Pick your Bible reading program: 90-day or whole-year…

BibleReading2015Read God’s Word once, or twice, or four times through next year. Both suggested programs are straight through the Bible…

90-Day (pdf)

Whole Year (pdf)

More creative options here.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

Calvin: "I could hear God’s beating a drum in the breezes…"

261174Theodore Beza carried on the work of the church and academy in Geneva after John Calvin went to be with the Lord. Only three months after Calvin’s death in 1564, Beza published the first edition of his biography of John Calvin, The Life of John Calvin. The following section of Beza’s work stood out to me. No longer do we read providence the way our Reformed fathers in the faith did. These are the same men who taught us to see God’s Word as the only infallible revelation, yet they were willing to read God’s providence through means in His creation in a manner that many of us would refuse and rebuke. Here’s the passage I’m speaking of…

The following month, Calvin suffered an attack of gout which lasted several days. This was so severe that on the 18th, which was the day set for the examination of pastors in preparation for the Christmas communion service, they gathered in his room while he stayed in bed.

There had been a fierce gale blowing all night long and it continued to increase in fury as the day went on. The wind continued to rage all the next day, which was a Saturday, before dying down on the Sunday. In the presence of the assembled ministers, Calvin remarked on the force of the wind and uttered words which were to prove true in the days that followed. ‘I do not know what it is,’ he said, ‘but all last night, as I listened to this wind, it seemed to me as if I could hear God’s beating a drum in the breezes. I cannot get the thought out of my mind that something important is happening.’ Now, ten or twelve days later, the news reached us that the battle of Dreux had been fought on Saturday, 19 March and, whatever else one may say about it, there is no question that in that battle God rose up against the enemies of his church.

Calvin is guarded about the way he speaks of his impressions, his reading of God’s providence in the storm that raged outside his bedroom windows, but he nonetheless concludes that the fierceness of the unrelenting winds meant something. Beza goes on to say that those impressions Calvin received by his reading of the winds were confirmed.

Now, of course, there could be all kinds of abuses of this kind of reading of God’s creation. If you are inclined to need a sign from God for each, for some, for even one of your decisions, serious or mundane (Mark 8:12)—should I turn right or should I turn left?—you are prone to read too much into a lightning bolt, a friend’s words, or the color of the sunset. You should get back to the Word.

Yet, I think Presbyterians are inclined to the opposite extreme. We are inclined to think that the lightening which frightened Luther was happenstance, delightful coincidence. Or the circumstances that detoured Calvin to Geneva into the merciless counsel of William Farel were, again, wonderful coincidence. Luther had no right, we reason, to believe God was speaking to him through a means outside of His Word. Luther would beg to differ. And Calvin, as we read this history in Beza’s Life, would too. He is willing to give a place to God speaking through His providence in His creation. This speech is not specific or infallible or authoritative, as is God’s Word, but it does comport with a wholesome doctrine of God’s providence—that all things come to pass according to the free and immutable counsel of His own will. God was speaking, at least to Calvin, by means of a fierce gale of wind on that day in 1562. Calvin heard God’s drum beating in those winds. The details were hidden, the specifics were not manufactured by Calvin, but he was confident enough to believe the winds indicated something of God’s work…so confident that he spoke of this impression before the gathering of Geneva’s pastors, after having spent the whole night wondering about it.

I wonder at the response if we said something similar in a session meeting or on the floor of a presbytery meeting?

Would that we had a similar awe in God’s providence—that “the heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1).

On earth peace, good will toward men…

Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.

Augustine of Hippo (Sermons 191.1)

Jonathan Edwards in Northampton…

cover_issue_27_en_USThere is some fascinating reading in the Jonathan Edwards Studies journal from Yale. University of Richmond professor Douglas Winiarski has worked through a mass of documents and detailed the events surrounding Edwards’ dismissal from the church in Northampton. A number of things stand out in the articles, not the least of which is to see congregational polity working in a very presbyterian manner. And, did you know that Edwards was open to and very close to affiliating with the Scots-Irish Presbyterians to set-up a new church in Northampton? The first three of five articles have been published…

New Perspectives on the Northampton Communion Controversy I: David Hall’s Diary & Letter to Edward Billing

New Perspectives on the Northampton Communion Controversy II: Relations, Professions, & Experiences, 1748-1760

New Perspectives on the Northampton Communion Controversy III: Count Vivasor’s Tirade & The Second Council, 1751

 

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another…"

085490400132983363688A sermon on James 5:16-18…

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit (James 5:16-18).

We come to a passage that causes us a great deal of discomfort, even pain. Just the thought of confessing our sins makes us squirm. To do that means admitting we are sinners—even that we are sinners who sin, if you get my drift. Our pride doesn’t like to admit such things. And, yet, we know that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (as James wrote earlier in his letter). So, it is our obligation, with the help of the Holy Spirit whose work it is to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (as it says in John 16:8), to constantly fight our pride. One of the most useful and devastating weapons to use in that battle against our pride is the confession of our sins.

On this topic, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who I have quoted before, wrote the following in his great book Life Together:

The root of all sin is pride… I want to be my own law, I have a right to my self, my hatred and my desires, my life and my death. The mind and flesh of man are set on fire by pride; for it is precisely in his wickedness that man wants to be as God … In the confession of concrete sins the old man dies a painful, shameful death…

That putting to death of sins is what Scripture calls the mortification (putting to death) of the flesh. Bonhoeffer, drawing our attention to the process, the fight, of Christians actively participating in the Spirit’s work of making us more and more holy, is echoing the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans: “…if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13), and His letter to the Ephesians: “…in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:22-24).

This mortification of the flesh, this pursuit of holiness is the entire life of the Christian… Continue reading

Chrysostom's "Letters to the Fallen Theodore"

53854.pI was digging through some old files and came across this paper written on Chrysostom and his letters to a young man struggling with sin. It’s a long read as far as blog posts go but perhaps someone will find it interesting…and make it to the end.

Biography

In the fourth-century, the great city of Antioch, located in the southern region of modern Turkey, was positioned on an important commercial highway, possessed an intense intellectual tradition, was home to an important Roman military headquarters (serving as a base of operations against the Persians), and was populated by mostly Christian citizens, although paganism (especially in the intellectual circles) and Judaism were tenaciously practiced by many.1 Because of the good climate and amenities of Antioch (and its aforementioned military importance) Emperors frequently visited, including the following during the fourth-century: Constantius II, Gallus, Julian, Jovian, and Valens. No doubt the “amenities” which attracted many to Antioch included various worldly pursuits: baths, gaming, and the theatre. Perhaps in reaction to such worldliness, an extreme asceticism developed in the area with its adherents withdrawing from the city to set up communities in the surrounding countryside. Kelly describes the bifurcated cultural climate in this way:

The citizens of Antioch had a reputation for pleasure-seeking, worldliness, fickleness and cynicism; among other diversions they had a passion for horse-racing and the theatre, and in spring and summer they streamed out to Daphne for relaxation or amusement. By contrast the desert regions near the city, the higher slopes and peaks of Mount Silpios and the other mountains on its outskirts, were becoming populated by hermits and monks who, in obedience to what they conceived to be the call of Christ, had turned their backs on civilization and the vanities of the world.

Additionally, the results of the Council of Nicea (325) were still being worked out in the cities of the world, including Antioch. For many years, bishops sympathetic to Arianism controlled Antioch. But a small faction, lead by Diodore and Flavian, were promoting the Nicene doctrines. In other words, Antioch, like many cities of this time, was deeply divided between proponents and opponents of Nicene orthodoxy.

It was into this cultural climate that John Chrysostom was born—somewhere around 3492—to Secundus, a civil servant to the military governor of Syria, and Anthousa, a Christian woman… Continue reading

What to pray for on a Lord's Day morning (Thomas Watson)…

51XAQ3X7RWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Along with the previous thoughts on Lord’s Day meditation, Watson gives us some specific ways to pray each Sunday morning:

The things we should pray for in the morning of the Sabbath. Let us beg a blessing upon the word which is to be preached; that it may be a savour of life to us; that by it our minds may be more illuminated, our corruptions more weakened, and our stock of grace more increased. Let us pray that God’s special presence may be with us, that our hearts may burn within us while God speaks, that we may receive the word into meek and humble hearts, and that we may submit to it, and bring forth fruits. James i 21. Nor should we only pray for ourselves, but for others.

Pray for him who dispenses the word; that his tongue my be touched with a coal from God’s altar; that God would warm his heart who is to help to warm others. Your prayers may be a means to quicken the minister. Some complain they find no benefit by the word preached; perhaps they did not pray for their minister as they should. Prayer is like the whetting and sharpening of an instrument, which makes it cut better. Pray with and for your family. Yea, pray for all the congregations that meet on this day in the fear of the Lord; that the dew of the Spirit may fall with the manna of the word; that some souls may be converted, and others strengthened; that gospel ordinances may be continued, and have no restraint put upon them. These are the things we should pray for. The tree of mercy will not drop it’s fruit, unless it be shaken by the hand of prayer.

Lord's Day morning meditations (Thomas Watson)…

51XAQ3X7RWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Thomas Watson suggests some ways we can direct our thoughts on Sunday mornings in order to obey the fourth commandment (Exod 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15; Is. 58:13-14). Take these up this coming Lord’s Day and see if you ride on the heights of the earth…

Let your mind dwell on these four things… Continue reading