Book Alert! “150 Questions about the Psalter” – Bradley Johnston

150-Questions-Psalter-Johnston-2014As book review editor for The Standard Bearer, we recently received a complimentary copy of a new publication from Crown & Covenant Publications titled 150 Questions about the Psalter: What You Need to Know about the Songs God Wrote (2014, 112 pgs., $9.00). The author is Bradley Johnston, a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, an exclusive Psalm-singing denomination.

The publisher provides this brief summary of the book on its website:

Who wrote the psalms, and why? Can we find Jesus in the Psalter? How do these ancient songs matter today?

In the style of a catechism, this books draws you into the majestic, meditative depths of the inspired songs of God. Divided into seven short sections, 150 questions and answers address the content and arrangement of the Psalter, Psalm genres and groupings, the historical context of the author, the Psalms relationship to the rest of Scripture and the life of Christ, and their use in private and public worship.

With appendixes that feature worksheets and charts, quotations from theologians and church fathers, this resource helps individuals, families, and churches understand and embrace the psalter for themselves.

This is a fine little book on the OT Psalter of the church, with the 150 questions and their answers giving Christians and the church today ample reason to sing the Psalms yet today, whether exclusively or predominantly. Think of it as a “catechism on the Psalms.” In addition, there are seven appendixes that treat special topics relating to the Psalms, such as “The Psalter in the New Testament”, “Martin Luther’s Favorite Psalms”, and “Arranging the Psalter in Your Head.” Charts and lists in this section add to the profit of the material covered.

As an example of the type of questions asked and answered, we quote two of them here:

8 How is the Psalter helpful to Christian saints?

There is no one book of Scripture that has been more helpful to Christian saints in all the ages of the church than the Psalter, ever since it was written. When we sing the Psalms we join our voices with true worshipers among the nations and throughout history who lift their souls to the Lord in faith (Psalm 25:1).

9 Why should Christians sing the Psalter?

Christians should sing the Psalter because the new covenant is like a marriage bond between God and his people, bringing joy and delight. But the main reason we ought to sing Psalms is because this practice is commanded by God through the apostles (p.4).

The Mercy of Hearing God’s Voice – A.Mohler

deuteronomy-6-4-5This morning before our worship today I post some thoughts of Dr. Al Mohler on passages in Deuteronomy emphasizing how Israel heard the voice of God when He delivered the law to them through Moses on Mt.Horeb.

Our men’s Monday night Bible study has started studying the book of Deuteronomy and in looking for a new Journal for our Seminary library, I discovered that the December 2014 issue of the Southern Baptist Theological Journal (the Seminary of which Mohler is president) is entirely devoted to this OT book.

Mohler’s fine article is titled “Has Any People Heard the Voice of God Speaking… And Survived?”, a reference to Deut.4:33. In this first part that I quote, Mohler has referenced verses 11-13 of that chapter. And he writes concerning this:

As will be made clear in the Second Commandment – this is not a God who is seen, but a God who is heard. The contrast with the idols is very clear – the idols are seen, but they do not speak. The one true and living God is not seen, but he is heard. The contrast is intentional, graphic, and clear – we speak because we have heard. And the voice of God is not something Israel deserved, nor do we. It is sheer mercy.

We have no right to hear God speak. We have no call upon his voice. We have no right to demand that he would speak. We are accustomed to pointing to the cross of Christ and glorying in the cross of Christ – as we ought always to do – and saying of the cross, ‘There is mercy!’ But at Mount Horeb, there too was mercy! There is mercy when God speaks. This is the mercy of God allowing us to hear his voice (p.10).

As he further explains this passage, Mohler makes eight (8) points of application, the last of which is “If God has spoken, we must witness.” I appreciated his final comments under this – fitting for us today as we will also hear God’s voice – and the church will proclaim that Word that she has heard.

The difference for the church is that we understand what it means to gather together as the ones who by the grace and mercy of God have heard. Under the authority of the Word we gather. We are not making this up as we go along. Our task is not to go figure out what to teach. Our task is not to figure out where to find meaning in life. It is to be reminded continually that we have heard the voice of God speaking from the fire and have survived, and thus we teach.

This is the mercy of God, to hear and yet survive. It is the mercy by which we live every day and experience every moment and evaluate every truth claim and judge every worldview and preach every sermon. We work and we live under that mercy. I cannot help connecting Deuteronomy 4 with Hebrews 1. The experience of Israel – hearing the Lord God speak from the midst of the fire and yet surviving – ties in so beautifully with the prologue of the book of Hebrews: ‘Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world’ (vv.1-2).

We are here because God has spoken, not only in the fire, but also in the Son – in whose name we gather as the church and in whose name we serve. The voice at Horeb points to its ultimate fulfillment in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate. For beyond the miracle of Israel hearing God’s voice and surviving, we can now know the Word of God made flesh and be saved (p.17).

True Religion Before God and the Father – H.Hanko

faithmadeperfect-hhanko-2015The Reformed Free Publishing Association has recently published a new commentary on the epistle of James by Prof. Herman Hanko (emeritus, PRC Seminary). It carries the title Faith Made Perfect: Commentary on James (RFPA, 2015).

Doing some reading in it this morning led me to these two quotes that are also fitting for us on this Lord’s Day when we are called to practice “true religion and undefiled before God and the Father” (1:27). And that is contrast to a religion that is “vain” because we do not bridle our tongues (1:26).

Here is some of what Prof.Hanko says about these verses in the end of James 1:

The word translated as ‘vain’ [1:26] is not kenos, which means empty, but mataios, which means aimless. It refers to a religion that is without purpose, without fruit, without any goal, when the goal of one’s life ought to be the glory of God and praise to him who is alone worthy of it. Everything he does in the practice of religion is purposeless. His singing in church, his giving alms, and his careful attention to religious practices – all are without purpose, for they are only outward. God is not praised; nothing that man does is of any benefit to himself or to God, all because he does not know how to bridle his tongue. That is a devastating indictment (pp.78-79).

And then on the next verse, v.27, Hanko has this to say:

The addition of ‘Father’ is remarkable. It immediately puts all worship in the context of a father-son relationship. Worship is family fellowship – fellowship between a Father and his children. It is a relationship of love and mutual joy. It is a confession, with all that is implied, that worship is conversation between our Father in heaven and his children. It is conversation between our Father in heaven and his children on earth. Thus true religion before the Father is also religion that preserves the proper ‘space’ between the almighty and eternal God and creatures who are very, very sinful children. True religion is praise to God for his love for us in Christ (pp.79-80)

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 Ligonier.org.

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.

Resting on God – “The Valley of Vision”

ValleyofVisionBookToday is the Lord’s Day, the day we mark the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ by worshiping our great and glorious God in His house with His people. It is the day of rest, as we rest in the finished work of our Savior Who has fulfilled the rest of the OT sabbath and given us perfect peace and rest.

As we begin this day of rest, this Puritan devotional from The Valley of Vision (ed. by A.Bennett,; Banner of Truth, 1975) is certainly appropriate. May it remind us, as Augustine stated long ago, that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

Resting on God

O God, most high, most glorious, the thought of Thine infinite serenity cheers me, for I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed, but Thou art for ever at perfect peace.

Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfilment, they stand fast as the eternal hills.

Thy power knows no bond, Thy goodness no stint.

Thou bringest order out of confusion, and my defeats are Thy victories: The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

I come to Thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows, to leave every concern entirely to Thee, every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood; revive deep spirituality in my heart; let me live near to the great Shepherd, hear His voice, know its tones, follow its calls.

Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth, from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit.

Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities, burning into me by experience the things I know; Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel, that I may bear its reproach, vindicate it, see Jesus as its essence, know in it the power of the Spirit.

Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill; unbelief mars my confidence, sin makes me forget Thee. Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots; grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to Thee, that all else is trifling.

Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy. Abide in me, gracious God.

If you prefer to listen this devotional read, you may find it here on YouTube.

Sunday Worship Thoughts: Rejoice with Trembling

The following quotation is part of this weekend’s devotional as found in Tabletalk, which I find appropriate for our worship today. It is based on Psalm 2:11 – “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”

…It is important to remember that the Bible does not in reality offer us a ‘normal’ experience of God We never get used to the majesty of the Being who has called us into existence, that is, and called us to Himself. Psalm 2:11 is one biblical text that makes this very plain…. Life lived unto God is not the equivalent of spiritual elevator music. It is the equivalent of a roaring symphony, an exhilarating performance of holiness.

It is only when we ‘rejoice with trembling’ that we fully grasp who the God of Scripture is. He is the one who has made us and who has brought us to Himself in fulfillment of His covenant promises. Because of this, He lifts our burdens. But our consciousness of His love never leads us to forget the magnitude of His perfections. We are always delighted to be His, but also aware that He is a great and terrible God.

Our modern minds resist this kind of double-sided testimony. We would rather focus on one concept, not two. But Scripture pictures God as a resplendent king. He roars over His creation, claiming it all (see Isa.45). As Christians who have fellowship with Him through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are subjects of the most powerful sovereign imaginable. We are able, by the kindness of His grace, to enter His court, and to dine at His table, and to see Him smile at us with love. But we never forget whose kingdom this is; we never lose sight of how majestic is the King. We always rejoice to be with Him; we always tremble before Him, for He is holy (Dr. Owen Strachan, p.51).

A Spiritually Thriving Christian – J.Owen

The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen  -     By: Ryan M. McGraw
This weekend I started to do some reading in a new title I had received for review from Reformation Heritage Books. The book, edited and introduced by Ryan M McGraw, is a small (in size and length – 150 pgs.) paperback titled The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen, part of their series “Profiles in Reformed Spirituality”.

The work, which purposes to introduce the reader to the theology of Puritan John Owen (1616-1683), consists mainly of brief selections (41 in all) from Owen’s writings, tying together the main themes of his theology: the Trinity (communion with God) and public worship (piety).

As I read through some of these brief chapters, I was struck by this one, “A Spiritually Thriving Christian”, taken from Owen’s The Nature and Causes of Apostasy. Keep that broader title in mind as Owen describes how important the church’s means of grace are for the spiritual health and growth of the believer. I believe you will find his thoughts a fitting cap to our Lord’s day in God’s house of fellowship and worship.

Again, there is not anything in the whole course of our obedience wherein the continual exercise of faith and spiritual wisdom, with diligence and watchfulness, is more indispensably required than it is to the due use and improvement of gospel privileges and ordinances, for there is no other part of our duty whereon our giving glory to God and the eternal concern of our own souls more eminently depend.

And he is a spiritually thriving Christian who knows how duly to improve gospel institutions of worship and does so accordingly, for they are the only ordinary outward means whereby the Lord Christ communicates of His grace to us and whereby we immediately return love, praise, thanks, and obedience to Him, in which spiritual intercourse the actings of our spiritual life principally do consist, and whereon, by consequence, its growth depends. It is therefore certain that our growth or decay in holiness, our steadfastness in or apostasy from profession, are greatly influenced by the use or abuse of these privileges (81).

Standing to Confess the Apostles’ Creed – Rev.C.Griess

SB-Feb1-2015-coverAnother profitable article found in the February 1, 2015 issue of The Standard Bearer is the latest installment from Rev.Cory Griess (Calvary PRC, Hull, IA) in the rubric “O Come Let Us Worship”, a series dealing with the public worship of the church.

At present he is treating the various elements of Reformed worship and is up to the church’s united confession of faith usually found in the evening service. We refer to the saints’ recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. Rev.Griess titles this article, “The Church Confessing Truth: Reciting the Apostles’ Creed” (this is the first part of two).

Interestingly, pastor Griess ties together the reading of the law in the morning service with its “replacement” in the evening service, the Apostles’ Creed. I will only quote a portion of that section where he treats this connection, but hope that you will certainly read all of it on your own.

Here he explains part of the significance of what the congregation is doing when it recites the creed together:

What drives the church to confess her faith in the evening is the overwhelming grace of God that she has experienced already in the morning. And she comes together in the evening, then, and stands up (that is great practice)! She arises to confess the truth that has liberated her and that continues to guide her in all her life.

To stand up and confess indicates commitment, a certain passion in the soul. Sometimes we use the phrase ‘stand up’ to tell people to hold to a conviction: ‘Stand up for freedom. Stand up for rights.’

When we confess the faith, we are standing up for God and all His truth. We are arising, in the face of all the world and its untruth, and saying, ‘God, this is what we believe about Thee, and should the world come into our building tonight and try to stop us from confessing truth about Thee, they will not stop us. We are redeemed by this truth, and we have experienced that again this morning; therefore Thou dost have our full allegiance’ (208).

When You Don’t Feel Like Singing – Randall Van Meggelen

When You Don’t Feel Like Singing by Randall Van Meggelen | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-Jan-2015While the theme of this month’s Tabletalk is the gospel (“The Good News”) and there are many good articles on this, I always enjoy and profit from the special rubric articles as well.

Under the rubric “Heart Aflame” musician and professor of music Randall Van Meggelen (see below) penned a nice piece on what to do “when you don’t feel like singing.” We have all experienced this reality in our lives, whether in public worship or private devotions, whether because of sadness, or depression, or just plain unspiritual attitudes.

To help us sing anyway, Van Megglen offers seven (7) doctrinal and practical points (all starting with a “p”). I give you the first two here and encourage you to read the rest at the Ligonier link above.

PURPOSE

God saved us to proclaim His praises (1 Peter 2:9). He seeks true worshipers (John 4:23) who express their worship in song. Singing is an important means of glorifying and enjoying God. Singing expresses our covenant relationship with God and submission to His will. It demonstrates the unity we enjoy in God with His people. We sing to offer adoration, praise, and gratitude to God for His name, perfections, Word, and works. Singing helps us remember and celebrate God’s past saving deeds, rejoice in His present goodness, and rehearse our future heavenly worship. Singing is also a command, gift, and spiritual discipline that is formative not only for what we believe, but how we live. Therefore, proclaim God’s praises.

PASSION

Worship rightly evokes feelings, but it is not chiefly about how we feel. Our feelings must be informed by God’s Word and subject to Christ’s lordship, not to the whims of personal preference. Scripture commands us to rejoice in the Lord. Singing enlivens our minds, wills, and feelings in ways that words alone cannot. When we engage our whole selves by presenting our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1), He does not despise our worship, but is pleased to bless our obedience with a greater hunger for and joy in Him. Therefore, sing even when you do not feel like it.

Randall Van Meggelen is chief musician at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and adjunct professor of sacred music at Reformation Bible College.

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)!

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