God is Love…

If one perfection of God shines out in redemption with greater effulgence than any other, it is this. Love is the focus of all the rest, the golden thread that draws and binds them all together in holy and beautiful cohesion. Love was the moving, controlling attribute in God’s great expedient of saving sinners. Justice may have demanded it, holiness may have required it, wisdom may have planned it, and power may have executed it; but love originated the whole. [It] was the moving cause in the heart of God, so that the salvation of the sinner is not so much a manifestation of the justice, holiness, wisdom, or power of God, as it is a display of His love.

-Octavius Winslow (1808-1878)

Sing to the Lord a new song…

Psalm 149 commands us to “sing to the LORD a new song.” Such songs require a commitment appropriate to the glory of the one we sing to, a gladness and joy so deep that our normally comatose Presbyterian bodies move: “Let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King. Let them praise His name with dancing” (Ps. 149:2-3). God commands us to sing a faith-filled war-cry: “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations…” (Ps. 149:6-7).

Faith in God pushes us in that zealous direction, helped along by the emotional power God has vested in music. Below is an example that should help you worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness. The greatness of Almighty God is not adequately expressed by flutes and violins and the hushed tones of a reedy organ stop. The weight of drums and amplification explain the text of Psalm 46 appropriately. Your sensibilities may be offended but stop and consider whether the offense comes because of your elitist, gentlemanly, safe, effeminate view, not of musical instrumentation and compositional style, but of God Himself. Our sin causes us to do that calf-making kind of work. God’s presence will one day cause men to call for the mountains and the rocks to fall on them that they may be hidden from the presence of “Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:15). When was the last time the music you sing in worship led to such God-glorifying contemplation?

 

Tuesday Thomas Watson: Loving God…

1. The first fruit of love is the musing of the mind upon God.

He who is in love, his thoughts are ever upon the object. He who loves God is ravished and transported with the contemplation of God. ‘When I awake, I am still with thee’ (Psalm 139.18). The thoughts are as travelers in the mind. David’s thoughts kept heaven-road, I am still with Thee. God is a treasure, and where the treasure is, there is the heart. By this we may test our love to God. What are our thoughts upon? Can we say we are ravished with delight when we think on God? Have our thoughts got wings? Are they fled aloft? Do we contemplate Christ and glory? Oh, how far are they from being lovers of God, who scarcely ever think of God! ‘God is not in all his thoughts’ (Psalm 10.4). A sinner crowds God out of his thoughts. He never thinks of God, unless with horror, as the prisoner thinks of the judge.

-Thomas Watson in A Divine Cordial

PCA General Assembly narrowly avoids sending blasphemous statement to her presbyteries and churches…

For several years the PCA has funded a study committee to investigate the Insider Movement. Last year, part one of their report, which was critical of the Insider Movement, was approved. What is the Insider Movement? Here is a description from the majority report of the Study Committee on Insider Movements:

In some areas of the world, groups have arisen which study the Bible and identify with Jesus, while continuing to identify as members of their birth religion—Muslim, Hindu, and so on. These individuals can avoid the excommunication from their families and communities which has often occurred when individuals begin to identify as “Christian,” especially in societies in which terms such as “Christian” have acquired a spectrum of unchristian implications. Awareness of these groups, dubbed “Insider Movements” (IMs) by Western missiologists, has led some to conclude that certain elements of historical Western missionary emphasis fall into the “unnecessary obstacle” category rather than being essential for either evangelism or the discipling of a mature church.

Yesterday at the PCA’s 41st General Assembly, a minority report was debated and a motion was eventually passed to send the minority report along with the majority report to the presbyteries and churches of the PCA. Included in the minority report was this statement (page 2329, lines 26-28, Commissioners Handbook 2013):

Are Allah of Muslims and Yahweh the same God? Yes, when the veil is lifted from their eyes and Muslims see Him as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fine-tuning to see Yahweh as He truly is takes place through Christ (Colossians 1:15).

That statement is blasphemous. Several men pointed that out during the debate. And, as usual, once floor debate was concluded a commissioner rose to rebuke the commissioners for their “shocking rhetoric.” What is shocking is that a man would be offended more by the use of the word blasphemy than by the blasphemy itself.

As I said yesterday, the PCA is run by lawyers, and they’ve built an ecclesiastical mechanism (oiled by the BCO and RAO and Robert’s Rules) that emasculates any man who might have some Biblical clarity. And now calling something blasphemy receives the rebuke.

In the end the blasphemous minority report, along with the majority report, was recommitted to the committee for another year of study (the majority and minority reports can be found online here). Due to procedural rules, this action was the only way to stop the blasphemous minority report from being commended to every church in the PCA.

It should have been burned on the floor of the convention center.

I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God.

I will gird you, though you have not known Me;

That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun

That there is no one besides Me.

I am the LORD, and there is no other… (Isaiah 45:5-6).

Tuesday Thomas Watson: God is the best Father…

Wherein does it appear that God is the best Father?

1) In that He is most ancient.
2) God is the best Father, because He is perfect.
3) God is the best Father in respect of wisdom.
4) He is the best Father, because the most loving.
5) He is the best Father, for riches.
6) God is the best Father, because He can reform His children.
7) God is the best Father, because He never dies.

-Thomas Watson in The Lord’s Prayer

 

Tuesday Thomas Watson

God desires our love. We have lost our beauty, and stained our blood, yet the King of heaven is a suitor to us. What is there in our love, that God should seek it? What is God the better for our love? He does not need it, He is infinitely blessed in Himself. If we deny Him our love, He has more sublime creatures who pay the cheerful tribute of love to Him. God does not need our love, yet He seeks it.

-Thomas Watson in All Things for Good

Jonathan Edwards’ A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections: My very brief summary…

rp_191px-Jonathan_Edwards_engraving.jpgJonathan Edwards was concerned with the faith of his flock. He knew that in order to be faithful to his calling he must constantly make judgments—judgments about the hearts and consciences of the people of his church. Edwards shepherded his flock during a time of revival (the First Great Awakening). When the Spirit works, Satan works, too, doing his counterfeiting work (2 Cor. 11:14). In his A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, Edwards thinks through how we may discern between true religion and counterfeit religion. He works through some possible indications of whether someone has been truly converted by the Spirit or whether they have not been converted, though they be moral-spiritual-religious. Edwards wrote,

And so it is likely ever to be in the church, whenever religion revives remarkably, till we have learned well to distinguish between true and false religion, between saving affections and experiences, and those manifold fair shows, and glistering appearances, by which they are counterfeited; the consequences of which, when they are not distinguished, are often inexpressibly dreadful. But this means, the devil gratifies himself, that multitudes should offer to God, under the notion of acceptable service, what is indeed above all things abominable to him. But this means, he deceives great multitudes about the state of their souls; making them think they are something, when they are nothing; and so eternally undoes them: and not only so, but establishes many in a strong confidence of their eminent holiness, who, in God’s sight, are some of the vilest hypocrites.

So, where does Edwards settle? What conclusions does he come to when addressing the question of how we might have some assurance that someone is truly converted or not, whether his heart (the seat of the affections) is fully devoted to God or not, whether he loves God or not, whether the love of God has been poured out in his heart or not (Rom. 5:5), whether his affections arise from himself or from God?

Well, in the middle of things (Part 2, Section 12), he states clearly that only God infallibly knows those who have regenerate hearts (1 Sam. 16:7):

How great therefore may the resemblance be, as to all outward expressions and appearances, between a hypocrite and a true saint! Doubtless, it is the glorious prerogative of the omniscient God, as the great searcher of hearts, to be able well to separate between these sheep and goats. And what an indecent self-exaltation and arrogance is it, in poor fallible dark mortals, to pretend, that they can determine and know, who are really sincere and upright before God, and who are not.

Nonetheless, Jesus, Edwards says, has given us rules by which we may form “our judging of others’ sincerity.” Those rules aren’t the ones the typical church of our day has enshrined.

He starts with the negative. Here are some things he says do not prove whether someone is truly converted or not (summarized in my own words):

1. Heightened emotions prove nothing one way or the other (Part 2, Section 1).

2. Heightened emotions which cause the body to react (fainting, falling to ground, jumping up and down, or walking down the aisle) prove nothing one way or the other (Part 2, Section 2).

3. Increased and intense talk about spiritual things proves nothing one way or the other (Part 2, Section 3).

4. A claim that a person did not produce these affections by his own efforts proves nothing one way or the other (Part 2, Section 4).

5. That Scriptures unaccountably come to mind proves nothing one way or the other (Part 2, Section 5).

6. That there is an appearance of love to Christ in our affections proves nothing one way or the other (Part 2, Section 6).

7. That there is a combination of intense affections (love, sorrow, fear, gratitude) proves nothing one way or the other (Part 2, Section 7).

8. That comfort and joy are said to be in the heart of a person proves nothing one way or the other (Part 2, Section 8).

9. That someone spends a lot of time at church, in Bible study, in worship, in private devotions, etc. proves nothing one way or the other (Part 2, Section 9).

10. That someone uses his mouth to praise God proves nothing one way or the other (Part 2, Section 10).

11. That someone is confident of God’s favor proves nothing one way or the other (Part 2, Section 11).

12. That someone gives a great testimony of God’s work proves nothing one way or the other (Part 2, Section 12).

You may be scratching your head after reading some of the above. Take the time to slog through Edwards’ arguments for each of them, and you’ll begin to understand why he put them on his doesn’t-prove-a-thing list. In a nutshell, all of the above twelve are actions we can do, think, feel, or manufacture ourselves. They can arise in any man, whether or not the Holy Spirit has gone to work on his dead heart.

What follows, on the other hand, are some indicators that Edwards says are “distinguishing signs of truly gracious and holy affections.” Here are my summaries:

1. The affections of the heart are changed from outside the self, by a spiritual, supernatural, and divine work (Part 3, Section 1).

2. The affections arise first or primarily from a view of God’s perfection, only secondarily from an understanding of what He has done for us (Part 3, Section 2).

3. Fundamental and essential to a genuine love for God is a love for His holiness (Part 3 Section 3).

4. The enlightened mind not only thinks right thoughts of God, but his mind is governed by the heart which “relishes” and “feels” God’s greatness (Part 3, Section 4). Here’s Edwards’ illustration of this: “…he that has perceived the sweet taste of honey, knows much more about it, than he who has only looked upon and felt it.”

5. A Christian has faith as it is defined in Hebrews 11 (assurance of things expected). Edwards writes, “They no longer halt between two opinions; the great doctrines of the gospel cease to be any longer doubtful things, or matters of opinion, which, though probable, are yet disputable; but with them, they are points settled and determined, as undoubted and indisputable; so that they are not afraid to venture their all upon the truth.”

6. A Christian knows his own despicableness and yet still approaches God as a gracious Father (Part 3, Section 6).

7. A Christian has undergone a change of nature (Part 3, Section 7). Edwards writes, “A man may be restrained from sin, before he is converted; but when he is converted, his very heart and nature is turned from it unto holiness: so that thenceforward he becomes a holy person and an enemy to sin.”

8. A Christian lives a life after the pattern of Jesus Christ—1 John 2:6 (Part 3, Section 8).

9. A Christian has an always-soft heart or an ever-tender conscience (Part 3, Section 9).

10. A Christian is well-balanced in his affections, neither always joyful nor always sorrowful (Part 3, Section 10).

11. A Christian has an ever-increasing appetite for holiness (Part 3, Section 11).

12. A Christian bears fruit through real obedience to God’s Word (Part 3, Section 12).

13. Holiness of life is the “chief sign” of grace in the Christian, visible to others—”You shall know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16) (Part 3, Section 13).

14. Holiness of life is a “sure evidence” of grace in the Christian, to a person’s own conscience—”Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3) (Part 3, Section 14).

In the end, Edwards concludes that holiness of life—real, tangible, visible obedience to God’s commands in His Word—is the ultimate distinguishing characteristic of the Christian.

The discipline of praising God…

For a number of weeks during our Wednesday evening prayer meetings at Trinity, we began each session by reading a short devotion from a book called Developing a Healthy Prayer Life. The short book contains 31 meditations on prayer. Some of the topics are: “Pray in Christ’s Name,” “Pray Believingly,” “Pray Submissively,” “Pray Perseveringly,” “Pray Reverently.” As I’ve thought about how to pray during these Wednesday nights, one challenge that keeps coming back to me is this: Every time I pray I have a tendency to launch directly into my requests, to launch into asking God for my allowance, to approach God as a father who has the keys to the car. There is a self-centeredness to my prayers. I ask, even confess, and spend much time thinking and praying based upon who I am and where I am at–but I spend very little time adoring Who God is and where He is at. I’ve had to remind myself and others to begin our prayers with praising God for Who He is. Then, after praise, we may follow up such praises with our particular needs. Even still, this opening time generally turns into thanksgiving which, if you think about it for a moment, is most often praising God not for Who He is but for what He has done for us. There is a difference between thanksgiving and adoration.

One Wednesday evening, quite some time ago, I challenged us to pray only by praising God’s glory and praising God’s powerful actions. None of us could do it. Very quickly we were all back to thinking about ourselves and praying for what we needed. Even our praises of God had to do with what He had given us, not simply Who He is.

Now, don’t hear what I am not saying… We are to make our requests to God; we are to ask Him to provide for us at every point in our lives; we are to give thanks at all times. Jesus said to the disciples: “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.” And in the book of James, you’ll remember, we’re taught, “You don’t have because you do not ask.” God delights to give us good gifts, to provide for us as we pray, to sustain us, to accomplish His purposes in this world and in our lives through our prayers.

But this is not the only purpose of prayer, as the Psalms prove. Here’s one example:

The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty; The LORD has clothed and girded Himself with strength; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved. Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting. The floods have lifted up, O LORD, The floods have lifted up their voice, The floods lift up their pounding waves. More than the sounds of many waters, Than the mighty breakers of the sea, The LORD on high is mighty. Your testimonies are fully confirmed; Holiness befits Your house, O LORD, forevermore (Psalm 93).

As we see in Psalm 93, the purpose of this psalm is to praise the Name of God. It is all about our Heavenly Father. Try to pray in this manner for ten minutes or even a full minute, and you will perhaps find yourself back at making requests for this or that, having left behind praise. Perhaps this difficulty is because we don’t know our Father as we should and so don’t know how to praise His glories. Perhaps it is because we are self-centered and generally give ourselves only to those pursuits that have some tangible benefit for us. Most likely it is both…

John Calvin, who dedicated a long chapter in his Institutes to prayer, speaks to this tension (between launching into requests and worshipping God in His glory). He wrote,

I have said that, although prayer is an intimate conversation of the pious with God, yet reverence and moderation must be kept, lest we give loose rein to miscellaneous requests, and lest we crave more than God allows; further, that we should lift up our minds to a pure and chaste veneration of him, lest God’s majesty become worthless to us.

I give loose rein to miscellaneous requests and very little attention to the veneration, the standing back and reveling in the awesome power and majesty of our Heavenly Father. Given the difficulty we have in Wednesday evenings, I don’t think I’m the only one who has trouble here. It was very difficult to give ourselves to a half-hour of praising God’s excellencies. Not only did we struggle not to shift directions into requests but we also had to grope to come up with something to praise Him for.

Notice what Calvin says will be the conclusion of such impiety: God’s majesty will become worthless to us. God will become to us a faucet we turn on and off when we need some help or refreshment rather than being the God Who is simply worthy to be praised as the “I am Who I am.” We become like the adult child who only talks to his parents when he needs money. It is take without relationship, without return. It is to treat God’s majesty as forgettable, negligible, worthless…but to take advantage of His bumbling generosity.

God is an everlasting Father…

God is an everlasting Father (Isa. 9.6). He was our Father from eternity; before we were children, God was our Father, and He will be our Father to eternity. A father provides for his child while he lives; but the father dies, and then the child may be exposed to injury. But God never ceases to be a Father. You who are a believer, have a Father that never dies; and if God be your Father, you can never be undone. All things must needs work for your good.

-from Thomas Watson’s All Thing for Good