I would like to share this thought-provoking piece—”Which Disturbs You Most?”—that I used last Sunday in my sermon on James 1:27b—“Keep Yourself Pure from the World.” Our answer to this question will tell us something about our spiritual condition.
Which Disturbs You Most?
A soul lost in Hell…or a scratch on your new car?
Your missing the worship service…or missing a day’s work?
A sermon 10 minutes too long…or lunch half hour late?
A church not growing…or your garden not growing?
Your Bible unopened…or your [facebook] unread?
The church work being neglected…or housework neglected?
Missing a good Bible study…or your favorite TV program?
The millions who do not know Christ…or your inability to keep up with the neighbors?
The cry of the multitude for bread…or your desire for another piece of German chocolate cake?
Your tithes decreasing…or your income decreasing?
Your children late for Sunday School and Church…or late for public school?
Which really disturbs you most?
—The Bible Friend
In their book, Encouragement for Today’s Pastors: Help from the Puritans, Joel R. Beeke and Terry D. Slachter enumerate eight pressures in pastoral ministry that can weaken our passion for ministry. We must not allow these pressures to stop us from serving our Lord Jesus Christ. As the author of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast our profession” (Hebrews 4:14).
Here are the eight pressures:
- Some of us find ourselves in denominations where the standards of doctrine are being downgraded. We find ourselves in situations in which we must decide when and where to make a stand.
- Some of us face opposition, perhaps from peers within our own denomination or from members in the pew who want us to join them in abandoning the historic doctrines of Reformation Christianity or downplay the necessity to experience those doctrines in a personal and spiritual way.
- Some of us are confronted with a cult of man-made traditions or a demand for trendy innovations in church life and worship.
- Some of us labor in situations where little growth is evident, numerical or spiritual.
- Some of us are crippled by debilitating loneliness—perhaps having no congenial or like-minded colleagues in our locality.
- Some of us labor in the midst of strife and disunity within our own flocks. A minority of vocal members spreads foolish accusations and slanderous gossip that wound our fellow Christians.
- Some of us are discouraged because we feel the withdrawing of the presence of God in our soul’s consciousness for no apparent reason.
- Some of us are discouraged on account of our own weak spiritual condition.
The Lord’s Supper is a:
1. Celebration with thanksgiving: “and when he had given thanks” (v. 24a). If Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with gratitude to His Father, should we not also celebrate the Lord’s Supper with gratitude to Jesus for what He has done for us? Through the finished work of Christ we have received eternal life.
2. Commemoration of Christ’s death: “Do this in remembrance of me” (v. 24b & 25b). In the Lord’s Supper we remember Christ, specifically His atoning death. Christ died that we might live forever.
3. Command: “Do this” (vv. 25-26). It is an ordinance; and thus, believers in Christ must participate in this sacrament. A person who claims to be a Christian and constantly refuses to partake of the Lord’s Supper is living in disobedience to God.
4. Consecration: “Let a person examine himself” (vv. 27-30). The Lord’s Supper is sacred. Hence we also call it Holy Sacrament or Holy Communion. For this reason God asks us to examine ourselves to make sure that we come to the Lord’s Table with a clean heart, a heart cleansed by the blood of Christ.
5. Communion: “When you come together” (vv. 17-22). In Holy Communion we are given a special opportunity to fellowship with our triune God and with our fellow-believers.
6. Covenant: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (vv. 23-25). It is new in contrast to the old covenant. In the new covenant we have the blood of Jesus Christ—the blood that has the power to cleanse us from our sins.
7. Communication of the gospel: “you proclaim the Lord’s death” (v. 26). It is an acted proclamation of the gospel. Here the gospel is proclaimed not through the written word but through the sacred sacrament. In the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the gospel of Christ is communicated to us.
8. Contemplation of the coming of Christ: “until he comes” (v. 26b). While in the Lord’s Supper we specifically contemplate on Christ’s death, we also meditate upon His Second Coming. Therefore, as we come to the Lord’s Table, let us not stop at Calvary. Let us also look forward to Christ’s glorious return. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of our heavenly banquet with Christ.
Click here, to listen to this message, “Truths about the Lord’s Supper,” delivered at Dutton URC on December 9, 2012.
Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer has finally arrived. If interested, you can purchase a copy from Reformation Heritage Books. All the proceeds from the book will go to my mother-in-law’s medical expenses. Please pray for her as she is battling with stage four breast cancer. Thank you!
Recommendations for the book:
“In giving Jonathan Edwards to the church, God did her an inestimable favor. In giving Jonathan Edwards to the reader, Brian Najapfour has done the Christian a great favor.
Edwards rightly stands at the fountainhead of a great theological tradition. The depth of Edwards’ theology, however, often overwhelms the uninitiated. In response, the reader turns to shallower streams and dies instead of theological thirst. The great riches of Edwards await those who will swim against the current. Those who persevere find not only the majesty of his thought on such great doctrines as the will and sin. They find on the far shores of their efforts the gems, ideas and doctrines directly related to God’s call upon every Christian. Edwards’ theology of prayer is such a gem. Given the chance, Jonathan Edwards and this volume, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer, promise to change the way we pray.”
—Dr. Peter Beck, Assistant Professor of Religion, Charleston Southern University
“Thomas Shepard, the Harvard man, once quipped that there are times in his life when he’d rather die than pray. No doubt we sometimes feel this way. This book on the man from Yale by Brian Najapfour will help remedy the problem of prayerlessness. For that reason alone I am grateful for this enjoyable read on the prayer life of Jonathan Edwards.”
—Dr. Mark Jones, Minister of Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, British Columbia and Research Associate, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
“Brian Najapfour weaves together a beautiful tapestry of theology and piety, of doctrine and devotion, from the life, sermons and writings of Jonathan Edwards. You’ll end up knowing much more about this godly man; but, if you follow his example, you’ll end up knowing even more about God.”
—Dr. David P. Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary
“Historically informed and contemporarily relevant, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer equips one in the life of prayer.”
—Dr. Adriaan C. Neele, Associate Editor and Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University Divinity School
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22-25)
1. Mr. Blind. He is blind and thus unable to see the spots on his face in a mirror. Others see his flaws but he cannot see them because of his spiritual blindness. He is so blind that he calls evil good and good evil. He is living in sin and is not bothered by his sinful life.
2. Mr. Afraid. He knows that he has some spots on his face but is afraid to look at them in a mirror. He is like a person who knows that he has a health problem but is afraid to see a doctor for a checkup. Mr. Afraid cannot accept reality; he tries to avoid the truth. He does want to be confronted by God’s Word.
3. Mr. Self-righteous. He looks at his face in a mirror and notices some spots but he does not do anything about his face. He is self-deceived. He deceives himself by thinking that he is good when in fact he is bad. He thinks that he is good enough to go to heaven. When corrected to change his wicked behavior, he reasons, “I don’t need to change. My neighbor does, but not me.”
4. Mr. Pessimistic. He looks at his face in a mirror and sees his blemishes and thinks that they are too great to be washed. Mr. Pessimistic knows that he is a sinner, but he thinks that his sins are too great to be forgiven. He dwells on his misery. He despairs, saying, “I am too sinful to be saved.” Mr. Pessimistic needs to learn from the German reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546):
Because you say I am a sinner, I will be righteous and saved….I fly to Christ who has given himself for my sins. Therefore, Satan, you will not prevail against me when you try to terrify me by telling me how great my sins are….On the contrary, when you say I am a sinner, you give me armor and a weapon against yourself…for Christ died for sinners….You do not terrify me but comfort me immeasurably
The Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne reminds us, “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”
5. Mr. Wise. He looks at his face and sees his spots in a mirror and cleanses his face. That is, upon noticing his sins through God’s Word, he comes to God for forgiveness. He prays with the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” James says that this kind of person will be blessed (v. 25).
Which kind of hearer are you?
Note: This post is a slightly edited excerpt from the message, “Be Doers of God’s Word,” delivered on February 10, 2013 at Dutton URC.
One of our Sunday school teachers emailed me a question about the doctrine of irresistible grace. The teacher wrote:
I have a quick question for you. I teach 9th grade catechism. The curriculum is the Five Solas and the Canons of Dort. We have just finished discussing “Irresistible Grace” and are beginning “Perseverance of the Saints.” We were talking about how God gets what He wants and how we cannot resist the effectual call of the Holy Spirit. One of the kids asked, “If God gets what He wants, why do we sin? He doesn’t want us to sin.” I answered, “I’m not completely sure, but it’s with regard to our salvation that God gets what He wants….I told the kids I would talk to you, so that’s why I’m emailing you.
Here’s my brief answer to the question:
Children often ask simple and yet profound questions that we, adults, sometimes find difficult to answer in a way that they can easily understand. I think your reply was excellent. Indeed, the doctrine of irresistible grace means that if God has chosen you to be saved, you cannot resist His choosing-saving grace. When I teach this doctrine I explain the distinction between the decretive and preceptive will of God.
In God’s decretive (decree) will, God always gets what He wants. That is, whatever He has ordained to happen from eternity past will surely come to pass. It is in this context that we should understand the doctrine of irresistible grace. God will always get all that He has chosen to be saved before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-6).
In God’s preceptive (precept) will, however, God does not always get what He wants. For instance, God in His precept (or Word) wants us to be holy (not to sin), but because of our indwelling sin, we sin against God (1 Pet. 1:15). In this sense, God does not always get what He wants. God wants us to obey His Law, but we willfully resist Him. Thankfully, someday we will be incapable of resisting His preceptive will, for we will be perfect in Christ. This glorious truth will happen either when we die or when Jesus comes again. If we die in Christ, then we will be with the Lord forever in perfection (Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:8). Likewise, when Jesus comes again, we who are alive will “meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).
Puritan Reformed Spirituality
The problem with medieval Catholic spirituality is that it does not purely stem from God’s Word. Consequently, it often produces unscriptural mysticism. In contrast, Puritan Reformed spirituality is essentially based on the Bible and in dependence on the Holy Spirit. The by-product is biblical piety.
Anyone who studies Puritan Reformed spirituality should not neglect Joel R. Beeke’s priceless work whose title itself is Puritan Reformed Spirituality. Beeke, president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a first-class scholar of Reformation and Post-Reformation theology. This book, according to Beeke, “promotes biblical spirituality through a study of the Reformed and Puritan heritage.” Actually, all chapters in this volume (except for chapter 13) have been previously published in a periodical or book. As a result, and what could be perceived as a disadvantage, each chapter “is an independent unit with the exception of chapters 11 and 12.” Yet, these independent units do not affect the serviceability of the material to understanding Puritan Reformed spirituality, a type of spirituality which the author believes to be biblical.
Puritan Reformed Spirituality deals with different dimensions of spirituality (assurance of faith, evangelism, the Decalogue, meditation, preaching, justification by faith, and others) with a special focus on the writings of the following authors: French reformer John Calvin, English Puritans William Ames and Anthony Burgess, Scottish divines John Brown of Haddington, Thomas Boston, and Ebenezer and Ralph Erskine, and Dutch Second reformers Willem Teellinck, Herman Witsius, and Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen. Noticeably, Beeke includes the spirituality of the Dutch Second or Further Reformation, which resembles English Puritanism, especially in terms of the practice of piety.
Of all nineteen chapters of Beeke’s book, one may find chapters 1, 4, 14, and 18 as most helpful for the understanding of Puritan Reformed spirituality. In chapter 1, “Calvin on Piety,” Beeke examines Calvin whose “reputation as an intellectual… is often seen apart from the vital spiritual and pastoral context in which he wrote his theology.” Beeke dispels this caricature, insisting that for Calvin “theological understanding and practical piety, truth and usefulness, are inseparable.” In fact, the very purpose of Calvin in writing his great theological work—the Institutes—was “solely to transmit certain rudiments by which those who are touched with any zeal for religion might be shaped to true godliness.”
Ironically, Calvin’s concept of piety also has an element of mysticism—mystical union with Christ—which is cardinal to his system of theology. Beeke says, “For Calvin, piety is rooted in the believer’s mystical union (unio mystica) with Christ; thus this union must be our starting point.” But such piety is different from medieval spirituality for the simple reason that Calvin’s piety is solidly grounded in the proper knowledge of God. Calvin believes that right doctrine of God prompts holy practice, and that the practice of holiness becomes only superficial when it does not emanate from the right knowledge of God. To further distinguish Calvin’s piety from medieval spirituality, Beeke gives the following explanation:
For Calvin, the Reformation includes the reform of piety (pietas), or spirituality, as much as a reform of theology. The spirituality that had been cloistered behind monastery walls for centuries had been broken down; medieval spirituality was reduced to a celibate, ascetic, and penitential devotion in the convent or monastery. But Calvin helped Christians understand piety in terms of living and acting every day according to God’s will (Rom. 12:1-2) in the midst of human society. Through Calvin’s influence, Protestant spirituality focused on how one lived the Christian life in the family, the fields, the workshop, and the marketplace. Calvin helped Protestants change the entire focus of the Christian life.
In chapter 4, “The Puritan Practice of Meditation,” Beeke discusses one critical aspect of spirituality—meditation. For the Puritans, meditation is a spiritual exercise of both mind and heart. In the words of Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1689) meditation is “a holy exercise of the mind whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance, and do seriously ponder upon them and apply them to ourselves.” Puritan meditation centers on the written truth (Scripture) as well as the living Truth (Christ). As such, Beeke says, “the Puritans distanced themselves from the kind of bogus spirituality or mysticism that stresses contemplation at the expense of action, and flights of the imagination at the expense of biblical content.”
In chapter 14, “Willem Teellinck and The Path of True Godliness,” Beeke addresses one of the foremost representatives of the Dutch Second Reformation, namely, Teellinck (1579-1629) who is often considered the father of the Dutch Further Reformation. Teellinck was profoundly influenced by the Puritans, particularly by their practice of piety. This Puritan influence is seen in his sermons and writings in which his concern was always to promote holy living. In Teellinck’s The Path of True Godliness, his magnum opus on sanctification, he castigates those who claim to have faith in God, and yet do not show godliness in their lives. For Teellinck, “the true Christian faith is knowledge that leads to godliness.” Beeke, commenting on the impact of Teellinck, states: “Teellinck’s positive emphasis in promoting biblical, Reformed spirituality serves as a corrective to much false spirituality…. to orthodox teaching that presents truth to the mind but does not apply it to the heart and daily life.”
At the latter part of his life, however, Teellinck became somewhat mystical, emphasizing feelings more than faith. This mystical tendency can be detected from Teellinck’s The New Jerusalem, published posthumously. The Dutch Calvinist theologian Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676) commented that, in this volume, Teellinck “could rightly be regarded as a second Thomas ä Kempis.” Beeke agrees with Voetius’ comment, but adds that, unlike Thomas ä Kempis, Teellinck was “Reformed in his theology.”
Beeke, in Chapter 18, “Cultivating Holiness,” reaches as it were the climax. This chapter is packed with quotes from the Reformers and the Puritans, and their like-minded successors. Here Beeke demonstrates to his readers what Puritan Reformed spirituality really is. The chapter ends with a pastoral plea to pray for piety with Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), “Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.”
 Joel R. Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2004), viii.
 Ibid., ix.
 Ibid., 1.
 Cited in Ibid., 1-2. The quote is taken from John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill and trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1:9.
 Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, 4.
 Ibid., 26-27.
 Cited in Ibid., 74. The quote is taken fromThomas Watson, Heaven Taken by Storm (Morgan, Pa.; Soli Deo Gloria, 2000), 23.
 Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, 74.
 Willem Teellinck, The Path of True Godliness, ed. Joel R. Beeke, trans. Annemie Godbehere (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, reprint, 2006), 31.
 Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, 329.
 Cited in Ibid., 315.
 Cited in 421.