REVIEW: Songs of a Suffering King, by J.V. Fesko

9781601783103I became acquainted with J.V. Fesko through his work on baptism from a Reformed perspective (Word, Water, & Spirit, Reformation Heritage Books, 2010). As I began working through that monograph, I could tell I had come across a man who was a rigorous theologian, careful biblical exegete, and a pastor at heart. Since then, I have read several of Dr. Fesko’s books and have never failed to come away edified and challenged to dig more deeply into the Holy Scriptures.

Dr. Fesko’s most recent offering is a short book on the first 8 psalms entitled, Songs of a Suffering King: The Grand Christ Hymn of Psalms 1-8 (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014). As one would expect, from the outset, the book is characterized by careful biblical exposition, a steady focus on the centrality of the person and work of Christ in biblical interpretation, and a pastoral emphasis on sanctification through savoring Christ Jesus.

After a brief introduction which covers the ordering and overall structure of the Psalter as well as a brief rationale for the Christ-centered interpretation of the Psalms, the book is divided into 8 brief chapters addressing each psalm respectively. While the chapters are brief, and read quite devotionally, they don’t fail to provide a good deal of information pertaining to historical and literary context, a clear explanation of how the Psalm relates to the person and work of Christ, and a brief, yet powerful application for the reader. The chapters also end with a metrical version of the psalm for signing and questions for further study. Given the style, structure, and substance of the book it would be an excellent resource for personal or group study (high school through adult).

As I read through Dr. Fesko’s devotional commentary on Psalms 1-8, I quickly realized that—really—I was reading a book about Jesus. The Christ-connections that Dr. Fesko made, especially in chapter 1, identifying Christ at the true Righteous Man of Psalm 1, brought a significant amount of insight and perspective to my reading of the Psalms that I had not seen before. It certainly minimized the tendency I had developed to read Psalm 1 (and others for that matter) as a mere moral imperative. In doing so, I was able to see that, just as Jesus taught in John 15:4-5, apart from resting in him as the true Righteous Man, I am hopeless to fruitfully grow in the instruction of Psalm 1.

As Dr. Fesko worked through these Psalms, I got the sense that he was not forcing a Christ-centered hermeneutic as will inevitably be the critique of some. Rather, he demonstrated that the Psalms “provide a divinely inspired window into the heart of Christ” (8). It is clear that Psalms 1-8, while echoing many of the emotions King David felt during his earthly reign, certainly fore-signify the life and ministry of Messiah.

While I could critique the book in several places, simply because I desired thoroughness a bit more, those critiques would be unfair due to the very nature of the book. As stated, this book is largely an expanded devotional study of Psalms 1-8. Yet, don’t let that dissuade you from including it on your bookshelf as a valuable pastoral commentary on Psalms 1-8. As with all of Dr. Fesko’s work, you will greatly benefit in heart and mind from his devoted study and gift of writing. I sincerely 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

123 Pages
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Publication Date: April 2014
ISBN 10: 1601783108
ISBN 13: 9781601783103

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What (or Who) Is the Bible Really All About?

Growing up, I can remember learning the great stories of the Bible in Sunday School. My teacher would position the artist’s renderings of each Bible character on a flannelgraph in front of the class as she retold the story to a crowd of fidgety onlookers. Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel and his friends, and others would all eventually take the stage on that fuzzy board.

No matter which character we were learning about, it always seemed to end in the same place. How can I have faith like Abraham? How can I trust God like Noah? How can I be a leader like Moses? How can I defeat the “giants” in my life like David? Could I “dare to be a Daniel”? At the end of it all, I was left with a lot of dos and don’ts, as well as what seemed to be a slew of seemingly disconnected Bible stories.

My well-meaning and faithful Sunday School teacher was unintentionally teaching me that the Bible was all about me. As I read my Bible, I was to follow or avoid the examples of the main characters of Scripture. The Bible largely became simply a book of characters for me to emulate and rules for me to obey. It wasn’t until much later in life that I would learn that while the Bible does contain moral imperatives to follow, there is a much larger, more glorious purpose in the pages of Holy Scripture.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture tells of an encounter two men had with the risen Lord Jesus. As the men discussed all that had recently taken place in Jerusalem, they were perplexed by the reality of the empty tomb. Jesus then said to them:

    “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27, ESV)

Jesus was ultimately saying that had these two men read their Bibles properly, everything that had happened would have made perfect sense. They would have understood that the Bible is ultimately about Jesus from beginning to end. What the Old Testament promised God would accomplish through his Messiah had finally come to pass!

You see, the Bible is one grand story of God’s acts in history to rescue and redeem rebellious sinners through the person and work of his Son, Messiah Jesus. The stories of Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Daniel, and so on, are not merely moralistic tales, but shadowy representations of redemptive qualities ultimately fulfilled in Christ. Stating it simply, the Bible is less about what “I’m supposed to do for God” and much, much, much more about what God has done in Christ to graciously save his people.

May we be those who give ourselves continually to the reading of Scripture, so that we would become more deeply acquainted with the One to whom all of Scripture bears witness; the One whom to know is life eternal!

For Further Reading…

The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, by Edmund P. Clowney

Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament, by David Murray

Is Jesus in the Old Testament?, by Iain M. Duguid

The Immovable Foundation

photo1 (4)

My job. My ministry. My children. My salary. My clothes. My friends. My extensive resume. My theological prowess. My good behavior. My acquaintances. My family name. My position of leadership. My years of experience. My health. My car(s). My talents. And the list could go on…

What do you look to in order to determine your identity? In life, what gives you a sense of significance and security? Unless we are carefully diligent we can succumb to the the world’s mode of determining our self-worth based upon personal achievement. Before we know it, our sense of meaning becomes wrapped up in our own accomplishments. And, the truth is, when we are striving to stand upon our own works, we are sinfully striving to stand upon a foundation that can crumble at any moment.

As Edward Mote was travelling to work one morning, around 1834, he desired to write a hymn on “The Gracious Experience of a Christian”. By the day’s end he had completed four verses. The very first line of that hymn reads

     “My hope is built on nothing less,

          Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness”

Mote was touching upon what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:4-9:

     “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more…But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—“

You see, the Scriptures declare that it is not what you have done that determines your ultimate identity, but what Christ has done for you. Who God the Father declares you to be in Christ Jesus is the most important thing about you! The reality of your gracious position in Christ is an immovable foundation upon which you can stand secure.

Thus, when my health wanes, when plans fail, when I lose my job, when finances are tight, when my abilities are criticized, or in the light of gracious success—whatever the case may be—I can still joyfully sing, “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

Vos on the Resurrection

vos_geerhardus_bToday marks the 151st birthday of Dutch theologian, Geerhardus Vos.  Vos is known by many as the father of Reformed Biblical Theology and a stalwart representative of Old Princeton Theology.  The Christ-centered, gospel saturated, redemptive-historical writings and sermons of Dr. Vos have been both educational and edifying to many throughout the last 100+ years.

Reading through a collection of his sermons entitled Grace and Glory, I came across this gem about the resurrection.  I thought it fitting as we prepare our minds and hearts with Easter quickly approaching.  Preaching on 1 Corinthians 15:14, Vos notes:

“It is just as impossible that any one for whom Christ rose from the dead should fail to receive the righteousness of God as it is that God should undo the resurrection of Christ itself.  Consequently, knowing ourselves one with Christ, we find in the resurrection the strongest possible assurance of pardon and peace. Brethren, when Christ rose on Easter morning he left behind him in the depths of the grave every one of our sins; there they remain buried from the sight of God so completely that even in the day of judgment they will not be able to rise up against us any more.  And not only is this true of the resurrection as an accomplished fact, it is true in an even higher sense of the risen Lord himself. The very life of the exalted Christ is a witness to the blessed reality of the forgiveness of our sins. In the living Savior Paul would have us by faith grasp our justification. In the same real sense in which on earth he was identified with our sin, he is now in his resurrection-life identified with our state of pardon and acceptance.  According to the profound words of the apostle, we are become the righteousness of God in him (II Cor. 5:20) because he has become the righteousness of God for us.”

Excerpt taken from: Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory (Feedbooks PDF), 80.

Let Christ Be The Diamond

Yesterday, I was listening to Reformed Forum’s Proclaiming Christ podcast during my morning commute.  While discussing presuppositions for preaching, each panelist noted some of the resources they considered helpful in learning to prepare and preach Christ-centered sermons.  One of the panelists mentioned an excellent quote by Edward Reynolds, a Westminster Assembly divine and bishop of Norwich.  For those that labor in preaching and teaching, this one is worth reading over and over…    

220px-Edward_Reynolds“Preach ‘Christ Jesus the Lord;’ determine to know nothing among your people, but Christ crucified: let his name and grace, his spirit and love, triumph in the midst of all your sermons.  Let your great end be to glorify him in the hearts, to render him amiable and precious in the eyes of his people; to lead them to him as a sanctuary to protect them, a propitiation to reconcile them, a treasure to enrich them, a physician to heal them, an advocate to present them and their services unto God: as wisdom to counsel, as righteousness to justify, as sanctification to renew, as redemption to save, as an inexhausted fountain of pardon, grace, comfort, victory, glory.  Let Christ be the diamond to shine in the bosom of all your sermons.”[1]


[1] Edward Reynolds, The Whole Works of Edward Reynolds, vol. 5 (London: B. Holdsworth, 1826), pp. 326-27. Available via Google Books: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=AJCoZ443124C

GOOD NEWS: Having nothing. Possessing everything.

“Known—yet regarded as unknown; dying—and yet we live on; beaten—and yet not killed; sorrowful—yet always rejoicing; poor—yet making many rich; having nothing—and yet possessing everything.” 

2 Corinthians 6:9-10 
 


The Christian is a paradox. Because he has Christ, he
has the unsearchable riches of Christ. Believers . . .

have full and free forgiveness of all their sins;

are fully accepted in the Beloved;

are clothed in Christ’s spotless righteousness;

are adopted into the family of God;

have a perfect title to heaven through Christ;

have God for their Father,

have Christ for their Savior,

have the Holy Spirit for their Comforter,

have heaven for their home;

shall be like Christ and with Christ forever;

shall inherit all things;

are sure of ultimate victory over . . .

sins,

the world,

the flesh,

the devil,

all sorrow,

death,

hell.

-William S. Plumer (1802-1880)

 

*For more gospel-soaked goodness from Plumer, consider The Grace of Christ: Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness (eBook).  ON SALE at MonergismBooks.com for only $1.75!

(HT: Grace Gems)

Beale on Typology

One of the most controversial and potentially difficult issues within the realm of biblical interpretation is that of typology.  How are the people, places, events, and circumstances of the Old Testament text to be interpreted and understood insofar as their connection to subsequent people, places, events, and circumstances is concerned; especially as they relate to Christ and the church?

Greg Beale, in his forthcoming book, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (Baker Academic, 2012), provides a helpful definition for considering that which may be properly understood as having typological significance.  He defines biblical typology as:

The study of analogical correspondences among revealed truths about persons, events, institutions, and other things within the historical framework of God’s special revelation, which, from a retrospective view, are of a prophetic nature and are escalated in meaning. (p. 14)

After defining biblical typology, he offers two helpful points of clarification regarding “escalation” and “retrospection”.

Beale notes, “By “escalation” is meant that the antitype (the NT correspondence) is heightened in some way in relation to the OT type.  For example, John 19:36 views the requirement of not breaking the bones of the Passover lamb in the OT epoch to point to a greater reality of the bones of Jesus not being broken at the crucifixion…”  Additionally, “…escalation would be the correspondence of God providing literal manna from heaven for physical sustenance and providing the manna of Christ from heaven for spiritual sustenance.”  Clarifying “retrospection”, Beale says, “By “retrospection” is meant the idea that it was after Christ’s resurrection and under the direction of the Spirit that the apostolic writers understood certain OT historical narratives about persons, events, or institutions to be indirect prophecies of Christ or the church.” [Please read the qualification Beale cites regarding the “retrospective” characteristic of biblical typology, noted in the “Comments” section.]

While some interpreters are extremely leery of deeming anything in Scripture a “type” that isn’t expressly stated as such, Beale’s definition and subsequent study promises to be handled with scholarly precision and care, and, undoubtedly, a reverence for both God and his Word.

  • WTSbooks.com has a sample chapter and audio lecture available, as well as some overall info on Beale’s forthcoming work.
  • Amazon.com has the book for a deeply discounted pre-order price of $9.67 (Reg. $17.99)
  • Baker Book House is offering the opportunity to win a copy of the book this week at their blog (Giveaway ends, Friday, August 17, 2012, at 6AM EST).  I’m hoping to win a copy myself, so I can continue the study above! 🙂

Build Your Comforts Upon Christ

William Bridge, the English Puritan and pastor, writes of the necessity of basing one’s comfort upon the rock that is Christ, as opposed to the sand, or “rotten peg”, of our ever-changing conditions in life.  Wise, Christ-centered words for battling discouragement!

“If you would not be discouraged in any condition, then never make your comforts depend upon your condition, nor be in love with any condition for itself; let not your condition itself be the cause or ground of your encouragements.  Hang a cloak or garment upon a rotten peg, and that will break, and the garment will fall down. Now there is no condition but is a rotten peg.  Every condition is alterable; no condition so firm and fast, but is exposed to many changes; it is a rotten hold. God is a pillar, nay pillars. His name is Adonai, which signifies as much, and in Isa. 26, we are commanded to trust in the Lord, “For in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength,” or “the Rock of Ages.” And, says the Psalmist, “My flesh faileth, and my heart faileth, but God is the Rock of my heart forever” (so the Hebrew) Psalm 73:26.  Base your comforts upon your own condition, and you do but build on the sand, which will be carried away with every wind, and storm, and tempest; but if you build upon Christ Himself, upon God Himself, you build upon the Rock, and though the floods, and storms, and winds rise and beat upon you, yet you shall not lose your comforts, because they are built upon a rock.”

-Taken from “No Reason for Discouragements”, accessed here.

For more of William Bridge, consider A Lifting Up for the Downcast.

GOOD NEWS: Spurgeon on “The Greatest Doctrine”

 

The great doctrine, the greatest of all, is this, that God, seeing men to be lost by reason of their sin, hath taken that sin of theirs and laid it upon his only begotten Son, making him to be sin for us, even him [Christ] who knew no sin; and that in consequence of this transference of sin he that believeth in Christ Jesus is made just and righteous, yea, is made to be the righteousness of God in Christ. Christ was made sin that sinners might be made righteousness. That is the doctrine of the substitution of our Lord Jesus Christ on the behalf of guilty men.[1]

-C.H. Spurgeon

*For more of Charles Spurgeon, CLICK HERE for a sampling of resources.


[1] C.H. Spurgeon, “The Heart of the Gospel”, http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1910.htm

 

Forgiveness and the Fear of God

I’m grateful to be a part of Cornerstone Church of LincolnWay.  Our pastor, Arvid Svendsen, leads a Bible study on Friday mornings, at the McDonald’s on Maple St/Lincoln Hwy, in New Lenox, IL.  (If you’re in the area, join us at 6AM…it’s open to anyone!).  This morning we considered the relationship between “the fear of the Lord” and “progressive sanctification”.  In the course of our study, I began to think of a somewhat peculiar passage in Psalm 130

“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,

O Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness,

that you may be feared.”

(Psalm 130:3-4, ESV, emphasis mine)

It seems rather counterintuitive that forgiveness would lead to fear.  My first thought would be that forgiveness would lead to comfort, joy, and relief…but fear?  Yes, fear.

Octavius Winslow, in a sermon on Psalm 130:4, entitled “Forgiveness and Fear”, brilliantly illustrates and explains this seemingly peculiar and paradoxical relationship.

Winslow states:

“But there remains a clause in this verse of the psalm pregnant with the deepest and holiest instruction: “There is forgiveness with You, that You may be FEARED.” “How can this be?”, exclaims the unreflecting mind. Fear, the fruit and effect of pardon! It is an incongruity—a paradox! And yet such is the word of God, and as such we believe and accept it. How, then, are we to interpret the clause? A holy, filial, loving fear of God is ever the effect of His full and free forgiveness of sin; it is the natural, spontaneous and blessed result. All fear, if apart from a sense of pardoned sin, is legal, servile, and slavish; it is not the fear of a forgiven sinner, of a pardoned child. The pardoned soul sees in the grace of the act, such a display of God’s holiness and hatred of sin, such an unfolding of His grace and love, as at once inspires a holy, reverential, and child-like fear of offending Him. Never did the believing soul see sin’s exceeding sinfulness, love’s amazing greatness, and grace’s fullness and freeness, as when first it saw and felt it in a sense of God’s pardon. Oh, there is no human act which has such a tendency to melt, subdue, and win the whole being as that of forgiveness, be it judicial or parental, human or Divine. A heart that has become hardened in crime and steeped in sin, whom no reasoning could convince and no discipline could subdue, has at length been melted by mercy, conquered by forgiveness, and enchained by love. I quote an illustration of this truth.

A soldier was brought before his commanding officer for a misdemeanor frequently committed and as frequently punished. He had been tried, flogged, and imprisoned; but, imperative and stern as military discipline is, all to no purpose. He was an old and incorrigible offender, whom no threats could dismay, and no infliction reform. As the officer was about to repeat his punishment, the sergeant stepped forward, and, apologizing for the liberty he took, said, “Sir, there is one thing which has never been done with him yet.” “What is that?” enquired the officer. “He has never been forgiven.” Surprised at the suggestion, and yet struck with its force, the officer meditated for a moment, then ordered the culprit before him. “What have you to say to the charge?” “Nothing, sir, only I am sorry for what I have done.” “Well, we have decided to inflict no punishment on this occasion, but to try what forgiveness will do.” The criminal, struck dumb with astonishment, burst into tears, and sobbed like a child. And what was the effect? From that moment he was another and a changed man. No longer the inveterate and hardened offender- a plague to his regiment and a dishonor to the service he became one of the most well-behaved and orderly men that ever wore the uniform or bore the standard of his sovereign. Forgiven, he became loyal and obedient: respect for military rule, and the fear of dishonoring the service and degrading himself, henceforth became to him a law and a shield.

A similar incident in the life of Dr. Doddridge illustrates the same truth. Believing that there were extenuating circumstances in the case of a condemned criminal awaiting execution in Northampton Jail, Dr. Doddridge waited upon George III, and petitioned for his life. It was granted. Hastening back to his cell, he read the king’s order of reprieve. The pardoned criminal rose, fell at his feet, and, clasping his person, exclaimed, “Oh, Sir! I am your servant, your slave for life! For you have purchased every drop of my blood.” And shall a human forgiveness thus conquer, thus win, and thus inspire the fear of offending? O Lord, “there is forgiveness with You; for You have cast all my sins behind Your back, that I may serve You with reverence and godly fear all the days of my life, and henceforth to be Your servant, Your child forever!” Oh what a corrective of sin, what a motive to fear, what an incentive to obedience is God’s forgiveness! “There is FORGIVENESS with You, that You may be FEARED.”

That which gives us the clearest, deepest, and most solemn view and conviction of God’s holiness and love, inspires the most effectually a holy, filial, loving fear to offend Him. And where shall we find such an awful display of His holiness, and such overpowering demonstration of His love, as in the cross of Christ? Men do not fear God because they have no view of His holiness, no sense of His mercy, and no experience of His love. But God’s forgiveness of sin furnishes the believer with the most convincing argument and with the most persuasive motive to live a pure, a holy, and a godly life. “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ”(Titus 2:11-13).” (emphases mine)

If you’re interested in reading more of Winslow’s work, consider Soul Depths and Soul Heights: Sermons on Psalm 130 and No Condemnation in Christ Jesus.