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Great and Worldly Saints

Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity: we don’t. A much-traveled leader, a native American (be it said), has declared that he finds North American Protestantism — man-centered, manipulative, success-oriented, self-indulgent, and sentimental as it blatantly is — to be three thousand miles wide and half an inch deep. We are spiritual dwarfs. The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants. They were great souls serving a great God. In them, clear-headed passion and warm-hearted compassion combined. Visionary and practical, idealistic and realistic, too, goal-oriented and methodical, they were great believers, great hopers, great doers, and great sufferers.

J.I. Packer, “Foreword” to Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were, by Leland Ryken

This book is recommended in this message by Joel Beeke, well worth your listening time: Reading the Puritans

 

 

Here is one way: Oprah Winfrey interviews Rob Bell and asks him a few “spiritual” questions.

As you watch the video (follow the link; I could not find a way to embed it), ask yourself how you would have answered Ms. Winfrey’s questions if given the opportunity. They are very much like the questions that a “spiritual” (but lost) individual might ask you one day. Better to give biblical answers rather than postmodern ones.

 

The King’s “Glory”

From C.H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening:

“O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame?” — Psalm 4:2

An instructive writer has made a mournful list of the honours which the blinded people of Israel awarded to their long expected King.

1. They gave him a procession of honour, in which Roman legionaries, Jewish priests, men and women, took a part, he himself bearing his cross. This is the triumph which the world awards to him who comes to overthrow man’s direst foes. Derisive shouts are his only acclamations, and cruel taunts his only paeans of praise.

2. They presented him with the wine of honour. Instead of a golden cup of generous wine they offered him the criminal’s stupefying death-draught, which he refused because he would preserve an uninjured taste wherewith to taste of death; and afterwards when he cried, “I thirst,” they gave him vinegar mixed with gall, thrust to his mouth upon a sponge. Oh! wretched, detestable inhospitality to the King’s Son.

3. He was provided with a guard of honour, who showed their esteem of him by gambling over his garments, which they had seized as their booty. Such was the body-guard of the adored of heaven; a quaternion of brutal gamblers.

4. A throne of honour was found for him upon the bloody tree; no easier place of rest would rebel men yield to their liege Lord. The cross was, in fact, the full expression of the world’s feeling towards him; “There,” they seemed to say, “thou Son of God, this is the manner in which God himself should be treated, could we reach him.”

5. The title of honour was nominally “King of the Jews,” but that the blinded nation distinctly repudiated, and really called him “King of thieves,” by preferring Barabbas, and by placing Jesus in the place of highest shame between two thieves. His glory was thus in all things turned into shame by the sons of men, but it shall yet gladden the eyes of saints and angels, world without end.

Christ in the Psalms

An objection that is sometimes raised against the singing of psalms is that they are “Christ-less,” at least in some sense. That is, because they were composed long before the incarnation of Jesus, something is missing and needs to be added to the psalms. But as Carl Trueman once quipped in a lecture, apparently Jesus Himself was of a different opinion (e.g., see Luke 24:44).

Still, this is a fairly common objection, and one that is thoughtful enough to be carefully considered. While I am not an exclusive psalmist, I did find the following quotation by Dennis Prutow to be very helpful in showing how the Psalter does speak quite frequently of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the very least, this should encourage Christians to make greater use of the Psalms, and see how Christ is shown to us in them. Dr. Prutow writes:

Believers do sing of the essential deeds of God in Christ using the Psalms. The Psalms lay the foundation of human depravity (Ps. 5:9; 10:7; 14:1-3; 36:1; 51:4; and 140:3). Psalm 32:1-2 leads God’s people in singing of justification by grace through faith in Christ. Psalm 117 leads believers in singing of the gospel going to the nations. Psalm 2 leads worshipers in singing about the opposition of the nations to Christ and His Kingdom. Psalm 22 leads the church in singing about several aspects of Christ’s crucifixion. Psalm 16 leads believers in singing about His resurrection. Psalm 110 leads believers in singing about Christ’s ascension and heavenly reign. Psalm 68 also leads the church in singing about His ascension. Psalm 118 leads Christians in singing about Christ’s coming, and of His coming again. Psalms 2:7, 45:6-7, 102:25-27, and 110:1 lead us in singing of Christ as our God and Creator. Psalm 40:6-8 leads believers to sing of Christ in His active obedience and in His once for all sacrifice for our sins. The Psalms are sufficient to lead the church in singing in public worship of the essential deeds of God in Christ.

[Emphasis is in the original; the quotation appears in a longer article on exclusive psalmody, found here.]

Finishing Well

[Note: The following was a devotion given at the 2014 Soup Supper at Midlane Park ARP Church and also appears in the Spring 2014 Newsletter. The Scripture text was Psalm 92:12-15.]

Psalm 92 is unique among the psalms because of its title, which calls it “A Song of the Sabbath Day.” This mention of the Sabbath reminds us of two things: worship and rest. And both of these point us back to the Lord. That is because the Lord is the object of our worship. Psalm 92 begins by reminding us that: “It is good to give thanks to the LORD; and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning and your faithfulness by night.” We are to thank the Lord and to give Him praise at all times. In addition, the Lord is the One in whom we find our rest and comfort.

In verse 12 of this psalm, the righteous man is compared to two different kinds of trees. He will flourish like the palm tree, and he will grow like the cedar of Lebanon. Both of these are trees that live a long time, but they also grow very slowly. The Lord is saying His people are like that. The one who seeks to follow the Lord will find that this means a lifetime of Christian growth, holiness, and maturity. Sometimes this is difficult growth, in the midst of trials. But a palm tree is able to withstand hot, dry, drought-like conditions, and a cedar of Lebanon is a mighty tree, able to withstand the strong winds and storms. Again, the Lord is saying that His people are like that if they are following Him.

Verse 13 is a key to understanding this psalm. For God’s people to flourish, they must be in the Lord’s house, in His presence, rooted to Him, and united with Him. If we are rooted in the world, we will not prosper. But if we are in the Lord, we will bring forth much fruit.
Verse 14 says something interesting: even in old age, God’s people will be fruitful in Him. Like a healthy tree, they will be full of sap; they will still be very green and alive. How is that so? This is exactly the opposite of the way the world would look at the aged. God’s people must be different. Seeing godly saints, who have lived a lifetime of faithfulness to the Lord and have not departed from Him even in old age is a great encouragement to all believers. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Aged believers possess a ripe experience, and by their mellow tempers and sweet testimonies they feed many.” Thus, godly saints can be of great service to the Lord, even in old age.
The last verse of this psalm shows the great duty of all of God’s people. We are to declare (to show forth) that the Lord is upright, that He is good and keeps His promises and does not abandon His people. Even when they are older and the world may tend to forget about them, the Lord does not forget. He is a rock; He can be trusted. He is a sure, secure, firm foundation that we can build our lives on. This is what our Lord Jesus Christ tells us at the end of Matthew 7. The man who builds his house on the rock is likened to the one who hears Christ’s words and does them. The storms will come, but he will be able to endure because he has trusted in Christ and His word. We are being called to a lifelong trust here. Our faith must be in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our righteousness, He is our salvation, and the promises we find in His word are sure and secure.
So what lesson can we get from Psalm 92? We are to rest in the Lord and give all praise to the Lord. The lesson for all believers is that we will persevere in the Lord; that is a sure promise from the Lord, and therefore our lives are to be lived to His glory.

 

Mental Images

Question 109 of the Westminster Larger Catechism forbids the making of images of God, including mental images:

The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever

J. Douma, in his book The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life, makes the following interesting observation:

If you are interested in the relevance of the second commandment, you must not restrict it to the idol images mentioned in the commandment, but ask whether, apart from materials like wood, stone, or paint, you construct wrong mental images of God. For then you are doing exactly what the image-making craftsmen were doing in the Old Testament world: fashioning God according to your own understanding.

In the discussion which follows, he specifically cites Psalm 50:21 — “You thought that I was just like you.” He states:

Here again we are confronted squarely with the original sin against the second commandment: a person leads his own life, imagining that God bestows His approval automatically. Instead of believing that God created man after His image — so that He may demand of him a believing and holy life-style — man creates God in his image, ready to serve his own ambitions.

If we imagine God to be something that He is not, then we are thinking sinfully, and we are breaking the Second Commandment. The solution is to return to God’s word, for it is there that we see God as He really is.

Some enlightening and convicting words from Dr. Joel Beeke, on the topic of the Christian Sabbath:

 

Central to the concern fostered by Reformed Christianity to apply the moral law to Christian living has been the sanctification of the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath. If there was any degree of ambiguity among the Reformers of the sixteenth century, it had utterly vanished when, in the midst of the seventeenth century, the Westminster divines assembled to write their Confession of Faith (Chapter 21) … . This high view of the Sabbath won the day in Britain, North America, throughout the British Empire, and also in the Netherlands. Though it was a key concern of the Reformed Christians, Sabbath observance was embraced as a rule by Christians of nearly every denomination. In the wake of the powerful revivals of the mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Sabbath-keeping was embraced by the general population as well.

 

This happy state of affairs prevailed throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Large urban centers such as Philadelphia and Toronto were known for the care with which the Sabbath was observed by their inhabitants. Until the end of the nineteenth century, some major railroads ceased operations on Sundays. Seaside resorts took such measures as banning all motor traffic from the streets on Sundays (Ocean Grove, N.J.) and the use of movie houses for public worship on Sunday evenings (Ocean City, N.J.).

 

 

Today’s scene presents a vastly altered aspect. The forces of secularization and the rise of leisure culture, obsessed with pursuing recreations of all kinds, have extinguished concern for Sabbath observance in the general population. Even more tragic is the steady erosion of conviction on the part of Christians. The greatest damage was done by modernism’s attack on the authority of Scripture, thus undermining and overthrowing all biblical norms for living. However, Fundamentalism must also bear its share of the blame. Under the influence of Dispensationalism, a growing antinomianism developed in the most conservative circles of American Christians. The Old Testament in general, and the moral law in particular, came to be regarded as monuments of a bygone era. The result has been the wholesale destruction of conviction regarding the Sabbath, even among Presbyterians who subscribe to the Westminster Standards – notwithstanding the jarring inconsistency involved!

 

 

Surely the time is ripe for Christians to look once more to God’s Word for instruction regarding the fourth commandment and its claims upon us. If for no other reason, the study should be undertaken in view of the mounting evidence of the high degree of destructive stress lurking behind the appealing facade of the so-called “culture of leisure.” Men are destroying themselves because they cannot say no, whether at work or at play. Great spiritual blessings are promised to those who subject themselves to the self-denying discipline of Sabbath observance.

~ from Puritan Reformed Spirituality, pp. 111-112

 

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