Posted by: reiterations | April 27, 2015

The World’s Respect?

An out-and-out Christian will often be disliked but, if he is made a mock of, there will be a soupcon of awe and respect even in the mockery.  Half-and-half Christians get, and richly deserve, the curled lip and sarcasm of a world that knows when a man is in earnest, and knows when he is an incarnate sham. – Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), from a meditation on Luke 14.28.

Posted by: reiterations | April 26, 2015

For the Lord’s Day (378)

Then, I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.  He had a little scroll open in his hand.  And he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring.  When he called out, the seven thunders sounded.  And, when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.”  And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay but that, in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as He announced to His servants, the prophets.  (Revelation 10.1-7)

Posted by: reiterations | April 25, 2015

Working on “The Book of Common Prayer”

So, the work continued, with Cranmer setting the direction and doing much of the compiling – working, again, in his great library at Croydon, as he had done when composing the Litany of 1544 – and dealing with varying degrees of assistance and resistance from his fellow churchmen.  The whole project is so closely associated with Cranmer and was so clearly driven by him that it is sometimes hard to discern the presence of the supporting cast.  But it was there.

The Litany had long since been completed.  The Homilies – which were not part of the prayer book itself but which provided key theological and pastoral context for it – written and distributed, the order for Communion promulgated and mandated, and the Kalendar worked out.  A great deal remained to be done but, among that work, some of the most important of all: the creation of rites for Morning and Evening Prayer, or, as they were commonly known, Matins and Evensong.

We have already noted the horae canonicae, the “canonical hours” of the monastic life, and the Daily Office containing the prayers for each “hour.”  The origins of these rites are lost, but they are closely associated with the vigil that the disciples of Jesus failed to keep when He was undergoing His agony in the garden of Gethsemane.  Most of His followers had abandoned Him, and the few who remained snoozed as He prayed, thus earning His rebuke: “What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?” (Matthew 26.40).  After this, they soon dozed off again.  The regular prayers of monks and nuns are best understood as attempts by the church to assign some of its members to do what the disciples could not do: to stay awake and pray with the Lord.  There is, therefore, a close link between the monastic hours and the sufferings of Good Friday.  In their ideal form, as established by St. Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century, they are conducted every three hours and are named, as follows: Matins (midnight), Lauds (3 am or, more commonly, dawn), Prime (6 am), Terce (9 am), Sext (noon), Nones (3 pm), Vespers (6 pm), [and] Compline (9 pm).

But, the ideal may be unreachable: few human beings can thrive, or even survive, when getting no more than two uninterrupted hours of sleep each night.  The needs of the body cannot simply be overridden even by the most willing spirit.  Consequently, most monasteries and convents have either distributed the responsibility for keeping the hours among various members of the community, so that, for instance, those who say Matins are excused from Lauds, or have combined the hours in various ways, so that Vespers and Compline are said together before the community’s bedtime, and Matins, Lauds, and Prime said immediately after rising.

But, for Cranmer – who, it must be remembered, collaborated with Henry in the dissolution of England’s monasteries – the whole system was deeply suspect, however it happened to be tweaked.  How can some members of Christ’s church be given the task of praying on behalf of the others?  Are not all Christians commanded to pray, indeed to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5.17)?  In this light, one of the greatest challenges of creating a prayer book for English Christians was to find a way to enable ordinary people, who had their own daily work, also to pray faithfully, to keep, in their own way, the vigil the first disciples had failed to keep.

Matins and Evensong were Cranmer’s solution to this problem.  Together, they constitute a brilliant solution indeed, and one of Cranmer’s most lasting achievements, as later chapters of this history will show.  Although many of the most heated – indeed, poisonous – theological debates of the Reformation era concerned the events of the Mass (or the Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper – the name of the rite, itself, was a major point of contention), the Anglicanism that developed from the Book of Common Prayer would be centered on the regular enactment, by millions of laypersons, of these simplified forms of the ancient Daily Office.  Cranmer wished English Christians to take Communion more often than they had been accustomed to yet, as things turned out, weekly Communion did not become commonplace in the Church of England until the Victorian era.  The typical parish Sunday service would contain Morning Prayer, perhaps followed by the Ante-Communion, that is, the parts of the Communion service preceding the administering of the sacrament itself: prayers, the reading of the Decalogue, the recitation of the creed, a sermon, and prayers for the church.  At the end of the day, people would return for Evensong.

So, days were begun and ended in communal prayer.

From: The “Book of Common Prayer”: A Biography by Alan Jacobs; “Lives of Great Religious Books” series (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), pp. 28-31.

Alan Jacobs is Professor of Humanities at Baylor University.  Previously, he was Professor of English at Wheaton College.

Posted by: reiterations | April 24, 2015

What is Sin? – Part 3 of 3

How deeply important it is that we should have a scriptural conception of the nature of sin and perceive that it is nothing less than contempt of the Almighty, the defying of His will, the disregarding of His authority, to the ruination of ourselves.  Nothing is as truly humbling as a right view of sin, as plainly appears from the case of the convicted publican – smiting upon his breast and not daring to raise his eyes to heaven (Luke 18.13).  Nothing will bring us into the dust, our true place before God, as a keen sense of our sinnership.  The more we are awakened to the heinousness of sin, the greater check will that be upon us, causing us to act with more caution and conscience, and moving us to pray with increased earnestness for deliverance.  The deeper be our realization of the vileness of sin, the higher will be our appreciation of the cleansing blood of Christ.  Then see to it, brother preacher, that you preach not only against sin, but (frequently) upon sin itself – the fact that it is flaunting the red flag of lawlessness in the face of the King of kings.

It remains to be pointed out that we are entirely dependent upon the Holy Spirit for a vital and experiential knowledge of sin.  One may read the Scriptures all his life and be able to quote accurately the various declarations about sin, and yet have naught but a mental grasp of the subject.  One may be thoroughly acquainted with the most solemn facts about sin, and yet the heart be entirely unmoved.  The Spirit, alone, can open our Satan-blinded eyes to see sin in its true hideousness.  The Spirit, alone, can so convict us of depravity that our self-righteousness receives its death wound.  The Spirit, alone, can make us so hate evil that we depart therefrom.  The Spirit, alone, can make us conscious of the fatal malady which sin has inflicted upon us, so that we betake ourselves to the Great Physician for cleansing and healing. – Arthur Pink (1886-1952)

From: Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 32, Number 1 (January, 1953), reprint pp. 24-25.

Posted by: reiterations | April 23, 2015

What is Sin? – Part 2 of 3

Let us labor the point a little further.  The enormity of an offence is not only increased by my obligations to the person against whom it is committed, but also by the status and authority of that person.  The difference is at once perceived between my committing an uncalled-for assault upon a private citizen and upon an officer of the law.  But how much greater would be the criminality were I to smite the person of the king!  The dignity of the person against whom an offence is committed vastly augments the guilt.  Now, combine the two thoughts.  God is vested with supreme authority, being the King of kings and, therefore, having the right to demand complete subjection from us.  Moreover, He is our creator and benefactor – the One who gave us being and has cared for us every moment of our lives.  We are, therefore, under the deepest obligation to love, honor, and serve Him.  Because He is endowed with infinitude, we are under infinite obligation to Him and, therefore, all sin against Him involves infinite guilt.

God is infinitely perfect, the sum of all excellence, and it is infinitely more criminal not to love and respect Him than to have no love or regard for all creation.  It is an infinitely greater criminality to oppose or hate God, in any way and to the slightest degree, than to oppose and hate all His creatures.  If it were possible for a man to be so bloodthirsty, and with the power so to execute his murderous intentions, that he succeeded in slaying the entire human race, and could he do so without any rebellion against or opposition to God, even that incalculable crime would be far less than the least degree of opposition to God Himself.  It was the realization of this awful truth which broke the heart of convicted David, making him cry out, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight” (Psalm 51.4).  The realization that he had defied the authority of heaven and trampled upon the laws of the Almighty dwarfed all other considerations.

The heinousness of sin, then, is not to be gauged by the littleness or greatness of the act itself, but by the offence which is done to God, and that, in turn, is measured by the light with which we are favored, the opportunities granted us, and the privileges we have enjoyed.  What are all the sins of the heathen world in comparison with those of Christendom?  “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works which have been done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But, I say unto you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for thee” (Matthew 11.23-24).  But, who is there today who really believes this?  The same fearful truth is emphasized in, “He who despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10.28-29).

But, descending to a lower plane, we may see the heinousness of sin with regard to ourselves, by what it has done for and wrought in us.  It has defiled our nature: “But we are all as an unclean thing” (Isaiah 64.6), and this to such an extent that, as God said concerning Israel of old: “From the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores” (Isaiah 1.6).  And, as the apostle to the Gentiles declared: “I know that, in me (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7.18).  It has degraded our nature: “Nevertheless, man, being in honor, abideth not; he is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49.12).  Man fell from the fair estate in which his Maker placed him and has become like the beasts – void of spiritual understanding, guided only by natural instincts.  It has enslaved our nature, bringing us into bondage more cruel than the Hebrews suffered in Egypt.  As it is written: “His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be held by the cords of his sins” (Proverbs 5.22). – Arthur Pink (1886-1952)

From: Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 32, Number 1 (January, 1953), reprint pp. 23-24.

Posted by: reiterations | April 22, 2015

What is Sin? – Part 1 of 3

Have we not well-nigh lost our sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin?  We refer not merely to “crime,” though it is to be feared that many are becoming so familiar with the records thereof that their sensibilities are being blunted.  Not only the profane world, but the professing world, too, looks upon it with little or no deep concern.  Sin is far too lightly regarded by our careless and heedless generation.  We need a fresh realization of it as awful and abhorrent, as cursing and damning.  We ought to recoil from sin as we would from a deadly serpent.  We ought to avoid sin as we would the repulsive filth in which the sow wallows and as the vomit of a dog.  And we would, if we really perceived that it is sin which gave death its throne and the right to reign as universal monarch (Romans 5.14) – that it is sin which has totally ruined the soul (Ephesians 4.18) – that it is sin which exposes all to “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1.9).

Now, we are entirely dependent upon the Holy Scriptures for an accurate and adequate conception of sin.  They, alone, make known how it first entered into this world.  They, alone, acquaint us with how sin appears in the eyes of the thrice Holy One, as that “abominable thing” which He “hates” (Jeremiah 44.4).  They, alone, tell us the nature of the “wages” it pays (Romans 6.23), only the first small installments of which are received in this life.  They, alone, reveal how salvation from it is obtainable.  The writings of the ancients and the works of modern heathen will be searched in vain for any real light upon these momentous facts.  And is it not because the present generation is getting farther and farther away from the written Word of God that it views sin so lightly and has such an altogether inadequate conception of its enormity?

What is sin?  It is that in the fallen creature which ever works against God and against the soul’s own interest and comfort.  It is not only a disease, but a crime – the transgression of God’s righteous law – and, therefore, it has done more than pollute our being.  It has brought us under the just condemnation of God.  The least variation and deviation from the revealed will of God is sin.  It is a species of self-love – pursuing those gratifications and fulfilling those desires that make self our chief end and aim.  Sin is an internal evil, though it is manifested in many external effects.  The whole seat of sin is in the will, though it spreads its evil influence throughout every faculty and member of the entire man.  Sin, then, is an aversion to God, a turning away from the Chief Good to evil.  Sin is open opposition to God, not only a turning from but a turning against Him.  It is the soul hating God as a lawgiver.

None can know the utmost evil there is in sin but God Himself.  Sin entails infinite guilt because it is committed against an infinite object and, therefore, a finite mind is incapable of fully grasping its magnitude.  It needs to be most carefully considered that the vileness and guilt of sin lie in its being committed against God.  Let us endeavor to exhibit the force of this.  Were I to approach a stranger and, without the slightest provocation, spit in his face, knock him down, and trample upon him, that would be a grave offense.  But suppose that, instead of being a stranger, he was one who had often befriended me.  Then, my guilt would be so much the greater.  But suppose that it was my own dear father, and that he had ever treated me with the utmost consideration and kindness.  My guilt would be that much the more aggravated for, in proportion to my obligation to show him respect would be the enormity of my disrespect. – Arthur Pink (1886-1952)

From: Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 32, Number 1 (January, 1953), reprint pp. 22-23.

Posted by: reiterations | April 21, 2015

On Opposition to Prayer

Argument 1.  The first argument by which Satan would make the Christian out of love with himself and his duty is taken from those sinful infirmities cleaving to both – his person and prayer alike.  Thereby, he would quash the saint’s hope of any favorable reception that his prayer hath found in heaven.  What?  Thy stammering prayers make music in God’s ear?  Will the Lord foul His fingers with thy besmeared duties?  If thou wert a Samuel or a Daniel and couldst claim thy place among those worthies who are renowned for the eminent service they have done God in their generation, then thou mightest hope to have the ear of God to thy suit. But thou – alas! – art a puny stripling, a froward child in whom there is more sin than grace to be found, and dost thou think to be heard?  Truly, though this argument weighs little, having no countenance from the tenor of the covenant, whose privileges are not impropriated to a few favorites, more eminent in grace than their brethren, but stand open to the whole family – it being “a common salvation” and “like precious faith” that all the saints partake of – yet is it the great bugbear with which many of them are scared.

A word or two, therefore, to arm thee against this argument.  Only this premised – which I must take for granted – that these sinful infirmities are lamented and not cockered by thee – that, indeed, would turn infirmity into presumption, as also that thou neglectest not to apply the most effectual means for their cure – though, as in hereditary diseases, all the physic thou takest will not here perfectly rid thee of them.  This granted, for thy comfort know thy prayers are not so offensive to God as to thyself.  Thy prayers pass such a refining in Christ’s mediation that their ill scent is taken away.

From: The Christian in Complete Armor by William Gurnall; reprint; 2 volumes in 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 2: 345-346.  Italics in the original.

William Gurnall (1616-1679) was rector (with Puritan sympathies) of the Anglican congregation at Lavenham, England, from 1644 until his death.  This was his only book.

Posted by: reiterations | April 20, 2015

Commentaries on Romans

Of the writing of commentaries on Romans there is no end.  Although one or two reviewers of earlier editions of this Survey have criticized me for saying so, with distinct lack of repentance I continue to think that the best Romans commentary for pastors available in English is still the work of Douglas J. Moo (New International Commentary, 1996).  It is becoming a bit dated now, and its introduction is thin, but Moo exhibits extraordinary good sense in his exegesis.  No less important, his is the first commentary to cull what is useful from the new perspective on Paul while, nevertheless, offering telling criticisms of many of its exegetical and theological stances.  The combination of the strong exegesis and the rigorous interaction makes the work superior to another commentary of similar length, that of Thomas R. Schreiner (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 1998).  Only the most poorly trained pastor will prefer Moo’s NIV Application Commentary on Romans (2000) to his NIC volume.  Not quite as lengthy as either of these two, but more recent, is the Pillar New Testament Commentary by Colin G. Kruse (2012).  Kruse writes with clarity, verve, and good judgment, making this work another favorite for pastors.

This is not to say that these are the longest or most detailed commentaries on Romans now available.  Rather dated but undoubtedly important is the “new” International Critical Commentary work by C. E. B. Cranfield (2 volumes; 1975-1979).  Occasionally, Cranfield seems more influenced by Barth than by Paul but, for thoughtful exegesis of the Greek text with a careful weighing of alternative positions, there is nothing quite like it.  It is rare that a commentary provides students with an education in grammatical exegesis.  An abbreviated (320 pages) edition is also available that makes fewer demands on the reader (T&T Clark/Eerdmans, 1985).

From: New Testament Commentary Survey by D. A. Carson; 7th edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), pp. 82-83.  Italics in the original.

Posted by: reiterations | April 19, 2015

For the Lord’s Day (377)

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.  (Psalm 116.15)

Praise the Lord, all nations!  Extol Him, all peoples!  (Psalm 117.1)

The Lord is my strength and my song.  He has become my salvation.  (Psalm 118.14)

Great peace have those who love Your law.  Nothing can make them stumble.  (Psalm 119.165)

Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.  (Psalm 120.2)

Posted by: reiterations | April 18, 2015

Christ as the Reconciler of Sinners

Christ expiated sin.  He did not encourage it.  He died to make your peace, and He died to make you holy, “to purify a people to Himself” (Titus 2.14).  These purposes of Christ’s death cannot be separated.  He is no atoner where He is not a refiner.  It is as certain as any word the mouth of God hath spoken that “there is no peace to the wicked” (Isaiah 48.22).  A guilty and impure conscience will keep up the amity with Satan and enmity with God.  He who allows himself [to regularly commit] any sin deprives himself of the benefit of reconciliation.  This reconciliation must be mutual.  As God lays down His wrath against us, so we must throw down our arms against Him.  As there was a double enmity – one rooted in nature, another declared by wicked works, or, rather, one enmity in its root and another in its exercise (Colossians 1.21), so there must be an alteration of state and an alteration of acts. – Stephen Charnock (1628-1680), lightly edited and clarified.

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