Monday 30 January 2017

Al Martin "The Forgotten Fear"

I am so thankful to the Lord that as a young Christian I was introduced to the topic of the fear of the Lord. This is a theme which pervades all of Scripture. Indeed it is the starting point for long term discipleship as a true Christian and the starting point for public and private worship.

Deuteronomy 6:13 is cited by the Lord Jesus Christ who interprets fear as worship in Matthew 4:10.

Deut 6:13 "It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear".

Matthew 4:10 "
Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’ ”.

Could the contemporary worship problems of being man-centred be as the result of this forgotten fear being missing? What is the forgotten fear? It is the fear of the Lord. This was the distinguishing mark of Job and it should be of us if we are serious minded about the God of the Bible and the gospel of God.

Al Martin has done the church a service in writing this book and again, though I have just begun reading it, I commend it to you. If I can do anything to promote the fear of the Lord in my lifetime, I will. Fearing the Lord is one of my primary life pursuits and it has been a pursuit since around 1991 when I was first introduced to this biblical truth.

Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Psalm 111:10 "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!".

Thursday 26 January 2017

J C Ryle, "Prepared to Stand Alone" by Iain Murray

I have just received this book from my darling wife Maria for my birthday. We have been promoting it as the book of the quarter as a church and many people are telling me how much it has blessed them. I am promoting a book that I have not read yet, but I do know the author's other books which are all excellent. I know something of the life of J C Ryle, but the title alone is excellent; Prepared to Stand Alone.

In an age of Facebook likes, I wonder how many of those Facebook Likes Ryle would have got for his clear evangelical stand in his own day, had there been such a thing. Never-the-less, truth is unchanging and a stand for truth always requires resolute conviction based on the authority of the Bible. This is not fundamentalism. It is biblical Christianity. So I commend this book in advance and I may add further comments when I have enjoyed its contents.

It is published by the Banner of Truth.

Ephesians 6:13 "Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm". Note that it is all Christians who are to "stand firm" and not just Christian ministers. Are you standing firm for the truth? Could you be described as a Mr or Mrs Stand-fast for the truth?

Monday 23 January 2017

2017 is the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

It was on the 31st October 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany. This led to the onset of what we now call the Reformation. What was this reformation? It was a recovery of the gospel and the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. The Roman Catholic Church had descended into a spiritual darkness, of which they still remain, so that the gospel was completely distorted and they proclaimed a works-based righteousness. They offered people the false hope of paying to get others peoples sin forgiven. This is utterly false.

The first doctrines to be recovered were justification and five key teachings have become associated with the Reformation. This reforming (present tense active participle) continues today and it must continue. The sinfulness of man tends to falsity and a departure from a biblical path and therefore the work continues. These five tenets of salvation are:

Scripture alone
Christ alone
Faith alone
Grace alone
To the glory of God alone

In the early part of the Reformation era magisterial Reformers such as Luther, then Calvin laid down clear teaching. The church began to work collectively to produce Confessions to clarify the content of biblical truth. Thomas Watson called this "The Body of Divinity". At the end of the line of all Protestant Confessions and Catechisms was the Westminster assembly and the resultant Westminster Standards. Probably the best summary of the Christian faith ever penned by the church. It is available to read on the website of Sheffield Presbyterian Church ( and it is being published this year in Modern English.

The Westminster Standards not only pens the final statement of the Reformation era, but it embodies the whole counsel of God. This is not a group of isolated doctrines but it contains the doctrines to keep church's on track and to best nourish the flock of God and to guard them from euro. The first chapter in the Westminster Confession is on Scripture. The first point of recovered truth must be Scripture. Let em recommend some resources for reading to encourage people.

Roland Bainton, The Life of Martin Luther
R C Sproul, Scripture Alone
Thomas Watson, The Body of Divinity

Acts 20:27 "For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God".

In October this year, there is a Reformation 500 conference in Newcastle. I commend this conference and the website to learn how you can attend is:

Monday 16 January 2017

The Westminster Standards and the Lord's Day (also known as the Christian Sabbath)

The Westminster Assembly which met over several years in the 1640's in London was the last of the Reformation synods to pen Reformed Catechisms and a Confession. This meant that, by being at the end of the line of theological development, that they were able to pen mature doctrinal standards building on the previous works of the Reformers. These works upon which they built, were Martin Luther and the German Reformation, including the Heidelberg Catechism. The Synod of Dort in the Low Countries which resolved the Arminian controversy, as well as the work of Zwingli, Bucer and others in Switzerland and elsewhere.

One of the "high watermarks" of the Westminster Standards was the clarity of thought and teaching on the Lord's Day, also known as the Christian Sabbath. It was in the Westminster Confession and the two Catechisms that this teaching reached a climax, most likely in the history of the church. The blessing of the Lord's Day, rightly understood and practiced, has shaped the Protestant church since, at least up until the last generation. An American Presbyterian minister told me in recent years that this is the first generation in North America (USA) where the whole church has not practiced the Lord's Day with two services. Why is that? This generation has more time than ever before, but seemingly less time for the worship of the Triune God.

"If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honourable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 58:13-14

The Westminster Confession has a whole chapter (21) "Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day". The last two of eight points teach the Christian Sabbath. The Westminster Larger Catechism expounds the Fourth of the Ten Commandments (Remember the Sabbath Day) and there are seven questions and answers on this Commandment (questions 115-121). The Shorter Catechism similarly expounds the same Fourth Commandment with six questions (57-62).

An important question emerges for every professing Christian. Why do we go to church on the Lord's Day (Sunday)? How do you answer that question? The correct answer from the Bible is that we go to church on the Sabbath to worship the Triune God by the command of God. To wilfully and persistently to fail to do so, is putting yourself in the danger of what the Bible calls covenant unfaithfulness. However, this commandment is for the profit of our souls, it is to be a delight; the whole day is to be put aside for the personal and public exercises of worship, communion with the Lord and with his saints. In short; Call the Sabbath a delight!

Two of the Puritan divines who excelled in their teaching on the Lord's Day were Thomas Watson and George Swinnock.

George Swinnock: “A thanksgiving day has a double-precedency of a fast-day. On a fast-day we eye God’s anger; on a thanksgiving day we look to God’s favour. In the former we specially mind our corruptions, in the latter God’s compassions; therefore a fast-day calls for sorrow, a thanksgiving day for joy. But the Lord’s day is the highest thanksgiving day”.

Thomas Watson: “How highly should we esteem and reverence this day!. It is more precious than rubies. God has anointed it with the oil of gladness above its fellows. On the Sabbath we are doing angels’ work, our tongues are turned to God’s praises. The Sabbath on earth is a shadow and type of the glorious rest and eternal sabbath we hope for in heaven, when God shall be the temple and the lamb shall be light of it”.

My aim in this blog post is the recovery of the joyful delight of honouring the Lord's Day by Christians everywhere. This includes church ministers and elders. The practice of a single service on the Lord's Day by churches today, is a sign that much recovery of Christian truth is needed. Our priority in the church is first to please the Lord, not people. People may say I am not interested in the Lord's Day or in two services, but churches must do what Jesus Christ said in Revelation 2:25 "Only hold fast what you have until I come".

Tuesday 10 January 2017

The Westminster Standards and the Song of Songs

It is remarkable that the Westminster assembly held to a Christological line on The Song of Songs. It is what we expect but this fact is often overlooked. How do we know that this is the line of interpretation for that Book of Scripture? It is from the proof texts that are used to support various doctrines. Indeed we could say that the Westminster divines held a Trinitarian and Christological line for this book. Let me give you the citations in the Westminster Standards.

1:4 "Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers".

This is cited in chapter 10:1 of the Confession in relation to the doctrine of effectual calling. That is that we as hardened sinners, we are made willing to come to the Lord by the sovereign grace of God.

The Duty of Christians after the Lord's Supper (Westminster Larger Catechism, question 175).

3:4 "Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her who conceived me".

I love this phrase here that says "I held him, and would not let him go". What a delightful idea and something for us to consider if it describes our own present spiritual condition and our communion with Christ Jesus.

The Perseverance of the Saints, Assurance of Grace and Salvation and the duty of Christians after the Lord's Supper

5:2 "I slept, but my heart was awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. 'Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night'. I had put off my garment; how could I put it on? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them? My beloved put his hand to the latch, and my heart was thrilled within me. I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the bolt. I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and gone. My soul failed me when he spoke. I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer".

It is beyond the scope of this blog post today to fully expound this text from the Song. I hope that you can see its relevance to the way it is cited. For example, with respect to the assurance of grace, there is a serious warning given in the Westminster Confession, one drawn from Scripture, of neglecting the means of grace. It states in Chapter 18:4

4. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers
[various] ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted [temporarily
lost]; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special
sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some
sudden or vehement temptation, by God's withdrawing the light of
His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in
darkness and to have no light: yet are they never so utterly destitute
of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the
brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which,
by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be
revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported
from utter despair.

May we ensure that we do not neglect the means of grace appointed to be administered through the church and public worship. Namely, the preaching of the Word of God, the right administration of the Sacraments and prayer.

My conclusion is that in various places that the Song of Songs was clearly believed to be understood in a spiritual sense as a portrait of the life of the believer and the church, in their union and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ. This is compelling evidence for this line of interpretation.

Monday 2 January 2017

Recovering the Westminster Standards and Confessional Presbyterianism

This time of the years is always good. Why? Well it gives a time of reflection of one's priorities, goals and also to consider how to work more effectively and efficiently. Life is more than working efficiently, however there are a number of teachings in the Bible which make us stop and pause for reflection.

Psalm 90:12 "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom".

John 9:4 "We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work".

Deuteronomy 5:12-14 “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you".

The last verse provides a doctrine of rest and work. Work is a gift from God and hard work is a blessing. Therefore, we must evaluate the use of our time, energy, resources and finances for the honour of the Lord, if we are a Christian.

I have blogged for a number of years and I have found it has helped many people. However, I have fine-tuned my aim for the coming year. It is a simple goal. It is for the recovering of the Westminster Standards and confessional Presbyterianism.

In my view, the Westminster Standards which were produced by the Westminster Assembly in the 1640's in London, England, they are possibly the best summary of the Christian faith in the history of the church. This does not mean that I underestimate other creeds and confessions, but the Westminster Standards are peerless. For clarity of expression, precision of doctrinal truth, a well-rounded body of divinity, they are magnificent.

As an introduction, let us consider the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God1, and to enjoy him forever.

The proof texts for this question includes 1 Corinthians 10:31 "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God".

May we live our life each day in 2017 for the glory of God. This is a good question and answer to memorise and to use in family worship.