Grant Humility and Confidence

January 27th, 2007

John Calvin, Commentary on the Prophet Hosea, Prayer at the end of Lecture 37

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are so miserable as soon as thou withdrawest thy favour from us, — O grant, that we may deeply feel this conviction, and thus learn to be humble before thee, and to hate our ownselves, and that we may not in the mean time deceive ourselves by such allurements as commonly prevail, to put our hope in creatures or in this world, but raise our minds upwards to thee, and fix on thee our hearts, and never doubt, but that when thou embracest us with thy paternal love, nothing shall be wanting to us. And in the meantime, may we suppliantly flee to thy mercy, and with true and genuine confession, acknowledge this to be our only protection — that thou deign to receive us into favour, and to abolish our sins, into which we not only daily fall, but by which we also deserve eternal death, so that we may daily rise through thy free pardon, till at length our Redeemer Christ thy Son shall appear to us from heaven. Amen.

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Sanctity and Glory

January 18th, 2007

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Sanctification in Christ, is glorification begun; as glorification is sanctification perfected.
Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification

Moral High Ground

January 12th, 2007

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Has anyone ever noticed that if you take the moral high ground you don’t have to apologize or explain? And if you attack the other person vigorously enough there is always the chance that neither they, nor any onlookers, will perceive that you are just as wrong as anyone else. A useful tool for our controversial toolbox. Of course, there are ways to do it: you can pull age, rank, popularity, credentials, etc. It works because there is a real legitimacy to at least some of those items; but it is a real legitimacy that is prostituted in the service of avoiding the embarrassing conclusion that in spite of all those qualifications, you acted like a jerk or a weasel.

Severity and Tenderness

January 10th, 2007

John Calvin, Commentary on the Prophet Amos, 7:1-3

Let then all teachers in the Church learn to put on these two feelings — to be vehemently indignant whenever they see the worship of God profaned, to burn with zeal for God, and to show that severity which appeared in all the Prophets, whenever due order decays, — and at the same time to sympathize with miserable men, whom they see rushing headlong into destruction, and to bewail their madness, and to interpose with God as much as is in them; in such a way, however that their compassion render them not slothful or indifferent, so as to be indulgent to the sins of men. Indeed, the temper of mind which I have mentioned ought to be possessed, so that they may go forth as suppliants before God, and implore pardon for miserable and wretched men: but when they come to the people, in their new character, that they may be severe and rigid, let them remember by whom they are sent and with what commands, let them know that they are the ministers of God, who is the judge of the world, and ought not therefore to spare the people: this then is to be attended to by us.

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Freedom to Love

January 8th, 2007

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John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III:19.12 (Battles)

We have due control over our freedom if it makes no difference to us to restrict it when it is fruitful to do so. (…) …it is the part of a godly man to realize that free power in outward matters has been given him in order that he may be the more ready for all the duties of love.

Delaying Believing

January 7th, 2007

Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Direction XI (pp.153-155)

[Speaking of those whom Satan urges to delay believing]

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Others imagine that, after they have heard the gospel of salvation by Christ, they may lawfully defer the believing it until they have sufficiently examined the truth of some other different doctrine, or until God be pleased to afford them some other means to assure them fully of the truth of the gospel. Thus they that are called ‘seekers’ misspend the day of grace, ‘ever learning, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth’ (2 Tim. 3:7). But the truth of the gospel so clearly evidences itself by its own light that, if people do not wilfully shut their eyes, or blind themselves by their own pride, and love their lusts, they would easily perceive that it is the truth of God, because the image of His grace, mercy, power, justice and holiness appears manifestly engraven upon it. It is a sign people are proud when they consent not to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the ‘doctrine which is according to godliness’ (1 Tim. 6:3). If they were humble and sincerely inclined to do the will of God, they would ‘know whether the doctrine is of God, or no’ (John 7:17); they would quickly be persuaded of the truth by Moses and the prophets, Christ and the apostles, spoken to them in the Scripture. And if they will not hear them, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead, or whatever other miracle be wrought to confirm the divine authority of the gospel (Luke 16:31).

Another sort of people there are that delay the great work of believing, to the ruin of their souls, resting in an attendance upon the outward means of grace and salvation, instead of any endeavours to receive Christ by faith, though they be convinced of the truth of the gospel. This they call waiting upon God at the doors of His grace and salvation, in the use of means appointed by Him, and sitting under the droppings of the sanctuary. But let them know that this is not the right waiting on God required in Scripture. It is rather disobedience to God, and to the means of His appointment, who requires that we should be ‘doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves’ (James 1:22), and that we should come in to the spiritual feast (Luke 14:23), and not only stand at the door, or sit under the droppings of the house of God, lest Christ repute us no better than eavesdroppers. That holy waiting on the Lord commended to us in Scripture is ever accompanied with believing and hoping in the Lord, and depends thereon: ‘I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord’ (Ps. 27: 13, 14). ‘It is good that a man should both hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord’ (Lam. 3:26 ).

What is it that these deluded ones wait for, before they perform the duty of believing? Is it for more knowledge of the gospel? The way to increase your knowledge, as well as any other talent, is to make use of what you have received already. Believe heartily on Christ for all your salvation, according to that little knowledge of the gospel which you have, and you will have an interest in the promise of knowledge contained in the new covenant: ‘They shall all know me, from the least to the greatest of them, says the Lord’ (Jer. 31:34). Is it for the appointed time of your conversion that you wait? Then you wait as those impotent folk that lay at the pool of Bethesda , waiting for the season when the angel will come down and move the water. Know, then, that if you enter into Christ now by faith, you shall find in Him waters of life, and the Spirit moving them for the healing and quickening of your soul. God has appointed, by His work, that it shall be your duty to endeavour that the present time shall be the time of your conversion: ‘As the Holy Ghost says, Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your heart’ (Heb. 3:7,8 ). And you shall never know at what time God has purposed, in His secret council, to give faith to you, until you actually believe.

Do you wait for any manifestations or flowings in of God’s saving love to your soul? Then the way to obtain it is to believe that the ‘God of hope may fill you with all joy and peace in believing’ (Rom. 15:13 ). You have sufficient manifestation of God’s love to your soul by the free promises of life and salvation by Christ. Do but ‘trust on the name of the Lord, and stay upon your God’, when you ‘walk in darkness, and see no light’ of sensible comforts any other way, otherwise you wait for comforts in vain, and this shall ‘you have at the Lord’s hand, you ‘shall lie down in sorrow’ (Isa. 50:10, 11). Do you wait for any qualifications to prepare you for the work of believing? If they be good and holy qualifications, you cannot have them before faith, but they are rather included in the nature of faith, or they are fruits of it – as has been largely proved. If they be bad and sinful, it is strange that any should wait for them, and yet no more strange than true. Some foolishly wait to be terrified with a sense of God’s wrath, and despairing thoughts, and these they call the pangs of the new birth; though, in their own nature, they are rather the pangs of spiritual death, and bring forth hatred to God, rather than holiness, and, therefore, we should strive to prevent them by believing God’s love in Christ, rather than to wait for them. It is true, God makes these despairing thoughts, as well as other sins, work for good to them that are delivered from them by faith in Christ; they are moved thereby to hate sin, and to prize Christ the more and the comforts of His gospel, and to loathe and abhor themselves; yet many are brought to Christ without them, by God’s giving them the knowledge of their own sins and of Christ’s salvation together. Several examples of these were above-mentioned, who received the Word with joy at the first hearing of it. And we must not desire or wait for any evil or sin, such as these despairing thoughts are, that good may come of it; neither should we expect to be worse before we be better, when we may and ought to be better presently, by believing on Christ.

Justice and Activism

January 3rd, 2007

From The Poor of the Land and the Pride of Jacob, a sermon on Amos by John Piper preached on October 10, 1982.

What does it mean to have justice established in the gate? I don’t think it means to have a society without distinctions, but a society without oppression. No more exploitation; no more small print in the contracts; no more price-manipulating monopolies; no more Marie Antoinettes who say of the poor, “Let them eat cake.” And no more Robin Hoods who steal from the rich. No more central socialist committees who hold a gun to your head and tell you how much of yours is really your neighbor’s, and no more fat capitalistic cats who walk by Lazarus every day on their way to work off their latest five pounds of wine on the silver running machine. No more false advertising; no more slipshod workmanship at $30 an hour. When every wage is fair, every contract is plain, every agreement is kept, and everyone strives for the advancement of his fellow man and not just his own—and all to the glory of God, then justice will be established in the gate.

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And how shall we do it? By striving to produce men and women whose hearts are aflame with the righteousness of God. And by struggling together to know what elements of righteousness should be enacted into civil law. When a slumlord gouges a Laotian family with exorbitant rent in the Phillips neighborhood, it is not necessarily because of bad laws; it’s because of a bad man. Therefore, we must guard ourselves against the naïve idea that those who work for rent control at city hall are necessarily working harder to establish justice than those who work to convert evil men so that their hearts and business practices will ring with the righteousness of Christ.

If America stays free—which, by the way, is not the main goal of the church but, I pray, a happy byproduct—if America stays free, it will not be because Christian right-wingers push through a prayer amendment, or because Christian left-wingers push through bigger government subsidies for housing and health and jobs. It will be because the salt of the earth and the light of the world have exerted such a profound spiritual effect on the heart and soul of the nation that men and women feel pangs of conscience when contracts are broken, and refugees are gouged, and prices are inflated, and workmanship is shabby, and babies are intentionally aborted. Constraining civil laws are necessary in a fallen world. But if violations of love are not treated at the spiritual spring, then the river of evil that flows out of man’s heart will break through every legal dam and sweep the world away with injustice. One group on earth has this potential and this mission—the Church of Jesus Christ. If we are not wholeheartedly engaged in this indispensable spiritual work, no one else will do it, for no one else has the message of redemption. And justice will most assuredly, then, not be established in the gate. And then, who will stand when the Lord roars from Zion?

Read the rest of this very good sermon.