John Bunyan: Have no foundation (for anything) other than Christ

20 12 2011

Most of visitors at my church never ask me “what are you about?”  They usually show up, enjoy the worship, the preaching, the fellowship etc. and decide to stick around.  Over time, they might become more interested in our guiding thoughts, principles etc.  But recently a vistor made a special appointment with me to ask that very question.  “What are you about?” he asked.  To which I replied, “the ONE thing we are about here is proclaiming and applying the unconditional grace of Jesus Christ to every aspect of our lives.”  It would be impossible to describe the heavy burden we carry to convey the sufficiency of the grace of Christ in all things.  It would be impossible to describe the pain we feel when members of our flock slip back into legalism.  It would be impossible to describe the joy in our hearts when the Gospel is understood, received, and applied by our members.  With these burdens, pains, and joys I pass on an exhortation from the great John Bunyan to REMAIN IN THE GRACE OF CHRIST in all things. 

“Think not that to live always on Christ for justification is a low and beggarly thing,-a staying at the foundation. For, let me tell you, depart from a sense of the meritorious means of your justification before God, and you will quickly grow light, and frothy, and vain; you will be subject to errors and delusions, for this is not to ‘hold the head,’ from which nourishment is administered. Why not live upon Christ alway; and especially as He standeth the Mediator between God and the soul, defending thee with the merit of His blood, and covering thee with His infinite righteousness from the wrath of God and the curse of the law? Can there be any greater comfort ministered to thee, than to know that thy person stands just before God; just, and justified from all things that would otherwise swallow thee up? Is peace with God and assurance of heaven of so little respect with thee, that thou slightest the very foundation thereof, even faith in the blood and righteousness of Christ.”
-BUNYAN, Justification by Imputed Righteousness.





Douglas Moo: Confessing Christ in our day

20 12 2011

There is much of interest in this tiny excerpt from Douglas Moo’s masterful commentary of Romans (prob the finest out there at the moment).  However, I would draw your attention to Moo’s point about theology and confessing Christ.  To put it briefly, correct theology is essential to confessing Christ in our day (as it is in any age).  If a young Christian were to ask me what he could do for Christ then I would give him a very surprising answer.  Go  read a book.  Go read a book about Christ for Christ.  Equip yourself to proclaim the Gospel with depth rather than a catch phrase.  Equip yourself to see through the unacknowledged presuppositions of culture.  Equip yourself with 2000 years of faithful reflection on the riches of God.  Go read a book for Christ. 

Confessing the gospel in our own day requires that we subscribe to Paul’s exalted view of Jesus; it is failure to do so that spawns many heresies.  But Paul’s attention, as we have also seen, is especially on the activity of this Jesus:  his coming to earth as the Messiah; his exaltation through resurrection to Lord of all; his dispensing power as the Son of God.  It is what Jesus has done, not just who he is, that makes the gospel the “good news” that it is.  But make no mistake: what Jesus has done cannot be severed from who he is.  Ours is an age not too much interested in theology; but correct theology- in this case, the person of Jesus- is vital to salvation and to Christian living.

Douglas Moo The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids 1996 pg 55)





Spurgeon: the suffering of Christ and the honor of God

20 12 2011

“And they gave Him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but He received it not. ” – Mark 15:23

A golden truth is couched in the fact that the Saviour put the myrrhed wine-cup from His lips. On the heights of heaven the Son of God stood of old, and as He looked down upon our globe He measured the long descent to the utmost depths of human misery; He cast up the total of all the agonies which expiation would require, and abated not a jot. He solemnly determined that to offer a sufficient atoning sacrifice He must go the whole way, from the highest to the lowest, from the throne of highest glory to the cross of deepest woe. This myrrhed cup, with its soporific influence, would have stayed Him within a little of the utmost limit of misery, therefore He refused it. He would not stop short of all He had undertaken to suffer for His people. Ah, how many of us have pined after reliefs to our grief which would have been injurious to us! Reader, did you never pray for a discharge from hard service or suffering with a petulant and wilful eagerness? Providence has taken from you the desire of your eyes with a stroke. Say, Christian, if it had been said, “If you so desire it, that loved one of yours shall live, but God will be dishonoured,” could you have put away the temptation, and said, “Thy will be done”? Oh, it is sweet to be able to say, “My Lord, if for other reasons I need not suffer, yet if I can honour Thee more by suffering, and if the loss of my earthly all will bring Thee glory, then so let it be. I refuse the comfort, if it comes in the way of Thine honour.” O that we thus walked more in the footsteps of our Lord, cheerfully enduring trial for His sake, promptly and willingly putting away the thought of self and comfort when it would interfere with our finishing the work which He has given us to do. Great grace is needed, but great grace is provided.

Spurgeon’s Devotional Aug 18th p.m.





Rob Sturdy: What role do feelings, faith, works etc. play in spirituality?

20 12 2011

Many judge the quality of their spiritual life by three things.  First, people judge their spiritual life by how they feel.  Do you feel spiritual?  Do you feel the presence of God?  Second, people judge their spiritual life by the quality of their life.  Am I becoming a better person?  Am I happier?  More content?  And finally, people will judge their spiritual life by the vibrancy of their faith.  Do I believe strongly  enough?  These are helpful questions to ask and I would encourage you to ask them frequently.  But there is more to the spiritual life than these things.  To ask these questions is not a journey to understand God but a journey to understand yourself.  How do I feel?  What do I believe?  Am I becoming a better person?  You’ll quickly notice the answers to these questions have very little to do with God.  You’ll also quickly notice that if you ask these questions frequently enough, you’ll learn that there are days when you don’t feel spiritual.  You’ll recognize that there are days when you’re not a good person at all.  You’ll even have days when you wonder if there is a God at all!  What is the solution then?  We need something that is (a) outside of ourselves and (b) unchanging.  Enter Christ . Rather than asking how strong is my belief we ask “how strong is Christ’s faith?”  Rather than asking “am I a good person?” we ask “is Christ a good person?” And you’ll notice that unlike your answer to these questions, Christ’s answer doesn’t change.  In short, if we base our spiritual life on Christ rather than ourselves we’ll have something quite special, that being confidence and assurance in our relationship with God.  It is put well by Charles Spurgeon who writes:

“There is one thing which we all of us too much becloud in our preaching, though I believe we do it very unintentionally- namely, the great truth that it is not prayer, it is not faith, it is not our doings, it is not our feelings upon which we must rest, but upon Christ and on Christ alone.  We are apt to think that we are not in a right state, that we do not fell enough, instead of remembering that our business is only with Christ.  O soul, of thou couldst fix thy soul on Jesus, and neglect every thing else- if thou couldst but despise good works, and aught else, so far as they relate to salvation, and look wholly, simply on Christ, I feel that Satan would soon give up throwing thee down, he would find that it would not answer his purpose, for thou wouldst fall on Christ, and like the giant who fell upon his mother, the earth, thou wouldst rise up each time stronger than before.”

Spurgeon, “The Comer’s Conflict with Satan” Spurgeon’s Sermons Vol II pg 309





Rob Sturdy: The Knowledge of God in the Christological Thought of John Owen

20 12 2011

The essay below is about the knowledge of God in the Christological thought of John Owen.  Thanks again to Colin Burch for graciously reviewing this essay!   Footnotes and bibliography are at the bottom of the paper in case you want to chase anything down.

How do we know God?  Can we have an experience of God?  Can we be in relationship with him?  These questions will no doubt be familiar to the philosopher and theologian.  But perhaps that vocation most intimately familiar with such questions is the pastor, whose responsibility it is to provide adequate and honest responses to such questions.  The 17th-century Puritan, John Owen, was a man who at one point or another found himself occupying each of the roles of philosopher, theologian, and pastor.  Yet it was the last decade of his life, which he devoted to the pastoral ministry, that he engaged the above questions with the most depth and attention.  Owen concluded that knowledge of God depended upon an infinite condescension of God towards his creatures.  This condescension in the theology of John Owen took the form of a covenant, whereby man learns who God is by virtue of his covenant relationship with God.

Owen notes that two things are necessary for a proper revelation of God to a finite creature in the context of a covenant.  First, that “all the properties of the divine nature…be expressed in it, and manifested to us,” and second that “there be, therein, the nearest approach of the divine nature made unto us, whereof it is capable, andwhich we can receive (emphasis mine).”[1]  As will be shown, a simple covenant between God and man is insufficient for the type of revelation which Owen describes in the above quote.  For a full and proper revelation of God, Owen believes that God himself must draw as near as possible, so near in fact, that he must become a man himself.  This happens in the person of Christ, whereby the divine Son of God assumes the human nature unto himself.  Christ being fully God is the nearest manifestation of God imaginable.  Christ being fully man is the nearest manifestation of God which is nevertheless fit for the human capacity.  Owen believed that it was the rational, human mind of Christ which ultimately accommodated the knowledge of God to the capacity of human comprehension.  This paper will argue that it is only through the mediation of the human mind of Christ that full communion with God is possible.  This will be done by examining the transcendence of God, his condescension in entering into covenant relationship, and the full manifestation of his glory through the Triune God’s covenant with the person of Christ. Read the rest of this entry »





Rob Sturdy: What does it mean to be a “Reformed” Christian? (Part I)

20 12 2011

A good friend in Charleston recently asked the question “What does it mean to be Reformed?”  Being “reformed” is currently in vogue.  That is, it’s cool to be a Calvinist.  This growing trend which has been documented by the New York Times, Time Magazine, and U.S.A. Today has produced new interest in Reformed Christianity but it has also produced much confusion about what it means to be Reformed.  So it’s currently a hot topic worth addressing.

Second, to speak of “Reformed” Christians is to speak of the heritage of the Anglican Church, which both me and my friend who asked the question are part of.  Unfortunately, just as people from Idaho will pretend they’re from somewhere else when they move to a big city so have many Anglicans forgotten where they’ve come from.  The Anglican Church was born in the fires (literal) of the Protestant Reformation, of which the Church of England adopted a fairly strict Reformed (yes Calvinist!) approach to theology in its first 100 years.  Just as visiting with your quirky friend’s parents is always an “aha” moment, so too knowing where this church has come from should prove a revealing experience.

Through several posts in the coming weeks I hope to address this question in a way that brings clarity to the term.  This might appear to be solely an academic exercise, but it most assuredly is not.  The clergy at Trinity Church consider those doctrines known as “Reformed” to be closest to the heart of the scriptures and they inform every sermon, Bible study, prayer, and counselling session done by us at this church.  Perhaps more importantly, these doctrines have sunk deep into the well of our lives and affected us profoundly.  I hope in the coming weeks as I attempt to engage this question, not only will your heads grow larger with new knowledge but more importantly so would your hearts.  The Reformed Christian, if anything, is a Christian deeply concerned with the heart and its “bigness” for the glory of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

In this first post I aim no higher than a simple introduction.  So where to begin?  How about the beginning!  The first four words of the Bible are “In the beginning, God…” (Gen 1.1).  Before the larger conversation of creation, humanity, culture, sin, redemption, and restoration can begin we must first pause and acknowledge that the conversation must always begin with God.  Whatever it is that we speak of, the Reformed Christian must always begin with “In the beginning, God.”   Renowned theologian J.I. Packer in his introduction to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ puts it this way:

Calvinism is a theocentric (God-centred) way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own Word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible—the God-centred outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace.

By “all life,” Packer means our work, our friendships, our creativity, our imaginations, our exercise, our marriages, our sex lives, our parentings, our youth and old age, and death itself must be acknowledged as flowing from God.  But it is not enough to recognize that these things merely flow from God.  Rather, it must be acknowledged that they are not only from him but also for him (Col 1.16).

For the Reformed Christian, worship is not something done on a Sunday but rather since all things are “from him and for him” all of life is an act of worship.  During the Reformation this came to be distilled in the Latin phrase Soli Deo Gloria, which means “glory to God alone.”  This means that all of life is invested with spiritual significance and is an act of worship.  Your job, no matter how worthless it might seem to you nevertheless has meaning because it is an act of worship aiming for the glory of God.  The intimacy between a man and a woman in marriage might seem like the farthest thing from church, but God alone will have the glory in the marriage bed.  Sex between a husband and wife is an act of worship aiming for the glory of God.  Dutch Calvinist Abraham Kuyper puts it well when he writes:

And because God has fully ordained…all life, therefore the Calvinist demands that all life be consecrated to His service…God is present in all life, with the influence of His omnipresent and almighty power, and no sphere of human life is conceivable in which religion does not maintain its demands that God shall be praised, that God’s ordinances shall be observed, and that every labor shall be permeated with fervent and ceaseless prayer. Wherever man may stand, whatever he may do, to whatever he may apply his hand, in agriculture, in commerce and in industry, or his mind, in the world of art, and science, he is, in whatsoever it may be, constantly standing before the face of his God, he is employed in the service of his God, he has strictly to obey his God, and above all, he has to aim at the glory of his God.(Kuyper, The Stone Lectures)

Thus the Reformed Christian is not satisfied with a spirituality that is confined to the church, the small group, or the fellowship hall.  The Reformed Christian brings God and his glory into every aspect of human life and makes every action an action of worship.  It is a spirituality that seeps into every aspect of the daily grind, unifying seemingly fragmented events and actions under the banner of God’s glory.

And there is one most satisfying aspect where the Reformed Christian must insist that God and God alone have glory.  This aspect is in the aspect of salvation.  I will say more (much more!) on this later, but for now one or two things will do.  Paul writes:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)

No one may boast says the Apostle.  But why would we boast?  We would boast, because in some sense we wish to glorify the object of our boasting.  And when my faith is strong, I will often boast in it!  If not to the whole world, perhaps to just myself.  When I am disciplined in scripture reading, in prayers, and in service I boast!  If not to the whole world, at least to my own conscience.  But on occasion, my faith becomes feeble.  On occasion, I do not read, pray.  On occasion the only reason I serve Christ is because I’m expected to by others.  And then where is my boasting!?!?  But more importantly, where is my assurance?

If I trust in my faith, my works, my discipline I will inevitably be disappointed.  Thus it is not merely a doctrinal concern for the Reformed Christian to say “to God alone be the glory!,” but principally it is a pastoral concern.  For you and I to have assurance, to have joy and peace before God we need something or someone more dependable than ourselves.  Thus the Reformed Christian turns to Christ.  The Reformed Christians says of his repentance. “In the beginning, God!”  The Reformed Christians says of his faith, “In the beginning, God!”  The Reformed Christian says of his prayers, study, and service, “In the beginning, God!”  The Reformed Christian says of his perseverance, “In the beginning, God!”  And as the Reformed Christian dies, his faltering life turning the page on this life and opening up the new chapter of eternal life he will say, “In the beginning, God!”  For every good thing that happens in the life of the Reformed Christian he must say “In the beginning, God!

Thus the Reformed Christian sees the initiation of every good thing, whether it be faith, or fatherhood, hard work, creativity, salvation etc. all have their initiation in God and are ultimately for him.  The Reformed Christian leads a happy, grateful life, under the knowledge that God has thought of him graciously and affectionately.   Because God finishes what he starts, we not only thank him that he began something in us but we wholeheartedly trust in him to finish it.   So I will close with a brief paragraph from Charles Spurgeon:

“ it is not prayer, it is not faith, it is not our doings, it is not our feelings upon which we must rest, but upon Christ and on Christ alone.  We are apt to think that we are not in a right state, that we do not fell enough, instead of remembering that our business is only with Christ.  O soul, of thou couldst fix thy soul on Jesus, and neglect every thing else- if thou couldst but despise good works, and aught else, so far as they relate to salvation, and look wholly, simply on Christ, I feel that Satan would soon give up throwing thee down, he would find that it would not answer his purpose, for thou wouldst fall on Christ, and like the giant who fell upon his mother, the earth, thou wouldst rise up each time stronger than before.”

Spurgeon, “The Comer’s Conflict with Satan” Spurgeon’s Sermons Vol II pg 309





Ambrose: The Messy Work of the Lord Jesus

20 12 2011

Of course I have some reservations about this excerpt from Concerning Repentance (Book II, ch7), however, if you are able to lay aside some of the difficulties and hone in on the principles Ambrose is here advocating, what then do you come away with?  You come away with a picture of Jesus who goes into places of death, stink and decay.  He isn’t disgusted by them, but occupies them in order to transform the dead inhabitants into living people.  Of course we’re here talking about sin.  Too many people are afraid to let Jesus into the most decayed places of their lives because they are ashamed of those places.  So those places stay secret.  As long as they stay secret, they remain in decay and death.  However, if we invite Jesus into these places, he calls to the dead sinner “Come out!” and person walks out under the power of Jesus from the place of death.  (at the end of this excerpt I’ve written a little paragraph on how to work this out practically.  Check it out below!)

53. Why do you fear to confess your sins to our good Lord? Set them forth, He says, that you may be justified. The rewards of justification are set before him who is still guilty of sin, for he is justified who voluntarily confesses his own sin; and lastly, the just man is his own accuser in the beginning of his speaking. Proverbs 18:17 The Lord knows all things, but He waits for your words, not that He may punish, but that He may pardon. It is not His will that the devil should triumph over you and accuse you when you conceal your sins. Be beforehand with your accuser: if you accuse yourself, you will fear no accuser; if you report yourself, though you were dead you shall live.

54. Christ will come to your grave, and if He finds there weeping for you Martha the woman of good service, and Mary who carefully heard the Word of God, like holy Church which has chosen the best part, He will be moved with compassion, when at your death He shall see the tears of many and will say: Where have ye laid him? John 11:34 that is to say, in what condition of guilt is he? in which rank of penitents? I would see him for whom you weep, that he himself may move Me with his tears. I will see if he is already dead to that sin for which forgiveness is entreated.

55. The people will say to Him, Come and see. John 11:34 What is the meaning of Come? It means, Let forgiveness of sins come, let the life of the departed come, the resurrection of the dead, let Your kingdom come to this sinner also.

56. He will come and will command that the stone be taken away which his fall has laid on the shoulders of the sinner. He could have removed the stone by a word of command, for even inanimate nature is wont to obey the bidding of Christ. He could by the silent power of His working have removed the stone of the sepulchre, at Whose Passion the stones being suddenly removed many sepulchres of the dead were opened, but He bade men remove the stone, in very truth indeed, that the unbelieving might believe what they saw, and see the dead rising again, but in a type that He might give us the power of lightening the burden of sins, the heavy pressure as it were upon the guilty. Ours it is to remove the burdens, His to raise again, His to bring forth from the tombs those set free from their bands.

57. So the Lord Jesus, seeing the heavy burden of the sinner, weeps, for the Church alone He suffers not to weep. He has compassion with His beloved, and says to him that is dead, Come forth, John 11:43 that is, You who lies in darkness of conscience, and in the squalor of your sins, as in the prison-house of the guilty, come forth, declare your sins that you may be justified. For with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:10

58. If you have confessed at the call of Christ the bars will be broken, and every chain loosed, even the stench of the bodily corruption be grievous. For he had been dead four days and his flesh stank in the tomb; but He Whose flesh saw no corruption was three days in the sepulchre, for He knew no evils of the flesh, which consists of the substances of the four elements. However great, then, the stench of the dead body may be, it is all done away so soon as the sacred ointment has shed its odour; and the dead rises again, and the command is given to loose his hands who till now was in sin; the covering is taken from his face which veiled the truth of the grace which he had received. But since he has received forgiveness, the command is given to uncover his face, to lay bare his features. For he whose sin is forgiven has nothing whereof to be ashamed.

So how is this done?  For Ambrose (I think this is Biblical (1 John 1, James 5), this is not a private spiritual exchange between the sinner and Jesus.  Rather, this action of confession is done in the church.  In other words, you confess your sins in the church, and the church brings Jesus to the tomb and shows him the decaying soul inside.  The importance of confessing sins with someone else is that we need to be reconciled to both Christ and the church.  We’re not individuals, but part of a Body.  Now, I would want to qualify what I mean by confessing “to the church”.  By this I don’t mean you need to go find a priest for confession.  Nor do I mean that publically proclaiming a general confession to the church is sufficient.  Rather, find someone you trust.  Confess specific sins (even the most shameful!) and have your “confessor” ask Jesus to come into this dead place on your behalf and call you out of it.  A final note.  This is not a practice that leads to justification.  Rather, it is a process that aids sanctification.  Confession does not bring about salvation, rather it aids in your spiritual and moral maturity.