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Heart Aflame - June 13, 2010

Psalm 69:22-36

Hasten, O God, to save me.  We are taught here that, when our enemies shall have persecuted us to the uttermost, a recompense is also prepared for them; and that God will turn back, and cause to fall upon their own heads, all the evil which they had devised against us; and this doctrine ought to act as a restraint upon us, that we may behave ourselves compassionately and kindly towards our eighbours.

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you.  David here used another argument - one which he often adduces elsewhere - in order to obtain deliverance; not that it is necessary to allege reasons to persuade God, but because it is profitable to confirm our faith by such supports  As, then, it is the will of God that he should be known in his gracious character, not only by one or two, but generally by all men, whenever he vouchsafes deliverance to any of his children, it is a common benefit which all the faithful ought to apply to themselves when they see in the person of one man in what manner God, who is never inconsistent with himself, will act towards all his people.  David, therefore, shows that he asks nothing for himself individually but what pertains to the whole Church.  He prays that God would gladden the hearts of all the saints, or afford them all common cause of rejoicing:  so that, assured of his readiness to help them, they may have recourse to him with greater alacrity.  Hence, we conclude, that, in the case of every individual, God gives a proof of his goodness towards us.

May those who love your salvation always say, "Let God be exalted!"  We may infer from this, that our faith is only proved to be genuine when we are neither expect nor desire preservation otherwise than from God alone.  Those who devise various ways and eans of preservation for themsleves in this world, despise and reject the salvation which God has taught us to expect from him alone.  What had been said before, those who seek o, is to the same purpose.  If any individual would depend wholly upon God, and desire to be saved by his grace, he must renounce every vain hope, and employ all his thoughts towards the reception of his strength.


The Worldview of Calvinism

I am on page 5 of The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, by John Owen.  This means I am not reading anything actually by John Owen yet. The first section is a lengthy introductory essay by J.I. Packer.  In this introduction, he introduces the work and explains the need for it. As he encourages the reader to recover the gospel, something he says is very needed, Packer anticipates objections:

'But wait a minute,' says someone, 'it is all very well to talk like this about the gospel; but surely what Owen is doing is defending limited atonement - one of the five points of Calvinism?  When you speak of recovering the gospel, don't you mean that you just want us all to become Calvinists?'

Packer then goes into an analysis of what defines Calvinism, specifically pointing out that the five points are actually a response to a five point manifesto (the Remonstrance) put out by Belgic semi-Pelagians in the early 17th century.  I like what he says as he opens up the topic:

Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world's Maker and King.  Calvinism is the consistent endeavour to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of His will.

I have met people who think that "Reformed" or "Calvinistic" is code for "anti pre-millennial dispensationalism"  I like the way Packer puts it better.


Cats are cats, and ladies ought to be ladies

I think most women know what the term "catty" means.  It is a term that seems to be used exclusively to describe women.  I haven't heard of a man being called "catty."  When we hear phrases like, "put your claws in," and it doesn't describe an actual feline, we know it is referring to two females who are at odds with one another.

I grew up with three older brothers, so my tolerance for cattiness was not great.  There was no room for cattiness in our family dynamic.  My brothers had no use for it, and would not rise to the bait, and neither would my mother.  This is not to say that I was not like that (and probably still am at times), but it means that it was stomped on when it occurred.

It does seem, though, that even grown up Christian women struggle with such things.  A friend and I were recently discussing this, and wondering why it is that women like to compare themselves to one another and be critical.  Women seem to take offense more easily, and we hold grudges.  This can create a lot of trouble.  For many years, these realities kept me from being friends with women.  It just did not seem worth it to me.  But we cannot live in a vacuum, so I have learned to venture out.  I still don't have a lot of female friends, but I've learned that I must work hard to be gracious and kind myself, and forgiving when others may do something to offend me.  In truth, I must learn not to be offended, which is hard.

Recently, I received a very stinging comment at the hands of a woman.  It was supposed to sound like a joke, but even my 20 year old daughter, who was present, caught that it was a way for this woman to insult me in front of others but look like she was joking.  I have known for a while that this woman seems to have an issue with me.  I picked up on it, and I igored it.  My daughter, ever the justice seeker, was quite offended for me.  But I told her that I have to not be offended and let it go.  A couple days later, another woman did something similar, but at least the slight was done more discreetly, and yes, I had to let that go, too.

I see shades of Eve all the time.  We women like to control; whether it is the control of information (gossip) or the control of other women's conduct (judging other women for not behaving as we do) or trying to overpower other women, we like to control.  And we struggle to release that control.  I wonder if sometimes we think that as long as we're not trying to control our husbands, we're free and clear to control others.  Maybe we know we can't control our husbands, so we try and control anyone else who may be innocently standing around.  Please do forgive me if you're a woman reading this and you know that none of this describes you; I don't want to offend.  I am only speaking for what I see and what I know to be true in myself.  

When situations such as the one I experienced recently arise, after the initial sting has subsided, I have to use the opportunity to examine myself.  If I don't want to be treated this way, then I had better not treat others that way.  It's the classic application of the greatest commandment:  to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, and strength, and to love others as myself.  Pretty basic stuff, I think.  I have been stewing about these things for a couple of days, and I'm working hard on letting them go, but that doesn't always come easily.  Using it as a reminder of how I'm not to behave makes it easier to let it go.

I think the worst part of these situations is when our kids see them.  My daughter was pretty upset by this.  She has female friends; she knows how they can be.  She assumed that older women behave better, so these kinds of things perplex her.  I did tell her that we all need a little work.  And I reminded her that she can be someone of integrity if she refuses to behave in such a way.


Puritan Preaching

One of the things that united Puritans was their focus on preaching.  While they may have disagreed about church government, order of worship, or use of prayer books, the Puritans all maintained that preaching was extremely important.  Packer points this out in this chapter about Puritan preaching.

There were four axioms which distinguished Puritan preaching.  First, there was the primacy of the intellect.  While preaching was not intellectualism, the Puritans recognized that there is an element of the mind involved in preaching.  They did not believe that men are converted through physical coercion, but rather their minds were addressed through the Word of God.  Because of this belief, the logical conclusion would be that the minister who desires to convert and speak to his people must be Word-focused.

Secondly, there was an understanding of the supreme importance of preaching.  It was the liturgical climax of public worship, and there was an emphasis on being prepared:

Therefore, the minister who knows his priorities will plan his week around the allotted time for sermon preparation.  And he will take care not to skimp his preparations.

Thirdly, there was an understanding of the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible does not merely contain the Word of God; it is the Word of God.  As such, it is food for the soul.  The sentiment was that it was better not to preach at all than to preach what was not true spiritual food.

Fourthly, there was the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.  Ultimately, the effectiveness of preaching is out of men's hands:

The Puritans would have criticized the odern evangelistic appeal, with its wheedling for 'decisions,' as an unfortunate attempt by man to intrude into the Holy Spirit's province.  It is for God, not man, to fix the time of conversion.

Puritan preaching was characterized by eight different elements:

  1. It was expository in method, taught within context.
  2. It was doctrinal in content.  It was God's revealed mind, a "body of divinity."  Packer says: 
    "Theology - truth about God and man - is what God has put into the texts of Scripture."
  3. It was orderly in its arrangement.  People were encouraged to memorize the sermons, and doing so was made easier in a logical layout.
  4. It was popular in style.  This is meant in the sense that is appealed to the general population, not how we conceive "popular."  Their preaching was "studied plainness."
  5. It was Christ-centred.  They most certainly preached the entire counsel of God, but it focused on Christ especially.
  6. It was experimental.  Packer uses that word a lot in the book, but it does not mean like one doing a science experiment.  It means that their chief concern was to bring man to to know God, which is something people ultimately experience.
  7. It was piercing in its applications.  These were applications of specific needs.  Packer refers to the Westminster Director for Publik Worship, which gives six specific areas of application:

    "(1) instruction or information in the knowledge of some ... consequence from his doctrine, (2) confutation of false doctrines, (3) exhortation to duties; (4) dehortation, reprehension, and public admonition; (5) applying comfort; (6) trial ... whereby the hearers may be able to examine themselves."
  8. It was powerful in its manner.  The preacher's own heart must be engaged and active in the preaching process. The preacher was to preach, as Richard Baxter said, "as if death were at his back."

As is evident, preaching to the Puritan was serious business, and it was gospel-centred, including its applications.  Packer ends the chapter with a reflection on how we can learn from the Puritans:

The churches in the West are currently in confusion about the way to make preaching spiritually significant for the modern congregation, and are treating the problem as primarily one of devising appropriate techniques... The Puritans would themselves be the first to insist that there is more to significant preaching than mere technique, even applicatory technique.

It is quite evident that the Puritans were less concernd with method than they were with the attitude and heart of the preacher, whose job was quite clear:  to preach the counsel of God from a position of utter sincerity, having been gifted by God to do so.  A few years ago, I used to spend a lot of time at a homeschooling internet forum.  We talked about everything under the sun, including our faith.  One of the women there had just left an evangelical church for an Orthodox church.  One of her complaints was that the services at her old church were "too word-centred."  By this, she meant that there was too much emphasis on the preaching of the word.  She preferred the accoutrements found in an Orthodox service.  She was, obviously, not a Puritan.


Heart Aflame - June 6, 2010

Psalm 67.

May God be gracious to us and bless us.  The Psalmist begins by praying for the Divine blessing, particularly upon the Jews.  Speaking as the Psalmist does, of those who belonged to the Church of God, and not of those who were without, it is noticeable that yet he traces all the blessings they received to God's free favour; and from this we may learn, that so long as we are here, we owe our happiness, our success, and prosperity, entirely to the same cause.  This being the case, how shall any think to anticipate his goodness by merits of their own?

May the peoples praise you, O God.  Having spoken of all nations participating in the saving knowledge of God, the Psalmist next tells us that they would proclaim his goodness, and exhorts them to the exercise of gratitude.  It is impossible that we can praise God aright, unless our minds be tranquil and cheerful; unless, as persons reconciled to God, we are animated with the hope of salvation, and "the peace of God, which passes all understanding," reign in our hearts (Phil. 4:7).  The cause assigned for joy plainly in itself points to the event of the calling of the Gentiles.  The reference is not to that government of God which is general in its nature, but to that special and spiritual jurisdiction which he exercises over the Church, in which he cannot properly be said to govern any but such as he has gathered under his sway by the doctrine of his law.

Then the land will yield its harvest.  Mention having been made of the principal act of the Divine favour, notice is next taken of the temporal blessings which he confers upon his children, that they may have everything necessary to complete their happiness.  And here it is to be remembered that every benefit which God bestowed upon his ancient people was, as it were, a light held out before the eyes of the world, to attract the attention of the nations to him.  From this the Psalmist argues, that should God liberally supply the wants of his people, the consequence would be, to increase the fear of his name, since all e nds of the earth would, by what they saw of his fatherly regard to his own, submit themselves with greatercheerfulness to his government.