says, ‘As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men’ [Rom.12:18].

But when he says, ‘As much as lieth in you’ he plainly implies that sometimes peace is impossible. When peace is injurious to the truth, peace must give way. Peace with God is of greater value than peace with men. To desire peace at the expense of truth is hypocrisy and weakness – and highly displeasing to God.

Having then purified your souls in obeying the truth through the spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently [1 Pet.1:22]. Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love: endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace [Eph.4:1-3].

And the God of mercy and peace, the God of order and unity, grant that we may be of one mind and may together praise Him in unity of faith, now and eternally.

PracticeofGodliness-AKuyper-1948-2Dr. Abraham Kuyper in the chapter titled “The Church of Jesus Christ”, found in The Practice of Godliness, (translated and edited by Marian M. Schoolland; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), pp.51-52.

“We may not tamper with truth.” – Abraham Kuyper

The articles of Christian faith are like links of a chain. If one link is removed, the chain is broken. For instance, one cannot deny God’s eternal election without taking away our assurance of salvation and undermining the steadfastness of our hope. For then man’s salvation is left in his own hands; he must exercise his free will and choose to be saved. That, in turn, denies at least in part man’s total depravity. And if man is not totally depraved, Christ’s atonement loses much of its value – in fact we would finally arrive at the conclusion that we do not need Christ for salvation!

Furthermore, if we would hush certain doctrines, we are suppressing the truth. If we hide differences under a broad creed that permits of two or more interpretations, as some suggest, we hide truth and leave men in uncertainty. We may not tamper with truth.

Satan knows that he can undermine the structure of the church by slyly removing just one fundamental doctrine at a time, and he frequently loosens a large foundation stone gradually, chiselling it away bit by bit.

That is why tolerance for the sake of peace may be dangerous.

…If the principles of our faith are man-made, they should be discarded. If they are from God, let no man tamper with them to tone them down. Even though some points may seem to be but small, God has bidden us be faithful in little things, and has forbidden that we should subtract even one iota from His Word.

One step toward giving in will lead to a next step. And will not God visit us with blindness if we deliberately darken the truth He has graciously entrusted to us? How shall we justify ourselves if we permit even a little of the truth to be laid aside. Is that ours to do?

PracticeofGodliness-AKuyper-1948Dr. Abraham Kuyper in the chapter titled “The Church of Jesus Christ”, found in The Practice of Godliness, (translated and edited by Marian M. Schoolland; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), pp.50-51.

Encouraging Church Members to Study (Read!) Theology – David Garner

Theological Fidelity: An Interview with David Garner by David Garner | Reformed Theology Articles at

300x467 Interview_GarnerThe interview feature in the June Tabletalk is with Dr. David Garner, associate professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. The entire interview (linked above here) is profitable, but I found this section especially encouraging. Here Garner talks about the importance of church leaders encouraging their members to study theology – including recommending reading resources.

Read on and be encouraged to study theology by reading good books! Don’t forget, your Seminary library is here to serve you too in this endeavor!

TT: What are some practical ways church leaders can encourage laypeople in their congregations to study theology?

DG: Due to the blessing of education and the accessibility of digital and print materials, congregation members can study Scripture in ways unprecedented in earlier generations. This privileged task bears a double edge. Accessibility and opportunity create accountability. With vast resources at our fingertips, should not this generation of believers imbibe the deep things of God and evidence unrivaled love and obedience to the Lord Jesus?

As church leaders, we must read and then recommend certain readings energetically and discerningly. We can vet and stock church libraries and encourage church reading groups. We can commend resources when teaching or preaching and pen our own theological and pastoral reflections for our congregations, aiming to whet their appetites.

Further, we should aid our congregations in cultivating biblically contoured minds and hearts. We should pray with the Apostle Paul “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17). As part of this call to spiritual recalibration, we should expound how theology speaks into all spheres of life. Christ’s lordship is comprehensive (Eph. 1:15–23), and God’s people must come to know, love, and delight in this precious, poignant, and piercing reality.

Honoring the Lord’s Holy Name – Iain Campbell

You Shall Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain by Iain Campbell | Reformed Theology Articles at

TT-June 2015This month’s issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries devotional magazine) is devoted to the theme of keeping the law of God (ten commandments – more on this in another post this week).

Last week I read two more of the feature articles on the first four commandments, those which define our relationship of love to our loving, redeeming Father in Christ Jesus. One of these explained the third commandment, where God calls us not to take His glorious name in vain but rather to honor and magnify it.

Here is part of Dr.Iain Campbell’s explanation of it as found in this issue (for the full article, use the link above):

The ethic of Jesus is the ethic of the Ten Commandments. He taught His people to live by that rule, and He did so Himself. He is the very embodiment of obedience to God; nowhere are the Ten Commandments personified and manifested in their fullness as they are in the life of Jesus.

As the law of God requires of us not to take His name in vain, so Jesus teaches us to pray, “Hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). Prayer expresses our desire to keep the third commandment. It also expresses our need for the grace of God to that end. Prayer is a recognition that what God requires of us, He also provides for us.

…John Calvin is correct, therefore, when he comments on the third commandment that “it becomes us to regulate our minds and our tongues, so as never to think or speak of God and his mysteries without reverence and great soberness, and never, in estimating his works, to have any feeling toward him but one of deep veneration” (Institutes 2.8.22). That sense of veneration in connection with God’s name is what characterizes a life of holiness and a worship that is genuine. Both in our service and in our worship, we are to think on the things of God with adoration and reverence, knowing that the fact that God has revealed Himself to us by name is itself a great act of grace.

By naming Himself, God not only discloses who He is, but He does so in such a way that we might know Him personally. To live by the terms of the third commandment is to recognize and confess that God deserves the highest honor; that He has singled us out by putting His name on us; that we would be entirely lost were it not that for the sake of His name He keeps and protects us; and that He calls us to live after the example of Jesus, glorifying God on earth. We are the bearers of the name of God; may all our conduct show it.

Good things for us to ponder on this Lord’s Day, as we come into our Father’s presence and use His Name in our worship. And good things for us to remember as we enter the work-week with that great and gracious Name on us and in us.

“…All of that eternal life will be concentrated upon the everlasting praise of God….” – Rev. H.Hoeksema

Last Sunday our pastor at Faith PRC preached a wonderful sermon on Lord’s Day 22 of the Heidelberg Catechism, where this Reformed teacher is explaining the last articles of the Apostles’ Creed (the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting).

Image result for i believe the life everlastingSince every Sunday is a foretaste of that future glory of the church with her great God and Savior, this morning we post an excerpt from Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s exposition of this Lord’s Day. It is taken from vol.5, Abundant Mercy (Eerdmans, 1949), p.148( now being reprinted by the RFPA in the original ten volumes). These are his final paragraphs on “the life everlasting.”

But the essence of all the blessedness and glory of that new world will, nevertheless, be the perfect fellowship of friendship with the living God in Christ. Everywhere in that new world we shall see Christ, and, in Him, the Father. We shall see Him face to face. All our knowledge will then be theology, in the highest sense of the word. This is eternal life, to know Thee, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent!

Of that glory we can only form a faint conception as long as we are in this life.

For, as the Catechism reminds us, that perfect salvation belongs to the things ‘which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.’

But when it shall be revealed, all of that eternal life will be concentrated upon the everlasting praise of God, of Whom, and through Whom, and unto Whom are all things.

To Him be glory forever!

If that is the essence and ultimate purpose of our glorious future, and if today is another preview of that “life everlasting”, shall we not seek to see the face of Christ and glorify our God in our worship and in all our activities this day? May God grant us grace so to do.

Calvinism is Militant! – Prof.B.Gritters

SB-May15-2015In the latest issue of the Standard Bearer (May 15, 2015) Prof. B.Gritters continues his series on “What It Means to be Reformed” (on Calvinism and its implications) with an important reminder that Calvinism is also militant. We let him explain the meaning of this aspect of our Reformed faith.

Calvinism is also militant. In fact, militancy is not so much an implication of Calvinism as it is an essential aspect of it. If a Christian is a Calvinist, he is a warrior for truth. This does not surprise anyone who knows even a little bit about Calvinism.

To be militant is to be polemical. Polemics is the activity of exposing, opposing, resisting, and ultimately (by the power and grace of God) eliminating error – error of teaching, or error of conduct. Polemics is being militant.

Reformed Christians must be willing to fight for the truth of God – His name and reputation, His works, and centrally His work in Jesus Christ to save His covenant people. Answer the questions: How did God save His people? How today does He accomplish that wonder-work? Why does He save them? The answer to those questions is truth. And for that truth, Reformed Christians are willing to fight. Lies about God’s work must be exposed. Spades must be called spades. And if Pelagianism is again resurrected out of hell in 2015, we must be willing to call it so, to expose and eliminate it, just as our fathers did at Dordt 400 years ago (365).

To read more about this militant side of Calvinism, read your May 15, 2015 “SB.” To become a subscriber, visit the “SB” link above and let the RFPA know.

How Do I Teach Doctrine to My Family? – Jon Payne

How Do I Teach My Family? by Jon Payne | Reformed Theology Articles at

TT May 2015Another excellent article on the subject of doctrine in this month’s Tabletalk is the one linked above by Dr. Jon Payne (see bio information below). Payne addresses the practical question of teaching doctrine in our homes.

There are three good thoughts for us as husbands and fathers (who are called to lead in this calling, but you also who are wives and mothers must assist us!). I include the opening one, in part because we may be surprised that Payne placed this one first. Yet it is so crucial for the sound doctrinal foundation of our families. Do not take it for granted.

Every Christian home is meant to be a school of Christ—a place of spiritual nurture, loving discipline, sound doctrine, and biblical piety. This is not a reference to Victorian-era portraits of the Christian family; it is the clear teaching of Scripture and the Reformed tradition. Even so, our hectic schedules, ubiquitous gadgets, and misplaced priorities often make our homes similar to those of our unbelieving neighbors. God becomes an afterthought. Here are three things to remember as we seek to build God-centered homes where sound doctrine is the foundation and our Lord Jesus Christ is the cornerstone.

First, we must be committed to the ministry of the local church. Every Christian family needs God’s appointed means of grace and the shepherding care of godly elders (Acts 20:28Heb. 13:171 Tim. 3:1–7). The ministry of the visible church is a nonnegotiable for believers and their children. The first Christian families were “devoted to the apostles’ teaching [doctrine] and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). They were under the loving spiritual oversight of elders—men who were called to “shepherd the flock of God” and “give instruction in sound doctrineand also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9, emphasis added; see 1 Peter 5:2Titus 2:1). The church was central to their Christian identity. It is inside, not outside, the divinely ordained structure of a biblical church that Christian families are grounded in the gospel. A faithful church is where families mature in their knowledge, understanding, and practice of sound doctrine. Therefore, Christian households are encouraged to submit joyfully to the ministry of a local church body and to learn from pastors who labor “to present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28–29; seeEph. 4:11–16).

Rev. Jon D. Payne is senior minister of Christ Church Presbyterian in Charleston, S.C., and visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta. He is author of several books, including John Owen on the Lord’s Supper.

Ascension Thoughts: Seeing Jesus Crowned – Rev.M.De Vries

The May 15, 2015 issue of the Standard Bearer is out, and the meditation this time focuses our attention on the glorification of Jesus Christ in His ascension to heaven and sitting at God’s right hand. Rev.Michael DeVries, pastor of Kalamazoo PRC, is the author of this instructive and comforting article.

To view more of the content of this latest issue of the “SB”, click on the image to the left. For information about subscribing to this solidly Reformed periodical published by the RFPA, visit the link above.

Here are a few of Rev.M. DeVries’ thoughts on the glory of our ascended Savior-King:

“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Hebrews 2:9

Like the multitudes of Jesus’ day many today want an earthly Jesus who will satisfy their carnal desires by creating an earthly kingdom of peace and prosperity. They minimize and ignore His ascension and its significance. But by grace we rejoice in the ascension and exaltation of Christ. We see how necessary it was for the salvation of the church. We understand that were Christ to have remained here on this earth, His coming in our flesh would contain no advantage for us at all.

But even more, by faith we see Jesus crowned with glory and honor at God’s right hand! No, we could not be there with the disciples to see this side of the ascension. But by faith we see Christ exalted on the glorious, heavenly side! We behold His coronation and see Him set at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, (Ephesians 1:20, 21). The very sight of Him in His glory ought to fill our hearts with joy and peace. And see Him we do according to this Word of God!

And then, after explaining the nature of this exaltation and its purpose in the plan of God for our salvation, Rev. DeVries closes a note of comfort:

What comfort the exaltation of Christ affords us! We may face the future with courage and confidence. With the natural eye what we see is frightening and discouraging. For as we note from the preceding verse, “But now we see not yet all things put under him.” We see man far, far lower than the angels, yea, in the depths of depravity. We see abounding iniquity and immorality. We see a generation of the ungodly having apparent control in this world, committing horrible atrocities. We see the faithful church hated and persecuted as never before. We see the powers of darkness increasing in their bold and wicked attempt to destroy the church of God. We see our place in this world becoming smaller and smaller.

…But let us not despair! For we see Jesus, crowned with glory and honor!

With the eye of faith we see Him in perfect control over all these enemies of the church. We see Him with the Book of the seven seals of God’s counsel. He faithfully and powerfully causes all things to come to pass which must shortly occur in order that He may return to glorify His Church. By faith we see that we are secure and that our salvation is absolutely sure. Seeing Jesus crowned with glory and honor means that the victory is already ours! We are now more than conquerors!

As long as we see Him there all is well. How blessed it is to look into heaven by faith and see Jesus there in His glory and honor, working all things for our good! Make no mistake, all things work together for good exactly because Christ was crowned with glory and honor for all those for whom He tasted death.


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