Tuesday 29 September 2015

"The Flow of the Psalms" by O. Palmer Robertson

This new book by the publisher Presbyterian and Reformed seeks to discover the structure and the theology of the Book of Psalms. It is a fresh and in many ways a unique contribution to the field of study of the Psalter. It is universally agreed that the Psalter is formed from five books and these were collated over around a 500 year period. This stems from the time of king David until the return from exile in Babylon.

Robertson seeks to bring out the reason for the topical arrangement of the Psalter in a most enlightening and pastorally helpful way. He summarises the major themes of the five books as such.

Book 1 (Psalms 1-41): Confrontation
Book 2 (Psalms 42-72): Communication
Book 3 (Psalms 73-89): Devastation
Book 4 (Psalms 90-106): Maturation
Book 5 (Psalms 107-150): Consummation

It is beyond the scope of this blog to say much more, but I unreservedly commend this book.

One final comment is that Palmer brings out that Psalm 1 and 2 are pillars through which we enter into the temple of the Psalter. Most scholars agree that Psalms 1 and 2 are foundational, but we must see that their teaching is foundational to Christian discipleship.

The Christian disciple must love all of God's teaching (Torah) as in Psalm 1, but also love God's Son as revealed in Psalm 2. Does this describe you?

Psalm 1:1-2 "Blessed is the man ... but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night".

Psalm 2:12 "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him".

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Listen to Sermons by Rev Dr Peter Naylor on Deuteronomy

Recently, I was part of a commission of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales for the installation of a new minister in Durham Presbyterian Church. A minister of one of the EPCEW congregations called Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Cardiff gave the charge to the incoming minister, which was excellent for this installation and it was good for every minister to hear this charge. Rev Dr Dr Peter Naylor, Immanuel's minister gave the charge which emphasised Deuteronomy 1:5 and the need for plain explanations of the truth by all Christian ministers of the gospel.

Rev Dr Peter Naylor is a Hebrew scholar, but he is more than that, he is a faithful shepherd of souls and a Christian minister. He has just begun a new series on explaining the Book of Deuteronomy and it is outstanding. I have just listened to the opening sermon on Deuteronomy 1:1-8, 10:12-22. I would urge every serious minded Christian to listen to this.

The whole series can be heard on this link: http://www.immanuelcaerau.org.uk/media/

We need to know what preaching should be and Peter explains this from Deuteronomy 1:5, which reads: "Beyond the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to explain this law, saying ...".

The key word is "explain" which means "to make plain".

How should the people of God respond?: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).

The truth for the people of God is not "what would I like to do?" but the Lord God asks "what does the Lord God require of you? The first aspect is that we are to "fear the LORD your God", we are to reverence him.

I am confident that if you can find the time to listen to these sermons that they will profit you immensely. Enjoy!

Monday 14 September 2015

Godly Reformed Piety means "hungering and thirsting for Righteousness"

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" Matthew 5:6.

Two themes are important for healthy Christianity: first a pursuit of godly piety (something not spoken of or discussed as often as it should be); second, the emphasis given here by the Lord Jesus Christ of spiritual satisfaction. This is to spring from being one who "hungers and thirsts for righteousness". Does this describe you? Do you understand what Jesus Christ means? Do you pray for what Jesus teaches here?

There are five important components to this Bible verse.

1. It is the Lord Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity who became man, who is teaching here. Therefore we should sit up, listen and learn to what he says.

2. This Beatitude frames a description of the blessed person (one of 9 Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5).

3. This beatitude describes a spiritual condition which is to "hunger and thirst" and this is paralleled to our daily experience of the common daily exercise of eating and drinking everyday food. We all understand that no matter how much a delicious meal we may eat today, tomorrow we will have a renewed hunger for more water and food. It does not go away, except in times of sickness or ill health.

4. The little word "righteousness" is often over-looked in this verse. Righteousness is to be the daily and lifelong pursuit of the blessed man. We will come back to this in a moment.

5. This person who will be satisfied. To daily hunger and thirst for righteousness is the path to lasting spiritual satisfaction.

This all adds up, in order to aid us to know how to pray for ourselves and our families, in a way that we know that our God will answer. To turn around Matthew 5:6 into a prayer, this is a sure path and guide to heaven.

What a grand theme this word is! It is beyond the scope of this small blog post to fully unfold and unpack the meaning of this word. First this word righteousness is primarily bound up with the person of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of justification. We observe that three times in the Book of Acts that the Lord Christ is described as the "Righteous One" (Acts 3:14, 7:52, 22:14). Therefore, we are to hunger and thirst for this aspect of our Saviour and Redeemer, while noting that Righteousness is bound up with the person and work of the Christ, not least his atonement made upon the cross.

Second and in addition, a further aspect of "Righteousness" is that we as Christians should seek to live lives that please our Saviour, and that we hunger and thirst to live righteously as well. Paul prayed that the church in Philippi, so that they would be "filled with the fruit of righteousness" and again for the Colossians he prayed that they would "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord". We must never assume that everything we do is walking in a manner worthy of the Lord. To assume this is what is called self-righteousness. Daily we must be renewed in repentance and faith.

This truth regarding "Righteousness" in this verse is most helpfully and precisely summarised in the Westminster Confession (11:2), in what is one of my favourite statements in the Confession:

"Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love".

These are two sides of the same coin metaphorically and we should hunger and thirst for both. However, it is a sinner finding their rest in Christ for salvation that is the wellspring of eternal satisfaction. What a glorious gospel it is!

May we all grow to hunger and thirst for righteousness, for the glory of God.

Further Reading

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.
Thomas Watson, "The Beatitudes".

Monday 7 September 2015

A Contemporary Phenomena: The Quest to be Contemporary

Two things seem to be common today, among what is broadly labelled as evangelicalism in the United Kingdom. The first is the over-use of the word "contemporary"; the second is a doctrinal downgrade among those church congregations that pursue a so-called "contemporary approach". It is amazing how such a fluid word as the word "contemporary" has fuelled a reformation upon British evangelicalism. Due to its fluid nature, I can only offer my opinions and observations, while attempting to be guarded from personal bias or undue hyperbole.

What does the word "contemporary" mean?

According to one dictionary, it means "living or occurring at the same time" or belonging to or occurring in the present". This is a rather bland and open-ended word then, one that offers little help to define what it means when a church sets out to be contemporary. It is not a word found in the Bible but neither is the word Trinity. However, while the truth of the Trinity is found in Scripture, we do not find the apostles, much least the Lord Jesus Christ, pursuing to be contemporary in their approach to the church or missions.

My impression is that when a church pursues a "contemporary approach", that it mainly means a new worship style with a band, new songs and a relaxed style or should we say friendly church style, in what used to be called "seeker sensitive" approaches.

What kinds of churches seem to pursue this contemporary approach?

My estimation is that this is primarily generated from two directions in England. The evangelical Anglicans seem to have adopted a contemporary style which is broadly the old charismatic church style of worship, but without tongues or prophecies. However, I would contend that both styles, the old charismatic and the new contemporary suffer from the same problem; they are both Arminian fundamentally. That is in placing the tastes of mankind above the instructions of the Lord from Scripture. Have we ever read of Paul adopting a band in the churches in the book of Acts? Hmmm ... pause for reflection needed!

Another wing of the church badly affected by this new "contemporary approach" are what were once conservative evangelical Baptist churches. A new generation of leaders have emerged, many of whom did not like the perceived "stuffy" style of their forefathers and they have set out to reshape the church along contemporary styles of music and practice, and with success, increased growth and a happy atmosphere. But growth alone, though it cannot be ignored, can never be the only measure for success.

What else has changed with this contemporary approach?

There have also come changes to doctrine and practice as well. There seems to have been a chain of events. For many a dislike of the Christian Sabbath, has then led to questions about the whole use of the moral law. Once this happens, then these emerging leaders are on a collision course with all the Reformed Confessions, because these all hold a high place for the moral law and they assert that the Ten Commandments are morally binding for all (I wholeheartedly agree with the Reformed Confessions on this point). This then means a downplaying or an ignoring of the Reformed Confessions and often a simple Statement of Faith is adopted. By then the change is on!

To be contemporary provides a fluid and changing mandate to not look out of place with society and this can include the emergence of women leaders, womens Bible studies and women elders. To be contemporary often means that women must play a full role in the church, even if the Bible offers different advice. By this point, liberalism has entered the church, often without a protest and for some without noticing. Becoming liberal is not true of all churches who pursue a "contemporary approach", but then how long will it take until it does?

In conclusion, may we all return to the "ancient paths" that Jeremiah spoke of and first and foremost may we return to measure everything against the standard of Scripture.

Romans 4:3 "For what does the Scripture say?"

Jeremiah 6:16 'Thus says the Lord "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, "We will not walk in it" '.

Friday 4 September 2015

Are you a Student who is Coming to Sheffield and Looking for a Church?

Sheffield Presbyterian Church warmly invites students to our congregation. We are committed to the confessions of the Reformed faith which means that we take the importance of preaching seriously. We desire to be (though we surely fail at times) warm-hearted and serious minded about the Christian faith and the way we live our lives.

It is important as a student that you do not simply follow the crowd and only choose a church because you like a particular music style or simply because everyone else goes there. We have students every year and current we have students from Hallam University and Sheffield University who are doing undergraduate courses, masters degree courses and PhD research. The primary marks of a true church are the preaching of pure doctrine, the right administration of baptism and the Lord's Supper and also that a church seeks to be disciplined in its organisation and care of church members.

Our website is: www.sheffieldpres.org.uk

Feel free to listen to some of our sermons online and here is a link: http://www.sheffieldpres.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=84

There is a contact page on our website also if you would like to know more about us.

Our services are at 11.00am and 5.00pm on the Lord's Day.

Kevin Bidwell
Minister of Sheffield Presbyterian Church