Monday, March 20, 2023

Faith Credited as Righteousness

 “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). Abram’s faith is simple and profound: he believed God’s promises, taking God at his word. And that faith, in God’s eyes, was credited as righteousness. This does not mean that Abram earned brownie points for deploying such a righteous faith.  

"Rather, the idea is that what God demands of his image-bearers, what he has always demanded, is righteousness—but in this sinful race what he accepts, crediting it as righteousness, is faith, faith that acknowledges our dependence upon God and takes God at his word. This faith of Abram is what makes him the 'father' of those who believe (Rom. 4; Gal.3)."

– D.A. Carson, “For the Love of God” devotional book

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Complete Submission...Unqualified Allegiance

 "Any offer of the Gospel that does not make plain the need for complete submission and unqualified allegiance to Jesus Christ is not biblical." 

-- David Wells, "Turning to God"

Take up the cross and follow Him

 "The image of the cross signifies a total claim on the disciple's allegiance and the total relinquishment of his resources to Jesus....

"When confronted by the call to discipleship, disciples do not have a 'both...and' choice -- both Christ and their own lives.  They stand before an 'either...or' choice.  The claim of Jesus is a total and exclusive one.   It does not allow a convenient compartmentalization of natural life and religious life, of secular and sacred.

"The whole person stands under Christ's claim."

-- James R. Edwards, on Mark 8:34-35 (Pillar New Testament Commentary)

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

John Murray on Faith

 " in Christ is not a momentary and fleeting act of will.  Faith is an act of commitment to Christ and it results in permanent attachment to him.  It knows not divided allegiance.  

"It is total commitment in love and devotion because we discover in him that which demands our whole being.  

"Faith means Christ’s  absolute Lordship and it is significant that it is the title Lord that is employed and thrust into the foreground – ‘if  anyone does not love the Lord’….”  

-- John Murray, sermon on 1 Cor. 16:22:  “Love to Christ Indispensable”

Trusting God When Life Hurts

 "In order to trust God [in the midst of hardship], we must always view our adverse circumstances through the eyes of faith, not of sense. And just as the faith of salvation comes through hearing the message of the gospel (see Romans 10:17), so the faith to trust God in adversity comes through the Word of God alone. It is only in the Scriptures that we find an adequate view of God's relationship to and involvement in our painful circumstances. It is only from the Scriptures, applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, that we receive the grace to trust God in adversity."

-- Jerry Bridges. "Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts"

Friday, February 17, 2023

What if we really found Him?

 “There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘ Man’s search for God’!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? … Worse still, supposing He had found us?” 

-- C.S. Lewis

"Soon I will see the lines on His face."

 "I am early in my story, but I believe I will stretch out into eternity, and in heaven I will reflect upon these early days, these days when it seemed God was down a dirt road walking toward me. Years ago he was a swinging speck in the distance; now He is close enough I can hear His singing. Soon I will see the lines on His face." 

-- Donald Miller

Thursday, February 16, 2023

John Owen on True Christian Experience

 "...They know nothing of the life and power of the gospel, nothing of the reality of the grace of God, nor do they believe aright one article of the Christian faith, whose hearts are not sensible of the love of Christ herein. Nor is he sensible of the love of Christ, whose affections are not therein drawn out unto him. 

"I say, they make a pageant of religion . . . whose hearts are not really affected with the love of Christ, in the susception [taking to oneself] and discharge of the work of mediation, so as to have real and spiritually sensible affections for him. 

"Men . . . have no real acquaintance with Christianity, who imagine that the placing of the most intense affections of our souls on the person of Christ, the loving him with all our hearts because of his love, our being overcome thereby, until we are sick [from] love, the constant motions of our souls towards him with delight and adherence, are but fancies and imaginations."

-- John Owen, quoted by J.I. Packer in "A Quest for Godliness", p. 196

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

"Preach Like Hell Lasts Forever" -- Sinclair Ferguson

Preach Like Hell Lasts Forever:  Why We Must Warn — Through Tears

Article by Sinclair Ferguson

Professor, Reformed Theological Seminary

Sometimes sitting beside a wall in our congregation’s building in Dundee, Scotland, I ask, in my imagination, if the wall could replay for me what it heard preached in past days. For here, one Sunday, probably in early 1843, the young minister, still in his twenties (and with but months left of his brief life) entered the pulpit having written these words in his journal the week before:

As I was walking in the fields, the thought came over me with almost overwhelming power, that every one of my flock must soon be in heaven or hell. Oh, how I wished that I had a tongue like thunder, that I might make all hear; or that I had a frame like iron, that I might visit every one, and say, “Escape for thy life!” Ah, sinners! You little know how I fear that you will lay the blame of your damnation at my door. (Memoirs and Remains of R. M. M ‘Cheyne, 1892, 148)

The same Robert Murray M’ Cheyne (our “founding pastor”; he died at the age of 29) met up with Andrew Bonar one Monday, and learning that his close friend had preached on the subject of hell, asked if he had preached it with tears.

These two comments model for us the necessity that is laid on those who preach the gospel (and give us all a vital reason to pray for them).

Preaching Both Heaven and Hell

There can be no doubt that the overarching and undergirding theme of M’Cheyne’s ministry was the sheer wonder of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ for lost sinners. But in his teens, he realized that the gospel only produces a full sense of that wonder when we have learned why it is so necessary and are conscious of the terrible realities from which Christ came to save us. A sense of the awful nature of hell and the ineffable wonder of the love of Jesus go hand in hand in the gospel message — in the preaching of it, and in the preacher himself.

By nature, we resist the stretching of mind and emotions that this involves. Preachers tend to be emotionally “wired” to one or the other emphasis — strong and bold in preaching hell but weaker in exalting the love of Christ, or favoring the love of Christ but diluting it by minimizing the reality of the hell. And sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that true biblical balance is found “somewhere in the middle.” In Scripture, however, the true balance is found by the stretching of our understanding and affections in both directions.

On the one hand — like the slow-thinking medieval pupil Boso, a millennium later — we need to hear the echo of the words of his monk-master, Anselm: “You have not yet considered the greatness of the weight of sin.” But on the other hand, we should never make the mistake of under-contemplating Anselm’s main theme: Cur Deus Homo — who it was, how it was, and why it was, that the Son of God entered the darkness of the womb of the virgin Mary and died for us in the darkness of the cross of Calvary.

Preaching from the Judgment Seat

How are we to nurture this “balance” in the ministry of the word? First and foremost, we need to hear our Lord and his apostles addressing us in the Scriptures.

We must contemplate the fact that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), and in that light see the wonder of the reconciliation and new creation that are ours in him (2 Corinthians 5:17–21). This is what produces in us “the fear of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:11) that will open our mouths with gracious boldness to “persuade” our hearers (2 Corinthians 5:11), to appeal to them to “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20), and to show them why and how this wonder has been made possible by Christ becoming sin for us (22 Corinthians 5:21).

Contemplating the judgment seat of Christ sobers our hearts. Then we discover, with John Owen, that the sermons that go with most power from us will be those that have come with most power to us. There is no substitute for visiting the scene of the Last Assize and meditating on the judgment that will take place there. It will assess the reality of our lives (“according to truth,” Romans 2:2) in a way that is righteous (Romans 2:5), individual (Romans 2:6), altogether without favouritism (Romans 2:11), and permanent (Romans 2:12).

Death Without Death

Then, further meditation on the implications of our Lord’s teaching (and the apostles’ outworking of it according to Matthew 28:19–20) will engage us in yet deeper soul-diagnosis and consequent surgery. We will find ourselves mentally and emotionally undeceived. For the result of judgement for those who have not believed is set before us in stark, emotion-laden descriptions.

The unbeliever will experience separation from God — being sent “outside” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:29) and “away from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). It is a fire that burns eternally (Matt. 25:42; Jude 7) that is also an “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12), where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:13). It involves dissolution (“destruction,” Matthew 7:13; 10:28; Romans 9:22; Philippians 3:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:2). Dante caught the despair of this in The Divine Comedy in the words he has inscribed over the entrance to hell: “All hope abandon ye who enter here.” Perhaps most sobering of all, it is everlasting (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).

No wonder the Puritan Thomas Brooks cried out,

Oh, but this word 'eternity, eternity, eternity'; this word 'everlasting, everlasting, everlasting'; this word 'forever, forever, forever', will even break the hearts of the damned in ten thousand pieces! Oh, that word 'never', said a poor despairing creature on his death-bed, breaks my heart. . . . Impenitent sinners in hell shall have end without end, death without death, night without day, mourning without mirth, sorrow without solace, and bondage without liberty. The damned shall live as long in hell as God himself shall live in heaven. (Works of Thomas Brooks, 5:130)

Emotionally Intolerable

Some readers will recall how, from around 1988 into the early 1990s, the late John R.W. Stott was “jumped on” when his long-held openness to annihilationism became more public knowledge. With respect to everlasting punishment, he wrote, “Emotionally, I find the concept intolerable” (Evangelical Essentials, 314).

Even if we do not share his exegesis and the theology to which it gave rise, should we not share his emotions? For the biblical doctrine of hell strips us emotionally bare. Is it perhaps true that the reason for the metallic nature of some preaching on hell has lain precisely here: we have not felt its sheer unbearableness. Can the sense of edge, or coldness, or the compassionless, even angry-voiced way we preach on it be an indication not of our sense of its reality, but rather that its truth has never broken our hearts? Has listening to such preaching been accompanied in your case, as in mine, by the painful thought that we ourselves may also sound like that?

“Emotionally . . . intolerable”? This is not necessarily unbelief. Indeed, if we have not ourselves felt this, would we not too have been asleep on the outskirts of the Garden of Gethsemane? For the New Testament gives us some indication that the one of whom Luther wrote, “No man feared death like this man,” found the hell he faced there “emotionally intolerable.”

‘My God, My God’

The Evangelists’ descriptions suggest what Luther says about Christ. Luke tells us that it was after and not before the angel strengthened him that “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling on the ground” (Luke 22:43–44).

Perhaps even more telling is the raw language used by Mark: Jesus “began to be greatly distressed and troubled” and “very sorrowful” (Mark 14:33–34). The verb translated “to be . . . troubled” (adÄ“monein) is used in the New Testament only here (and the parallel passage in Matthew 26:37) and in Philippians 2:26. As J.B. Lightfoot (a scholar not given to flights of exegetical fancy) notes, it “describes the confused, restless, half-distracted state, which is produced by physical derangement, or by mental distress, as grief, shame, disappointment” (Philippians, 123).

Jesus prayed that the cup his Father was giving him might be removed. His prayer was heard — his prayers were always heard (John 11:42) — but it was refused. For there was no other way (a truth that needs to be pressed firmly on the minds, consciences, and wills of all those who believe they can find another way of salvation, when God the Father could “find” only one).

Jesus prayed “with loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). It is not an exaggeration, surely, to say that Jesus found his being made sin, tasting death, undergoing divine wrath and experiencing hell in his own separation from God to be “emotionally intolerable.” It undid him in the presence of his Father and the holy angels, and eventually wrung from his soul — by that time tasting “the darkness outside” — these impenetrable words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Backdrop and Framework

“But,” you may say, “this is just the gospel.” Exactly! At the heart of the gospel lie heaven and hell. It is the gospel of the One who tasted hell to bring us to heaven. Any lesser emphases make for a lesser gospel. But this gospel is the gospel of “God’s kindness” which is “meant to lead to repentance” (Romans 2:4 — how striking this statement is precisely because it is embedded in an entire chapter on divine judgment and its consequences!).

But this is also the gospel of the preacher (like Paul) whose mind and emotions are stretched. On the one hand, he sheds tears of grief over the consequences of the greatness of the weight of sin in his hearers’ hearts and the destiny to which that will condemn them; and on the other hand, he feels tears of joy at the greatness of the salvation which he offers to sinners in Jesus Christ.

In the nature of the case, hell and heaven are not the explicit themes of every sermon. But if they are not in the foreground, they should always be the backcloth to our preparation, and the framework within which we view our hearers whenever we are preaching.

So, I need to go to my Bible in the presence of God and meditate until this dawns on my mind, my affections, my will, and then emerges on my lips and my preaching. Only then, even if the words “heaven” and “hell” are not mentioned when I preach, it will become clear to my hearers that the ministry of God’s word is of eternal significance for them — and also for me.

The Most Important Task on Earth

By way of conclusion, two comments made to me about preaching come to mind.

The first, some words of William Still of Aberdeen in Scotland. I cannot forget what I felt when he told me, still a young student, “I never preach now without believing that something will happen that will last for all eternity.” That is the faith of the psalmist and of the apostle: “‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe and so we also speak . . . all for your sake” (2 Corinthians 4:13–15). Who would not want to exercise such a ministry?

Second, some words of a friend, a scientist through whose devoted research people certain otherwise to die within a few weeks were enabled to enjoy prolonged life. Having watched a moving documentary on the result of her work, I said to her how gratifying it must be to see her life’s work making such an amazing impact. She responded very simply, “Sinclair, what I do isn’t really all that important.” And then, with a slight movement of her professorial finger, added, “But what you do. That is really important.”

Words worth weighing. For we are charged with the most important task on earth: pointing men, women, young people, boys and girls to the only Way, to the One who alone can enable them to escape from the City of Destruction and arrive at the Celestial City.

--Sinclair Ferguson is a Ligonier teaching fellow and Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

This Is God's Universe

 “This is God’s universe, and God does things his way. You may [think you] have a better way, but you don’t have a universe.”

-- J. Vernon McGee

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Race God's Providence Has Marked Out for Me

 “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” – Elisabeth Elliot  

I’ve seen this quote a number of times before, but its applications hit me more forcefully recently as I’ve been teaching about (and therefore reflecting on) the fruit of the Spirit and the similar list of virtues described in a passage like Colossian 3:12-15.   

It struck me that much of the time, and virtually unconsciously, I let myself off the hook because I think that there are things about my circumstances that somehow excuse my not practicing and displaying these Christ-like virtues.  It amounts to me saying, “IF ONLY my circumstances, situations, relationships, opportunities, (etc.) were different THEN I would lead a life marked by these virtues.

But that’s crazy, and exceedingly unbiblical – because the doctrine/reality of divine providence teaches me that the situations, circumstances, relationships, opportunities (etc.) that I’m in are there by His design.  They are the race marked out for me.

So the truth is that it is precisely in the ‘set of circumstances’ that I’m in that God has ordained that I can best learn to go deeper in the obeying, trusting, rejoicing and serving with the attitudes of compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience and humility that He is determined to develop in me, and to do so, day by day, moment by moment, right where He has placed me.

All this corresponds with what Spurgeon said, very much along the same lines:  “Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.”

Saturday, February 5, 2022

A Spiritually-Healthy Believer Is Easily Edified

“A spiritually healthy believer is easily edified.”

I remember how forcefully that sentence struck me the first time I read it.  It hit me as being very insightful and extremely important, summarizing some important truths in just a few words.  It was written in the context of the life of the church, including as it relates to its gatherings to worship.

The first thing worth noticing is that it assumes, rightly, that the purpose for gathering is ‘edification’ (being spiritually strengthened) not entertained.  There’s a huge difference between the two – a difference many seem to be forgetting.

The New Testament makes it clear that, along with honoring God, the purpose of our gatherings is to edify one another – to build each other up in faith, love and hope.  And the Bible is equally clear that such edification happens via the ministry of the Word of God, spoken and sung.  It’s crucial to remember here that, according to the New Testament, our ‘true spiritual worship’ is our living, every day, consecrated to God, not conforming to the world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds which results in knowing and doing God’s will.  (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 14:3, 5, 12, 26; Col. 1:28; 3:16; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 10:23-25; 2 Pet. 3:18)

(It’s also important to recognize that none of the Biblical words for worship mean ‘music-making’.  The 3 key Biblical words for worship mean 1) bow down in submission and dependence, 2) revere, and 3) serve.  Of course all three of these attitudes and actions can happen through singing and music-making, but given today’s prevailing trends it seems helpful to remind that we need to resist the idea that ‘worship’ equals ‘music-making.)

And so we gather to glorify God and edify one another; in fact one of the most important ways that we honor God is BY edifying one another, helping each other spiritually.  And that brings us back to the idea of being ‘easily edified.’

The point of that phrase isn’t that it’s easy to grow in holiness, faith and love.  No, the point is that the spiritually healthy believer realizes the essential simplicity of how that process moves forward – it happens through the prayer proclamation of the Word of God, faithfully interpreted and relevantly applied.

All the spiritually healthy Christian (including new Christians) really need or want is to gather with the people of God around the Word of God to be encouraged to continue in the will of God.  Again, there is a simplicity to all this, a simplicity that can be lost in the midst of a prevailing spiritually UNhealthy  mix in evangelical Christianity today that confuses entertainment with edification and then looks to audio-visual technology to be the ‘means of grace’ (that is, factors of sound and lighting, etc., become essential to producing a certain effect of ‘worship’).  It’s a major topic that will be the focus of another post sometime.

But the point now is, the healthy believer doesn’t need all that.  He or she is ‘easily edified’.  Have the people of God prayerfully and reverently and joyfully gathered around the Word of God (spoken and sung) in the presence of God?  Well then, that’s all they really need.  That will ‘do the trick’ – they’ll be able to grow in devotion to God, to one another, and to the work He’s called us to do.

And there is one other key characteristic of the spiritually healthy believer.  Because he or she is now growing in the fruit of the Spirit, which involved a God-implanted love for fellow-believers, the spiritually healthy Christian does ‘is not self-seeking’ and ‘does not insist on his own way’ when it comes to gathering and fellowshipping together.  (1 Cor. 13:5).  One of the worst effects of the so-called ‘worship style wars’ of the past few decades is the erosion of the attitude of self-denying deference when it comes to matters of mere personal preference.

Well again, just to remind us, here are some other basic Bible passages that describe the attitude and outlook of the healthy, growing Christian:  

1 Cor. 10:31-33 “…whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, … even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many…”

Rom. 15:1-3  “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build them up.  For even Christ did not please himself…”

Matt. 20:28 “…the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve….”

Phil. 2:3-7 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.    In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus,  Who, being in very nature God,  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,…”

And isn’t that how the Lord described kingdom greatness?  Being willing to be a servant, a slave (!) to others?  (Mt. 20:25-27)


Yesterday I saw a Facebook post from a young pastor who serves a growing, healthy church in Virginia.  His post was simple, straightforward, with a profound lesson:

 Bill's family joined our church.

No one invited them to dinner.

What did they do?

They began inviting people over for meals.

Today, most of our church has at least been invited into their home.

They changed our church.

Lord, help us be what we wish others would be for us.

Amen to that.

Finally, as I write this I think of missionary friends who are just returning after home assignment to the Dem Tribe in Papua, Indonesia.  Jared and I talked a number of times about how spiritually eager and excited these very young converts are – eager and excited to hear more of ‘God’s Talk’ so that they can be doers and not just hearers of the Word.  That’s what they really want; that’s what they really need.

It reminds me of those videos you see on YouTube when a tribal group received their first copies of the Bible in their own language.  They are ecstatic.  They are thrilled.  And they are wise – because they have a Spirit-given anointing that has already taught them that the Word of God is really all they truly need to continue to grow in their knowledge of God.

They realize what many in the West and in the U.S. seem to not be so sure of; but they are sure, for they remember that their faith in God came in the first place via "hearing the Word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17), and so now they have the joyful expectation that, with their very own Bibles in their very own language, they have all that they need for life and godliness.  They are ready to be ‘easily edified.’

But I’ve known easily-edified, others-serving, God-glorifying Christians in every church in America that I’ve been a part of.  And they are truly beautiful people, reflecting the beauty of their Savior, because they’ve adopted a mindset of wanting to be just like Him.  They bring glory to God, and edifying joy and encouragement to others.  I want to be one of them.

Friday, February 4, 2022

What Scripture says, God says...

“What Scripture says, God says….”  That was St. Augustine’s compelling way of affirming the true nature and authority of the Bible as God’s inspired (literally, ‘breathed out by God”), infallible, inerrant Word.  Faithful Christians throughout history and around the world have held, and still do hold, this view of the Bible – for it was taught by the Lord himself, and by his prophets and apostles.

We are to use the Bible for the purposes God gave it, purposes that are well-summarized by J.I. Packer who said that all theology should lead us further and deeper when it comes to ‘the praise of God and the practice of godliness.’

“What Scripture says, God says” and what that means practically is: how we relate to the Bible is how we relate to God, precisely because the words of Scripture are HIS WORDS.  There are so many crucial applications of this truth, but I just want to focus on one key idea and that is this: the Lordship of Christ over every believer and every congregation is mediated by His Word (illumined by the Spirit).  And the Bible goes further to say that this inscripturated Word is to be faithfully taught and relevantly applied by those whom Christ himself has called and gifted to preach and teach his Word.

And so, to put it bluntly, when the Lord asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do what I say?” (Lk. 6:46) it is a rebuke to every professing Christian or church leader or congregation that, in spite of their supposed commitment to Christ’s lordship and the Bible’s authority, defy or disregard that authority when it comes to how they actually and practically conduct themselves, the values they truly express, and in how their  decisions are actually made.

And so, in the lives of individual believers, their Christian profession is contradicted by their practice (Titus 1:16), to the detriment of the Christian witness (Titus 2:5).  And as it relates to churches, pragmatism (what seems to ‘work’) or the personal preferences of church members or pastors or  church leaders, or ‘tradition’ (“we’ve always done it this way”)  actually end up nullifying the supposed allegiance to God’s own Word (the very thing Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and ‘experts’ in the law/Torah for in Matt. 15:3-9).  

God’s Word through Moses, re-affirmed by the Lord Jesus himself during his wilderness temptation, insists that we are to “live by every word that comes from the mouth of God” – His words of teaching, we are to believe; his words of promise, we are to trust (beginning with the Gospel promise itself); and his words of command, we are to observe and obey.

Again, to quote J.I. Packer,  “The Christian principle of biblical authority means... that God purposes to direct the belief and behavior of his people through the revealed truth set forth in Holy Scripture…..Authority in Christianity belongs to God the Creator, who made us to know, love, and serve him, and his way of exercising his authority over us is by means of the truth and wisdom of his written Word….. And since the Father has now given the Son executive authority to rule the cosmos on his behalf (Matt.28:18), Scripture now functions precisely as the instrument of Christ’s lordship over his followers…." -- (Concise Theology, p. 16)

Christian, how you relate to God’s Words in your Bible is how you relate to God.  This may be the most important principle and practice in living a healthy spiritual life.   Church leader, you have a special calling to do all that you can to make sure that in the actual teachings, practices, programs and decisions of your church, the headship of Christ over your church finds consistent expression in intentional submission to the teachings of the Bible, because…..’what Scripture says, God says.’

(Deut. 8:3; 10:12-13; Psalm 1; 19:7-11; 119; Matt. 4:4; 5:17-20; 28:18-20; Jn.8:31-32; Eph. 4:11-13; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:2; 3:16-17; 4:1-5; Heb. 4:12-13; 13:17; James 1:22-25; 2 Pet. 1:21)

The Purposes of Singing in Worship

 “The hymnic material in the book of the Revelation…should alert us to the importance of singing God’s praise in a way that is truly honoring to him and helpful to his people. 

"Do our hymns and songs concentrate on praising God for his character and his mighty acts in history on our behalf? Do they focus sufficiently on the great truths of the gospel? 

"There is always a temptation to focus too much on the expression of our own immediate needs.” 

– David Peterson, “Engaging with God”

Monday, July 12, 2021

J.I. Packer on the Old Gospel versus the New...

"...[The most serious problems in Christianity today all arise from] our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realising it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty....

The 'new gospel' conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this isn’t primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God. 

The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel, the center of reference is man. 

This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and his ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church.

 From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of “helpfulness.” Accordingly, the themes of man’s natural inability to believe, of God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for his sheep, are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not “helpful”; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered; it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem.) 

However this may be...the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of his redeeming work as if he had done no more by dying than make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence “at the door of our hearts” for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe.

But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need...."

-- J.I. Packer, from his Introductory Essay to John Owen's "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ"