Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Calvin's sensitivity to the different circumstances in which people live lead him to flip-flop, or at least to be somewhat ambivalent in his attitude to the magistrate. Citing the case of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27), Scripture requires obedience to bad kings, and even to pray for the well being of the country of exile (Jer.29). No doubt Calvin has his own city of exile, Geneva, in mind. But should not rulers, who also have responsibilities, be kept on track? Yes, but not by ourselves, but by Almighty God. This leads to discussion of the vexed question of civil disobedience.
No doubt having the Anabaptists in mind, and having already defended the right to litigate, Calvin proceeds to defend the entire judicial process. He discourages using the law for the taking of revenge, but upholds the use of due process, 'through which God may work for our good'. (It is interesting that in his teaching Calvin primarily seems to have mind not Geneva, which by this time in his career he believed was governed along right lines, but countries where the law may remain hostile to evangelical Christianity).
I have, for the first time, finally read through David Brainerd's Diary. I'm not sure why it took me this long to get around to it. I now understand why this man, who lived such a short life, has had such an enormous impact on the church and the world of missions. Consider a few of the statements made about Brainerd and his Diary by some of the leading pastors, theologians and missionaries of the past three centuries:
This was probably a familiar scenario either when you were a child or now as an adult. Some instruction has been given by an authority. Let’s say, for example, “Do not eat the cookies.” The cookies look really tasty. They smell fantastic. And you really really want one. Likely, you will get one after dinner, but you want one right now. No one is looking. No one would see if you just reached quickly and snagged one off the plate. You grab it and scurry off to a corner and gobble up the cookie. It is delicious and gone far too quickly.
In my last letter, I wrote that the Puritans show us how to marry doctrine and practice in our preaching. I'd like to add that they stressed the practice of piety (praxis pietatis), or practical godliness, flowing out of sound doctrine—just as much as Augustine and Calvin before them.
The Westminster Directory for Worship summarizes the Puritans’ commitment to sanctified application:
In my last letter, I wrote that the Puritans show us how to shape our entire lives and preaching by the Holy Scriptures. But they also show us how to marry doctrine and practice in our preaching. They accomplished this by addressing the mind with clarity, confronting the conscience pointedly, and wooing the heart passionately. Let’s look at each of these.
Puritan preaching addressed the mind with clarity.
The Spinners are quarantined in the underground bunker and take a break from all the pandemic talk to address a listener question: What should a church be looking for when searching for a new pastor, and how might they go about it?
This is a special pandemic edition of The Spin, as Carl, Todd, and Aimee record—not just 6 feet away, but—100 miles distant from one another, just to be on the safe side. COVID-19 times can be challenging, and they’ve afforded Todd a new opportunity to complement his pastoral calling. The megachurch minister is now a gifted “Mental Toughness Expert,” and he’s making his services available when churches are unable to meet, due to mandatory isolation.
The recent New York Times interview with Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, is one for the ages. Indeed, critique is almost pointless as the interview itself begs not so much questions as gasps of amazement at the breathtaking combination of leaps of logic, misrepresentations of the Christian tradition, and the deployment of emotive buzzwords with
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord—how long?
— Psalm 6:2, 3
I would not describe myself as someone prone to anxiety or worry. I’ve never had a panic attack, and I prefer to insulate myself from trending news and media. However, in the past couple of weeks I have found myself (to use a phrase which is waxing tiresome) in unprecedented territory. There are moments when I have felt waves of near-paralyzing anxiety. What is going on?
I want to offer two practical suggestions for Christians, which I offer only because these are the things I most need to hear and practice.
1. Stop idolizing nonchalance.
If you could give a new mom the perfect gift, what would it be? Would it be full night's sleep? Maybe you'd give her a hot meal without interruption or maybe the confidence that she'll be a good mom. Those would be precious gifts to any mom. But what do moms need most?
When you set up your shepherding plan you could not have imagined that your entire congregation would be hunkered-down attempting to stay clear of Covid-19.
These are times in which the flock needs to hear from their shepherds for comfort and assurance. I have urged our elders to put a priority on reaching out to their sheep, especially to those who are especially vulnerable.
I recently received this encouraging email from my friend Ken Jones, Shepherding Pastor at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama:
Johann Heermann and the Comfort of the Cross
In the spring of 1630, while the Thirty-Year War raged around Europe, pastor and poet Johann Heermann wrote a hymn to inspire his congregation to meditate on Christ’s suffering.
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).
A recent article about the corona virus, written by a London physician ends with an alarming cry: “We’re heading into the abyss.” Meanwhile, others insist that we are over-reacting, that this disease will not be so much worse than a bad flu season. Where can ordinary folk turn for wisdom? To church history, since the plagues that struck Europe from 1330 to 1670 show us how leaders responded to their crises.
To know how to act, we need to know what story we are in. Without suggesting that anyone wants to create a false narrative about the corona virus, the media can lead us to think we are in a short story when we are in a novel. In a sports-crazed nation, we hear that opening day for Major League Baseball will be delayed two weeks (possibly more), to early April. The NBA and NHL have suspended the regular season, but plan to be hold their playoffs. Broadway closed and proposed to reopen on April 12 (possibly later).
Christians are frequently reminded to “remember the reason for Christmas,” meaning, of course, that we should turn our attention away from the cultural trappings and to the fact that Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem. But this Christmas, perhaps we should fix our attention a little more closely, not just on the details of Jesus’ birth, but on the miracle of the incarnation. In so doing, we join a great cloud of Christian witnesses, who have reflected deeply on this glorious mystery.
Perhaps the greatest risk surrounding the doctrine of grace in the Bible is that we allow it to become a cliché. We talk about it, sing about it, take great care to define it, but through it all fail to feel its weight. So, as we continue our reflections on the many-sided beauty of God’s grace revealed in Scripture, I want to focus in this article on its immensity in salvation.
There is much more to grace than meets the eye. Indeed, to borrow and slightly tweak the title of a song made famous by Bing Crosby in 1955, ‘Grace is a many splendored thing’. Although we instinctively link it to the idea of God’s demerited favour towards sinners in salvation, when we begin to trace its contours throughout the Scriptures, we see facets that only make us appreciate its beauty and blessing more deeply. This kaleidoscope of beauty is worth exploring in its major component parts and my hope is to do this through a series of articles designed to unpack it.
"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades”
(Rev. 1:17, 18)
Philip Ryken shares why this year's Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology should not be missed!
C. S. Lewis has been a helpful guide to many Christians and rightfully so. He has led countless weary travelers through the world’s wasteland in order to introduce them to the Christ of Christianity. And though his defense of the faith is well known and respected through works like Mere Christianity, he is also a helpful counselor to those already in the faith. I think for instance of his¸ The Screwtape Letters.
I did not grow up reciting the Apostles' Creed. In fact, my first exposure was during my freshman year in college when I visited a PCA church. As a “no creed but the Bible” kind of gal, I didn't quite know what to make of it or the reformed order of worship. I ended up going elsewhere. If I had stayed, it would have saved me a lot doctrinal heartache down the road. But thankfully after more than 30 years, God brought me to a confessional church which recites this affirmation of the faith once delivered to the saints.
Doctrinal Introduction: Perseverance of the Saints
Jonathan and James have a chat about the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. The Christian race isn’t always easy, which sometimes may cause us to wonder whether we’ll finish well. What assurance do we have that our running is not in vain and that we’ll finish the course? What’s the role of grace in the perseverance of the saints, and is there any work to be done on our part?
Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ
Jonathan and James are joined by Alan Strange. Alan is professor of church history at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, and a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The question is posed: How important is the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ? The resulting conversation deals not only with the biblical text, but with the historical aspect of the doctrine as well.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on reformation21 in June 2007.
It was twenty years ago that Lisa Maxwell and I walked down the aisle at the First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As a minister, I go to more weddings than most people, but Lisa is still the prettiest bride I have ever seen and marrying her was—by far—the best decision I have made since giving my life to Jesus Christ.
Editor's Note: For more from Ian Hamilton, be sure to check out the latest "A Place For Truth" booklet (Providence) at ReformedResources.org.