Monday 29 June 2015

Ministers, elders, deacons and all Christians should read books on the atonement

Why do I say this? It is because the crowning point of biblical revelation and also of redemption, is indeed the atonement purchased for sinners by Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross, was what kept the apostle Paul focussed. Listen to him as he writes to the Corinthians.

"For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Co 2:2).

We can study many things and indeed we should, but the atonement of Christ should have pre-eminence. This should be the "prince of subjects" for all churches and Christians and oh how Satan seeks to obscure the message of the "old rugged cross" in and through the church.

There can be many things in the "shop window" as it were metaphorically of the church, but the main item should be the message of Jesus Christ, him crucified and risen from the dead. Read 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Philippians chapter 2, Galatians chapter 3:1, Ephesians chapter 2. Whatever the pastoral problem for Paul, his answer was the same, it was to get the churches to consider the crucifixion of Jesus. Not a brief gaze, but what was summed up by Isaac Watts "When I survey the wondrous cross ...". We must survey the wondrous cross, time and time again.

Preachers especially MUST read books on the atonement to keep their preaching "on target". Here are a number of suggested books to be read on the atonement.

Hugh Martin, "The Atonement".
George Smeaton, "Christ's Doctrine of the Atonement".
Frederick Leahy, "The Cross he Bore".
John Murray, Redemption, Accomplished and Applied".

May our Lord aid us to boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14).

Friday 26 June 2015

Racism and Ethnic Divisions have no Place in "the household of God"

The recent events of the hate killing in Charleston, South Carolina, have really brought a plethora of issues to the surface for discussion. My blog is not for political comment, though I will be prepared to speak out as a minister of the gospel, when the British government cross biblical lines. However, our concern as Christians should be for the household of God. I have deliberately used the metaphor "the household of God" because this stresses the family aspect of the church. Paul uses this metaphor in 1 Timothy 3:15 "if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth". Peter reminds us in a sobering way that the church must examine herself because "For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17).

There are several matters to address.

1). Any form of racism in the church is a sin and perhaps one of the most heinous and deceptive of sins. It is most heinous when anyone appeals to the Bible, the "Book of Truth" to suggest that anyone of a particular skin colour is inferior to another or worse still to suggest that they are sub-human, normally to "white people". There has been a most wicked teaching put forward in South Africa and parts of the USA which suggest that black people are the "seed of Ham" who was under God's curse. There is not the slightest biblical evidence for this.

Genesis 1 is clear that all are made in the "image of God" and likewise "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Genesis 1:26-27, Romans 3:23). It is essential and fundamental to the Christian gospel to accept these two propositions. To do otherwise is to tamper with the gospel, of which Paul pronounces in Galatians 1 a most serious judgment. "If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:9).

2). Many attempts are made to reach out to specific people groups or social groups and what has emerged are often unbiblical expressions of Christianity. Convenience and social factors have overtaken the apostolic biblical imperative. It is not uncommon to have in the UK, churches based on a particular race such as "Chinese churches", "Nigerian churches" and so forth. I have heard that in The Netherlands there have been attempts to establish so called "Youth churches"; where only 16-23's are encouraged to attend. And in the USA there are "Biker churches" and who knows what else?

Why are these wrong? It is because the New Testament forbids us to divide up the body of Christ. The Lord's Supper involves the breaking of a single loaf which is then to be distributed to the many. Our communion in the church is affected when the body is divided. A local congregation should represent the various social, racial, ethnic and Christian people in a given area. When Sheffield Presbyterian Church was planted, our deceased minister Rev Brian Norton exhorted me that this church plant should represent all peoples and that it should not become a "Reformed club".

Listen to some of the New Testament teaching on this matter.

Ephesians 4:4-6 "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".

Galatians 3:28-29 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise".

1 Corinthians 1:12-13 "What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?".

3. The composition of churches should be for all peoples. We should never allow the body of Christ to be divided up! We must hold firm at this point, though it will be challenging to our convenience and preferences, due to sin, social factors and other things. We must labour diligently in every nation, to please our Lord Jesus Christ who is the head of the church. The verses just cited teach against the church being divided due to race, social position, personal preference for our favourite preacher and so forth. Paul, Peter and Apollos all preached the same message. However, this issue I am raising is not about maintaining unity where there is clear doctrinal error.

The challenge of a blog post is that I simply get the chance to introduce topics generally, which then need further reflection. I hope that we can reflect more on these matters raised here and that we remember the exhortation of Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7 "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything".

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Learn to Preach by Watching Excellent Preachers Preach

In recent days we have had the preacher Rev Iain D. Campbell preaching in Yorkshire. Iain is a very experienced preacher, a Presbyterian minister from the Isle of Lewis with the Free Church of Scotland. He held two fine sessions at the Yorkshire Reformed Ministers Fraternal. On the Monday night he preached at Sheffield Presbyterian Church. Though I could mention the many comments that he made on "preaching" which was the substance of his talks at the ministers fraternal, ultimately we learn what preaching is by listening to fine preaching.

It was said of William Grimshaw of Haworth I believe, the fellow minister and friend of George Whitfield, that we as Christians should "read the best books, keep the best company and hear the best men". He meant by "hearing the best men" to hear the finest and most competent preachers. Iain D. Campbell preached a majestic sermon on Christ from the prologue of John's Gospel. I would love as many people as possible to listen to it, so here is the link.

For those who are preachers, may this sermon help us to become better preachers. For those who are not preachers but Christians, may it help us all to become better Christians, ones who live our lives worthy of the gospel.


Paul the apostle said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5: "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God".

Ps I say watching because you cannot learn the "art" of preaching just by listening to sermons online. Preaching is firstly a live event which involves listening and watching with our intent on believing and doing the Word preached.

Tuesday 9 June 2015

Using the Search Engine on this Blog-Part 2

In the busyness of life, it is not always easy to write fresh material for this blog. However, writing this blog continues to be a joy to do so. At the same time, there are many resources available on this blog from the past that can answer many questions people may have today.

Quite often, many people have the same questions or similar questions when they are growing in the Lord or when they are on a Reformed pilgrimage. With the current state of affairs in the church in the West, when people encounter Reformed doctrines, it means one of two things. Firstly, they may have to learn things that they have never come across before, or secondly and perhaps more difficult, is that they may have to relearn some things. Either way, may we all continue with a teachable spirit all of our days.

Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20:“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age”. Note the phrase "teaching them to observe all things": this can only happen in a way that bears fruit, if the hearers are teachable. Therefore, one of the marks of a genuine disciple of the Lord Jesus is that they are teachable. Let us ask ourselves: Am I teachable?

Here are some topics that could get you started in order to use the search engine on this blog:

The Church and the Law of God

The Majesty of the Book of Hebrews

What is Replacement Theology?

Preaching Clear Sermons

The Marks of the Church

A Covenantal View of Baptism

Enjoy browsing!

Monday 1 June 2015

Book Review: "Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms"

David P. Barsinger, “Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms: A Redemptive-Historical Vision of Scripture”, Oxford: OUP, 2014.

If you are interested in preaching or the theology of Jonathan Edwards, methods in biblical exegesis or the Psalms, then this book will interest you. It is well researched and well written. The author arranges his material around seven key topics in relation to “Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms”. These are “The Psalter in Edwards’ World”; “God and Scripture”; “Humanity and Sin”; “Christ”; “Spirit and Gospel”; “Christian Piety” and “Church and Eternity”. Each of these chapters are full of Bible citations which make this compendium devotional as well as theological and redemptive-historical.

The introduction is the opening chapter and this reminds us of the importance of an inclusive Psalmody position for public worship. How many evangelical congregations sing metrical psalms in every service? Why are they not sung? This impoverishes the church on a number of levels and while Edwards’ also sang hymns in his congregation, the Psalter had a prominent place in worship. Edwards had several key emphases in his preaching and one of them was a redemptive-historical vision of Scripture (p 21, 25-28). This is the sub-theme of this book but it does not focus exclusively on a redemptive-historical approach to the Psalms.

This book has great merit in being a future reference point to exegesis and insights into portions of the Psalms and how they should be rightly understood. The Scripture index at the back can be used for further research by readers. Edwards materials are primarily extracts from sermons, he was a working minister first and foremost. Gleanings from his approach to Psalm portions with a rich Christological, Trinitarian and redemptive-historical flow would be enriching to inform the preacher in his sermon preparation.

For example Chapter 2 “God and Scripture” begins by citing one of Edwards’ favourite verses from the Psalms, 115:1 “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!”. David P. Basinger not only gives helpful clues to Edwards’ thought on the glory of God but also three theologians for whom he was indebted; Edwards appreciated the writings of Matthew Henry, Matthew Poole and John Trapp (p 80). Perhaps the reading of Jonathan Edwards works along with these three other authors could greatly enrich the contemporary church’s preaching, ministry and piety. Barsinger’s contribution may not be a best-seller but it is a worthy and valuable contribution for the Christian church.

May 2015