Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Martin Luther's Open Gates of Heaven- Reformation 500

Today is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Very quickly from a simple act of placing a document on a door, written in Latin wanting  a scholar debate, Luther accidently started a movement that was both a revival and a reformation not just in his native Germany but right across the North of Europe.
Luther writes this of his own conversion:
'I greatly longed to understand Paul's Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression "the justice of God" because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore, I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.
Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that "the just shall live by his faith." Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sincere mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into Paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning. Whereas before "the justice of God" had filled me with hate, now it became inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.'
Taken from Here I Stand- Roland Bainton (emphasis mine).

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Why read the Puritans?

Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson in their introduction to Meet the Puritans argue that we should read the Puritans because :
They shape life by Scripture, They loved, lived and breathed Scripture, relishing the power of the Spirit that accompanied the Word. They called believers to be Word centred.

'If you read the Puritans regularly, their focus on Scripture becomes contagious. Though their commentaries on Scripture are not the last word in exegesis, the Puritans show how to yield whole hearted allegiance to the Bible's message. Like them you will become a believer of the living Book' p.xx Meet the Puritans.

Another reason is they focused on Christ, they 'loved Christ and wrote much about His beauty.' p. xxii I've certainly experienced that reading John Flavel.

It's certainly worth the experience of reading them and praying that God would give us a similar experience of His Word and of exalting Jesus.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

What Did the Reformers do for us?

The following is based on Joel Beeke's talk at Reformation Scotland.

There is a mysterious power in the word of God, like an acorn, containing all the information to build a mighty oak tree, when God unleashes the power of His word, He transforms people.

How did the reformation change the world. What areas are still felt today.

10 ways the reformation bore fruit.

1)      The Word of God- The Bible as God’s word for every aspect of life.

The Bible changed Europe in 5 ways, authority- all other authority, ecclesiastical, political and papal must submit to the Word of God, contrary to  the Church of Rome, the reformers held that the church was under the authority of the Word.

1 The Bible available in the language of the people, the work of translation at the time of the reformation was revolutionary. We just see it as normal because we are children of the reformation.

2 infallibility and inerrancy- every part of every word is the living word of God. Jesus argued the point over a tense for example at one point. (I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob- showing life after death by a present tense).

3 The reformers brought in  the idea of self authentication, scripture is the best interpreter of scripture. Not allegory or tradition but the Word itself.

4 liberation, the Reformers liberated the Bible by translation, the word be taught by expository preaching. Zwingli started preaching in the New Testament book of Matthew chapter 1 and just carried on, it was revolutionary but we are beneficiaries of the reformation. Straightforward understanding of the Bible, without imposing on it.

5 Power- the scriptures given to transform our mind, only one book can transform and conform us to the mind of God, the Bible.

The reformers encouraged everyone to not only read it but to study the Bible. In family worship the father is called to expound the scriptures.  We might see this as normal but this is because we are children of the reformation.

2)      The reformers recovered the Gospel of grace- they uncovered it from a false one. It’s by Grace Alone. In the Roman  Catholic understanding according to Thomas Aquinas sanctification came before grace and before justification do your best and God would do the rest. The reformers said, you cannot do one single thing.

God’s way of salvation is a glorious substitute for the false gospel of Rome. Luther experienced this when he was whipping himself, sleeping on cold concrete- until he found grace, found that he  had an open heaven, for him the gates of heaven were open.

Luther saw justification as the first thing and sanctification is the fruit of it and it is all of grace.

Grace calls us, justifies us, sanctifies us, and will glorify us.

Do you live by grace, is grace everything to you. Grace is more than what we think, because we do not start as neutral grace is undeserved kindness to those who deserve to be hell bound. It’s all of grace.

3)      Experiential Piety- The Reformers preached a piety that can be experienced. The Fatherly sovereignty of God to His people in the Lord Jesus Christ.

4)      Old paths- persevered the faith of the Reformers was the faith of  primitive Christianity. They recovered the truths from the early days of the church. These old paths of the father’s is worth us pursuing. The reformation principle of sola scriptura doesn’t mean you throw away church history but we examine church history/tradition by scripture.

5)      Christ as king- all done in subjection not to man but to God and His word. The reformers found themselves at odds with the Pope, the Pope had asserted authority, the kings asserted authority in their locality. The reformers said they were both wrong, not the Papacy and not the secular rulers. The Church was delivered from the State and the Pope.

We need to walk the tightrope avoiding anarchy as God calls us to honour authority, so we need to cultivate a heart of submission.

Yet we must be willing to oppose them when they oppose God. Christ is the head of the church.

6)      Christian freedom- the gospel of Christ freed us from tyranny, the reformed faith abolished the idea of the divine right of kings. No-one but God had power over the conscience but God alone. Kingship was changed to constitutional rather than absolute. To free the church from the state and towards freedom and democracy and gave us the rule of law.

7)      Vocations for the common good- the reformers recast the state as a commonwealth promoting the dignity of labour, encouraging trade and the growth of wealth for everyone. Everyone should thrive together, everyone has a stake in the life of the nation. This binds together the State as a commonwealth, everyone must do their work to the glory of God. It does away with the line between the secular and the sacred. All 7 days are from the LORD.

Everyone working for the good and salvation of his neighbour, this encouraged social cohesion, and care.

8)      Marry and child rearing- marriage as a reflection of the Christ/church relationship. Parents raising their children who are loaned to them from God. Seeking God’s face, the whole concept of the Christian home was developed by the reformers and the Puritans.  All of life must be lived for the glory of God. William Gough, 'You could have the most homely, cranky wife but you are to treat her like a godly queen.' Marriage is designed to encourage us in holiness and service.

9)      Arts and sciences, the reformers rekindled the spirit of enquiry by exploring knowledge, opening academies, fostered the idea of universal education. Encouraging art, science, architecture  astronomy, exploration.

10)   The true worship of God- they understood that worship was at the centre, they came to the Word to see how we should worship. To bow down before the supreme majesty through Christ in the Spirit, and we are to have as our goal worshipping God in every aspect in our lives. To give to Him the honour that is due to His holy name.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Puritan Preaching

I'm enjoying attending my first conference since the girls were born, The Puritan Reformed Fellowship in East Kilbride where we are being treated to Joel Beeke's passionate wisdom and knowledge of the Puritans. I avoided the Puritans like the plague until fairly recently as the ones I had read seemed too wordy and cold. I just started in the wrong place it seems, I am loving reading the Puritans now on a daily basis.  Dr Beeke has unwrapped the Puritans for us in two talks so far. One of these on the topic of Puritan Preaching. Below is a summary:

The Puritans loved preached, their books are basically sermons and they were in print for a long time because people loved their preaching. They developed plans for preaching, the whole counsel of God. Their sermons were rich in exegesis, doctrine, devotion and application and in experience, they preached an experienced Christ. They sought to reform the church with their preaching, they failed. They did however succeed to transform people through their preaching. In fact people would flock to hear them, leaving standing room only.
Puritan books were loved and well read, because they preached Christocentric sermons stripping away man in his sinfulness. For the Puritan there was two preachers, the preacher and the Holy Spirit. Puritan preaching lifts our eyes to see Christ, it ravishes the soul, focuses the sight on eternal realities both heaven and hell.

The believed that the preached Word was God's usual means to convert people, where every sermon was dressed in the mirror of Scripture. Richard Sibbes said the second greatest gift that God has given the church after the Spirit of God is a sound minister. For them the pulpit was at the centre of the church because it was from there that God feed His people for the whole week.

Yet their aim was please God, not the audience, those they were concerned with the weight and preciousness of souls they aimed more than anything to please God and to preach for His glory.

At it's best they desired to labour to awaken their own souls before seeking to awaken other souls.

In preaching they aimed to: 1) Address the mind with clarity, 2) confront the conscience-pressing home the guilt of sins, 3) woo the heart passionately- zealous and optimistically urging people to be reconciled with a God would seeks you as a spouse to marry you to Christ. 4) A plainness in preaching to be clear.

Their method was to be both idealist like Romans 8, realistic like Romans 7 and optimistic like Revelation 21. He said they preached as though they could save people, but 'preached like they were knocking the door, knowing that only the Holy Spirit has the key'.

Dr Beeke showed us that the Puritans were great preachers but then encouraged us not to preach like them in some ways.

Don't preach like them 

Don't preach doctrinal sermons, preach a text and expound it.
Don't multiple points on points at lots of levels- we live in a different age keep it simple.
Don't overwhelm with application
Don't preach too many sermons on one text

Do Preach like them
Do preach  doctrinal rich experiential sermons with application
Do Burrow down deep into the doctrine of the text
Do Preach the whole counsel of God over time.
Do Preach in a style that everyone can understand.
Do live a consistent life, preach with your life. Our whole life should be a sermon.
Love your people.

They were known not only for their preaching though but also for their piety, their lives affected by the preparation for preaching gave them a love for people. It is said that many of them died in the great plague because they loved their people deeply and didn't abandon them.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

God's providence with the despised things- from Stephen Charnock

God so delights in thus baffling the pride of men, that Asa uses it as an argument to move God to deliver him in the strait he was in, when Zerah the Ethiopian came against him with a great multitude, when he was but a small point and centre in the midst of a wide circumference: 2 Chron. 14.11, 'Lord it is nothing with thee to help with many or with few.' Herby God sets off his own power, and evidenceth his superintendent care of his people. It was more signally the arm of God for Moses to confound Pharaoh with his lice and frogs, than if he had beaten him in a plain field with his six hundred thousand Israelites.

In the salvation of the soul. Our Saviour himself, though God, the great redeemer of the world, was so mean in the eyes of the world that he called himself  'a worm, and no man,'Ps 22.6, He picks out many times the most unlikely persons to accomplish the greatest purposes for men's souls .He lodgeth the treasures of wisdom in vessels of earth; he chose not the cedars of Lebanon, but the shrubs of the valley; not the learned Pharisees of Jerusalem, but the poor men of Galilee: 'Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings, he has ordained praise to himself.'

The apostles' breeding was not capable of ennobling their minds, and fitting them for such great actions as Christ employed them in. But after he had new moulded them and inflamed their spirits, he made them of fishermen, greater conquerors of the world, than the most magnified grandees could pretend to.
Thus salvation is wrought by a crucified Christ: and that God who made the world by wisdom, would save it by the foolishness of preaching. And make Paul, the least of the apostles as he terms himself, more successful than those had been instructed at the feet of Christ. Works, volume 1 page 21,22

Friday, 22 September 2017

The Reformation then and today

It's almost 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the door in Wittenburg which began the process of reformation. The advantage of his reformation over the Wycliffe one, or the Huss one was the invention of the printing press.  Within two weeks the whole of Northern Europe had printed copies of Luther's protest. Thus began the necessary break from the Roman Church. 

However the Roman Church in 1517 was very different than the Roman Catholic Church of today.
Over the last week I have been at two different churches, from two different denominations where both speakers have spoken approvingly of the relationship between themselves and the Roman Church, both affirming that the Roman Catholic Church has changed. 
It has changed in 1517 it hadn't approved the Immaculate Conception and sinlessness of Mary, this didn't come until the C19th. In the same Century the Roman Catholic Church dogmatically asserted Papal Authority. More than these though it wasn't until the Counter Reformation that the Catholic Church anathematised Sola Fide and in many respects placed an anathema on the Catholic System itself.  This is from the Counter Reformation:

CANON 9:  "If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

As Martin Luther rightly said, the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is the Doctrine by which a Church stands or falls.

It's seems Protestants have also changed, at the Reformation, Ad fontes was important- 2back to the sources" was one of the cries- back to the text of scripture, what does the Bible say. Martin Luther again said, 'unless I am convinced by scripture and sound reason- I do not accept the authority of the Popes or councils for they have contradicted each other, my conscience remains captive to the word of God.'

However at one of these meetings a speaker informed the gathering that Catholics and Protestants agree because they share a common experience in the Charismatic renewal, which has affected both Protestants and Catholics despite the vast difference in doctrine held by them both. It seems that now experience validates experience rather than being tested by the Scriptures themselves. As well as that the Catholic Church has changed because Catholics embrace the Alpha Course. However if you read Chris Hand's Alpha course, Falling Short or examined the material for you will find that rather than Alpha being a Protestant course it is very ambiguous on Sola Fide, presenting Justification as a work of Faith. Of course Rome is ok with that, but add the word Alone and then there is an issue. 

One of the big differences between Rome and Evangelicals centres around their different understanding of how one is saved. Evangelicals affirm that the way to heaven is only through Christ's atoning sacrifice, when the sinner repents of their sins, like the thief on the cross they are assured that 'you will be with me in paradise'. Rome however has several steps, baptismal regeneration, extreme unction and even then purgatory maybe for eons and eons, to complete the work of atonement for that one person, the work of the Cross is not enough. Jesus' cry from the Cross, it is accomplished is done away as works are added to the completed work of Christ.

If we don't agree on the Gospel we cannot have a relationship where we treat them as fellow believers. The Reformation was necessary and in many ways is still necessary.

Stephen <><

Friday, 8 September 2017

How amazing is Grace- a short article I wrote for a local magazine.

How amazing is Grace?

If you only know one Hymn I would guess that it would be Amazing Grace, so much so that you’ll know the words. ‘Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me’.  I wonder do you know anything of the author and that it is in many ways his autobiography?  It may not sound like an autobiography when you know that he was a vicar and worked to end the slave trade in his latter years. However Newton’s early life was a long way from where it ended, he was the son of a successful and well connected ship’s captain. His mother a godly woman gave Newton a good education but died when he was 7 years old. He rebelled against this teaching from his pious mother, his well connected father got Newton a job as a midship-man, a junior officer with the promise of promotion. However Newton who had disregarded the education his mother had given him, disregarded the Faith she held  also disregarded this opportunity his father had found for him. He was disrespectful and up to no good from the beginning.  His behaviour was so bad that he found himself demoted before leaving the ship altogether. Nonetheless opportunities kept coming his way but Newton wasn’t able to learn from them. His behaviour and poor choices got this well to do officer’s son into a lot of scrapes. At one point he was almost a slave in North Africa, mistreated and poorly fed; he was stealing raw vegetables at night to keep himself alive. At times he modified his behaviour becoming outwardly religious, but he soon went back to his cursing, blaspheming and general bad behaviour. Each time the downward spiral after made him worse than he was before.  His language was so bad that he often made other roguish sailors blush.
Newton at this time would be the last person you would think of as someone who would be a Christian minister; he was a vile excuse for a human being. He recognised this in himself as did others. He truly was a wretch and he knew it.
‘Through many dangers’ Newton diced with death  on a regular basis  on one occasion following a drinking game out at sea.  He had to be pulled by the legs as he went overboard, it was dark, he was drunk and he couldn’t swim. Literally rescued by the seat of his pants.

This wayward young man he rarely gave a second thought to his soul was given amazing opportunity; On one occasion you see the ship was battered in a storm, so much so that it was sinking. For several days he and the sailors tried to rescue it by bailing out water but it was taking on more and more water, the situation seemed hopeless, the holes were filled with their clothing and the food had almost all been washed away. Everyone on board was convinced that they were only putting off the inevitable, mere days away from death. It was at this point Newton began to contemplating his lifestyle and his sin and this led to Newtown the wretch cried out to God for mercy. He said that he was not sure that someone like him would have any hope of finding mercy with God.  Yet Newton did find mercy, he no longer had to try to reform his life and fail as he had done numerous times before, now the work of God had begun in his life, Newton was transformed.
Like Newton, Saul of Tarsus wasn’t thinking of finding grace on the road to Damascus, as he headed over to Syria the last thing on his mind was becoming a follower of Jesus. In fact he was heading there with the same sort of Ambitions that young Jihadists head to Syria today, he wanted to kill for his God. He was set on wiping out the church, on that road you’ll know he was confronted by the risen Jesus, instead of the judgement that he now knew he deserved he was called to be Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, to reach out and share with them the Good news of Jesus, Newton and Paul were both trophies of Grace. Paul said of himself that he was the chief of sinners, yet God saved him. God used the conversion of Saul the persecutor of the church to glorify Himself.

You might be one of those people who have said, ‘I am beyond saving’, yet God could take Newton, who truly was a wretch, and Saul who wanted to wipe out the church and bring them to Him. You might be one of those people who have said, ‘I am beyond saving’, yet God could take Newton, who truly was a wretch, and Saul who wanted to wipe out the church and bring them to Him. You see grace means undeserved kindness, the grace of this God is not only amazing it is glorious.