On Our Good Works

The Corinthians were associating themselves with remarkable and skillful church leaders, perhaps in order to feel superior to other believers.  By contrast, Paul reminds the Corinthians that even the greatest leader is only a servant of the Lord Jesus, and human labor is fruitful only because God “gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3.5-7).  Because our gifts and service are given “according to the grace of God” (verse 10), we cannot take credit for the work accomplished through us.  God gives the grace, so God gets the glory.

From: Daily Devotional New Testament: Through the New Testament in a Year (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), pp. 106-107.

On Job

Concerning Job, we are here told that he was a very good man, eminently pious, and better than his neighbors: He was perfect and upright.  This is intended to show us not only what reputation he had among men (that he was generally taken for an honest man), but what was really his character, for it is the judgment of God concerning him, and we are sure that it is according to truth.  (1) Job was a religious man, one who feared God, that is, worshiped Him according to His will and governed himself by the rules of the divine law in every thing.  (2) He was sincere in his religion: he was perfect, not sinless, as he himself owns (Job 9.20): if I say I am perfect, I will be proved perverse.  But, having a respect to all God’s commandments, aiming at perfection, he was really as good as he seemed to be, and did not dissemble in his profession of piety.  His heart was sound and his eye single.  Sincerity is gospel perfection.  I know no religion without it.  (3) He was upright in his dealings both with God and man, was faithful to his promises, steady in his counsels, true to every trust reposed in him, and made conscience of all he said and did.  See Isaiah 33.15.  Though he was not of Israel, he was indeed an Israelite without guile. – Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Jesus in the Old Testament

Why should we expect to see Jesus in the Old Testament?  The simple answer is that this is how the New Testament teaches us to read it.  Recall the words of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  On that occasion, Jesus caught up with two despondent disciples who were leaving Jerusalem after the crucifixion, unaware of the resurrection.  As they walked in the gathering gloom of evening, He took them on a tour of the Old Testament Scriptures, exposing their woefully inadequate knowledge and understanding by saying,

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?”  And, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.  (Luke 24.25-27)

In other words, Jesus unfolded the Old Testament, showing them how it is fulfilled in Him.  According to Jesus, we should expect the message of “Moses and all the prophets” (that is, the whole of the Old Testament) to be Jesus Christ.  Notice, too, that the disciples’ response was not to be amazed at His cleverness in uncovering references to Himself in such a wide range of sources.  Rather, they were astonished at their own dullness in not having recognized before what these familiar books were about.

From: Is Jesus in the Old Testament? by Iain M. Duguid (Philadelphia: Westminster Seminary Press/Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2013), pp. 8-9.

On God’s Goodness

Whenever I think of God, I can only conceive of Him as a Being infinitely great and infinitely good.  This last quality of the divine nature inspires me with such confidence and joy that I could have written even a miserere in tempo allegro. – Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), Austrian composer

On John Willison (1680-1750)

In 1742, Willison published a series of twelve sermons, The Balm of Gilead, which addressed the spiritual maladies of the nation and prayed for a revival.  One thing of particular interest to Americans about these sermons is that Willison had obviously been reading Jonathan Edwards’ A Faithful Narrative, telling of the spiritual awakening in the Connecticut Valley.  Willison greets this news with enthusiasm.  Only a few months after the appearance of Willison’s work, the famous Cambuslang Revival began.  The Balm of Gilead is a series of prophetic sermons, in the truest sense of the word.  They offer a vision of the awakening that was to come, not only in America and the British Isles, but even on the continent of Europe.  Inspired by the ministry of the French Huguenot prophets in the mountains of southern France, he spoke with amazing clairvoyance of the French Revolution, which would being in 1789.  As Willison saw it, both revolution and revival were on their way.  For those who would not repent, there was judgment, but for those who would, there was everlasting joy.

From: Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church by Hughes Oliphant Old; edited by Jon D. Payne (Powder Springs: Tolle Lege Press, 2013), pp. 475-476.

Gratefully Reflecting on the Goodness of God

Religion, rightly understood, is doubtless sufficient of itself to bear us through all the changes of this world, and guide us to a better.  But our gracious Master has made us capable of tender and social affections, to add to the comfort of this present life.  I know nothing that is required of us as a duty, but what is both consistent with our happiness, and has a tendency to promote it.  Nor is there a single gratification prohibited, that is not, in its natural consequences, productive of pain or disgust.  But you will say, why all this to you?  You are guilty of no excess (except your partial regard to me may be deemed one).  I answer, it was a grateful reflection on the goodness of God, and a sense of what I owe Him, especially for giving you to me, directed my pen; and to whom could I so properly address these thoughts as to your dear self, since to you I am secondarily indebted for my present peace? – Letter: John Newton to his wife, Mary (September 14, 1750)

From: The Works of John Newton: Volume 4 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2015), p. 23.

John Newton (1725-1807) and his wife, Mary (1729-1790) were married from 1750 until her death.

For the Lord’s Day (473)

I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for My anger has been turned from them.  I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon.  They shall return and dwell beneath My shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.  (Hosea 14.4-7)

Assurance of Faith and Piety of Practice

We shall never be rooted and grounded in our belief unless we daily practice what we profess to believe.  Full assurance is the reward of obedience.  Answers to prayer are given to those whose hearts answer to the Lord’s command.  If we are devoted to God’s fear*, we shall be delivered from all other fear.  He has no fear as to the truth of the Word who is filled with fear of the author of the Word.  Skepticism is both the parent and the child of impiety, but strong faith both begets piety and is begotten of it.  We commend this whole verse to any devout person whose tendency is to skepticism.  It will be an admirable prayer for use in seasons of unusually strong misgivings. – Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), commenting on Psalm 119.38.

*”fear” in the sense of “reverence” and “awe”.

God Preserves His Word

The Lord’s care for His church is not only manifested in the documentation of His Word but also in its preservation through the centuries.  There are no historical or theological grounds for the thesis that the canon of Scripture derives its authority from that of the church.  We reject the Roman Catholic position that the authority of the canon is sustained and guaranteed by that of the church.  The church did not produce Scripture, but received it from God’s hand.  In this regard, it merely had a receptive function.

But there is also a subjective approach that we must reject.  According to this view, the Scriptures are not accepted as they have come to us, “but only to the extent that they can pass the test of our criticism or can be received by us on the wavelength of our own experience” (Van Bruggen).  Then the “judgment of faith” of the individual or the church becomes the decisive factor or one seeks a “canon within the canon.”  This is a canon that is discovered within the Bible by theologians.  But it implies a rejection of the canon as canon, because then it can no longer be the canon in the fullest sense of the Word.

The canon points beyond itself: God gave it to His church as a standard and guide.  And also in the factual recognition of the books of the Bible as canon we recognize the work of God in His church.  It is “the Holy Spirit [who] witnesses in our hearts that” it is from God (Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 5).

From: Concise Reformed Dogmatics by J. van Genderen and W. H. Velema; translated from the Dutch by Gerrit Bilkes and Ed M. van der Maas (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008), p. 113.  Dutch original published in 1992.

Contrasts

Out of Christ, God is a consuming fire.  In Christ, He is a reconciled Father. – J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), on Luke 5.1-11.

If you are not salting the world, the world is putrefying you. – Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), on Revelation 3.15, 19.