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Heart Aflame - August 29, 2010

Psalm 100:3-5

Know that the LORD is God.  It is he who has made us.  To say God made us is a very generally acknowledged truth; but not to advert to the ingratitude so usual among men, that scarcely one among a hundred seriously acknowledges that he holds his existence from God, although, when hardly put to it, they do not deny that they were created out of nothing; yet every man makes a god of himself, and virtually worships himself, when he ascribes to his own power what God declares belongs to him alone.  Moreover, it must be remembered that the prophet is not here speaking of creating in general, but of that spiritual regeneration by which he creates anew his image of his elect.  Believers are the persons whom the prophet here declares to be God's workmanship, not that they were made men in their mother's womb, but in that sense in which Paul, in Ephesians 2:10, calls them the workmanship of God, because they are created unto good works which God has before ordained that they should walk in them; and in reality this agrees best with the subsequent context.  For when he says, We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture, he evidently refers to that distinguishing grace which led God to set apart his children for his heritage, in order that he may, as it were, nourish them under his wings, which is a much greater privilege than that of merely being born men.  Should any person be disposed to boast that he has of himself become a new man, who is there that would not hold in abhorrence such a base attempt to rob God of that which belongs to him?  Nor must we attribute this spiritual birth to our earthly parents, as if by their own power they begot us; for what could a corrupt seed produce?  Still the majority of men do not hesitate to claim for themselves all the praise of the spiritual life.  Else what do the preachers mean by free-will, unless it be to tell us that by our own endeavours we have, from being sons of Adam, become the sons of God?  In opposition to this, the prophet in calling us the people of God, informs us that it is of his own good will that we are spiritually regenerated.  And by denominating us the sheep of his pasture, he gives us to know that though the same grace which has once been imparted to us, we continue safe and unimpaired to the end.



The Doctor really knows how to speak incisively.  In the context of Matthew 7:1, Lloyd-Jones defines what is true criticism:

Criticism in a true sense is never merely destructive; it is constructive, it is appreciation.  There is all the difference in the world between exercising criticism and being hypercritical.  The man who is guilty of judging, in the sense in which our Lord uses the term here, is the man who is hypercritical, which means that he delights in critisicm for its own sake and enjoys it.  I am afraid I must go further and say that he is a man who approaches anything which he is asked to criticize expecting to find faults, indeed, almost hoping to find them.

It is probably a wise thing that we ask ourselves whether we are the hypercritical man, because it is the hypecritical man who becomes the one who is judging others.


Warfield Wednesday

I always find it interesting the historical value there is in reading the good, dead theologians.  In their writings, there are inevitable occasions where they provide commentary as regards what contradictory views were popular at their time of writing.  I find this especially true in Martyn Lloyd-Jones' volume on the Sermon on the Mount.  He refers often to what modern thought was at the time he lived, and he contrasted it to what Scripture teaches.

B.B. Warfield does the same thing in "The Foresight of Jesus."  In this essay, he discusses various views of the "historical" Jesus, all which deny Jesus had any foresight.  Most contrary views depicted Jesus us as being either partially or completely unaware of what awaited him in Jerusalem as he rode into its streets on a donkey.  Some views portray him in the light of what many Jews wanted to see him as:  a warrior/messiah ready to deliver.  These see his death as rather a damage control kind of situation, something he only came to a gradual acceptance of.

Warfield, however, reminds us that Jesus came to die.  He quotes a certain Dr. Denny as saying:

Christ's death is not an incident of His life, it is the aim of it.  The laying down of His life is not an accident of His career, it is His vocation; it is that in which the Divine purpose of His life is revealed.

Warfield further comments:

In the Gospel presentation, foresight is made the principle of our Lord's career.  In the modern view he is credited with no foresight whatever.  At best, He was possessed by a fixed conviction of His Messianic mission whether gained in ecstatic vision (as, eg. O Holtzmann) or acquired in deep religious experiences (as. eg. Schwarzkopff); and He felt an assurance, based on this ineradicable conviction, that in His own good time and way God would work that mission out for Him,; and in this assurance He went faithfully onward fulfilling His daily task, bungling meanwhile egregiously in His reading of the scroll of destiny wich was unrolling for Him.  It is an intensely, even an exaggeratedly, human Christ which is here offered us; and He stands, therefore, in the strongest contrast with the frankly Divine Christ which the Gospels present to us.

 If we look upon Jesus as having no foresight with regard to his death and resurrection, can we have any confidence in his promise to return?  That promise would involve a very significant level of foresight, I think. 


A Pastor's Heart

One of the greatest gifts to subsequent generations is the personal accounts of individuals, made by their own hand.  While published books and official documents provide rich information to see history, other sources of a more personal nature truly reveal the hearts of people.  As regards history, I am always more interested in the people than I am the events, although those are intriguing as well.

Samuel Davies, of Hanover, Virginia was called away from his congregation to become President of the College of New Jersey.  He was not initially in favour of this, because he loved his congregation.  Eventually, however, he agreed to go, seeing the need for dedicating effort to institutions which could train upcoming leaders.  This is an excerpt from his farewell sermon, delivered on July 1, 1759:

Farewell, ye saints of the living God, ye 'few names even in Hanover, that have not defiled your garments.'  Ye shall fare well indeed.  That God, whose the earth is, and the fulness thereof, is your God and has undertaken your welfare.  That God will be your God for ever and he will be your guide even until death.  He will guide you by his counsel through the intricacies of life, an then receive you into glory.  Survey the sacred treasure of the divine promises laid up for you in the Bible, and stand lost in delightful wonder at your own riches.  Behold the immense inheritance which the blood of Christ has purchased for you ... It doth not yet appear what you shall be.  I have known you broken-hearted penitents; honest, laborious, weeping seekers of Jesus, and conscientious, though imperfect observers of his will:  I have known you poor mortal creatures, sometimes trembling, sometimes rejoicing, sometimes nobly indifferent at the prospect of death.  But I hope yet to know you under a high character; glorious Immortals, perfect in holiness, vigorous and bright and full of devotion, 'as the rapt seraphs adore and burn' and qualitified to bear a part in the more sublime and divine worship of the heavenly temple.  There I hope to find some humble seat among you, and spend a blessed eternity in the divine intimacy of immortal frienship, without interruption or the fear of parting.  Therefore adieu; but not forever.  Adieu for a few years, or months, or days, till death collets us to our common home, in our Father's house above.  You have been the joy of my life, under all the discouragements and fatigues of my ministry; and to your prayers I owe the comfort and success I have had among you.

I thought that was a beautiful farewell.  It was not only encouraging the people to stand fast in what they had learned, but it revealed his love for them.  It kind of reminded me of the way Paul spoke in his letters.


Deeds, not creeds

That is a phrase I've heard bandied about in Christian circles.  My own home church, while maybe not stating exactly that, would be loath to say it embraces a creed, but rather it would say, "Our Creed is the Bible."  The only evidence that it actually knows about creeds is the fact that occasionally, our associate pastor, who hails from Northern Ireland originally, has mentioned in his sermons the first question of the Westminster Catechism, "What is the chief end of man?"

That is about the extent of creed discussion at my church.  Other creeds, such as the Apostles' Creed and the  Nicene Creed are seen as part of the history of the Church, but I think if I was to mention that I am reading the Westminster Confession of Faith, I might get some looks from friends.  After all, isn't it a presbyterian document?

The first section of the Confession deals with Scripture, and in I.7 of the confession, this is stated:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all:  yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

G.I. Williamson in his book The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, points out that creeds are only as good as the extent which they reflect Scripture. The Baltimore Catechism, a Roman Catholic document, reflects their belief that the Church is the one that determines what is divine truth.  The Reformed tradition, on the other hand, puts it another way:

The Reformed faith views the matter precisely in reverse, holding that Scripture alone expresses divine truth with perfect clarity, and so regarding the Scriptures alone as finally authoritative.  The interpretation of the Church (as in its creeds) must always, therefore, be regarded as less than a perfectly clear expression of divine truth, and as necessarily subordinate to Scripture.  The authority of creeds is determined by Scripture, not determinative of Scripture.  They have authority only if, and to the extent that, they truly are faithful to Scripture.

This confession recognizes its own limitations.  I wonder if those who are squeamish about creeds have read one.