Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Christ the scope of Scripture

The Puritan Isaac Ambrose (1604-1664). said: "Let a man have what the
world can give, yet if he have not Christ, he is nothing worth. Christ
is the marrow and fatness, the fulness and sweetness of all our
endowments, separate Christ from them and they are bitter and do not
please us, empty and do not fill us." "Surely Christ is enough to
fill all our thoughts, desires, hopes, loves, joys or whatever is
within us or without us. Christ alone comprehends all the
circumference of all our happiness. Christ is the pearl hid in the
large field of God's word Christ is the scope of all the scripture:
all things and persons in the old world were types of him; all the
prophets foretold him, all God's love runs through him, all the gifts
and graces of the Spirit flow from him, the whole eye of God is upon
him, and all his designs both in heaven and earth meet in him; the
great design of God is this, That " he might gather together in one
all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on
earth, even in him," Eph. 1:10".

He has another more well-known quotation about Scripture in this
regard: "Keep still Jesus Christ in your eye, in the perusal of the
Scriptures, as the end, scope and substance thereof: what are the
whole Scriptures, but as it were the spiritual swaddling clothes of
the holy child Jesus? 1. Christ is the truth and substance of all the
types and shadows. 2. Christ is the substance and matter of the
Covenant of Grace, and all administrations thereof; under the Old
Testament Christ is veiled, under the New Covenant revealed. 3. Christ
is the centre and meeting place of all the promises; for in him the
promises of God are yea and Amen. 4. Christ is the thing signified,
sealed and exhibited in the Sacraments of the Old and New Testament.
5. Scripture genealogies use to lead us on to the true line of Christ.
6. Scripture chronologies are to discover to us the times and seasons
of Christ. 7. Scripture-laws are our schoolmasters to bring us to
Christ, the moral by correcting, the ceremonial by directing. 8.
Scripture-gospel is Christ's light, whereby we hear and follow him;
Christ's cords of love, whereby we are drawn into sweet union and
communion with him; yea it is the very power of God unto salvation
unto all them that believe in Christ Jesus; and therefore think of
Christ as the very substance, marrow, soul and scope of the whole

John Owen had a similar view, reflecting on Luke 24:27, "It is
therefore manifest that Moses, and the Prophets, and all the
Scripture, do give testimony unto him and his glory. This is the line
of life and light which runs through the whole Old Testament".

Richard Muller notes that it was common in Reformed writers to see
Christ as the "scope" of Scripture "…the theologies of the Reformers
and of their orthodox successors consistently place Christ at the
center of their discussions of redemption, consistently understand
Christ as the center and fulfillment of divine revelation, and equally
consistently understand the causality of salvation as grounded in the
divine purpose".

Muller comments on the definition of the term: "It is particularly
important that the contemporary English meaning of 'scope,' the full
extent, range, or intention of a thing, be excluded. The original
Greek (skopos) and Latin (scopus) indicates the center or bull's eye
of a target. Indeed, in the First Helvetic Confession, scopus
translates der Zweck of the German original. The term is rightly
understood, therefore, not as the aim, purpose, goal, and center,
indeed, the 'bull's eye' of the biblical target. The Latin title of
the section is simply 'scopus Scripturae,' but the German reads at
greater length and with a clearer definition of the issue, 'What the
center (Zweck) of Holy Scripture is, and toward what the Scripture
ultimately points.' The 'entire Bible' (die ganze biblische Schrift)
teaches 'that God is gracious and benevolent' and that he has bestowed
his grace upon mankind in the person of Christ, his Son, by means of
faith. Much as in Luther's statement concerning the canon and in the
Schmalkald Articles, the center of Scripture is not merely Christ
doctrinally understood, but Christ apprehended by faith as the focus
of God's work of reconciliation. The larger sense of scopus as the
divine work of reconciliation throughout Scripture is echoed in
Bullinger's use of the term to indicate the covenant - a usage that
will appear in the writings of some of the Protestant scholastic

Ambrose applies this:

All things are summed up in this one Jesus Christ: if we look on the
creation, the whole world was made by Christ, if we look on
providences, all things subsist in Christ, they have their being, and
their well-being in him. Where may we find God but in Christ? Where
may we see God but in this essential and eternal glass? Christ is "the
face of God," 2 Cor. 4:6. " The brightness of his glory, the express
image pf his Father's person," Heb. 1:3. The Father is (as it were)
all sun, and all pearl; and Jesus Christ is the substantial rays, the
eternal and essential irradiation of the sun of glory: Christ outs God
as the seal doth the stamp: Christ reveals God, as the face of a man
doth reveal the man, so Christ to Philip," He that hath seen me, hath
seen the Father," John 14:9. q. d. I am as like the Father as God is
like himself: there is a perfect indivisible unity between the Father
and me, " I and the Father are one;" one very God, he the begetter,
and I the begotten: Christ is the substantial rose that grew out of
the Father from eternity: Christ is the essential wisdom of God;
Christ is the substantial word of God, the intellectual birth of the
Lord's infinite understanding: oh the worth of Christ! compare we
other things with Christ, and they will bear no weight at all; cast
into the balance with him, angels, they are wise, but he is wisdom;
cast into the balance with him men, they are liars, lighter than
vanity, but Christ is " the Amen, the faithful witness;" cast into the
scales kings, and all kings, and all their glory, why he is King of
kings; cast into the scale millions of talents' weight of glory; cant
in two worlds, and add to the weight millions of heavens of heavens,
and the balance cannot down, the scales are unequal, Christ outweighs
all. Shall I yet come nearer home? What is heaven but to be with
Christ? What is life eternal but to believe in God, and in hia Son
Jesus Christ? Where may we find peace with God, and reconciliation
with God, but only in Christ? "God was in Christ reconciling the world
unto himself," 2 Cor. 5:19. Where may we find compassion, mercy, and
gentleness to sinners, but only in Christ? It is Christ that takes otf
infinite wrath, and satisfies justice, and so God is a most lovely,
compassionate, desirable God in Jesus: alt the goodness of God comes
out of God through this golden pipe the Lord Jesus Christ. It is true
those essential attributes of love, grace, mercy and goodness, are
only in God, and they abide in God, yet the mediatory manifestation of
love, grace, mercy and goodness, is only in Christ; Christ alone is
treasury, store-house, and magazine of the free goodness and mercy of
the Godhead. In him we are elected, adopted, redeemed, justified,
sanctified and saved; he is the ladder, and every step of it betwixt
heaven and earth; he is the way, the truth and the life, he is honor,
riches, beauty, health, peace and salvation; he is a suitable and rich
portion to every man's soul: that which some of the Jews observe of
the manna, that it was in taste according to every man's palate, it is
really true of Christ, he is to the soul, whaisoevor the soul would
have him to hp. All the spiritual blessings wherewith we are enriched,
are in and v Christ: God hears otir prayers by Christ: God forgives us
our iniquities through Christ; all we have, and all we expect to have,
hangs only on Chtist: he is the golden hinge, upon which all our
salvation turns.

Oh! how should all hearts be taken with this Christ? Christiana! turn
your eyes upon the Lord: " Look, and look again unto Jesus," Why stand
ye gazing on the toys of this world, when such aChrist is offered to
you in the gospel? Can the world die for you? Can the world reconcile
you to the Father? Can the world advance you to the kingdom of heaven?
As Christ is all in all, so let him be the full and complete subject
of our desire, and hope, and faith, and love, and joy; let him be in
your thoughts the first in the morning, and the last at night. Shall I
speak one word more to thee that believest? Oh! apply in particular
all the transactions of Jesus Christ to thy very self; remember how he
came out of his Father's bosom for thee, wept for thee, bled for thee,
poured out his life for thee, is now risen for thee, gone to heaven
for thee, sits at God's right hand, and rules all the world for thee:
makes intercession for thee, and at the end of the world will come
again for thee, and receive thee to himself, to live with him for ever
and ever. Surely if thus thou believest and livest, thy life is
comfortable, and thy death will be sweet. If there be any heaven upon
earth, thou wilt find it in the practice and exorcise of this gospel
duty, in "Looking unto Jesus."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

a blasphemous church in a blasphemous abuse of the Bible

Some of the media have more respect for God's Word than those who want to go by the name of Christian and church. Under the headline: 'Gallery's invitation to deface the Bible brings obscene response', we read, 'A publicly funded exhibition is encouraging people to deface the Bible in the name of art — and visitors have responded with abuse and obscenity'. The open Bible (Authorised Version) 'is a central part of Made in God's Image, an exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art (Goma) in Glasgow. By the book is a container of pens and a notice saying: "If you feel you have been excluded from the Bible, please write your way back into it." The exhibit, Untitled 2009, was proposed by the Metropolitan Community Church, which said that the idea was to reclaim the Bible as a sacred text'.

Metropolitan Community Churches seem to be largely for homosexuals with an evangelical background. It celebrates "racial, cultural, linguistic, sexual, gender and theological diversity". It wants, however, to have some relation to historic belief as it's denominational statement of faith shows. After the exhibition they will retain the defaced bible as an exhibit in their church. They seem some symbolism in this and there is much indeed. It shows that they are a church that unashamedly blasphemes God by abusing His Word. 

We can read the attempt by the female 'minister' of this 'church' to justify it here. In their liberal naivety they thought that their invitation would receive a restrained and thoughtful kind of blasphemy such as they engage in themselves. They do not understand the nature of sin, however. 

The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God's name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious, or wicked mentioning, or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy, perjury...misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it, to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or anywise opposing of God's truth, grace, and ways (Westminster Larger Catechism Question 113)

The third commandment reminds us that the Lord will not hold such guiltless.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Basil of Caesarea on Psalmody

Psalmody is the calm of the soul, the repose of the spirit, the
arbiter of peace: it silences the wave, and conciliates the whirlwind
of our passions, soothing that which is impetuous, and tempering that
which is unchaste. Psalmody is an engenderer of friendship, a healer
of dissension, a reconciler of those who were inimical; for who can
longer account that man his enemy, with whom to the throne of God he
hath raised the strain. Wherefore that first of blessings, Christian
love, is diffused by psalmody, which devises the harmonious concert as
a bond of union, and connects the people in choral symphonies.
Psalmody repels the demons; it lures the ministry of angels ; a weapon
of defence in nightly terrors, a respite from daily toil; to the
infant a presiding genius, to manhood a resplendent crown ; a balm of
comfort to the aged, a congenial ornament to women. It renders the
desert populous, and appeases the forum's tumult; to the initiated an
elementary instruction, to proficients a mighty increase ; a bulwark
unto those who are perfected in knowledge. It is the Church's voice.
This exhilarates the banquet; this awakens that pious sorrow which has
reference to God. Psalmody from a heart of adamant can excite the
tear; psalmody is the employment of angels, the delight of Heaven, and
spiritual frankincense. Oh! the sapient design of our Instructor,
appointing that at once we should be recreated by song and informed by
wisdom! Thus the precepts of instruction are more deeply engraven upon
our hearts: for the lessons which receive unwillingly have a transient
continuance; but those which charm and captivate in the hearing are
permanently impressed upon our souls. From hence may not every thing
be acquired ? Hence mayest thou not be taught whatever is dignified in
fortitude, whatever is consummate in justice, whatever is venerable in
temperance, whatever is sublime in wisdom? Hero the nature of
penitence is unfolded; patience is here exemplified. Is there a
blessing to be named which here resides not? The splendours of
Theology beam effulgent; Jesus is predicted; the resurrection is
announced; judgement" is proclaimed; the sword of vengeance is
unsheathed ; crowns of glory glitter; speakless mysteries astonish—all
these are treasured up in the Book of Psalms, as in a common treasury
of the soul.

Basil of Caesarea, also called Basil the Great, (330 – 379)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

all of life worship? part 2

Like all slogans, the phrase "all of life is worship" is based on an
element of truth but as a simplistic generalisation it is essentially
untrue. We are to glorify God in everything but worship is something
different. The Bible clearly teaches that worship has a beginning
point (Matt. 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 28:9,17; Mark 5:6; John 9:38;
Heb. 11:21) and an ending point (Luke 24:52) and that worship does
involve a "when" and a "where" (John 12:20; Acts 8:27; 24:11). Abraham
told his servants that he and Isaac would "go yonder and worship, and
we will come back to you" (Gen. 22:5). God told Moses to "come up to
the Lord ... and worship from afar" (Ex. 24:1).

There is a real difference between the activities of Colossians 3:16
and 3:17. The point is that the assembling of ourselves together in
public worship involves specific activities and is carefully
regulated. It is a corporate and not an individualistic activity -
individualism is part of the thinking behind "all-of-life-is-worship".
It's a way of making sabbath worship less important.

There is a distinction between a common meal at home and the Lord's
Supper in corporate worship in 1 Corinthians 11:18-34. Worship is
also distinct from home life in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. The Larger
Catechism question 156 makes this distinction between the public
reading of the Word of God "to the congregation," which is only to be
done by those authorised, and the duty of all people "to read it apart
by themselves."

John Frame has a strange view of the regulative principle when he
says, "the regulative principle for worship is no different than the
principles by which God regulates all of our life." T. David Gordon
has pointed out in response to John Frame that the regulative
principle of worship deals with the limits of ecclesiastical power and
liberty of conscience. Either we have to make individual decisions
about worship or we are entirely regulated in our everyday decisions:

"The issue was not... 'worship' versus 'the rest of life,' but those
aspects of life governed by the church officers versus those aspects
of life not governed by the church officers.... Frame's attempt to put
'all of life' under one umbrella... is doomed to futility, because it
does not address the very issue the regulative principle was designed
to address, the limits of church power and the liberty of conscience."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lewis Sabbath Ferry

We were encouraged that a BBC Article closed with these words from Rev. Dr James Tallach which express more clearly the point that I was wishing to make in my last post .

James Tulloch [sic] of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland said it "grieved the spirit when the law of God is broken".
He said the fourth commandment states "remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy".
"CalMac made a great play that they must keep the law", he said.
"Well, I ask them what about the law of God?
"We will not be tried at the end of the day, when all of us stand before the judgment seat of Christ, on the basis of EU law."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Whose law? Sabbath sailings

Robert McCheyne's lament over the Parisian Sabbath was: " Alas ! poor Paris knows no
Sabbath. All the shops are open, and all the inhabitants are on the wing in search of pleasures — pleasures that perish in the using. I thought of Babylon and Sodom as I passed through the crowd. I cannot tell how I longed for the peace of the Scottish Sabbath!" How much true-hearted people now long for the peace of the Scottish everywhere in Scotland! The spurious pretext for Caledonian MacBrayne forcing sabbath sailings on the Isle of Lewis (with the approval of the Scottish Government) is the Equality Act 2006. Yet they refuse to publish the legal opinion that they have obtained and the Equality and Human Rights Commission has not taken up their position. They are only able to say that one man's opinion is that not providing sabbath sailings is 'more than likely to be in breach of the Equality Act 2006'. It hardly sounds like a sure basis. The decision is of course just a commercial one and that is why it flouts the democratically expressed view of the people of Lewis in the Council and the recent Stornoway Trust elections not to mention an overwhelming petition. Yet there is a desire to appeal to law in order to cry down the law of God in order to take away the last protection of the Sabbath in Scotland. One man's less than absolute opinion about a human law that in many of its provisions opposes the law of God is to be appealed to as a sufficient authority. When men stop believing in God's law and authority, they start believing anything and everything. The idea behind the thought that any law can be independent of God's law is the sinful and self-destructive desire for autonomy. Autonomy is only a synonym for blasphemy.

This is what McCheyne pointed out in his day to sabbath breaking commercial transportation companies: 'If you shall really carry your motion, against the prayers and longings of God’s people in this land, then, sir, you will triumph for a little while; but Scotland’s sin, committed against light, and against solemn warning, will not pass unavenged'.

The appeal to discrimination is utterly spurious but such is the false one-sided logic of the Equality movement. Iain D Campbell of the Lord's Day Observance Society says: 'In fact there is no absolute right to a Sunday ferry service anywhere. CalMac don't run Sunday ferries from Mallaig to the Small Isles, for instance, or ferries anywhere on Christmas Day – I don't think anyone seriously argues that that's discrimination. Experience has actually shown that new Sunday ferries don't increase traffic, they just spread it, and there is no evidence whatever that Sunday ferries bolster a local economy. There have been Sunday sailings to the Uists and Barra for many years now and if anything their problems of unemployment, housing and depopulation are even worse than ours'.

Some refuge is sought for the open breach of God's law although it be a false refuge and a refuge of lies but there will be no refuge on the day of judgement. McCheyne warned commercial transportation companies in his day:

'Guilty men ! who, under Satan, are leading on the deep, dark phalanx of Sabbath-breakers, yours is a solemn position. You are robbers. You rob God of his holy day. You are murderers. You murder the souls of your servants. God said, ” Thou shall not do any work, thou, nor thy servant;” but you compel your servants to break God’s law, and to sell their souls for gain. You are sinners against light. Your Bible and your catechism, the words of godly parents, perhaps now in the Sabbath above, and the loud remonstrances of God-fearing men, are ringing in your ears, while you perpetrate this deed of shame, and glory in it. You are traitors to your country. The law of your country declares that you should ” observe a holy rest all that day from your own words, works, and thoughts ;” and yet you scout it as an antiquated superstition. Was it not Sabbath-breaking that made God cast away Israel ? And yet you would bring the same curse on Scotland now. You are moral suicides, stabbing your own souls, proclaiming to the world that you are not the Lord’s people, and hurrying on your souls to meet the Sabbath-breaker’s doom'.

We pray that in our day we will have ministers with the convictions and courage of McCheyne and Christians with the convictions and courage of the Strome Ferry men of 1883.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What is patience in relation to providence?

Thomas Goodwin in his invaluable treatise on Patience and its Perfect Work says, 'if you now ask a description of patience, as it thus respects suffering the will of God, we must give it as it is in the word of God in the height, for that is the rule itself that directs to it, and not down it to what is found in our hearts. And yet that which afterwards follows, and will confirm every tittle of it, is drawn mostly from examples of the saints, either in the Old or New Testaments, which shew that it is attainable, though with allowance to defects, which accompany all graces in this life.

It is a constant, thankful, joyful enduring, with perseverance to the end of a man's life, all the trials that are grievous, how great, how long, how hopeless soever as to coming out of them; mortifying and compescing the inordinacy of opposite passions, as fear, grief, care, anxiety, which wifi arise upon such afflictions; with submitting to God's will, for God's glory, and his good pleasure's sake; still blessing and sanctifying God in all, waiting on God, and relieving one's self by faith in what is to be had in God, and from God, in communion with him, and from his love, in this life; in expectation also of that glory which is the reward after this life ended.

I might, in this place, confirm every word and tittle of this description, either out of examples of holy men or the rules which the word gives. But I omit the set collection of such proofs here, because that, scatteredly, up and down, in the particulars that follow, this will be found performed'.

The definition may seem easy to one who feels crushed and bruised by Providence and in great perplexity. In this relation there is a very helpful meditation that can be made use of in a book by the puritan Thomas White which is called A Method and Instructions for the Art of Divine Meditation:

O blessed God, if the way of thy Providence be such, that thou wilt not give so much Grace as to make me, through the abundance of it, almost whether I will or no, to serve thee, yet to whom thou dost give so much grace as to desire more grace, O let not this desire which is of thy own infusing; be in vain, if there be any thing in the whole world that I desire more than thy grace, then let me want grace to desire it any more; Lord, if the reason why thou deniest my prayer, be, because I do not desire as I ought, I humbly beseech thee to grant that I ask aright; alas my afflictions lie heavier on me then ever they did, and I am more wicked, or at least less holy then ever since my conversion I was; how little am I affected with any thing that belongs to thy service, nor yet doth it affect me that I am not affected: Lord, if there were any in heaven or in earth that could help me besides thee, then considering my Manifold Sins, I should; I but Lord, I would not, thy Mercies are so great, go to any other: Now Lord, now is the time to have Mercy upon me; I am like the Man that went from Jerusalem to Jericho, wounded, naked, and half dead, I cannot call for help, O let my wounds move thee to compassion; if I could bewail my sinful Misery with tears of Repentance, I know thou wouldest deliver me, but I cannot weep, nay, hardly mourn; Oh faint, faint is my grief, and cold is my love! What wilt thou do, Lord, with one that scarcely from his heart desires to serve thee: Alas, what canst thou do for me more or less, then to make me desire to serve thee! Accept I must, or for ever be lost: What a low degree of goodness am I come unto? a soul full of sadness, and empty of goodness; To morrow, Lord, I am to receive thee into my soul, thee my blessed Saviour: Lord, thou knowest I did not use to have a heart so empty of goodness, when I expected thee to come next day.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Forgotten Calvin

In the midst of the Calvin commemorations one aspect of his teaching will be conveniently forgotten because it doesn't sit well with most of those who are claiming to be his successors. His teaching on purity of worship is very clear, reflecting the historic uniform presbyterian and reformed position and practice. He maintained the regulative principle of worship, that nothing could be brought into the worship of God without scriptural warrant.

Calvin opposed instrumental music in public worship as belonging to the ceremonial law. "To sing the praises of God upon the harp and psaltery," says Calvin, "unquestionably formed a part of the training of the law and of the service of God under that dispensation of shadows and figures, but they are not now to be used in public thanksgiving." On Ps. lxxi. 22. He says again: "With respect to the tabret, harp, and psaltery, we have formerly observed, and will find it necessary afterwards to repeat the same remark, that the Levites, under the law, were justified in making use of instrumental music in the worship of God; it having been his will to train his people, while they were yet tender and like children, by such rudiments until the coming of Christ. But now, when the clear light of the gospel has dissipated the shadows of the law and taught us that God is to be served in a simpler form, it would be to act a foolish and mistaken part to imitate that which the prophet enjoined only upon those of his own time."On Ps. lxxxi. 3. He further observes: "We are to remember that the worship of God was never understood to consist in such outward services, which were only necessary to help forward a people as yet weak and rude in knowledge in the spiritual worship of God. A difference is to be observed in this respect between his people under the Old and under the New Testament; for now that Christ has appeared, and the church has reached full age, it were only to bury the light of the gospel should we introduce the shadows of a departed dispensation. From this it appears that the Papists, as I shall have occasion to show elsewhere, in employing instrumental music cannot be said so much to imitate the practice of God's ancient people as to ape it in a senseless and absurd manner, exhibiting a silly delight in that worship of the Old Testament which was figurative and terminated with the gospel." On Ps. xcii. 1.

He also wrote:

Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable thatn the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicitly which God recommends to us by the apostle [Heb. 13:15] is far more pleasing to Him.

Does any one object, that music is very useful for awakening the minds of men and moving their hearts? I own it; but we should always take care that no corruption creep in, which might both defile the pure worship of God and involve men in superstition. Moreover, since the Holy Spirit expressly warns us of this danger by the mouth of Paul, to proceed beyond what we are there warranted by him is not only, I must say, unadvised zeal, but wicked and perverse obstinacy.

Again, Calvin notes that: "We know that our Lord Jesus Christ has appeared, and by His advent has abolished these legal shadows. Instrumental music, we therefore maintain, was only tolerated on account of the times and the people, because they were as boys, as the sacred Scripture speaketh, whose condition required these puerile rudiments. But in gospel times we must not have recourse to these unless we wish to destroy the evangelical perfection and to obscure the meridian light which we enjoy in Christ our Lord." (Calvin's Commentary on the Thirty-third Psalm, and on 1 Sam. 18:1-9).

The best article on this subject appears to be one written by J G Vos. In terms of the content of praise, Calvin believed that the Psalms of Scripture were the only songs worthy of God. In the Preface to the Genevan Psalter he writes:

What is there now to do? It is to have songs not only honest, but also holy, which will be like spurs to incite us to pray to and praise God, and to meditate upon his works in order to love, fear, honor and glorify him. Moreover, that which St. Augustine has said is true, that no one is able to sing things worthy of God except that which he has received from him. Therefore, when we have looked thoroughly, and searched here and there, we shall not find better songs nor more fitting for the purpose, than the Psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit spoke and made through him. And moreover, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts in our mouths these, as if he himself were singing in us to exalt his glory. Wherefore Chrysostom exhorts, as well as the men, the women and the little children to accustom themselves to singing them, in order that this may be a sort of meditation to associate themselves with the company of the angels.

Richard Arnold therefore notes, “However Calvin’s enthusiasm for singing was subject to a crucial qualification: he restricted what was to be sung exclusively to the Psalms – these were, he writes in 1543, the songs provided by God and dictated by His Holy Spirit, and it would be presumptuous and sacrilegious for humankind to sing any words or arrangements of his of her own devising.”

Calvin extolled the range of truth found in the Psalms as entirely suited and adequate for New Testament worship. "The Psalms are replete with all the precepts which serve to frame our life to every part of holiness, piety, and righteousness". He wrote that "this book makes known to us this privilege, which is desirable above all others-that not only is there opened up to us familiar access to God, but also that we have permission and freedom granted us to lay open before him our infirmities, which we would be ashamed to confess before men". The Psalms were unique in the whole of Scripture:

There is no other book in which there is to be found more express and magnificent commendations, both of the unparalleled liberality of God towards his Church, and of all his works; there is no other book in which there is recorded so many deliverances, nor one in which the evidences and experiences of the fatherly providence and solicitude which God exercises towards us, are celebrated with such splendour of diction, and yet with the strictest adherence to truth; in short, there is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this religious exercise

I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, The Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul… there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn … all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated. The other parts of Scripture contain the commandments which God enjoined his servants to announce to us. But here the prophets themselves, seeing they are exhibited to us as speaking to God, and laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections, call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of himself in particular, in order that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, and of the many vices with which we abound, may remain concealed. It is certainly a rare and singular advantage, when all lurking places are discovered, and the heart is brought into the light, purged from that most baneful infection, hypocrisy

We do not think that many modern theologians would be able to say what Calvin says of the Psalms:

In short, as calling upon God is one of the principal means of securing our safety, and as a better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise cannot be found elsewhere than in The Psalms, it follows, that in proportion to the proficiency which a man shall have attained in understanding them, will be his knowledge of the most important part of celestial doctrine

The Psalms provide us with an infallible rule:
Besides, there is also here prescribed to us an infallible rule for directing us with respect to the right manner of offering to God the sacrifice of praise, which he declares to be most precious in his sight, and of the sweetest odour.

"… in short, there is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this religious exercise".

Calvin also has a clear warning to those who are casting the psalms aside from public worship:

The psalms can stimulate us to raise our hearts to God and arouse us to an ardor in invoking as well as in exalting with praises the glory of His name. Moreover by this, one will recognize of what advantage and consolation the pope and his creatures have deprived the church, for he has distorted the psalms, which should be true spiritual songs, into a murmuring among themselves without any understanding

500 years on from Calvin's birth, how near are most 'Calvinist' churches to his doctrine and practice of worship?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

the personal reality of providence: faith penetrating more deeply

"God's will is the highest and first cause of all things, for nothing can happen apart from God's command or permission" (16:8). "What God has determined must necessarily take place" (16.9). 
"anyone who has been taught by Christ's lips that all the hairs of his head are numbered [Matthew 10:30] will look farther afield for a cause, and will consider that all events are governed by God's secret plan. And concerning inanimate objects we ought to hold that, although each one has by nature been endowed with its own property, yet it does not exercise its own power except in so far as it is directed by God's ever-present hand. These are, thus, nothing but instruments to which God continually imparts as much effectiveness as he wills, and according to his own purpose bends and turns them to either one action or another". (I.16.2)
For someone who wrote three chapters on the doctrine of providence in the Institutes (chapters 16-18 of book one) and a book on the Secret Providence of God, Calvin had a very person application of it. One "must consider that his business is with his Maker and the framer of the universe, submitting humbly in fear and reverence (18.4). "Faith" he wrote "ought to penetrate more deeply, namely, having found Him Creator of all, forthwith to conclude that He is also everlasting Governor and Preserver" (16:1). "There are very many and very clear promises that testify that God's singular Providence watches over the welfare of believers" (17:7). Looking back Calvin saw this in his life, in his youth he was destined for the priesthood and completely bogged down in the superstitition of Romanism. "God," he wrote much later, "at last turned my course in another direction by the secret rein of his providence." On one occasion later in life, he wrote of his endeavours in a letter to Philip Melanchthon, 5 March, 1555:  "You know however that our duties by no means depend on our hopes of success, but that it behooves us to accomplish what God requires of us, even when we are in the greatest despair respecting the results." When we reflect on Calvin's life and influence we should be thankful for his faith in providence so that he did what God required of him irrespective of how difficult it seemed to be that it would succeed. Did he think that that influence would reach China?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What is experimental preaching?

Experimental preaching is the overflow of the preacher's experience of the Word of God to meet the experience of those to whom he preaches. It is vitally important but especially difficult to define. I tend to rely upon John Owen's acute observations on this as the best definition available.

"Experience of the power of the truth which they preach in and upon their own souls. Without this they will themselves be lifeless and heartless in their own work, and their labour for the most part will be unprofitable towards others…But a man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us. And no man lives in a more woeful condition than those who really believe not themselves what they persuade others to believe continually. The want of this experience of the power of gospel truth on their own souls is that which gives us so many lifeless, sapless orations, quaint in words and dead as to power, instead of preaching the gospel in the demonstration of the Spirit." Vol. 16, p. 76.

But it stands to reason that it is better experienced than defined. This sermon is probably the most experimental sermon I have heard.