Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Moved by Love

Helping others amounts to nothing unless we are moved by a love which comes from the heart, and which bids us bear our share of the misfortune we see around us. And because God has bound us all together, no one can turn away and live only for himself. There is no room here for the indifference which promises tranquility and the pleasures of a comfortable life: we must enlarge our affections as the law of love requires. 
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 43.

What Is Mercy?

What is pity? Briefly put, it is nothing else but the pain we feel at someone else's sorrow. A man may be healthy and content, with plenty to eat and drink, and safe from any threat of danger. When, however, he sees his neighbor in distress, he is bound to feel for him, to share his sorrow, to shoulder some of his burden and so lighten the load. That is what mercy is.
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 42.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Truly Astounding

The prophetic literature packs quite the potent punch. It is heavy hitting, sparing none, not least the leadership of the ancient or modern church. Recently the prophet Isaiah has reminded me of this. Chapter 29, for example, goes after the leadership of Jerusalem.

It ought always to remind the people of God that—when judgment begins with the household of God (1 Pet. 4:17)—God starts with the leadership. Every leader's knees should begin each day knocking and trembling under the prophetic word.

Speaking of the establishment leadership of Isaiah's day, here's a sample of quality commentary on a portion of Isaiah 29 by a faithful modern day commentator:
In order to justify their actions they have to deny God's right to tell them what to do and, by implication, claim that it is they who are wise and he (their Maker!) who knows nothing (16): all of this (take note) while retaining their religious titles and the meticulous observation of the externals. It is truly astounding what depths of inconsistency religious people are capable of, especially in positions of leadership, where backroom decisions and policies all too often belie the faith in God that is professed in the pulpit. 
—Barry G. Webb, The Message of Isaiah (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996), 125.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Staggering Statement about George Whitefield's Influence

I have not read much written by George Marsden. But what I have read seems to indicate, to me at least, that he tends to be understated and reserved in his assessments. Which makes the following assessment of Whitefield all the more staggering, even shocking:
George Whitefield not only changed Jonathan Edwards's life; he changed American history. His influence was so great that he ought to be considered as one of America's leading founding fathers. One reason he is not, of course, is that he was not an American, but remained based in England, even though he visited America a remarkable seven times and died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in 1771. Another reason why he is not as well remembered as others who shaped early America is that he was a religious figure, not a political one. Nonetheless, during his lifetime he was almost certainly the best-known person in the colonies, even more widely known among ordinary Americans than was his friend Benjamin Franklin. He was the first celebrated "star" in an emerging popular culture that, lacking hereditary aristocracy, would be particularly susceptible to stars. Not only was he famous: Whitefield revolutionized American religion, and hence much of American life. 
—George Marsden, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 60.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

They Never Know a Moment's Peace

Commenting on Isa. 57:20 in a sermon on Mt. 5:5-7 and Lk. 6:20-21, Calvin remarks:
Only those blinded by vanity, lies, and prejudice will fail to see how true Isaiah's prophecy is. We all know how it is with those who prey like wolves upon their fellow-men, who rob and devour and who, out of arrogance and pride, try to gain all they can. They never know a moment's peace. They may own the earth, they may be mighty lords, yet, wherever they tread, they are like dead men. For all their castles and fortresses and well-armed guards, the fact remains they are in prison. In the open field and with a numerous escort, they are insecure, in a constant state of fear and trembling.
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 35.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fearless Courage and Unyielding Resolution

Two things that are exceeding needful in ministers, as they would do any great matters to advance the kindgom of Christ, are zeal and resolution. The influence and power of these things to bring to pass great effects is greater than can well be imagined: a man of but an ordinary capacity will do more with them, than one of ten times the parts and learning without them: more may be done with them in a few days, or at least weeks, than can be done without them in many years. Those that are possessed of these qualities commonly carry the day in almost all affairs. Most of the great things that have been done in the world of mankind, the great revolutions that have been accomplished in the kingdoms and empires of the earth, have been chiefly owing to these things. The very sight or appearance of a thoroughly engaged spirit, together with a fearless courage and unyielding resolution, in any person that has undertaken the managing any affair amongst mankind, goes a great way towards accomplishing the effect aimed at. . . . 
When the people see these things apparently in a person, and to a great degree, it awes them, and has a commanding influence upon their minds; it seems to them that they must yield; they naturally fall before them without standing to contest or dispute the matter; they are conquered as it were by surprise. But while we are cold and heartless, and only go on in a dull manner, in an old formal round, we shall never do any great matters. Our attempts, with the appearance of such coldness and irresolution, won't so much as make persons think of yielding: they will hardly be sufficient to put it into their minds; and if it be put into their minds, the appearance of such indifference and cowardice does as it were call for, and provoke opposition. 
—Jonathan Edwards, The Great Awakening (vol. 4 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. C. C. Goen; New Haven: Yale University, 1972), 508–509.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Facts of Christianity Meaningless apart from Their Doctrinal Significance

If, then, we are to affirm that Christianity consists of facts, wholly separated from those ideas by which these facts obtain their significance and meaning and which it pleases us to call "dogmas"—what shall we do but destroy all that we know as Christianity altogether? The great facts that constitute Christianity are just as "naked" as any other facts, and are just as meaningless to us as any other facts, until they are not only perceived and understood, that is, until not only they themselves but their doctrinal significance is made known to us.
—Benjamin B. Warfield, "The Right of Systematic Theology" (vol. 2 in Selected Shorter Writings; ed. John E. Meeter; Phillipsburg: P&R, 1973), 237.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Every Family a Little Church

Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church, consecrated to Christ, and wholly influenced and governed by his rules. And family education and order are some of the chief of the means of grace. If these fail, all other means are likely to prove ineffectual. If these are duly maintained, all the means of grace will be likely to prosper and be successful.
—Jonathan Edwards, "Farewell Sermon" (vol. 1 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Edward Hickman; Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998), ccvi.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Wildest, Most Violent of Persecutors Transformed

N. T. Wright on 1 Tim. 1:15-16:
God has taken the wildest, most violent of blaspheming persecutors, and has transformed him into not only a believer but also a trusted apostle and evangelist. If God can do that, there is nobody out there, no heart so hard, no anger so bitter, that it remains outside the reach of God's patient mercy.
—N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 12.

Friday, July 11, 2014

We Imagine We Are Doing Wonders

Commenting on how the man Christ Jesus spent the entire night in prayer before calling his twelve disciples as apostles (Lk. 6:12-13), Calvin upbraids our listlessness and lifelessness in prayer:
He prayed so earnestly. Not as we are accustomed to pray, carelessly and as a mere formality: he spent the whole night in prayer. Notice how this rebukes our own lazy and cold practice of prayer. We imagine that we are doing wonders when we pray morning and night; we feel we are being suitably spiritual despite the many distractions which get in our way. But it is a very different pattern which our Lord sets for us here. He keeps watch until daybreak, concerned and in distress of soul until he finds rest in God, laying before him his many cares for the church. . . . 
Let us therefore learn to discipline ourselves when we feel lethargic and have only half a heart for prayer—or worse, when the will to pray is but one-tenth or one-hundredth of what it should be. Let Christ's example be a spur inciting us to amend our leisurely approach to prayer. At the very least let us groan before God, asking him to forgive our faults; for these might shut the door to him, deny us access, and prevent our prayers being answered.
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 9.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Called of His Own Good Pleasure

Preaching in the early 1560s on the call of the twelve apostles in Mk. 3:13-19 and Lk. 6:12-19, Calvin speaks powerfully of God's gracious calling:
When God calls us to positions of prominence or responsibility, he does so of his own good pleasure, and not, as we imagine, because he considers us more capable than others. His aim is to humble us, by showing that everything depends on his grace and not on human merit. Now if this is true of temporal preferments, how much more does the principle apply to our eternal salvation! When God adopts us as his children in order to make us members of our Lord Jesus Christ and sharers in his heavenly glory, what credit can men possibly claim for themselves?
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 6.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Sassiness of Theology

Packer on the "sassiness" of theology:

"I define the sassiness of theology as an unwillingness to keep quiet when God is misrepresented and revealed truth is put in jeopardy."

—J. I. Packer, Honouring the Written Word of God: Collected Shorter Writings on the Authority and Interpretation of Scripture (Vancoover: Regent College Publishing, 1999), 54–55.

Knowledgeable Ignorance

"Let us not be ashamed to submit our understanding to God's boundless wisdom so far as to yield before its many secrets. For, of those things which it is neither given nor lawful to know, ignorance is knowledge; the craving to know, a kind of madness."

—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeil, transl. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville: Westminster John Knox), 2:957.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ungodly Ministers in the Lowest and Hottest Hell

I think there is a great deal of reason from the Scripture, to conclude that no sort of men in the world will be so low in hell, as ungodly ministers: everything that is spoken of in Scripture as that which aggravates guilt and heightens divine wrath, meets in them; however some particular persons, of other sorts, may be more guilty than some of these.
—Jonathan Edwards, The Great Awakening (vol. 4 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. C. C. Goen; New Haven: Yale University, 1972), 506–507.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What Is Theology?

John Frame defines theology as "the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life." This definition includes the three perspectives—normative, existential, and situational—that he says "we can bring to bear on many theological questions." Frame adds, "In my definition of theology, those three perspectives are Scripture (normative), persons (existential), areas of life (situational)."

—John Frame, Systematic TheologyAn Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013), 8.

Grist for the Theologian's Mill

John Frame on theologizing:
Academic and technical theology should not be valued over other kinds. The professor of theology at a university or seminary is no more or less a theologian than the youth minister who seeks to deal with the doubts of college students, or the Sunday school teacher who tells OT stories to children, or the father who leads family devotions, or the person who does not teach in any obvious way but simply tries to obey Scripture. Theoretical and practical questions are equally grist for the theologian's mill.
—John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013), 8.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Our Little Elisha

We just got confirmation from Emily's OB/GYN about what we really already knew a few days ago: we have lost another baby (for now, anyway; we fully expect to see him or her on the last day). And we have named this little one "Elisha," which in Hebrew means "God is salvation." How you say the name depends on whether our baby is a boy or girl. It's the difference between the long i sound (boy, like the OT prophet's name) and the long e sound (girl, the way Elisha is sometimes used today for females).

Again, as when we lost (temporarily) our last baby Anastasis to death's clutches, we confess we're not without hope. No, we confess we're more than conquerers through him who loved us (Rom. 8:37). Death cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:38-39). So with great confidence we confess our great hope: resurrection from the dead in the risen Lord Jesus. And we also confess God's goodness and greatness in our lives amid pain and loss. The peace of God indeed passes all understanding, and he is guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7).

God is good. Always good. God is on his throne. Always reigning supreme. That's our story, and we're stickin' to it. And we love him more, not less, after this brief loss—a loss that we believe is actually gain for Elisha (Phil. 1:21). We had heard of God by the hearing of the ear, but now our eye sees him (Job 42:5). Blessed be his name forever and ever! He is God, not of the dead, but of the living! (Lk. 20:38).