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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  11:18 AM  /  , ,   /  No comments
I came across this section on grace by Geoff Thomas, a pastor in Wales that many including myself look up to. I was so encouraged by this quote that I wanted to share. You can read the full text here.

i] Grace has a purpose. It has a specific and particular end in view:- "He did predestinate us to be conformed to the image of his Son." If we begin at that relatively modest goal it takes our breath away. Grace is God's determination to make favoured sinners Christ-like. Grace is not content with justification, or adoption, or union with Christ. Grace is concerned to make people like God. Grace is not going to rest until all it embraces are a transcript of the Lord Christ himself. God so loves his Son that he will fill heaven with an innumerable company of people each one of whom, morally and spiritually, are in the image of Christ, and all the divine energy and creativity are committed to that end. All his resources are to serve that great enterprise. "When we see him we shall be like him." "That he might present the church to himself, a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish." That is the destination of grace.

Or we can expand the purpose further, that grace will make Christ the first-born among many brethren. There is this constituency of the redeemed which does not exist for itself, but to be a family of brethren in which Christ has the pre-eminence. He will be the first-born, and the centre, and the sun. They will all cohere in him. This will be a community of joy and praise because from eternity God has purposed to fill the heaven of heavens with the sound of the praise of the Lamb, like the sound of many waters. "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain ...." "Unto him that hath loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood..."

Or beyond that, God's purpose can be expanded further: he will regenerate the whole heavens and the earth. He will make a new universe which shall be, in all its glory and beauty, the inheritance of the Son of Man and all the children which God has given to him. The whole cosmic environment comprehending the distant stars, or the blades of grace, the solar system or the sands on the seashore, the beasts of the field or the atoms and molecules will be redolent with the righteousness of Christ. God will gather together all things in Christ. There will be a reconciliation of everything in the universe joined to that single hub. Grace has that great end in view.

ii] Grace is invincible. God has made an eternal commitment. He has set his mind upon saving a company of people more than any man can number. He has donated every one of them to his Son to have and to hold for ever. His whole heart is in it. "I shall be their God," he has said. His omnipotence is committed to save them. He has enlisted every divine attribute, and prerogative, and function to this end. The Father is committed. The Son is committed. The Holy Spirit is committed. The angels, principalities, powers, things present, things to come, height, depth, every other creature has that end in view. That is the goal of the incarnation - that is reason there dwelt in Christ all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

Grace is invincible because it is the strength of God. It is not sentiment, though songs about it may be. It is not feeling, though it creates the most powerful feelings. Grace is power acting to redeem. The old persecutor from Tarsus became what he became by the grace of God. When his thorn in the flesh almost destroyed him it was Christ's grace that was sufficient for him and his future life. That mighty grace can change every circumstance, strengthen every weakness, cheer every distress, lift every burden, enable us to climb every mountain, carry every load, handle every responsibility.

Grace is super-abundant. If we make the claim that our lives have been touched by grace we are saying that we are being preserved by the might of the Maker of the heavens and the earth. The grace of the one who raises the dead has a grip on us. So all our hope of keeping on and on and on, going on trusting, and repenting, and believing, and persevering, and entering heaven and receiving a resurrection body depends upon the power of God alone.

Grace is invincible because Christ has ultimate authority in the whole universe. The Lamb sits in the midst of the throne, not as a spectator. He exercises real power. His session there is not only eloquent to us of his centrality in the cosmos and the blessedness of the position he now occupies but it is eloquent of his unchallengeable supremacy. That Lamb who loved the church and gave himself for it today wears a crown. He is head over all things to the church. He has supreme power over every force in the cosmos - physical, intellectual, spiritual - all must obey his command. If you can conceive it, it is under his command. If you can think it then Christ is in control of it. Grace is invincible because Christ is unchallengeable. Should all the hosts of hell gang against him they must miserably fail because he has already triumphed over them at his weakest. Now that he has a name above every name how can he fail? What is utterly beyond human comprehension is ruled over in its every movement by the supremacy of the enthroned Lamb. Christ has taken the church in the grip of grace and is leading it through the darkness and the valleys to its blessed rest. The message of grace is that the divine pity is invincible and is enfleshed in the Man in glory.

iii] Grace is sovereign. God's determination to save sinners is entirely a matter of his own initiative. It is reduced by the apostle Paul to one marvellous statement as he reminisces about his own conversion - "When God was pleased" he says (Gals. 1:15), then Paul was saved. Grace is utterly discretionary - consider the title of Shedd's sermon on the text, "I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy". Shedd calls it, "The Exercise of Mercy Optional with God" (W.G.T.Shedd, "Sermons to the Natural Man," Banner of Truth, p.358ff). No saviour was commissioned to the angels that rebelled: God simply dealt with them in utter fairness. God has no obligation to save a single sinner. You would think today, hearing some men, that the most obvious and predictable characteristic of God was his mercy, that he should love the world and spare not his Son. In the New Testament the forgiveness of God is a mystery. It is a supreme paradox. In vain the first-born seraph tries to sound the depth of love divine. That is because grace is optional. It is rooted into God's sovereign good pleasure.

It is utterly unconditional, that is, it is not evoked by any qualities in us at all. It is not because of perceived beauty, or righteousness, or attractiveness that constrained the pity of God. He did not look and see a decent life and so focused his salvation on that one. Salvation comes forth utterly and entirely out of God's own unconditional love. So the message of God's grace declares that always it is objective, and invincible and sovereign.

iv] Grace redeems. Think of John Murray's classic, "Redemption Accomplished and Applied" (Banner of Truth). Whether by Christ or by the Holy Spirit, for us or in us, past accomplishment in the finished work or present reality in the ongoing work - it is all of grace, from beginning to end, from the alpha to the omega.

In the accomplishment of redemption it was God who conceived the possibility. He thought of it. It dawned on him, we would say. He then took the initiative. He had not created the quarrel, nor forged the enmity, nor set up the estrangement, but in effecting reconciliation he acts. He draws the blue-print in its every detail. It was not that his intervention is constrained by the pleading of man. No counsel of the most holy men in the world gathering together laid out this plan before him and urged him to act upon it. Prior to any human initiative or sense of need God alone set up this tremendous machinery of redemption.

God provided the instrumentality. He found a Lamb in his own flock, even from his own bosom, bearing his own image. He even became that Lamb: the providing God is not a different being from the provided Lamb. The God who said that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission himself provided the blood that should be shed: "Feed the church of God which he purchased with his own blood."

That same grace made him who knew no sin to become sin for us. That same grace paid him the wages of sin. It was all of God. We did not make Christ our substitute - that was God. We did not offer him upon Calvary - that was God. We did not give our son to the death of the cross - that was God. He aroused the sword of rectitude and commanded it to find its sheath in Christ's breast. We did not go through our sins one after another trying to think of them all placing them carefully upon him - the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. The accomplishment of redemption was all of God. The great theme in the letter to the Hebrews is that Christ was all by himself when he purged us of our sins.

But also in the application of redemption it is the same divine grace which saves us. God embarks upon a ministry of reconciliation. God becomes the preacher of his own gospel. Men are "ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us" (2 Cors. 5). Paul was conscious that behind all his speaking there was the authority of God. Behind Paul's imploring there was a yearning God, longing and pleading with men - the one who in the days of his flesh saw the city and wept over it.

We might think that that would be the conclusion of God's application but the audience hearing of the finished work of Christ are deaf and blind and hostile. The hearts of the hearers are closed to the message. What happens? Grace acts again, and the one who preaches to the heart opens the heart. On the road to Emmaus the one who opened the Scriptures also opened the understanding. Lydia heeds the message of Paul for this reason - the Lord Jesus opened her heart to receive it. He gave her a birth from above. He resurrected her. He made everything new. He gave her the conviction that this message was true. He revealed to her the beauty of Jesus. He created in her heart a desire for him. He made sin loathsome. To what does Paul ascribe the success of the gospel in Thessalonica? That "our gospel came not to you in word only, but in power and in the Holy Ghost and with much assurance."

So firstly our message is a message of grace, and whenever it is preached the Lord is delighted and our experience will be that of the apostles: "So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace" (Acts 14:3). Thus it has ever been in the history of the church - think of Geneva, and Edwards, and Whitefield, and Princeton, and Spurgeon, and Lloyd-Jones.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  6:05 AM  /  ,   /  No comments
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness... (2 Peter 1:3a)

"Divine" here from theios only used three times in the NT, but commonly used in other Greek literature when speaking about deity. It has no inherent theological meaning, but is defined by the context of the particular deity being discussed.

"Power" in the Greek is dynamis, and is used predominantly throughout the NT to refer to the miraculous supernatural power of God which is unattainable by humans (e.g. Matthew 11:21, Luke 1:35, etc.). It seems technically unnecessary for Peter to use the word "divine" before "power," since the type of power referenced in the previous verse is within the context of "the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." The reader already knows who's "power" Peter is referring to without the adjective "divine." It would be the equivalent to saying "Seth lifted the box with all the human strength he could muster." To use the word "human" is completely redundant, as the reader already knows that "strength" is linked to "Seth" who is human. My point is, Peter seems emphatic about the type of power which works within Christians. It is not merely an earthly power by which we are changed from a set of strict religious or physical disciplines, but it is a DIVINE power, a miraculous power, a heavenly power that we have been miraculously granted so we may "become partakers of the divine nature" and escape a world corrupted by its sinful desires. Paul somewhat echoes this when he says, "For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds." (2 Corinthians 10:4)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  10:59 AM  /  , ,   /  No comments
J.C. Ryle on the happiness of holy men,

...let us never be ashamed of making much of sanctification, and contending for a high standard of holiness. While some are satisfied with a miserably low degree of attainment, and others are not ashamed to live on without any holiness at all—content with a mere round of church-going and chapel-going, but never getting on, like a horse in a mill—let us stand fast in the old paths, follow after eminent holiness ourselves, and recommend it boldly to others. This is the only way to be really happy.

Let us feel convinced, whatever others may say, that holiness is happiness, and that the man who gets through life most comfortably is the sanctified man. No doubt there are some true Christians who from ill-health, or family trials, or other secret causes, enjoy little sensible comfort, and go mourning all their days on the way to heaven. But these are exceptional cases. As a general rule, in the long run of life, it will be found true that “sanctified” people are the happiest people on earth. They have solid comforts which the world can neither give nor take away. “The ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness.”—“Great peace have they that love Thy law.”—It was said by One who cannot lie, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—But it is also written, “There is no peace unto the wicked.” (Prov. 3:17; Ps. 119:165; Matt. 11:30; Is. 48:22)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  10:16 AM  /  ,   /  No comments
In yesterday's post I made a reference at the end about how we should seek to know God despite the ugly sins of our past. I started thinking about my own past sins, and felt so ashamed of them and how they displeased God. Then I began to reflect on the lives of David and Paul, who both sinned in such publicly gross ways, yet they were both chosen and beloved by God. The volume of sinfulness that followed David's uncontrolled lust for Bathsheba always astounds me. When he saw Bathsheba on the rooftop, instead of looking away instantly, he held his gaze and gave in to lust. He became so consumed by his lust that he told his servants to take a married woman out of her home without the consent of her husband (an absolutely shameful thing to do in that culture), and then he committed adultery with her. Still completely enslaved to his lust, he then conspired deceitfully against Uriah, using numerous other people to carry out his murderous plan, until Uriah was dead and Bathsheba was David's for the taking. Yet after all the wickedness he had done, David came to his senses only after Nathan rebuked him. David faced severe discipline from God because of His sin.

And yet, God loved him--and David loved God.

In David's prayer of repentance, he made a remarkable statement. He said, "For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:16-17) In other words, if a religious ritual could appease God for David's sins, then he would have offered sacrifices, but he knew better. David knew that God wanted his heart--that is why David fell into so much sin in the first place, because his heart had been hardened and consumed by lust. It wasn't soft and malleable. It wasn't broken. God desires that the will of our hearts are broken in submission to His will, not our own.

David knew that he could not fool God with an insincere sacrifice. Likewise we may fool other friends and family into thinking that we are alright when our heart is black with sin. We can hide behind our external appearance and actions. David hid his sin through the abuse of his status and authority as king. But it was all for nothing, because while he was able to temporarily hide his sin from other people, he was unable to hide it from the most powerful Being in existence--and that is all that counts. God knows the hearts of all. But in this we can also be encouraged, because while we may be misunderstood by others or our intentions thought ill, all that matters is that we seek to know God and submit to His will. That's it.

Whatever our lot, we may seek God boldly, knowing that God loves us despite our sinful past and delights in those who know Him and seek His will. (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  10:49 AM  /  ,   /  No comments
How do we know God's will? We have all been at one of life's crossroads where we hoped God would speak to us directly from heaven. I know I have many times. But instead of telling us what specific choices to make, God is only concerned with our knowledge of Him. He wants the devotion of our entire will, and as we simply seek to follow and know God, the other little details work themselves out. Here are some passages that talk about these things along with a few notes I jotted down.
Commit your way to the LORD;  trust in him, and he will act. (Psalm 37:5 ESV)

“Commit” here is from the verb root galal which means literally “to roll.” It would seem an odd word choice at first, but lexical references point out that in this case it means “to roll away from oneself to another.” In a figurative sense this verse means for us "to roll" our derek (journey, way) from ourselves to the Lord. We  roll out the course of our life's journey in a trajectory that leads to the Lord. Proverbs 26:27 may help give perspective: “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” So the one who rolls the "stone" of his will in a trajectory of wickedness, it will "come back on him" -- and not in a good way. It’s a fascinating verb actually.

I was also looking at this theme of knowing God in the context of one's life journey, path, destination, etc. Wisdom literature teaches that to know God is to know the way or path one should follow. If we seek God, then we will know our way. There is a real sense in which one’s pursuit of God and His ways result in a surety about one’s direction in life. Those who put their confidence in God have a solid confidence about the direction they are going. Even more, they continually acquire a wisdom that comes only from God Himself. They gain an understanding that only He can give. The verses below I think illustrate these truths.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV)

“Acknowledge” or “know.” Don’t lean on your own knowing, but lean on God’s knowing—His ways. Also, more of the “all” language I have been studying—all your heart (leb, will and desires), all your ways (derek, life’s journey). Not some. All.
And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:10)

Again, know God. God does not leave those who seek Him. Their confidence is assured.
Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. (Psalm 25:4 ESV)

And again, know God. Follow His ways. Follow the path that one follows as he seeks to know God.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. (Psalm 51:6)

When we seek truth and pursue it within ourselves, God is pleased. "You teach" meaning literally "You cause me to know." As we know God and seek Him we acquire wisdom from God deep within our hearts.

The following two verses are a warning for those who do not seek to know God, as well as a reminder for those that do.
They bend their tongue like a bow; falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:3 ESV)

 

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

It's also interesting that there is no discussion about one's past. Any poor choices we've made in the past are irrelevant in terms of what should guide our future course. I've made plenty of them. Regardless, we follow and seek to know God faithfully, with confidence.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  8:14 AM  /  ,   /  No comments
The Jewish Talmud is a treasure trove of legalism. There are rules for everything, especially about keeping the Sabbath. There's even a section on what kinds of knots one can tie on the Sabbath. Here's a section discussing if it's okay for a woman to tie the bands of her hood,
...The case is, that the bands of the hood are always tied, and the woman slips on the hood without untying or tying the bands, and we might assume that for this reason the knot is considered permanent; he therefore informs us, that if a hair become entangled in the hood, the woman may tie and untie the bands.

So in other words, the woman should try to keep her bands permanently tied on the Sabbath to avoid any opportunity to slip, and she can only tie or untie her hood if her hair becomes entangled. If she ties her hood bands in any other scenario, she could be in danger of working on the Sabbath, thus breaking it. And there are plenty more rules for other knots too--for example when one should tie bands on leather flasks, or a pot of meat, or a girdle, or the straps of one's sandals. The Jews believed that following all these rules helped them avoid breaking the Sabbath. And there are many many many other Sabbath rules about hunting, weaving, handling utensils, and even clearing crumbs off the table (yes, there are rules on that). The Jews were serious about these rules, but Jesus demolished them with the teachings of the purpose and full meaning of the law, and how the law addressed the desires of the heart. That's one reason why His ministry was so radical at the time and still is today to modern-day Jews. These extra rules were not the law of God. They missed the point.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  2:25 PM  /  , ,   /  No comments
In my reading of Ryle's Holiness today, I came across this convicting quote on Lot's wife and her looking back at Sodom as it was being destroyed, motivated by her idolatrous love of the world:

That look was a little thing, but it told of secret love of the world in Lot’s wife. Her heart was in Sodom, though her body was outside. She had left her affections behind when she fled from her home. Her eye turned to the place where her treasure was, as the compass-needle turns to the pole. And this was the crowning point of her sin. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God.” (James 4: 4) “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

I ask the special attention of my readers to this part of our subject. I believe it to be the part to which the Lord Jesus particularly intends to direct our minds. I believe He would have us observe that Lot’s wife was lost by looking back to the world. Her profession was at one time fair and specious, but she never really gave up the world. She seemed at one time in the road to safety, but even then the lowest and deepest thoughts of her heart were for the world. The immense danger of worldliness is the grand lesson which the Lord Jesus means us to learn. Oh, that we may all have an eye to see and a heart to understand!

I believe there never was a time when warnings against worldliness were so much needed by the Church of Christ as they are at the present day. Every age is said to have its own peculiar epidemic disease: the epidemic disease to which the souls of Christians are liable just now is the love of the world. It is a pestilence that walketh in darkness, and a sickness that destroyeth at noonday. It “hath cast down many wounded; yea, many strong men have been wounded by it.” I would fain raise a warning voice, and try to arouse the slumbering consciences of all who make a profession of religion. I would fain cry aloud, “Remember the sin of Lot’s wife.” She was no murderess, no adulteress, no thief—but she was a professor of religion, and she looked back.

There are thousands of baptized persons in our churches who are proof against immorality and infidelity, and yet fall victims to the love of the world. There are thousands who run well for a season, and seem to bid fair to reach heaven, but by and by give up the race, and turn their backs on Christ altogether. And what has stopped them? Have they found the Bible not true? Have they found the Lord Jesus fail to keep His word? No: not at all. But they have caught the epidemic disease: they are infected with the love of this world. I appeal to every true-hearted Evangelical minister who reads this paper: I ask him to look round his congregation. I appeal to every old-established Christian: I ask him to look round the circle of his acquaintance. I am sure that I am speaking the truth. I am sure that it is high time to remember the sin of Lot’s wife.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Seth Fuller  /  11:31 AM  /  ,   /  No comments
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the LORD.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2 ESV)

How do we get God's attention? How do we do this? He has made it plain.  He will come near those who humble themselves before Him and fear His word--those that fight to resist desires to please themselves rather than God. Paul said that he beat his body into submission so that he would not be disqualified. (1 Cor 9:27) But those that do not humble themselves, those that are not contrite in spirit, and those who do not tremble at His word, God will not look on them. The Hebrew word is nabat in Hiphil form. It means God will not regard them. They will not be considered. God will pay them no mind. Similarly David said, "Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death (Psalm 13:3 ESV). To ask this of God confidently as David, we must tremble at His word. There will be many who claim to call on the name of Christ who do great works for the Church--if these are not serving out of fear and reverence for God, He will not regard them. To them Christ will say, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:23) Only those that tremble at His word will God see and know as His own. Remember the words of Christ, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:27-28) Those that tremble at the God's Word know their shepherd's voice. They heed Him, they listen to Him, they follow Him. The sheep know what is required of them, and they do so willfully, not under compulsion, and they delight in His law, and they meditate on it day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

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