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.

Biblical Preaching: The Antidote to Anemic Worship – A. Mohler

One of the special articles in the July Tabletalk is the one quoted and linked below, in which Dr. Al Mohler comments on the rise of music as central in modern evangelical worship and the subsequent demise of the preaching of the gospel.

Toward the end of the article, after his criticism of contemporary worship music, Mohler begins to get at what should be “front and center” in evangelical worship:

A concern for true biblical worship was at the very heart of the Reformation. But even Martin Luther, who wrote hymns and required his preachers to be trained in song, would not recognize this modern preoccupation with music above all else as legitimate or healthy. Why? Because the Reformers were convinced that the heart of true biblical worship is the preaching of the Word of God.

Following which Mohler adds these significant paragraphs:

Expository preaching is central, irreducible, and nonnegotiable to the Bible’s mission of authentic worship that pleases God.

The centrality of preaching is the theme of both testaments of Scripture. In Nehemiah 8, we find the people demanding that Ezra the scribe bring the book of the law to the assembly. Interestingly, the text explains that Ezra and those assisting him read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (Neh. 8:8). This remarkable text presents a portrait of expository preaching. Once the text was read, it was carefully explained to the congregation. Ezra did not stage an event or orchestrate a spectacle—he simply and carefully proclaimed the Word of God.

This text is a sobering indictment of much of contemporary Christianity. According to the text, a demand for biblical preaching erupted within the hearts of the people. They gathered as a congregation and summoned the preacher. This reflects an intense hunger and thirst for the preaching of the Word of God. Where is this desire evident among today’s evangelicals?

And that leads him to conclude with these words:

The anemia of evangelical worship—all the music and energy aside—is directly attributable to the absence of genuine expository preaching. Such preaching would confront the congregation with nothing less than the living and active Word of God. That confrontation will shape the congregation as the Holy Spirit accompanies the Word, opens eyes, and applies that Word to human hearts.

Let’s give thanks that at the center of our own Reformed worship remains the pure preaching of the gospel, not music or various forms of entertainment. But let’s also examine our own hearts to make sure that this is what we truly desire – in faithfulness to the Bible and the God of the Bible. Otherwise our own worship, though biblically right in form, is just as anemic as that practiced by others.

Source: The Antidote to Anemic Worship by Albert Mohler

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?

Entertainment and Worship – July 2017 “Tabletalk”

The July 2017 issue of Tabletalk takes for its theme “Entertainment,” and though I am just getting started with the articles in it, I have profited from what I have read so far about this complex and difficult subject.

In his editorial “Discerning Entertainment” Burk Parsons touches on the proper place of entertainment as well the dangers of it for the Christian:

Entertainment of all sorts can be a wonderful way to rest and recuperate from the busyness, noise, and struggles of life. Entertainment allows our imaginations to travel the world and explore the universe, to go on adventures with hobbits and knights in shining armor, to go back in time and experience history, and to better understand people and our culture. But we must always guard our eyes and our hearts. For we cannot even begin to understand all the ways that Hollywood has affected us. Entertainment affects our minds, our homes, our culture, and our churches. Consequently, we must be vigilant as we use discernment in how we enjoy entertainment—looking to the light of God’s Word to guide us and inform our consciences.

In Joe Thorn’s article linked here for the rubric “Pastor’s Perspective,” he addresses the danger of bringing entertainment into our worship of God.

Below is part of what he has to say about the current trends found in the church today and what our focus ought to be when we enter the Lord’s presence:

The encroachment of entertainment into our worship is not a matter of style but of substance. Entertainment is a good thing, but its purpose is the refreshment of the mind and body, not the transformation of the mind or the edification of the spirit. The danger of entertainment in worship is not about which musical instruments are permitted or what era of hymns the church should sing. The danger is found in what the church is aiming at. Entertainment has a different aim than worship. Entertainment is something offered to people for their amusement. Yet worship has a different focus and produces a different result.

The focus of worship is God, not man, which immediately pits it against entertainment. We offer ourselves to the Lord individually and collectively on Sunday morning. The church ascribes honor to God in the reading, preaching, singing, and praying of His Word. True worship is inherently God-centered and God-directed. What is done when the church is gathered is to be done according to God’s will and for His pleasure. This stands in opposition to entertainment, which is a spiritually powerless work directed at the people.

To read the rest, visit the Ligonier link below.

Source: Entertainment and Worship by Joe Thorn

I might also add that the daily devotionals this month are on the Reformed-biblical view of the law, or as the issue has it in its introduction to the devotions, “The Right Use of God’s Law.”

Why Are the Psalms Difficult? – R. Godfrey

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017In the third chapter of his new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017), author W. Robert Godfrey asks and answers the question, “If the Psalms are so rich, why is it that many of us today do not treasure and appreciate them as the church did in the past?”

The chapter is titled “The Difficulty with the Psalms” and in it Godfrey provides five (5) reasons why he believes the Psalms present difficulties to this generation of believers. His first reason may surprise us:

The first is the diminished use of the King James Version of the Bible. The movement away from the King James Version has meant that the familiar poetic expressions of that version which had been passed down through many generations have largely been forgotten. With no one Bible translation replacing the King James Version, that poetry has not been effectively replaced for many contemporary Christians.

Striking isn’t it? So too is his second reason:

The second is the failure of many Christians in our time to study and use the Psalms. Few Christians sing the Psalms anymore. Even if a songbook contains a few psalms, and even if they are used occasionally, most singers will not notice that they are distinctive or particularly important. If we use the Psalter at all, it is probably in a rather superficial devotional way. Our minds and hearts are not saturated with the Psalms as the hearts and minds of earlier generations of Christians were [p.13].

Good food for thought in this Lord’s Day morning. Today as we spent time in God’s Word and as we enter the Lord’s house of worship and prayer, may we consciously embrace God’s speech to us in the Psalms – in the Word read and preached, in prayer, and in song.

The Attraction of the Psalms – W. R. Godfrey

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017From the first chapter of his new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017), W. Robert Godfrey gives us four (4) points about “The Attraction of the Psalms”:

Several features of the Psalms have been especially attractive to me. The first is the beauty of the language and the poetic expression of the great truths of the faith. Consider the simple words, ‘The LORD is my shepherd’ (Ps.23:1. How much comfort they have brought to many, many souls in distress.

…The second attraction is the discovery that the more you dig into the Psalter, the more you discover. Like all great poetry, the Psalms are like a mine with ever new depths to reach and ever more gold to find. They reward abundantly whatever effort we make to know them better.

Third, there are psalms for all occasions. The Psalms … mark all the important spiritual moments and emotions in the lives of the people of God. As John Calvin said, ‘I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul:” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.’ The Psalms teach us how to express our emotions to God in all the circumstances of our lives.

Fourth, the Psalms are full of Christ. They not only explicitly prophesy the coming of Christ…, but the message of the Psalms always pulls the soul to Christ and His great saving work. As was said in the ancient church, ‘Always a psalm in the mouth, always Christ in the heart.’ …The Psalms intensify our fellowship with Christ [pp.3-4].

*Note: This book is available for review in the Standard Bearer if you are interested, as I received a review copy from Ligonier last week.

If you wish to hear some beautiful Psalm music from the Psalter used by the PRC (as well as some other psalmody traditions, such as the Scottish Psalter), visit the YouTube channel of the PR Psalm Choir, directed by Mr. Josh Hoekstra (a sample video is provided below).

And don’t forget that TONIGHT is the second of the Psalm Choir concerts in the Grand Rapids, MI area – at First PRC in GR, beginning at 8:15 p.m.

The Ultimate Goal of Reading the Bible

Reading-Bible-Supernaturally-Piper-2017So, first, what does the Bible tell us is the ultimate goal of reading the Bible?

…The Bible itself shows that our ultimate goal in reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation. In other words, each time we pick up the Bible to read, we should intend that reading would lead to this end.

The way that we as individuals are caught up into this ultimate aim as we read the Bible becomes clear as we spell out six implications that flow from this proposed answer to our question. When we say that the ultimate goal of reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation, we imply that:

  1. the infinite worth and beauty of God are the ultimate value and excellence of the universe;
  2. that the supremely authentic and intense worship of God’s worth and beauty is the ultimate aim of all his work and word;
  3. that we should always read his word in order to see this supreme worth and beauty;
  4. that we should aim in all our seeing to savor his excellence above all things;
  5. that we should aim to be transformed by this seeing and savoring into the likeness of his beauty,
  6. so that more and more people would be drawn into the worshiping family of God until the bride of Christ – across all centuries and cultures – is complete in number and beauty.

Taken from the “Introduction to Part 1” of Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017), p39.

In light of these thoughts, we may ask ourselves on this Saturday night: Has our Bible reading of this past week (including today) made us see and savor the infinite worth and beauty of our God, such that we are ready to fill tomorrow (the Lord’s Day) with “white-hot worship” along with our fellow blood-bought members of Christ’s bride?

Listen Up! How to Listen to Bad Sermons (3)

listen-up-ashWe are wrapping up Christopher Ash’s booklet, Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), on how to listen to good (that is, biblically faithful) sermons (cf. my Saturday and Sunday posts in January, February, and March of this year), and have one more post to go.

As we pointed out at the beginning of this series of posts, Ash also has an “appendix” section in which he deals with “how to listen to bad sermons” (pp.24ff.). Ash recognizes that sometimes God’s people are subjected to bad sermons, and he wants us to understand  that in these cases too we have a responsibility to listen well.

You may recall that at the outset of this appendix section, the author divides “bad” sermons into three types: sermons that are “dull,” sermons that are “biblically inadequate,”and sermons that are “heretical.” Having considered “dull” and “biblically inadequate”sermons, we turn to the final subset of bad sermons – “heretical” ones. Yes, Ash deals with these too, and so must we.

Ash begins by defining what a heresy is, giving us three points:

  1. “First, it is an error in something central to Christian faith and not something peripheral” (he mentions as an example not a difference in church government but one who denies Jesus as the Messiah).
  2. “Second, a person is not a heretic if they get something wrong by mistake [or weakness], and then put it right when they are corrected. They are heretics, however, if they hold obstinately to teaching which the Bible shows to be wrong”[and we would add, contrary to the historic Confessions of the church].
  3. “Third. it is only heresy when the person actively seeks to teach this error in the church. A private opinion is not heresy. The mistake of a Christian is not heresy. ..A heretic is not only a false-believer but also also a false-teacher.”

So, what is our responsibility in cases where a minister of the Word is teaching heresy? Ash’ counsel is simple and direct:

The way to listen to these sorts of sermons is to stop listening to them! That is to say, we ought to move away from that kind of church and find a church where they believe and teach the Bible faithfully. We will not look for an exciting church, where the preaching entertains; we will look for a faithful, Bible-teaching church [p.28].

I am thankful to belong to such a church and denomination. Do we appreciate the good sermons we hear from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day? Are we praying for our pastors and, specifically, for their sermon preparation? And are we praying for our listening and for that of our fellow believers?

Ash ends with a good word for all of us:

Not all poor preaching is entirely the fault of the preacher; the congregation has a vital part to play. When a congregation makes it clear that they are reluctant to hear faithful preaching, that they want the sermons to be shorter and play a more marginal role in the meeting, when they listen stony-faced and give no word of encouragement, it is very hard for even the most faithful preacher to persevere (although they ought to, as Jeremiah had to). By contrast, a congregation eager for faithful, challenging Bible preaching is much more likely to get it [p.29].

To that, let’s give a hearty “Amen.”

Reformed Piety and Practice – R. Scott Clark

Today I read the third and final featured article on this month’s Tabletalk theme, which covers the 17th century of church history. This third article is “Reformed Piety and Practice,” written by Dr. R. Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary (west).

In the article, Clark contrasts the prevailing view of the Christian life as taught by and found in the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages (the monastic life) with the view that Martin Luther and the other Reformers rediscovered and taught during the Reformation period – true, biblical piety and practice.

Below I quote a few paragraphs from his profitable description of this proper view of the Christian life, significant too as we begin a new work week on the morrow. For the full article, visit the Ligonier link at the end.

As we celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, much is rightly made about the recovery of the biblical doctrines of salvation sola gratia, sola fide. The recovery of a biblical piety and practice is less well known but no less essential to the Reformation. When Luther left the monastery, he left behind Antony’s assumptions about the world, grace, and the Christian life. He recovered the biblical and ancient (anti-Gnostic) Christian doctrine of the essential goodness of creation. He recovered the biblical and Christian doctrine that every Christian, not just the priest and the monk, has a vocation from God. According to Luther, we are not called to flee the material world. We are called to flee sin but to serve Christ in God’s world as sinners freely forgiven for Christ’s sake alone.

In that connection, he points to a number of specific “reformations” the Reformers brought to the Christian life, especially in the area of worship. That included the place of God’s written Word in the lives of God’s people.

Following Luther’s translation of the Greek New Testament into German, the Reformed theologian William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536), a martyr for the gospel, translated the New Testament into English in 1525. Ten years later, Robert Olivetan (1506–38) produced a French translation of Scripture. The Reformed devoted themselves to this work so that God’s people could have Scripture in their own language that they might read it, pray over it, and teach it to their children at home. These translations also enabled families to hold devotions during the week, and the metrical Psalters gave them God’s Word for singing at home.

And Clark closes with these pertinent thoughts:

When, in 1517, Luther complained about the abuse of indulgences, he began a movement back to Scripture and toward a biblical understanding of piety in which Christ’s grace received in public worship overflows into private prayer and family devotions. He repudiated the error that there are two classes of Christians, and he repudiated their spiritual exercises. The Reformed followed him back to Scripture. But history tells us that there is a monk within each of us, continually looking for new ways to corrupt Christian piety, seeking to draw our eyes away from Christ, His grace, and His piety.

Source: Reformed Piety and Practice by R. Scott Clark

Listen Up! How to Listen to Bad Sermons (2)

listen-up-ashWe have now finished going through the seven main points of Christopher Ash’s booklet, Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), on how to listen to good (that is, biblically faithful) sermons (cf. my Saturday and Sunday posts in January and February of this year).

But, as we pointed out at the beginning of this series of posts, Ash also has an “appendix” section in which he deals with “how to listen to bad sermons” (pp.24ff.). Ash recognizes that sometimes God’s people are subjected to bad sermons, and he wants us to understand  that in these cases too we have a responsibility to listen well. So, it is worth our time to face this as well, since we have all heard at one time or another bad sermons.

Let me add this disclaimer at this point. It has been a long time since I heard a bad sermon. The PRC is blessed with good preachers and preaching, something I am thankful for each Lord’s Day. Today, too, we heard two wonderful sermons – one from our pastor (Rev. C. Spronk) and one from Seminarian Joe Holstege.

With that understanding, let’s return to Ash’s counsel about “bad sermons.” You may recall that at the outset of this section, the author divides “bad” sermons into three types: sermons that are “dull,” sermons that are “biblically inadequate,”and sermons that are “heretical.” Having considered “dull” ones last time, we turn to “biblically inadequate” ones in this post.

According to Ash, this is the kind of sermon in which you as a listener question where the the pastor got his thoughts from. “Somehow, the sermon seems to import all sorts of things not in the passage, or to screen out important things in the passage that do not feature in the preacher’s understanding of biblical truth. The sermon seems to be wrong in places, and to lack the Bible’s balance in other” (p.26).

How do we respond to such sermons? Ash advises us to avoid two dangers:

  1. “The first danger to avoid is developing a critical spirit.” Here, he references those in Jesus’ time who listened to Him, but only because they were trying to catch him i his words (Luke 11:54). We don’t want to be like that, “fault-finders”, because then we will only “feel good about ourselves, how clever we are or how well we know our Bibles; but it will never move us to repentance and faith.”
  2. “The second danger to avoid is being gullible and credulous, believing whatever any preacher says, so long as they say it plausibly and well.” Here, Ash references the Bereans, who tested even what Paul said by the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). But here, too, he advises us not to dwell on the parts of the sermon that were wrong, but on  those areas where the preacher was correct, biblically: “Let’s pray for God to apply the bits that came from the passage to our hearts and lives” (p.26).

Does that mean the minister is above questioning or beyond being helped? No, says Ash. If Priscilla and Aquila could help Apollos (Acts 18:27,28), then we may be used by God to help even a pastor grow to be a more biblical preacher. And, as he adds, ” a wise preacher will always be glad to be gently challenged and questioned by honest enquirers” (p.27).

Which also leads us to ask, Are we praying as diligently for our pastors as we ought? Do you want better (more biblical) sermons? Pray for your preacher daily! Listen well to what he brings each week! And encourage him in his work. What a calling he has as the mouthpiece of Jesus Christ!

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