The Double Cure of the Cross

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Photo Credit: Kellie Weeks

About 2 months ago I began serving as Associate Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Faith Bible Church. In the very first song of the first service I was leading, I made a fairly bold decision. Unannounced and somewhat unplanned, I stopped everything. I could see the startled faces, the looks of confusion. It had dawned on me the possibility existed that we may be singing lyrics we did not completely understand. How can we be worshiping the Lord in spirit and in truth if we do not understand the truth we are singing? A brief teaching moment in the course of the service served to clarify, in the minds of some, what they were singing to the Lord.

A quick survey of some of the most beloved hymns of the faith reveals they are replete with somewhat enigmatic phrases. For example,

  • “Here, I raise my Ebenezer…”
  • “A bulwark never failing” or “Lord Sabaoth His name”
  • “Eternal Thy goodness for naught changeth Thee”
  • “How does that visage languish”

We could go on, of course, but for our purposes here the above examples will suffice.

For a moment, I want to explore the theology behind the lyrics of a fairly well known hymn. I hope that in doing so, some of the most profound and precious truths of the gospel will rise to the surface, in turn compelling us to worship with hearts and minds that are more fully engaged and exult more deeply in the person and work of Christ.

In 1776, Augustus Toplady published the hymn “Rock of Ages”. Writing in response to the crisis of national debt in that day, Toplady hoped to encourage believers in the truth that their debt of sin before God the Father had been paid in full by Christ (cf., Col. 2:13-14).[1] The end of the first stanza reads:

Let the water and the blood

From Thy wounded side which flowed

Be of sin the double cure

Save from wrath and make me pure.

Here, Toplady was highlighting two realities secured by the sacrifice of Christ for those to trust in him by faith.

First, in light Christ’s cross work, Toplady notes that believers have been saved from God’s righteous wrath against their sin (cf., Eph. 2:1-10). On the cross, Jesus absorbed that cup of wrath to the very last drop (cf., Matt. 26:39-42). The theological term for this aspect of Christ’s saving work is “propitiation” (pron. “pro-pitch-ee-ay-shun”). Having been crucified as a substitute, Jesus fully absorbed God’s wrath for those who are in him, thereby securing the believer’s peace with God (cf., Isa. 53:4-6; 2 Cor. 5:21). As believers in union with Christ, we no longer need to fear facing God’s wrath because of our sin.

Second, Jesus has purified those who believe in him by taking away their sin. Theologians refer to this act of taking sins away as “expiation” (pron. “ex-pee-ay-shun”). Harkening back to the Old Testament Day of Atonement (cf., Lev. 16, see esp. 16:21-22) the high priest laid his hands on the scapegoat and, after confessing the sins of the people, released it into the wilderness signifying the taking away of sin. This act in the Old Testament pointed to the work that Jesus would ultimately do. Jesus is the true and better scapegoat, for his blood truly purifies us from all sin (cf., Heb. 9:11-14).

Propitiation and expiation are two glorious aspects of the gospel! Remember, because of what Jesus has done, we now stand before God the Father with the very purity of Christ (cf., 2 Cor. 5:21). He has saved the believer from the wrath of God by bearing that holy wrath in our place.

It is my hope that an increased understanding will move you to sing with joyful confidence and savor the reality of what Christ has accomplished for unworthy sinners like you and me.

REVIEW | “Great Doctrines of the Bible”, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

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9781433538797Since being introduced to systematic theology in my days as an undergraduate student in Bible school, when I come across a good volume in this field, I receive it with excitement and enthusiasm; and reference it quite frequently. By “systematic theology” meaning of course the orderly presentation, by topic, of what the whole Bible teaches on a given theological matter. And, off hand, I can think of a handful of standard systematics that I would recommend should a person inquire. Among that group, though, there is one that sticks out as unique. Where many systematics are quite predictable in the manner in which the material is presented, I have found one that communicates with a different style and tone, and is intensely practical. In that, this systematic is really simply a collection of recorded sermons on various topics within classic systematic theology. Simply, it is systematic theology preached.

From 1952 to 1955, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones presented a series of sermons/lectures on Friday evenings in one of the halls of Westminster Chapel in London. Addressing, by request of the people, various matters of doctrine, the good Doctor, would expound upon the topic in his classic engaging, reverent, and wonderfully practical manner of preaching. These talks became so well attended that they had to move into the main Chapel itself.

Lloyd-Jones is recorded as saying, “Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.” In Crossway Books’ republication of 3 classic Lloyd-Jones volumes in one, we find this sentiment demonstrated. Great Doctrines of the Bible is a recent reprint of God the Father, God the Son; God the Holy Spirit; and The Church and the Last Things, in one bound paperback volume. Though lengthy, the content within is intensely edifying.

In terms of the book’s contents, the book retains its three-volume structure. Lloyd-Jones begins with matters of prolegomena. He deals with his method, and the perspective from which he views God’s Holy Word. He then moves through bibliology, theology proper, anthropology, angels and demons, soteriology, covenant and redemption, and Christology. The latter two volumes address exactly what their titles would suggest.

For me, this work gives some of the clearest exposition of the nature of God’s redemptive work, from a covenantal perspective, which I have ever read. Here we find that systematic theology is no way needs to be confined to the bookshelf, but can be passionately preached from the pulpit. As a teacher and preacher Lloyd-Jones work will not only serve to edify in personal study, but may also be a model of how these great doctrines may be clearly and concisely expounded.

Another advantage of this work is the Scripture index in the back of the book. After all, what is a work of theology without an index of Scripture?

Overall, what we have here is classic Lloyd-Jones. There are no surprises, only a solid, straightforward, passionate and reverent presentation of the truths of Scripture. It is a volume that will edify both the new Christian and the seasoned student of theology. It is a volume that will train the pastor and layperson in how to communicate systematic theological truth in a plain manner. I highly recommend it.

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

Book Details

928 Pages
Publisher: Crossway/Good News Publishers
Publication Date: October 2012
ISBN 10: 1433538792
ISBN 13: 9781433538797

Purchase at WTSBooks.com | $23.69 (32% off – $35.00)*

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REVIEW| The Gospel Call & True Conversion, by Paul Washer

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When a particular work is accurate in the way it explains the truth, there is something refreshing, something sturdy, something even exhilarating about that particular work. Rather than attempting to win the ears of men through overworked “creativity”, a simple, straightforward, and crystal clear explanation of the gospel in all its weight and glory can edify the soul of a man quite unlike anything else. Without fear of overstatement, I can say that the aforementioned descriptions are true of Paul Washer’s “Recovering the Gospel” series, and in particular, his recent book The Gospel Call and True Conversion (Reformation Heritage Books, 2013).

Washer is a man who understands so well the urgency with which the gospel must be preached that he has no desire to waste his hearer’s time with that which would not further his proclamation of the Good News. In that proclamation, there shines through the heart of a man who is truly a pastor, truly a missionary. Washer has served as a missionary in some exceedingly hostile environments, knowing full well that his life is not his own and that he has been called to proclaim the gospel to the uttermost regions of the earth.

In terms of content, the passion with which Washer communicates rich grace and yet lovingly warns of the reality of false conversion and watered down truth cuts against the grain of many evangelists today. Washer, in his sermons now edited for publication, is concerned that his discourse may be used by God to produce real and lasting fruit, not simply a large following. In reading it, you will encounter a prophetic boldness that is uncommon of many writers today.

The book, divided into three sections, examines:

  • The Gospel Call
  • New Hearts and the Nature of True Conversion
  • New People and the Nature of True Conversion

In each section, and in fact on every page, the reader will find footnotes loaded with Scriptural references that have not been cited as mere prooftexts, but have carefully been selected because of the way in which they support each assertion after careful examination. I find in Washer a rare mix of rigorous textual study and the ability to communicate in profoundly clear terms.

Whether you are a new believer or someone who has walked with the Lord for many years, you will be discipled through the writings of Washer. You will be stirred with passion for the grace of God displayed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, you will be graciously convicted toward holiness to the praise of God’s glorious grace. That being said, I not only strongly recommend The Gospel Call and True Conversion, but all of Paul Washer’s work as well.

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

Purchase The Gospel Call & True Conversion | Amazon.com | Reformation Heritage Books

REVIEW| Judges for You, by Timothy Keller

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9781908762900Surging interest in biblical theology, with a particular emphasis a Christ-centered hermeneutical approach to the Old Testament, has brought upon evangelicalism a wealth of excellent resources for personal study. Many of these resources are written with the goal of helping the student of Scripture understand the grand storyline of the Bible, how a particular book fits into that storyline, and how the gospel is communicated through that particular book. One such series that bears these characteristics is entitled, “…For You” by Timothy Keller, published by The Good Book Company (2013).

The series, and this volume in particular, seeks to accomplish 3 tasks for the reader:

Read: Pointing you to God’s greatest rescue.

Feed: Helping you to meditate on God’s Word day by day.

Lead: Equipping you to teach the Bible to others.

In Judges for You, Keller takes a somewhat familiar Old Testament book, at least by name, and unpacks it under the heading that there is one ultimate hero evident in the book of Judges, and that is God himself.  God’s faithfulness to Israel displayed in the time of the Judges points to his ultimate act of faithfulness in the sending of his Son to redeem his people.

In terms of familiar interpretative approaches, Keller does view the book in light of the commonly understood “cycles” pattern, which is helpfully illustrated, in one of the books appendices. In terms of appendices, Keller also includes a helpful response to the difficult issue of “holy war” and how one may effectively answer the erroneous charge that Judges, or the Old Testament in sum, advocates ethnic cleansing/holy war. I found this 5-page response to be very helpful. To note, Keller employs Meredith Kline’s “intrusion ethic” as a way of understanding the judgment that takes place upon the peoples who are driven out of the land.

The strength of the book lies in Keller’s incredibly clear writing style and his ability to understand the human condition and apply a well-exegeted text for the purpose of heart/life transformation. Because Keller is so easy to read, without sacrificing substantial content, the reader will thoroughly grow in their knowledge of this difficult book and how it fits into the rest of the story of redemptive history.

However, for those looking for a technical commentary on the book of Judges, this will fall short. That is not the purpose of this volume, though. For sure, this would be an excellent resource for those preaching through the book or a study group that seeks to have a guide that is heavily substantial and practical. Judges for You is exactly that: substantial and practical.

I will be consulting this book frequently in my study of Judges and wholeheartedly commend it to your reading and personal study.

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

Book Details

224 Pages (Click Here for Preview)
Publisher: Good Book Company
Publication Date: August 2013
ISBN 10: 190876290X
ISBN 13: 9781908762900

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REVIEW | Saving Eutychus, by Millar & Campbell

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9781922206251When it comes to the task of preaching God’s Word, methodological perspectives are legion. From the overtly pragmatic and often distracting utilization of movie clips/themes and props, to the classroom-lecture-style reading-in-monotone of a manuscript verbatim, the methods abound. Even within that spectrum we encounter those who preach word-by-word/verse-by-verse, or those who seek to provide illustrations that, in their understanding, effectively illuminate the main point and application of a text. With such a wide variety of perspectives and opinions, it can be difficult to find well-written, clear, and useful instruction.

Pastors Gary Millar and Phil Campbell, in their book Saving Eutychus: How to preach God’s word and keep people awake, have given pastors a readable, reliable, and richly biblical guide for effective gospel preaching.

Based on the episode in Acts 20 where Paul preaches late into the night, the book seeks to help preachers grow in style and substance in such a way that their listeners would not end up like Eutychus, who, falling asleep, fell from a 3rd-story window and was killed (though he was later raised from the dead).

The book is structured in such a way that the authors take turns writing their respective chapters. Both are gifted in style and their instruction and tone are both clear and easily followed. The honesty with which the author’s admit their continued need for growth and where they struggle is refreshing and encouraging.

While the book does contain thoroughly helpful examples and instruction for preparation and evaluation, I found the most encouraging aspect to be the permeating conviction that God’s Word is inherently clear and powerful when it is simply and plainly expounded. The aim of the preacher, as they grow, should be to communicate, not more impressively, but more clearly. Thus the authors provide direction that will help preachers gain clarity in their understanding of the text so that they may, in turn, communicate their interpretation and application more accurately and responsibly (without being dull!).

"Delivery Sphere" (p. 104)

“Delivery Sphere” (p. 104)

In assessing the style of one’s delivery, the authors provide the preacher with a helpful diagram, called the “delivery sphere” which allows one to map the trajectory of their overall manner of delivery in terms of volume, pitch, and pace. This was a particularly helpful illustration, in light of the fact that many preachers (including myself) spend so much time considering what they are going to say that they often fail to consider how they are going to say it.

Overall, I consider Saving Eutychus to be an excellent resource for pastors who are looking for a quick read that is trustworthy and teeming with practical instruction. Rest assured that it is both of these without loosing a high view of Scripture and an aim at preaching the gospel from the entire counsel of God’s Word. I heartily recommend it.

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review.  I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

BOOK DETAILS|

172 Pages
Publisher: Matthias Media USA
Publication Date: April 2013
ISBN 10: 1922206253
ISBN 13: 9781922206251

BUY NOW at WTSbooks.com: $15.29 (10% off – Reg. $16.99)

REVIEW | “Prepared by Grace, For Grace” by Beeke and Smalley

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9781601782342__69274.1369337565.1280.1280I appreciate books that seek to clarify misunderstanding and misconception. So often, in the biblical-theological world and otherwise, the proverbial pendulum is swung to the far right or left and a valuable topic and/or perspective is terribly misconstrued, or even lost, in the process. The matter of “preparatory grace” is no stranger to the aforementioned. In their new volume, Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ (Reformation Heritage Books, 2013), Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley offer a thorough look at this important subject among an array of Reformed and Puritan theologians.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: The Question of Preparationism

  1. Preparation and Modern Scholarship
  2. Precedents to Puritan Preparation: Augustine to Calvin
  3. Preparation and Early English Puritans: Perkins, Sibbes, and Preston
  4. Preparation for Conversion: William Ames
  5. Preparation in Early New England (I): Thomas Hooker
  6. Preparation in Early New England (II): Shepard and Pemble
  7. Preparation and the Antinomian Controversy: John Cotton
  8. Preparation at the Pinnacle of Puritanism: Westminster, Burroughs, and Guthrie
  9. Preparation under a Scholastic Lens: Norton
  10. Preparation and Later Puritan Critiques: Goodwin and Firmin
  11. Later Puritan Preparation: Flavel and Bunyan
  12. Jonathan Edwards and Seeking God
  13. Continental Reformed Perspectives: Zwingli to Witsius
  14. The Grace of Preparation for Faith

Appendix: William Ames’s Theological Disputation on Preparation

I must say at the outset that which is duly noted by Sinclair Ferguson in the foreword, that the authors examining the topic at hand may be characterized as both meticulous scholar and gifted pastor.  Thus their writing is not only academically thorough, but also readable and edifying.

In terms of the book’s content and structure, Beeke and Smalley begin with a chapter entitled “The Question of Preparation.” This chapter lays the groundwork of defining terms and paving the way for the remainder of the book. In their foundational chapter, the authors note that their study will be conducted from the perspective of those that believe firmly that “a righteous and holy God saves sinners “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8)” (p. 1). Thus, the book is designed to address the question of “how God ordinarily brings sinners to the point of trusting in Christ alone for salvation” (p. 1).  Being a work that examines God’s work in saving sinners, the authors are careful to avoid the terms of “preparationism” or “preparationist” so as to not confuse their subject with those that would argue for the notion that the human being prepares himself for God’s saving activity.

The book then moves through Puritan history making mention of a handful of Puritans who both advocated and critiqued certain aspects of “preparatory grace”.  Notably, the authors deal with Augustine and Calvin who held a high view of God’s sovereignty in salvation and how they understood preparatory grace. Additionally, in terms of the Puritan figures who posited a sort of separation from sin via human effort, prior to salvation, the authors expose their errors.

For me, while this book is thoroughly readable, for many, much of the content may be quite tedious to work through. The highlights would be the chapters on Calvin/Augustine and particularly “Jonathan Edwards and Seeking God”.  The final chapter that summarizes the book’s findings is immensely helpful as well.  The authors note 8 ways in which the doctrine of Puritan preparation is helpful for the believer to consider:

1.) Puritan preparation assists the free offer of the gospel.

2.) Puritan preparation is thoroughly Reformed, not Roman Catholic or Arminian.

3.) Puritan preparation highlights the common work of the Holy Spirit.

4.) Puritan preparation engages sinners with the law but not legalism.

5.) Puritan preparation respects the mystery of regeneration in its timing.

6.) Puritan preparation honors God as Creator and Savior.

7.) Puritan preparation reveals the sufficiency of Christ.

8.) Puritan preparation is biblical.

In sum, the Puritans were those who sought to know the Lord with great fervor. Their desire to understand the way in which a holy God saves sinners was far from casual. Studying the way the Puritans understood God’s saving activity ought to lead the believer to a greater sense of God’s rich grace, a great humility, and a response of praise and worship for God’s immense kindness in revealing His Son to underserving sinners. Whenever I read a book by Joel Beeke, I come away with a greater desire to know God in Christ Jesus with the same depth, ardor and sincerity as the Puritans did. Encountering this book was no exception. I recommend it!

*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review.  I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.