Monday 28 November 2011

"Forever with the Lord"

Recently I was informed that a good friend was in the last stage of terminal cancer. He is a fine Christian man and I was able to speak to him over the telephone to encourage him in these remaining weeks before he goes to his eternal reward. We have been learning a new hymn in Sheffield Presbyterian Church, one that was written by a man who spent most of his life in Sheffield. The hymn is 'Forever with the Lord' and the man is James Montgomery. As I discussed the realities of eternal life that only comes through Jesus Christ our Lord, with my friend, we discussed the words of this hymn; they seemed to give him great hope and confidence in the biblical promises of the New Jerusalem!

Here is the first verse of the hymn:

‘FOR ever with the Lord!’’
Amen, so let it be!
Life from the dead is in that word,
’’tis immortality.
Here in the body pent, absent from Him I roam,
yet nightly pitch my moving tent a day’’s march nearer home.

The last line is humbling but also thrilling. If you are a Christian who is reading this blog post then you should be encouraged to know that you are 'a day's march nearer home'. This last phrase is the title of a new autobiography edited by Iain Murray on the life of J. Graham Miller (J. Graham Miller, 'A Day's March Nearer Home: Autobiography of J. Graham Miller', edited by Iain Murray, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2010).

Later in this hymn, in the last verse, we read:

So when my latest breath shall rend the veil in twain,
by death I shall escape from death, and life eternal gain.

Hopefully, this hymn can pastorally help us all to overcome the fear of death because James Montgomery the author (1771-1854) has longed since escaped death but it is through death that we must enter the true promised land of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. If anyone is interested in the life of James Montgomery there is a good short biography that is published by DayOne Publications. Paul S. Taylor 'James Montgomery: A Man for all People', 2010. There is a providential link with Montgomery and who lived and worked in Sheffield for most of his life. There is a statue to honour the man's life outside Sheffield Cathedral in Sheffield's city centre.

Let us all heed the exhortation and warning from the last chapter of the last book in the Bible, the Book of Revelation.

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Rev. 22:12-17)

Wednesday 23 November 2011

The Atonement in its Application

Every time I come to do a blog post on this atonement series, I am keenly aware that we are just 'scratching the surface'. However, I can offer some pointers for more study. One of the grand atonement passages in the New Testament has to be Romans 3: 21-26. Regarding this passage, the commentator Leon Morris writes that it is 'probably the most important single paragraph ever written, Paul brings out something of the grandeur of Christ's saving work' (Leon Morris, 'The Epistle to the Romans', Leicester, Eerdmans, 1988, p 173). With this comment in mind, it would take weeks to fully expound this passage, but there are several threads regarding the atonement that need to be understood and applied.

Here are four themes:

1. The Righteousness of God (3:21)

2. Faith in Jesus Christ (3:22)

3. A Propitiation (3:25)

4. By his Blood (3:25)

Here we notice that these grand themes handle what Paul has explained to be the twin subjects that are revealed in the gospel of God: These are the righteousness of God and the wrath of God (Romans 1: 1 and 16-18). It is Christ's propitiation that satisfies the wrath of a holy and righteous God. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus averts the wrath of God upon those who justified by faith. Notice also that the object of our faith needs to be the person of Jesus, but it must also be in the blood of Jesus. Perhaps the significance of the blood of Jesus is downplayed at times to our detriment; the shedding of Christ's blood is central to the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26: 28).

Now, if we want to understand the atonement we need to understand the Book of Romans and here are some commentaries that I recommend.

Leon Morris 'The Epistle to the Romans', referenced above.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 'Sermons on Romans, especially Romans 3-4), Edinburgh: Banner of Truth.
John Murray, 'The Epistle to the Romans, Volumes 1 and 2', Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.

Further additional reading includes;
John Murray, 'Redemption Accomplished and Applied', Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1961.

Now in terms of application; for those who are involved in preaching and the leading of the people of God in public worship, every stage of our ministry should be magnifying Jesus Christ, the mediator. In terms of personal devotions we need to be reminded that the atonement of our Lord is perfect, it is complete and nothing can be added to it or taken away. We need to lean on the merits of Jesus Christ, and Him alone for salvation!

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Reflections on a Recent Reformed Conference

Last weekend (11th and 12th November 2011) we had our fourth conference for men who want to explore reformed doctrines and practice. We set out in 2008 with around a dozen men and it was called 'A Defence of Calvinism'. Each year men have expressed that they have profited the time together so much, that they wanted another conference the following year. So far there have been attendees from England, Wales, Scotland, The Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. This year we decided to change the name to 'Reformation Christianity Today' because we want to anchor historic truths in todays world. In other words, looking backwards so that we can look forwards. While we are all so thankful for the work of Luther, Calvin, Bucer and others who have gone before us, the work of ongoing reformation continues in our own generation.

This year has been perhaps our best time so far. There were 18 men registered and there were some excellent sessions by Rev. Brian Norton, the minister of Durham Presbyterian Church on 'Reformed Worship' and a 'Reformed Understanding of the Lord's Supper'. I think that it will take me several months to work through the many helpful theological threads which were positively presented and we all have left with a larger and richer vision of biblical worship and the Lord's Supper. There were devotions given by Andrew Graham (minister of Bradley Road Evangelical Baptist Church, Wrexham) from the Book of Jude and Phil Baiden (minister of URC Church, Doncaster) on Psalm 27; 'The Psalms, an Anatomy of the Soul'. It was a delight to sing Psalms and solid hymns during each session and for some it was a new experience to discover that the Psalms can be sung as well as read.

Time does not permit me to expound further on the details of the sessions but my overall impression is one of thankfulness to our sovereign Lord. My perception is that our Lord is recovering ancient truths to these men, some of whom are under the age of 30 years old. Even though this little conference may appear small in the eyes of some, may we be thankful for men who want to serve the next generation, not with that latest church fads and church growth models, but with historic truths, as prophesied in Psalm 100:5.

For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

These are the words of Hugh Latimer to Nicholas Ridley as they were about to be martyred, burned alive, for their Protestant faith: “Be of good cheer, Ridley; and play the man. We shall this day, by God’s grace, light up such a candle in England, as, I trust, will never be put out.”

If you are interested in the conference for next year (November 2012, Lord willing and to be confirmed) then please email Andrew Graham:

Monday 7 November 2011

Atonement in the Westminster Standards: Part 4

In this mini-blog series that I have been running on the atonement, one of the aims has been to consider the doctrine of the atonement within the Westminster Standards. However, this was an over-ambitious desire because such a task would require extensive research. Instead, I will offer some general pointers for those who would like to study the atonement in more detail using the Westminster Standards.These Standards comprise a Confession of Faith along with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The organising principle is quite different to the Canons of Dordt; while the respective theological content would be harmonious, the way it is expressed and organised is different.

Personally, I consider the Westminster Standards to be the best explanation of the Christian faith in the English language. The Westminster Confession devotes the whole of Chapter 8 to ‘Of Christ the Mediator’ (with 8 succinct points) and John Murray once wrote that this is ‘one of the most remarkable chapters for fulness of doctrine and condensation of expression’. This comment comes from an essay on ‘The Importance and Relevance of the Westminster Confession’ where he explains that the ‘Westminster Assembly had the advantage of more than a century of Protestant creedal formulation’ and that it is the ‘last of the great Reformation creeds’. Furthermore, he summarises that: ‘No creed of the Christian Church is comparable to that of Westminster in respect of the skill with which the fruits of fifteen centuries of Christian thought have been preserved, and at the same time examined anew and clarified in the light of that fuller understanding of God’s Word which the Holy Spirit has imparted'. These quotes are from: John Murray, ‘The Importance and Relevance of the Westminster Confession’ in Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume 1, Claims of Truth, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001, 317 and 320.

W. Robert Godfrey has some important comments in his writing on ‘The Larger Catechism’: ‘The Larger Catechism is a mine of fine gold theologically, historically and spiritually (129)’; The Larger Catechism is ‘not at all a difficult document to read and understand. In fact it is simpler in its statements than the Confession (138)' ’; The Catechism uses ‘the covenant as the organising principle of this doctrine [the person and work of Christ] (139)’; ‘the two-covenant theology of Westminster is the best understanding of the structure of biblical revelation and the best key to understand the work of Christ (140)’. These quotations are from: “The Westminster Larger Catechism,” in To Glorify and Enjoy God: A Commemoration of the Westminster Assembly. Edited by John L. Carson and David W. Hall. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994).

Now, for those who would like to study the doctrine of the atonement using the Westminster Confession of faith, then I recommend that they begin with Chapter 3 'Of God's Eternal Decree'. These eight points of doctrine are rich and they need careful reading, but in essence they affirm from scripture that 'some men are predestined for everlasting life and others to everlasting death'. The Westminster divines are pastorally wise though to teach that the 'doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care'. The next chapter to understand the atonement of Christ has to be Chapter 6 'Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment thereof'. This chapter outlines fully that man is utterly sinful and incapable of salvation, in fact fallen man is 'wholly inclined to all evil'. Then, I suggest that you read Chapter 9 'Of Free Will'; the conclusion of this chapter is the same as that of Calvin and Luther (The Bondage of the Will) in that mankind has 'lost all ability of will to any spiritual good ... and are dead in sin'. This chapter slays all Arminian thinking and rightly so because salvation is wholly of God's free grace.

For a further study of the atonement and the benefits of redemption, a good read of chapters 7 and 8 'Of God's Covenant with Man' and 'Of Christ the Mediator', should be followed by the chapters 10-17, effectual calling to the perseverance of the saints. I hope that my blog readers are prepared to work hard because all true disciples should desire the riches of Christ but these jewels need to be mined out.

Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding. Proverbs 23:23.

How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard. Hebrews 2:3.