“Why is it that so many people take no pains in religion? How is it that they can never find time for praying, Bible reading and hearing the Gospel? What is the secret of their continual string of excuses for neglecting means of grace? How is it that the very same men who are full of zeal about money, business, pleasure, or politics, will take no trouble about their souls? The answer to these questions is short and simple. These men are not in earnest about salvation. They have no sense of spiritual disease. They have no consciousness of requiring a Spiritual Physician. They do not feel that their souls are in danger of dying eternally. They see no use in taking trouble about religion. In darkness like this thousands live and die. Happy indeed are they who have found out their peril, and count all things loss if they may only win Christ, and be found in Him!”

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke

It is often suggested that the fourth commandment is the most openly violated and least observed of the commandments in the Decalogue. It should not be surprising to find this among the secular and unbelieving, who profess no interest in the public ordinances of Divine worship, nor in the holy rest offered to weary souls on the sacred day. Indeed, while all men are duty-bound as God’s creatures to render unto Him whatsoever worship or service He is pleased to require of them, the unregenerate lack genuine interest in spiritual things, and feel no inward compulsion to observe moral duties such as keeping the Sabbath day holy. Only the renewing work of the Holy Spirit in effectual calling can awaken such individuals from their spiritual indifference and implant within their souls the disposition and desire for holy things. But what ought to be both alarming and sad to those of confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian sensibilities is how many there are in the church today who profess faith in and allegiance unto our Lord Jesus Christ with all evident sincerity, and yet who appear almost as dismissive of the the duty of observing the fourth commandment as their secular and unbelieving neighbors, except perhaps in the matter of attendance in the public assembly of worship.

Geoffrey L. Willour

The Confessional Presbyterian, vol. 12, p. 195

Roman Reality

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Romans 5:6-11

Consider what the word of God tells us here. It describes us — every one of us — in very unflattering terms in our natural state before God. We were “helpless,” “ungodly,” “sinners,” “enemies.” The end of our natural course was not a pleasant one: the wrath of God. And there is nothing that helpless ungodly sinful enemies of God could ever do about that.

But then God did something beyond wonder — He sent His Son, Jesus Christ. And He has done what we never could do ourselves. He died for us. In Him the love of God is demonstrated toward us. He justifies us. He reconciles us. He saves us. This is true for all who are His, all whom He calls, all who look to Him and Him alone for salvation.

If this is something you have never considered, I would urge you to find a local biblical gospel-centered church and attend there. If the gospel is not preached there, if you do not hear about Christ and Him crucified, then keep searching for another church until you do. If you are in Louisville and do not have a church, then visit us at Midlane Park Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. But please do not remain an enemy of God, under His eternal wrath.

And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

1 John 5:11-12

When we gather for worship, who is our worship really for? Is it for God (as it should be), or is it for us?

In the adult Christian education hour (i.e., “Sunday School”) at Midlane Park, we are currently going through Roger Ellsworth’s book Opening Up Zechariah. In the chapter we studied this Lord’s Day, the author examines Zechariah 7, and asks the important question as to who our worship is really for.

Zechariah 7 brings us face to face with a troubling question: how much of what we call worship is for God, and how much is for us? How much of it is contrived to entertain ourselves rather than give glory to God?

The Jewish people who had been carried into captivity had begun observing certain feasts while in Babylon to commemorate and mourn the events associated with their exile (e.g., the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple). There were 4 solemn fasts that they observed for 70 years. Now that they had returned to Jerusalem, and now that the rebuilding project for the temple was in place, should they continue the fasts? They assumed their fasting had been a good thing, but they were surprised to learn that the Lord was not pleased with them. God had not commanded these fasts or sanctioned them, and they were really not for Him in the first place.

The Lord revealed his unhappiness by pointedly asking, ‘When you fasted and mourned … did you really fast for Me — for Me?’ (v. 5). With this question he was bringing these people to the unpleasant conclusion that these fasts, ostensibly created for him, were in fact created for themselves, so that they could feel good about how religious they were!

Does this sound familiar? Is this a motivation for much religious worship in our day? How much of our worship is fueled by our own desire to feel good religiously and to rely on what pleases us (whether it be novelty or tradition or nostalgia) in worship?

While we agree that worship is for the Lord, we often corrupt it by doing things we enjoy instead of being content to do the things that God enjoys. What does God enjoy? He has made it clear. He wants us to read and preach his Word, seek his face in prayer, and exalt him in praise.

The discussion questions at the end of the chapter include these two:

Identify some things in modern worship services that seem to be more for us than for God? Why does it matter if our services contain these things?

What does the Lord desire of his people in their worship? What can church leaders do to try to promote God-pleasing worship?

Those questions give us some important food for thought. We would do well not to dismiss them or to try to justify modern (or even traditional) innovations in worship. What matters is what God desires.

Free Offer

Is it desired that we should forbear to make a free offer of God’s grace in Christ to the worst of sinners? This cannot be granted by us: for this is the gospel faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation (and therefore worthy of all our preaching of it), that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and the chief of them (1 Tim. 1:15). This was the apostolic practice, according to their Lord’s command (Mark 16:15-16; Luke. 24:47). They began at Jerusalem, where the Lord of life was wickedly slain by them; and yet life in and through his blood was offered to, and accepted and obtained by, many of them. Every believer’s experience witnesses to this, that every one that believes on Jesus Christ, acts that faith as the chief of sinners. Every man that sees himself rightly thinks so of himself, and therein does not think amiss. God only knows who is truly the greatest sinner, and every humbled sinner will think that he is the man.

Shall we tell men that unless they are holy they must not believe on Jesus Christ? That they must not venture on Christ for salvation till they are qualified and fit to be received and welcomed by him? This would be to forbear preaching the gospel at all, or to forbid all men to believe on Christ. For never was any sinner qualified for Christ, He is well qualified for us (I Cor. 1:30); but a sinner out of Christ has no qualification for Christ but sin and misery. Whence should we have any better, but in and from Christ? Nay, suppose an impossibility, that a man were qualified for Christ; I boldly assert, that such a man would not, nor could ever, believe on Christ. For faith is a lost, helpless condemned sinner’s casting himself on Christ for salvation; and the qualified man is not such a person.

Shall we warn people, that they should not believe on Christ, too soon? It is impossible that they should do it too soon. Can a man obey the great gospel command too soon (1 John 3: 23)? Or do the great work of God too soon (John 6:28-29)?

Robert Traill, quoted in Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ



What Is Will-Worship?

In Colossians 2:20-23, Paul writes:

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

The phrase “self-made religion” is translated in the King James Version as “will worship.” Ezekiel Hopkins, in his exposition on the Second Commandment, writes the following:

Now will-worship is nothing else, but the invention and ascribing any other worship unto God, besides what he hath been pleased to command and institute. God will not be worshipped according to our fancies, but his own appointment: For, as we must have no other God, besides the true; so that God must have no other service performed unto him, besides what himself hath required and prescribed; for this were to impute folly and weakness unto him, as if, indeed, he would have servants but knew not what service to enjoin them. (Works, vol. 1, p. 335)

There is much wisdom in warning against invented forms of worship which might be intended to honor God, but actually serve to obscure His glory, because the focus is taken away from what God Himself has ordained. This wise warning is summarized well in the Westminster Confession of Faith:

The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture. (21:1)

And what ways are we to worship God? In addition to prayer, the WCF explains:

The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner. (25:5)

Therefore, so that we are wise and obedient unto God, and so that we offer up worship that is pleasing to Him, let us seek to worship Him in the ways He has taught to us by His word. All other worship will, in the end, be will-worship. For, in the end, will-worship only seeks to please ourselves, and not God.

In the Merse

I am looking forward to reading Sinclair Ferguson’s upcoming book on The Marrow Controversy (available here), which should be available near the end of January. It is largely based upon a series of lectures he delivered around 1980 (see here and here for some of Dr. Ferguson’s messages on the subject). In the meantime, the following article (taken from the book) articulates why this book and the issues it wrestles with are so important a concern for the church in the 21st century.

Why I Wrote a Book on the Marrow Controversy

Challenges to Preaching

It is a pathetic feature of contemporary church life that there are still plenty in the pews who clamour for shorter and lighter sermons and bright and easy services and not a few in the pulpits prepared to pander to popular taste. There’s a vicious circle: superficial congregations make superficial pastors, and superficial pastors make superficial congregations.

C.E.B. Cranfield, quoted in John Stott’s The Challenge of Preaching

I found the following article to be particularly helpful in that oft-neglected duty of preparing our souls for the Lord’s Day and the worship of God.


The family is gathered in church on Sunday morning. The service is about to start. The minister asks a question, asks it even before the Invocation. He asks, “How many of you have taken time to prepare your souls for this, the Lord’s Day?” How would we answer such a question; what would have been our answer last Sunday morning?

There has been much said regarding the keeping of the Sabbath day, and this is proper. Indeed, our country is guilty of breaking it time and time again and born again Christians are joining in. But possibly some emphasis should be put on the matter of preparation for the day. There seems to be little said about this important aspect. It might well be there would be less breaking of the Sabbath if there was more preparation for it!

How can we prepare for the Sabbath day? What things would be important for us to do in order that we might be better prepared to spend the day as the Lord would have us to spend it? The following list might be helpful as we seek to live unto Him in this area:

1. Dedicate the day to the Lord beforehand and rejoice at the prospect of it. Recognize this is truly the Lord’s Day. We should seek, by His grace, to make it a special day of blessing to our souls.

2. Use a good portion of the time on Saturday evening for a spiritual retreat. Closet yourself with the Word, with prayer, filling your soul with the things that be of God. Recognize that your heart needs to be cleansed from the things of the world, necessary things possibly, but things that have entered in to choke the Word.

3. Use some time for meditation. Instead of only reading the Word and praying, think on the things of God and of God Himself. Think on His works, on His holiness, on the wonderful fact of redemption, on the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

4. Pray for the minister, pray that he will be prepared for the preaching of the Word, the primary means of grace. Hold him up before the Throne of Grace, pray that he will be a fit vessel for the Master’s use.

It is time that God’s people, His saved, prepare themselves for the Lord’s Day and its activities. As the people of Israel had to wash their bodies before the law was presented to them, so should the believers in Christ prepare their souls for the Lord’s Day. (Ex. 19:10). Think of what the result could be in His work if His people were to make some spiritual retreats in preparation for His day!

Published By: The SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol. 4 No. 55 (July 1965)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

Found here.

The Bible’s verdict on the human heart is that it is deceitful (Jer. 17:9). And it deceives preachers of the gospel, too. It persuades us that we have more to do than to pray; that prayer is a luxury that we cannot afford; or that prayer is a practice we do not really need. Our hearts tell us to get straight from breakfast to exegesis and that we are sufficient in ourselves for the duties of our calling. Sometimes our hearts don’t even tell us that; they tell us that it can all wait until after another cup of coffee.

Iain Campbell, “Pray, Plan, Prepare, and Preach”, pg. 40

HT: Benjamin Glaser