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Heart Aflame - April 11, 2010

Psalm 30:7-12

To you, O LORD, I called; to the LORD I cried for mercy.  Now follows the fruit of David's chastisement.  He had been previously sleeping profoundly, and fostering his indolence by forgetfulness; but being now awakened all of a sudden with fear and terror, he begins to cry out to God.  And this is the chief advanage of afflictions, that while they make us sensible of our wretchedness, they stimulate us again to supplicate the favour of God.

You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have been off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.  David affirms that it was by the help and blessing of God that he had escaped safe, and then adds, that the final object of his escape was, that he might employ the rest of his life in celebrating the praises of God.  Moreover, he shows us that he was not insensible or obdurate under his afflictions, but mourned in heaviness and sorrow, and he also shows us that his very mourning had been the means of leading him to pray to God to deprecate his wrath.  Both these points are most worthy of our observation, in order, first, that we may not suppose that the saints are guilty of stoical insensibility,  depriving them of all feeling of grief; and secondly, that we may perceive that in their mourning they were exercised to repentance.  This latter he denotes by the term sackcloth.  It was a common practice among the ancients to clothe themselves with sackcloth when mourning, for no other reason, indeed, than that like guilty criminals, they might approach their heavenly Judge, imploring his forgiveness with all humility, and testifyig by this clothing their humiliation and dissatisfaction with themselves.  We know also that the orientals were addicted beyond all others to ceremonies.  We perceive, therefore, that David, although he patiently submitted himself to God, was not free from grief.   We also see that his sorrow was "after a godly sort," as Paul speaks (2 Cor. 7:10); for to testify his penitence he clothed himself with sackcloth.  By the term dancing, he does not mean any wanton or profane leaping, but a sober and holy exhibition of joy like that which sacred Scripture mentions when David conveyed the ark of the coenant to its place (2 Sam. 6:15).


I read this in Worship by the Book.  It was in the chapter by Mark Ashton:

Wisdom will be needed to encourage a congregation to be united over the music it uses.  One result of the power of music is that people become deeply wedded to their personal references and find it difficult to recognize that the style of music is almost always a matter of no intrinsic theological importance.  Traning the congregation to recognize the difference between what is theological and what is cultural, and between where the Bible speaks clearly and where it does not, is an important part of training the congregation to be balanced in their biblical understanding.  It has been wisely pointed out that many tussles over words and books are basically disputes about power in the life of a local church.  Selfishness loves to dress itself in cultural clothes.  Musical taste seems a lot more godly than self-interest, but all too often that is all a preference for one style of music over another amounts to!

A while ago, I had an individual say to me:  "I can stand any amount of bad preaching as long as the music is good."  I didn't tell him that it was the opposite for me.  But then again, this person continually refers to the music as "the worship," as if everything outside of music is not; not a view I subscribe to.


Scattered thoughts with 7-grain toast and peanut butter

So, I've been reading the book Worship by the Book, which is edited by D.A. Carson.  It is a collection of essays by Mark Ashton, R. Kent Hughes, Tim Keller, and Carson himself.  Mark Ashton is an Anglican, and I am just reading his chapter now.  He is talking about Thomas Cranmer and the contribution to worship that was provided by The Book of Common Prayer.   While having my breakfast this morning, I had a few thoughts come flashing through my mind.

Ashton talks about how Cranmer set up the Book of Common Prayer, and he specifically mentions two things that caught my attention.  He talks about the place in the service where confession of sin is made and the place where silence is observed.  Medieval church services had a place in them for corporate confession; that was taken for granted when Cranmer worked on the Book; likewise was there an appointed time for silence.  I thought as I was reading, "Where is this today?"  I know that there are churches which have a formal liturgy and they may have both of these elements.  In the Evangelical tradition, I think many have tried to avoid formal liturgy completely as a means of avoiding becoming ritualistic.  In the church I attend, we don't have "formal" liturgy, and the only time we have specified moments of silence is prior to communion, when we examine ourselves.  In the morning service, the pastor will have a moment of quiet reflection prior to beginning the worship songs, and it is necessary, because there are always a bunch of announcements at the beginning; that quiet time is needed.  Personally, I'd like to see the church service, rather than opening with ten minutes of announcements that are already in the bulletin, begin with quiet as we contemplate worship.  As for corporate confession, that is a concept I am sure would frighten a lot of people.  But, as I read, I wondered about that. 

The other thing that popped into my mind was this comment by Ashton in discussion the approach Cranmer took when doing his work:

Cranmer saw that in a time of reformation some were bound to make novelty their authority rather than the Bible.

I thought about that for a moment, and I thought about the current times.  The post-modern mind is almost like a "reformation" force when it comes to the church.  Many of us can see how the abandonment of objective truth and certainty has worked its way into the Church and has created a lot of change.  One only needs to think of some of the more extreme Emergent type churches.  I thought of those kinds of churches when I read that comment.  A young person whom I know who was raised in our church often made comments to me about how the church services at our church were "boring."  This young person went off to school and now, sadly, some his thinking has been influenced by this need for "novelty."  Young people don't think church services are meaningful unless they are innovative in some way.  But how can something be novel all the time?  Is it good for things to be novel all the time?  Why is something novel any more relevant than something which is traditional?

These were just some random thoughts I had while breakfasting.  I ended up with peanut butter on one of the pages of my book, and I'm sure some day, when I re-read it, I'll remember what I was eating.


Warfield Wednesday

From the "Revelation and Inspiration," in The Works of Benjamin B.Warfield, Vol. 1:

Scripture records the direct revelations which God gave to men in days past, so far as those revelations were intended for permanent and universal use.  But it is much more than a record of past revelations.  It is itself the final revelation of God completing the whole disclosure of his unfathomable love to lost snners, the whole proclamation of his purposes of grace, and the whole exhibition of his gracious provisions for their salvation.


Gathering courage for John Owen

I just finished reading a chapter in J.I. Packer's A Quest for Godliness entitled "Saved by His Precious Blood:  An Introduction to John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ."

I was really excited to begin this chapter, because my friend gave me a copy of Owen's book for my birthday.  I have been advised by those more intelligent than I that it is difficult reading.  One friend even mentioned having to diagram some of Owen's sentences in order to understand him.  Packer, himself, mentions this difficulty:

The Death of Death is a solid book, made up of detailed exposition and close argument, and requires hard study, as Owen fully realised; a cursory glance will not yield much. ('Reader ... If thou are, as many in this pretending age, a sign or title gazer, and comest into books as Cato into the theatre, to go out again - thou has had thy entertainment; farewell!")  Owen felt, however that he had a right to ask for hard study, for his book was a product of hard work.

Packer starts out the chapter with indicating the purpose of the book:

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Owen, Works, X:139-148) is a polemical piece, designed to show, among other things, that the doctrine of universal redemption is unscriptural and destructive of the gospel

Packer believes that Owen's treatise is needed in this day and age (the book was written in 1990; I'm sure the urgency is the same, if not greater) there is a need to recover solid, evangelial preaching of the gospel:

There is no doubt that evangelicalism today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement.  In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building of up the local church, the pastor's dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and of equally widesprad uncertainty as to the road ahead.

Packer believes we have lost the grip on the gospel.  He believes that Owen had it right, which is why he encourages that we attempt to delve into the depths of Owen's daunting work.

I probably won't tackle this book until I'm finished with Packer and the current volume I'm reading by Lloyd-Jones.  Packer gives some suggestions for getting through the material, and one suggestion he makes, I've already thought of:  reading aloud.  I read a lot of Charnock's The Existence and Attributes of God aloud.  When my son was taking guitar lessons, I would wait in the van and read sections aloud.  It really does help.

I'm sure a lot of people wonder why returning to the writings of the Puritans is suggested by Packer.  One only has to do a cursory amount of reading to see that there is a great deal of man-centred theology out there.  It is so subtle, we often don't see it.  The Puritans, however, were solidly behind a Christ-centred salvation.  They had a proper understanding of themselves before God; of course their soteriology would be less man-centred.  Some people would consider the Puritans too hard on themselves and too negative.  I wonder if we haven't gone the other direction.

I'm daunted, yet challenged at the thought of reading it.