“How Long Will it Last?” by Sinclair Ferguson

“How Long Will it Last?”

by Sinclair Ferguson

“He’s going through a religious phase.” How often did you overhear that being said about you in your early days as an openly professing follower of Jesus Christ? Admittedly the sheer force of conversion on an untaught mind can lead to us drawing confused notions of exactly what has happened to us. Looking back on my own conversion I feel sure my parents must have thought I was going through a decidedly unbalanced “religious phase” as the golf clubs to which I had long been devoted (even at the tender age of fourteen!) were relegated to the cupboard for months on end. An unenthusiastically completed entry form and an ignominious second-round defeat in the national junior golf championships followed. What had happened to their relatively normal golf-adoring son? I am thankful for their love and patience with a young teenager who took a little time to realize that conversion called him to an ongoing life in and engagement with this world — not to monasticism!

Yet, when you are only three weeks old as a baby Christian, finding your feet in an intoxicatingly new world, whispers such as, “It won’t last!” can really hurt, and they can readily sow seeds of doubt that grow into the trees of mistrust and the forests of confusion.

Yet, whatever pressures we feel as contemporary Christians in the West, they pale by comparison with the obstacles that confronted the new converts to whom Hebrews was written. If indeed they were Jewish converts, each one became persona non grata in both family and community — big-time non grata — disinherited, ostracized, and alienated from the tight network that provided personal, educational, emotional, and financial support. They had joined the notorious “third race of men” that followed a claimant Messiah who had been roundly rejected, humiliated, crucified, and accursed. Now they too experienced reproach and the loss of family, property, and security (Heb. 10:32-4; 13:13). From now on they had to camp outside.

Would they last? Will I last? Where should I look (or point others to look)? The answer to this question, as indeed to virtually every question in Hebrews, is this: “LOOK TO JESUS.” For “he is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him” (Heb. 7:25).

The phrase “to the uttermost” expresses the multi-dimensional saving ability of Christ. His adequacy is not limited by the breadth of my frailty, the depth of my sinfulness, or the ongoing nature of my need. In each of these dimensions Christ is “fitting for us” (v. 26). That is to say, Jesus is exactly the kind of Savior we need. That is why the words “he is able” are woven into the very warp and woof of His eternal high priestly garments. He intercedes for us “in the power of an indestructible life” (7:16). No wonder the refrain of the author is: “Look to Jesus” (3:1; 12:2)!

So what implications follow from the unique and everlasting priesthood of our Lord Jesus? Many, but for the moment notice these two implications: First, my security as a Christian does not reside in the strength of my faith but in the indestructibility of my Savior. How much I need to learn again and again the basic principle that I must walk in Christ in the same way I received Christ (Col. 2:6), not depending on anything that resides in me but on everything that is mine in Him. The reformed fathers and masters of spiritual counsel used to say wisely that the weakest faith gets the same strong Christ as does the strongest faith.

The second implication is that my perseverance as a Christian does not depend on the degree of my stoicism in the face of trials but on the perfection of the work of Christ and His perseverance with me.

Hebrews is an exhortation to persevere. We are engaged in an endurance test (10:36), running a marathon race (12:1). We feel the heat; we encounter periodic pain barriers, and at times the summit seems hidden in the clouds — the finishing tape miles away. This is why the perseverance of Jesus is an even more important biblical truth than the perseverance of the saints! He is with me now and will greet me there at the finishing tape and on the summit. He is in every conceivable way perfectly suited to my present needs. Recognize this and our hard daily work turns into a great journey of adventure shared with God’s people in every age (11:4–12:2).

So, “consider Jesus” (Heb. 3:1). The verb “consider” (katanoeo) is an intensive form of the verb “to understand,” and implies giving detailed attention to something (see its use in Matt. 7:3!). The author of Hebrews realized that Christians in his day (as in ours) are capable of giving detailed attention to almost everything (a football game, new clothes, our appearance, school studies) — often, sadly, with one exception: the Lord Jesus. Hebrews teaches that we must reverse that trend. More than that, it engages in reversing the trend by showing us how captivating our Lord really is. Let’s be captivated by Him — for He lasts forever as Savior (7:3; 8:16, 23, 25)!

We Recommend
Build Yourselves Up Devotional
The Former Days Devotional
The Carnal Christian Devotional
From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.

“God, the Gospel, and Glenn Beck” by Dr. Russel D. Moore

In this brilliant article Dr. Russel Moore, whom I haven’t always agreed with in the past, points out the idolatrous nature of this past weekends rally in our Nation’s Capital. Orchestrated not by a man of God, like the late Francis Schaeffer or the equally godly nineteenth-century Dutch Calvinist Abraham Kuyper, rather by fundamentalism/quasi-evangelicalism’s new leader – an idolatrous Mormon – Glen Beck. (Click here to read article)

Dr. Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Hebrews— Does it ‘Do Anything’ For You?” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Hebrews— Does it “Do Anything” For You?”

by Sinclair Ferguson

A friend — his face wrinkled in a cheerful grin — described an incident that took place at the end of a conference address I had given recently. One hearer, apparently full of the blessings of the passage I had been trying to expound, turned to his neighbor — a stranger to him — and made some positive comments on the experience of the preceding hour: “Wasn’t that great?” — only to receive the somewhat chilling reply, “Didn’t do anything for me.”

I suspect that if one were to do a kind of New Testament Random Letter Association Test (to be known among evangelicals in the future as NTRLAT!), Philippians (“full of joy”), Romans (“full of the doctrines of grace”), and even James (“full of practical counsel”), would fare well. But the mention of The Letter to the Hebrews might evoke a substantial number of “Does nothing for me” responses.

Is it too different, too alien in thought, too “old testamentish”? Whatever the reason, Hebrews rarely stands high up the list of beloved parts of the New Testament — apart, of course, from the occasional memorized verse about temptation, or faith, or looking to Jesus.

Yet there is no letter in the New Testament that tells us more about Christ and his work; chapter after chapter unfolds — ten in all — before we come to the hinge that brings the unknown author from exposition of Christ (holy brothers … consider Jesus” (Heb. 3:1) to application (“Therefore, … let us.” Heb.10:19, 22).

So few things would do the evangelical church more good than a baptism into the Letter to the Hebrews! But why? Here are four reasons, selected almost randomly from a cursory reading of the Letter.

1. Hebrews reveals Christ as the key to understanding the Old Testament. Gentle reader, that is 75 percent of your Bible! Hebrews acts like a master interpreter taking you through the pages of the Old Testament and highlighting its central message, showing how different elements in it combine to lead to Jesus — history, liturgy, typology and prophecy woven together into an harmonious portrayal of the significance of his ministry. The whole book unfolds the statement with which it opens.

The Old Testament Message is: past times; multifaceted revelation; expressed through the prophets; given to the fathers.

The New Testament Message is: the new age; focused revelation; expressed in Christ the Son; given to us.

The two are related — as Hebrews will explain — as promise and fulfillment, type and antitype, shadow and reality — bound together by one promise, one plan of salvation, one way of grace, one Savior.

2. Hebrews displays the greatness of Jesus Christ. The New Testament never despises the Old. But sometimes its language seems to verge on demeaning its contents. The reason for this is simple: in the light of the full, magnificent revelation of God’s grace in Christ, everything that preceded it fades into virtual insignificance. Who strikes a match to see (asks John Calvin, shrewdly) when the noon-day sun is brightly blazing in the sky? So Hebrews is at pains to point out the superiority of Christ over everything and everyone revered for their role in the giving and effecting of the “old” Mosaic covenant.

3. Hebrews emphasizes the theological and practical importance of the humanity of Christ. This will emerge again and again in our studies of this Letter. For the moment, however, underline this thought: assurance, peace, access to God, knowledge that he is OUR Father, strength to overcome temptation — all depend on this: The Son of God took our flesh, bore our sins in such a way that further sacrifice for sin is both unnecessary and unintelligible, died our death, continues to wear our nature forever, and in it lives for us before the face of God.

4. Hebrews emphasizes the nature of true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The unnamed first recipients of this letter were under pressure to return to their old ways and their old religion. The author was, however, convinced that despite the temptations and failures, salvation was theirs because they had the kind of faith that would persevere to the end (Heb. 6:11). In this they were one with the great heroes of faith in the past from Abel onwards, all of whom, according to the extent of God’s revelation given to them, looked forward to the fulfillment of all his promises in Christ.

If studying Hebrews had that effect on us, it would be time well spent, don’t you think? How do you feel about Hebrews “doing” that for you?

We Recommend
The Christ of the Three Appearings Article by Sinclair Ferguson
Before the Throne of God Article
A Testimony of Faithfulness Article by Sinclair Ferguson
From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343. www.ligonier.org


“Discerning Between Joy and Happiness” —R.C. Sproul

“Discerning Between Joy and Happiness”

R.C. Sproul

“Don’t worry—be happy!” From popular music to a cultural slogan, this adage is stated in the form of an imperative. It reflects the idea that happiness can be evoked by an act of the will. Yet the prevailing assumption among us is that happiness is something that happens to us or in us. It is a passive experience. We may be active in seeking it, as its pursuit is considered to be an inalienable right of Americans. But the thing itself, as elusive as it may be, is often regarded as something involuntary.

There is a difference between happiness and the joy of which Scripture speaks. The term happiness tends to be broader than the term joy. Happiness tends to include a notion of contentment and satisfaction along with, perhaps, feelings of joy. Joy suggests something more intense—a strong feeling of gladness.

If we are serving God without joy, there is something wrong with that service. If joy is not characteristic in our lives, it may be a sign that we are not Christians at all.

Coram Deo: Is joy a characteristic of your life?

Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Psalm 43:4: “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and on the harp I will praise You, O God, my God.”

Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”
From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343

“Observing the Flowers” —John MacArthur

John MacArthur

“And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?” – Matthew 6:28-30

Observing the flowers is a way to remember that God cares for you.

In Matthew 6, some of the people to whom Jesus spoke perhaps had little clothing, no more than one set of coverings for their bodies. To assure them that God would provide for their basic needs, Jesus asked them to observe “the lilies of the field” (v. 28). That is a general term for all the wild flowers that graced the rolling hills of Galilee. There were many, including the anemones, gladioli, irises, narcissus, lilies, and poppies.

Flower field in Israel

The people were also to observe how the flowers grow. They grow easily, freely, gorgeously; they flourish effortlessly. And flowers don’t toil or spin. They don’t make fancy thread to adorn themselves but have a texture and form and design and substance and color that man with all his ingenuity cannot even touch. Even King Solomon could not make a garment as fine as the petal of a flower. It has a beauty that only God can give.

Despite their beauty, however, flowers do not last long. They are alive today but tomorrow are cast into an oven (v. 30). A woman in that part of the world used a clay oven primarily for baking. If she wanted to hurry the baking process, she would build a fire inside the oven as well as under it. Fuel for the inside fire was usually dried grass and flowers, which she would gather from nearby fields. Jesus’ point was this: If God lavishes such beauty on a flower that is here today and gone tomorrow, how much more will He clothe and care for you, one of His own children who will live forever.

Suggestions for Prayer: To attack anxiety, ask the Lord to help you “set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).

For Further Study: According to 1 Peter 5:5, how should you clothe yourself?

(John MacArthur, Strength For Today [Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997], devotion for August 28)

“Continuing to Fight the War on Error” by John MacArthur

“Continuing to Fight the War on Error”

by John MacArthur

What is truth? We began this book with that question, and my earnest hope is that the answer would be clear: Truth is not any individual’s opinion or imagination. Truth is what God decrees. And He has given us an infallible source of saving truth in His revealed Word.

For the true Christian, this should not be a complex issue. God’s Word is what all pastors and church leaders are commanded to proclaim, in season and out of season–when it is well received and even when it is not (2 Timothy 4:2). It is what every Christian is commanded to read, study, meditate on, and divide rightly. It is what we are called and commissioned by Christ to teach and proclaim to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Is there mystery even in the truth God has revealed? Of course. ” ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8). In 1 Corinthians 2:16, Paul paraphrased Isaiah 40:13-14: “Who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?”

But then Paul immediately added this: “We have the mind of Christ.” Christ has graciously given us enough truth and enough understanding to equip us for every good deed–including the work of earnestly contending for the faith against deceivers who try to twist the truth of the gospel. Although we cannot know the mind of God exhaustively, we certainly can know it sufficiently to be warriors for the cause of truth against the lies of the kingdom of darkness.

And we are commanded to participate in that battle. God Himself sounded the call to battle when His Spirit moved Jude to write his short epistle and it permanently entered the canon of Scripture. This is not a duty any faithful Christian can shirk. Earthly life for the faithful Christian can never be a perpetual state of ease and peace. That’s why the New Testament includes so many descriptions of the Christian life as nonstop warfare: Ephesians 6:11-18; 2 Timothy 2:1-4; 2 Timothy 4:7; 2 Corinthians 6:7; 10:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:8. Those unwilling to join the fight against untruth and false religion are no true friends of Christ.

The handful of vignettes from church history we have examined together in this book are only a brief introduction to how the Truth War has been fought over the past two millennia. Look at any period of church history and you will discover this significant fact: Whenever the people of God have sought peace with the world or made alliances with false religions, it has meant a period of serious spiritual decline, even to the point where at times the truth seemed almost to be in total eclipse. But whenever Christians have contended earnestly for the faith, the church has grown and the cause of truth has prospered. May it be so in our time.

In other words, the Truth War is a good fight (1 Timothy 6:12). So let’s wage good warfare (1 Timothy 1:18)–for the honor of Christ and the glory of God.
This article here originally appeared at Grace To You © 1969-2010. Grace to You. All rights reserved. www.gty.org

“John Owen and the ‘Normal’ Christian Life” by John D. Hannah

“John Owen and the “Normal” Christian Life
or Sanctification in an Era of Confusion”

by John D. Hannah

When methods promise a great deal more than they actually deliver, the
net result is not victory over sin, but an even greater sense of guilt and
heightened awareness of failure.

The lament of recent writers over the deplorable state of theological consciousness
in the churches is alarming. David Wells’ judgment that evangelicalism (being an
expression of the Enlightenment which it so professes to oppose) is on the verge of
“losing its character, if not its soul,” has a ring of reality in it. (1)

Many of the churches in the land seem content with the repetition of heart‐warming,
inspiring stories and the rehearsal of positive experiences, what is designated as
“celebrative worship,” with a foreboding absence of doctrinal teaching. Negative,
oft‐discomforting statements in the Scriptures are glossed over, if not completely
avoided, with the result that saints endure elemental pabulum and the unbelievers
come away with the impression that Jesus looks remarkably like them! Though
touted as a serious Bible‐oriented movement, the lack of in‐depth doctrinal interest
in the churches belies a terrible tragedy. The pastor’s role has become that of an
amiable good‐fellow; the once profound emphasis on character has receded for an
emphasis on personality. The result is that the Lord’s people have little instruction
in the Scriptures; what they may receive is most likely a medley of diverse
theological elements that are mutually contradictory and confusing.

Illustrative of the state of biblical teaching in the churches is what passes as
instruction in the spiritual life. When presented with the question, “How do you
walk with God?”, the rejoinder is often confusing, if not distressing. Generally,
Christian advice‐givers have seen the shallowness of secular approaches to life
which deposit the roots of dysfunctional behavior in external forces that
involuntarily impact the “victim,” and reject self‐exertion and “correct” mental
thoughts as resolutive. For the Christian, at least generally, there is the recognition
that we are responsible moral agents, and…….continue reading at the link provided.(Click here for link). There you can read and/or save/print.

“Enjoying Communion with God” — R.C. Sproul

“Enjoying Communion with God”

R.C. Sproul

When the disciples walked the road to Emmaus twenty centuries ago, Jesus concealed His identity so that they didn’t recognize the “stranger” at their side. These men were not in a garden. There were no roses covered with dew. But they walked and talked with the risen Christ. What was their experience like? When their eyes were finally opened and they recognized Jesus, He suddenly vanished and they said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32, NASB).That is the normal human reaction to the immediate presence of Christ—”hearts burning within us.” My heart would be scorched to a cinder if I could hear His voice. My soul would explode in joy if I could walk with Him and talk with Him. I would travel the world to find a garden where He was visibly present.

But the truth is that I can’t see God. I can’t even see His shadow. He leaves no footprints in the sand, no fingerprints on the doorknob, no lingering aroma of aftershave in the breeze. He is invisible because He is immaterial.

What I crave is a relationship with God that is both intimate and personal. The great barrier to intimacy is God’s invisibility. Because I cannot see Him, I tend to doubt His presence. But He is there and promises communion and fellowship with Him. The tool He provides to overcome the barrier is the tool of prayer.

Prayer offers us a link to intimate fellowship with God. Here is where we find what the saints call “mystic sweet communion.” One need not be a mystic to enjoy this sweet communion. Prayer is access to God. He hears what I say to Him in prayer. He responds, though not audibly or with a vision of Himself. When we move beyond speaking our requests or placing our petitions before Him, we enter into the arena of sweet communion. Here we penetrate the invisible and delight in the glory of His presence.

Coram Deo: Spend some time today communing with God.

Luke 24:13-16: “Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.”
From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343

“Enjoying Fellowship with Christ” by John MacArthur

“Enjoying Fellowship with Christ”

John MacArthur

“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Pet. 1:8).

Fellowship with Christ is built on love, trust, and obedience.

The recipients of 1 Peter, like us, had never seen Christ but they enjoyed fellowship with Him just the same. And their fellowship was genuine because it was marked by love, trust, and obedience.

The love Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 1:8 isn’t shallow emotionalism or sentimentality. It’s the love of the will– the love of choice. His readers had chosen to love Christ despite never having seen Him physically. Such love is marked by obedience, as Jesus affirms in John 14: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. . . . He who does not love Me does not keep My words” (vv. 15, 24). To have fellowship with Christ is to love and obey Him.

Another element of fellowship is trust. After hearing reports about Christ’s resurrection, the disciple Thomas declared that he would trust Jesus only after seeing and touching Him. Jesus honored his wishes, saying, “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27). But then Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (v. 29). We as Christians are among those who believe in Christ, not having seen Him.

The result of loving and trusting Christ is “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Pet. 1:8). This joy is something beyond the ability of speech and thought to convey. That’s obvious even on the human level–as evidenced by the thousands of songs that have attempted to communicate the joy of being in love. “Full of glory” refers to the divine element in Christian joy. It’s a supernatural endowment bestowed and energized by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22).

Enjoying fellowship with Christ is one of the supreme privileges of your Christian life. Strengthen and enrich that fellowship by learning the Word and relying on the Spirit. As you do, you will learn to love and trust Christ more deeply.

Suggestions for Prayer: Ask God to teach you how to love and trust Him more faithfully. Thank Him for the joy that comes as you do.

For Further Study: Memorize Matthew 22:37.

(John MacArthur, Drawing Near [Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1993], devotion for July 30)

“After I lead people to Christ, should I offer them immediate assurance?” – John MacArthur

“After I lead people to Christ, should I offer them immediate assurance?”

John MacArthur

It isn’t your task as an evangelist to give immediate assurance to people you lead to Christ. The Holy Spirit will do that work: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).

There are, however, many promises in Scripture you can share that the Holy Spirit will use to help your newly converted friends gain assurance of their eternal destiny (e.g. John 3:16; 1 John 5:1). Those promises of the gospel offer what is called “objective assurance” to genuine believers. Even a brand-new believer can look to such promises and find a measure of assurance–the thief on the cross gained it when the Lord promised Him a place in paradise.

There are other passages in Scripture that speak of subjective assurance. For example, 1 John 2:3 says, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” That assurance will grow and deepen as person walks consistently with the Lord. Should a Christian persist in sin for a time, he will forfeit that aspect of assurance for as long as he grieves the Holy Spirit.

Both the objective and subjective means of assurance are spoken of in Romans 15:4: “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance [subjective] and the encouragement of the Scriptures [objective] we might have hope.” That process is part of the Christian’s lifelong spiritual growth.

There’s really nothing to gain by giving new converts immediate assurance of salvation. They will realize true assurance through the promises in Scripture and by sensing the Spirit’s work–the Holy Spirit will bear witness with their spirit that they are children of God. No formulas can bring about such assurance.
This article here originally appeared at Grace To You © 1969-2010. Grace to You. All rights reserved. www.gty.org

“Christ Forsaken” by Joel Beeke

“Christ Forsaken”

by Joel Beeke

“Ay, ay, d’ye know what it was—dying on the cross,
forsaken by His Father — d’ye know what it was?…
It was damnation — and damnation taken lovingly.”
— John “Rabbi” Duncan (1796–1870)

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, KJV).

It is noon, and Jesus has been on the cross for three pain-filled hours. Suddenly, darkness falls on Calvary and “over all the land” (v. 45). By a miraculous act of Almighty God, midday becomes midnight.

This supernatural darkness is a symbol of God’s judgment on sin. The physical darkness signals a deeper and more fearsome darkness.

The great High Priest enters Golgotha’s Holy of Holies without friends or enemies. The Son of God is alone on the cross for three final hours, enduring what defies our imagination. Experiencing the full brunt of His Father’s wrath, Jesus cannot stay silent. He cries out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

This phrase represents the nadir, the lowest point, of Jesus’ sufferings. Here Jesus descends into the essence of hell, the most extreme suffering ever experienced. It is a time so compacted, so infinite, so horrendous as to be incomprehensible and, seemingly, unsustainable.

Jesus’ cry does not in any way diminish His deity. Jesus does not cease being God before, during, or after this. Jesus’ cry does not divide His human nature from His divine person or destroy the Trinity. Nor does it detach Him from the Holy Spirit. The Son lacks the comforts of the Spirit, but He does not lose the holiness of the Spirit. And finally, it does not cause Him to disavow His mission. Both the Father and Son knew from all eternity that Jesus would become the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (Acts 15:18). It is unthinkable that the Son of God might question what is happening or be perplexed when His Father’s loving presence departs.

Jesus is expressing the agony of unanswered supplication (Ps. 22:1–2). Unanswered, Jesus feels forgotten of God. He is also expressing the agony of unbearable stress. It is the kind of “roaring” mentioned in Psalm 22: the roar of desperate agony without rebellion. It is the hellish cry uttered when the undiluted wrath of God overwhelms the soul. It is heart-piercing, heaven-piercing, and hell-piercing. Further, Jesus is expressing the agony of unmitigated sin. All the sins of the elect, and the hell that they deserve for eternity, are laid upon Him. And Jesus is expressing the agony of unassisted solitariness. In His hour of greatest need comes a pain unlike anything the Son has ever experienced: His Father’s abandonment. When Jesus most needs encouragement, no voice cries from heaven, “This is my beloved Son.” No angel is sent to strengthen Him; no “well done, thou good and faithful servant” resounds in His ears. The women who supported Him are silent. The disciples, cowardly and terrified, have fled. Feeling disowned by all, Jesus endures the way of suffering alone, deserted, and forsaken in utter darkness. Every detail of this horrific abandonment declares the heinous character of our sins!

But why would God bruise His own Son (Isa. 53:10)? The Father is not capricious, malicious, or being merely didactic. The real purpose is penal; it is the just punishment for the sin of Christ’s people. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Christ was made sin for us, dear believers. Among all the mysteries of salvation, this little word “for” exceeds all. This small word illuminates our darkness and unites Jesus Christ with sinners. Christ was acting on behalf of His people as their representative and for their benefit.

With Jesus as our substitute, God’s wrath is satisfied and God can justify those who believe in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). Christ’s penal suffering, therefore, is vicarious — He suffered on our behalf. He did not simply share our forsakenness, but He saved us from it. He endured it for us, not with us. You are immune to condemnation (Rom. 8:1) and to God’s anathema (Gal. 3:13) because Christ bore it for you in that outer darkness. Golgotha secured our immunity, not mere sympathy.

This explains the hours of darkness and the roar of dereliction. God’s people experience just a taste of this when they are brought by the Holy Spirit before the Judge of heaven and earth, only to experience that they are not consumed for Christ’s sake. They come out of darkness, confessing, “Because Immanuel has descended into the lowest hell for us, God is with us in the darkness, under the darkness, through the darkness — and we are not consumed!”

How stupendous is the love of God! Indeed, our hearts so overflow with love that we respond, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

We Recommend
The Wondrous Cross Article by Keith Mathison
The Rock Fails His Master Devotional
Did the atonement apply to those who lived before the crucifixion of Christ? Q&A
From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn – Charles Spurgeon

“When they begin to live to Christ they begin to mourn. Every child of God is born
again with a tear in his eye. Dry-eyed faith is not the faith of God’s elect. He who
rejoices in Christ at the same time mourns for sin. Repentance is joined to faith by
loving bands, as the Siamese twins were united in one.”

“I have heard it said that repentance is “merely a change of mind.” I wish that those who so speak had undergone that change.”

“Wherever there is a real forgiveness of sin, there will be real sorrow on account of it.”

“Doctrine Divides” — Devotional From Ligonier Ministries’ © Tabletalk

Doctrine Divides“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (v. 14).
– Jeremiah 6:1–15

Throughout history men have appeared who would become famous for seeking peace at any price. Perhaps the greatest twentieth-century example of such a figure is the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who in 1938 proclaimed that he had achieved “peace in our time” with Adolf Hitler even as he was preparing to unleash his blitzkrieg on Europe. Chamberlain’s aversion to hostility was so great that Hitler played him for a fool.

Conflict is something that most people, when given the opportunity, try to avoid. Peace is so desirable that significant differences between individuals and groups are often ignored, and unity is sought under the lowest common denominator. When peace is sought under these auspices, it can be easy to ignore the importance of truth altogether. The modern heirs of nineteenth-century Christian liberalism reveal such tendencies. In the drive to live peaceably with other professing believers and even other non-Christian religions, liberalism has tended to redefine Christianity as “the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man,” or some other innocuous definition. Ironically, liberals tend to tolerate any kind of belief system unless it happens to represent orthodox, biblical faith.

We cannot, however, judge mainline Protestantism without recognizing that these problems are increasingly evident within evangelicalism. Even though many different denominations were born out of the Protestant Reformation, evangelicals have traditionally confessed the inerrancy of Scripture and the doctrine of justification by faith alone whether they were Lutherans, Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and so on. Today, unfortunately, the desire for unity means that such essential doctrines are often diminished so that Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox can all get along. Professing evangelicals no longer necessarily believe that justification by faith alone is an essential doctrine — even though without it there is no Gospel (Gal. 1:6–9; 2:15–16).

If Christian unity is to mean anything, it must be a unity of faith grounded in the truth. To sacrifice conviction for “peace” is to have no conviction at all.

Coram Deo

Christians have often divided over matters not essential to Christian orthodoxy and lobbed charges of heresy at one another. Such actions have created a distaste for theology in the minds of many people, and there is now a tendency to downplay any essential differences within the visible church because of all the vitriol shown over the less important points of doctrine. Let us be passionate for the truth, but let us not divide unless Christian orthodoxy is at stake.

Passages for Further Study

Job 34:12
Jeremiah 5:1–3
Romans 14
2 Timothy 2:8

We Recommend
Should I Stay or Should I Go?: The Right and Wrong Time to Leave a Church Article by Albert Mohler
True Catholicism Article by Burk Parsons
Deeds Over Creeds Article by Gary Johnson

From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343

John MacArthur: On “The Biggest Problem with Contemporary Church Music?”

“Style or Substance?”

John MacArthur

What’s the Biggest Problem with Contemporary Church Music?

It should be clear to anyone who examines the subject carefully that modern church music, as a rule, is vastly inferior to the classic hymns that were being written 200 years ago.And incidentally, my own assessment is that the style in which music is written today isn’t really the biggest problem with contemporary music. Styles change. Bad church music isn’t bad just because it is “contemporary.” But the content of the lyrics is what reveals most graphically how low our standards have slipped.This is not a problem that arose with the current generation. It dates back to an era whose musical style would seem quite old-fashioned by anyone’s standards today.Before the middle part of the 19th century or so, hymns were wonderful didactic tools, filled with Scripture and sound doctrine, a medium for teaching and admonishing one another, as we are commanded in Colossians 3:16. Most hymns were written not by teenagers with guitars, but by pastors and theologians: Charles Wesley, Augustus Toplady, Isaac Watts.Consider the profound content of this hymn about God’s attributes, written by Walter C. Smith in the 1800s:

Immortal, invisible
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart
Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.

All laud we would render; O help us to see
‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee,
And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.

Around the start of the twentieth century, however, church music took a different direction. Musicians and singers without formal pastoral or theological training (such as Ira Sankey and Philip Bliss) became the dominant songwriters in the church. Choruses with lighter, simpler subject matter proliferated. Popular Christian music became more subjective. Songs focused on personal experience and the feelings of the worshiper. The newer compositions were often called “gospel songs” to distinguish them from “hymns.”

Consider this familiar chorus, written in 1912 by C. Austin Miles:

In the Garden
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

Aside from an oblique reference to “the Son of God” in the last line of the first stanza, there’s no distinctly Christian content to that song at all.

“In the Garden” is by no means the only wretched favorite from the gospel-song era, either. “Love Lifted Me” (1912) and “Count Your Blessings” (1897) are two more “gospel songs” without much actual gospel content. If you want to see what thin gruel some of the “oldies” offer by way of actual biblical or doctrinal substance, review almost any random list of favorite old “gospel songs.”

Modern musicians have pushed this trend even further and often see music as little more than a device for stimulating intense emotion. The biblically-mandated didactic role of music is all but forgotten.

The effect is predictable. What we have sown for several generations we are now reaping in frightening abundance. The modern church, fed on choruses with insipid lyrics, has no appetite for her own great tradition of didactic hymnody.

We are in danger of losing a rich heritage as some of the best hymns of our faith fall into neglect and disuse, being replaced with banal lyrics set to catchy tunes. It is a crisis, and the church is suffering spiritually. Both pastors and church musicians need to see the severity of the crisis and work diligently for reform.
This article here originally appeared at Grace To You © 1969-2010. Grace to You. All rights reserved. www.gty.org


“Enjoying God’s Forgiveness” by John MacArthur

“In Christ we have…the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of [God’s] grace, which He lavished upon us” (Eph. 1:7-8)

In Christ we have infinite forgiveness for every sin – past, present, and future.

On Israel’s Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the high priest selected two goats. One was sacrificed, the other set free. Before releasing the second goat, the high priest symbolically placed the sins of the people on it by laying his hands on its head. This “scapegoat” was then taken a great distance from camp and released – never to return again (Lev. 16:7-10).

The greek word translated “forgiveness” in Ephesians 1:7 means “to send away.” It speaks of canceling a debt or granting a pardon. Like the scapegoat, Christ carried away our sins on the cross.

In Christ, God canceled your debt and pardoned your transgressions, and He did so “according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon [you]” (v.8). That means you have infinite forgiveness, because God’s grace is infinite. You cannot sin beyond God’s grace, because where sin abounds, grace super-abounds (Rom. 5:20).

God delights in lavishing His grace upon you. Such grace is overflowing and cannot be contained. You are forgiven for every sin – past, present, and future. You will never be condemned by God or separated from Him (Rom. 8:1-2, 31-39). Even when you fail, God doesn’t hold your sins against you. Christ bore them all so that you might know the joy and peace that freedom from sin and guilt brings.

Let the reality of God’s grace fill your heart with joy and assurance. Let the responsibility of glorifying Him fill you with awe and reverence. Let this day be a sacrifice of praise and service to Him.

Suggestions for Prayer: Thank God for His infinite grace and forgiveness. ~ Look for opportunities to extend forgiveness to others.

For Further Study: Read Matthew 18:21-35. ~ What characteristic marked the wicked slave? ~ What was the kings response to the wicked slaves actions? ~ What point was Jesus making? How does it apply to you?
(John MacArthur, Drawing Near [Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1993], devotion for January 13)

“New to Reformed Theology?” – Online Teaching Resources By R.C. Sproul

“Reformed theology is nothing less than a journey into the marvelous grace of God. May God grant you eyes to see why the apostle Paul would proclaim that “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever.” – Ligonier Ministries

R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries have done the church a great service by offering, free of charge to watch and/or listen to, the three resources below. R.C. Sproul does all of the lectures in each series. If you have not watched or listened to anything by R.C. Sproul you are in for a treat. He is a very engaging speaker, possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of Reformed and Historical Theology. Through his tapes, videos, books, and Tabletalk, Dr. Sproul has had a tremendous impact on my own life. Enjoy!

I. What Is Reformed Theology? with Dr. R.C. Sproul
*You may watch this entire Teaching Series online for free.

II. The Making of the Protestant Reformation with Dr. R.C. Sproul
*You may listen to this entire Teaching Series online for free.

III. Chosen By God with Dr. R.C. Sproul
*You may watch this entire Teaching Series online for free.

“God’s Dupes?” by Ravi Zacharias

Is the Christian faith intellectual nonsense? Are Christians deluded?

“If God exists and takes an interest in the affairs of human beings, his will is not inscrutable,” writes Sam Harris about the 2004 tsunami in Letter to a Christian Nation. “The only thing inscrutable here is that so many otherwise rational men and women can deny the unmitigated horror of these events and think this is the height of moral wisdom” (p. 48). In his article “God’s Dupes,” Harris argues, “Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly, without presuming anything on insufficient evidence. The rest is self-deception, set to music” (The Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2007). Ironically, Harris’ first book is entitled The End of Faith, but it should really be called “The End of Reason,” as it demonstrates again that the mind that is alienated from God in the name of reason can become totally irrational.

Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins suggests that the idea of God is a virus, and we need to find software to eradicate it. Somehow, if we can expunge the virus that led us to think this way, we will be purified and rid of this bedeviling notion of God, good, and evil (“Viruses of the Mind,” 1992). Along with Christopher Hitchens and a few others, these atheists are calling for the banishment of all religious belief. “Away with this nonsense!” is their battle cry. In return, they promise a world of new hope and unlimited horizons once we have shed this delusion of God.

I have news for them — news to the contrary. The reality is that the emptiness that results from the loss of the transcendent is stark and devastating, philosophically and existentially. Indeed, the denial of an objective moral law, based on the compulsion to deny the existence of God, results ultimately in the denial of evil itself. Furthermore, one would like to ask Dawkins, are we morally bound to remove that virus? Somehow he himself is, of course, free from the virus and can therefore input our moral data.

In an attempt to escape what they call the contradiction between a good God and a world of evil, atheists try to dance around the reality of a moral law (and hence, a moral lawgiver) by introducing terms like “evolutionary ethics.” The one who raises the question against God in effect plays God while denying He exists. Now, one may wonder: Why do you actually need a moral lawgiver if you have a moral law? The answer is because the questioner and the issue he or she questions always involve the essential value of a person. You can never talk of morality in abstraction. Persons are implicit to the question and the object of the question. In a nutshell, positing a moral law without a moral lawgiver would be equivalent to raising the question of evil without a questioner. So you cannot have a moral law unless the moral law itself is intrinsically woven into personhood. This means that an intrinsically worthy person must exist if the moral law itself is to be valued. And that person can only be God.

Our inability to alter what is actual frustrates our grandiose delusions of being sovereign over everything. Yet the truth is that we cannot escape the existential rub by running from a moral law. Objective moral values exist only if God exists. Is it all right, for example, to mutilate babies for entertainment? Every reasonable person will say “no.” We know that objective moral values do exist. Therefore, God must exist. Examining those premises and their validity presents a very strong argument.

The prophet Jeremiah noted, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”(Jer. 17:9). Similarly, the apostle James said, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22–25).

The world does not understand what the absoluteness of the moral law is all about. Some get caught, some don’t get caught. Yet who of us would like our heart exposed on the front page of the newspaper today? Have there not been days and hours when, like Paul, you’ve struggled within yourself and said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:15, 24). Each of us knows this tension and conflict within if we are honest with ourselves.

Therefore, as Christians, we ought to take time to reflect seriously upon the question: “Has God truly wrought a miracle in my life? Is my own heart proof of the supernatural intervention of God?” In the West we go through these seasons of new-fangled theologies. The whole question of “lordship” plagued our debates for some time as we asked if there was such a thing as a minimalist view of conversion? “We said the prayer and that’s it.” Yet how can there be a minimalist view of conversion when conversion itself is a maximal work of God’s grace? “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

If you were proposing marriage to someone, what would the one receiving the proposal say if you said, “I want you to know this proposal changes nothing about my allegiances, my behavior, and my daily life; however, I do want you to know that should you accept my proposal, we shall theoretically be considered married. There will be no other changes in me on your behalf.” In a strange way we have minimized every sacred commitment and made it the lowest common denominator. What does my new birth mean to me? That is a question we seldom ask. Who was I before God’s work in me, and who am I now?

The immediate results of coming to know Jesus Christ are the new hungers and new pursuits that are planted within the human will. I well recall that dramatic change in my own way of thinking. There were new longings, new hopes, new dreams, new fulfillments, but most noticeably, there was a new will to do what was God’s will. Thomas Chalmers characterized this change that Christ brings as “the expulsive power of a new affection.” This new affection of heart — the love of God wrought in us through the Holy Spirit — expels all other old seductions and attractions. The one who knows Christ begins to see that his or her own misguided heart is impoverished and in need of constant submission to the will of the Lord — spiritual surrender. Yes, we are all gifted with different personalities, but humility of spirit and the hallmark of conversion is to see one’s own spiritual poverty. Arrogance and conceit ought to be inimical to the life of the believer. A deep awareness of one’s own new hungers and longings is a convincing witness to God’s grace within.
From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343. www.ligonier.org

“Is Spirit Baptism a One-Time Event?” – John MacArthur

“For John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:5)

Our Lord’s words, for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now, are reminiscent of John the Baptist’s statement in John 1:33: “He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ ” The promise was to be fulfilled, and the disciples would be baptized with the Holy Spirit, not many days from now—ten to be exact. Jesus promised that after He departed, He would send the Spirit (John 16:7).

Despite the claims of many, the apostles’ and early disciples’ experience is not the norm for believers today. They were given unique enabling of the Holy Spirit for their special duties. They also received the general and common baptism with the Holy Spirit in an uncommon way, subsequent to conversion. All believers since the church began are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Yet these early apostles and believers were told to wait, showing the change that came in the church age. They were in the transitional period associated with the birth of the church. In the present age, baptism by Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit takes place for all believers at conversion. At that moment, every believer is placed into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). At that point the Spirit also takes up His permanent residency in the converted person’s soul, so there is….continued at MacArthur New Testament Commentary series page(click here for link) there is a portion of commentary to read and a short audio Q and A.

R.C. Sproul: On The Truth Of Eternal Security Or Perseverance Of The Saints

“More Than Conquerors”

by R.C. Sproul

Dr. R.C. Sproul

“If you have it, you never lose it; if you lose it, you never had it.” This pithy adage gives expression to the doctrine in the church that some call the doctrine of eternal security, while others refer to it as the “perseverance of the saints.” Among the latter group, the perseverance of the saints makes up the fifth point of the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism” that are encapsulated in the acronym TULIP — the “P,” the final point, standing for “perseverance of the saints.” Another way of expressing the doctrine in pithy categories is by the phrase, “once in grace, always in grace.”

The idea of the perseverance of the saints is distinguished from the doctrine of the assurance of salvation, though it can never by separated from it. There are those Christians in church history who have affirmed that a Christian can have assurance of his salvation, but that his assurance is only for the moment. One can know that he is in a state of grace today, but with that knowledge, or assurance, there is no further guarantee that he will remain in that state of grace tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, or unto death. On the other hand, those who believe in the perseverance of the saints believe also that one can have the assurance of salvation, not only for today, but forever. So again, we see that perseverance is distinguished from assurance but can never be divorced from it.

Now we face the question, why is it that reformed people, classically and historically, have hung so tenaciously to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints? What are the reasons given for holding this particular doctrine?

The first reason that is given is based on reason itself. That is, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints may be seen as the logical conclusion to, or as a rational inference from, the doctrine of predestination. At this point, many theologians demur saying that we should not construct our theology on the basis of logical inferences drawn from other doctrinal premises. However, if such inferences are not only possible inferences but necessary inferences, then I think it’s legitimate to draw such inferences. However, such inferences ought to be drawn from the truth of the Bible, as our doctrine consists not only of what is explicitly set forth in Scripture but what, by good and necessary consequence, is deduced from the premises of Scripture. Perhaps the danger of drawing the doctrine of perseverance simply as a logical inference from predestination is that the vital, visceral significance of the doctrine could get lost in theological abstraction. But despite that danger, we must see that if we have a full understanding of the biblical doctrines of predestination and election, we would understand that the whole purpose of God’s divine decree of election is not to make salvation a temporary possession of the elect but to make that salvation a permanent reality for those whom He predestines unto salvation. Again, predestination is not unto part-time, or temporary, faith but unto full-time and permanent faith.

The second basis for our holding the doctrine of perseverance is the actual and explicit promises of Scripture. The Scriptures teach us that what God begins in us, He will complete. Peter tells us that we are to praise God who, according to His great mercy, regenerated us for a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an incorruptible, unspotted and unfading inheritance that has been kept in the heavens for you, who are guarded by God’s power, through faith for salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3–5). The promises of God, as Peter indicates here, are unspotted, and they are incapable of fading away. The inheritance that we have is secure.

When we look at the work of Christ on our behalf, we not only see His atonement, which has secured the payment for our sins, we see the ascension of Christ and His ministry at the right hand of the Father as our great High Priest. Here we see in the ministry of Jesus an intercession for those whom the Father has given Him, and a taste of that type of intercession is given to us in the High Priestly Prayer recorded in John 17, where Jesus prays that none whom the Father has given to Him would ever be lost.

Despite the promises of the New Testament, the intercession of Christ on our behalf, and the doctrine of election that point to the certainty of perseverance, we still must take seriously the warnings of apostasy that frequently occur in the New Testament. Paul himself talks about how he has to pummel his body to subdue it, lest he, in the final analysis, becomes a castaway. He speaks of those who have departed from the faith.

At the end of Paul’s ministry, in his final letter to Timothy, he decried the departure of Demas, who had forsaken Paul, because Demas, a previous co-worker alongside the apostle, loved this present world. And so the assumption is that Demas, as well as others who started out with a vital profession of faith, ended in the destruction and the abyss of apostasy. How else do we understand the urgent warnings given in the sixth chapter of Hebrews? Here we have to say, without straining the text, that the New Testament, despite these warnings of apostasy, makes it clear that those who commit such acts of full and final apostasy were never really believers in the first place. John writes in his epistle: “Those who went out from us were never really among us” (1 John 2:19).

We read in chapter 6 of Hebrews, at the end of the most chilling warning against apostasy: “But we are persuaded of better things from you, things that accompany salvation” (v. 9b). People within the visible church, as was the case in Old Testament Israel, certainly do fall away from the profession of faith that they have made and end in destruction. The same is true in the New Testament community. People can join themselves to the visible church, profess faith in Christ but under duress fall away — in some cases fully and finally. We must conclude from the teaching of Scripture that such cases of apostasy are wrought by people who made a profession of faith, and whose profession was not authentic.

Finally, our basis for confidence in perseverance is really not so much in our ability to persevere as it is in God’s power and grace to preserve us. If we were left to ourselves, in our human weakness, not only could we fall away, we most certainly would fall away. However, the reason we do not fall away, the reason we do endure to the end is because of the grace of our heavenly Father, who by grace called us in the first place. He sustains us by preserving us, even unto our glorification.

From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343. www.ligonier.org

“Theologian of the Spirit” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Theologian of the Spirit”

by Sinclair Ferguson

The figure of John Owen (1616–1683) towers above — almost head and shoulders above — the galaxy of writers we know collectively as the English Puritans. His theological learning and acumen was unrivalled; his sense of the importance of doctrine for living was profound. David Clarkson, Owen’s assistant in his latter years, and himself no mean theologian and pastor, well summarized it in his funeral sermon: “It was his great design to promote holiness in the life and exercise of it among you.”

Throughout his work, Owen employed, what was to him, a very significant distinction between the conviction of the truth that is vital to, but not necessarily the same thing as, the experience of the power of the truth. Even in his most erudite and polemical works, the power of the truth in his own and others’ lives was his great concern. Doctrine is taught with a view to godliness.

Owen’s aim, therefore, was so to expound biblical truth that it transformed the life of both the individual believer and the covenant community to which he belonged. Thus in the preface to one of his best known works, On the Mortification of Sin (2nd edition, 1658), he writes, “The chief design of my life in the station wherein the good providence of God hath placed me, are, that mortification and universal holiness may be promoted in my own and in the hearts and ways of others, to the glory of God; that so the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may be adorned in all things” (The Works of John Owen vol. 6., p. 4).

As the wise nineteenth-century Professor John Duncan commented, if you read this little work you must “prepare yourself for the scalpel!” What comes as a shock to contemporary readers of this little work — so much more vigorous and searching than contemporary literature in its diagnosis, prescription, and remedy for our sinful hearts — is that it contains material Owen first preached to teenagers at the University of Oxford. A moment’s reflection suggests how wise he was and how comparatively unwise we are in thinking that such teaching should be reserved for those of much more senior years!

Several things characterize the way Owen encouraged a lasting marriage between conviction of truth and experience of its power. First, the whole of the Christian life is rooted and grounded in the whole of the Godhead. The Trinity, therefore, is not the most speculative and least practical of doctrines. In fact, the reverse is the case; all right understanding depends on the Trinity, and all Christian experience involves communion with the Trinity.

In his magnificent, but neglected work, Communion with God (Works, vol. 2), Owen expounds the privileges of believers in terms of the distinctive fellowship they have with each person of the Trinity. The triune engagement that runs through our Lord’s teaching in the Upper Room, and also in Paul’s epistles, is here spread like a spiritual feast as we are invited to realize to the full that, in the Spirit, “our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Rather than be alienated by the doctrine of the Trinity, the reality expressed by it is the very lifeblood of Christian living: communion with the Father in love, with the Son in grace, with the Spirit in his multi-faceted ministry as the indwelling God.

Second, the godly life is empowered by the Spirit of the Son who is also the Spirit of adoption. He impresses upon us the privileges of divine adoption, and transforms us into the likeness of Christ. This being the eschatological goal, notes Owen: “What better preparation can there be for it than in a constant previous contemplation of that glory in the revelation that is made in the gospel, unto this very end, that by a view of it we may be gradually transformed into the same glory” (Works, vol. 1, p. 275). Thus, in 1679, towards the end of his life, he published his exposition of the person of Christ (Works, vol. 1).

Four years later, now in his final days, Owen consented to the publication of material he had worked on simply for his own spiritual growth, but had then used in ministry. This was published some months after his death under the full title Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ in his Person, office and Grace: with the differences between faith and sight; applied unto the use of them that believe (Works, vol. 1, p. 273). Together, these works, constitute one of the greatest Christ-exalting pieces of theology in the English language. Poignantly, Owen was on his death-bed when the Reverend William Payne brought him the news that the latter was passing through the publication process, and commented, “I am glad to hear it; but, O brother Payne! The long wished-for day is come at last, in which I shall see that glory in another manner than I have ever done, or was capable of doing in this world.”

Third, the spiritual life is lived between two polarities: our sin and God’s grace. The discovery of the former brings us to seek the latter; the work of the latter illumines the depths of the former and causes us to seek yet more grace.

With a relentlessness that leaves us nowhere to hide, Owen used Scripture to expose the sinful heart and carefully cuts away the layers of our hypocrisy, self-justification, and self-deceit (sin has “a thousand wiles … which cannot be counted,” Works, vol. 6, p. 249), leaving us naked before the penetrating gaze of the Holy One. Yet, in the spirit of Scripture, he does not do this in order to destroy us but to heal us, directing us constantly to Christ. For Owen, the heart-conviction of sin is the way grace prepares the heart for more grace. The grace that prepares us to seek Christ also draws us to Christ. Thus, in an extensive exposition of Psalm 130, Owen concentrates especially on the words: “But there is forgiveness with You …” (v.4), and he spends one-hundred and fifty pages bathing his readers in them.

These three emphases run throughout Owen’s writings. And yet this is but to scratch the surface of his work, to suggest a few hors d’oeuvres to help us develop appetite to read him.

But if all we are interested in is theology for its own sake, Owen is not our man, as he makes plain: “What am I the better if I can dispute that Christ is God, but have no sense of sweetness in my heart from hence that he is a God in covenant with my soul? … Let us, then, not think that we are anything the better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel … unless we find the power of the truths abiding in our own hearts, and have a continual experience of their necessity and excellency in our standing before God and our communion with him” (Works, vol. 12, p. 52).

If light reading is our passion, then Owen’s prose style is not for us. His paragraphs are tightly packed; his thoughts demanding. His analysis of the heart cannot be skimmed quickly. But in our age of constant and instant upgrade to faster models, this is exactly what many of us need: a slow read, a careful application — allowing ourselves to feel the wounds made by Owen’s sensitive eye surgery, and, as a result, discovering that we see our God more clearly, that we love his Son more fully and serve Him in the power of the Spirit more thoroughly. If this is what we need — as it surely is — Owen, though dead, still speaks, and in the providence of God is still there to help and guide us.
From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343. www.ligonier.org