Rob Sturdy: Why do we believe what we believe?

20 12 2011

This was originally prepared for a new believers class

Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton write in their book SoulSearching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers that teens who self identify as Christians could be profoundly articulate about drinking, drugs, and sexually transmitted diseases, but had a difficult if not outright impossible time discussing what they believed and why. They argue:

“Philosophers like Charles Taylor argue that inarticulacy undermines the possibilities of reality. So, for instance, religious faith, practice, and commitment can be no more than vaguely real when people cannot talk much about them. Articulacy fosters reality. A major challenge for religious educators of youth, therefore, seems to be fostering articulation: helping teens practice talking about their faith, providing practice using vocabularies, grammar, stories, and key messages of faith. Especially to the extent that the language of faith in American culture is becoming a foreign language, educators, like real foreign language teachers, have that much more to work at helping their students learn to practice speaking that other language of faith.”

The simple lesson here is that if you are unable to articulate the faith for yourself, then you haven’t really learned the faith in such a way that you can own it.  You may wonder why it is that we begin a confirmation class here, discussing why we believe what we believe.  I hope it has become a bit more clear.  If you cannot articulate the faith then you have not really apprehended the faith.  If you have not apprehended the faith then the faith is not truly yours.

This wisdom is reflected not only in modern research as shown above, but it is an ancient wisdom found in the Old and New Testaments.  For example, in the Old Testament the ancient Jews were required not only to have faith in God but every member of Ancient Israel was required to be able to articulate who He was and what He had done for His people.  This is illustrated most vividly in the Passover service recorded Exodus 12.26-27.  Similarly in 1 Pet 3.15 we read “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”  This is not merely an evangelistic strategy, or a mechanism for handing the faith down to our children, but it is also a way inspired by the Holy Spirit for us to own our faith.  Once we articulate it, it is ours.

So we begin with a simple articulation of why we believe what we believe.  Each of us will articulate this in some form this evening to the people we are sitting with in order to make it our own.

If someone were to approach you this evening and ask you, “Why is it that you are a Christian as opposed to a Muslim, Jew or agnostic?” What would you say to them?  Would you make an appeal to the Bible?  But then they might ask, “Why do you believe the Bible?”  Would you say that you were raised a Christian?  Well, they might simply say that a Jew is raised a Jew.  Perhaps you would argue that you had a spiritual experience that led you to believe in Christ.  But how would you articulate that in terms that weren’t abstract but reasonable and concrete?  Tonight we will explore these things and many others.

Why are we Christians and not Buddhists, Jews, Hindus or Muslims?

There are many different people in the world, just as smart if not smarter than you.  There are many different people in the world just as moral, if not more so than you.  There are many different people in the world just as spiritual, if not more so than you.  So why are you a Christian?  And if you are a Christian who are you to say that you have the truth and someone else does not?  Surely we live in a very big and confusing world and God is a very big and confusing topic.  Who are we as Christians to say we’ve got the market cornered on God and the truth about him?

Christianity shares many things in common with the other major religions of the world.  And of course there is a sharp separation on many points.  However if you wanted to find the main point of departure between Christianity and the other world religions it would have to be Jesus. Huston Smith notes, in the world religions only two people ever astounded their contemporaries so much that the question evoked was not “Who is he?” but “What is he?”  They were Jesus and Buddha.  The answers these two gave were exactly opposite.  Buddha said unequivocally that he was a mere man, not a god- almost as if he foresaw later attempts to worship him.  Jesus on the other hand, claimed to be divine.

The problem with Jesus’ identity emerges from the data.  For example:

“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (John 8.56-59)

“And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2.1-12)

So the main point of departure between Christianity and the other world religions is that Jesus claimed to be more than a man.  In fact, Jesus claimed to be God.  He did not claim to be God in such a way that he left open the possibility that others might be God as well.  In fact, He claimed that he and he alone was God.  He claimed that it was only through him that you could know real truth.  He claimed that only through him could you receive salvation.  Only through him could you know the father.

Now Jesus is neither the first or the last person to make such statements.  In fact, many people even today make such statements.  Most of the time we commit them to mental institutions.  Why?  Because we don’t believe them.  Why don’t we believe them?  Because they have not given us adequate reason to believe them.

We should be thankful that Jesus depicts himself and who he thought himself to be in such clear terms because it forces us to make a clear choice.  C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”

So what did Jesus say about himself?

Jesus claimed to have the authority to forgive sins:  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2.5)

Lewis demonstrates well why Jesus’ claims to forgive sins are so remarkable.  He writes:

“We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself.  You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you.  But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money?  Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct.  Yet this is what Jesus did.  He told people that their sins were forgiven and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured.  He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences.  This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in ever sin.  In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.”[1]

Jesus claimed that he would one day judge the world:  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matt 25.31-32)

Jesus claimed to be God’s Christ/ Messiah:  “But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.” (Mark 14.61-64)

Jesus claimed to be God:  “The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” (John 10.33)

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20.26-29)Notice at Thomas’ confession of Jesus as God, Jesus does not rebuke Thomas but rather affirms Thomas’ conclusion. 

Now that we’ve established some of what Jesus had to say about himself, we then go on to say why it is that it is reasonable to believe him.  While there are many persuasive elements as to why it is reasonable to believe Jesus, we will spend time on only one.  Perhaps the most persuasive is the event of the resurrection.

Consider this episode from Luke’s Gospel:

“That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.” (Luke 24.13-21)

What is remarkable about this excerpt from Luke’s Gospel is that it takes the doubts and disbelief of the disciples so seriously.  Read it closely.  The disciples respond “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”  In other words, they were convinced by his teaching, by his miracles, and by his character, however his death on the cross persuaded them that he could possibly be the Messiah.  It was inconceivable that God would allow his Messiah to die on a cross.

Consider also this episode from John’s Gospel:

“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20.24-25)

Again, the point being that Thomas had ceased to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and certainly was not going to believe that he (Jesus) had come back from the dead.  Thomas is an “un-believer”.

Consider the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus:

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letter to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9.1-2)

Whether we are considering the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Thomas in John’s Gospel, or Paul (Saul) in the book of Acts, the unifying theme is that none of them believed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.  Yet all of them had a change of heart.  What provoked this change of heart?  In each and every instance it was a personal encounter with the risen Jesus.  Furthermore, it is important to note that in each instance, the men who did not believe would later be martyred for their confession that Jesus was the risen Lord.  What provoked this change of heart?  Is it not reasonable that the risen Lord did this?  So you see our hope is not grounded upon “a blind leap.”  There are more ways to develop and challenge these thoughts, but this is a good introduction into why we believe what we believe.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan 1977) pg 55

Rob Sturdy: What is the Bible?

20 12 2011

This was originally prepared for our new believers class

The great Baptist preacher from England, Charles Spurgeon, once remarked:

 “I was thoughtless like others; I laughed religion to scorn, and those who attended to it; my language was, Let us eat, drink and enjoy the sunshine of life, but now through Christ Jesus I find the Bible a honeycomb, which hardly needs to be pressed to let the drops of honey run out; it is so sweet and precious to my taste that I wish I could sit down and feast on my Bible forever.”[1]

Our topic is what is the Bible, and to that end Spurgeon’s quote helps us significantly as we seek to understand more fully what it is.  To put it quit simply, it is a feast for the soul, it is food that endures and satisfies.But in order to be truly helpful we need to pull the Bible out of the abstraction of Spurgeon, no matter how beautiful and speak more concretely as to what the Bible is.  So first we must pick up our Bible!  The Bible you have in your hands is an English translation of two primary languages, Hebrew in the Old Testament and Greek in the New Testament.  If you open your Bible to the Table of Contents you will notice that the Bible is broken up into two major sections.  These sections are the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament.  And though your Table of Contents will not make these divisions, you can further divide both Testaments further if you wish.  Perhaps you might want to take a pen or highlighter and make these divisions yourself.

The Old Testament

The Pentateuch, The Torah, The Books of Moses






The Books of History




1 & 2 Samuel

1 & 2 Kings

1 & 2 Chronicles




Wisdom Literature





Song of Solomon

The Major Prophets






The Minor Prophets













The New Testament

They Synoptic Gospels




John’s Gospel


Paul’s Letters to the Churches


1 & 2 Corinthians





1 & 2 Thessalonians

Paul’s Letters to Individuals

1 & 2 Timothy




The Catholic Epistles

1 & 2 Peter

1, 2, 3, John




The above list does, in a bare bones way answer the question “what is the Bible?” However, we as Christians would like to say that the Bible is more than this.  As Anglicans, we agree that at the bare minimum the Bible “contains all things necessary for salvation” and “whatever is not read in the Bible or can be proven by the Bible is not required to be believed by any man” (Article VI).  What does this mean?  It means as Anglicans we believe that God has revealed enough of His truth within the pages of the Bible to lead a man or woman to saving knowledge of God.  Furthermore, as Anglicans we believe that the Church is not free to lay requirements (whether beliefs, morality, or actions) upon individuals that cannot be explicitly or implicitly proven by Scripture.  The presupposition behind these assertions is that God has spoken authoritatively in the pages of Scripture on salvation, faith, history, morality, and life.  This is not all that one can say about Scripture.  In fact the clergy of this church believe far more about Scripture than this.  But we believe this is a good starting point.

One thing we must say before we go further is our commitment to the Scriptures as ademocratizing force in the congregation.  By this we mean everyone has a Bible, everyone can read along with us in the Bible as we preach, and each and everyone person who reads along is free to confirm our interpretation or challenge it.  The pastors of a church are set apart to preach the word, but they are not above the word.  Their actions must be consistent with the word.  Therefore, this doctrine of scripturekeeps pastors from becoming dictators by holding them accountable to God by his word and the collective interpretation of the church (past and present). 

These are some large truths that the Anglicans are making about Scripture.  How are they justified?  To go back to our theme for this confirmation course, “what is the reason for the hope you have in…” to believe in the authority of the Bible?

Four Reasonable Arguments for the Authority of the Bible:

  • Jesus is the Son of God.  Jesus treated the Old Testament as authoritative.  Therefore the Old Testament is an authoritative word of God.  What about the New Testament?  The Apostles were charged to “teach everything that Jesus taught them”.  They claim to have done so.  Their teachings are consistent with the meaning of the Old Testament as explained by Jesus.
  • Internal Consistency: Within the 15,000 manuscripts we have of the Old and New Testaments the level of contradiction within them is slender and inconsequential (number of angels at the tomb for instance).  As opposed to the level of variation within Aristotle which is literally in the thousands, and on major philosophical points.  Consider the mann in which we received Aristotle.  For example, Felix Grayeff’s article “The Problem of the Genesis of Aristotle’s Text” published inPhronesisA Journal for Ancient Philosophy outlines the process by which we have received Aristotle’s works.  Aristotle died, his library (including his writings) go to Theoprhastus who bequeathed them to Neleus who took them to his native Corsica.  Neleus’ relatives in inherited Aristotle and greatly neglected the books and journals.  They were hidden for a time to escape the King of Pergamon and were buried under ground where the suffered irreparable damage due to moth and moisture.  150 years later the only surviving copies, greatly damaged, were gathered and edited by Tyrannion who wrote the missing paragraphs himself.  Desiring to publish the works, he contracted the copying work out to copyists, who were recognized even by Tyrannion to be inferior and their job.  Finally these works were given to booksellers who edited them once again producing myriad faulty editions.  All this to say one simple point.  You will, without thinking, pick up Aristotle and believe you are reading Aristotle, but you have far better reason to trust the manuscript of the Bible than you do Aristotle on those grounds.  This leads Purtil, in his book Thinking About Religion to write:

“If the biblical narratives did not contain accounts of miraculous events…biblical history would probably be regarded as much more firmly established than most of the history of say, classical Greece and Rome.”

  • Well preserved manuscripts:  “It is indeed a great relief against the inconvenience of corrupt translations, to consider that although some of them be bad enough, yet, if all the errors and mistakes that are to be found in all the rest should be added to the worst of all, every necessary, saving, fundamental truth, would be found sufficiently testified therein.”[2]  The manuscripts are remarkably well preserved, however there are some variants and inconsistencies.  What shall we say about these things?  Do the variants and the inconsistencies actually change the narrative?  In other words, if we removed those instances with variants and inconsistencies would we lose the story that God became flesh, lived as Jesus of Nazareth, died on a cross and rose again three days later?  This story stays intact.

One Persuasive Argument for the authority of the Bible

We live in an age of rationalism, which is something quite different than simply being rational.  Rationalism for the purposes of this discussion, believes that human beings come to knowledge strictly through intellectual and deductive reasoning in a closed system, that is without the aid of divine assistance.  In our time, this has manifested itself with an overdependence upon logic and what can be proven by the scientific method.  This method works quite well when we want to understand cellular biology, analytical physics, or geometry.  However, rationalism does not do us much good when we want to discuss the deeper experiences of being human.  By this we mean concepts such as justice, love, mercy, compassion, anger, the desire for purpose, the concept of the divine.  To this we must look for something beyond rationalism, because at this very point where we need something most rationalism fails to account for the deep needs of our humanity.  This of course does not prove that the Bible is the book to meet those deep needs, nevertheless the Bible acknowledges those deep needs and provides answers.  It is now up to you to see if the answers it provides are persuasive.  But in order to that, you must pick it up and read it!

If the Bible is authoritative, what does it say? 

The Bible says a lot!  And the best way to determine what it says is to jump right in and learn it for yourself.  Unfortunately, many people are intimidated by the Bible and not certain how to read it.  For one, the Bible ought to be read as a whole.  One must not pick up Paul’s letter to the Romans and let that letter stand on its own.  Rather, the Romans should be placed within the larger framework of the unified story that the Bible is telling.  The essential story of the Bible is about God, his creation, its fall and subsequent redemption through act of Jesus, and final restoration.  The Bible has many different ways of expressing that story, with themes such as substitution, forgiveness, restoration, release, healing, and many others.  We will pick one theme that is demonstrated well throughout the whole Bible so that we might become familiar with reading the Bible as a unified whole.  I have chosen the theme of Ransom.  Ransom is a good theme for our purposes because it literally runs from the first book of the Bible to the very last.  Below are texts that we will read together.  See if you can piece the story together for yourself with the scripture listed below.

Salvation History (for the perspective of the theme of Ransom):

Gen 1.27

Gen 3.1-20

Gen 5.3

Gen 15

Exodus 6.6

Leviticus 25.25

Ruth ch. 3

Job 33.24

Isa 53

Psalm 22

Hos 13.14

Zech 12.10

Mark 10.45

1 Peter 1.18

Rev 5.9

[1] Spurgeon, “Confirming the Witness of Christ”  vol II pg 226


[2] John Owen, Of the Divine Original of the Scriptures, Owen’s Works vol 16

John Owen: Grace, a necessary preparation for glory

20 12 2011

I had a decent introduction to Owen last year, reading three of his major works.  So I decided two weeks ago to go ahead and order his complete works, which arrived in the mail last week.  So far I have read three books from this set: On the Divine Original of the Scriptures (Vol XVI); Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity (Vol II); and Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ (Vol I).  I will be using his commentary on Hebrews to finish out our Hebrews Bible study, so I’m looking forward to that as well.  Many say that Owen is difficult to read, I find him easier the farther along I get in him.  Let me simply say, he is worth the time.  Take the time to digest the quote below, and see if you can really understand the root of what the man is saying.  In a nutshell, the believer hopes to be with Christ in heaven because the believer has had  an experience of the glory of Christ, by faith, in this life on earth.  Those who have not had an experience of the glory of Christ on this earth, have no content for their hope for heaven.  Tease that out a bit and see where you land.  Enjoy!

No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight   hereafter, who does not in some measure behold it by faith here in this world. Grace is a necessary preparation for glory, and faith for sight. Where the subject (the soul) is not previously seasoned with grace and faith, it is not capable of glory or vision. Nay, persons not disposed hereby unto it cannot desire it, whatever they pretend; they only deceive their own souls in supposing that so they do. Most men will say with confidence, living and dying, that they desire to be with Christ, and to behold his glory; but they can give no reason why they should desire any such thing, – only they think it somewhat that is better than to be in that evil condition which otherwise they must be cast into for ever, when they can be here no more. If a man pretend himself to be enamoured on, or greatly to desire, what he never saw, nor was ever represented unto him, he does but dote on his own imaginations. And the pretended desires of many to behold the glory of Christ in heaven, who have no view of it by faith whilst they are here in this world, are nothing but
self-deceiving imaginations.

So do the Papists delude themselves. Their carnal affections are excited by their outward senses to delight in images of Christ, – in his sufferings, his resurrection, and glory above. Hereon they satisfy themselves that they behold the glory of Christ himself and that with love and great delight. But whereas there is not the least true representation made of the Lord Christ or his glory in these things, – that being confined absolutely unto the gospel alone, and this way of attempting it being laid under a severe interdict, – they do but sport themselves with their own deceivings.

The apostle tells us concerning himself and other believers, when the Lord Christ was present and conversed with them in the days of his flesh, that they “saw his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,” John 1: 14. And we may inquire, what was this glory of Christ which they so saw, and by what means they obtained a prospect of it. For, – l. It was not the glory of his outward condition, as we behold the glory and grandeur of the kings and potentates of the earth; for he made himself of no reputation, but being in the form of a servant, he walked in the condition of a man of low degree. The secular grandeur of his pretended Vicar makes no representation of that glory of his which his disciples saw. He kept no court, nor house of entertainment, nor (though he made all things) had of his own where to lay his head. Nor, – 2. Was it with respect to the outward form of the flesh which he was made, wherein he took our nature on him, as we see the glory of a comely or beautiful person; – for he had therein neither form nor comeliness that he should be desired, “his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men,” Isa. 52: 14; 53: 2, 3. All things appeared in him as became “a man of sorrows.” Nor, – 3. Was it absolutely the eternal essential glory of his divine nature that is intended; for this no man can see in this world. What we shall attain in a view thereof
hereafter we know not. But, – 4. It was his glory, as he was “full of grace and truth.” They saw the glory of his person and his office in the administration of grace and truth. And how or by what means did they see this glory of Christ? It was by faith, and no otherwise; for this privilege was granted unto them only who ”received him,” and believed on his name, John 1: 12. This was that glory which the Baptist saw, when, upon his coming unto him he said unto all that were presents “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” verses 29-33.

Wherefore let no man deceive himself; he that has no sight of the
glory of Christ here, shall never have any of it hereafter unto his
advantage. It is not, therefore, unto edification to discourse of
beholding the glory of Christ in heaven by vision, until we go
through a trial whether we see anything of it in this world by faith
or no.

John Owen, The Glory of Christ (Owen’s Works vol I pg 288-289)

Horatius Bonar: Christ our substitute

20 12 2011

Everyone has the experience of being ashamed or embarrassed.  Perhaps this is because you are a social outcast, perhaps it is because through pride, arrogance, or shamefulness you did something that caused your good name to be tarnished.  Perhaps a family member did something shameful that by virtue of your common name, you are associated with and thus shamed with him.  At this point, you might want nothing more than to exchange names with someone whose name is not tarnished.  Of course the Scriptures testify to this end, that we have exchanged names with Jesus Christ.  His honor, glory, and beauty have become ours.  Our shame has become his.   This is the beauty of what Bonar is driving at in teh following excerpt from his great work, The Everlasting Righteousness

To be entitled to use another’s name, when my own name is worthless; to be allowed to wear another’s raiment, because my own is torn and filthy; to appear before God in another’s person, the person of the Beloved Son, this is the summit of all blessing. The sin-bearer and I have exchanged names, robes, and persons! I am now represented by Him, my own personality having disappeared; He now appears in the presence of God for me (Hebrews 9:24). All that makes Him precious and dear to the Father has been transferred to me. His excellency and glory are seen as if they were mine; and I receive the love, and the fellowship, and the glory, as if I had earned them all. So entirely one am I with the sin-bearer, that God treats me not merely as if I had not done the evil that I have done; but as if I had done all the good which I have not done, but which my Substitute has done. In one sense I am still the poor sinner, once under wrath; in another I am altogether righteous, and shall be so for ever, because of the Perfect One, in whose perfection I appear before God. Nor is this a false pretense or a hollow fiction, which carries no results or blessings with it. It is an exchange which has been provided by the Judge, and sanctioned by law; an exchange of which any sinner upon earth may avail himself and be blest.

Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness (Banner of Truth Trust 1993 pgs 44-45)

John Owen: What will Christ not do for us?

20 12 2011

a remarkable passage from Owen’s The Glory of Christ

Unto whom we retake ourselves for relief in any case, we have regard to nothing but their will and their power. If they have both, we are sure of relief. And what shall we fear in the will of Christ as unto this end? What will he not do for us? He who thus emptied and humbled himself, who so infinitely condescended from the prerogative of his glory in his being and self sufficiency, in the susception of our nature for the discharge of the office of a mediator on our behalf, – will he not relieve us in all our distresses? will he not do all for us we stand in need of, that we may be eternally saved? will he not be a sanctuary unto us? Nor have we hereon any ground to fear his power; for, by this infinite condescension to be a suffering man, he lost nothing of his power as God omnipotent, – nothing of his infinite wisdom or glorious grace. He could still do all that he could do as God from eternity. If there be any thing, therefore, in a coalescence of infinite power with infinite condescension, to constitute a sanctuary for distressed sinners, it is all in Christ Jesus.  And if we see him not glorious herein, it is because there is no light of faith in us.

This, then, is the rest wherewith we may cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshment. Herein is he “a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” Hereon he says, “I have satiated the weary soul, and have refreshed every sorrowful soul.” Under this consideration it is that, in all evangelical promises and invitations for coming to him, he is proposed unto distressed sinners as their only sanctuary.

John Owen, The Glory of Christ (Owen’s Works Vol IV pg 331)

Horatius Bonar: We are never done with the cross

20 12 2011

An excerpt from the final paragraphs of ch 4 of Bonar’s The Everlasting Righteousness. I would highly encourage to click through and read the whole thing. Bonar addresses something very important, particularly in light of North American Evangelicalism, which treats the cross as a stepping stone to a life of discipleship. “NO!” says Bonar. Rather than being a stepping stone, the cross is not only central to the Christian life, but it is the hermeneutic of heaven itself. Enjoy.

We are never done with the cross, nor ever shall be. Its wonders will
be always new, and always fraught with joy. “The Lamb as it had been
slain” will be the theme of our praise above. Why should such a name be given to Him in such a book as the Revelation, which in one sense carries us far past the cross, were it not that we shall always realize our connection with its one salvation; always be looking to it even in the midst of glory; and always learning from it some new lesson regarding the work of Him “in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace”? What will they who here speak of themselves as being so advanced as to be done with the cross, say to being brought face to face with the Lamb that was slain, in the age of absolute perfection, the age of the heavenly glory?

Thou fool! Dost thou not know that the cross of the Lord Jesus
Christ endureth for ever, and that thou shalt eternally glory in it, if thou are saved by it at all?

Thou fool! Wilt thou not join in the song below, “To Him that loved
us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood”? Wilt thou not join
in the song above, “Thou was slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood”? And dost thou not remember that it is from “the Lamb as it had been slain” that “the seven spirits of God are sent forth into all the
earth”? (Revelation 5:6).[13]

It is the Lamb who stands in the midst of the elders (Revelation 5:6), and before whom they fall down. “Worthy is the Lamb” is the theme of celestial song. It is the Lamb that opens the seals (6:1). It is before the Lamb that the great multitude stand clothed in white (7:9). It is the blood of the Lamb that washes the raiment white (7:14). It is by the blood of the Lamb that the victory is won (12:11). The book of life belongs to the Lamb slain (13:8). It was a Lamb that stood on the glorious Mount Zion (14:1). It is the Lamb that the redeemed multitude are seen following (14:4); and that multitude is the first-fruits unto God and unto the Lamb (14:4). It is the song of the Lamb that is sung in heaven (15:3). It is the Lamb that wars and overcomes (17:14). It is the marriage of the Lamb that is celebrated, and it is to the marriage-supper of the Lamb that we are called (19:7,9). The church is the Lamb’s wife (21:9). On the foundations of the heavenly city are written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:14). Of this city the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple (21:23). Of that city the Lamb is the light (21:23). The book of life of the Lamb, and the throne of the Lamb (21:27; 22:1,3), sum up this wondrous list of honors and dignities belonging to the Lord Jesus as the crucified Son of God.

Thus the glory of heaven revolves round the cross; and every object on which the eye lights in the celestial city will remind us of the cross, and carry us back to Golgotha. Never shall we get beyond it, or turn our backs on it, or cease to draw from it the divine virtue which it contains.

The tree, be it palm, or cedar, or olive, can never be independent of its
roots, however stately its growth, however plentiful its fruit. The
building, be it palace or temple, can never be separated from its
foundation, however spacious or ornate its structure may be. So, never
shall the redeemed be independent of the cross, or cease to draw from its fullness.

In what ways our looking to the cross hereafter will benefit us; what
the shadow of that tree will do for us in the eternal kingdom, I know not, nor do I venture to say. But it would seem as if the cross and the glory were so inseparably bound together, that there cannot be the enjoyment of the one without the remembrance of the other. The completeness of the sacrificial work on Calvary will be matter for eternal contemplation and rejoicing, long after every sin has been, by its cleansing efficacy, washed out of our being forever.

Shall we ever exhaust the fullness of the cross? Is it a mere steppingstone to something beyond itself? Shall we ever cease to glory in it (as the apostle gloried), not only because of past, but because of present and eternal blessing? The forgiveness of sin is one thing; but is that all? The crucifixion of the world is another; but is that all? Is the cross to be a relic, useless though venerable, like the serpent of brass laid up in the tabernacle; to be destroyed perhaps at some future time, and called Nehushtan? (2 Kings 18:4). Or is it not rather like the tree of life, which bears twelve manner of fruits, and yields its fruit every month, by the banks of the celestial river? Its influence here on earth is transforming; but even after the transformation has been completed, and the whole church perfected, shall there not be a rising higher and higher, a taking
on of greater and yet greater comeliness, a passing from glory to glory;
and all in connection with the cross, and through the never-ending vision of its wonders?

Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness pg 61-64

Rob Sturdy: The voice of the Son of God

20 12 2011

Soren Kierkegaard once wrote:

“We are touched, we look back to those beautiful times.  Sweet sentimental longings leads us to the goal of our desire, to see Christ walking about in the promised land.  We forget the anxiety, the distress, the paradox.  Was it such a simple matter not to make a mistake?  Was it not terrifying that this man walking around among the others was God?  Was it not terrifying to sit down to eat with him?  Was it such an easy matter to become an apostle?  But the result, the eighteen centuries- that helps, that contributes to this mean deception whereby we deceive ourselves and others.  I do not feel brave enough to wish to be contemporary with events like that…” (Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling,Kierkegaard’s Works Vol III pg 115)

The importance of Kierkegaard’s words applied in our present context is this: You and I believe that if we had been present to see the time of Jesus public ministry, his baptism, his feeding of the five thousand, his healing of the lame and blind, his raising of the dead, and eventual resurrection that we would find it easier to believe.  But of course you and I overlook the tremendous responsibility of being those who witnessed with our own eyes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  Those who witnessed his life with their own eyes are accountable for what they heard and saw during those very interesting times.  This is of course why Kierkegaard writes: “I do not feel brave enough to wish to be contemporary with events like that…”

If that isn’t frightening enough, let me add another observation about witnessing the miracles of Jesus.  You and I are so thoroughly enmeshed in a scientific worldview that we believe the ability to see and observe automatically equates with belief.  That is, if we were able to see and observe Jesus it would make it easier for us to belive.  If we can see and observe, we satisfy the rational requirements of our mind to buttress our faith.  But is this always the case?

On a hot summer day I may be driving on an unfamiliar rode.  As I look up on the horizon, I see a tremendous lake that stretches across the road.  Knowing that I am driving a car that is very low to the ground, I realize I will not be able to ford this unexpected obstacle.  However as I get closer, I see it is not a lake at all but only a mirage, created by the heat.  Sight can be deceptive, therefore seeing is not always believing.

It was no different in Jesus’ day.  Time after time, especially in the Gospel of John we are told of the miracles of Jesus only to be quickly told sentences later that there were many who did not believe.  In fact, our reading from today’s Gospel begins with that very point.

“Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,” (John 12.37)

Very important to note about John’s Gospel, is that Jesus does not perform miracles in John’s Gospel but signs and this gives us an important clue as to why they ultimately did not believe in Jesus.  A sign points towards something.  If I am driving to Myrtle Beach on vacation, I look for the exit that says “All beach traffic left lane.”  The sign is ultimately not the destination, but points towards the destination.  So too Jesus performs signs.  So the raising of the dead is quite remarkable, and we would be tempted to stay there, but it is not the final destination.  But what is?

“Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.  And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (John 12.44-45)

So Jesus has come in order that we might believe in and see the Father.  And herein lies why many did not believe in him.  Back to our vacation metaphor, you only look for the sign that points to the destination in which you are heading.  Those who did not believe in Jesus were not headed towards the destination he wished to point them in.  Therefore, no matter how many signs he performed they didn’t notice.  Why?  Because they weren’t looking for either the sign or the destination.

Therefore they may “keep on hearing” the voice of Jesus but not understand him, and may “keep on seeing” his signs but not perceive (Isa 6.9).  And because of their rebellion against God he has furthered hardened their heart, effectively making them incapable of ever hearing or seeing, as our reading from John makes clear.

It would be foolish for us to think this is a problem of the Jews in the time of Jesus.  It is important to ask if we have the same spiritual blindness, if we have the same disinterest in the destination which Jesus would make us aware of.  A clear diagnostic for this is to ask yourself what is it that you long for most in the whole world?  If you say “heaven”, then perhaps I would ask you “what about heaven do you specifically long for?”  If it is anything other than communion with the Father, to behold the glory of Christ, and to have fellowship with the Holy Spirit then you and I have fallen short and are in spiritual blindness.  We will overlook the signs of Jesus.  He could raise a man from the dead, and the sign would be to no avail.  Our gaze will be directed towards those signs which point us towards what our hearts really desire.  If we do not desire the Father, Jesus’ signs will be of little use to us.

How are we freed from this spiritual blindness and hardness of heart?  Jesus came to accomplish several things, a few of which are highlighted by our reading today and address the spiritual blindness and bondage of the heart to which we just referred to.  Jesus says:

1)  “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (John 12.48).

2)  “I do not judge, for I did not come into the world to judge the world but to save it” (John 12.47)

3)  “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life” (John 12.49-50)

To summarize, he gives light to those in darkness, salvation to those under judgment, and eternal life to those that are spiritually dead.  His words are eternal life.  Which words? None may be excluded.  Nevertheless, one perhaps more than any other may be looked to in order to communicate eternal life.  Jesus says that “God so loved the world he sent his only Son” (John 3.16).  But sent him to do what?  Namely, to proclaim “It is finished” (John 19.30).  In other words, he came into the world that it might have light and that work from the cross is finished.  He came to the world that it might be saved and that work from the cross is finished.  He came to speak the word of eternal life.  And from the cross, what he came to do he finished.  This is the importance of the voice of the Son of God, and these are the words like a life raft in a tumultuous sea, many of the saints of God have clung to towards their own salvation.