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“Receiving Joy and Strength” by R.C. Sproul

“Receiving Joy and Strength”

R.C. Sproul

There is still another vital aspect to the “why” of Jesus’ departure. He said, “If I do not go away, the Helper (Paraclete) will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” Jesus’ departure was tied to Pentecost. There is no Pentecost without ascension. As the invested King of kings, Jesus had the authority together with the Father to send His Holy Spirit in a new and powerful way upon the church. Jesus spoke of a certain necessity of His leaving in order for the Spirit to come. Herein was another great advantage. He declared, “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost has come upon you” (Acts 1:8, KJV).

Two remarkable things happened to the disciples after Jesus departed. The first is that they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52). They were not despondent over the departure of Jesus. Obviously they finally understood why He was leaving. They understood what, for the most part, the church since then has failed to understand. We live as if it would not have been better for Jesus to leave.

The second obvious change in the lives of the disciples was in their spiritual strength. After Pentecost, they were different people. No longer did they flee like sheep without a shepherd. Instead, they turned the world upside down. They turned the world upside down because they fully understood two simple things: the “where” and the “why” of Jesus’ departure.

Coram Deo: Great joy and spiritual strength are two of the benefits of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Let Him release these benefits in your life today.

Acts 4:31: “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”

Acts 4:33: “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.”

Acts 4:29: “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word.”
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From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343
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“Awaiting the City of God” by R.C. Sproul

“Awaiting the City of God”

R.C. Sproul

Dr. R.C. Sproul

Evangelical Christians love America. Some see in her the last hope of creating a Christian nation. But it is not a Christian nation. It is pagan to the core. It is in danger of becoming, if it is not already, the new “Evil Empire.” The Mayflower Compact is a museum piece, a relic of a forgotten era. “In God We Trust” is now a lie.

Yes, we must always work for social reform. Yes, we must be “profane” in Martin Luther’s sense of going out of the temple and into the world. We do not despise the country of our birth. But in what do we invest our hope? The state is not God. The nation is not the Promised Land. The president is not our King. The Congress is not our Savior. Our welfare can never be found in the city of man. The federal government is not sovereign. We live—in every age and in every generation—by the rivers of Babylon. We need to understand that clearly. We must learn how to sing the Lord’s song in a strange and foreign land.

America will fall. The United States will inevitably disintegrate. The Stars and Stripes will bleed. The White House will turn to rubble. That is certain. We stand like Augustine before the sea. We pray that God will spare our nation. If He chooses not to, we ask for the grace to accept its demise. In either case, we look to Him who is our King and to heaven, which is our home. We await the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, whose builder and maker is God.

Coram Deo: Are you looking to your King and to your eternal destiny, despite the circumstances around you? Keep your focus on the heavenly Jerusalem, whose builder and maker is God.

1 Corinthians 15:50: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.”

John 3:5: “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”

2 Peter 1:11: “An entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
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From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343 www.ligonier.org

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“Christian Loses His Burden” by R.C. Sproul

“Christian Loses His Burden”

by R.C. Sproul

John Bunyan

“As a seminary student, I remember my favorite professor often setting forth arguments for particular theological positions. On many occasions, as these debates proceeded, the professor stopped in mid-sentence, paused, looked at his students and said, “I sense that you do not feel the weight of this argument.” His regular reference to the “weight” of arguments was an interesting metaphor for me. Arguments that we do not take seriously are those that we take lightly. The whole idea of weight or weightiness is one that is found throughout the Bible. In the first instance, the glory of God is described in terms of His inherent and eternal weightiness. Those who take God lightly are those who have no regard for His glory.

One of the most important areas in which the whole idea of weight comes to bear in the New Testament has to do with the Law. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, in chapter 3, verse 9, after he has set forth the unrighteousness of both Jew and Gentile, he makes the comment, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin” (NKJV). Again in verse 19 of the same chapter, the apostle writes, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (NKJV).

In our day, the weightiness of the Gospel itself has been eclipsed. I doubt if there’s a period in the history of the church in which professing evangelicals have been as ignorant of the elements of the biblical Gospel as they are today.

There is a stark contrast between the second best-seller in the history of the English language, second only to the Bible, namely, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and the runaway best-seller of the last two years, The Purpose Driven Life. In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we see set forth in masterful literary style the depths and the riches of the biblical Gospel. When we compare it to The Purpose Driven Life, we see a book in which it is difficult to find a full explanation of the biblical Gospel. Justification, the relief from the burden of sin that weighs down the soul, is all but absent in the setting forth of a new and different gospel of achieving or discovering purpose in one’s life. One of the leaders of the recent emerging church movement boasts that he has not mentioned the word “sin” in the last ten years of his preaching. He wants to make sure that his people will not feel crushed by guilt or by a loss of their self-esteem. When the acute awareness of guilt is removed from the conscience, there is no sense of the burden of sin. There is no sense of being under the crushing weight of the law of God that bears down upon our souls relentlessly.

However, if we turn our attention to the insights of Bunyan set forth in the Christian classic Pilgrim’s Progress, we see a story that focuses on the groaning pressure of a man who is weighed down to the depths of his soul with a burden of which he is unable to rid himself. It is like the apostle Paul’s description in Romans 7 of the body of death that crushes the spirit. In the very first paragraph on the first page of Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan pens these lines:

“As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a den; and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and as I slept I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled: and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry; saying, ‘What shall I do?’”

When preachers announce from their pulpits that God loves people unconditionally, there is hardly any reason for the hearer to feel any burden or cry out with any lament, saying, “What shall I do?” If indeed God loves us unconditionally and requires nothing of us, then obviously there is no need for us to do anything. But if God has judged us according to the righteousness of His perfect Law and has called the whole world before His tribunal to announce that we are all guilty, that none of us is righteous, that none of us seeks after God, that there is no fear of God before our eyes, that we are in the meantime, before the appointed day of judgment, treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath, then anybody in his right mind (and even those in their wrong mind) would have enough sense to cry out the same lamentation, “What shall I do?” The story of Christian is the story of a man who is burdened by the weight of sin. His conscience was smitten by the Law, but where the Law is eliminated in the church, no one needs to fear divine judgment. Without the Law there is no knowledge of sin, and without a knowledge of sin, there is no sense of burden. The pilgrim knew the Law, he knew his sin, and he realized he had a burden on his back that he could not, with all of his effort and his greatest strivings, ever remove. His redemption must come from outside of himself. He needed a righteousness not his own. He needed to exchange that weighty sack of sin on his back for an alien righteousness acceptable in the sight of God. For the pilgrim there was only one place to find that righteousness, at the foot of the cross. The crucial moment in Christian’s life is when he comes to the cross. We read the description: “He ran thus till he came to a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and little below in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back; and began to tumble, and so continued to do so until it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.”

Shortly thereafter, Christian sang his song of deliverance: “Thus far did I come laden with my sin, nor could aught ease the grief that I was in, till I came hither. What a place is this! Must here be the beginning of my bliss? Must here the burden fall from off my back? Must here the strings that bound it to me, crack? Blessed cross! Blessed sepulchre! Blessed rather be the Man that there was put to shame for me.”

This is the description of how salvation comes. It comes as a result of the atoning work of Christ and the exchange of our sin from our backs to His, as well as the cloak of His righteousness being transferred from His account to ours. Anything that eliminates this double exchange, this double imputation of sin and righteousness, falls short of the biblical Gospel. It’s time once more for the Christian community to follow the Pilgrim’s Progress.”

We Recommend
Faith and Works Devotional
In the Dungeon of Giant Despair Article by Andrew McGowan
The Means of Salvation Devotional

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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
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“The Greatest of All Protestant Heresies”? by Sinclair Ferguson

by Sinclair Ferguson

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson

Let us begin with a church history exam question. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a figure not to be taken lightly. He was Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian and one of the most able figures in the Counter-Reformation movement within sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. On one occasion, he wrote: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .” Complete, explain, and discuss Bellarmine’s statement.

How would you answer? What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies? Perhaps justification by faith? Perhaps Scripture alone, or one of the other Reformation watchwords?

Those answers make logical sense. But none of them completes Bellarmine’s sentence. What he wrote was: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.”

A moment’s reflection explains why. If justification is not by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone — if faith needs to be completed by works; if Christ’s work is somehow repeated; if grace is not free and sovereign, then something always needs to be done, to be “added” for final justification to be ours. That is exactly the problem. If final justification is dependent on something we have to complete it is not possible to enjoy assurance of salvation. For then, theologically, final justification is contingent and uncertain, and it is impossible for anyone (apart from special revelation, Rome conceded) to be sure of salvation. But if Christ has done everything, if justification is by grace, without contributory works; it is received by faith’s empty hands — then assurance, even “full assurance” is possible for every believer.

No wonder Bellarmine thought full, free, unfettered grace was dangerous! No wonder the Reformers loved the letter to the Hebrews!

This is why, as the author of Hebrews pauses for breath at the climax of his exposition of Christ’s work (Heb. 10:18), he continues his argument with a Paul-like “therefore” (Heb. 10:19). He then urges us to “draw near … in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). We do not need to re-read the whole letter to see the logical power of his “therefore.” Christ is our High Priest; our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience just as our bodies have been washed with pure water (v.22).

Christ has once-for-all become the sacrifice for our sins, and has been raised and vindicated in the power of an indestructible life as our representative priest. By faith in Him, we are as righteous before the throne of God as He is righteous. For we are justified in His righteousness, His justification alone is ours! And we can no more lose this justification than He can fall from heaven. Thus our justification does not need to be completed any more than does Christ’s!

With this in view, the author says, “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who come to God by him” (Heb. 10:14). The reason we can stand before God in full assurance is because we now experience our “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and … bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

“Ah,” retorted Cardinal Bellarmine’s Rome, “teach this and those who believe it will live in license and antinomianism.” But listen instead to the logic of Hebrews. Enjoying this assurance leads to four things: First, an unwavering faithfulness to our confession of faith in Jesus Christ alone as our hope (v.23); second, a careful consideration of how we can encourage each other to “love and good works” (v.24); third, an ongoing communion with other Christians in worship and every aspect of our fellowship (v.25a); fourth, a life in which we exhort one another to keep looking to Christ and to be faithful to him, as the time of his return draws ever nearer (25b).

It is the good tree that produces good fruit, not the other way round. We are not saved by works; we are saved for works. In fact we are God’s workmanship at work (Eph. 2:9–10)! Thus, rather than lead to a life of moral and spiritual indifference, the once-for-all work of Jesus Christ and the full-assurance faith it produces, provides believers with the most powerful impetus to live for God’s glory and pleasure. Furthermore, this full assurance is rooted in the fact that God Himself has done all this for us. He has revealed His heart to us in Christ. The Father does not require the death of Christ to persuade Him to love us. Christ died because the Father loves us (John 3:16). He does not lurk behind His Son with sinister intent wishing He could do us ill — were it not for the sacrifice his Son had made! No, a thousand times no! — the Father Himself loves us in the love of the Son and the love of the Spirit.

Those who enjoy such assurance do not go to the saints or to Mary. Those who look only to Jesus need look nowhere else. In Him we enjoy full assurance of salvation. The greatest of all heresies? If heresy, let me enjoy this most blessed of “heresies”! For it is God’s own truth and grace!

We Recommend
Assurance Enhances Sanctification Message
The Most Frightening Words Article by Tom Ascol
Blessed Assurance Devotional

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From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
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“Asking the Most Important Question” — R.C. Sproul

R.C. Sproul

Dr. R.C. Sproul

Many believe that assurance of eternal salvation is neither possible nor even to be sought. To claim such assurance is considered a mask of supreme arrogance, the nadir of self-conceit.

Yet if God declares that it is possible to have full assurance of salvation and even commands that we seek after it, it would be supremely arrogant for one to deny or neglect it.

In fact, God does command us to seek certainty about our salvation: “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10, NIV).

This command admits of no justifiable neglect. It addresses a crucial matter. The question “Am I saved?” is one of the most important questions I can ever ask myself. I need to know the answer. I must know the answer. This is not a trifle.

Without the assurance of salvation, the Christian life is unstable. It is vulnerable to the debilitating rigors of mood changes and allows the wolf of heresy to camp on the doorstep.

Progress in sanctification requires a firm foundation in faith. Without it, the foundation crumbles.

Coram Deo: Ask God to cement the foundation of your faith with divine assurance of your salvation.

2 Peter 1:10: “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble.”

Ephesians 2:4-5: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”

1 Peter 1:5: “[We] are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
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From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343
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“Why You Should Read the Puritans” by Joel Beeke

“Why You Should Read the Puritans”

by Joel Beeke

The great eighteenth-century revivalist, George Whitefield, wrote:

English Puritan Minister Thomas Watson

The Puritans [were] burning and shining lights. When cast out by the black Bartholomew Act, and driven from their respective charges to preach in barns and fields, in the highways and hedges, they in a special manner wrote and preached as men having authority. Though dead, by their writings they yet speak: a peculiar unction attends them to this very hour (Works, 4:306-307).

Whitefield went on to predict that Puritan writings would continue to be resurrected until the end of time due to their scriptural spirituality. Today, we are living in such a time. Interest in Puritan books has seldom been more intense. In the last fifty years, 150 Puritan authors and nearly 700 Puritan titles have been brought back into print.

Puritan literature has so multiplied that few book lovers can afford to purchase all that is being published. What books should you buy? Where can you find a brief summary of each Puritan work and a brief biography of each author so that you can have a glimpse of who is behind all these books?

These kinds of questions motivated Randall Pederson and me to write Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints. In this book, we tell the life stories of the 150 Puritan writers who have been reprinted in the past fifty years. We have also included concise reviews of the 700 newly published Puritan titles plus bibliographical information on each book. And we have noted the books that we consider most critical to have in a personal library.

We had four goals for writing this book: first, that these godly Puritan writers will serve as mentors for our own lives. That is why we have told the stories of the Puritans on a layperson’s level and kept them short. You could read one life story each day during your devotional time. Second, we trust that when you read these reviews of Puritan writings, you will be motivated to read a number of these books, each of which should help you grow deeper in your walk with the Lord. Third, we hope this book will serve as a guide for you to purchase books for your families and friends, to help them grow in faith. Finally, for those of you who are already readers of Puritan literature, this guide is designed to direct you to further study and to introduce you to lesser-known Puritans that you may be unaware of.

Definition of Puritanism
Just who were the Puritan writers? They were not only the two thousand ministers who were ejected from the Church of England by the Act of Uniformity in 1662, but also those ministers in England and North America, from the sixteenth century through the early eighteenth century, who worked to reform and purify the church and to lead people toward godly living consistent with the Reformed doctrines of grace.

Puritanism grew out of three needs: (1) the need for biblical preaching and the teaching of sound Reformed doctrine; (2) the need for biblical, personal piety that stressed the work of the Holy Spirit in the faith and life of the believer; and (3) the need to restore biblical simplicity in liturgy, vestments, and church government, so that a well-ordered church life would promote the worship of the triune God as prescribed in His Word (The Genius of Puritanism, 11ff.).

Doctrinally, Puritanism was a kind of vigorous Calvinism; experientially, it was warm and contagious; evangelistically, it was aggressive, yet tender; ecclesiastically, it was theocentric and worshipful; politically, it aimed to be scriptural, balanced, and bound by conscience before God in the relationships of king, Parliament, and subjects; culturally, it had lasting impact throughout succeeding generations and centuries until today (Durston and Eales, eds., The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560-1700).

How to Profit from Reading the Puritans
Let me offer you nine reasons why it will help you spiritually to read Puritan literature still today:

1. Puritan writings help shape life by Scripture. The Puritans loved, lived, and breathed Holy Scripture. They relished the power of the Spirit that accompanied the Word. Their books are all Word-centered; more than 90 percent of their writings are repackaged sermons that are rich with scriptural exposition. The Puritan writers truly believed in the sufficiency of Scripture for life and godliness.

If you read the Puritans regularly, their Bible-centeredness will become contagious. These writings will show you how to yield wholehearted allegiance to the Bible’s message. Like the Puritans, you will become a believer of the living Book, echoing the truth of John Flavel, who said, “The Scriptures teach us the best way of living, the noblest way of suffering, and the most comfortable way of dying.”

Do you want to read books that put you into the Scriptures and keep you there, shaping your life by sola Scriptura? Read the Puritans. Read the Soli Deo Gloria Puritan Pulpit Series. As you read, enhance your understanding by looking up and studying all the referenced Scriptures.

2. Puritan writings show how to integrate biblical doctrine into daily life. The Puritan writings do this in three ways:

First, they address your mind. In keeping with the Reformed tradition, the Puritans refused to set mind and heart against each other, but viewed the mind as the palace of faith. “In conversion, reason is elevated,” John Preston wrote.

The Puritans understood that a mindless Christianity fosters a spineless Christianity. An anti-intellectual gospel quickly becomes an empty, formless gospel that never gets beyond “felt needs,” which is something that is happening in many churches today. Puritan literature is a great help for understanding the vital connection between what we believe with our minds and how that affects the way we live. Jonathan Edwards’s Justification by Faith Alone and William Lyford’s The Instructed Christian are particularly helpful for this.

Second, Puritan writings confront your conscience. The Puritans are masters at convicting us about the heinous nature of our sin against an infinite God. They excel at exposing specific sins, then asking questions to press home conviction of those sins. As one Puritan wrote, “We must go with the stick of divine truth and beat every bush behind which a sinner hides, until like Adam who hid, he stands before God in his nakedness.”

Devotional reading should be confrontational as well as comforting. We grow little if our consciences are not pricked daily and directed to Christ. Since we are prone to run for the bushes when we feel threatened, we need daily help to be brought before the living God “naked and opened unto the eyes of with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:12). In this, the Puritans excel. If you truly want to learn what sin is and experience how sin is worse than suffering, read Jeremiah Burroughs’s The Evil of Evils and Thomas Shepard’s The Sincere Convert and the Sound Believer.

Third, the Puritan writers engage your heart. They excel in feeding the mind with solid biblical substance and they move the heart with affectionate warmth. They write out of love for God’s Word, love for the glory of God, and love for the soul of readers.

For books that beautifully balance objective truth and subjective experience in Christianity; books that combine, as J.I. Packer puts it, “clear-headed passion and warm-hearted compassion” (Ryken, Worldly Saints, x); books that inform your mind, confront your conscience, and engage your heart, read the Puritans. Read Vincent Alsop’s Practical Godliness.

3. Puritan writings show how to exalt Christ and see His beauty. The Puritan Thomas Adams wrote: “Christ is the sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line, the Scriptures being but as it were the swaddling bands of the child Jesus.” Likewise, the Puritan Isaac Ambrose wrote, “Think of Christ as the very substance, marrow, soul, and scope of the whole Scriptures.”

The Puritans loved Christ and exalted in His beauty. Samuel Rutherford wrote: “Put the beauty of ten thousand worlds of paradises, like the Garden of Eden in one; put all trees, all flowers, all smells, all colors, all tastes, all joys, all loveliness, all sweetness in one. O what a fair and excellent thing would that be? And yet it would be less to that fair and dearest well-beloved Christ than one drop of rain to the whole seas, rivers, lakes, and foundations of ten thousand earths.”

If you would know Christ better and love Him more fully, immerse yourself in Puritan literature. Read Robert Asty’s Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus.

4. Puritan writings reveal the Trinitarian character of theology. The Puritans were driven by a deep sense of the infinite glory of a Triune God. When they answered the first question of the Shorter Catechism that man’s chief end was to glorify God, they meant the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They took John Calvin’s glorious understanding of the unity of the Trinity in the Godhead, and showed how that worked itself out in electing, redeeming, and sanctifying love and grace in the lives of believers. John Owen wrote an entire book on the Christian believer’s communion with God as Father, Jesus as Savior, and the Holy Spirit as Comforter. The Puritans teach us how to remain God-centered while being vitally concerned about Christian experience, so that we don’t fall into the trap of glorifying experience for its own sake.

If you want to appreciate each Person of the Trinity, so that you can say with Samuel Rutherford, “I don’t know which Person of the Trinity I love the most, but this I know, I love each of them, and I need them all,” read John Owen’s Communion with God and Jonathan Edwards on the Trinity.

5. Puritan writings show you how to handle trials. Puritanism grew out of a great struggle between the truth of God’s Word and its enemies. Reformed Christianity was under attack in Great Britain, much like Reformed Christianity is under attack today. The Puritans were good soldiers in the conflict, enduring great hardships and suffering much. Their lives and their writings stand ready to arm us for our battles, and to encourage us in our suffering. The Puritans teach us how we need affliction to humble us (Deut. 8:2), to teach us what sin is (Zeph. 1:12), and how that brings us to God (Hos. 5:15). As Robert Leighton wrote, “Affliction is the diamond dust that heaven polishes its jewels with.” The Puritans show us how God’s rod of affliction is His means to write Christ’s image more fully upon us, so that we may be partakers of His righteousness and holiness (Heb. 12:10–11).

If you would learn how to handle your trials in a truly Christ-exalting way, read Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot: The Sovereignty and Wisdom of God Displayed in the Afflictions of Men.

6. Puritan writings explain true spirituality. The Puritans stress the spirituality of the law, spiritual warfare against indwelling sin, the childlike fear of God, the wonder of grace, the art of meditation, the dreadfulness of hell, and the glories of heaven. If you want to live deep as a Christian, read Oliver Heywood’s Heart Treasure. Read the Puritans devotionally, and then pray to be like them. Ask questions such as: Am I, like the Puritans, thirsting to glorify the Triune God? Am I motivated by biblical truth and biblical fire? Do I share their view of the vital necessity of conversion and of being clothed with the righteousness of Christ? Do I follow them as far as they followed Christ?

7. Puritan writings show how to live by wholistic faith. The Puritans apply every subject they write about to practical “uses”—as they term it. These “uses” will propel you into passionate, effective action for Christ’s kingdom. Their own daily lives integrated Christian truth with covenant vision; they knew no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. Their writings can assist you immeasurably in living a life that centers on God in every area, appreciating His gifts, and declaring everything “holiness to the Lord.”

The Puritans were excellent covenant theologians. They lived covenant theology, covenanting themselves, their families, their churches, and their nations to God. Yet they did not fall into the error of hyper-covenantalism, in which the covenant of grace becomes a substitute for personal conversion. They promoted a comprehensive worldview, a total Christian philosophy, a holistic approach of bringing the whole gospel to bear on all of life, striving to bring every action in conformity with Christ, so that believers would mature and grow in faith. The Puritans wrote on practical subjects such as how to pray, how to develop genuine piety, how to conduct family worship, and how to raise children for Christ. In short, they taught how to develop a “rational, resolute, passionate piety [that is] conscientious without becoming obsessive, law-oriented without lapsing into legalism, and expressive of Christian liberty without any shameful lurches into license” (ibid., xii).

If you would grow in practical Christianity and vital piety, read the compilation of The Puritans on Prayer, Richard Steele’s The Character of an Upright Man, George Hamond’s Case for Family Worship, Cotton Mather’s Help for Distressed Parents, and Arthur Hildersham’s Dealing with Sin in Our Children.

8. Puritan writings teach the importance and primacy of preaching. To the Puritans, preaching was the high point of public worship. Preaching must be expository and didactic, they said; evangelistic and convicting, experiential and applicatory, powerful and “plain” in its presentation, ever respecting the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.

If you would help evangelicals recover the pulpit and a high view of the ministry in our day, read Puritan sermons. Read William Perkins’s The Art of Prophesying and Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor.

9. Puritan writings show how to live in two worlds. The Puritans said we should have heaven “in our eye” throughout our earthly pilgrimage. They took seriously the New Testament passages that say we must keep the “hope of glory” before our minds to guide and shape our lives here on earth. They viewed this life as “the gymnasium and dressing room where we are prepared for heaven,” teaching us that preparation for death is the first step in learning to truly live (Packer, Quest, 13).

If you would live in this world in light of the better world to come, read the Puritans. Read Richard Baxter’s The Saint’s Everlasting Life and Richard Alleine’s Heaven Opened.

Where to Begin
If you are just starting to read the Puritans, begin with John Bunyan’s The Fear of God, John Flavel’s Keeping the Heart, and Thomas Watson’s The Art of Divine Contentment, then move on to the works of John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, and Jonathan Edwards.

For sources that introduce you to the Puritans and their literature, begin with Meet the Puritans. Then, to learn more about the lifestyle and theology of the Puritans, read Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), Peter Lewis’s The Genius of Puritanism (Morgan, Penn.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997), and Erroll Hulse’s Who are the Puritans? and what do they teach? (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000). Then move on to James I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1990) and my Puritan Reformed Spirituality (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2006).

Whitefield was right: the Puritans, though long dead, still speak through their writings. Their books still praise them in the gates. Reading the Puritans will place you and keep you on the right path theologically, experientially, and practically. As Packer writes, “The Puritans were strongest just where Protestants today are weakest, and their writings can give us more real help than those of any other body of Christian teachers, past or present, since the days of the apostles” (quoted in Hulse, Reformation & Revival, 44). I wholeheartedly agree. I have been reading Christian literature for more than forty years and can freely say that I know of no group of writers in church history that can so benefit your mind and soul as the Puritans. God used their books to convert me as a teenager, and He has been using their books ever since to help me grow in understanding John the Baptists’s summary of Christian sanctification: “Christ must increase and I must decrease.”

In his endorsement of Meet the Puritans, R.C. Sproul says, “The recent revival of interest in and commitment to the truths of Reformed theology is due in large measure to the rediscovery of Puritan literature. The Puritans of old have become the prophets for our time. This book is a treasure for the church.” So, our prayer is that God will use Meet the Puritans to inspire you to read Puritan writings. With the Spirit’s blessing, they will enrich your life in many ways as they open the Scriptures to you, probe your conscience, bare yours sins, lead you to repentance, and conform your life to Christ. Let the Puritans bring you into full assurance of salvation and a lifestyle of gratitude to the Triune God for His great salvation.

You might want to pass along Meet the Puritans and Puritan books to your friends as well. There is no better gift than a good book. I sometimes wonder what would happen if Christians spent only fifteen minutes a day reading Puritan writings. Over a year that would add up to reading about twenty average-size books a year and, over a lifetime, 1,500 books. Who knows how the Holy Spirit might use such a spiritual diet of reading! Would it usher in a worldwide revival? Would it fill the earth again with the knowledge of the Lord from sea to sea? That is my prayer, my vision, my dream. Tolle Lege—take up and read! You will be glad you did.

We Recommend
Beacon of Holiness Article by Alistair Begg
Meet the Puritans Message by Joel Beeke

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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
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Note: Pictures and photos above added by this blog and did not appear in original article.
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“A Just War” by Joel Beeke

“A Just War”

by Joel Beeke

Throughout His public ministry, Jesus spoke out against the scribes and the Pharisees. Christ sums up His case against them in Matthew 23 as He teaches multitudes and His disciples at the temple on the Tuesday of Passion Week.

Christ begins with an important disclaimer. When the scribes and Pharisees “sit in Moses’ seat,” propounding what is taught in God’s Word as delivered by Moses, they are to be obeyed. Jesus’ quarrel is not with Scripture or with the things commanded in the law of God. He affirms what Paul later says: “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12 kjv).

What Christ opposes is the hypocrisy of religious leaders who, despite their confessional orthodoxy and zeal for the law, “say, and do not” (Matt. 23:3). They impose impossible duties on others while exempting themselves, Jesus says. And they perform their devotion in public “to be seen of men” (v. 5), using “supersized” tefillin, or phylacteries, and making the tsit-tsit (fringes on their ritual garments) as long as possible as they compete for the best seats at banquets or the synagogues and hail one another loudly in the marketplaces, crying, “Rabbi, Rabbi!” (v. 7).

This indictment of religious exhibitionism makes us wonder what Christ would say about the celebrity status of many Christian leaders in America today. Christ calls for a different kind of leadership — one that involves self-denial and abasement. He says, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant…. He that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (vv. 11–12).

Christ then denounces seven specific sins of the Pharisees: spiritual obstructionism; the love of money concealed in a pose of piety; aggressive recruitment of others for their party; ethical hairsplitting and specious exegesis; majoring in minors while omitting “the weightier matters of the law” (v. 23); and promoting a righteousness that is merely external while leaving the corruption of the inner man untouched. Finally, Jesus faults the Pharisees for their devotion to deceased saints and prophets, and He indicts their fathers for resisting and killing the prophets. The Pharisees are no different from their fathers, Jesus says.

Christ concludes with a fearful question: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (v. 33). He predicts what will happen in the days of the apostles, when He, as the risen Christ, will send “prophets, and wise men, and scribes” (v. 34) to confront unbelieving Jews. They will face persecution, scourging, crucifixion, and death, “that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth” (v. 35). He warns the Pharisees that the punishment for the crimes of unbelief will soon overtake them.

Christ leaves Jerusalem with an exclamation that mingles righteous anger with tender love: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (v. 37). Clearly, the unbelief of His people has broken Christ’s heart. Sadly, Christians throughout history have often harbored feelings of hatred, suspicion, and resentment against Jewish people — quite the opposite of the love that Christ reveals here. There is a long history of Christian persecution of the Jews, excused or explained away on the ground of Jewish unbelief.

You will find no sanction for such racism and persecution here. Rather, Jesus ends His sermon with a note of hope, speaking of a coming day when the Jewish people will embrace Him as Messiah and Lord and say, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (v. 39, quoting Ps. 118:26). This promised conversion of the Jews has been cherished by Christians for centuries. The Westminster Larger Catechism teaches that when we as Christians pray “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying, among other things, that “the gospel [may be] propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, [and] the fullness of Gentiles brought in” (Q. 191).

The sins, woes, and love described in Matthew 23 warn us to beware of the scribes and Pharisees, who were models of religious pride — pride of knowledge, pride of accomplishment, and pride of reputation.

Pride is a devastating sin and is complex. Most sins turn us away from God, but pride directly attacks God. It lifts us above and against God, seeking to dethrone Him by enthroning ourselves. God hates pride (Prov. 6:16–17). Pride was the first sin in paradise and the last we will shed in death. Declare war on your pride. Count it your greatest enemy. Learn to say every day: “I am a sinner, a servant, a small one, and a saint.” With the Spirit’s help, this exercise will help break down the pride of the scribes and Pharisees within you.
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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
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“The Supremacy of Christ” by R.C. Sproul

“The Supremacy of Christ”

by R.C. Sproul

I wonder if it is proper to have a “favorite” book of the Bible. The idea scratches like fingernails on a chalk-board. What would induce us to prefer one portion of the Word of God to another? It would seem that to hear God say anything would be such a delight to the soul that every word that proceeds from His mouth would excite the soul to the same degree. Perhaps when we reach glory, our delight in Him and in His Word will be such that it will know no comparative degrees.

In the meantime we are left with our varied inclinations. When I think of “favorite” books of the Bible, I always place Hebrews near the very top. Why? In the first instance, this book masterfully connects the Old Testament and the New Testament. What Augustine said is true: “The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.” The bridge between the two is Hebrews.

Hebrews is a book of comparisons and contrasts. The New Covenant is seen against the backdrop of the Old. The New is seen as being better. “Better” is the operative word. The New Covenant is better because it is more inclusive (it includes Gentiles); it has a better Mediator; a better High Priest; a better King; and a better revelation of God.

What the New Covenant has that the Old Covenant lacked is the fulfillment of the promised Messiah. In a word, we have Jesus — the Word made flesh.

Indeed, as the author of Hebrews (whom I believe was Paul, possibly through an amanuensis) describes the person and work of Jesus, the comparative quickly changes to the superlative. It is not enough to see Jesus as simply being “better” than what came before. He is more than better; He is the best.

In this regard, Hebrews focuses on the supremacy of Christ. To speak of “supremacy” is to speak of that which is “above” or “over” others. It reaches the level of the “super.” In our language it refers to that which (or who) is greatest in power, authority, or rank. It is also used to describe that which (or who) is greatest in importance, significance, character, or achievement — the “ultimate.”

In all these areas of consideration, Jesus ranks as the ultimate or supreme — supreme in power, rank, glory, authority, importance, etc.

The high Christology of Hebrews is set against the background of the Old Testament. Hebrews begins with the attestation of Christ as the supreme revelation of God: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power…” (Heb. 1:1–3a NKJV).

Here the supremacy of Christ is His preeminence over the Old Testament prophets. Those prophets spoke the Word of God — but Christ is the Word of God. He is not merely a prophet in a long line of prophets. He is the Prophet par excellence. This supreme revelation comes from Him, the One who is more than a prophet — the very Son of God. In this opening passage of Hebrews there is enough weighty Christology to occupy the most astute theologians for their entire lives without exhausting its richness. Here Christ is seen as the Creator of the world and the One who upholds it by His power. He is the Creator of all things and the Heir of all things. He is the very brightness of the glory of God. Again, it is not enough to say that He is the supreme reflection of divine glory. Nay, He is the brightness of that glory. He is the express image of God’s person, the one who bears the imago dei supremely.

Next, Hebrews sets forth the contrast between the person and function of angels to Jesus. No angel rises to the level of the only begotten Son of God. Angels are not to be worshiped — yet the angels are commanded to worship Christ. The Kingdom is not given to angels; it is given to Christ who alone is seated at the right hand of God the Father in the position of cosmic authority. In every way Christ has supremacy over the angels and is not to be confused as being one of them.

Then the author of Hebrews details the supremacy of Christ over Moses. Surely Moses is the most exalted person of the Old Testament in his role of Mediator of the Law. We read, “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house. For this One has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who built the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God. And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, … but Christ as a son over His own house, whose house we are… .” (Heb. 3:1–6a NKJV).

The contrasts here are among the servant of the house, the builder of the house, and the owner of the house. The builder and owner are supreme over the servant of the house. Moses could lead the people to the earthly promised land but could not lead them into their eternal rest.

Next, Christ is seen as the supreme High Priest. The high priests of old offered shadows of the reality to come. The sacrifices of old were offered regularly — Christ offers the true sacrifice, once for all. The old priests offered objects different from themselves. The Supreme High Priest offers Himself — a perfect sacrifice. He is both the subject and object of the supreme atoning sacrifice.

Finally, Christ’s priesthood differs from the old in that Christ serves both as High Priest and as King. In the Old Covenant, the king was ultimately to come from the tribe of Judah. The priests were to be consecrated from the tribe of Levi (following Aaron). But Jesus was not a Levite. His was a different priesthood from a different order — the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek makes a strange appearance to Abraham as both king and priest to whom Abraham gives obeisance. Hebrews argues that as Abraham is greater than Levi, and Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, then manifestly Melchizedek is greater than Levi. The eternal high priesthood and kingship is given to Christ in fulfillment of Psalm 110.

These references are but a few of the riches set forth in Hebrews that declare the supremacy of Christ.

We Recommend
The Light of the World Devotional
The Bread of Life Devotional
All Things Under Christ Devotional
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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

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“Understanding Free Will” — R.C. Sproul

“Understanding Free Will”

R.C. Sproul

Martin Luther struggled greatly with the relationship of God’s sovereignty to human free will and sin. In fact, one of the greatest books ever written on the subject, The Bondage of the Will, is from Luther’s pen. When Luther grappled with this issue, he especially struggled with the Old Testament passages where we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3–4, 13–14, 22–23; 8:15, 19, 30–32; 9:27–10:2; 10:16–20, 24–28).

When we read these passages, we tend to think, “Doesn’t this suggest that God not only works through the desires and actions of humans, but that He actually forces evil upon people?” After all, the Bible does say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

When Luther discussed this, he observed that when the Bible says that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, God did not create fresh evil in the heart of an innocent man. Luther said that God didn’t harden people by putting evil in their hearts. All that God must do to harden anyone’s heart is to withhold His own grace; that is, He gives a person over to himself.

Coram Deo: Is your heart open to the needs of others? Is it responsive to spiritual things? Ask God to keep your heart soft and pliable to His divine will and purposes.

Exodus 4:21: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.’”

Psalm 95:8: “Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, as in the day of trial in the wilderness.”

Deuteronomy 15:7: “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother.”
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From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343

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“Affirming God’s Sovereignty” by R.C. Sproul

“Affirming God’s Sovereignty”

R.C. Sproul

Our God remains incomprehensible and retains His simplicity. He tells us in His Word that He is not a God of confusion but of order. He is not at war with Himself. He is altogether good, altogether holy, and altogether sovereign. This we must affirm to maintain a biblical concept of divine sovereignty. Yet we must always balance this understanding with a clear understanding that God always exercises His power and authority according to His holy character.

He chooses what He chooses according to His own good pleasure. It is His pleasure that He does.

He chooses what is pleasing to Himself. But that pleasure is always His good pleasure, for God is never pleased to will or to do anything that is evil or contrary to His own goodness.

In this we can rest, knowing that He wishes for, and has the power to bring about, all good things for us His children.

Coram Deo

What difficulties are you currently facing? Reaffirm your trust in the sovereignty of God, who is working all things together for His good pleasure.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 103:19
Psalm 66:7
1 Chronicles 29:12
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From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343

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“Rejecting Kingdoms of This World” — R.C. Sproul

“Rejecting Kingdoms of This World”

R.C. Sproul

Augustine stood by the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. He had heard of the hordes of barbarians that were moving as a juggernaut against Rome and the empire. The reports were ominous and foreboding, lending little reason for hope of the survival of the Roman culture.

Augustine said a prayer in three parts. In the first part, he implored God to save the empire. In the second part, he asked for grace to accept the destruction of civilization as he knew it, if…..continue reading [here] at the Ligonier Blog page.

“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
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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

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

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“Examining Calvin’s Rules of Prayer (Part 2)” by R.C. Sproul

“Examining Calvin’s Rules of Prayer (Part 2)”

R.C. Sproul

John Calvin’s third rule of prayer was that we must always pray with genuine feeling. Prayer is a matter of passion: “Many repeat prayers in a perfunctory manner from a set form, as if they were performing a task to God … They perform the duty from custom, because their minds are meanwhile cold, and they ponder not what they ask.”

A fourth rule of prayer from Calvin was that it be always accompanied by repentance: “God does not listen to the wicked; that their prayers, as well as their sacrifices, are an abomination to them. For it is right that those who seal up their hearts should find the ears of God closed against them.”

Calvin said a humble submission is required: “Of this submission, which casts down all haughtiness, we have numerous examples in the servants of God. The holier they are, the more humbly they prostrate themselves when they come into the presence of the Lord.”

If I can summarize Calvin’s teaching on prayer succinctly, I would say this: The chief rule of prayer is to remember who God is and to remember who you are. If we remember those two things, our prayers will always and ever be marked by adoration and confession.

Coram Deo: Do you pray with genuine feeling? Do you always accompany your prayers with repentance?

Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

James 5:16: “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

1 Peter 4:7: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.”
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From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343

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“Examining Calvin’s Rules of Prayer (Part 1)” by R.C. Sproul

“Examining Calvin’s Rules of Prayer (Part 1)”

R.C. Sproul

For John Calvin, prayer was like a priceless treasure that God has offered to His people.

Calvin’s first rule of prayer was to enter into it with a full awareness of the One to whom we are speaking. The key to prayer is a spirit of reverence and adoration: “Let the first rule of right prayer be, to have our heart and mind framed as becomes those who are entering into converse with God.”

Calvin wrote of how easy it is for our minds to wander in prayer. We become inattentive, as if we were speaking to someone with whom we are easily bored. This insults the glory of God: “Let us know, then, that none duly prepare themselves [sic] for prayer but those who are so impressed with the majesty of God that they engage in it free from all earthly cares and affections.”

Calvin’s second rule of prayer was that we ask only for those things that God permits. Prayer can be an exercise in blasphemy if we entreat His blessing for our sinful desires: “I lately observed, men in prayer give greater license to their unlawful desires than if they were telling jocular tales among their equals.”

Coram Deo: How does your personal prayer life line up with these two rules? Is your heart and mind framed as becomes those who are entering into conversation with God? Do you ask only for those things God permits?

Psalm 109:4: “I give myself to prayer.”

1 Corinthians 7:5: “Give yourselves to fasting and prayer.”

Ephesians 6:18: “[Pray] always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”
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From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343

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“Walking in Wisdom” from R.C. Sproul

“Walking in Wisdom”

from R.C. Sproul

In the New Testament, the word disciple literally means “a learner.” The Christian is called to be enrolled in the school of Christ. Careful study of the Bible is necessary for true discipleship.

Jesus said to His own students: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32). Our Lord calls for a continued application of the mind to His Word. A disciple does not dabble in learning. He makes the pursuit of an understanding of God’s Word a chief business of his life.

The wisdom literature of the Old Testament distinguishes between knowledge and wisdom, just as the New Testament distinguishes between knowledge and love. Knowledge without love merely puffs up with pride. Yet the love that edifies is not a love without contentment. Likewise, the Old Testament makes it clear that one can have knowledge without wisdom.

Since we can have knowledge without love and/or knowledge without wisdom, we tend to downplay the importance of knowledge. The wisdom literature of the Old Testament never views the difference between knowledge and wisdom as a difference between the bad and the good. Rather, the distinction is one between the good and the better. It is good to attain knowledge; it is better to achieve wisdom.

Coram Deo: Is after the pursuit of an understanding of God’s Word the chief aim of your life?

Proverbs 1:20–22: “Wisdom calls aloud outside; she raises her voice in the open squares. She cries out in the chief concourses, at the openings of the gates in the city she speaks her words: ‘How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge.’”
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From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343
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“If God Is Sovereign, Why Pray?” (pt. 1) by R.C. Sproul

“If God Is Sovereign, Why Pray?”

from R.C. Sproul

How does the sovereignty of God relate to our daily lives? We understand from Scripture that God is sovereign, that He rules and reigns over all things for His glory and the good of His people. We also understand, having studied the Lord’s Prayer throughout this book, that God invites us to come to Him in prayer, bringing our petitions before Him.

As soon as we set these two ideas—the sovereignty of God and the prayers of His people—side by side, we run into a very sticky theological question. Objections are raised from every quarter. People say: “Wait a minute. If God is sovereign, that is, if He has ordained every detail of what is taking place in our lives, not only in the present but in the future, why should we bother with prayer? Furthermore, since the Bible tells us that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God’ (Rom. 8:28), shouldn’t we content ourselves that what God has ordained is best? Isn’t it really just an exercise in futility, and even arrogance, for us to presume to tell God what we need or what we would like to happen? If He ordains all things, and what He ordains is best, what purpose is served by praying to Him?”

John Calvin briefly discusses this question of the usefulness of prayer in light of God’s sovereignty in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

But some will say, “Does He not know without a monitor, both what our difficulties are and what is meet for our interest, so that it seems in some measure superfluous to solicit Him by our prayers, as if He were winking or even sleeping until aroused by the sound of our voice.” Those who argue in this way attend not to the end or the purpose for which the Lord taught us to pray. It was not so much for God’s good, as it was for our good. (Book III, Chap. 20)

Calvin argues that prayer benefits us more than it benefits God. We can see this readily enough, at least for some of the elements of prayer. Consider, for instance, the elements of adoration and confession. God’s existence is not dependent on our praises. He can get along without them. But we can’t. Adoration is necessary for our spiritual growth. If we are to develop an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father, it is essential that we come to Him with words expressing reverence, adoration, and love. At the same time, it is necessary for us that we mention our sins before His throne. He knows what they are. In fact, He knows them more clearly and more comprehensively than we do. He gains nothing by our giving Him a recitation of our sins, but we need that act of contrition for the good of our souls.

The intricate problem of the relationship between the sovereignty of God and human prayers comes not at the point of adoration and confession, but at the point of intercession and supplication. When I see someone in need and begin to pray for that person, I am interceding for him. I offer my requests to God on that person’s behalf, pleading for God to act in His mercy, to do something to change that person’s situation. Furthermore, I do the same for my own needs, as I perceive them. However, the omniscient God already knows everyone’s situation, having ordained it. Therefore, are these prayers of any value? More fundamentally, do these prayers work? Do they ultimately have any impact on my life and on the lives of others?

To be continued…

*****

Excerpted from The Prayer of the Lord by R.C. Sproul.

We Recommend
We’ve been taught that prayer changes things. In view of God’s sovereignty, what is the role of prayer in a Christian’s life? Q&A
For Thine is the Kingdom Article by Steven Lawson
God Remembers Rachel Devotional

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From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343
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“Encountering Absolute Rest” by Burk Parsons

“Encountering Absolute Rest”

by Burk Parsons

All human beings are made in the image of God, and all human beings know God created them, whether or not they want to admit it. We know that God created us with an insatiable desire for goodness, truth, and beauty. By nature we know we need these three things and that we need them absolutely. We do not yearn for partial goodness, truth, and beauty but for complete and absolute goodness, truth, and beauty. We strive after these three essential qualities because we can’t help but strive after them. Just as God has put eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11), He has put goodness, truth, and beauty in the very fabric of our souls. And as we eternally desire infinite goodness, truth, and beauty, so the God who embodies these has created us to know Him, the only infinite one, who is the beginning and the end of all goodness, truth, and beauty. As such, by God’s design, we will never grow tired or bored in our pursuit, knowledge, and love of these transcendentals that find their fulfillment in God Himself.

In his Confessions, Augustine prayed, “Great art Thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Thy power, and of Thy wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of Thy creation, desires to praise Thee… . Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”

Our hearts are restless without God, and they won’t fully cease to be restless until we see Him face to face, coram Deo, and find our final rest and fullest expression of worship in the One who created us to worship Him and be fully satisfied in Him. As believers, just as the Author of our faith made us dependent to find rest in Him at our conversion, so the same Finisher of our faith is about the unrelenting business of making us dependent everyday of our lives to find daily rest in Him alone.

However, as self-made men with idols that look just like us, we are constantly chasing after mere shadows of goodness, truth, and beauty. We catch a glimpse of what tickles the ear, fancies the eye, and amuses the mind, and we chase after it with all our might. Both the enemy within and the enemy without have become successful partners in manufacturing appealing idols that have the appearance of goodness, truth, and beauty, attempting to draw our eyes from the Creator to the created. But as it is, all creation sings God’s glory, and wherever we find goodness, truth, and beauty, may we draw our eyes from the created to the Creator.
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From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website:
www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.
http://www.ligonier.org
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“Social Darwinism” by Gene Veith

“Social Darwinism”

by Gene Veith

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was never just about biology. Nor were its consequences just about religion. Rather, the origins and effects of Darwinism were largely cultural and moral.

Darwin’s Origin of Species was published in 1859, which was at the height of the Industrial Revolution and the Capitalist Revolution. The dynamic free market economy, characterized by intense competition in which weak companies went broke and the strong companies thrived, had brought unparalleled economic and technological progress. It was a small step to speculate that animal species compete and progress in a similar way. What Darwin did was to apply the principles of free market capitalism to biology.

Immediately after Darwin’s theories were published, people were relating his biological theories back to economics and, more importantly, to ethics. Herbert Spencer, the great popularizer of Darwinism, coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” applying it not only to animals but to human society.

In the very works in which he explained Darwin’s scientific theories to the world, Spencer formulated what would be called “Social Darwinism.” To achieve social progress, according to Spencer, the fittest must survive and the unfit must die out. Efforts to help the “unfit” — charity for the poor, mental hospitals, government programs for the disadvantaged — actually interfere with social evolution and should be stopped. Meanwhile, unfettered economic and social competition will favor the “fittest,” who will usher in the next stage of human evolution.

At the same time, Darwin’s own cousin, Francis Galton, was arguing that natural selection had to do with who was able to reproduce. The “unfit,” he said, should not be allowed to breed. Only the “fittest” should be allowed to have children. Furthermore, it should be possible to breed these fit human beings for desirable traits, just as we breed domesticated animals. By sterilizing the unfit and selectively breeding the fittest, we can usher in the next stage of human evolution. Darwin’s cousin was the founder of the eugenics movement.

Friedrich Nietzsche took Darwinist moral ideas even further. Whereas Marx believed that Christianity was a way for the strong to keep the weak under control (the “opiate of the masses”) Nietzsche believed the opposite — that Christianity with its teachings of love and compassion enabled the weak to control the strong. Christianity made the strong feel guilty and manipulated them into supporting those who would otherwise die out. As Nietzsche writes in The Twilight of the Gods, Christianity upheld “the poor and base,” representing “the general revolt of all the downtrodden, the wretched, the failures, the less favored.”

Now that “God is dead,” Nietzsche said, mankind can evolve into the “Superman.” His virtue will not be compassion but cruelty. “It is not sufficient for him to be capable of cruelty merely at the sight of much suffering, perishing, and destruction: such a man must be capable of himself creating pain and suffering and experience pleasure in so doing, he must be cruel in hand and deed (and not merely with the eyes of the spirit).”

Whereas the Social Darwinism of Spencer, Galton, and Nietzsche applied mainly to individuals, other thinkers, noting that Darwin was talking about species and not just individual animals, applied natural selection to various kinds of human groups. Marxists believed social evolution would emerge from the conflict between economic classes. A new movement of nationalist scholars focused on the conflict between nations. The new “race scientists,” claiming to be more Darwinian by concentrating on biology, focused on the conflict between races.

In our own time, Margaret Sanger combined eugenics with racism, seeking birth control and sterilization for “inferior races,” becoming the founder of Planned Parenthood. Ayn Rand, the libertarian guru, embraced Spencer’s socio-economic program along with Nietzsche’s critique of Christian compassion with her “virtue of selfishness.”

But the most thoroughgoing Social Darwinist of all was Adolf Hitler, whose Nazi party carried racial theory, nationalism, eugenics, and Nietzsche to their logical conclusion and put them into practice.

As I document in my book Modern Fascism, the Nazi regime practiced both “positive eugenics” (breeding for positive characteristics) and “negative eugenics” (eliminating undesirables from the gene pool). In the former, couples with positive “Aryan” racial characteristics were mated outside of marriage. In the latter, a third of a million of the “unfit” were sterilized.

And then began the euthanasia program. In the so-called T4 program, disabled children, the mentally ill, the incurably sick, and the residents of nursing homes were euthanized. Portable gas chambers were engineered for the project. Larger models were installed in the concentration camps. At first, only prisoners who were “unfit” to work went into the gas chambers. Then the gas chambers were used on a larger scale to eliminate an entire “inferior” race.

All of this was for the Darwinist purpose of ushering in the next stage of human evolution.
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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
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