Michael Reeves (UK) is a friend and the author of some really outstanding books like Delighting in the Trinity (2012) and The Unquenchable Flame (2010). I love chatting theology with him. Today he released a new message: "A Complete Church History," which you can download here, or listen to here:
On April 24, 1800, President John Adams signed the bill authorizing the creation of The Library of Congress in Washington D.C., which has become the world’s largest library. Bill Bennett, author of The American Patriot’s Almanac, says that it is “perhaps the greatest collection of stored knowledge in history.” Here’s the rest of his piece celebrating the LOC….
It contains more than 140 million items, including maps, photographs, films, and recordings, on 650 miles of bookshelves. About 10,000 items are added every workday.
Congress established the library on April 24, 1800, when President John Adams signed a bill appropriating $5,000 for “the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress” after it moved to Washington, the new capital city. The first books, ordered from London, arrived in 1801. The original collection consisted of 740 volumes and 3 maps.
The first collection was destroyed during the War of 1812 when the British burned the Capitol. Thomas Jefferson offered to replace it by selling Congress his personal library, one of the finest in the country. In 1815 Congress appropriated $23,950 to buy his 6,487 books. The Jefferson collection became the core of the Library of Congress.
The library serves as the research arm of Congress and the “storehouse of the national memory.” Unlike many other national libraries, its collection is not for scholars only. Anyone over high school age may use it. It also makes available, via the Internet, millions of files containing digitized versions of its collections. A library of the people, it has become a symbol of Americans’ faith in the power of learning.
Many good reflections about the nature of pastoral ministry in a local church, have emerged in connection with the retirement of John Piper from Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis, MN) after 30+ years there. He wrote a ‘Final Open Letter to My Flock’ in which he expressed his thankfulness for blessings received as a shepherd of the Lord’s flock there. Excerpts include these:
As far as I know every biblical blessing that a flock owes its shepherd you have given to me during our life together.
• You received my preaching as the word of God; it became active in you, and transformed our life together (1 Thess. 2:13).
• You responded supportively to my leadership knowing I would have to give an account for your souls, and you helped me do this ‘with joy and not with groaning, for that would have been of no advantage to you’ (Heb. 13:17).
• I have spoken freely to you, and opened my heart to you, and been vulnerable with you; and you have cared for me, and opened your hearts wide to me also (2 Cor. 6:11–13).
• You have never assumed that I was above the need for encouragement, and have turned this church into a place where we have been ‘mutually en- couraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine’ (Rom. 1:12).
• You have not muzzled this ox, but have shared all good things with him who teaches. I have never been in need (1 Tim. 5:18; Gal. 6:6).
• You have multiplied my joy with your biblical faithfulness, for ‘I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth’ (3 Jn 1:4).
• You have treasured Christ and become the mirror of his worth. And for that you are my ‘hope and joy and crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming’ (1 Thess. 2:19).
On the first Good Friday, when Jesus had finished wrestling in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, His disciple Judas came to Him, leading a band of Jewish officials and armed men. “Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’” (Luke 22:48, ESV). It is a moment of spiritual treason as a disciple — one of the Twelve Apostles — betrays his master to His mortal enemies.
We do well to pause and learn from Judas here. You should ask yourself some serious, spiritual questions on this Good Friday. I was led to do so after reading a couple pages in a recent book by Michael McKinley entitled PASSION, How Christ’s Final Day Changes Your Every Day (The Good Book Co., 2013). Here’s a good way to learn from Judas —
It’s worth remembering the things that Judas had seen and done. He was one of the disciples sent out to preach the gospel with power to cast out demons and heal people (Luke 9:1-2). He sat in a boat as Jesus calmed a storm with a word (8:22-25). He saw Jesus feed the 5,000 (9:10-17). He watched as Jesus raised people from the dead (7:11–17). He heard Jesus’ sermons, probably multiple times. He was personally selected by Jesus to be part of HIs inner circle. He had even had his feet washed by Jesus!
And yet… despite all of those amazing experiences, Judas turns out not to be a disciple. He is not a true follower of Jesus. In the end, he is a traitor and a liar and a thief. He is a real-life example of what Jesus warns in Matthew 7:21-23:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (ESV)
Judas is a chilling reminder to us that you can’t rely on your past experiences as an indication of your current spiritual condition. And so Judas’ example should cause us to pause. If you think of yourself as a Christian, have you ever stopped to think how you can be sure you really are a Christian? Why are you confident that you are a genuine follower of Jesus? Because your parents are believers? Because you go to a church and everyone there assumes you are a Christian? Because you have served faithfully in your church? Maybe even because you’ve preached sermons or led people to Christ?
Judas reminds us that nothing you have done in the past can assure you that you are truly a follower of Christ. Yes, good fruit in your life is a good sign. But look at Judas; examine the resume that he could roll out for you. He looked good on paper, but in reality he sent Jesus to His death. Nothing you or I have seen or accomplished, nothing in our pedigree or experience can ultimately makes us a Christian.
from PASSION, How Christ’s Final Day Changes Your Every Day, by Mike McKinley, pages 30-31.
Here is a fine excerpt from a chapter on God’s Power, written by John Frame, in The Doctrine of God. It brought me to pause and praise our mighty Lord.
Redemption itself contradicts all human expectations. It is God’s mighty power entering a situation that, from a human viewpoint, is hopeless. God comes to Abraham, who is over a hundred years old, and to Sarah, far beyond the age of childbearing, and He promises them a natural son. Sarah laughs. But God asks, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Gen. 18:14). God’s omnipotence intervenes, and Isaac is born. The omnipotence is the power of God’s covenant promise. The Hebrew text literally reads, “Is any word of God void of power?” God’s powerful word comes into our world of sin and death and promises salvation. Isaac will continue the covenant, and from him, in God’s time, will come the Messiah, who will save His people from their sins. When the Messiah comes, He will be born, not to a barren woman like Sarah, but to a virgin — an even greater manifestation of God’s omnipotence. So to Mary the angel echoes God’s promise to Abraham: “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:36).
So God’s word never returns to Him void (Isa. 55:11). It is His omnipotence, doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. Apart from God’s power, we could expect only death and eternal condemnation. But he brings life in the place of death. So the resurrection of Christ becomes a paradigm of divine power in Ephesians 1:19-23. A God who can raise people from the dead can do anything. He is a God who is worthy of trust.
As we have seen, the Bible is the Word of God because it is “breathed out” by the Holy Spirit and the same Spirit also works within us to enable us to respond positively to the Word, for our hearts need to be softened towards God. it is the new birth that effects this. We can see this clearly if we look at different aspects of the Christian life.
So, when we consider conversion, it is evident that there can be no salvation without a Savior, and salvation comes to us in practical terms when we know Christ in our inner being. This is not, however, a mystical experience but is mediated to us through biblical truth, whether this comes directly from the Scriptures or through preaching or reading or personal witness or in some other way.
We must not, however, give the impression that salvation is by the acceptance of a formula, which is anything but true. Personal salvation is by the Spirit of God working in the human heart but in connection with the hearing of the Word. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Christ the incarnate Word meets us in personal encounter through the written Word, and it is the Spirit of Truth, of Grace and of Christ who so works in our hearts through that Word. Here, then, objective truth and subjective experience meet, with the former being used by the Holy Spirit to create the latter.
The Word and the Spirit are also involved together in assurance. Paul says, “You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Eph. 1:13–14). Objective fact and inner assurance answer to each other. So, then, assurance is not mystically conveyed but comes by actual contact with the Scriptures themselves, in the reading and hearing of them or in some exposition of their truth.
Christian assurance embraces not only conviction of personal salvation, but carries with it also convictions about the Word through which salvation has come. In 2 Timothy 3:14, Timothy is told to continue in what he has learned and been assured of, and the learning was presumably, through the work of the Spirit, the cause of the assurance. He would have learned these things from Paul as an authoritative witness to God’s truth.
It is through the Word and the Spirit, too, that sanctification takes place. The new birth is the first movement in inward sanctification, and in both the initial crisis and the consequent process there is a communication of Christ, for this is the purpose of all the means of grace. It is sadly possible to get to know the Scriptures better without knowing Christ better, but the reverse is never true. An examination of Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16 shows that they have remarkably similar contexts. For this reason it is surely significant that at the contextual point where in Ephesians Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit”, (Eph. 5:18), in Colossians he ays, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16), in both cases employing a continuous tense. It looks, then, as though the work of the Word and of the Spirit are two sides of the same coin. The Spirit constantly uses the Word in conforming us to Christ. [boldface added]
The God who works within us through his Word and Spirit in conversion, assurance and sanctification, is also at work in our perseverance. We read the Word, taking heed of its encouragements and its warnings, and as a result the Spirit of God preserves us as Christians and enables us to persevere in Christian discipleship.
This practical stress on the Holy Spirit’s use of Scripture in every aspect of the Christian life was a major theme of the Puritans, as it was also of the early Methodists and the continental Pietists. This serves to remind us that, important as a high doctrine of Scripture and its verbal inspiration is, we should never forget that God gave the Bible as his means to his end, which is not simply orthodox thinking (which is not unimportant) but sanctified living.
In relation to all these divine activities the Spirit works through means that are objective and that are found in holy Scripture. Will this be true even of that great moment when Christians are glorified at the second advent? It seems so, because Paul tells the Thessalonians that “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (1st Thess. 4:16), and also the “he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11). So from conversion to consummation the Word and the Spirit are effectively at work together.
*This excerpt is from an excellent, well-written theological book, which I highly recommend: The Faith Once Entrusted to the Saints? Engaging with issues and trends in evangelical theology, by Geoffrey W. Grogan, Inter-Varsity Press, 2010; pages 189-190. ISBN: 978-1-84474-478-7
"God-fear men desire to be holy, to be useful, to be a blessing to others, and so to honour their Lord. They desire supplies for their need, help under burdens, guidance in perplexity, deliverance in distress; and sometimes this desire is so strong, and their case so pressing, that they cry out in agony, like little children in pain, and then the Lord works most comprehensively, and does all that is needful, according to this word - 'and will save them'." -CH Spurgeon…