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“A Sovereign Protector I Have”

A lesser known contribution from Augustus Toplady is my poem of the week this week. It is a wonderful reflection on the comfort and assurance of the fact that in Christ the Almighty is our Protector.

The bedrock truth of God’s sovereign care over his people rooted in his covenant love is ever the foundation of true perseverance. Any sensible person is too aware of his own frailty and faults to bear up long if all he has to depend on is himself. The awareness of God’s presence, throughout the Scriptures, motivates believers to stand fast. If God is for us who can be against us.

A Sov’reign Protector I have,
Unseen, yet forever at hand,
Unchangeably faithful to save,
Almighty to rule and command.
He smiles, and my comforts abound;
His grace as the dew shall descend;
And walls of salvation surround
The soul He delights to defend.

Inspirer and Hearer of prayer,
Thou Shepherd and Guardian of Thine,
My all to Thy covenant care
I sleeping and waking resign.
If Thou art my Shield and my Sun,
The night is no darkness to me;
And fast as my moments roll on,
They bring me but nearer to Thee.

Kind Author, and ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defense Thou hast proved;
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally loved!

Augustus Toplady

James Stalker’s Beautiful Portrait of Pastoral Ministry

This past week Justin Wainscott sent to me and several others the following excerpt from James Stalker, which is a beautiful, powerful portrait of pastoral ministry. If you have read Eugene Peterson on pastoral ministry you will have seen him echoing many of these images from Stalker. There is so much good here:

 

  • the pastor is first a member of the congregation;
  • not above them, but as one of them he is set aside for this specific purpose;
  • indebtedness to the people to bring to them the fruit of the work he has been freed up to do

Here is Stalker:

I like to think of the minister as only one of the congregation set apart by the rest for a particular purpose. A congregation is a number of people associated for their moral and spiritual improvement. And they say to one of their number, Look, brother, we are busy with our daily toils and confused with domestic and worldly cares; we live in confusion and darkness; but we eagerly long for peace and light to cheer and illuminate our life; and we have heard there is a land where these are to be found—a land of repose and joy, full of thoughts that breathe and words that burn: but we cannot go thither ourselves; we are too embroiled in daily cares: come, we will elect you, and set you free from our toils, and you shall go thither for us, and week by week trade with that land and bring us its treasures and its spoils. Oh, woe to him who accepts this election, and yet, failing through idleness to carry on the noble merchandise, appears week by week empty-handed or with merely counterfeit treasure in his hands! Woe to him too, if, going to that land, he forgets those who sent him and spends his time there in selfish enjoyment of the delights of knowledge! Woe to him if he does not week by week return laden, and ever more richly laden, and saying, Yes, brothers, I have been to that land; and it is a land of light and peace and nobleness: but I have never forgotten you and your needs and the dear bonds of brotherhood; and look, I have brought back this, and this, and this: take it to gladden and purify your life!

James Stalker, The Preacher and His Models: The Yale Lectures in Preaching (A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1891), 282-83. [free online]

Yes, brothers, yes! This is it! Let’s us go and do likewise.

Packer on the Doctrine of Adoption

“Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are”- 1 John 3:1

If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. ‘Father’ is the Christian name for God.[1]

 

[1] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1973), 182.

Luther’s Hymn, “In Devil’s Dungeon Chained I Lay”

In his classic biography of Martin Luther, Here I Stand, Roland Bainton records Luther’s hymn, “In Devil’s Dungeon Chained I Lay.” What a beautiful, poetic proclamation of the gospel! How I need to be reminded that God “turned to me his father heart” and then to hear the Lord Jesus say, “Hold thou to me, from now on thou wilt make it”!

I have posted it on my office door for this week’s poem of the week.

“In devil’s dungeon chained I lay
The pangs of death swept o’er me.
My sin devoured me night and day
In which my mother bore me.
My anguish ever grew more rife,
I took no pleasure in my life
And sin had made me crazy.

Then was the Father troubled sore
To see me ever languish.
The Everlasting Pity swore
To save me from my anguish.
He turned to me his father heart
And chose himself a bitter part,
His Dearest did it cost him.

Thus spoke the Son, “Hold thou to me,
From now on thou wilt make it.
I gave my very life for thee
And for thee I will stake it.
For I am thine and thou art mine,
And where I am our lives entwine,
The Old Fiend cannot shake it.”

- Martin Luther

Church Plays in the 14th Century

Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century is an impressive, compelling work with amazing breadth and detail. Though this is not its intended aim, it is very valuable for anyone studying the Reformation because it tells so well the story of life in Europe leading up to the Reformation. Tuchman tells of the amazing insight and advances in technology and medicine, but tells most of the decay of the culture, the abuse of power, the corruption of the church and the despair that came as ceaseless war and the Black Death decimated the population.

This book brought to light in a new way for me the crying need for Reform in the Church as there were rival popes, heavy taxes and the Church most often engaged in political maneuvering to protect its institutional prestige and wealth. Tuchman writes:

“In the distracted 14th century, when God seemed hostile to man or else hidden behind ecclesiastical counting of coins and selling of benefices, the need for communion with God was never greater, nor less satisfied by His appointed agents.  A Church preoccupied with war in Lombardy and revenues in Avignon and the mundane necessities of maintaining its position was not ministering to popular need.” (316)

It was interesting in this setting to read this description of miracle plays:

 “In the miracle plays and mysteries staged for the populace, realism was the desired effect. A system of weights and pulleys resurrected Jesus from the tomb and lifted him to a ceiling of clouds. Angels and devils were made to appear magically through trapdoors; Hell opened and closed its monstrous mouth, and Noah’s flood inundated the stage from casks of water overturned backstage while stone-filled barrels turned by cranks resounded with thunder. When John the Baptist was decapitated, the actor was whisked away so cunningly in exchange for a fake corpse and fake head spilling ox blood that the audience shrieked in excitement. Actors playing Jesus sometimes remained tied to the cross reciting verses for three hours.” (312)

It sounds a lot like what some churches do today as we too chase excitement and distraction, quite possibly failing, as the 14th century church did, to provide the substantive help which people in a decaying culture are longing for.

 

Luther and the Care of Souls

I have previously written on the pastoral impulse of the Reformation, the fact that this renewal of the church arose primarily from the earnest desire to care for souls, to see that they be taught the gospel and shown the way to peace with God and eternal life. This is a crucial point.

Just recently I came across another reminder of this truth, as I am re-reading Roland Bainton’s wonderfully written biography of Luther, Here I Stand, this time with my sons. Bainton describes how Luther’s conflict with Rome began over indulgences, a practice which at that time funded his own university, his church and his position. Bainton writes:

This first blow was certainly not the rebellion of an exploited German against the mulcting of his country by the greedy Italian papacy. However much in after years Luther’s followers may have been motivated by such considerations, his first onslaught was not so prompted. He was a priest responsible for the eternal welfare of his parishioners. He must warn them against spiritual pitfalls, no matter what might happen to the Castle Church and the university.[1]

This should be a central part of the legacy of pastors who arise from the Reformation tradition- care for the eternal welfare of our people, guiding and guarding them on the way to the celestial city.

 

[1] Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Meridian, 1995), 55-56.

The Holiness of the Church in Baptist Thought

JBSThe most recent issue of the Journal of Baptist Studies is devoted to Baptist thought on the four historic marks of the church- One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic. Chris Morgan wrote on unity, Matt Emerson and Luke Stamps on catholicity, Jim Patterson on apostolicity, and I wrote on holiness (making this a Cal Baptist and Union University project!). The full journal is available free online.

Each of these areas is challenging for Baptists and my friends have provided some helpful thought and suggestions for us. I encourage you to check out this issue.

Here is an excerpt from the conclusion of my article on the holiness of the church:

It is difficult to talk about Baptist ideas on the holiness of the church when Baptists have given so little thought on a theological level to the church at all in recent years. Much has changed in this area in the last decade or so, thanks in large part to the work of Mark Dever, but in the broader church there is still a gaping hole where our ecclesiology ought to be. We have seen fulfilled C. S. Lewis’s comment: “The trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.” I am afraid we have found such “success” in our ecclesiology. Historically we have known better but have succeeded in making ourselves stupider for the sake of “efficiency” or increased “practicality.” But holiness is messy. And holiness is honored by God.

All our cries for revival, all our calls for kingdom advance ring hollow and hang limp when we show little concern for the holiness of the church. Do we think we can be more efficient by ignoring God’s commands?

When we maintain as members those who show no concern for the things of God, we soothe their consciences and grease the tracks as they speed along the path to hell. We ensure their opportunity to enter damnation undisturbed. …

The holiness of the church is no abstract doctrine. Souls hang in the balance, and the glory of God is at stake. We must think clearly, we must labor heartily for the holiness of the church.

“Christian Hearts in Love United”

As I teach through John’s letters at church we are singing this hymn at each meeting. I only recently came across this hymn, but it captures much of what John says so it is wonderful to sing it together a we begin each study (we’re singing it to the tune, “Beach Spring,” rather thant he tune typically associated with it).

 

“Christian Hearts in Love United”

Christian hearts, in love united,
Seek alone in Jesus rest;
Has He not your love excited?
Then let love inspire each breast;
Members on our Head depending
Lights reflecting Him, our Sun,
Brethren His commands attending,
We in Him, our Lord, are one.

Come, then, come, O flock of Jesus,
Covenant with Him anew;
Unto Him Who conquered for us,
Pledge we love and service true;
And should our love’s union holy
Firmly linked no more remain,
Wait ye at His footstool lowly,
Till He draw it close again.

Grant, Lord, that with Thy direction,
“Love each other,” we comply,
Aiming with unfeigned affection
Thy love to exemplify;
Let our mutual love be glowing,
Thus will all men plainly see,
That we, as on one stem growing,
Living branches are in Thee.

O that such may be our union,
As Thine with the Father is,
And not one of our communion
E’er forsake the path of bliss;
May our light ’fore men with brightness,
From Thy light reflected, shine;
Thus the world will bear us witness,
That we, Lord, are truly Thine

Othello, Jesus and the Gospel

I just finished reading Shakespeare’s Othello with my sons for school and was once again reminded why Shakespeare is regarded as a genius. He not only had a way with words but he deeply understood the human condition.

Othello is a moving portrayal of the terrible power of slander, suspicion and jealousy. It was painful at certain points as I saw this loving young couple torn apart by the conniving slander of Iago. Othello and Desdemona are devoted to one another, newly married and deeply in love. But, Iago, proud of his “divinity of hell,” insinuates and cultivates baseless suspicions of infidelity in Othello’s mind so that Othello begins to hate his bride and eventually kills her. Part of the power of the portrayal is that it makes sense- you can see why Othello falls for the lies, why others caught in Iago’s web of deceit are sucked in. The frailty of human nature is accurately portrayed.

The tragedy serves to warn us against the danger of slander, suspicion and jealousy. In our own relationships we must beware the insidious erosion of evil suspicion. I’m sure Elvis was pondering Othello when he sang, “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.” There is a proper jealousy, such as God has, but combined with evil suspicion, jealous is warped and deadly. Only open communication and ready repentance can save us from this monster.

Further, I was reminded of how grateful that Christ is a better husband to the church than Othello was to Desdemona. Although we are not faithful and chaste like Desdemona, Jesus remains ever faithful and unlike Othello does not destroy us. Instead he bears with our weakness and forgives us. This also reminded me, once more, that all the great stories are, in one way or the other, reflections of the Great Story.

Singing Psalm 19

This week with my kids we have been singing the following version of Psalm 19 to the tune of “Lead on O King Eternal.” This only covers verses 1-6 & 14, so it would be better if it covered all these verses. It does capture though the connection between natural and special revelation, and the grandeur of God’s word. Joined with this noble tune, it is a grand celebration of the glory of God in creation and the purity of His word as well as a call to faithful obedience.

 

 

Psalm 19

The heav’ns declare Thy glory, the firmament Thy power;

Day unto day the story repeats from hour to hour;

Night unto night replying, proclaims in every land,

O Lord, with voice undying, the wonders of Thy hand.

 

The sun with royal splendor goes forth to chant Thy praise;

And moonbeams soft and tender their gentler anthem raise;

O’er every tribe and nation that music strange is poured,

The song of all creation, to Thee, creation’s Lord.

 

How perfect, just, and holy the precepts Thou hast given;

Still making wise the lowly, they lift the thoughts to heav’n;

How pure, how soul restoring, Thy gospel’s heav’nly ray,

A brighter radiance pouring than noon of brightest day.

 

All heav’n on high rejoices to do its Maker’s will;

The stars with solemn voices resound Thy praises still;

So let my whole behavior, thoughts, words, and actions be,

O Lord, my Strength, my Savior, one ceaseless song to Thee.