Category Archives: Banner of Truth
“Words are powerful things and none can be more injurious than many to be found in fiction. For the reason stated in the second part of the book, I believe the Bible is not fiction.”
From Iain Murray’s latest book, The Undercover Revolution (p. viii), his argument that, based upon the undermining of British ethics by fictional lit in the 19th and 20th centuries, fictional literature poses a danger to the non-fiction genre of Scripture.
All words, even fictional words, are powerful, mind-shaping tools—either powerfully bad (The Shack) or powerfully good (C.S. Lewis). Murray tips his hat to good fiction on the first page, but I don’t think this is enough. Few literary genres provide more untapped potential for the spread of the gospel in the 21st century than fiction. May the Church run towards the genre of fictional literature and celebrate those who use fiction to communicate eternal truth.
The end of December is an ideal time to reflect on God’s blessings from the past year. And today I am reminded of some specific memories from the Spring.
The Banner of Truth invited me to attend their minister’s conference in Grantham, Pennsylvania. To my surprise, when I landed in the Harrisburg airport I was kindly chauffeured to the conference in the same car as Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and Dr. Derek Thomas. It was a memorable 45 minutes, as the two men laughed over funny pulpit experiences. Ferguson’s humor had me rolling the entire trip, like the time he bought some marmalade as a gift for his wife and attempted to bring it through airport security. The gift was confiscated. Apparently, he concluded, the United States is fearful of being attacked by marmalade. The story seemed especially funny with the punch line packaged in a thick Scottish accent.
The conference at Messiah College was sunny and hot. Derek Thomas took a chance of speaking without a jacket on, and his friends caught word over at Reformation21. Dr. Thomas took the brunt of some public correction and perhaps lost points with Mississippi Presbyterians and “British Lloyd Jonesites.” The heat was too intense for a jacket. I think I was wearing jean shorts.
At the end of the first night of messages I experienced the now-famous Ferguson walk through the conference bookstore. The bookstore was stuffed with onlookers, and Ferguson wove his way around the tables of Banner treasures, holding up specific volumes long enough to expound their value in the library of a “gospel minister” (another phrase that sounds great with the Scottish accent). Among others, he lifted Iain Murray’s 2-volume biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, B.B. Warfield’s Faith and Life, Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry, J.C. Ryle’s The Upper Room, and Gerhard Vos’ Biblical Theology. Every book he mentioned was drastically cut in price and snatched up quickly. He began the walk through the bookstore with a memorable preface. When he graduated seminary, the really useful books printed by Evangelical publishers could easily fit on one shelf. In other words, we are blessed to have so many excellent volumes available today.
Overall, I had great roommates in the shared dorms. We shared a lot of laughs, ate some wonderful food, and met several new friends. The format of the conference was a bit more formal than I’m used to, but experiencing the Holy Spirit’s work in different settings and formats is always encouraging. And my time with Burlew was encouraging and edifying, especially the late drive from the conference to the Banner of Truth warehouse in Carlisle, PA. Because of a tight schedule, time allowed only a midnight tour of the Banner warehouse. It was a conference highlight.
These conference memories come back because last week (after I released my top books of the year), I received an email from a reader (Dean) inquiring about my list of favorite messages I’d heard this year. My “Now on my iPod…” on the sidebar spikes listener interest and some assume that I compile a lot of audio messages (which I don’t). But I like the idea, and off Dean’s advice I set out to complete a top-10 list of favorite messages from 2007. As much as I tried, the list never came together for me. Next year I’ll take note of favorite messages throughout the year (as I do in compiling favorite books).
Despite being unable to complete a top 10-list, there is no debate over my top two favorite messages from 2007. Sitting in an oak pew in the balcony of a hot Pennsylvania chapel, I remember frantically writing down notes in a Moleskine as I absorbed every word from Ferguson’s two messages. It was the first time seeing Ferguson in person, and his messages struck deep because he turned my attention to the Cross in a way I had not previously considered.
Taking his cue from Titus 2:11-15, Ferguson expounded how our sanctification is the purchase of the Cross. In other words, when we consider our personal growth in holiness, we should be reminded that Christ purchased this sanctification for us. It was a stirring message, and I left with a deeper appreciation for the Cross.
I could explain both messages in detail, but I’ve already written summaries and your time would be best spent listening to the audio for yourselves. Enjoy.
Related: Transcripted excerpt from the first message titled Supporting the imperatives to holiness.
Related: Transcripted excerpt from the second message titled No such ‘thing’ as grace.
Last week we played the game, Who is George Smeaton? To be honest, I had not heard of him until recently. Now I know more about the 19th century Scottish theologian and that’s all thanks to the input of TSS readers, the most knowledgeable blog readers on the planet (illustrated by the fact that many of them roast their own coffee beans). Helpful input came flowing from Scottish readers and Brazilian readers and really from readers all over. So thank you!
As you now know, Smeaton’s two books on the atonement serve as the foundation for Jerry Bridges’ new book, The Great Exchange: My Sin for His Righteousness (Crossway: 2007). In the foreword, Sinclair Ferguson says Smeaton’s volumes should be on the shelves of every preacher. “They are treasure troves,” he writes.
Just yesterday in the mail arrived my copy of Smeaton’s 1870 work, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement (the second volume, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement, is currently out of print). As expected, the Smeaton volume was beautifully bound by the Banner in this 1991 reprint featuring a Smyth-sewn binding and cloth cover (remove the unsightly dust cover to see this delicious goodness). The text is a facsimile reproduction of the 1870 edition (see picture). There are brief Scriptural and topical indexes in the back.
To my pleasant surprise, the volume contains a lengthy appendix covering the history of the atonement from the first century through the Reformation period (pp. 479-544). Smeaton begins his historical study this way, “We find, when we make due allowance for erratic tendencies, either of individuals or of sects, through all this time, one harmonious testimony to divine justice and the judicial aspect of Christianity” (p. 480).
As time allows, I plan to write a fuller review, but this quote from the introduction to Apostles’ is a great one, illustrating the ever-present tendency within the church to neglect the doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. The quote stresses our need to linger often at the Cross in our studies, never assuming the importance of the Cross. Written 130 years ago, it’s ever fresh today.
“The design of this work is mainly to demonstrate, in the only way in which this is to be done, the pure biblical doctrine of the atonement. But polemical references are by no means withheld; that is, applications, necessarily brief, of ascertained truth to germinant errors, especially to those subtle forms of error which, in an evangelical guise, and not seldom with exegetical appliances, tend wholly to subvert the elements of substitution and penal visitation, which constitute the very essence of the atonement. It is a remarkable fact that since the Reformation no article has been so much impugned in every variety of form. Till recently this was uniformly done by a class of men who had forfeited all claim to be regarded as either evangelical in sentiment or biblical in doctrine. Within recent memory, however, a new phenomenon has presented itself to the attention of Christendom — a sort of spiritual religion or mystic piety, whose watchword is, spiritual life, divine love, and moral redemption, by a great teacher and ideal man, and absolute forgiveness, as contrasted with everything forensic. It is a Christianity without an atonement; avoiding, whether consciously or unconsciously, the offence of the cross, and bearing plain marks of the Rationalistic soil from which it sprung; and it has found a wide response in every Protestant land.”
- George Smeaton, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth: 1870/1991), vi.
This one is for Steve Burlew and our friends at the Banner of Truth in Carlisle, PA…
Posted in Banner of Truth
A Banner Day for the Banner of Truth
… Where did all these Calvinists come from? In his third post Mark Dever says in large measure they are the result of the publishing efforts of The Banner of Truth. Indeed my life-changing introduction to men like Horatius Bonar, Octavius Winslow, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Sibbes, John Flavel, John Bunyan, Thomas Brooks, John Newton, B.B. Warfield, John Murray and Martyn Lloyd-Jones were all books published by the Banner! So a heartfelt and much deserved “thank you” to the men and women of the Banner who (for several decades) have laid a foundation for my precious reformed learning.
… Congratulations to Steve Burlew and our other friends at the Banner of Truth office in PA for this noteworthy acknowledgment!
… If you think the Banner just launched off the ground in widespread financial success I would entrust the very interesting Banner magazines from 1955-1959 (published in book format). Iain Murray was walking by faith that God would bless the printing of Puritan works. It was an act faith and of doctrinal conviction. The very first Banner magazine opened with these words: “There are many today who regard truth and error as matters of small consequence; if a man lives rightly, they say, it matters not much what his beliefs and opinions are” (p. 3). A firm commitment to the doctrinal foundation promoted by the Banner of Truth in 1955 is central to why the practice of Calvinism flourishes today. Read these early magazines and watch Banner of Truth grow from a seed. It’s an amazing and fruitful work of God’s graciousness!
… For one more week (until July 21st) the Mongerism Books Banner of Truth mega sale continues. Be sure to check it out if you are interested in any of the Banner of Truth sets.
… And in related news: No baby yet (due date was Tues.), but when that child arrives they will be garbed in Banner gear (my wife and I found transferable clothing stickers and printed off the Banner logo). Whether a girl or boy we do not know, but a Banner Baby most certainly!
Good Monday morning, friends! I just posted my review of Spurgeon’s autobiography over at Take Up And Read (hosted by Monergism.com). … The Banner of Truth just released their Summer 2007 catalog and you can download it here (1.7 MB) … More exciting things to come this week including the first TSS podcast next Monday (Deo Vo lente). Stay tuned to TSS and more importantly keep your eyes fixed on the precious Savior that gives us life, forgiveness, righteousness, wisdom and hope! – Tony
The Letters of Newton, Chalmers and Rutherford
Few books minister more effectively to my soul than compilations of letters written by spiritual giants. These private letters reveal a private concern for particular souls. They are intended to comfort the downcast and encourage frail sinners on the brink of eternity to set their minds on things above.
Over the past year we have seen a sharp rise in the printing of these treasured letters. The most substantial projects from the Banner of Truth in 2007 thus far have been the publishing of the Letters of John Newton and Letters of Thomas Chalmers. These join the Banner’s monumental production from last year, Letters of Samuel Rutherford. So at the Shepherd’s Scrapbook we pulled out the scales to compare the three Banner volumes. Here are the raw statistics.
The covers and statistics make the three appear very similar but there are noted distinctions between them.
Because topics change from page to page, the most important factor in using the volumes of published letters is a good topical index. If you are preaching on assurance, you want to access the topically relevant letters quickly. The Letters of Samuel Rutherford published last year included a short but very useful topical index to all the letters (pp. 715-717). Unfortunately, neither of the two newer volumes were published with a similar straight topical index. But like Rutherford, the Newton volume does have a short topical summary in the table of contents. So for example, we know from the table of contents that the first published letter from Newton to Mrs. Wilberforce covers two topics: “Scriptural views of sin” and “Looking to Jesus.” These short topical summaries of each letter are very useful to navigate the mass of letters quickly. The Chalmers volume has none of these topical guides.
As we have come to expect from Newton (1725-1807), his letters are filled with rich spiritual content that has proven timeless. Each letter is tenderhearted, sincere and conveys principles of relevance for the Christian today. These 128 letters are only a tiny selection from his writings, but they are a well-chosen selection. Rutherford (1600-1661) is rightly considered the most famous letter writer in all of church history. Charles Spurgeon considered Rutherford’s letters to be “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men.” It takes little imagination to see why. The letters of Chalmers (1780-1847) are noticeably short. While there are letters that rise to the spirituality of Rutherford and Newton (see excerpt below), many seem to have their greatest value as records of history. It appears this volume of letters may have been intended to be read alongside Chalmers’ Memoirs by those familiar with his life. A number of letters include details about financial accounts and other historical details. It’s worth noting that the original editors of Chalmers’ letters strove to publish them in chronological order whereas Newton’s letters are printed without concern to chronology. This reveals a subtle but important distinction between the purposes of the two works.
Both Newton and Chalmers are very easy to read. Readers unfamiliar with Puritan literature should know that Rutherford is much older and a bit tougher to read. A helpful glossary of difficult terms is found on pages 718-733 (apparently even for a reader in 1891, help was needed to refresh the language of 1661). All three volumes are high quality facsimile reproductions.
The Newton volume includes only a very brief biography. Both the Rutherford and Chalmers volumes come with length biographical introductions. Rutherford’s was written by Andrew Bonar in 1891 and Chalmers’ by Iain Murray in 2007. Chalmers was used greatly in the revival of the Gospel in Scotland, and the biography by Murray is outstanding.
When it comes to spiritual letter writers, John Newton and Samuel Rutherford are in the Reformed Hall of Fame. It’s great that these two works are indexed topically in a way that will make them very easy to use in sermon preparation and for topic-specific devotional times. That within one year, the Banner of Truth has managed to publish these works in Smyth-sewn binding and beautiful cloth covers is itself a grand accomplishment that will serve the church for many decades.
My concluding recommendations for readers looking to pick up and read some spiritual letters this Summer: Chalmers’ letters are often spiritual but will be tougher to navigate due to lack of thematic summaries and index we see in the other two. Start with Newton and then move on to Rutherford. For those more interested in historical letters, return to Chalmers. In all three cases, your heart will be truly blessed as you read letters from three able physicians of the soul.
All three volumes can be purchased directly from The Banner of Truth.
EXCERPT: taken from the Letters of Thomas Chalmers (Banner of Truth; 2007). Chalmers apparently received a letter from a woman who feared that she did not see enough of her own personal sin to draw near the Savior. He writes,
“I would first, then, say to you, that you are not to wait till you have mourned enough for sin ere you accept the Savior. You complain that you have not such deep views of sin as experienced Christians speak of; but how did they acquire them? They are the fruits of their experience in Christ, and not of their experience out of Christ. They had them not before their union with the Savior. It was on more slender conceptions of the evil of sin than they now have that they went to Christ, that they closed with Him, and that they received from His sanctifying hand a more contrite spirit than before — a more tender conscience than before. Do as they did; wait not till you have gotten their deep sensibilities till you go to the Savior. Go to Him now; go to Him with your present insensibility; bring it before Him as part of your disease, and He, the Physician of souls, will minister to this and all other diseases. But, generally, you complain that you are ignorant of how to go — how to believe. Now, this has long been a stumbling-block to many; their thoughts are how they are to believe, when their thoughts should be what they should believe. They look inwardly for the work of faith, when they should look outwardly for the object of faith. ‘For every one thought,’ says Richard Baxter, ‘that he casts downwardly upon himself, he should cast ten upwardly and outwardly upon Jesus, and upon the glorious truths of the Gospel'” (letter 240, page 301).
2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference
The Shepherd’s Scrapbook was on location for the 2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference on the campus of Messiah College in Grantham, PA (May 29-31). Here is a complete index to the addresses and photographs, tours, etc. from our conference coverage.
Day 1 (Tue.)
1. Photos from the first day.
2. Ben Short, “The Antidote to Discouragement” (Tues. 3:30 PM)
3. Sinclair Ferguson, “Our Holiness: The Father’s Purpose and the Son’s Purchase” (Tues. 7:00 PM)
4. Sinclair Ferguson’s walk through the bookstore (Tues. PM)
Day 2 (Wed.)
5. Derek Thomas, “Union with Christ: The Architectonic Principle of Holiness in Calvin’s Institutes” (Wed. 9:00 AM)
6. Sinclair Ferguson, “Our Holiness: Abiding in Christ’s Love” (Wed. 10:45 AM)
7. Derek Thomas, “Mortification and Vivification: The Shape of Holiness in Calvin’s Institutes” (Wed. 7:00 PM)
8. Warehouse tour of the Banner of Truth (Carlisle, PA)
Day 3 (Thur.)
9. Derek Thomas, “Meditation and the Future Life: The Goal of Holiness in Calvin’s Institutes” (Thurs. 10:45 AM)
10. Notes from the addresses by Jonathan Watson, Patrick Harrison and Mark Johnston.
11. Final Conference Reflections
Session 6 – (Thurs. 10:45 AM)
“Meditation and the Future Life: The Goal of Holiness in Calvin’s Institutes”
GRANTHAM, PA – Thomas began his final session with some background and advice to reading Calvin’s Institutes. He recommended using a guide to help get through them for the first time. [I would agree having been greatly helped by T.H.L. Parker’s, Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought (Westminster/John Knox: 1995)]. Thomas cautioned against using the Institutes as ones introduction to John Calvin but rather recommended readers begin with Calvin’s rich sermons. Sermons on the Beatitudes (Banner of Truth: 2006) was presented as a particularly marvelous and fresh exposition although the cover image is one of the most awful images of Calvin, he said. “I’ve seen bad images of Calvin but this one takes the biscuit.”
Thomas highly recommends others read Calvin’s chapter on prayer in the Institutes. The chapter is one of the longest (see 3.20.1-52, pp. 1:850-920). Why, he asked, is Calvin’s teaching on prayer not better known? Calvin’s treatment on prayer is marvelous and all should read it.
Thomas then began his final message with three Scripture readings: Romans 8:1-11, Ephesians 4:17-24, Colossians 3:1-4. It’s important to note that Calvin’s teaching on mortification ends with this chapter: “Meditation on the Future Life” (3.9.1-6, pp. 1:712-719).
Calvin and the Puritans
Our love for the Puritans is a love of their experiential exposition of Scripture. We are drawn to the most obscure language of John Owen and endure the Ramist subdivisions of Owen’s subplot because he and other Puritans speak to our hearts. Today we long for God’s Word to be addressed not only to our mind and intellect but also to our hearts and affections. We long to have the question: So what? What is the purpose of the passage? What is it calling me to do and feel? The Puritans redress the mistakes of our day.
Calvin intimidates readers more than the Puritans because we think that Calvin does not speak to the heart as the Puritans. This is to buy into a division between Calvin and the Calvinists. The Puritans – all of them – knew, read and loved John Calvin. All the Puritans read Calvin’s Institutes, commentaries and sermons. Perhaps the best way to dismantle this error of separating Calvin from the Calvinists is to plumb the depths of book 3 in the Institutes because here Calvin teaches us that the heart is more important than all else.
For Calvin, piety was fundamental and the Institutes are a deliberate contrast to the medieval theology of Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas. Calvin’s Institutes are a Summa Pietas (sum of all piety) rather than a Summa Theologica (sum of all theology). For Calvin, his theology is a theology of the heart, addressing the totality of anthropology. If we don’t see this in the Reformers it shows a serious misunderstanding on our part.
The Reformers produced a Reformed spirituality! Reformed faith, by design, encompasses the totality of life including piety and the spiritual. Our theology informs our doctrine, prayers, understanding God’s means of grace, the imperatives of Scripture, preaching, corporate gatherings and liturgy. Their theology informed their spirituality. For Calvin and the Reformers there is a decided shape to spirituality and piety. There is a union with Christ first and then communion with Christ (as we saw earlier)!
So where did J.I. Packer get the title of his bestselling book, Knowing God? From the Institutes of course! Having sold over 1,000,000 copies, what makes it such a popular work? Because, who does not want to know God? This is Calvin’s intent in the Institutes. For Calvin piety in the sense of having a right relationship with God – in knowing Him, giving heartfelt worship, believing, offering filial prayers, etc. – is exactly what the Institutes are all about! Calvin says, “I call ‘piety’ that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces” (1.2.1, p. 1:41).
For Calvin’s faculty psychology the mind is hugely important. “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding” (Ps. 32:9). Calvin says the mind, yes, but also the heart, too! We are to be like newlyweds in their continual talking over their future together. They are thinking about the house and kids they want in the future. In book 3, Calvin says we need to be like newlyweds longing, ever more in love with Christ by which we have been drawn into union and anticipating our future together with Him.
But sin, the world and Satan all seek to draw us away from this anticipation. These are the enemies that prevent this love from blossoming. So we are required, with resolve and effort, to maintain and grow in this love. This resolve and effort comes, for Calvin, in the act of meditation on the future life. For Calvin, like that of the Puritans, they were following a line of sanctification with medieval roots. We live in this world but we anticipate the world to come.
Meditating on the Future Life
What shape does this anticipation take in Calvin?
1. Renovation of the Mind. Not only do we need a renovation in what we think but a renovation in how we think. In his book, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (7:260-497), Puritan John Owen asks: What is it you think about then you are not thinking? When your mind is in the default/neutral position, what is it you think about? We force our thoughts to Christian thoughts. Calvin says nearly the same thing as Owen (did Owen read Calvin’s Institutes?).
Colossians 3:1-4 is very significant here.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Calvin says Paul calls us to we are called to “assiduity” (or diligent effort) in our thinking of the things above. Calvin warns us of stopping at the resurrection of Christ. Christ was crucified, buried, raised and now is seated in heaven. Calvin’s thoughts follow redemptive history.
We have made too little of the ascension of Christ. By Christ’s being brought into heaven, we have been brought into heaven. We are with Him! This means the ascension of Christ is critical to meditation. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).
This renovation of our minds includes repentance and a rigorous discipline of our minds. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6).
2. Detachment from the present world. Like Augustine, Calvin warns against an improper love for the present world. It is dangerous to set our affections on the things of the world because it brings us into bondage and prevents services. But by nature we are slaves to this world. This world is a shadow and a vapor passing away. Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were meant to enjoy the provisions of the garden to see the beauty of the Creator of the beauty, to see the One Who is Beauty Himself. Sin, as Calvin says, turns our hearts into idol factories. We tease ourselves by thinking this world is all there is.
We see in our day the idolatry of health and exercise as though we can live to be 350 years old. Is this not a reflection that even Christians have set their minds on the things of this earth?
As this conference comes to a conclusion many of us have our bags packed and we are ready to leave to the airport to go home. Calvin says this is how we should live our lives on this earth. We should have our bags packed and on our way home. If this earth is not our homeland what is this life but an exile? Calvin has “gobs” of things to say on the proper value of enjoying Christian liberties in this life. But heaven is our home. Calvin says, “no one has made progress in the school of Christ who does not joyfully await the day of death and final resurrection” (3.9.5, p. 1:718). Calvin calls us to know how to die well.
For Calvin, meditation is not mindless humming but a cognitive discourse on the Word of God. Imagine a preacher in your head expounding, applying and reminding us not to set our roots deeply in this world.
Trails are the primary means God uses to detach us from this world. For the Christian, our crosses are ladders by which the mind and heart ascend into heaven. The Christian is a marcher on the way to glory.
We should maintain a proper contempt for this world. Calvin asks: Where will true and lasting joy be found? Not in this world or the relationships of this world. The greatest joy in this world will pale to the bursting joy of heaven when we shall see Jesus in His glory and splendor (1 John 3:2)!
3. Heaven as our ultimate destiny. There are three tenses to our salvation – we are saved, we are being saved and we will be saved. Only in glory will we be fully saved from the remnants of corruption and freed from the temptations of Satan.
The real world is the unseen world. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). The Cherubim and Seraphim and archangels … this is the real world for Calvin. The privilege of being in Christ is that trouble does not shake us. We feel pain but Christ is always the rock beneath our feet and the security that cannot be taken away. In times of our greatest physical weakness we see beyond the groanings of this world to see with the eye of faith what cannot be shaken.
Psalter and Reformed Spirituality
So how do we meditate on the future life? The discipline of meditation is seen in the realities portrayed of this life in the Psalms. The Psalms are crucial to define the nature of the spirituality of the Christian life. Here we see the anatomy of all parts of the soul. This is why Calvin was adamant in commissioning a Psalter for his congregations to sing from. The Psalms are realistic. If the Psalmist is angry he says it. The Psalms range through a full spectrum of emotion and this displays the contours of our Christian lives. If we don’t sing the Psalms we miss the shape and identity of Reformed spirituality! If we do not sing of the brokenness of this world we will not anticipate the world to come.
And nothing portrays the anticipation of the future life more than prayer. The Psalms are prayers. Prayer is being drawn into heaven. The Holy Spirit groans to enables our voices to carry into heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. Romans 8:26 is central for Calvin’s understanding of the Spirit. The Spirit is given to enable us to pray. The Spirit works for us and with us to bring our feeble voices into the presence of the Father in heaven! If you read the prayers of Calvin you will notice how many of them are eschatological in nature.
Thomas closed his session by reading some of these precious prayers of Calvin. I close with a personal favorite:
“Grant, Almighty God, that as we now carry about us this mortal body, yea, and nourish through sin a thousand deaths within us; O grant that we may ever by faith direct our eyes toward heaven, and to that incomprehensible power, which is to be manifested at the last day by Jesus Christ our Lord, so that in the midst of death we may hope that thou wilt be our Redeemer, and enjoy that redemption which he completed when he rose from the dead, and not doubt that the fruit which he then brought forth by his Spirit will come also to us when Christ himself shall come to judge the world; and may we thus walk in the fear of thy name, that we may be really gathered among his members, to be make partakers of that glory which by his death he has procured for us. Amen”
Related: For more posts and pictures from the 2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference check out the complete TSS conference index.
Session 4 – (Wed. 10:45 AM)
“Our Holiness: Abiding in Christ’s Love”
GRANTHAM, PA – Ferguson began his session with a reminder that while sanctification is a fight against sin to the death, we are inclined to forget about abiding in Christ and naturally move on into the more “manly” aspects of sanctification. Architecturally, as people who think systematically about holiness the struggle of sanctification, this is right. But at the end of the day, sanctification is a matter of personal character. Holiness is who we become in Jesus Christ. This is why it’s very insightful to see the way Walt Chantry designed the conference topics and themes.
The centerpiece of the Christian faith is love, of the Christian abiding in the love of Jesus Christ. This is what produces genuine holiness. False holiness does not come by abiding in the love of Christ, and as a result it’s a ‘holiness’ that does not attract unbelievers and weak believers. In the Gospels Jesus shows true Christlikeness in a character that attracted unbelievers and those who were particularly weak. This is a test case for our own holiness. The evidence of true holiness is not in my appearance, but rather in my devotion to those who have little of God. True Christlike godliness draws the weak, which is to say that those abiding in the love of Christ have an atmosphere noticed by others.
The Vine and the Branches
In this morning’s session Ferguson would center his teaching on the vine and branches (John 15:1-11) with a particular emphasis on Jesus’ command in verse 9 to “Abide in my love.” The full text reads,
“1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
To abide in Jesus love is the quintessence of true holiness. I am genuinely holy only to the degree that I abide in His love. There are no substitutes for growing in holiness than to abide in Jesus’ love.
Abiding in Christ’s Love
The text was broken down by Ferguson into three points: 1. The love in which we abide; 2. The union by which we abide; and, 3. The character of those who abide in Christ’s love.
1. The love in which we abide. Due to a lack of teaching, people make this “abiding” in Christ into some mystical reality that cannot be put into words. But using words is exactly how Jesus describes this abiding. Jesus gives us a carefully expounded teaching of the pattern of abiding. It is to love the Son.
In John there are many references to the Father’s love for the Son but only one reference to the Son’s love of the Father. This Son is the eternal Word who is face-to-face with the Father (John 1).
There is an eternal bond of love between the Father and Son. “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (3:35). “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing” (5:20). The love of the Father towards the Son is extraordinary because no secrets are hidden from the Son in God’s daily work. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me” (8:42). If you knew who I was, Jesus says, you would love me like the Father loves me. Jesus prayed, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me … I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:23,26). And the most significant of all: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (John 10:17).
We must grasp the love of the Father towards His Son! Here is eternal intimacy, mutual admiration, loving esteem, and a full enjoyment of one another. This is fellowship.
In Genesis we get a picture of the mutual love of the husband and wife as Adam and Eve enjoying their perfectly loving relationship. This is a glimpse of the eternal and divine relationship. So what was God doing before creation? What did He spend His time doing? He was enjoying His Son! God needed nothing more for His own joy! This is beyond our imagination to grasp, but we do get a taste of this fellowship at a conference like this one. We come together to meet with pastors we have not seen in a long time and the time together is rich fellowship. It’s fellowship, not because we are accomplishing some task together, but simply in the fact that we are enjoying the presence of one another! Fellowship is not always about doing something; often it’s about enjoying one another. This is the oneness, the fellowship that makes the church the church (John 17:11,21-23).
That the Father loves the Son for His willingness to die on the Cross reveals a love between them capable of growth and development (John 10:17). Some of the basis of the Father’s love towards the Son is for the work of the Son. So the love that we abide in is an eternal love also capable of growth and development. In other words, the Atonement of Christ on the Cross is an act of love whereby sinners may receive even more love from the Father. The Atonement is not the end, but the beginning of an eternally growing and developing love from God. So salvation is not the end, but the means to restoring God’s love to the soul so we can enjoy greater love in communion with Christ! [This reminds me of a quote by John Piper that "God is the Gospel."]
A. This is a “love of complacency” (John Owen). The Atonement is the stepping-stone and foundation of every other blessing. God delights in those who have been atoned. Because of the Cross we are now objects of His pleasure and satisfaction. John Owen says, “The love of Christ is a love of complacency.” This love and delight flows in more love and joy (Zeph. 3:14-17, John 15:11). [Owen defines “complacency” as the delight and joy displayed by one fully satisfied in the object he has fixed his love upon (See Communion with God, 1:25).]
Jesus promises, “My joy will be in you.” Once our sins are atoned, there is a love in Jesus’ heart that overflows in sheer delight over us. Bathe in this truth! We are prone to beat ourselves into the dust over our remaining sinfulness rather than abide in Jesus’ love. Remember, Jesus’ love towards us is a love of complacency.
B. This is a “love of value” (John Owen). The saving love of God expresses valuation. Because Christ died for us and we are in Him, God values us as nothing less than His own Son. We love what we value (Matt. 6:21). We are loved because we are His treasure.
C. This is a “love of friendship” (John Owen). In verses 13-15 we see that we are loved like a friend. We are no longer servants. To the extent that I understand this truth and the dynamics of God’s love is the extent it will affect the character of my holiness.
2. The union by which we abide. The union by which we abide in Christ is a very personal union. The Greek word for “to believe” (pistos) is more literally translated “to believe into.” Our union with Christ is a union of personal like that of marriage. This is Christ dwelling in the Father and He in me. This is the union we share with Christ is a union of His person. We do not merely share in the graces of Christ, but in His entire person. His person and the grace from Him cannot be separated, as the Roman Catholics attempt, in order to make grace something mediated and dispensed by a church. There is no such concept. We have union with the full person of Christ and all His graces. Christianity is Christ. Union with Him is personally grounded in the incarnation. Our holiness is forged in us because we become like the One we most love!
This spiritual union is forged by the Holy Spirit. It is important to understand the work of the Holy Spirit in our personal union with Christ (see John 14:15-31).
This union is regulated by Scripture as the Word abides in our hearts (Col 3:16 and Eph. 5:18). It’s important to note that we as pastors do not stand on the Word of God as expert interpreters. Preachers are deep-sea divers, diving down into the depths to search for pearls to bring to the surface. Preaching is bringing the pearls to the surface. We are explorers in a world of grace. Preachers are below this Book!
Some think we will become infinite in heaven. This is not true. In our union with Christ, we are always finite creatures. Even in eternity we will forever have a past, present and a future. Because of this we will, each day, have increasingly more reason to love Christ throughout eternity!
3. The character of those who abide in Christ’s love. Due to time restraints these points were given as a list. The Christian abiding in Christ’s love will show itself in …
a. A universal obedience to Jesus’ commands (v. 14).
b. A life aware of Christ’s friendship (vv. 13-15). We are sinners saved by grace and in need of further cleansing, yet Jesus calls us friend!
c. A love for what Jesus has accomplished (v. 13).
d. A universal love for all those Christ has purchased (vv. 12,17).
e. A willingness to suffer in Him and with Him (vv. 18-20). To see death as the way to life.
f. A constraint to witness to others (vv. 26-27). In the context of evangelism, Paul says, “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). The Holy Spirit is the witness of Christ because the Spirit has been united with Jesus eternally. Abiding in Christ and witnessing of Christ are inseparably linked.
g. A full joy (v. 11). Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” What does this mean? Two things: He is the cause of our joy and we are the cause of His joy!
Understanding this mystery of abiding in Christ’s love will transform our ministries. Let us bathe in this truth!
Related: For more posts and pictures from the 2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference check out the complete TSS conference index.