“Turning from Idols”

A few weeks ago, I began a series preaching through 1 Thessalonians. This epistle is so rich and reveals much of the heart of the apostle Paul. This letter also instructs the reader as to what it means for genuine conversion to take place. In 1 Thess. 1:9-10, Paul speaks of how the Thessalonians turned away from idols to serve the true and living God. Consider how profound this statement is from Paul in describing what happened there in Thessalonica.

The turning away from idols brought many sociological implications. Christians were cut off from and by their families because they stopped participating in social events tied to the pagan gods. This was a big deal. Thessalonica was only fifty miles from Mount Olympus, the supposed home of the Greek gods. These idols made up a huge part of the local and family traditions of those in Thessalonica. For those in Thessalonica, not only would they have ceased worship of the Greek deities but they would have stopped participating in the imperial cult which worshiped the Roman emperor as a god. All of these things contributed to Christians being labeled as atheists

Do not miss that being a follower of Christ will invite scorn and anger from society. Do we think that we are exempt from such reproaches even from those who are close to us? In many parts of the world, even in the 21st century, various cultures are wedded to tribal deities and family gods. The gospel calls forth me and women everywhere to turn away from such idols to serve the living God. Why is that the call? As Paul notes in verse 10, Christ delivers us from the wrath to come. God’s wrath is connected numerous times in the OT to idolatry. Man is still addicted to idolatry and God does not change. Apart from Christ, the end for idolaters is the eternal wrath of God in hell.

Some might object saying that they do not bow down to tangible idols that are made of materials that can be handled. While it might be true that there is not physical homage given to a statue in “civilized” parts of the world, we are all naturally addicted to idolatry. Let there be no mistake: we might not have gods carved out of gold and silver, wood or iron, but idols abound more than ever. Timothy Keller provides a needed word that assesses the current situation well:

Each culture is dominated by its own set of idols. Each one has its shrines – whether office towers, spas and gyms, studios or stadiums—where sacrifices must be made in order to procure the blessings of the good life and ward off disaster. What are the gods of beauty, power, money, and achievement but these same things that have assumed mythic proportions in our individual lives and in our society? We may not physically kneel before the statue of Aphrodite, but many young women are driven into depression and eating disorders by an obsessive concern over their body image. We may not actually burn incense to Artemis, but when money and career are raised to cosmic proportions, we perform a kind of child sacrifice, neglecting family and community to achieve a higher place in business and gain more wealth and prestige.[1]

Anything that we cannot do without and that we think is a must or we cannot live has become our idol. Right now, we can easily point to all of the idols that others have but do we recognize the ones that are in our lives. As Christians, we are not immune to idolatry. We can have good desires but they can easily become idolatrous when they reveal that we are not content in Christ. This is why our faith needs to be renewed each day by coming to the truths of the gospel and realizing that there is nothing greater than our communion and covenant relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What areas in your life are you enslaved to idolatrous tendencies and find yourself easily ungrateful in that area? The gospel still possesses freeing power and the Spirit brings us liberation from bondage that can creep in our hearts.

May the words of this hymn by William Cowper be a prayer from our hearts each day:

“The dearest idol I have known, Whate’er that idol be,

Help me to tear it from Thy throne and worship only Thee.”


[1] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (New York: Dutton, 2009), xi-xii.

“Do You do Well to be Angry?”

No matter how often I read the account of Jonah, I always chuckle to myself when I read Jonah 4. The imagery of the prophet steaming, both physically and emotionally, on a hill overlooking Nineveh and waiting to see it destroyed. A prophet of the Lord broods looking down at this city that had just experienced revival and he is angry about it all. Twice in the final chapter of the book of Jonah, the Lord asks Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” The first time, Jonah is silent to God’s question. The second time, Jonah defiantly states that he has a right to be angry. While the picture might be humorous, it is more real than we might care to admit.

COVID-19 Anger

Let’s face it: a lot of people are angry these days. With social media, most people think they are an expert on everything now. We will form an opinion, find someone who agrees with us (YouTube, podcast, article), and then we see their affirmation as validation for our view. If anyone dares question or push back, we will lash out in anger. The COVID-19 pandemic serves as gasoline on the fire of “self-expertise.” Unfortunately, this serves as a breeding ground for anger. People are angry at the President, their state and local officials, the news media, the health care officials, the school boards, and I could continue to go on. Solutions are not sought. A scapegoat must be found. Someone must pay how our lives have been disrupted.

Jonah Anger

While it was not a health pandemic that “disrupted” Jonah’s life, everything that he would consider “normal” changed in an instant when the Lord summoned him to Nineveh. The call that came to him did not sit well with him. How could he, a Hebrew and an Israelite, go preach and extend a call to Gentile dogs like those in Nineveh? The story of Jonah is one of a continual descent; both physically and spiritually. We all know the story of how Jonah goes in the opposite direction, is swallowed by a large fish, prays and thanks God for deliverance, obeys the call the second time it comes, carries out his duty, and then simmers in the desert heat because God had the audacity to show mercy to Nineveh. The last words we hear from Jonah are him defiantly telling God that he, a mere creature, had a right to be angry with the Creator. Have you ever met someone like Jonah?

Personal Anger

I have. Jonah is the book that I began preaching through on May 24th. This was our first Sunday at NTBC to gather together corporately in over two months. By preaching through this book, I began to see how much of Jonah I found in me. This year has been the hardest for me in ministry. I imagine most, if not all, pastors would acknowledge that. Not only did the time of separation due to health recommendations greatly weigh on me, our church family wrestled with difficult counseling situations. I could hear in the voice of the flock how much the lack of being able to gather together affected them. I knew it was real because it had affected me too. As I arrived in chapter 4 and worked through the text, I began to see that Jonah was not the only one who had been angry with God. In my heart, I had been angry too.

Sure, I felt anger towards the incompetence of federal officials, mixed signals from health officials, and longing for a return to “normalcy” in pastoral ministry. In reality, my anger was really towards the Lord of heaven and earth. As one childhood pastor used to put it, I had allowed my heart to enter a state of the “mulligrubs.” Why was this happening to me? I pastored a confessional Baptist church that sought to honor the Lord’s Day by meeting morning and evening, strove for an ordinary means of grace ministry, enjoyed weekly fellowship around the lunch table as a church, moved to monthly communion, and on and on I could go. I realized that I had allowed myself to succumb to a covenant of works mentality. “God, we are doing these things right especially in comparison to those around us. Why is this happening to us?” In the moments of sermon prep that week, I had to confess my sin and seek forgiveness. How foolish I had been!

Misguided Anger

Sinclair Ferguson’s book “Man Overboard” is a dynamite resource on Jonah, and it will punch you in the spiritual gut a few times too. Several times throughout the book, Ferguson notes the difference between theology we get write on paper and theology we actually believe. Jonah had theology proper and a doctrine of grace in his head but it was not in his heart. The same had happened to me. None of us deserves anything good from the hand of the Lord. In this time of frustration, we must be on guard not to allow ourselves to be trapped by misguided anger.

Before we begin to think that we have gotten a raw deal, let us remember that none of us have been burned at the stake like Hus. When we think of the difficulties we might experience in trying to gather together for worship, consider the Puritans ejected in 1662 and the laws passed subsequently that forced them to hold covert services in England. If we would begin to complain about our lot, reflect on men like John Bunyan, Thomas Grantham, James Marham, and Hercules Collins who were jailed because they were Nonconformists and Baptists in 17th century England. In the present, consider the thousands of believers in places like China, Nigeria, and elsewhere who are being incarcerated and slaughtered for the faith.

Conclusion

In no way am I minimizing the effects this past year have had on the church with respect to the COVID pandemic. However, since we confess the sovereignty of God over all things, should we not be asking what is the Lord teaching us through this? If the answer is simply for us to be angry and view ourselves as some type of Christian revolutionaries fighting against a tyrannical government, I fear we are missing the point. Instead of calls for revolution, we should be hearing the call of Jonah: repent. Instead of mimicking the anger of the prophet, we should be emulating the people of Nineveh who bowed before the Lord. A greater than Jonah stands before us and He is our Savior, Redeemer, and Friend. May COVID-19 produce a greater affection in our hearts for Christ and let us not think it well if we are angry.

“Does the Church Still Matter?”

All of us will remember 2020. As I write this article, we are only halfway through the calendar year and yet it feels the past six months have contained enough events to fill up six years. At the top of the list of major events are the COVID-19 Pandemic and the social unrest that fills our nation. Questions involving racial justice, monuments, and civic responsibility swirl constantly demanding answers. How is the church to respond in this moment? One concern that fills my heart is that many no longer believe that the church really matters.

The Wrong Preoccupation

The lack of attention given to a healthy ecclesiology over time manifested itself in how many churches responded to the recommendations and guidelines from the civil authorities on not meeting corporately. Now, I respect the autonomy of local churches and am a firm believer in liberty of conscience. Space should be given for some differences and charity should dominate our heart. However, pandemics or wars give us no license to redefine what a church is, how a church worships, or how the sacraments are celebrated. For example, some of the ideas promoted for conducting “virtual communion” reveal a mindset that says pragmatism reigns when it comes to “how we do church.” In April, I listened to a prominent Baptist pastor encourage his flock to use sweet tea and crackers as a substitute for the fruit of the vine and the bread with a big smile on his face. This is just one example of some of the strange ideas that popped up during the pandemic. Ian Malcolm’s quotation on the scientists cloning dinosaurs in Jurassic Park aptly fits with some of the ecclesiological actions taken this year: “[You] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

The mindset of pragmatism stands in direct opposition to the pattern exhibited by men like William Carey. Carey pastored two different churches in England before setting sail for India. Carey though would not celebrate the Lord’s Supper for two years before a church was organized in India. Based on the spirit of the day, some would have told Carey that he could do it with his family or that he could have done it “virtually” by celebrating in India when he knew the church back in England was celebrating. For Carey and others, such a mindset would violate the Word of God. The Scriptures are clear on the elements for the Supper and that the Supper is supposed to be celebrated by a local church. Perhaps, we would not have found ourselves in such a place of suggesting sweet tea in your home as a worthy substitute if we had rejected requests for couples to partake of communion during their marriage ceremonies. As long as churches are preoccupied with pragmatic ecclesiology, the ordinary means prescribed in the Bible will continue to fall by the wayside.

Will Someone Bring the Book?

The battle is always over the Bible. Is the Bible inspired, infallible, inerrant, and sufficient? I grew up in a context where a mere biblicism reigned that said, “No creed but Christ.” There is such a need for believers to know historical theology expressed through creeds, confessions, and catechisms. Two books that show this very well are The Creedal Imperative by Carl Trueman and Baptists and the Christian Tradition edited by Matthew Emerson, Christopher Emersion, and Lucas Stamps. Yet, we must never get away from the foundational truth that Christians believe: God reveals Himself redemptively through His Word. Who will bring the book? As our nation undergoes a lot of turmoil as a result of the pandemic and questions surround social injustice, where will the church stand? Do we still matter? If the church seeks to adopt strategies, programs, and actions that mimic the world, we dilute our witness. Christ calls us to be salt and light in this world (Matt. 5:13-16). Those two descriptions mean that the church stands out as unique in this world. If the church is not guarded, the pragmatism that says sweet tea for the Lord’s Supper is fine and that we must win the lost at any cost will springboard to a new legalism that calls for perpetual penance with no grace and no forgiveness.

Lord, Revive Your Work

These are confusing and challenging times. I would never want to minimize the seriousness of the pandemic or the social strife in our nation that is a result of real injustices. However, “preach the gospel” does not need to be mocked or belittled. True, there is a lot more involved in that than just a 40 minute sermon on a Sunday. Yet, I fear that we can easily forget that revival comes through the Spirit’s extraordinary usage of the ordinary means of grace (to paraphrase Iain Murray). Do we believe that the Lord still uses His church entrusted with the gospel to change lives? Will revival come in our land if we tear down enough statues or will it come if the people of God get serious about God again? The church is not in need of a political program but a spiritual reinvigoration from on high.

True revival and transformation will come by way of the church reading, praying, singing, preaching, and seeing the Word. The ordinary means of grace are enough for our lives and they are the channels by which life is brought where death reigned. The church needs to rediscover faithful preaching of the law and the gospel as well as understanding how we function as spiritual exiles who seek to be good citizens. Much of this sounds simple and that is where the problem often lies with us. We wonder how God can use the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Let us search the Scriptures anew and trace the stories of church history out: they testify to the amazing grace of God at work in an army of ordinary people!

Conclusion

The church still matters! Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His bride! As we continue to sojourn through this trying year, may our hearts remember that nations come and go but the church of Jesus Christ remains. Let us give ourselves to being faithful members in a local church feasting upon the ordinary means of grace. May pastors equip the flock to go out into their communities and serve as faithful ambassadors of the King. Our families, friends, and neighbors do not need more political commentary and COVID analysis: they need gospel truth. This is why the church still matters! May the Spirit give us spiritual clarity not to forget that!

From the Archive: A Baptist Warning Concerning Tribalism

No one would confuse Andrew Fuller for being anything but a firm Calvinistic Baptist who wrote extensively to defend the doctrines of grace from a Particular Baptist point of view. If you read Fuller’s writings in the realm of ecclesiology and polity, you will find a man who was a thorough Baptist. However, even in his own day, Andrew Fuller saw the danger that exists in giving one’s self over to extreme sectarianism. Are we interested in seeing people come to Christ or that they become a part of our denominational or theological heritage? By all means, if we consider ourselves a Baptist, a Presbyterian, or a Congregationalist, then we should be able to defend our convictions and views. I am a Particular Baptist because I am thoroughly convinced that is the theological tradition most faithful to the Bible. Even so, I should be filled with nothing but joy and gladness when I see a faithful Presbyterian church receive new members due to souls being converted by the grace of God. The counsel that Andrew Fuller provides us in this piece is much needed in our day when tribalism, fueled by cultural changes and social media, continues to grow more and more within the church.

I first became aware of this short piece by Andrew Fuller on David Prince’s website which hosts “Andrew Fuller Fridays.” Here is the link: http://www.davidprince.com/2018/06/08/pursuing-lesser-things-to-the-neglect-of-the-greater-andrew-fuller-being-dead-still-speaks-to-sbc18/.

Below is an excerpted portion of Andrew Fuller’s article “The Necessity of Seeking those Things First which are of the First Importance” (The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Miscellaneous—Fugitive Pieces, Andrew F. Fuller, Ed., Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007:984-985).

A great part of the evil which prevails in the world consists in an entire neglect of what God commands, or in doing what he has expressly forbidden; but not the whole of it. There may be an attachment to many things which in themselves are right, and yet the whole may be rendered worse than void by the want of order, or a regard to things according to their importance.

Our Lord did not censure the Pharisees for attending to the lesser matters of the law, but for attending to them “to the neglect of the greater.” If we pursue things as primary which ought to occupy only a secondary or subordinate place in the system, we subvert the whole, and employ ourselves in doing what is worse than nothing.

I think I see the operation of this principle among us, and that to a wide extent. I see it among the unconverted, among the converted, and among different parties or denominations of Christians.

First, It is by this that great numbers who lay their accounts with obtaining the kingdom of heaven will be found to have deceived themselves.

It may be too much to say of them that they do not seek the kingdom of God; but they seek it not as a first or primary object. The world is their chief good, and the kingdom of God only occupies a secondary place in their affections. They wish to attend to their everlasting concerns, but they cannot spare time. Now we can commonly spare time for that which we love best.

Secondly, It is owing to this, among other causes, that many Christians go from year to year in doubt, with respect to their interest in Christ and spiritual blessings.

It is very desirable to have clear and satisfactory views on this subject. To live in suspense on a matter of such importance must, if we be not sunk in insensibility, be miserable. How is it that so much of this prevails among us; when, if we look into the New Testament, we shall scarcely see an instance of it among the primitive Christians? Shall we cast off all such characters as unbelievers?

Some have done so, alleging that it is impossible for a person to be a believer without being conscious of it. Surely this is too much; for if the grace of God within us, whatever be its degree, must needs be self-evident to us, why are we directed to keep his commandments as the means of “knowing that we know him?” The primitive Christians, however, had but little of this fear; and the reason of it was, they had more of that perfect love to Christ, to the gospel, and to the success of it, than we have, which tended to “cast out fear.”

If we make our personal comfort the first object of our pursuit, (and many attend the means of grace as if they did,) God will make it the last of his; for it is a general principle in the Divine administration, “Him that honoureth me I will honour; but he that despiseth me shall be lightly esteemed.” If we seek the honour of God, we shall find our own peace and comfort in it; but if we make light of him he will make light of us, and leave us to pass our days in darkness and suspense.

Thirdly, It is owing, if I mistake not, to the same cause that various denominations of Christians, who at some period have been greatly blessed of God, have declined as to their spiritual prosperity.

Several of our religious denominations have arisen from a conscientious desire to restore Christianity to its primitive purity. From this motive acted, I believe, the greater part of the Reformers, the Puritans, the nonconformists, and the Baptists. I do not know that any one of these denominations were censurable for the separations which they made from other professing Christians. It may be alleged that they have torn the church of Christ into parties, and so occasioned much evil; yet some of them did not separate from the church of Christ, but from a worldly community calling itself by that name; and those who did, pretended not to be the only people of God in the world, but considered themselves merely as “withdrawing from brethren who walked disorderly.”

It is a melancholy fact, however, that no sooner have a people formed themselves into a new denomination than they are in the utmost danger of concentrating almost all their strength, influence, zeal, prayers, and endeavours for its support; not as a part of Christ’s visible kingdom, wishing all good to other parts in so far as they follow Christ, but as though it were the whole of it, and as though all true religion were circumscribed within its hallowed pale. This is the essence of a sectarian spirit, and the bane of Christianity.

I am a Dissenter, and a Baptist. If I confine my remarks to the faults of these denominations, it is not because I consider them as greater sinners in this way than all others, but because I wish more especially to correct the evils of my own connexions. If we wish to promote the dissenting interest, it must not be by expending our principal zeal in endeavouring to make men Dissenters, but in making Dissenters and others Christians. The principles of dissent, however just and important, are not to be compared with the glorious gospel of the blessed God; and if inculcated at the expense of it, it is no better than tithing mint and cumin, to the omitting of the weightier matters of the law. Such endeavours will be blasted, and made to defeat, their own end.

If we wish to see the Baptist denomination prosper, we must not expend our zeal so much in endeavouring to make men Baptists, as in labouring to make Baptists and other Christians. If we lay out ourselves in the common cause of Christianity, the Lord will bless and increase us. By rejoicing in the prosperity of every other denomination, in so far as they accord with the mind of Christ, we shall promote the best interests of our own. But if we be more concerned to make proselytes to a party than converts to Christ, we shall defeat our own end; and however just our sentiments may be with respect to the subjects and mode of baptism, we shall be found symbolizing with the Pharisees, who were employed in tithing mint and cumin, to the neglect of judgment, mercy, and the love of God.

“A Mind of Joy”

The ongoing battle in our lives is that between subjective experience and objective truth. We always must strive for a balance and there is a danger of being so doctrinally-minded that one thinks it is wrong to display joy and gladness in the Lord. Doctrine should fuel our doxology for how can we worship God if we do not know Him? With that being said, many are interested in a “truth” that is totally shaped by how they feel and what they experience. My experience determines what I perceive as truth and dictates what I deem is right. Our feelings and emotions are very susceptible to being played by sinful impulses and desires all the time. We will even possess cravings for feeling that are often rooted in sinful desires and tell ourselves that they are natural somehow excusing us.

Christianity emphasizes doctrine, theology, and objective truth. When we confess our faith in Jesus Christ, we are not saying that we came to a conclusion that He is the best option out there but there are some plausible alternatives. No, we confessing that He is the way, the truth, and the life. If we subject our lives to the whims of the day, there will be much in the way of disappointment and defeat that characterize us. Paul gets to the heart of the matter in Philippians 4:4-9. Christians experience joy by knowing truth. However, there is a caution before us. Joy is not found in simply memorizing soteriology, pneumatology, and ecclesiology in a perfect way. You can recite the fine points of each one of those fields and lack true joy. True joy comes from us resting and dwelling upon the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. We must grasp the battle that we are engaged in and how we can possess a mind of joy.

 

In verses 4-5, Paul shows how our joy as believers endures regardless of circumstances because our joy is in the Lord. Joy does not depend upon the season or experience. Biblical joy is rooted in the Lord Himself. That is the key as Paul puts it: rejoice in the Lord. This joy comes from contentment in the Lord. This joy rests in the trust one has that all things are under God’s control. In the most difficult times, we can know this true joy in the Lord. Satisfaction is not found in circumstances but in our sovereign Lord.

Paul then shows the importance of prayer in connection with joy in verses 6-7. If we are anxious, through prayer, God grants us peace that transcends the problem. We might not understand nor know how things troubling us will unfold. Yet, in Christ, we can truly experience this blessed peace. Heart and mind are used together to speak of the soul, of our complete being. In Christ Jesus, we can know a garrison of peace! This peace of God that comes to us in Christ as we pray shows us that regardless of the situation, it is all under the authority of heaven.

Prayer settles our hearts as we come to the throne of grace and consider our standing in Christ. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). The peace that our Lord gives to us in our hearts is just as real and sure as when He said to the winds and the waves on the Sea of Galilee, “Peace! Be still!” This should comfort our hearts and remove all fears and anxiety. The God of heaven beckons us to come and bring our cares before Him. This mind of joy will not be fully experienced unless we rest our weary souls daily in the Savior.

Finally, in verses 8-9, Paul calls our attention to those matters that we should think, dwell, and meditate upon. “True” points our focus to the word of God and Christ who is the theme of the Scriptures. “Honorable” is that which is noble and to be revered. Of course, there are things of the earth that are noble and to be honored such as honoring our parents and commitments we make. In a greater way, the things of heaven are to be adored and revered. “Just” or right; righteousness should consume our minds and this would bring us to consider the law of God as the rule and standard for our living as believers. “Pure” would be that which is free from sin and his holy, clean, and undefiled. “Lovely” is only used here in the NT. Other terms we can think of are sweet and gracious. What is pleasing according to God should fill our minds. “Commendable” is only used here in the NT and it is that which is highly regarded. The Word of God will bring our minds to that which is heavenly and lofty. Paul summarizes it all by saying that those things which are excellent and praiseworthy should dwell in our minds.

The command “think” means to dwell or meditate on. The mind is being filled all the time: what are you filling it with? Often, we think it can seem legalistic to speak on things like what we watch, read, or listen to. I agree that we can go overboard but I fear that is not often what is our biggest issue. For most of us, it can be a laxness that sets in where we do not think it is a big deal. Use verse 8 as a prism in your watchfulness. Remember that we are called to bring every thought captive unto Christ.

This is the battle for our minds. Are we bringing every thought captive to Christ? We are what we think! May we be given to that which is spiritually whole and healthy that comes from above! Let us use our days to be filled with the good things of God as revealed in His Word. Let us beware being enslaved to Netflix or conspiracy theories. None of those things will bring us a mind of joy. In the Lord, there is joy forevermore! Think upon that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Longing for the Rhythm

Like most (if not all) of you, the past few weeks are days which I will never forget. COVID-19 will be regarded as one of those events in history that will change what is considered “normal” going forward. Human beings are creatures of habit and most people do not like their schedules being turned upside down. However, this pandemic serves as a stark reminder of how quickly “normal” can be uprooted. As a pastor, the inability to gather corporately with my church family on Sunday grieves me. As much as I am longing for the return back to normalcy, I am thankful for the Lord teaching me anew of why He instituted a rhythm for the people of God when it comes to corporate worship and life.

At times, we can resent the rhythm that the Lord mandates and governs when it comes to church. In pastoral ministry, Sundays are a long day for me that include two sermons, answering questions, fellowship, counseling, and other activities. Sundays require a lot of energy and focus. The burdens of our flocks are our burdens as well as our own personal burdens that we carry. It can seem overwhelming at times! For all of that though, the rhythm of the Lord’s Day is a gift to us. Often, we think that we know better than the Lord. These are days for us to learn anew that the Lord indeed knows what He is doing.

The imperative of Hebrews 10:25 concerning the forsaking of the assembly feels more meaningful during these days when we cannot assemble. The Lord knows what He is doing in commanding us to gather with brothers and sisters. Christians need the communion of the saints. The local church serves as many things: refuge, family, protection, and correction. We thank God for the technology that allows us to “virtually” connect but it does nothing to substitute for hearing and seeing one another on the Lord’s Day. Those words of Paul repeated in 1 Corinthians 11 about “when the church comes together” carry more significance. The sacraments were not given to be celebrated individually but corporately. We dare not substitute anything else for the rhythm Christ gave to His church.

Are you longing for the rhythm again? We can despise the rhythm at times and wonder if it is not a little old-fashioned, puritanical, and demanding or even a bit monotonous. The Lord knows what He is doing and He is teaching us just how much we need the rhythm. There is a reason the Lord instituted one day in seven to be consecrated for physical rest, corporate worship, and spiritual refreshment. Perhaps, before we go about criticizing the Puritans for their excessiveness regarding the observance of the Sabbath, we will cherish more deeply the gift Sunday truly is. Hopefully, a renewed understanding of simple worship regulated by the Scriptures will come forth out of this. The people of God do not need “pizazz” and “pop” when it comes to worship. The saints need the ordinary means of grace publicly ministered to them by their pastors and made effectual in their hearts by the Spirit.

I am a pastor who subscribes to the Second London Confession and am more of an ordinary means of grace Sabbatarian than most pastors in my area. However, I confess that my heart did not cherish the rhythm as I should have. In the course of this pandemic and time of quarantine, a dear sister in our church reminded me of how I would speak about the possibility of us one day losing the ability to gather on Sundays as we did normally. I challenged the congregation to think about how they would respond to such a situation. Well, in God’s providence, we are experiencing such days. None of us except the Sovereign King know when this season will end. One thing is for sure: we need a return to and embrace of the rhythm given to us by Christ.

The Heresy of Modernity

In “The Whole Christ,” Sinclair Ferguson describes how many modern evangelical Bible teachers and commentators reject concepts like the three-fold division (or dimension) of the law (moral, civil, and ceremonial). Ferguson points out that the rejection of this concept flows forth out of a mindset that sees anything “traditional” as being too rigid, extra-biblical, out of step with the times. Citing C.S. Lewis, Ferguson notes that many students of the Bible come in at eleven o’clock without realizing that a conversation actually began at eight o’clock. Each generation faces the temptation of succumbing to “the heresy of modernity.” This “heresy” teaches that, for the most part, it is our generation that needs to be listened to and a scornful gaze is cast on those who have gone before us.

Each day brings fresh reminders of how prone believers are to being ensnared by this error. For instance, our cultural moment relishes the quick answers, pithy statements, and theological clichés to solve all of the theological issues and debates. Social media platforms, like Twitter, become the places where believers “do theology” which means that the space and time are short. Whatever a person says about an issue, the limit is 280 characters so nuance and explanation cannot be entertained. The flashy retorts and the witty responses rule the day regardless of whether any substantive really took place.

In recent days, questions and discussions regarding theonomy, the place of the law in civil society, the nature of the church and the state, and liberty of conscience are being discussed with a renewed focus. Theological discussions are a good thing. The church needs robust exchanges and study concerning biblical doctrine. However, it is apparent that too many believers fail to put in the hard work of study. It is quite easy to listen to the hottest podcast, watch the most provocative YouTube videos, and read the wittiest blogger than it is to dig into the primary sources of theology. With all due respect, there is more to learn and understand about the law and the gospel in the writings of 17th century Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists than in most of the current material being sold in the virtual marketplace.

While it is easy to claim a heritage, it is harder to actually study and know the complexities of that heritage. If one claims to be a subscriber to the 2LBCF (1689), it would behoove him to actually read Abraham Booth’s essay on the kingdom of Christ and Isaac Backus’ treaties on liberty of conscience concerning the issues that distinguish us from those who advocate for a state church. Why would such a person take their cues on the function of the law in society from one who supports a state church? Ask yourself this question: am I really shaped by the historic foundations of the faith or the cultural moment that I live?

Carl Trueman provides much wisdom, “The Christian mind is not only doctrinal; it is also marked by a certain attitude to the past. And church practice, as well as church teaching, plays an important role in the cultivation of this.”[1] So, what would describe your practice right now? Do you do theology within the context of a local church shaped and guided by the historic creeds, confessions, and catechisms that have been passed down to us? The Christian views history differently than the world for Christianity understands that all of history is written by God. Beware the heresy of modernity that ignores the Spirit working through the people of God who have gone before us. May this generation faithfully contend for the faith passed down!

[1] Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 182.

The Voice of Christ

All of us desire to be noticed. Whether a person wants to admit or not, we do crave attention, affirmation, and acceptance. The sense of being “special” really makes us feel unique. The notion of uniqueness and being special can be overplayed especially in a society that values individualism in an unhealthy way. The temptation to pride, however, knows no historical limitations. There is no question that John the Baptist did occupy a unique place in redemptive history. He is only man set apart to be the forerunner to the Messiah. With that unique calling, John seeks to remove attention from himself and point to Christ. As ministers of the gospel today, we find ourselves in a very “unique” spot where boasting in our talents comes naturally. None of us are John the Baptist though when it comes to his office. His mindset and ministry demonstrate what should be the desire of all who teach and share the word of God: hear the voice of Christ.

In his excellent work, Expository Thoughts on Mark, J.C. Ryle notes that large numbers and popular preachers can become the measurement of spirituality for man. People can equate a crowd or popularity as a stamp of God’s approval upon a person, ministry, or church. J.C. Ryle notes that there were many who came out to hear John for a season. He was a popular preacher in his day. Men and women walked miles to come to the Jordan River and hear him preach. I have never had anyone walk miles to attend a service I was preaching! Yet, for all of the crowds that came to hear him, how many were truly converted? Did they come to hear John and be entertained by this funny looking man heralding the kingdom in the wilderness? This is not a statement that small numbers equal godliness. However, just because a large number go to this place or that place does not mean the presence of God is there.

J.C. Ryle then makes a weighty statement: “It is not enough to hear and admire popular preachers. It is no proof of our conversion that we always worship in a place where there is a crowd. Let us take care that we hear the voice of Christ himself, and follow him.” In our corporate worship, do we desire to hear the voice of Christ? When worship is guided by principles of pragmatism then hearing Christ is diminished as a priority. The worship leader’s talents and the speaker’s charisma become the driving force of the service. Men and women fill buildings week after week hearing a voice but it is not the voice of Christ.

John the Baptist exhibits that which is faithful and better in his continual efforts to move the spotlight off himself and onto the Messiah who was coming. John receives attention and possesses a unique calling and office. How does John respond to these factors? John points to Christ and yearns for the people to not look to him but to look to the Lamb who came to take away the sin of the world. For all of the crowds and for the temporary popularity, John’s focus remains upon Christ. The forerunner’s voice comes at a critical moment. However, there is another voice that John desires the people to hear.

What will be the verdict upon our preaching, our teaching, our discipleship, and our catechizing? Was our aim continually upon the voice of Christ being heard? Do we find ourselves being consumed by fleeting popularity, podcast downloads, and attendance? Beloved, let us hear the words of John: Christ must increase and I must decrease! Our voices cannot raise spiritually dead men to life, bring comfort to the broken, and heal the afflicted soul, but the voice of Christ does make the dead alive, comfort brokenness, and heal affliction. Let us then give ourselves to being people who point others to Christ, the pre-eminent One. Let us join with John the Baptist in saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

The Top Ten

Is it ever possible to read too many books (or have too many books)? I do not think so! It was a blessing to read some wonderful, stirring, challenging, and invigorating books this past year. Here are the ten books I read in 2019 that would be my top recommendations for you to pick up and dive into in 2020!

10) “Still Protesting” by D.G. Hart

When confusion still exists as to whether the Protestant Reformation is still going on and needed, Hart provides a compelling case as to why the divine between Protestants and Rome still exists. Furthermore, Hart deals with some of the main arguments that individuals make as to why they embrace the theology of Rome. We need to be aware of why we are Protestant and why it still matters in the 21st century.

9) “Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection” by Greg Gilbert

Many Christians seem to think that they must do things in order to maintain or keep the favor of God. Why do I have bad things happen to me if I am faithful to read my Bible and pray in the morning? Gilbert offers much needed encouragement for weary saints. In showing the favor we have in Christ is unchanging, this book will seek to reorient how we view our lives.

8) “Made for His Pleasure” by Alistair Begg

We walked through this book on Wednesday evenings as a church. This book deals with ten benchmarks for the Christian to look at in our lives. Begg weaves personal stories and doctrinal truths that make this a compelling read that would work well for a small group or church study.

7) “Here I Stand” by Roland Bainton

If you ever look at biographies of Martin Luther, Bainton’s book usually ranks high on the list. This book does live up to the hype! Bainton does a wonderful job of painting visuals of what took place in Luther’s life. You will feel like you are walking through the streets with the German Reformer!

6) “Being a Pastor: A Conversation with Andrew Fuller” by Haykin and Croft

This short volume is a must read in the area of pastoral theology. Haykin and Croft provide historical context and practical application with the thrust of the book being a collection of ordination sermons Andrew Fuller preached. This is a great introductory book if you have never read Fuller. As a pastor, his sermons challenged me and stirred me to gaze at Christ continually.

5) “True Bounds of Christian Freedom” by Samuel Bolton

In a time where this is so much confusion on the law and the gospel, this Puritan paperback provides so much clarity and guidance in how we understand law and gospel. Bolton shows how the law functions in the life of an unbeliever and a believer. This classic Reformed book should be read by all!

4) “Communion with God” by John Owen

There are times when John Owen is a hard read. However, the Puritan paperback edition of this classic will feed your souls. Owen walks through how the Christian possesses communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The riches of our Trinitarian salvation are often overlooked. Owen will show you how this is the foundation of all our hope and peace.

3) “From Shadow to Substance” by Sam Renihan

This is the first book from Renihan that I would recommend. In this book, he traces out the historical development of Particular Baptist covenant (or federal theology). As Renihan demonstrates, the Baptists were a part of a diverse Reformed community when it came to covenant theology. They did not stand alone but used the theological principles of men like John Cameron and John Owen to develop what is now called 1689 Federalism. This book sheds light on the historical theology of the first Particular Baptists.

2) “The Mystery of Christ” by Sam Renihan

Renihan provides a biblical study and overview for a comprehensive understand of biblical covenants from a 1689 Baptist standpoint. Renihan’s treatment of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants is especially helpful in seeing some of the differences between Presbyterians and Baptists. This is not a polemical work but seeks to present a positive case for the Baptist view. Renihan does a masterful job and it is a must read to understand the Baptist view.

1) “Reformed Preaching” by Joel Beeke

Sinclair Ferguson was correct when he said you would need a lot of highlighters as you read this book because of how much you will mark! If I were teaching a homiletics class, this would be one of the required text books. Beeke provides a balanced approach of strengths in Reformed preaching while giving attention to blind spots that develop in the tradition. Utilizing historical examples, offering nuggets of practical application, and being an easy read, every preacher should pick this book up and read this year! Beeke will sharpen your preaching!

Salvation at Table

Recently, I had a pastor ask me what my thoughts were concerning church members who never bothered to show up to celebrate and commemorate the Lord’s Supper. It struck me when he asked me that question because it reminded me of what I saw growing up. Only once did we celebrate communion and only a handful of people bothered to show up on a Wednesday night when it was held. The two ordinances given to the church are not options. These are not means of salvific grace whereby we know justification through the waters of baptism or the meal at the Lord’s Table. Yet, there should be concern for someone who can profess to be a Christian yet has no desire to be obedient to the Word and to celebrate the means of grace that God has given to us.

When we come to the Lord’s table, we are enjoying a preview of what is to come! We have come to a banquet to feast upon the riches of the gospel. The bread and cup are tokens of the King of His love for us and what we enjoy in Him. Consider what we celebrate…

Justification

How can I be admitted to the table apart from the righteousness of Christ? The Lord’s Supper points me to the fact that the access I have to God is free, full, and open. The reason that I have that access is due to me being justified in Christ. I do not come to the table in hopes of being justified. This is not a part of my duties to perform whereby I hope to earn credit and merit before God.

When I come to the table, I am celebrating the fact that I come as one who is in Christ. I am justified due to Him and Him alone. The bread and the cup are symbols that remind me of what it cost in order for me to be righteous in Christ. The bread proclaims that God took on flesh. As the God-man, the second Adam, the Christ lived a life of full obedience to the law of God and was in submission to the Father. His active obedience is imputed to us. His passive obedience is seen in the cup whereby He pours Himself out as the sacrifice on our behalf.

Our hope is truly built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Our justification is based upon what He has done and what He has given us. By faith, we trust and rely upon His finished work. So, when we come to the table, we understand our admittance is rooted in the fact that we are clothed in the robes that Christ has given to us.

We come to the table still sinners but also justified. The supper does not mean that we are here perfectly righteous in that we have not sinned. It does mean that I am perfectly righteous in the sight of God and accepted in the beloved Son! We celebrate the wondrous truth of justification when we come to communion. Delight in this that you have a seat at the table because you are justified.

Adoption

Second, we celebrate our salvation at the table when we consider the truth of adoption. Notice, that for us to be given a seat at the table testifies to the fact that our status has changed. We were enemies of God, now we are adopted and made the children of God.

Do you understand that the doctrine of adoption is connected to the doctrine of election, the covenant of redemption, and our being called out of this world? We are a gift from the Father to the Son. Those who were opposed to Him now love Him. Adoption does not happen because we choose for it to happen or because we will it to happen. Nothing exists in us that would demand that God adopt us and bring us into His family.

Sanctification

Third, the Lord’s Table aids us in growing in sanctification. We refer to the table as one of the ordinary means of grace that the Lord gives to us. These are meant to strengthen our faith and assurance. We come to the table in order to be reminded of who we are and why we press forward. This is a time for us to rest and rejoice in the gospel of grace. This is to be wind under our sails in a lifelong pursuit of sanctification.

As we come to the table, we are being reminded of who we were and who we are now in Him. The meal causes us to see our dependence is upon His grace not just in justification and adoption but also in sanctification as well. This celebration of our sanctification is not only in the individual’s life but in our life corporately. As this is a new covenant meal, we are calling one another to pursue Christ, to run for Christ, and that we are doing so together. This is not a pilgrimage that we face alone but that we are unified together in Christ.

Let us delight in the ordinary means of grace the Lord gives to us. Let us not despise them but desire them more and more.

Glorification

In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus spoke of a future time when He would drink of the fruit of the vine in the kingdom. All that we enjoy about the table is a preview of what awaits us in the consummation. When Christ returns, we will be glorified and made perfectly like Him. At the table of the king, we will see and focus our attention not upon one another’s greatness but upon His greatness.

So, the supper serves to remind us that while this is an earthly meal, it bears great spiritual significance. It serves for us as a type of picture of what we will enjoy for all eternity with the King of kings and Lord of lords. Does that not excite you? Can you imagine what it is going to be like to be seated with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Cornelius, Apollos, and Timothy, Augustine, Athanasius, and Polycarp, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, Fuller, Carey, Spurgeon, Sproul, and Lloyd-Jones? As wonderful as that will be, our attention will not be on the apostles, the church fathers, the Reformers, or other great heroes we love to read. Our attention will be on the head, the king, the ruler: Christ!

Conclusion

The table does not save us. Rather it is a celebration of the wondrous salvation that has been wrought in our lives by the grace of God. Meditate each time you come to the table on your justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. Celebrate the amazing grace of God in this sacred and special meal!

 

A Baptist Warning Concerning Tribalism

No one would confuse Andrew Fuller for being anything but a firm Calvinistic Baptist who wrote extensively to defend the doctrines of grace from a Particular Baptist point of view. If you read Fuller’s writings in the realm of ecclesiology and polity, you will find a man who was a thorough Baptist. However, even in his own day, Andrew Fuller saw the danger that exists in giving one’s self over to extreme sectarianism. Are we interested in seeing people come to Christ or that they become a part of our denominational or theological heritage? By all means, if we consider ourselves a Baptist, a Presbyterian, or a Congregationalist, then we should be able to defend our convictions and views. I am a Particular Baptist because I am thoroughly convinced that is the theological tradition most faithful to the Bible. Even so, I should be filled with nothing but joy and gladness when I see a faithful Presbyterian church receive new members due to souls being converted by the grace of God. The counsel that Andrew Fuller provides us in this piece is much needed in our day when tribalism, fueled by cultural changes and social media, continues to grow more and more within the church.

I first became aware of this short piece by Andrew Fuller on David Prince’s website which hosts “Andrew Fuller Fridays.” Here is the link: http://www.davidprince.com/2018/06/08/pursuing-lesser-things-to-the-neglect-of-the-greater-andrew-fuller-being-dead-still-speaks-to-sbc18/.

Below is an excerpted portion of Andrew Fuller’s article “The Necessity of Seeking those Things First which are of the First Importance” (The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Miscellaneous—Fugitive Pieces, Andrew F. Fuller, Ed., Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007:984-985).

A great part of the evil which prevails in the world consists in an entire neglect of what God commands, or in doing what he has expressly forbidden; but not the whole of it. There may be an attachment to many things which in themselves are right, and yet the whole may be rendered worse than void by the want of order, or a regard to things according to their importance.

Our Lord did not censure the Pharisees for attending to the lesser matters of the law, but for attending to them “to the neglect of the greater.” If we pursue things as primary which ought to occupy only a secondary or subordinate place in the system, we subvert the whole, and employ ourselves in doing what is worse than nothing.

I think I see the operation of this principle among us, and that to a wide extent. I see it among the unconverted, among the converted, and among different parties or denominations of Christians.

First, It is by this that great numbers who lay their accounts with obtaining the kingdom of heaven will be found to have deceived themselves.

It may be too much to say of them that they do not seek the kingdom of God; but they seek it not as a first or primary object. The world is their chief good, and the kingdom of God only occupies a secondary place in their affections. They wish to attend to their everlasting concerns, but they cannot spare time. Now we can commonly spare time for that which we love best.

Secondly, It is owing to this, among other causes, that many Christians go from year to year in doubt, with respect to their interest in Christ and spiritual blessings.

It is very desirable to have clear and satisfactory views on this subject. To live in suspense on a matter of such importance must, if we be not sunk in insensibility, be miserable. How is it that so much of this prevails among us; when, if we look into the New Testament, we shall scarcely see an instance of it among the primitive Christians? Shall we cast off all such characters as unbelievers?

Some have done so, alleging that it is impossible for a person to be a believer without being conscious of it. Surely this is too much; for if the grace of God within us, whatever be its degree, must needs be self-evident to us, why are we directed to keep his commandments as the means of “knowing that we know him?” The primitive Christians, however, had but little of this fear; and the reason of it was, they had more of that perfect love to Christ, to the gospel, and to the success of it, than we have, which tended to “cast out fear.”

If we make our personal comfort the first object of our pursuit, (and many attend the means of grace as if they did,) God will make it the last of his; for it is a general principle in the Divine administration, “Him that honoureth me I will honour; but he that despiseth me shall be lightly esteemed.” If we seek the honour of God, we shall find our own peace and comfort in it; but if we make light of him he will make light of us, and leave us to pass our days in darkness and suspense.

Thirdly, It is owing, if I mistake not, to the same cause that various denominations of Christians, who at some period have been greatly blessed of God, have declined as to their spiritual prosperity.

Several of our religious denominations have arisen from a conscientious desire to restore Christianity to its primitive purity. From this motive acted, I believe, the greater part of the Reformers, the Puritans, the nonconformists, and the Baptists. I do not know that any one of these denominations were censurable for the separations which they made from other professing Christians. It may be alleged that they have torn the church of Christ into parties, and so occasioned much evil; yet some of them did not separate from the church of Christ, but from a worldly community calling itself by that name; and those who did, pretended not to be the only people of God in the world, but considered themselves merely as “withdrawing from brethren who walked disorderly.”

It is a melancholy fact, however, that no sooner have a people formed themselves into a new denomination than they are in the utmost danger of concentrating almost all their strength, influence, zeal, prayers, and endeavours for its support; not as a part of Christ’s visible kingdom, wishing all good to other parts in so far as they follow Christ, but as though it were the whole of it, and as though all true religion were circumscribed within its hallowed pale. This is the essence of a sectarian spirit, and the bane of Christianity.

I am a Dissenter, and a Baptist. If I confine my remarks to the faults of these denominations, it is not because I consider them as greater sinners in this way than all others, but because I wish more especially to correct the evils of my own connexions. If we wish to promote the dissenting interest, it must not be by expending our principal zeal in endeavouring to make men Dissenters, but in making Dissenters and others Christians. The principles of dissent, however just and important, are not to be compared with the glorious gospel of the blessed God; and if inculcated at the expense of it, it is no better than tithing mint and cumin, to the omitting of the weightier matters of the law. Such endeavours will be blasted, and made to defeat, their own end.

If we wish to see the Baptist denomination prosper, we must not expend our zeal so much in endeavouring to make men Baptists, as in labouring to make Baptists and other Christians. If we lay out ourselves in the common cause of Christianity, the Lord will bless and increase us. By rejoicing in the prosperity of every other denomination, in so far as they accord with the mind of Christ, we shall promote the best interests of our own. But if we be more concerned to make proselytes to a party than converts to Christ, we shall defeat our own end; and however just our sentiments may be with respect to the subjects and mode of baptism, we shall be found symbolizing with the Pharisees, who were employed in tithing mint and cumin, to the neglect of judgment, mercy, and the love of God.

 

Who is Sufficient For These Things?

In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, Paul speaks about how gospel ministry spreads the fragrance of Christ. This fragrance is either an aroma of life or it is an aroma of death. This is quite a visual that the apostle presents before us. He then asks a question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Recently, this passage and that question have pierced my heart. This is a season of pastoral ministry where I am acutely aware of my insufficiencies as a pastor. In the life of our church, we have seen a dear sister diagnosed with cancer, relationships in need of biblical counsel, and various physical/spiritual needs in the body. Who is sufficient for these things? I am not. Thankfully, this is the posture a pastor needs to be in. For when we confess our insufficiency, we are brought to remember what is sufficient for such trials in the life of a church. The Lord graciously brings back to my remembrance what I am to lean upon daily in the face of my insufficiency. I want to call your attention to see the sufficiency of the Shepherd, the Spirit, and the Scriptures.

The Sufficiency of the Shepherd   

In shepherding, pastors feel often overwhelmed with the responsibilities and burdens they feel in caring for the flock of Christ. This needs to drive us to see our dependency upon the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 23 must be a text that comes to our hearts over and over! He is our Shepherd! He purchased us with His own blood! He brings us to His table and calls for pastors to come and dine. Pastor, you must not be one who only thinks about the gospel when he is in the pulpit. For your own soul, you need to return over and over to the precious truths of gospel of grace in Christ. Meditate over Ephesians 1 and see how by union with Christ, you know election, adoption, redemption, holiness, and an eternal inheritance. The work of the Shepherd is not only sufficient for your conversion but for every part of your life and ministry. Brother pastor, your labor is not in vain! After giving instructions on how to shepherd, Peter writes these words, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4) Rest in that promise that while you are not the perfect shepherd, you are trusting in the One who is and pointing your people to Him! The Good Shepherd is sufficient not only for justification but for every need in the life of your congregation! He is sufficient for your own heart and soul! Behold again the beauty of the Shepherd!

The Sufficiency of the Spirit

In shepherding, there are many problems and we want to fix all of them. It is our tendency to see an issue, a conflict, or a tense situation before us and immediately begin to think about how we can resolve it and overcome every obstacle. Yet, so much is before us that is way beyond us and our abilities. When someone is diagnosed with a terminal condition, we do not have the capacity to heal. When someone continues in unrepentant sin and rejecting the gospel, we cannot change their hearts and make them new. This drives us to depend upon the work of the Spirit of God. Do you rest in the sufficiency of the Spirit? The Spirit brings real change and brings real comfort. As Jesus describes the work and ministry of the Spirit in John 14-16, our hearts need to bow and submit to His power and authority. This is not a passive path that the pastor takes in depending upon the sufficiency of the Spirit. It is a great comfort because you will be driven into the ground and despondent if you think that you are capable and sufficient to change all of the people and circumstances that exist in your local church. The Chief Shepherd put you there as His man. He gave you the Spirit who will bring forth fruit in due season. Yes, you are insufficient to change that man or woman. Yes, the Spirit is fully sufficient and able to raise the dead in sin to life in Christ! He is the source of our strength to persevere!

The Sufficiency of the Scriptures

“Preach the Word.” The mandate is clear and plain. Do you believe that the Scriptures are sufficient and meet the needs of your people? No, I am not talking about a mere biblicism that just goes looking for a proof text and treats the Bible as a collection of sayings and clichés. I am talking about the commitment to the beauty and flow of redemptive promise and accomplishment found from Genesis to Revelation. What will you give yourself to as the pastor serving your flock? The Scriptures point to the Shepherd and were written by the Spirit. What will you bring to your people week in and week out? You might confess that you believe in the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. However, if you are not committed to sequential exposition that is rooted in the centrality of Christ, your view of the Bible might not be more than lip service. Give your people the Word.

Conclusion

I say none of these things as one that perfectly relies upon the sufficiency of the Shepherd, the Spirit, and the Scriptures. I confess that there have been moments lately where I felt real fear in seeking to process how I would navigate through the waters of trials and tests in the life of our church. The question “Is it worth it?” can creep around in the deep recesses of the heart. I can tell you that it does. A lady in our church recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer thanked me and my fellow elder this past Sunday. What was she thanking us for? She thanked us for preparing her for this trial due to our commitment to the ordinary means of grace. By biblical exposition, seeing the gospel as connected to every part of life, and rejoicing in the Spirit connecting us as a church family, she felt an inner peace and joy in the face of this trial. Those words brought me back to the question Paul asked, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

Certainly, Jake Stone is not. I rejoice to know that there is One who is!

Five for Fuller

“I have long considered your father to be the greatest theologian of the century” is the testimony C.H. Spurgeon bore concerning Andrew Fuller. In a letter Spurgeon wrote to Fuller’s son, one giant among the Particular Baptists bore witness of the impact another great Particular Baptist had made on his own life.[1] What lessons are there for us to learn from Andrew Fuller in the 21st century? Since Spurgeon so commended Fuller, it would do us well to learn more from this great man. In his book, Ardent Love for Jesus, Dr. Michael Haykin provides three reasons why he appreciates Fuller and why we need to read and study him. I would like to incorporate those along with an additional two reasons on why Andrew Fuller is a figure from church history we need to become better acquainted with.

1) Theological Balance

Fuller battled against the extremes of hyper-Calvinism, strains of Arminianism, and a growing acceptance of heretical views such as Socinianism and Unitarianism. In the midst of all of this, Fuller never swerved away from a core commitment to the doctrines of grace. Fuller would also serve as the theologian behind the missionary movement that sent forth William Carey and others to India. Balance is such a key for pastoral ministry. Often, pastors are being pulled in one direction or another that can lead to extreme positions. In one of his final letters, Fuller wrote, “I have preached and written much against the abuse of the doctrine of grace, but that doctrine is all my salvation and all my desire. I have no other hope than from salvation by mere sovereign, efficacious grace through the atonement of my Lord and Saviour.”[2]

2) Gospel Friendships

The tendency to see one person as the key figure of a movement (think Luther, Calvin) fails to grasp how it is always a band of individuals working together. The apostle Paul lists men and women in most of his epistles testifying that the work of the kingdom is carried out by more than one person. The revival that God brought to the Particular Baptists at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century did not come in isolation. Fuller, along with men like William Carey, John Sutcliff, Samuel Pearce, John Ryland, Jr., and others, worked together and prayed together to see God save souls and revive the churches. Pastors need other pastors. The work of ministry cannot be done in the strength of one man.

3) Christian Piety

Living for the glory of the Triune God fueled Andrew Fuller. He was not interested in theology merely to have ammunition in order to argue with others. He wanted his thinking and living to be rooted in a deep commitment to the Word of God. Fuller longed for God to mold and conform his heart to the truths of Holy Scripture. He would write that to “glorify God, and recommend by our example the religion of the meek and lowly Jesus, are the chief ends for which it is worthwhile to live.”[3] Let us not be known only as defenders and proclaimers of orthodoxy but also as those who seek to practice the implications that come forth from biblical orthodoxy! Let us live grace-saturated, Christ-centered lives for the glory of God!

4) Faithful Churchman

Like the Particular Baptists before him, Andrew Fuller knew a deep love for the church of Jesus Christ. Fuller never apologized for the biblical convictions he held to when it came to Baptist polity and ecclesiology. However, Fuller did know that Baptist views on the church had caused some to grow too introspective and neglect evangelism. Fuller proclaimed, “The true churches of Jesus Christ travail for the salvation of men. They are the armies of the Lamb, the grand object of whose existence is to extend the Redeemer’s kingdom.”[4] In preaching ordination sermons for pastors, writing polemically in dealing with theological error, and serving as the first secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, Fuller’s heart burned with a love for the church. A holy zeal for the local church, not for a platform, needs to burn within pastors!

5) Evangelical Unity

While not hesitant to confess and defend Baptist distinctives, Fuller and his fellow Particular Baptists desired unity with like-minded evangelical defenders of the faith. John Sutcliff, Particular Baptist pastor in Olney, forged a friendship with John Newton. John Ryland’s friendship with John Erskine, Scottish Presbyterian minister, would provide the means for the great Particular Baptist prayer call for revival in 1784. Erskine sent Ryland a treatise written by Jonathan Edwards concerning prayer and revival. The Northamptonshire Association issued a call to the pastors and churches of the association to meet together to pray for revival. In this prayer call, the Baptists would pray not only for their churches to be revived but for other evangelical churches and denominations. As Michael Haykin notes, these men understood the kingdom was greater and larger than just the Particular Baptists![5] Let us be faithful to our convictions but let us also grow in charity towards those we would share so much with doctrinally and practically!

Conclusion

When William Carey was informed that Andrew Fuller had died, he spoke these three simple words: “I loved him”[6] Andrew Fuller was only a clay pot carrying forth the treasure of the gospel! What a faithful vessel of the gospel he was! A new generation needs to learn from the pastor of Kettering! The pastor-theologian faithfully plodding in the work of the kingdom is of far greater worth than all the jewels of this earth! He is a jewel in the crown of Christ! Press on!

[1] https://pastorhistorian.com/2014/05/12/letter-from-c-h-spurgeon-to-a-g-fuller-commending-andrew-fuller/

[2] Haykin, 90.

[3] Ibid., 91.

[4] Ibid., 89.

[5] Ibid., 66.

[6] Ibid., 89.

Prone to Wander

Even though I have been in church my entire life, there still is no sweeter sound to me than hearing the voices of many blend into unison as a biblical hymn is sung on the Lord’s Day. Individually, many might not possess musical talent or a grand singing voice. Yet, collectively together, the voices become one in praising the Triune God. One hymn that is special to me is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” In this hymn, the writer makes this observation about the tendency of believers, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” In those few words, every Christian acknowledges what we wrestle with. We are prone to wander, forget, and turn away from the riches of God given to us in Christ.

With our tendency to wander and forget, it is no mystery to why the Bible emphasizes the importance of remembering. The twelve stone memorial erected by Israel after crossing the Jordan River in Joshua 4, the commemorating of Israel’s history in Psalm 78, and Peter’s statement that his two letters were written to stir up the minds of his audience by way of remembrance; the Bible declares that we need to go back and remember truths. In coming to the Lord’s Table to partake of communion, our Lord’s words are repeated during the service: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the Lord’s kindness, He provides us with a meal in which our celebration centers upon remembrance. Each time a church celebrates communion, Paul states that we are proclaiming the gospel. Can we ever hear the gospel too many times? Is it possible for us to preach the gospel too many times? So, it is not a bad thing for us to repeat ourselves in preaching and teaching the Bible. True, we do not need to say the same thing the same way over and over! However, the truths of the gospel are to be repeated because we are prone to wander and forget. How often do we practically live and view justification as dependent upon what I do for the Lord today?

Whether Christians are living in the first century or the twenty-first century, we have a propensity to still function as if we are under a covenant of works when it comes to sanctification rather than see that we are justified and sanctified by the covenant of grace. The centrality of Christ must never be seen as too simple by us. The 2LBCF beautifully expresses our utter dependence upon Christ for every part of salvation this way: “The principle acts of saving faith have immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Him alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.”[1] There is no part of our lives as believers that is to be seen detached from the person and work of Christ. Both justification and sanctification flow from union with Christ.

As we make our way through this pilgrimage, we are reminded of our sin and our susceptibility to the snares of the devil. We continue fighting and resisting the overtures of Satan, the world, and carnal impulses from within. When the battle gets hard, those are the moment that we are most vulnerable to wander and forget. Remember that supremacy of Christ and all that He has done! In Christ, you have been made perfect in Him forever. Nothing can undo the divine declaration that you are righteous in the sight of God due to being in Christ! Go back to Calvary and the covenant: the believer’s posture is one of resting in Christ! When the battle against sin seems to overwhelm us, remember this stanza from “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and rest in the hope of Christ!

 

O that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face;

Clothed then in the blood-washed linen How I’ll sing Thy sov’reign grace.

Come, my Lord, no longer tarry, Take my ransomed soul away;

Send thine angels now to carry Me to realms of endless day.

 

[1] 2LBCF 14.2

Solus Christus: William Carey’s Missional Foundation

If you perform a YouTube search of Joel Osteen on Larry King Live, you can see how uncomfortable a person feels claiming to be a “Christian” and being asked if this means that Jesus is the only way of salvation. While we might not find ourselves on a TV news program, there is still a sense of hesitancy and awkwardness at times in proclaiming the exclusivity of Christ. We might feel like we are not trained in a sophisticated manner to handle the detractors of Christianity. Can ordinary pastors speak with boldness concerning the exclusivity of Christ?

The man labeled “The Father of the Modern Missions Movement” voyaged to India possessing a steadfast belief concerning Christ’s exclusivity. William Carey, the cobbler-pastor- missionary, might not be the model of a polished speaker but his heart burned with a passion to see the gospel of Christ carried to the ends of the world. Instead of seeing a belief in Solus Christus, Christ alone, as a barrier to ministry, we can learn from Mr. Carey on how such a belief is a fuel for ministry in the face of many challenges. Consider three lessons we can learn from William Carey’s commitment to Solus Christus in India:

Anchor Your Preaching in Christ

The Serampore Form of Agreement of 1805 provides us with the theological and missiological beliefs that structured the ministry of the Particular Baptists in India. In this document, Carey lays out what will be the heartbeat of their cause: preaching Christ alone. The agreement states that the missionaries would seek to emulate Paul, “and make the great subject of our preaching Christ the crucified.” The preaching of Christ is described as “the grand means of conversion.” Preaching Christ and Him crucified serves as the instrument by which sinners were converted and the church grows in sanctification. Can we be tempted to see doctrine as dry and dusty? Carey sees “these glorious truths” as “the joy and strength” of his soul. The Baptist missionaries see themselves as part of the heritage of Luther and the Reformation as well as the ministries of men like Edwards and Whitefield in the Great Awakening.[1]

These men saw themselves as ministers and ambassadors of the cross of Christ. They were foreigners coming into a spiritual desert containing an abundance of spiritual mirages promising much in the way of satisfaction but leaving men spiritually famished. Challenges were abundant for Carey, but his confidence rested in the power of the gospel transforming India. Modern historians and scholars label Carey’s missionary work as more humanitarian than gospel-centered. Dr. Michael Haykin counters that such individuals confuse the root of Carey’s ministry with its fruit. He writes:

Sending forth the gospel with its message of the crucified Christ whose death alone delivers from sin and its consequences was the main thing these men and women were about. The social and educational impact of that proclamation was a happy byproduct of their gospel preaching. To view these men primarily as social reformers is to do them a grave injustice.[2]

From his own hand, Carey provides us with how he declares “that all men were sinners against God” followed up with declarations concerning the justice and purity of God. He explains “that except our Sins were pardoned we must go to Hell…” Carey preaches the Law to point out the nature of sin in the lives of the pagans. He then comes to Christ and His sufficient sacrifice. Carey proclaims “that God was under no obligation to save any Man, and that it was of no use to make Offerings to God to obtain pardon of Sin…” in the form of animals or humans. Carey brings the message home by declaring God’s gracious salvation for the sake of Christ.[3]

Do you know individuals with hardened hearts in your community or family? Does it seem like you are spinning your wheels by preaching Christ alone? Brother pastor, your message must be Christ and Him alone! Let us stand with Paul and William Carey confessing the only ground of hope is found in Christ! How did Carey endure and how can we endure in difficult seasons?

Rely Upon the Grace of God

The preaching of Christ alone marks a dependence upon the grace of God. Carey and his associates held strongly to the doctrines of grace. Notice that their understanding of the doctrines of grace and the connection to missions is found in the opening paragraph of The Serampore Agreement:

We are sure, that only those who are ordained to eternal life will believe, and that God alone can add to the church such as shall be saved. Nevertheless we cannot but observe with admiration, that Paul, the great champion for the glorious doctrines of free and sovereign grace, was the most conspicuous for his personal zeal in the work of persuading men to be reconciled to God.[4]

These first missionaries to India confess that God chose a people unto Himself, those were the people who would be saved, and that God added to His church. These doctrines, as they rightly noted, were championed by the Apostle Paul, and instead of being a detriment to evangelism, they rather served as the motivation for it.

Carey’s understanding of human depravity is connected then to an utter acknowledgement that God is the One who alone can save men and women from their sins. While sailing to India in 1793, Carey observes:

Have most awful proof of the Awful effects of human depravity when heightened by bad principles – the Old Deist is one of the most daring presumptuous wretches that ever I heard…never found a man so hardened and determined to turn Scripture into Ridicule as him – Oh how dreadfully depraved is human Nature.[5]

Where is Carey’s hope in the face of such darkness? Would the description of this Deist sound like someone in your context? I know men and women who seem to only harden their hearts more against the gospel. Where is our hope in the midst of such spiritual darkness and obstinacy? Carey’s confidence in the power of God’s grace must be our confidence. He explains:

All my hope is in, and all my comfort arises from God; without his power no European could possibly be converted, and his power can convert any Indian, and when I reflect that he has stirred me up to the Work, and wrought wonders to prepare the Way I can hope in his promises, and am encouraged & strengthened.[6]

William Carey beckons us in the 21st century to not despair as we survey the sinful depravity all around us. Preach Christ! Rely on sovereign grace! This is our foundation and our hope! This is why, as unpopular as it might be, he preached Christ alone and so must we.

Defend the Sufficiency of Christ

It is easy to think our situation unique in the history of the church as to the barriers, obstacles, and hindrances to gospel ministry. In a pluralistic society, Carey faced the scorn of an “enlightened” society. Carey recorded an interaction with an English Deist who hosted him:

Spent the Evening in a long Dispute with my friendly Host, was enabled, through Mercy to be faithful and speak of the necessity of Faith in Christ in order to salvation – This was called illiberal (narrow-minded) and uncharitable; as it excluded Unbelievers, and eventually adjudged the Heaths to Eternal Misery. I argued that I was no more uncharitable than the Bible, and that if that was the Case, God would appear Gloriously Just…I feel a pleasure in being Valiant for the truth, and much wish that God would convert his Soul.[7]

Do you feel a kinship with Mr. Carey? Did you preach that our assurance of salvation is found in Christ alone rather than in a human decision only to receive a comment on how divisive you were? Did you turn red with embarrassment someone mocked your faith on the job? Remember that men and women like the English deist are to be pitied by us. Let us not despise them but love them enough to declare to them the truth.  We preach Christ and Him alone with no exceptions made. The Bible, not emotions or experiences, fashion how we preach the gospel of Christ. The results are in the hands of God. His calling to us is to go forth and proclaim that Christ is the only way, the only truth, and the only life.

Conclusion

In one of his final letters, Carey pens these words to his sisters, “The atoning sacrifice made by our Lord on the cross is the ground of my hope of acceptance, pardon, justification, sanctification, and endless glory.”[8] A commitment to Solus Christus shapes not only our view of gospel ministry and salvation but how we live and die. Whether you are facing the moralism of “Cultural” Christianity that emphasizes citizenship over Christ, the paganism of a primitive people group in the Amazon, the darkness of Islam or Hinduism in Asia, or the secularistic idolatry of America, remember that the work of Christ is your only hope and assurance. We do not apologize for preaching Christ alone. We glory in our Savior and rest in His victory!

[1] Michael A.G. Haykin, The Missionary Fellowship of William Carey. (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2018), 141-142.

[2] Ibid., 106-107.

[3] Terry G. Carter, The Journal and Selected Letters of William Carey. (Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys Publishing, 2000), 55.

[4] Haykin, 137.

[5] Carter, 4-5.

[6] Ibid., 23.

[7] Ibid., 22-23.

 

[8] Michael A.G. Haykin, Ardent Love for Jesus: Learning from the Eighteenth-Century Baptist Revival. (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2013), 133.