“All at it, and always at it.”

SpurgeonSurreyThe other day I saw someone tweet—though I cannot remember who it was—about Spurgeon’s philosophy of “church growth.” The tweet read something to the effect of “#Spurgeon on growth: “I will fill the pulpit, the people will fill the pews.”

The tweet intrigued me, so I went looking for the primary source. I stumbled upon an interesting collection of magazines entitled The Treasury: A Magazine of Religious and Current Thought for Pastor and People. The original Spurgeon quote came up in the October 1885 edition of The Pulpit Treasury, which was included in the collection (p. 386).

Under the subheading, “How The Pew Should View The Pulpit,” the author, “A Layman,” writes the following:

     We read a piece of good advice that a minister gave on the occasion of the installation of a pastor. He said to pastor and people, “Let your motto be, ‘All at it, and always at it.'”

     This certainly is the motto for every congregation that would accomplish the greatest amount of good. If the pulpit and pew shall be successful in Christian work there must be a ready hand and willing mind on the part of all. There is too frequently a desire to see the Church built up, but entirely too many of the members are willing to give all the credit to the preacher. As much as every pastor loves to see his work prosper, he cannot hope to see it unless there is a due proportion of work done by the membership of his church. There is a very close relation existing between the pulpit and pew. Pews without a pulpit would not look well, neither would a pulpit without pews. Spurgeon said to his students, in reply to a question how he succeeded so well, that “he filled the pulpit and the people the pew.” There is much then in filling both places well to make it agreeable and encouraging to all.  (emphasis mine)

     Simple and fitting words of encouragement for any congregation.

A DIFFERENT CHRIST CALLED “JESUS”.

In his excellent commentary on Galatians, Phil Ryken warns of the danger of false gospels saying:

“…[C]an you distinguish between the true gospel and all the false gospels in the contemporary church?  We worship in a church of many gospels.  There is the gospel of material prosperity, which teaches that Jesus is the way to financial gain.  There is the gospel of family values, which teaches that Jesus is the way to a happy home.  There is the gospel of self, which teaches that Jesus is the way to personal fulfillment.  There is the gospel of religious tradition, which teaches that Jesus is the way to respectability.  There is the gospel of morality, which teaches that Jesus is the way to be a good person.

What makes these other gospels so dangerous is that the things they offer are all beneficial.  It is good to be prosperous, to have a happy home, and to be well behaved.  Yet as good as all these things are, they are not the good news.  When they become for us a sort of gospel, then we are in danger of turning away from the only gospel there is.

Raymond Ortlund Jr. has tried to imagine the church without the gospel.  “What might our evangelicalism, without the evangel, look like?” he asks.  “We would have to replace the centrality of the gospel with something else, naturally.  So what might take place of the gospel in our sermons and books…and Sunday school classes and home Bible studies and, above all, in our hearts?”[1]  Ortlund lists a number of possibilities:

  • “a passionate devotion to the pro-life cause”
  • “a confident manipulation of modern managerial techniques”
  • “a drive toward church growth”
  • “a deep concern for the institution of the family”
  • “a clever appeal to consumerism by offering a sort of cost-free Christianity Lite”
  • “a sympathetic, empathetic, thickly-honeyed cultivation of personal relationships”
  • “a determination to take America back to its Christian roots through political power”
  • “a warm affirmation of self-esteem”

In other words, the church without the gospel would look very much the way the evangelical church looks at this very moment.  We cannot simply assume we have the gospel.  Unless we keep the gospel at the center of the church, we are always in danger of shoving it off to one side and letting something else take its place.  Martin Luther rightly warned that “there is a clear and present danger that the devil may take away from us the pure doctrine of faith and may substitute for it the doctrines of works and of human traditions.  It is very necessary, therefore, that this doctrine of faith be continually read and heard in public.”[2]  The good news of the cross must be preached, believed, and lived.  Otherwise, it will be lost.

The church’s greatest danger is not the anti-gospel outside the church; it is the counterfeit gospel inside the church.  The Judaizers did not walk around Pisidian Antioch wearing T-shirts that said, “Hug me, I’m a false apostle.”  What made them so dangerous was that they knew how to talk the way Christians talk.  They used all the right terminology.  They talked about how they “got saved.”  They told people to “trust in Christ.”  They “presented the gospel.”

Only they did not have the gospel after all.  We should expect, therefore, that the most serious threat to the one true gospel is something that is also called the gospel.  The most dangerous teachers are the ones who preach a different Christ but still call him “Jesus.”


[1] Raymond Ortlund Jr., A Passion for God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), 205.

[2] Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 1535, trans. And ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, in Luther’s Works (St. Louis: Concordia, 1963), 26:3.

Taken from: Philip Graham Ryken, Galatians, REC (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005), 20-21.

Calvin on Paul on Blessing and Generosity (w/ Introduction).

Every Saturday morning, as we are able, I meet with a group of guys at Starbucks  to hang out, catch up, and talk theology…generally as it pertains to a book we’re presently reading.  We’ve been meeting for several years now and have worked our way through a good number of books including:

Redemption Accomplished and Applied, by John Murray

Christianity and Liberalism, by J. Gresham Machen

Think, by John Piper

In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement, by J.I. Packer and Mark Dever

The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer

Recently, we decided to go in a bit of a different direction.  We’re getting ready to begin going through different books of the Bible, all with the aid of a commentary of our own choosing.  In effect, with every guy choosing a different commentary, we’ll be studying a book while bringing the voices of approx. 5+ commentators to the table.  I think this is going to be particularly fun, challenging,  encouraging, and edifying.  To begin, we’ve selected 2 Corinthians.  I am going to be using C.K. Barrett’s commentary as we study together.

As we get ready to begin our study this Saturday, I’ve been doing some additional reading on 2 Corinthians and came across Calvin’s commentary this morning.  Spending time in his section on the overall argument of the letter and the opening verses, I thought a section of his comments on 1:4 were particularly convicting and heartening as they refer to blessing and generosity.

Calvin writes:

“…the Apostle lived not for himself but for the Church, so he reckoned, that whatever favors God conferred upon him, were not given for his own sake merely, but in order that he might have more in his power for helping others. And, unquestionably, when the Lord confers upon us any favor, he in a manner invites us by his example to be generous to our neighbours. The riches of the Spirit, therefore, are not to be kept by us to ourselves, but every one must communicate to others what he has received. This, it is true, must be considered as being applicable chiefly to ministers of the Word. It is, however, common to all, according to the measure of each. Thus Paul here acknowledges, that he had been sustained by the consolation of God, that he might be able himself to comfort others.”

How necessary it is to remember that one particular reason the Spirit of God blesses us is that we, as Calvin states, “might have more in [our] power for helping others.”  The unconditional blessings we’ve received and continue to receive in the gospel are to be used for the good of our neighbor to the glory of God.

Trueman: On Being Relevant…

Opinions abound concerning the role of the church within the wider culture.  One specific aspect of the church’s cultural engagement pertains to how the church might be “culturally relevant”.  Most recently, the church has sought cultural relevance in a variety of different ways–from media, to music, to language in Bible translation, to art/architecture, and beyond…

Carl Trueman, in his recently republished book, Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Christian Focus, 2011), speaks prophetically about what it truly means for the church to be culturally relevant.

Trueman writes:

“We are not in the business of clowning around to make ourselves relevant through entertainment.  The church first makes itself relevant by facing up to life as it really is, life as the Bible demonstrates it really is, and not by offering yet more amusing diversions to dull the pain of a morality made tedious by an excess of possessions and a dearth of real, human relationships.  And the church faces up to reality by facing up to God’s Word and to the man who stands at the centre of the Bible and was himself the Word incarnate, the suffering Christ on the cross.  We are to point people to him as the answer to their suffering because only in the context of Christ will the suffering and brokenness of this world of sin and selfishness come to make some kind of sense and find its resolution.  Obviously, to an extent, evil and its consequences will always remain a profound and ugly mystery; but knowing that human sin has been overcome by Christ who himself suffered and died on a cross will at least serve to put the problem in perspective and give us realistic expectations of what this world has to offer to the one who seeks to follow in the footsteps of the Master.” (pp. 61-62)

I’ll be featuring a review of Truman’s book, next week, as a part of a Christian Focus Publishers blog tour…stay tuned…

THE GOSPEL COMMISSION.

I was excited when Michael Horton’s latest book, The Gospel Commission: Rediscovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples, was waiting for me on my doorstep Monday morning thanks to the kind generosity of Baker Books and the excellent work of the U.S. Postal Service.  In the days ahead I’ll be posting a review of the entire book.  For now, I wanted to post a short excerpt I hope will not only be edifying in your understanding of the relationship between The Great Commission and the Great Commandment in light of Christ’s finished work, but will also encourage you to pick up a copy for yourself!  On a side, Valiant for Truth, the blog of Westminster Seminary California will be hosting a giveaway in the days ahead.  Keep your eyes open as it will likely be happening at some point this week!

God has been so gracious to us in Scripture, as he always bases his commandments on the work he has already accomplished.  The two are never separated!  Students of the Bible call this the “indicative/imperative paradigm.”  The indicative refers to something that has been accomplished, and the imperative refers to a command that is to be obeyed.  Tullian Tchividjian has wisely noted, “Imperatives without indicatives equal impossibilities.”  Simply saying that trying to do the Christian life apart from all that God has done in Christ will end up in continual defeat and discouragement.

Horton notes the Bible’s use of the indicative/imperative paradigm as it relates to the fulfillment of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission:

“Biblical imperatives are always the reasonable response to biblical indicatives.  In other words, God’s commands are grounded in God’s works.  As covenant heirs, believers are given two mandates: The Great Commandment and the Great Commission.  The Great Commandment is rooted in God’s act of creation. Loving God and our neighbors is the reasonable response to the work of the Triune God in creating, caring for, and ruling over his world.  “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 24:1).  The Great Commission is rooted in God’s act of redemption.  Bringing the Good News of Christ’s victory to the ends of the earth is the appropriate response to his saving work.  As a beneficiary of the Great Commission, the believer will see even the Great Commandment in a new light, be liberated to embrace it from the heart, and live toward its full realization in the everlasting Sabbath.

All authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Christ, but in two senses: as the mediator of creation and as the mediator of redemption.  The Great Commandment and the Great Commission have their authorization in these distinct works.  The following chart helps to explain this point:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore,…”

The Great Commission reflects the holy (saving grace) and is where disciples are made.  The Great Commandment reflects common grace and is where discipleship goes.”

[Cited from Michael Horton, The Gospel Commission: Rediscovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2011), 242-243.]

*The publisher provided a copy of the book without charge for the purposes of review and promotion, with no expectation of a positive review.

CLICK HERE to view Dr. Horton’s recent “Face-to-Face” interview on the topic, “What is the Great Commission?”

GET THE GOSPEL COMMISSION for $11.99 (40% off) from WTSBOOKS for a LIMITED TIME! CLICK HERE to ORDER

OTHER RESOURCES BY MICHAEL HORTON INCLUDE:

The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Zondervan, 2011)

Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (BakerBooks, 2008)

The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People In A Bad News World (BakerBooks, 2009)


THE GOSPEL & THE PERSON OF CHRIST: Incarnation

The gospel is good news.  The gospel, as a matter of fact, is the greatest message, the greatest announcement ever to be proclaimed in the world. It is a declaration about something that has been done, something that has been accomplished.  To guard against confusion, the gospel is not something we do, or something we’ve done.  The gospel, rather, is the good news about what God has done to save sinners through his Son, Jesus Christ.  Therefore, the all-important question is not, “WWJD?: What would Jesus do?”, but “WHJD?: What has Jesus done?!”  What has Jesus done to save those who believe in him?

Some would certainly answer, and rightly so, “Jesus died for me.”  Again, while that is gloriously true, it is not all that Jesus has done for our salvation. We must not minimize the gospel to simply the death of Christ in the place of sinners.  The gospel is the good news of all of Christ’s saving work in his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, intercession, and return.

Over the next 8 weeks, we will briefly look at how each aspect of Christ’s work in the gospel is essential to the believer’s salvation.  The implications of the totality of Christ’s work in our place are far reaching, and the fuel by which we continue to live for his glory in this life!

THE GOSPEL AND THE INCARNATION

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 1:1-5, 14, ESV

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Galatians 4:4-5, ESV

The plan of God the Father in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ, creates a chasm of difference between Christianity and every other world religion.  Where the other religions of the world teach what one must do in order to earn and keep the favor of their “god(s)”, Christianity declares, emphatically, what God alone has done to graciously save, and bestow his favor upon, his people.  While the other religions of the world speak of ascending to god, Christianity dramatically differs in its news about the work God has done in his coming to seek and save the lost.  Not only has God himself accomplished everything needed to be done to restore repentant sinners into a right relationship with himself, he has graciously revealed his saving work to us through his Word; all of which centers upon his Son, Jesus Christ.

God reveals himself to us in Scripture as one God, eternally existing in three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 3:13-17).  Before time began, the triune God existed in perfect, joy-filled community within himself and was in need of nothing.  It was because of God’s good pleasure that he chose to create the universe to manifest his glory in all of creation.

God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, being distinct from all creation, chose to create humankind (male & female/Adam & Eve) in his image and likeness.  He placed them on earth [in the garden of Eden] as his representatives, and they were to worship him as Creator as they joyfully stewarded his creation and multiplied to fill the earth (Gen. 1:28).  Choosing to refuse God’s good and gracious rule, acting as gods unto themselves, they were deceived by Satan*, and willfully disobeyed God’s command; sin then entered and spread like cancer in the world.  Because Adam and Eve broke God’s good law, they became guilty of sin, incurred God’s just curse for their disobedience, were condemned to death, and cast out of God’s presence to bless.

Because of his faithful grace, God promised that through the offspring of the woman (Eve) a Savior would come to defeat Satan, sin, and death (Gen. 3:15). He would redeem God’s people from the curse, restoring them into a right relationship with God, and finally renewing all of creation through his work.  God, being the first mover, chose to continue to relate to his people through unfolding covenants that pointed toward a new covenant through which he would save a people to the praise of his glorious grace.  [We’ll look more specifically at aspects of these covenants in the weeks ahead.]

John wrote in his gospel that the eternal Word of God, Jesus Christ (God the Son), became flesh and made his dwelling among us (cf. John 1:14).  Conceived by the power of the God the Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, God himself entered human history in the person of his Son.  God fulfilled his promise to Adam and Eve in the garden, in the giving of himself.  He came to be the Savior of his people.

Theologians refer to Christ’s taking on of human flesh as the incarnation.  The word “incarnation” comes from a Latin term, which literally means, “in meat.”  God the Son wrapped himself in human flesh in the incarnation.

Dr. Robert Reymond explains the incarnation as follows:

“Without ceasing to be all that he was and is as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the eternal Son of God took into union with himself in the one divine Person that which he had not possessed before-even a full complex of human attributes-and became fully and truly man for us men and for our salvation.  Jesus of Nazareth was and is the God-man.”

[Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 546.]

Simply stated, Jesus, God the Son, uncreated and pre-existing infinitely in eternity past, added to his eternal divine nature a fully human nature, thus having two full natures united in his person.  As Reymond stated, “Jesus of Nazareth was and is the God-man.”

What does the incarnation have to do with the gospel?  Why was the incarnation necessary?

 

As human beings, because of the guilt inherited from Adam, we’ve all been born sinful, spiritually dead, and separated from God and are sinners to the core.  Apart from a Savior who can make us new, all we can do is sin.  And, because our sin is against an infinite God, the penalty we incurred is of infinite measure.  We deserve death and eternal separation from God.

Jonathan Edwards wrote on this matter:

“The crime of one being despising and casting contempt on another, is proportionably more or less heinous, as he was under greater or less obligations to obey him.  And therefore if there be any being that we are under infinite obligations to love, and honor, and obey, the contrary towards him must be infinitely faulty.

Our obligation to love, honor, and obey any being is in proportion to his loveliness, honorableness, and authority…. But God is a being infinitely lovely, because he hath infinite excellence and beauty….

So sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving infinite punishment….”

[Jonathan Edwards, “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners.” In The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 669. Cited in John Piper, Desiring God (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2011), 60.]

We need an infinite person to take upon himself our infinite penalty.  We also need someone who can completely identify with us in our humanity to be qualified to stand in our place.  Jesus is the only person who has ever met those qualifications.  He alone is qualified to be our Savior from God’s righteous wrath, our sin, and the eternal death we deserve.  We are people in desperate need of God Incarnate.  Praise be to God that, “when the fullness of time had come, [he] sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).

Some gospel conclusions in light of the incarnation:

  • Jesus wrapped himself in human flesh so we could be wrapped in his righteousness.
  • Jesus set aside his glorious position with the Father and Spirit in eternity past so, through him, we could be welcomed into the joyful communion of the Trinity for all of eternity future.
  • Jesus was the ultimate missionary who was sent by the Father to reveal God to humankind; humbly dwelling among those he came to save. And, by Jesus’ authority, we are commanded to be on mission with God in all the world, proclaiming the good news about what God has done in Christ.
  • Jesus added full humanity to the fullness of his deity to fully redeem fallen human beings and fill them with his Spirit.
  • At the incarnation, Jesus, the Uncreated, entered creation so that the created could dwell forever in the New Creation with the Uncreated.

ENDNOTES |

*Satan is a created angelic being who, at some point in eternity past, set himself up to be worshipped as God.  He was cast out of heaven, along with the angels who followed him, destined for eternal damnation (2 Pet. 2:4Rev. 20:10).

“THE GOSPEL & THE PERSON OF CHRIST” SERIES:

Introduction

The Gospel & The Incarnation

Download it…it’s SOLID. (…and FREE!)

If you’re not already aware, I wanted to point you in the direction of a few great resources that are available for free PDF download…

Reclaiming Adoption Study Guide Dan Cruver’s book, Reclaiming Adoption is a gospel-soaked, engaging , accessible primer on the doctrine of adoption and it’s implications for our relationship with God and our support of orphan care in the world.  You can read a short write-up/pre-review I did here.  The study guide is a great resource whether or not you have read or even own the book (you really should own it!). Click here to download the PDF Study Guide. Follow Dan Cruver on Twitter: @DanCruver

(HT: Together For Adoption)

The Biblical Counseling Coalition “exists to strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.”  Their Confessional Statement provides a well-stated, biblically-rooted, gospel-centered philosophy for doing counseling ministry.  Click here to download the Confessional Statement in PDF format. Follow the Biblical Counseling Coalition on Twitter: @biblicalcc

(HT: Biblical Counseling Coalition)

Earlier today, one of the pastors at the church approached me for suggestions regarding a helpful resource for training young men in our church to become leaders within the body.  The resource that came to mind was Scott Thomas’ Theological Clarity and Application: Equipping Leaders in Biblical Doctrine.  This free resource uses Grudem’s Christian Beliefs: 20 Basics Every Christian Should Know to develop leaders who are practically equipped with theological clarity and sound doctrine to effectively minister in the church.  Click here to download the PDF workbook. Follow Scott Thomas on Twitter: @acts29

(HT: acts29)

THE GOSPEL & MISSIONAL BOLDNESS.

Joe Thorn, lead pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL, has a great post this morning on “boldness” in our mission to speak the gospel at his blog.

Here’s a portion of the post:

Ultimately God has promised to give us victory in the world through the gospel, and that gives great boldness! Jesus said that he would build his church, and “the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.” This means the mission will succeed, and not even death can stop it. So as we preach the gospel and make disciples we may experience affliction, but we will not be crushed. We may be perplexed, but we will not be driven to despair. The world may persecute us, but God will not forsake us. In fact we are overcoming the world, because Jesus has already overcome the world. God is crushing the head of Satan under our feet, and we are “more than conquerors.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12 ESV; 1 John 5:4; John 16:33; Rom. 8:37).

This is why the church can be, should be, must be confident and courageous. We are on a mission from God, and He is with us. This is what led William Carey to not just say “expect great things from God; attempt great things for God,” but to do it. This is missional boldness, and can only lead to gospel boasting. It always makes little of self, and much of Jesus. It humbles a man, but also gives him zeal.

CLICK HERE to read the entire post.

CLICK HERE for info regarding Joe’s forthcoming book, Note To Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself, published under the Re:Lit imprint through Crossway Books.

FREE TIM KELLER AUDIO BOOK

I often try to take advantage of the time I spend driving in the car by listening to sermons and audio books on my iPod.  It provides me with a great opportunity to work through some very helpful resources.

If you haven’t checked out ChristianAudio.com, don’t wait any longer to take advantaged of the hundreds of audio books/sermons that they have available for download at great prices.  Not only do they have great prices, but once per month they offer one book for free download.

This month the free audio book is Tim Keller’s, Ministries of Mercy.  The publishers, P&R Publishing, describe the book saying, “[Ministries of Mercy] builds a biblical foundation for works of service to the church and to the world at large.”  ChristianAudio.com adds, “Why would someone risk his safety, destroy his schedule, and become dirty and bloody to help a needy person of another race and social class? And why would Jesus tell us “Go and do likewise”? Like the wounded man on the Jericho road, there are needy people in our path.”

Don’t miss out on this great offer!  As well, Westminster Bookstore is offering the paperback edition of the book for $6.49, 50% off the cover price, through August 31st.