Saturday, August 26, 2017

2017.08.19 (and 26) Sanctification Saturday - Devoted to God, pp. ix-xiii, 1-14

In the last two Sanctification Saturdays, we've been reading Sinclair Ferguson's Devoted to God. If you're not a fast reader, take heart. In two 15 minute sessions, I've only made it to p14.

In the introduction, Ferguson explains that this is not so much a "how to" book as a "how God does it" book. He hopes that by pointing us at the Lord's ways and the Lord's means, he will enable us to strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Chapter 1

What does holiness mean?
Ferguson reasons that since holiness is innate to God, it cannot be defined as separation so much as it must be defined as devotion. What looks like separation from our end is really what happens when something or someone becomes wholly devoted to God (p2-3).

Ultimately, the definition at which he arrives is that holiness, in us, is a "deeply personal, intense, loving devotion to [God]--a belonging to [God] that is irreversible, unconditional, without any reserve on our part" (p4)

Can I hope for holiness?
Here, Ferguson turns us to Peter, whom he holds out as a prime example of a difficult case for being made holy. After drawing a connection between Peter and our own frustrations and failures, he quotes 1Peter 1:1-7, focusing at first on vv1-2.

Here, he points out that as Peter writes to suffering Christians, he begins with the solution to all our problems:
(1) Whose we are: God's by His election and love
(2) Who we are: those who have been cleansed by Christ's blood
(3) What we are for: obedience to our Savior

Helpfully, Ferguson points out that holiness must be important, both because of the sheer volume of ink spilled upon it in the NT, and because the NT emphasizes that salvation is impossible without it.

The necessity of a new lifestyle
This is where Ferguson deals with the difference between justification (which is worked for us, entirely outside of us, by Christ) and sanctification (which is worked into us, within us, by Christ). Justification is never based upon anything we do--even that which is done in us and through us.

However, the two are completely inseparable, because both come through faith in Christ. It is impossible genuinely to believe in Christ, and not receive both justification and sanctification (let alone receive the former but not the latter).

Since each comes through union with Christ, separating justification and sanctification would be to divide Christ Himself (p10, quoting Calvin)

The dying thief
Ferguson takes up this case, because many point to him as someone who didn't have time to be sanctified, but Ferguson flips the issue by pointing out just how drastic a change is demonstrated by the thief.

The meaning of sanctification
This seems like it could be a bit of  rehash of the beginning of the chapter, but he opens it up a little bit: sanctification is being possessed by the Lord, to become increasingly like Him. This produces His beauty in us, and causes us both to wonder at this astonishing work that is being done in us, and to praise Him for His goodness to do this for us.

Peter's teaching
Finally, Ferguson makes much out of the boisterous style with which the letter begins, to point out that this indeed is the same Peter personality, but that the Lord has done a great work in Him, and He will also do the same work in us.

Next week, Lord-willing, we'll be picking up in the middle of p14

2017.08.18 (and 25) Family Friday - Developing a Holy Vision for Family Life, Preface, Biographical Sketch, and part of Chapter 1

On Family Fridays, I'm reading William Gouge's Building a Godly Home vol 1, A Holy Vision for Family Life.

In these first two sessions, I was able to get through the Preface, the Biographical Sketch, and most of Chapter 1, which is on "Serving Each other for the Fear of the Lord."

Preface and Biographical Sketch
The Preface is a note encouraging us to read Gouge:
In these pages, we hear the voice of a wise and loving mentor, calling us to the old paths laid out for the family in the Bible. Reading it is like sitting down to coffee with a gentle grandfather and wise pastor.
(Location 53)
It makes the case (quoting Gouge) for how very important the family is for both church and the culture, and also that the family itself ought to be a display of the effective working of the grace of God.

Then, the Biographical Sketch basically says that Gouge came from and presided over just such a family. Without citation, it is difficult to know how the author knows the following, but I would be thrilled if this is how I were remembered:
Gouge led his household with great patience and kindness. He was quick to humble himself, and brokenhearted in his confessions of sin.
(Location 96)
Chapter 1, part 1: Serving each other
Gouge begins by pointing out that although we are all called to love the Lord, obey Him, know, believe, repent, etc., that each of us also has particular callings that the Lord has assigned to us by His providence.

The text from which he is working is Ephesians 5:21, which really belongs grammatically as the conclusion of what precedes, concerning the praises of God. Still, this preferring of others to the self and always seeking the good of others, belongs to the essence of corporate praise.

Gouge rightly points out the closeness of this relationship:
This shows the hypocrisy of those who make great pretense of praising God, and yet are scornful and disdainful to their brethren, and slothful to do any service to man.
(Location 143)
He then proceeds to discuss two different kinds of submission. One is the submission of respect, where we are subordinate to others in their authority, and show this both by obedience and by special expressions of honor and deference. The other is the submission of service, where everything we do aims at the good of others. The latter "is a duty which even superiors owe to subordinates" (Location 165).
a work of superiority and authority, in the manner of doing it may be a work of submission, that is, if it is done in humility and meekness of mind.
(Location 172)
He also notes several things about authorities in this life.

  • Even the highest authorities in every sphere have someone to whom they must submit. 
  • Every authority is put in his place by God, and it is never merely for himself, but especially for the good of others, namely those "over" whom he is placed. 
  • Since God has called authorities to their places for the good of others, those authorities will give an account for whether that was done and how well.
  • However this is also the reason that those in authority must not allow subordinates to ignore or usurp it. This certainly harms those under authority and rebels against God, who established it.

Chapter 1, part 2: for the fear of the Lord
The second part of the chapter begins to treat the rest of the verse.
Gouge defines the fear of God as an awe-filled respect that moves us to please God and avoid what displeases Him. He discusses the difference between filial (son-like) fear and servile (slave-like) fear. Very helpfully, he quotes from Romans 8, where these two very things are tied together.
distinction of a filial, or son-like, fear, and a servile, or slavish fear. This distinction is grounded on these words of the apostle, “ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear [this is a servile fear]; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father”
(Location 241)
Gouge also notes that God alone is the proper object of our fear, and that our fear of the Lord ought to be so great that Scripture often describes it as the condition of other duties. The Lord even sometimes refers to the whole of our duty to Him as "the fear of the Lord."

Gouge suggests that since our love is dull and cold after the Fall, the Lord has providentially made us fearful creatures so that by this fear He might encourage us beyond where our limited love would have gone.
God has fast fixed this affection of fear in man’s heart, and thereby both restrains him from sin, and also provokes him to every good duty.
(Location 273)
That's as far as I got. I look forward to beginning next Friday at the heading "The Fear of God Moving Us to Do Service to Men"

2017.08.17 (and 24) Theology Thursday - The Glory of Christ, Preface to the Reader

On Theology Thursdays, I've been reading John Owen's The Glory of ChristWith apologies to those who are reading along, I haven't been finding or making the time to post notes on the reading.

In two weeks' readings (a total of 30 minutes) of Owen, I've made it about 40% through the Preface to the Reader. Owen is usually rich, so it's not surprising that so little space has been covered nor that there has been so much good to chew on.

Scripture vs. "I like to think of Jesus as..."
Owen begins by explaining that the only way that we can genuinely know anything of Christ is through the Scriptures. The subject is so exalted that we have no other access, and that those who try "to be wise above what is written, and to raise their contemplations by fancy and imagination above Scripture revelation [...] have darkened counsel without knowledge" (location 51).

This, of course, is all the more dangerous precisely because of how important and exalted the glory of Christ is. But, if we stick to Scripture, there is absolutely nothing as valuable as the knowledge that we will receive of Him...
that real view which we may have of Christ and his glory in this world by faith,—however weak and obscure that knowledge which we may attain of them by divine revelation, — is inexpressibly to be preferred above all other wisdom, understanding, or knowledge whatever.(Location 53)
Heaven on Earth
Owen goes to point out that this is literally heaven on earth. Christ's glory is the very heavenliness of heaven, so the Bible is a most generous gift, by which we may have a true sample already of the chief glory of heaven!

He also points out that Christ, in glory, still bears our human nature, showing the heights of the glory for which we ourselves were created.

He goes on to compare what we otherwise desire and indulge in, in our flesh, to the very glory of Christ to show what an abominable thing sin really is--that we would glut ourselves upon it, to the neglect of finding our soul's satisfaction in Him!

(that's as far as I got on 17th--roughly Kindle location 87)

In the second major heading of the Preface, Owen begins to point out that Christ's being glorified in heaven has forever sealed and secured our fellowship with God there.

First, we see there that upon the resurrection, our natures that perished so easily in this age will be made so perfect that they will thrive forever in the age to come.

Second, we see there how much God has loved us with a love that can never diminish or cease--for no angel did He do this, but only for us!

The third major heading is that Christ has borne His human nature through every possible trial and attack, including the devil, death, and even the very wrath of God, and has come out victorious. By this, we know that so shall we!

The fourth is similar to the point made above about our resurrected bodies.

Making Heavy Burdens Light
He then proceeds to dwell upon the fact that 2Corinthians 4 highlights this eternal weight of glory, which is in fact the glory of Christ, as the very thing that makes our afflictions in this age endurable and even useful.

The heaviest burden is made light by the knowledge that it is God's means for carrying us along from where we have been to where we are going: full enjoyment of the glory of Christ forever.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Real Reverence and Awe: True Faith in the True God

The Visible Idolatry of Statism
A Facebook friend astutely pointed out the similarity between the temple of Zeus and the Lincoln “Memorial.” The true religion of our government is statism, and Lincoln is one of many in its pantheon. There is a difference between memorials and temples. As we have seen these last few days,those who worship at the latter sometimes abominate the former. Remembering truly can be an irritating obstacle to worshiping falsely.

Someone truly uninitiated would have no difficulty identifying the gods of our culture, because he would recognize them by their ostentatious temple buildings at the capitols, university campuses, sport team arenas, cineplexes, shopping malls, and theme parks. But only one variety of our deities has ascended to the level of being carved into the side of a mountain (?!). Can it be any wonder that continual vigilance is necessary in the civil arena to restrain our descent into socialism?

The Invisible Glory of the True God
This is one reason why it is so refreshing that the worship of the one true God takes place even in bare rooms, with little pomp, among unimpressive people, respectfully but inexpensively adorned, with little more of note on earth than simple human voices: the God who is worshiped there cannot be contained in any temple, and these unimpressive people He instead gathers to Himself in glory by faith. Those who lack faith cannot see it and "get nothing out of it."

The Silliness of Sight
Shockingly, there are those in the churches who, rather than seeing this as expected, and exerting themselves before God and in pursuit of that requisite faith for themselves and their neighbors... they instead hasten, embarrassed of our earthly unimpressiveness, accessorize their worship with all manner of things to appeal to the senses, as if the Lord of Heaven could thus be made accessible.

The Glorious Substance of Faith
But He is not accessible except through that High Priest who is God Himself, and who became the very Lamb, through whose once-for-all shed blood, we enter the true Holy of Holies in heaven. When the veil tore from top to bottom, those who entered the structure on earth found no one.

Yet those who, believing in Christ, enter Lord's Day by Lord’s Day the simple services of biblically worshiping congregations, find therein not oversized statues or sensory-overloading frenzy or magnificent architectural opulence… but the Living and True God before whom the idols of men are less than dust. We enter heaven itself by faith (Heb 12:18-29).

How Will We Respond?
As Habakkuk emerged from the confusion of sight into the clarity of faith, the clamor of human idolatry ceased to impress him: “But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (Hab 2:20)

Let us be like so many Elijah's, giving little credit to, and having no fear of, the idol worshipers in their fanatic frenzy. They have about them not a spark of power. Let us instead, in simple, humble words of faith look to Him who is invisible and hears even whispers of the heart. Whether His power manifests itself in flames on Mount Carmel, or a young man who overcomes his addiction to pornography, it is for the True God and for His almighty power alone that we seek.

The only God worth worshiping is Himself a consuming fire. And the only acceptable way of worshiping Him is by faith (not sight), in reverence and awe. Heb 12:28-29.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

2017.08.16 Worship Wednesday - The Day of Worship, Introduction and Chapter 1

On these Worship Wednesdays, we are reading The Day of Worship: Reassessing the Christian Life in Light of the Sabbath by Ryan McGraw. Today, we  got through the Introduction and Chapter 1.

I'm reading this book on the Kindle, and so trying to use my highlights for quoting. It's an experiment. It took a little longer than expected to format, so I will probably have to read a little less on future Wednesdays.

Also, I hope to get faster at it, and more established in identifying locations of citations. In the end, it may be easier just to give a couple paragraph summary instead of pasting so many quotes.

The "Location" refers to the Kindle location. Here's what I found noteworthy, with some comments...

As a new believer, I had not given particular attention to the fourth commandment, or Sabbath day. I was shocked when a minister told me that not only should I refrain from my worldly employments on the Sabbath day, but that I should abstain from recreations and conversation that would be lawful on other days. He also taught me that the Sabbath was designed by God to be a day in which the entire time was to be spent in the joyful duties of public and private worship, which is meant to be a foretaste of heaven itself. 
Location: 61.
 Almost every believer I meet today is in the position in which Dr. McGraw describes himself.
There was a time in which Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, and even some Anglicans and Dutch Reformed shared a fundamental unity on how the Lord’s Day, or Christian Sabbath, should be kept. All of these denominations held in common what is today referred to as the Puritan view of the Sabbath. The Westminster Shorter Catechism has set forth this view: “The Sabbath is to be sanctified by an holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days, and by taking up the entire time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy” 
Location: 69.
This is still the confession and position of our church, but so few resist it. God have mercy upon us! This was once the position of nearly all evangelical churches. How far we have slid!

The next series of quotes (still in the introduction) are McGraw's helpful summary of his book:
Chapters 1 and 2 address the importance of Sabbath-keeping in Scripture.
Chapters 3 and 4 are an attempt to examine the factors that affect the proper interpretation of Isaiah 58:13–14.
Chapters 5 and 6... maintain that our aversion to Sabbath-keeping is not always an exegetical or theological problem, but rather a symptom of the greater problem of worldliness that has entered into the church.
Chapter 7 then proceeds to establish the practices of Sabbath-keeping from a Reformed view of the law of God.
Chapter 8 introduces some miscellaneous practical helps.
Chapter 9,.. examine[s] the nature of legalism... lax views of Sabbath-keeping, as well as the rest of the commandments of God, are at times symptomatic of legalistic views of the gospel.
Chapter 10 presents an a posteriori argument for Sabbath-keeping by connecting the Sabbath to the biblical picture of heaven. 
The plan of the book is ambitious, especially with its small size, but I'm even more eager to read it now than before! I wish all who read it could know Ryan, and his quiet godliness, mild earnestness, and tender interest in those with whom he pleads. But, I trust that will come out in the text.
if all I do is convince you that you must set apart the Sabbath for worship, then I have failed in my purpose entirely. This book addresses much more significant issues, such as the kind of obedience required by the gospel, the relation of the believer to an unbelieving world, the relationship between the law and the gospel, and the focus of our hope of eternal life.
Location: 117
I hope that he accomplishes his purpose with me! I have known and understood the connections between Sabbath keeping and the Christian life in general for a long time, and yet, have not enjoyed the desired/biblical effect to the extent that I wish

Chapter 1
It is often the case that harmful practices are taken for granted by the masses with no suspicion that these practices are threatening to kill an entire generation.
Location: 140
And, I would add, that the more they are taken for granted, the more people squeal if you point them out!
most professing Christians will readily agree to work on the Sabbath [...] Many do not self-consciously make Sabbath-keeping a matter of worship and obedience to the Lord, even though they take it for granted that the fourth commandment is still binding upon believers.
Location: 145
It is like with so many of our duties--failure to approach them as acts of devotion and worship result in a legalistic/rote approach to them, in which we let ourselves off the hook of "the heart situation" involved, and as many of the details as we can ingeniously release ourselves from keeping as well. How much worse to take the worship attitude out of keeping the day of worship!
In Scripture, Sabbath-breaking is presented as one of the greatest causes of the weakness of the church and serves as a lightning rod that attracts the judgment of God to churches and nations.
Location: 151
The Sabbath is not a peripheral issue,
Location: 155
At this point in Chapter 1, McGraw proceeds to show the importance of the Sabbath, "demonstrated by its place among creation ordinances, because it is a sign of the covenant of grace, because of its frequent mention in Scripture (particularly the prophets), because of its relation to Israel’s exile, and because of its purpose as a day of worship." Location: 156

Creation Ordinance
Creation ordinances are independent of any written law of God and even independent of any consideration of the fall of man and of redemption. God’s creation ordinances are marriage, labor, and the Sabbath
Location: 164
[Christ's] argument was essentially this: Every ordinance that God instituted at creation is perpetually binding upon the practices of mankind;
Location: 173
That God sanctified the seventh day means He set it apart as holy. When God gave the Ten Commandments, He appealed to this sanctification to enforce the reason His people must keep the Sabbath day.
Location: 181
Sabbath-keeping is as integral to man’s life as marriage and labor.
Location: 187
Sign of the Covenant of Grace
That the Sabbath became a sign of the covenant of grace as well raises the sin of Sabbath-breaking to horrific proportions.
Location: 191
In Deuteronomy 5, however, they were instructed to “keep” (v. 12) the Sabbath for a different reason: “And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out
Location: 196
He did attach to it a new significance. All men must keep the Sabbath because God is their creator, but God’s people must keep it because He is their redeemer as well.
Location: 200
Yet there is more to this deliverance than simple freedom from slavery. Israel was delivered from the wrath and curse of God Himself. At the first Passover, the blood of a lamb had to be placed over the doors
Location: 204
The full redemptive significance of both the exodus and the Sabbath day is found in the redemption from sin and from the wrath of God that was purchased by Jesus Christ. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Location: 213
Exodus 31:13–16: Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you.
Location: 217
At the creation, the Lord had sanctified the Sabbath; now the Sabbath would serve as a sign that the Lord had sanctified the people, by virtue of a covenantal relationship.
Location: 222
When the church neglects the Sabbath, is it not an implicit declaration that she has not been sanctified by the Lord to be His people? Why do we refuse to treasure the day that is a sign that the Lord has sanctified us to be His people by the covenant of grace?[3] When we remember the Sabbath, it is a perpetual reminder to us that the Lord of the Sabbath is the one who has set us apart to be His people through the blood of the everlasting covenant (Heb. 13:20).
Location: 224
in light of the connection of the Sabbath to the glorious plan of salvation, do you not see why men were put to death for such a crime? What is at stake presently is not simply a matter of working one Sunday in order to avoid making employers uncomfortable
Location: 237
neglect of the Sabbath today actually demonstrates a form of contempt for the covenant of grace.
Location: 240
This last quote is really the nub of the whole thing: God took a particular creation ordinance and made that ordinance a sign of the covenant of grace. Everyone on earth should view the Sabbath as a holy, sacred day of delight for worshiping God. Why don't they? Because they are in bondage to their sin and in rebellion against God!

So God takes those whom He is saving from that bondage and makes their keeping of this creation ordinance a special sign of how He has saved us from our sin, and brought us into a relationship with Him in which we are sacred and special to Him, just as His day is. And what do we do? Use all of our theological reasoning powers to show how much we dislike this sign (thereby pouring contempt upon the thing that it signifies!)

O, may the God of grace yet spare us and grant us repentance for how we have been breaking this commandment and despising this sign!

Place of Prominence in Scripture

The sheer number of biblical passages dealing with the subject, coupled with the solemnity inherent in the passages,
Location: 245
Sabbath is mentioned in at least 159 verses in the Old Testament.
Location: 247
the prophets of the Old Testament did not make laws, but rather served as the prosecution, representing God and enforcing His law against His backsliding people. [...]The references to the Sabbath among the prophets are impressive; they lay great stress on the importance of the question of Sabbath-keeping.
Location: 262
McGraw proceeds to quote a small sampling. I found Jer 17:19-27 very instructive as to how God has appointed the Sabbath as a sign to which He will respond with outpouring of blessing (much the same way as we noted recently about Baptism and the Supper).

Also important was the discussion of the manner in which Jesus instructed about commandments in response to Pharisaical abuse, and that this did not take away from any of those commandments themselves. Thus...
it is not true to say that the Lord Jesus taught less about the Sabbath than the other commandments. He gave instructions concerning Sabbath-keeping more often than any other commandment. That He did so in a “negative” manner by contradicting the Pharisees does not reflect poorly upon the Sabbath, but rather upon the Pharisees.
Location: 267
Role of Sabbath in the Exile
Leviticus 26:34–35 states: “Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest [for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it].”
Location: 330
2 Chronicles 36:20–21...
Sabbath-breaking was not the only reason for the exile, but it was the sole factor that determined the length of the exile.
Location: 339
Is this only regarding letting land lie fallow? No, it is very specifically connected to keeping the creation ordinance/fourth commandment of the moral law (which is perpetual, as opposed to ceremonial or civil law). This is demonstrated by Nehemiah's argument in chastening the people in Nehemiah 13...
Israel had many “Sabbaths” (see Lev. 23), and that the summary principle enforcing all of them was the fourth commandment. The “Sabbath days,” such as the seventh-year Sabbath, were aspects of the ceremonial law and would pass away with the coming of the new covenant in Christ (Col. 3:16). However, breaking the seventh-year Sabbath violated the principle of the fourth commandment.
Location: 348
the violation of the seventh-year Sabbath was a sign of contempt for the fourth commandment as a whole
Location: 360
That Nehemiah cited Sabbath-breaking as one of the primary causes of the wrath of God in the exile makes it difficult to conclude that he did not have in view passages such as Leviticus 26 and 2 Chronicles 36. Yet Nehemiah 13 reproved those violating the weekly Sabbath, not the seventh-year Sabbath.
Location: 367
It is worth noting how the people in Nehemiah 13 broke the Sabbath.[...] “If the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we would not buy it from them on the Sabbath” (Neh. 10:31, my translation).
Location: 371
So many today think that Sabbath-breaking is not so bad, if it is done by employing unbelievers, but this was exactly the sin for which Nehemiah was condemning them!!
we are not only commanded to refrain from our own labors on the Sabbath, but we must not buy and sell goods on the Sabbath. How does this apply to us today? It seems indisputable that we should not do grocery shopping on the Sabbath. It should also be shameful that so many Christians rush from corporate worship to restaurants on the Sabbath. Poor planning in not making sure we have enough gas in the car on Saturday does not make buying gas on Sunday a work of necessity; it is an act of sin that must be repented of by checking the gas gauge next Saturday.
Location: 378
How can we, in good conscience, pay someone else on the Sabbath to do that for which God once demanded the death penalty?
Location: 384
Though we should not apply this penalty today, do we dare say that God chose a punishment out of proportion to the crime? How can we pay someone to perform a task that would be sin for us to perform? The reasoning of believers at this point is, frankly, appalling.
Location: 385
We forget that the Lord of the exile is the same Jesus who threatens to remove His lampstand from specific churches and regions of churches. How long can we test His patience before we find ourselves in a dark age, while the advance of the Gospel continues instead somewhere else on the earth? God have mercy upon us!
If Sabbath-breaking is cited as a cause for sending Israel into exile, how long will God patiently observe our disregard for His day before severely chastening our sins?
Location: 396
Location: 398
By her Sabbath-breaking, is the church prompting God to send her into a new “Babylonian captivity”? Or has her captivity already begun? 
I believe the last item in the list "Day of Worship" is actually given its entire chapter in Chapter 2. Next week, then!

What struck you about these chapters? How have you found the reading so far? I think it's easier to have a more recently written book, and one by a preacher who is following a logical procession while trying to plead with and convince us of the biblical position.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

2017.08.15 Timeless Tuesday - Letters of Samuel Rutherford, pp1-13

On these "Timeless Tuesdays," we are reading through the Banner of Truth edition of Letters of Samuel Rutherford. Today, we began the "Sketch" of  his life by Andrew Bonar.

I only got a few pages in before it was time to quit, but we will aim to do more next week. Even a little bit at a time will soon add up.

The following quote from p5 resonated with me,
"The parish of Anwoth had no large village near the church. The people were scattered over a hilly district, and were quite a rural flock. But their shepherd knew that the Chief Shepherd counted them worth caring for; he was not one who thought that his learning and talents would be ill spent if laid out in seeking to save souls, obscure and unknown."
I am not at all claiming to be a man of learning like Rutherford, but O that the Chief Shepherd would impress upon my heart the infinite value that He attaches to each soul in the flock entrusted to my care!

The quote continues:
"He has time to visit, for he rises at three in the morning, and at that early hour meets his God in prayer and meditation, and has space for study besides. He takes occasional days for catechising. He never fails to be found at the sick-beds of his people. Men said of him, 'He is always praying, always preaching, always visiting the sick, always catechising, always writing and studying.'"
I also identify with his discouragements in the ministry, though I wonder if for him (as it has often been for me) this wasn't just the result of focusing so much upon the spiritually weak and ill that he failed to the see the evidences of a work of grace in many of the others.

One thing that I wish I would be more faithful in, we find described in the following quote from p8:
"He dealt with individual parishioners so closely and so personally as to be able to appeal to them regarding his faithfulness in this matter. He addresses one of them, Jean M'Millan: 'I did what I could to put you within grips of Christ; I told you Christ's testament and latter will plainly.'"
Also, the following quote from p12 was helpful, though it's really more the sermonizing of Bonar than anything that Rutherford said,
"It might be instructive to inquire why it is that wherever godliness is healthy and progressive, we almost invariably find learning in the Church of Christ attendant on it: while on the other hand, neglect of study is attended sooner or later by decay of vital godliness."
I had to set the book down a few lines into p13 where the section on his life in Anwoth ended. Looking forward to picking it up again next week--and especially eventually to make it into the actual letters.

How far did you get? How did you find the reading? What resonated with you?

Monday, August 14, 2017

2017.08.14 Ministry Monday - An Able and Faithful Ministry (Garretson), pp i-23

Today being Ministry Monday, we (re-)began Samuel Garretson's An Able and Faithful Ministry: Samuel Miller and the Pastoral Office.

Samuel Miller was the second founding professor of Princeton Theological Seminary. He, and that institution, were used mightily of God to preserve, strengthen, and grow the American Presbyterian churches faithfully, throughout the 19th century.

Prefatory Matters
The foreword (pp vii-ix) by William S. Barker basically whets our appetite for, and commends, the material.

Garretson does much of the same in the preface (pp xi-xiii), and also in the introduction (pp1-5), but in the latter he also helpfully outlines the book (Part 1, mostly biography; Part 2 mostly Miller's instruction on preaching and shepherding; Part 3, mostly Miller's instruction on the minister's character).

Chapter 1 content
Chapter 1, Heritage of Piety (pp8-23), begins with Miller's grandparents, then his father, John. Miller's formation came largely as a pastor's son, growing up helping his godly mother on the family farm. After his conversion at 18, he went to stay with a brother-in-law and sister while studying at the University of Pennsylvania. They, too, were very careful of his spiritual life.

As he finished his degree, and developed a sense of call to the minstry, various diary entries draw the picture of a man both well-educated and warm-hearted to God, often taking a day in fasting and prayer before the Lord. He reflected frequently upon the character of God demonstrated in His providence.

The sequence of tests and trials for him to enter even into licensure, let alone the ministry, suggest a time of much more carefulness about the quality of ministers than in the Presbyterian denominations with which I am familiar today.

The chapter concludes with Miller choosing from two calls that were available to him, deciding at last to accept the call from the United Presbyterian congregations of New York City.

The following were my favorite quotes from the chapter (they are actually from opposite the chapter's title page).

Chapter 1 quotes
"Doctrinal knowledge is apt to be undervalued by private Christians, and especially by the young. They imagine, according to the popular prejudice, that if the heart be right, and the conduct correct, the doctrines embraced are of small moment.  
This supposes that the heart of any one may be right, while his principles are essentially wrong; or that his practice may be pure, while his religious opinions are radically erroneous. But nothing can be more contrary both to Scripture and experience. The great Founder of our holy Religion declares that men are 'sanctified by the truth.'"
--Samuel Miller, quoted in An Able and Faithful Ministry, p8

"If the young, and even the thinking and serious portion of the young, were as careful to store their minds with elementary principles, and with clear, discriminating view of revealed truth, as they are with the best and most accredited elements of other sciences, we should not find so many hoary-headed Christians unable to defend their own professed principles, and led astray by the artful votaries of error."
--Samuel Miller, quoted in An Able and Faithful Ministry, p8

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Sanctification Saturday: Devoted to God

On Saturdays, I like to read something about sanctification--the putting off of the old man and putting on of the new; killing sin and nurturing the new man that I am in Christ. Growth in grace.

While you may have noticed from the list so far that I usually prefer older books, there is a book in this area that I have been eager to read, and now plan to do so, beginning August 19: Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson.

If you've decided to read just one book with me from my new reading plan, this is probably the one that I would recommend. I've never read a Ferguson book or listened to him preach and considered the time anything other than supremely well-spent. I believe that your experience will be the same.

Even if you don't read with me, I hope that you'll check back every once in a while to gather up some loose gems and golden nuggets from the book.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Family Friday: Building a Godly Home, v1 A Holy Vision for Family Life

William Gouge's Of Domestical Duties is one of the best books ever written on one of the most important subjects on which we will ever read: godly living in the home. But the size and style are such that it is intimidating at best, and inaccessible at worst, to this generation of Christian readers. Now Reformation Heritage Books has done the church a great service by publishing it as three volumes in updated English. Beginning August 18, I plan to take a few pages worth of volume 1 (A Holy Vision for Family Life) each week on Family Fridays. Those who are, or hope to be, Christian spouses or parents may find it useful to read along.

Theology Thursday: The Glory of Christ

Thursdays, beginning August 17, I plan to be reading John Owen's The Glory of Christ. Owen's writing can be difficult, but is worth the effort. He has written very helpfully on the love and work of the Holy Spirit, on fellowship with God, on how to kill sin, and more. Though it is book one in his collected works, the first copies of The Glory of Christ came from the printer as Owen was dying. The pastor and scholar remarked that he was about to know the subject far better than before. Though this will be a more difficult one, even those who don't read along can check in on Thursdays for a few juicy quotes each week.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Upcoming Worship Wednesday Book: The Day of Worship

What does it mean that God has given us a day to "keep holy"?

Holiness is radical separateness, radical special-ness so that something (or someone! Us!) is so reserved for, designated to, and devoted unto God that it is called sacred, consecrated.

But the emphasis isn't upon what it's separated from, but rather upon what it's separated for.

So often, we are tempted to focus upon the negatives of what we cannot do on God's holy day. When we do that, we make the mistake of viewing His day as a day of burden and deprivation, as if we are accomplishing some kind of spiritual super-work by going without for God's sake.

That is the wickedly mistaken attitude that God is correcting in the opening verses of Isaiah 58. And, where He takes us from there is, well, delightful!

So, is the Lord's Day a day set apart to ourselves, so we can finally wind down and get some R&R into the crazed and hectic lives into which we have plunged ourselves in this culture? Or is it a day set apart to something (or Someone! The LORD!) far more delightful and rejuvenating than any created thing could be?

As I get going on my new reading plan, on upcoming Worship Wednesdays I intend to read The Day of Worship: Reassessing the Christian Life in Light of the Sabbath by Ryan McGraw, in which we hope to recover a biblical heart toward the Lord and His day, delighting in it and treasuring it as a glorious and miraculously re-creating gift.

This one will be starting August 16, God-willing.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Timeless Tuesday: The Letters of Samuel Rutherford

What do godly ministers do, when they are expelled from their pulpits and spend much of their life on the run?

Well, in some respects, they do what they would have done week by week in the ministry: delight themselves daily in Christ, and shepherd Christ's people to do the same.

Part of God's blessing to the church through the difficult circumstances of Samuel Rutherford's life, and the lives of ordinary Presbyterian folk being persecuted in Scotland in the first half of the 17th century is the glimpse of the beauty of Christ that has been preserved in The Letters of Samuel Rutherford.

Writing as a persecuted pastor to persecuted people, Rutherford sets Christ before us so sweetly that as Christians, we are strengthened to endure almost anything "for the joy set before us."

This is one big reason why I've made this book my first selection for "Timeless Tuesdays" in my new reading program. Won't you join me?

I hope that, beginning August 15th, you will start checking back in on for choice morsels selected from these letters. In fact, I hope that you will be reading them along with me!

Ministry Monday: An Able and Faithful Ministry by James Garretson

I realize that it's not Monday, but sometimes Mondays (like all other kinds of days) don't go as planned. When that happens, I'll try to catch up on Tuesday. Then Wednesday. Etc.

So, this week, I am introducing the books that we will be starting on the week of the 14th.

An Able and Faithful Ministry is kind of cheating for "Ministry Monday" because it's a pastoral theology disguised as a biography. So, really, we'll get two "Timeless Tuesdays" each week for a while!

Samuel Miller was a godly Presbyterian pastor at the turn of the 19th century, and one of the first great professors at what became Princeton Seminary and included greats like Hodge and Warfield.

This book will take us through Miller's life and ministry as a backdrop for learning from him what a faithful pastor should look like.

If you like biographies, or if you are a minister or elder (or hope to be), I think that you will find this book especially helpful.

Daily Reading

Time to read!
As I settle back into the routine of being a pastor, one of the things that I hope to do is to read widely in a variety of subjects that are selected at keeping my mind fresh and fertile for preaching.

In God's providence, that also means that these subjects are also, generally speaking, useful for the minds and hearts of all believers.

New books begin the week of the 14th
This week, I plan to introduce the books that I will begin (or re-begin) soon. 

Then, on Monday the 14th, I hope to actually start the reading. It'll only be a few pages a day, 15-30 minutes for me, not more than an hour for even a slower reader.

I'll read, and blog a short summary or comment on what I've read.

I would be delighted if others took me up on my invitation to read along, and added their own observations and questions from that section of reading in the comments section on the blog article

Join me!
Reading all of the books along with me would end up being quite a commitment, but you could pick one or two of them.

Surely, every one of us has some 15 minutes per week that could be re-assigned to reading good books!

If you are not in the habit of reading good material in addition to Scripture, I strongly recommend that you pick something easy (Saturday), pragmatic (Friday), or both (Tuesday), and read along.

Often, we don't do it because we lack incentive. This is where having a schedule, and interaction can help move us along.

Sometimes, we don't do it because we feel like we aren't understanding what we read. This is where the blog summary, and the opportunity to make observations and ask questions, can help.

And, if it's just going to be a couple pages a week, it'd be difficult to convince ourselves of the excuse that we don't have enough time!

"The List"
The following is the list that I propose to begin soon:

Ministry Monday
An Able and Faithful Ministry by James Garretson

Timeless Tuesday (history and biography)
The Letters of Samuel Rutherford (note that although I will be reading the Banner of Truth edition, other editions may possibly serve as well. I don't have them in order to compare)

Worship Wednesday (focused mainly upon the Lord's Day assemblies)

Theology Thursday (more formal theological reading; usually a tougher slog through, but worth it)
The Glory of Christ by John Owen (volume one, if you have a set of his works)

Family Friday (family, marriage, parenting, etc.)

Sanctification Saturday
Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson