Saturday, October 01, 2005

Meanwhile, this Sunday Night in North Finchley …

Sermon preparation for the record and for the day ahead

Genesis 44:27-34

27 • Then your servant my father said to us,
‘You know that my wife bore me
two sons.
28 • One left me, and I said,
Surely he has been torn to
and I have never seen him since.
29 • If you take this one also
from me,
and harm happens to him,
you will bring down my gray hairs in
evil to Sheol.’

30 • "Now therefore, as soon as I come to your servant my
and the boy is not with us,
• then, as his life is bound up in
the boy’s life,
31 as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will
• and your servants will bring down
the gray hairs of your servant
our father with sorrow to Sheol.

32 • For your servant became a pledge of
for the boy to my father, saying,
‘If I do not bring him back to
then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’
33 • Now
therefore, please let your servant remain
instead of the boy as a servant to
my lord,
and let the boy go back with his brothers.
34 • For how can I go
back to my father if the boy is not with me?
I fear to see the evil that
would find my father."

In these three little clusters of verses we have no less than three kinds of substitution displayed to us in order. First of all we have Jacob filling the void in his life left by the actual death of his favourite wife, Rachael, and the supposed death of the favourite son, Joseph, by being exceptionally protective of the other son that Rachael bore to him, Benjamin. And although Joseph, unrecognized by his brothers, would be responsible for the death of his father if he kept Benjamin in Egypt as he unjustly planned to do, the older brothers take the blame that would accrue from precipitating Jacob's death onto themselves: 'and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol.'

The most significant substitution is the third that takes place when Judah steps forward, out of the mass of his brothers to offer his life in place of Benjamin's.

He will pay the redemption price for the theft of Joseph's cup. He will divert Egypt's wrath away from his brother. He will be obedient to the charge given to him by his father. He will sacrifice himself for the family. He will bring reconciliation to them by the renunciation of his own place of honour at his father's side.

Now, we miss almost all of the significance if we don't see the connection with Judah's greatest decendant, stepping forward from his place of high dignity and taking mine to die for me upon a cross. What would substitutionary reconciliation mean if it didn't get focussed for us there?

Friday, September 30, 2005

Take the High Road

Steve Camp has done a run on the perenially popular, 'How many to change a Light bulb?' routine. I added a comment and now steal it back for want of any better pSadvertisment tonight.

Wanted: Sufficient Church Members to be a Fully-functional Church With Church Discipline and all.
  • Worst case scenario, how many church members?
  • Worst case is the deacon who just plain refuses to allow the light bulb (for which his father paid a subscription) to be changed or even to be recognized as being in need of change or to be earmarked in any way for changing.
  • The man who needs the light bulb to be changed or at least can see the need or not see the light, or so on, should first of all go to the offending deacon and remonstrate (gently) with him.
  • If he will not relent, two other competent dud light bulb spotters should be taken to see said 'Old Light' deacon.
  • If he still will not relent, though by now this is getting tedious so we really hope he will, then this issue should be taken to the whole assembly of those competent to change light bulbs, ie men with better things to do.
  • In order for there to be more in this assembly than there were in the second stage of this dispute (one offending, one offended and two fence mending: Keep up!) there have to be at least five others but this is not in itself sufficient because another light bulb might burn out raising a whole new church disciplinary issue so you need a spare to be instantly available making it take at least ten church members to change any given light bulb, worst case scenario.
  • And John Gill says just that, although he wasn't so clear about the lightbulbs.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A Book of Selahs

Meditations for the Pauses in the Psalms.

Selah 1
Psalm 3:2
'many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Selah. '

A scaffold, or a place of oratory;
this wooden structure draws all men to me.
To see and hear they come, but not to learn
their time is running out. Hear them condemn
this coffin-wood salvation, far inshore.
Probation’s ended. God has shut the door.
The jeering crew obliterates the plain,
Methuselah’s dead and it’s begun to rain.

Observatory and platform for their shame,
a span that spells dishonour to their name,
the roof, above the throne room. Of disgrace
the father flown, the son sat in his place.
A mob-ejected sovereign quits the land
reduced once more to lead an outlaw band
that, quitting him, ignores his plea, and turns
into the woods to hunt down Absalom.

Up! Hoisted to the high point of his grief
above the clamour of the crowd beneath
and, amplified by loneliness he hears
the mocking of the ages in his ears.
‘Come down and we’ll believe in you,’ they cry
with a world of unbelieving standing by,
abandoned by disciple’s flit despair
and, sitting on the ground, we watch him there.
This poem was accepted for publication by Symphony but I think Philip mislaid it in his computer and the magazine has ceased circulation (though check this out if you can.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

18th Century Theology with Thomas Boston

Thomas Boston was a Scottish preacher of genius. His writings are more readily available than ever before, in book form (including the ubiquitous Fourfold State of Man ), increasingly on the web (including bits of the ubiquitous Fourfold State of Man), on unsearchable CD rom and 0n searchable CD rom.

The Counsel of God

[God’s] counsel might, for us, have remained through eternity hid in the breast of the Father. The heathens could look up to the heavens and read much of God’s goodness, wisdom, and power, Rom. 1:20; but none could ascend into heaven and enter God’s secrets, but he that was in the bosom of the Father, and on his cabinet councils, John 3:13.(Works IV 378.) Christ the Counsellor is of the secret council of Heaven; Zech. 6:13, "A counsel of peace shall be between them both." He is a member of the cabinet-council of Heaven, to which the most favourite angel is not admitted. He has access to the sealed book of the divine decrees; Rev. 5:5; and there is nothing transacted there, nor has been from eternity, but what he is acquainted with; John 5:20, "For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth." With his Father and the Spirit he is of the council.(Works X 231f.) He is of the Father’s choice and nomination for a Counsellor to us; 1 Cor. 1:30, "He is made of God unto us wisdom." When the Father from eternity, pitying fallen man in his ruined state, was thinking on a Counsellor, that might by his wisdom retrieve their sinking affairs, he pitched on Jesus Christ; Ps. 89:19, "I have laid help upon one that is mighty." The highest angel was too weak for such a burden; but the Son, who was of the cabinet-council of heaven, was the choice; and sinners are referred to him, Matt. 17:5.(Works X 247)

[Christ] needs no counsel of men. The name of the wisest on earth, may be Consultor; the wisest of men says so, Prov. 11:14, "Where no counsel is, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety." But his name is counsellor. He is so far a Counsellor, that he is a Consultor of none; Rom. 11:34, "For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor?" His servants are about his throne, but not to pretend to give him counsel. Consider, 1. His understanding is infinite. … 2. His counsels were all concerted before we had a being. … 3. The execution of them was begun entirely without us. … 4. How often have we seen that our counsels, had they been mixed with those of the great Counsellor, would have marred all? …(Works X 237)

Of the creation of man … God only spake the word and then the other creatures were produced; but being to create man, he called a council of the Trinity for that end: whereby the excellency of man above the other creatures, who is a compend of the world, is clearly demonstrated. Here we have the execution of that council: So God created man, &c. For, as says Seneca, a heathen moralist, man is not a work huddled over in a haste, and done without great forethought and consideration; for man is the greatest and most stupendous work of God, even of God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. As the sacred historian had said before of the Creator, "Let us make man in our image," &c., so it is not for nought that he repeats the act of creating three times in this verse; in which also the us in the former verse is restrained to God; so that the plurality there spoken of is not God and angels, but the three persons, one God; for it was not angels, but God that created man.(Works I 177)

There was a consultation of the Trinity concerning the making of man, and the result was, his creation after God’s image. How great must those sins be, which, breaking the laws of his creation, do signally deface that image?(Works X 542) What a stock [man] was originally. He was a vine of the Lord’s planting, a choice vine, a noble vine, wholly good. There was a consultation of the Trinity at the planting of this vine, Gen. 1:26, "Let us make man in our image, after our own likeness." There was no rottenness at the heart of it. There was sap and juice enough in it to have nourished all the branches, to bring forth fruit unto God. My meaning is, Adam was made able perfectly to keep the commandments of God, which would have procured eternal life to himself, and to all his posterity; for as all die by Adam’s disobedience, all would have had life by his obedience, if he had stood.(Works VIII 182)

There was also a consultation of the Trinity concerning man’s restoration, and the result was, the Son of God giving himself to the death for their recovery. How much greater, then, must the sin of unbelief be, which of its own nature tends to make the whole contrivance vain? The Sodomites were great sinners, and the Capernaumites unbelievers; which were the greatest sinners? The greatest punishment by a just Judge speaks the greatest sin; and so the Capernaumite unbelievers were the greatest sinners, Matt. 11:23, 24.(Works X 542) At the recovery of man, all hands were set to work (so to speak). The Father acts his part in choosing a certain number of the lost race to be partakers of his glory, giving them unto his Son for a people, and him to them for a Redeemer. The Son takes on their nature, and redeems them with his blood, and purchases eternal salvation for them. The Holy Spirit applies that purchase unto them, renewing their natures, quickening them, and knitting them to Christ as the Head of vital influences. O! should we not admire this great and glorious work?(Works I 535)

The plan of [the covenant of grace] was drawn from all eternity, in the council of the Trinity: for it is according to the eternal purpose purposed in Jesus Christ, Eph. 3:11. The objects of mercy, the time and place, the way and means, of conferring it on them, were designed particularly, before man was miserable, yea, before he was at all.(Works VIII 380) Here we find ourselves at the fountain-head of the salvation of lost sinners, the origin and rise of the glorious plan, laid from eternity in the secret council of the ever-blessed Trinity, for remedy of man’s misery. And this is a manifold mystery, the several folds of which we are not able fully to discover. With God it was all one piece, if I may so phrase it; for with him, all things are together and at once: and not one thing before and another after, as with us. Howbeit, we cannot conceive of it but in parcels; first one piece of the mystery and then another: and that because of the weakness of our capacity, as we are creatures; and much more, as we are creatures under much spiritual darkness. Wherefore we must of necessity address ourselves to the consideration of it in parcels; but still remembering, we are in the eternal mystery, transacted in the eternal decree of the holy Trinity all at once, by one eternal act of the divine will: in which, nevertheless, we are allowed to conceive a certain order, since otherwise we cannot take up the mystery.(Works VIII 408)

The promise of eternal life to the elect, comprehends also a promise of the Spirit of life to be communicated to them and each one of them, at the nick of time, prefixed in their cases respectively, in the eternal council; that is, the time appointed to be the time of love, the dawning of the day of grace to them, however long and dark their night may be. This promise is found, Isa. 44:3, "I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed." Ezek. 36:27, "I will put my Spirit within, you."(Works VIII 477) Now, at the time appointed for every one in the eternal council, this promise [of sanctification] is accomplished. The sinner being justified by faith, and taken into a saving relation to God, being reconciled, adopted, and made an heir of God through Christ, is sanctified. The bar being removed, the gulf filled up as to him, his saving interest in, and relation to a holy God being established; the communication between heaven and the sinner is opened, and sanctifying influences flow amain, to the sanctifying of him throughout.(Works VIII 488)

All the counsels of God are commands, [Prov.] 1:30, 31;(Works III 441)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

From the Cliff-edge of Mt. Nebo

From where Moses stood:
On the edge of the promised land, Moses saw far more than physical geography. He saw a political map of the twelve tribes and a redemptive history stretching away to the coming of the Messiah.

Against the Primacy of Private Bible Study

Coming, as I do, from a tradition where private Bible study is considered so important that it excludes the appointment of full-time paid ministers and the recognition of subordinate standards in the church and sometimes virtually excludes deliberate sermon preparation and family worship in the home, I’m not surprised to note that we seem to have an inordinately large number of Christian believers here in North Finchley who stay at home and study the Bible for themselves rather than assembling with a church. If such stay-at-homes are really staying in to read their Bibles then they have taken a step too far, right over the cliff-edge. (Stay at home Bible students are the equivalents in many ways of those who declare that they can more readily worship God on the golf course on Sunday mornings than they can in church. Don Rose has something to say about that sort of thing

Overstressing the primacy of personal Bible Study did produce a greater than average ability to discuss our private findings conversationaly although our parody of the hymn 'Jesus loves me' ( ) fitted all too often and all too well:

'Wonderful things in the Bible I see,
Some put there by you and the others
by me.'

We can help by painting a great big white line on the edge of the cliff
at this point. The white line is this, that we have no legal obligation to do
personal Bible study. Personal bible study is not the 11th commandment and a
quiet time is not a 3rd ordinance. (Oligopistos seems to agree
This is neither a counter-reformationary cry to not read your Bible nor an antinomian argument that in order to be truly free to do something you need to be free not to do it. It stems from the fact that personal Bible study cannot be a legal requirement because not every believer has, has had or is able to read, the Bible. If we have a high view of personal Bible study we might have to learn a painful lesson. Geoffrey T. Bull, a Christian missionary in Tibet when the Chinese invaded and imprisoned him was beginning to think that he would become something of a Bible scholar when they took his Bible away. (Geoffrey T. Bull: When Iron Gates Yield or read the paragraph about it in Since no one can take away access to God in prayer Geoffrey Bull was also able to meditate and 'practice the presence of Christ ( )

Painting a visible line at the edge of the cliff as a warning to the unwary not to step over is all very well but we should look to see what the from the mountain view presents to us. The absolutely classic case of not having Scriptures is the church for the generation after the death of Jesus. What is to be learned from their case? There is no doubting for believers that the Holy Spirit, who after all made gathering the church possible, preaching to it available and additions to it daily, could have inspired the apostles to write the entire New Testament within days of Pentecost. He could have but he didn't and there should be lessons for us to learn from it taking a generation until all the books were added that were going to be added. This generational work of producing the New Testament Scriptures deprived the public meetings of the church of Scripture as well as preventing the private Bible study of books that were as yet unwritten or undistributed. But there is a difference in this that there was New Testament public proclamation before the New Testament itself was completed.

This New Testament public proclamation was, as it is today, in the hands of the officers of the church but the characteristic 'officers' of that period, the apostles and the prophets, operated in a quintessentially public way. Take the prophets, who were to operate within the church; [1Co 14:29] 'Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.' It is a singular fact that Luke in Acts goes out of his way to demonstrate that the prophets did not speak prophetically unless another prophet was there. (!) Consider the seemingly gratuitous mention of Philip's four daughters which makes no sense if not to 'legitimize' Agabus's prophecy about Paul's visit to Jerusalem.

A strong case could be made for arguing that the unfolding of the written revelation of the NT over a generation prevented the forsaking of gathering in order to do private study as if designedly so.

Monday, September 26, 2005

SNAP! (SNAP!'s Not Another Praise!)

For the real thing see but I would appreciate any tunes, improvements, criticisms or adoption of this version of Psalm 100

Aloud, and all the earth to shout,
"Alive and gladly saved to serve."
Approach and let your feelings out.
Acknowledge him who made the earth.

He made our clay, he breathed our soul.
He shepherds us within his flock,
So enter then into his fold,
Inside the living doorway locked.

With thankfulness we bless his name,
With reason to, for he is good.
For ever he’s been just the same,
For every age his truth, his blood.