Tuesday 31 March 2015

Godliness with contentment is great gain ... Part 2.

In thinking about my previous blog post on "Godliness with contentment is great gain", a further thought has come to me. This is something that is crucial to biblical contentment and yet it is far too little spoken of. It is the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 9:23-24.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it".

Here are several aspects of Christian discipleship which we must consider, meditate upon and pray about.

1. "Deny himself": As Jesus prayed "Not my will be yours be done"; is that how you pray and seek to live as a Christian?

2. "Let him take up his cross daily". The cross is the place of death, it is the place where your will and God's will meet. Taking up our cross is the opposite of the world's message and sometimes the message in the church. Jesus did not come to offer flowery beds of ease and worldly pursuits.

3. "And follow me". Christ centred living is more than reading books about Christ, it is being truly obedient to him as revealed in the Word of God and when you have a sense that the Lord maybe leading you, it is to seek counsel from godly elders who will instruct you in the truth.

4. Refusing to save your life, but instead losing it. This takes faith to be what Kenneth MacRae described of the apostle Paul, to be an "out and out man". This is what all Christians should be, 100% committed to the Lord, within the limits of their station in life.

Godliness and also true biblical contentment cannot be found without the true application of taking up our cross daily, denying ourselves and following the Lord. To pursue contentment on its own, could become if we are not careful, a selfish desire to pursue personal "happiness" but only with a thin Christian veneer. Such an approach to life will not provide lasting spiritual satisfaction, neither will it please the Lord.

We want to pursue pathways in life that rightly honour the Lord, but those paths are narrow, their ways are difficult, but they lead to life (Matthew 7:13-14).

Monday 30 March 2015

"Godliness with contentment is great gain".

Paul wrote to Timothy, while the latter was in Ephesus and Paul gave Timothy instructions for him to pass on to the church. There are many lessons from First Timothy, but one of them is about contentment. Listen to Paul's instruction:

"But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content" (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

The aim of my blogging is to encourage Christians in the reformed faith, as well as hopefully leading people to solid reformed convictions. However, as an ordained minister, I am foremost concerned about the welfare of souls and of God's sheep. Our Western materialistic culture, as well as the sinful nature, can push against many apostolic teachings. One such thing is that it is the will of God that we live contented in this world.

The world knows little of this message of contentment. It is only the super-wealthy who are heralded, men such as Sir Richard Branson who have everything. However, Paul does not write to Timothy to pass on to Christians, that we must be contented when we have everything we want in this life. No, contentment is a safe and spiritually healthy place to be as a Christian.

If the world knows little about true contentment, it knows nothing about godliness. Godliness is a word which is probably used far too little and this should be the pursuit of all. One question is: "Would others describe us as godly in out attitudes, words, actions and pursuits? This simple equation teaches us much, almost like 1 + 1 = 2. Godliness + Contentment = Great gain. Are you content and are you pursuing godliness?

There can be many things which make godliness and contentment difficult to attain. It could be worldliness, personal ambition, a desire to make a name for oneself, the fear of failure, unrealistic expectations of parents, insecurity and therefore seeking a reputation to compensate for a lack on inner-peace and so on.

There is a good Puritan paperback by Jeremiah Burroughs called "The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment". I recommend this for further study on this subject.

Perhaps, one of the first steps to being renewed in repentance and faith is to reorient ourselves with biblical truth. May I suggest for all of us, for those who profess the name of Jesus, that we seek to attain and to pray for, godliness and contentment in our Christian pilgrimage.

Monday 23 March 2015

Lively and Healthy Presbyterianism

A church functions well when she knows what she believes and why. We cannot escape church history. If we do so, it is to our spiritual peril and impoverishment.

John Calvin and the Genevan Reformation are credited with the recovery of biblical Presbyterianism, something seen as the apostolic pattern to be pursued at all times, in all nations, until the end comes. Ecclesiology may be messy, but we cannot relegate this subject to a lower division of spiritual truths. Not least when the NT reveals that the Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22, 4:15, 5:23, Colossians 1:18, 2:19).

When I studied the pattern for the church in Geneva in the Sixteenth century, the subject really appealed to me. It was not a rigid lifeless pattern that emanated from Geneva, but a blueprint for the church to follow, a theology with "hands and feet". True Presbyterianism is lively; it demands change in the church on the basis of the Scriptures, theology, church history and the early Church Fathers. Do you desire Reformation and revival in the church? Then you must become clear on the distinctive of a NT doctrine of the church.

There are seven key aspects of the doctrine of the church which must be revisited, if the church is to have true spiritual life, and to be obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. The Scriptures must be given supreme authority in the church. This includes a consistent dedication to the public reading of the Scriptures and the preaching of sound doctrine out of the Scriptures (Acts Chapter 17).

2. A church must have a clear confession of faith, one to summarise the Apostles' Doctrine (Acts 2:42). A list of nine points of key doctrines is wholly insufficient in my opinion, in order to teach the church, defend her against error and to know how to call elders, ministers and deacons. This is why a joyous commitment to the Westminster Standards provides a robust platform for doctrinal growth, both for the office bearers and church members.

3. An enthusiastic recovery of church government composed of local elders in connection with regional elders to form a presbytery, whereby there is mutual accountability. This is something seriously deviant, deficient and lacking in an Independent form of government and also in contemporary Anglican circles. Where are the bishops today who can exercise any meaningful church discipline?

4. A recovery of the simplicity and reverence of NT worship. The high point of Presbyterian worship should be the preaching of pure doctrine. Yes we love to sing Psalms and hymns but it is not singing which is the mark of true church, it is preaching of pure doctrine, the right administration oft he sacraments and church discipline.

5. The right administration of the sacraments means that a covenantal view of baptism, one which includes the baptism of the children of believer's, must be shown to be what it is; a true biblical doctrine. In addition a Reformed understanding of the Lord's Supper is very important, in order to go beyond the contemporary morass of a mere memorial at the Lord's Table.

6. Healthy Presbyterian churches should be warm-hearted and serious minded. The Book of Acts was all about a living orthodoxy.

7. To be involved in world missions which works along Presbyterian lines, to recover lost ecclesiology and lost doctrine. Church history shows that a vigorous commitment to world missions is something essential to obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the spiritual vigour of the church.

If you are interested in being part of the church planting work of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales, then I would love to hear from you, especially if you are from any towns or cities in the Northern part of England.

For further study, take a look at Book 4 of the "Institutes" by John Calvin.

Also Guy Waters "How Jesus Runs the Church".

Friday 20 March 2015

A Daily Dose of Greek

An important aspect of the recovery of sound biblical doctrine is the recovery of the study of the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew. The NT was written in Koine Greek and the OT in biblical Hebrew, with small portions also written in the sister language of Aramaic. To get to the root meaning of text we need ministers with an enthusiastic desire to have contact with these original languages. I liken it to the difference between a regular TV screen and a high definition one. One can see what is happening with a regular TV, but high definition makes things much sharper. It is not true that all regular Christians need to be able to read Greek or Hebrew. All things necessary for life and salvation are made very plain in a good Bible translation.

Recently, a teacher called Robert L. Plummer, Ph.D. who is the Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has launched a website to help people in learning Greek or in sharpening their skills in this language. This includes a daily dose of Greek where you can subscribe to daily emails with a 2 minute teaching on a NT Bible verse.

The website is:


This is an excellent resource and I commend it. For those who do not hold a Baptist ecclesiology, like myself, you need to be aware that, as for all of us, this man's doctrine of the church and of baptism comes through his exegesis at times. However, do not let this hinder you from profiting from Dr Plummer or indeed from sharpening up your Greek by whatever means is possible.


2 Timothy 2:15 "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth".

Monday 9 March 2015

"What is the main theme of the book of Jude and what can it teach us about the use of the Old Testament?" by Peter Winch

This essay was written by Peter Winch who is a young man who is helping our church planting work in Berlin. I have set him essays to help him to grow in the Lord and I asked his permission to post this on my blog. I hope that you find it helpful, as I certainly did.


The epistle of Jude, often known merely for its closing doxology, contains strong exhortations, warnings and admonitions which Calvin describes as ‘more than necessary in our age’.

The author, who introduces himself as ‘a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James’, was most likely Jude the half-brother of Jesus, named in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 as the brother of James and son of Mary and Joseph. Although the specific identity of the intended audience is disputed, Jude was written in general to Christians; ‘those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ’.

This essay will examine the epistle of Jude, specifically in reference to its main theme and what it teaches us about the use of the Old Testament.

The Main Theme of Jude

Jude both opens and closes his epistle with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints; that those who are saved will be eternally kept by the grace and power of God. This is seen in the first verse when he describes Christians as ‘beloved in God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ’ and in the final doxology as he writes that ‘God, our Saviour, … is able to keep you from stumbling and present you blameless before the presence of his glory’. This emphasis on God’s merciful preservation of his people bookends the epistle and would seem at first to be the main theme, if it were not for verse 3 in which Jude writes ‘I was very eager to write … about our common salvation [but] I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith’.

The exhortation for believers to contend for the faith is the logical counterpart to God’s preservation, an idea cogently expressed by John Murray when he writes ‘the doctrine of perseverance is the doctrine that believers persevere. If they persevere, they endure, they continue. Consequently, the security that is theirs is inseparable from their perseverance’. Despite his initial intention, Jude’s knowledge of his readers’ circumstances convinced him that it was necessary to focus on the duty of the believers themselves to persevere. The main theme of the book is subsequently an exhortation for Christians to contend for the faith.

This theme is developed by Jude in two ways: the necessity of resisting false teachers and the requirement for believers to continually build up their own faith.

The first aspect of Jude’s exhortation to contend for the faith is being aware of the danger of false teachers. Jude writes that ‘certain people have crept in unnoticed … who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality’. The very grace of God that Jude had intended to write about is being used as an excuse by these ungodly men for their immoral conduct. They have worked their way into the church and now ‘defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme glorious ones’. Jude warns the believers in the church to shun the teaching and examples of such men for they are condemned to ‘the gloom of utter darkness’ and will be convicted ‘of all their deeds of ungodliness’ on the final judgement day.

The second way in which Jude encourages his readers to contend for the faith is that they personally grow in grace. He commands them in verse 20 to build themselves up in their most holy faith and subsequently lists four God-given means through which they can be edified: prayer in the Holy Spirit, remaining in the love of God, waiting for Christ’s mercy and showing mercy to those who doubt or are lost in sin. These four ways to grow in holiness contrast sharply with the way Jude describes the false teachers who have crept in. Instead of praying in the Holy Spirit they are ‘devoid of the Spirit’. Instead of keeping themselves in the love of God they are like ‘wandering stars’ who ‘pervert the grace of our God’. They ‘deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ’ rather than waiting for his mercy, and instead of being merciful to others they are ‘shepherds feeding themselves’ who manipulate others to ‘gain advantage’.

The main theme of the book of Jude is, therefore, an exhortation to believers to contend for the faith. This is manifested by resisting the lies of false teachers and actively seeking to grow in personal holiness through the means God has given.

The use of the Old Testament in Jude

The epistle of Jude contains numerous references to Old Testament narratives and characters which teach us much about how to rightly use the Old Testament.

Firstly, and at the most fundamental level, Jude teaches us that events narrated in the Old Testament ought to shape the way we now live and view the world. The clearest example of this is found in verse 7, where Jude warns his readers of the reality of divine judgement on false teachers. He writes about Sodom and Gomorrah who, like the deceivers contemporary to Jude, ‘indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire’. This description of the towns is in the past tense because their physical destruction occurred long ago, but Jude then changes to the present tense and writes that they ‘serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire’. The judgement on these two cities is being carried out at this moment as ‘a remarkable example, in order to keep men in fear till the end of the world’. Jude makes clear that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah narrated in Genesis 19 is not an irrelevant incident confined to the past, but an ongoing warning of the reality of God’s judgement which must shape the way we live and view the world.

This same point is further illustrated by Jude’s reference to Cain, Balaam and Korah in verse 11. These three men had died long before Jude wrote his epistle, but their rebellion against God and his subsequent judgement on each of them ought to continue to guide those who read about them, an ongoing lesson that ‘apostates are the spiritual children of Cain and Balaam and Korah’.

The book of Jude thus teaches that the Old Testament, far from being an aridly academic historical record, continues to be ‘profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’.

Secondly, we learn in this epistle that the Old Testament requires repeated study because Christians easily forget the truth. Jude prefaces the first lesson from the Old Testament with the words ‘now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it’. In the past the readers had fully known this particular truth of God’s judgement from the Old Testament and yet Jude, inspired by the Holy Spirit, recognises the need to remind them of it. This teaches us that learning from the Old Testament is an ongoing process which requires repeated study of that which has already been learned. Studying and learning from the Old Testament is a continuous course of action.

Thirdly, the book of Jude teaches us that the Old Testament can rightly be interpreted in the light of later revelation. This is most evident in verse 5 when Jude writes that ‘Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe’. The Exodus account refers at no point to Jesus, or even explicitly to the Son of God, but Jude applies revelation that first came with Christ to events hundreds of years previously. He understood the trinitarian aspect to salvation through revelation that came with Christ and through that was able to better interpret Old Testament events.

The book of Jude teaches that the Old Testament ought to be a guide to those who read it, that it requires repeated study so that we do not forget its truth, and that it ought to be interpreted in the light of the later revelation that came with Christ and through his Spirit in the apostolic age.


This essay has shown that the main theme of the book of Jude, given in verse 3, is an exhortation for Christians to contend for the faith. This admonition had not been Jude’s initial intent for the epistle, but under the inspiration of the Spirit he found it necessary because of the false teachers who threatened those he wrote to. The epistle develops the command to contend for the faith firstly by showing the sin and eternal judgement bound up with false teaching so that believers distance themselves from it and, secondly, by encouraging believers to build themselves up in their most holy faith through the means given by God.

In regard to the Old Testament, the book of Jude teaches us that, far from being a mere academic historical narrative, it should continue to shape the way we live and understand the world around us, that we must repeatedly study it lest we forget what it teaches, and that New Testament revelation should help us to interpret it.

Monday 2 March 2015

To be Reformed means to be Committed to the Apostles' Creed

This subject is long overdue for discussion, because the Apostles' Creed provides the shape and structure to virtually all of the historic Reformed documents. Confessions such as the Westminster Standards, the Heidelberg Creed and others, not to mention that it also provided the defining structure to "The Institutes of Christian Religion" by John Calvin. Why then does the Apostles' Creed suffer neglect in its use in public worship, in membership classes and in Reformed discussion today?

I do not have a simple answer to explain this contemporary neglect, however we must be reminded that for a group to claim to be Reformed and to neglect this Creed is to be inconsistent with Reformed doctrine. Reformed theology does not lead to narrow sectarianism or to a kind of Reformed separatism. Let us focus on the Apostles' Creed which is cited below.

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth;

and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
born of the virgin Mary
suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting. Amen.

This creed is Trinitarian: God the Father, His only Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Two of the most questioned statements in the Apostles' Creed are: "He descended into hell" and "I believe in ... the holy Catholic church". Let us focus on the latter. Catholic means universal and not Roman Catholic and we must not yield up this word Catholic as something belonging to the Church of Rome. Far from it. Reformed churches are committed to the principles of being committed to the "Holy Catholic [universal] church". This means that we must be aware of the danger of schism. Reformed confessions and this creed emphasise the nature of true church unity, something that is often lacking in Fundamentalist principles.

It is common that when error creeps in to the church that an isolationist mentality can emerge where people withdraw into separatism. However to claim to be Reformed and yet also separatist in practice, this may well lead to an unhealthy and possibly unreformed church practice. Our Reformed Confessions such as the Westminster Standards offer a robust ecclesiology, if practiced properly, but they also demand a commitment to church unity.

Listen to Paul the Apostle:
"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:1-6, ESV)".