Tuesday Hymns: “God’s Sufficient Word”

James Montgomery Boice was the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for 32 years, from 1968 until his death in 2000. He blessed many through his Bible commentaries (which actually were collections of his sermons), his work with the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and his radio ministry, The Bible Study Hour. He also wrote twelve hymns which were published shortly after his death in Hymns for a Modern Reformation with Paul S. Jones composing the tunes. Our Tuesday Hymn for this week is one of the hymns from that collection, God’s Sufficient Word.

In Boice’s, Foundations of the Christian Faith, he illustrates the importance of Christ’s Church to rest not only in the authority of Scripture, but in its sufficiency also:

“In Martin Luther’s day, sola Scriptura had to do with the Bible being the sole ultimate authority for Christians over against challenges to it from the traditions of the medieval church, church councils and the Pope. The reformers wanted Scripture to stand alone as the church’s true authority. Today, at least in the evangelical church, that is not our chief problem—we assert biblical authority—but rather, whether the Bible is sufficient for the church’s life and work. We confess its authority, but we discount its ability to do what is necessary to draw unbelievers to Christ, enable us to grow in godliness, provide direction for our lives and transform and revitalize society…in other words, in the sixteenth century the battle was against those who wanted to add church traditions to Scripture, but in our day the battle is against those who would have us use worldly means to do God’s work.”

I am sorry that I was not able to find audio of the tune on the internet, but the lyrics of this hymn, to me, make the posting of this hymn worthwhile.

When God from heaven gave His Word,
His Word was all sufficient;
It need no words I may have heard
To add to or be in it.

Sufficient for God’s work in me:
My soul’s regeneration,
A life in which good works will be
The fruit of my salvation.

Sufficient too in daily strife,
Providing clear directions
For how to live a godly life,
Creating right affections.

Sufficient! If I stoop to sin,
God’s Word will soon correct me,
And if I wander from God’s way,
His Word will redirect me.

So I will take God’s Book and read,
To learn what God desires;
The Bible gives the strength I need
To do what God requires.

Advertisements

Memorial Day 2011: Remembering more than our veterans

This coming Monday we, in the United States, will celebrate what has come to be known as Memorial Day. It was originally named “Decoration Day” and there is some question as to the actual beginning of the observance. Women in the South were decorating the graves of the Confederate dead before the end of the Civil War, but the first official observance came with the declaration of General John Logan (a Union general) when flowers were placed on the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868. The northern states and southern states celebrated Memorial Day on different days until the end of World War I, when the observance “remembered” all those who gave their lives in service for their country, not only in the Civil War, but in all wars. Until 1971 it was observed on May 30th, but then Congress changed the timing to the last Monday in May to insure a three day federal weekend holiday.

While I have always appreciated the men who fought for the great country in which I live, May 30th has always been special to me for a different reason: It was my Mom’s birthday. Ruby Mae Jordan Rankin was born on May 30, 1919 in Hardin County, Texas, just a few hundred feet from where I now live. She was the fourth of seven children born to Jim and Dora Jordan, and married my Dad on May 22, 1939 in Portsmouth, Virginia, where he was stationed in the U. S. Navy.

My mom was always quiet (I have seen her talk on the telephone to her sister for an hour and say nothing but, “Hello, yes, yes, uh-huh, yes, yes, good-bye”) but she made a profound impact on my life. Although she was never in good health (she contacted spinal meningitis right after my birth and suffered from high blood pressure and TIAs for years, before battling early onset dementia in her 70s) she and Dad consistently brought their three children to church, and read the Bible and prayed with us. She was an example of a woman who, although she lived a quiet life at home raising her children (heaven forbid that a woman should choose to do that! [please note: sarcasm]), she was used by God to mold and shape not only her children, but also others who God brought into her life.

In her quiet way, she pointed me to the grace of Christ, taught me of the love of Christ, lived a life as an example of Christ, and was also very adept at using those very thin women’s belts on my legs when she really needed to get my attention. There will be no biographies written about my Mom, and no TV mini-series developed about her life, but I am so grateful that the Lord, by His grace, kept her from being seduced by the spirit of the age, and saw fit to place me in that loving family of Christians during my formative years. So, on this Memorial Day, I will remember those who have fought and died for our nation’s freedom, but I will also remember the woman who battled the world, the flesh, and the devil to raise her son to trust in Christ as his only comfort in life and death.

The Importance of Christ’s Church

I am Day 3 into a seven-day vacation (yeah, I am weird, I started on Thursday) and my wife informed me I should not be posting to my blog while I am on vacation, but since she has headed off to Beaumont (nails, hair, etc.—you know, fun stuff for girls), before I head out to clear some brush, I thought I would wax eloquently for a paragraph or two.

Much has been made about Harold Camping’s prediction of the rapture taking place today (we know he was wrong, at least, about it starting in New Zealand, Australia, etc, and going around the globe) for the time has come and gone in those areas without any end-of-time earthquakes. However, as Biblically in error as Camping was about the Second Advent of our Lord, his error about Christ’s Church is far worse. His teaching that the Church Age has come to an end is abject heresy. The church is Christ’s bride, as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 5:25-27:

“25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

He will always have a church, and He will continue to care for her, and sanctify her until the initiating of the New Heavens and the New Earth (then His sanctifying work will be complete). The Westminster Confession of Faith’s chapter on the church is so precise that I would simply like to post it without comment as a reminder to us all that outside of His church, there “is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

CHAPTER 25
OF THE CHURCH
1. The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.

2. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

3. Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.

4. This catholic church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

5. The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a church on earth, to worship God according to his will.

6. There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof.

Tuesday Hymns: “Commit Now All Your Griefs”

The following paragraph in the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie by Koch describes well the difficult life experienced by Paul Gerhardt:

The outward circumstances of Gerhardt’s life were for the most part gloomy. His earlier years were spent amid the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War. He did not obtain a settled position in life till he was 44 years of age. He was unable to marry till four years later; and his wife, after a long illness, died during the time that he was without office in Berlin; while of the five children of the marriage only one passed the period of childhood. The sunniest period of his life was during the early years of his Berlin ministry (i.e. 1657-1663), when he enjoyed universal love and esteem; while his latter years at Lübben as a widower with one surviving child were passed among a rough and unsympathising people. The motto on his portrait at Lübben not unjustly styles him “Theologus in cribro Satanae versatus.”

Thus, when Gerhardt writes for God’s people to trust in their Lord “who earth and heav’n commands,” and “who points the clouds their course,” during troubled times, he knows of what he writes. My Bible reading for the day reminded me that there will come a day when “the oppressor is no more, and destruction has ceased, and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land, then a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness,” (Isaiah 16) but that day has not arrived in all of its fullness. Granted, Christ is on the throne now, and nothing can touch me as His redeemed one unless it first passes through His hands, and, thus, I can know that it is working for my eternal good; yet, as long as I am living in this fallen world, I will experience grief, tears, misunderstanding, sickness, trial, and trouble. As I do so, I need to remember the words so beautifully written by Gerhardt and sung to the tune, DIADEMATA:

1 Commit thou all your griefs
And ways into his hands;
To his sure truth and tender care,
Who earth and heav’n commands.
Who points the clouds their course,
Whom winds and seas obey,
He shall direct your wand’ring feet,
He shall prepare your way.

2 Give to the winds your fears;
Hope, and be undismayed;
God hears your sighs, and counts your tears,
God shall lift up your head.
Through waves and clouds and storms
He gently clears your way;
Wait for his time, so shall the night
Soon end in joyous day.

3 Still heavy is your heart?
Still sink your spirits down?
Cast off the weight, let fear depart,
And every care be gone.
He everywhere has sway,
And all things serve his might;
His every act pure blessing is,
His path unsullied light.

4 Far, far above your thought
His counsel shall appear,
When fully he the work has wrought
That caused your needless fear.
Leave to his sovereign sway
To choose and to command;
With wonder filled, you then hall own
How wise, how strong his hand!

William Miller Redux

The decades of the 1830s and 1840s were exciting times for the followers of a Baptist pastor from New York, William Miller. Through diligent self-study of the Scriptures, he came to the conclusion that Jesus would return to the earth sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. He declined to set a firmer date although many of his followers pushed him to do so. When March 1844 came and went with no Second Advent of the Lord, a new date was set: October 22, 1844. Since I am writing this in 2011, it makes sense that this day was called by the estimated 50,000 followers of William Miller, the “Great Disappointment.” (Many of these disappointed followers eventually became the Seventh-Day Adventist Church after a reinterpretation of what actually happened on that fateful day.)

It is not unusual for people to attempt to set dates for the return of Christ. The Jehovah Witnesses have set several of these dates down through the years and as one candidly said to me as I was trying to share the good news of the Gospel with him, “Those were not our finest days.” Edgar Whisenant published, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988, and then recalculated the return for 1989…then 1993…and then 1994 (Well, I think you get the picture), and probably all of us know people who still have dried beans and ammunition stored up from the Y2K scare of eleven years ago.

I have mentioned all of that since we have now entered the week of the latest “setting of the date” by Harold Camping: May, 21, 2011. Of course, Christ will return in glory on the day of His choice, and if that happens to be May 21, I, personally, will have no complaint. However, I guarantee that Harold Camping’s purported numerological equations have no bearing on the date of the beginning of the New heavens and the New earth (any more than the Mayan calendar prediction of 2012). He has already set one date that did not come to fruition (September 1994) and his HERESY of calling upon people to leave the church that Christ said “that the gates of hell would not prevail” against, should warn us to steer clear of such drivel.

However, we must ask ourselves the question, “How do we deal with the people that we know who have been caught up in this scam?” on May 22, 2011. First, pray for them. Pray that the Lord will open the eyes of their heart to see that they have been deceived, and pray that He will give them the desire to return to Christ’s church. Second, do all that you can to remind them of God’s grace, and that there is forgiveness for all who “call upon the name of the Lord.” Third, never forget that “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, [is] a pillar and buttress of truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) Granted, there are those churches which according to the Confession of Faith have become no better than “synagogues of Satan,” but the churches who preach the true Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone are a refuge from and protection against those who indulge in “irreverent babble” which leads “people into more and more ungodliness,” and whose “talk spreads like gangrene.” (2 Timothy 2:16-17) Last of all, when tempted to chase after date setters and newspaper interpreters remember, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36)

The Praying Puritan

The Puritans have always gotten a bad “rap” in history. They have been portrayed as dour, grumpy, and hypocritical, thanks mostly to the play, The Crucible, and that required reading from high school, The Scarlet Letter (at least the Cliff Notes were required). However, a better description of the Puritans is found in Leland Ryken’s, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were:

“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.”

Above all, the Puritans knew how to pray. That is one reason why The Valley of Vision (a collection of Puritan prayers) has always been a great encouragement to me. The Puritans could see their sin in all of its depravity, and God’s grace in all of its depth. Be blessed by the following plea to a gracious God to change a fallen sinner:

THOU BLESSED SPIRIT, AUTHOR OF ALL GRACE AND COMFORT,

Come, work repentance in my soul;
Represent sin to me in its odious colours that
I may hate it;
Melt my heart by the majesty and mercy of God;
Show me my ruined self and the help there is in Him;
Teach me to behold my Creator,
His ability to save,
His arms outstretched,
His heart big for me.

May I confide in His power and love,
commit my soul to Him without reserve,
bear His image,
observe His laws,
pursue His service,
and be through time and eternity
a monument to the efficacy of His grace,
a trophy of His victory.

Make me willing to be saved in His way,
perceiving nothing in myself,
but all in Jesus:
Help me not only to receive Him but to walk in Him,
depend upon Him,
commune with Him,
be conformed to Him,
follow Him,
imperfect, but still pressing forward,
not complaining of labour, but valuing rest,
not murmuring under trials, but thankful for my state.

Give me that faith which is the means of salvation,
and the principle and medium of all godliness;
May I be saved by grace through faith,
live by faith,
feel the joy of faith,
do the work of faith.

Perceiving nothing in myself,
may I find in Christ wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption.

Some thoughts on being a “Christ Follower”

I realize that it is the latest trend in evangelicalism for Christians to call themselves, “Christ Followers.” If that is your nom de jour I mean no disrespect. It is a valid description of one who has been justified through the work of Christ. As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” In other words, all who have been justified by Christ, will “follow Christ.”

However, I fear that the name, “Christ follower,” may (I said, “may”) put the emphasis on the wrong person. Granted, I am the one who attends worship, prays, reads the Bible, sings psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and “presses toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Nevertheless, I must ask the question, “Why do I follow Christ?” It certainly isn’t because there is anything inherently good in me. I am, as the song says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” If He doesn’t “seal my heart” for “His courts above” I would unquestionably fall.

My hope must never be placed in my ability to “follow Christ” for my remaining sin will always be a millstone around my neck in deep water, but if my hope is in Christ’s finished work, His enabling Spirit, and the promises of His Word, I can have the confidence that God will finish the work that He has started in me. I turn to the Westminster Confession once more before I close, “This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.”

Therefore, although I am willing, albeit reluctantly, to embrace the moniker, “Christ follower” as a description of what I do, I must always put the focus where it belongs: on what Christ has done for me through His obedient life and sacrificial death (along with His present intercession for me at the right hand of the Father).

Tuesday Hymns: “Jesus Lives, and So Shall I”

Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (July 4, 1715 – December 13, 1769) was a German poet and philosophy professor at the University of Leipzig in Germany. Although he earned a degree in theology, he never entered the ministry because of extreme shyness and health problems. However, those maladies did not hinder him from writing our Tuesday Hymn for this week, Jesus Lives, and So Shall I. This wonderful hymn (which we sang Sunday) speaks to us of our need for Christ in this life and the next. The Bible does not speak of eternal life for all (sorry, Rob Bell, there is a hell), but life for those who are resting in Jesus Christ as their only hope. That is the reason why each verse (except the last) ends with that glorious confession, “Jesus is my hope and trust.” It is sung to Johann Crüger’s tune, JESUS, MEINE ZUVERSICHT.

Jesus lives, and so shall I.
Death! thy sting is gone forever!
He who deigned for me to die,
Lives, the bands of death to sever.
He shall raise me from the dust:
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

Jesus lives, and reigns supreme,
And, his kingdom still remaining,
I shall also be with him,
Ever living, ever reigning.
God has promised: be it must:
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

Jesus lives, and by his grace,
Vict’ry o’er my passions giving,
I will cleanse my heart and ways,
Ever to his glory living.
Me he raises from the dust.
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

Jesus lives, I know full well
Nought from him my heart can sever,
Life nor death nor powers of hell,
Joy nor grief, hence forth forever.
None of all his saints is lost;
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

Jesus lives, and death is now
But my entrance into glory.
Courage, then, my soul, for thou
Hast a crown of life before thee;
Thou shalt find thy hopes were just;
Jesus is the Christian’s Trust.

Tuesday Hymns: “Forever Settled in the Heavens”

The 119th Psalm speaks much of the truth of God’s Word. This week’s Tuesday Hymn (okay, okay, it has been a few weeks since I did one of these) comes from The Psalter, 1912, (1/5 of which can be traced to the Scottish Psalter, according to Terry Johnson) and is an adaptation of verses 89-97 of that marvelous Psalm. Forever Settled in the Heavens reminds us that the same God that spoke the world into existence (Forgive me for my naiveté, Biologos members) rules and reigns over the world, and that we can trust His written Word to be true then, now, and forevermore. It is usually sung to that familiar and stately tune, DUKE STREET.

For ever settled in the heavens
Thy Word, O Lord, shall firmly stand;
Thy faithfulness shall never fail;
The earth abides at thy command.

Thy word and works unmoved remain,
Thine every purpose to fulfil;
All things are thine and thee obey,
And all as servants wait thy will.

I should have perished in my woe
Had not I loved thy law divine;
That law I never can forget;
O save me, Lord, for I am thine.

The wicked would destroy my soul,
But in thy truth is refuge sure;
Exceeding broad is thy command,
And in perfection shall endure.