Confident Christianity

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  Hebrew 10:19-25 esv

cpc.jpgSunday’s sermon at CPCC is on this text of Scripture. Briefly, the passage first (vv. 19-21) recaps the amazing person and work of Christ as displayed in the previous chapters of Hebrews which give the believer great confidence. Then, the inspired author presents us with three exhortations, all of which begin with the expression “let us” —

•  (v.22) “Let us draw near…”
•  (v. 23) “Let us hold fast…”
•  (v. 24) “Let us consider…”

The connection here is important; those imperatives stand upon the truth of the indicatives. We can only obey the commands because of the reality of the work of Christ. And the invitation-like wording of these exhortations warmly draws the believer to find blessing and joy in obeying them.

May the Lord bless you as you feast upon His Word.
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The Privilege Of Preaching

The Privilege Of Preaching..

The Death of Phillips Brooks — January 23, 1893

P Brooks tombstoneRev. Phillips Brooks (1835–1893) died in Boston 120 years ago today. It is said that Christians throughout the world mourned his death, and his funeral was “like that of a king.” Brooks has been called by some “the greatest American preacher of the 19th Century.”

Yet sorrow soon turned to songs of triumph and praise of God for Phillips Brooks’ life. Over his tomb they would erect these words: “A preacher of righteousness and hope, majestic in stature, impetuous in utterance, rejoicing in the truth, unhampered by the bonds of church or state, he brought by his life and doctrine fresh faith to a people, fresh meanings to ancient creeds.” [Dan Graves in Christianity Today online article, June, 2007]

Brooks was the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts when he died, having also served important churches in Boston and Philadelphia. Most Americans know him as the author of the popular Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem — which he wrote a couple years after visiting Palestine in 1865. While there, Brooks journeyed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on horseback, and there assisted with a midnight service on Christmas Eve. He would later write, “I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the Wonderful Night of the Savior’s birth.”

On his preaching, the Encyclopedia Britannica says

In Lectures on Preaching (delivered at Yale University in 1877), Brooks offered his most influential assay of his profession, defining preaching as “the bringing of truth through personality,” by which he meant a kind of radiant optimism. His own eloquence was matched by his commanding, handsome figure, standing six feet four inches tall and weighing (in his prime) 300 pounds. His charismatic preaching became so renowned that he was invited in 1880 to preach at Westminster Abbey in London and at the Royal Chapel at Windsor before Queen Victoria. In 1890 he conducted an acclaimed series of services at Trinity Church, New York City. Several volumes of his sermons were published during his lifetime and posthumously. [online EB article]

At the Trinity Church in Boston (which Brooks helped design) there was no pulpit until 1888, but Brooks preferred to preach from a modest lectern near the rector’s stall, typically only wearing his black academic gown. And later on, during communion, he would preach not from the pulpit but from the chancel steps.

It is said that he despaired of Anglo-Catholic ritualism, and championed more congregational singing. During his childhood, the Brooks family spent Sunday evenings singing hymns. He would grow-up to know over two hundred hymns by memory, and often quoted them in his sermons.

Brooks was also known for his vocal defense of the Trinity as Unitarianism was then on the rise throughout New England.

Phillips Brooks House at Harvard

Phillips Brooks House at Harvard

Brooks was a graduate of Harvard University and the Episcopal Seminary at Alexandria, Virginia. His close ties to Harvard led to the building of the “Phillips Brooks House” in the northwest corner of old Harvard yard (facing the small Holden Chapel). It was was dedicated on January 23, 1900, to serve “the ideal of piety, charity, and hospitality.” The Phillips Brooks House Association remains in operation to this day as a student-run consortium of over 80 volunteer organizations.

Phillips Brooks never married, or had children of his own. Dan Graves, in closing his Christianity Today article, observed that this famous preacher

…loved children and liked to romp on the floor and play with them. He often wrote delightful letters to his young friends. That explains why, when Brooks died on January 23, 1893, a five year old was upset because she had not seen her preacher friend for several days. Her mother told her Bishop Brooks had gone to heaven, and the child exclaimed, “Oh, Mama, how happy the angels will be.”

Yes, but happier yet would the man be, for he would now see Christ. He had written that the Christian’s goal should be “To know in one’s whole nature what it is to live by Christ; to be His, not our own; to be so occupied with gratitude for what He did for us and for what He continually is to us that His will and His glory shall be the sole desires of our life.”

Amen.

Pleasure mania, spiritual poverty – M. Lloyd-Jones on our affluent society

Having commented on the biography of the great preacher, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I thought it fitting to follow-up today with a quote from him. It’s an observation on modern cultures, who, in their affluence, do not perceive their true spiritual need.

This ‘affluent society’ in which we are living [c. 1972, no less true today] is drugging people and making them feel that all is well with them. They have better wages, better houses, better cars, every gadget desireable in the home; life is satisfactory and all seems to be well; and because of that people have ceased to think and to face the real problems. They are content with this superficial ease and satisfaction, and that militates against a true and a radical understanding of their actual condition. And, of course, this is aggravated at the present time by many other agencies. There is the pleasure mania, and television and radio [cf: internet and social media] bringing their influence into the home. All these things persuade man that all is well; they give him temporary feelings of happiness; and so he assume that all is well and stops thinking. The result is that he does not realize his true position and then face it.

[from the first lecture in his classic, PREACHING AND PREACHERS]

He points this out to rally churches and preachers back to the preaching of the gospel, which alone can waken men from their spiritual stupor. As he goes on to state, The business of the Church, and the business of preaching — and she alone can do this — is to isolate the radical problems and to deal with them in a radical manner.

Amen.
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The Bible is not a newspaper

“Unfortunately, many Christians treat their Bibles as they would their local newspapers,” writes Anthony Carter, “because they have been taught to do so by their preachers.” I read this today in his fine book, Experiencing the Truth, Bringing the Reformation to the African-American Church (Crossway 2008), loaned to me by good friend Brian Spivey.

Here’s the rest of the passage from Anthony Carter (emphasis added) —

The faithful preacher, however, understands the Bible differently. A newspaper is a composite of many parts and sections. There is the front page, the business section, the sports page, the living and entertainment section, and so on. All of these sections make up the one newspaper. And yet, no section is actually dependent upon the other. A person can read the sports page and completely understand the issues and concerns of the day in sports without ever looking at the front page. Likewise a person can read the entertainment section and understand it fully with little to no knowledge of the goings on in sports. The Bible is no such book. …

The Bible is indeed a collection of sixty-six separate writings. A person could indeed read one of the sections of the writings and get a sense of what is happening without much knowledge of other sections. However, that same person would never really know what any section of Scripture was communicating unless that person were interested in knowing how that particular section fits into the grand, overall picture the Bible is painting.

More than a newspaper, the Bible is a literary portrait. The subject of the portrait is Christ. Each division of the Bible adds something important and indispensable to the portrait. And while a person may be able to make out the picture without all the sections together, what a glorious experience it is when one sees all the sections fitting together! This is the role of the artist. This is the calling of the preacher. He is to show that the Bible, from cover to cover, is painting a picture of Christ…

(page 66)

Moby Dick’s Melville: “The pulpit is the prow”

The Pulpit is the Prow?

I spotted this wonderful image-packed
citation at Jared Wilson’s blog today…
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“…for the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.”

— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Doctrinal sermons?

A generation or two ago, Thomas Murphy wrote:

It is taken for granted that the sermon in which there is much doctrine must necessarily be dry, unspiritual, full of sectarianism and almost necessarily incomprehensible…. In fact there can be no preaching without doctrine…. The attributes of God, the mysteries of the Trinity, the fall of our race, the incarnation, life, death, and ascension of Christ, salvation by his blood, faith, conversion, the Church, the resurrection, judgment, heaven and hell — what are all these but doctrines?

[from Pastoral Theology, quoted by Dr Joel Beeke in “How To Evaluate Your Sermons” in Puritan Reformed Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Jan. 2011)

Gethsemane’s King

Have you ever noticed how truly regal Jesus appears at the hour of His arrest? Consider the account from John, an eyewitness —

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” — John 18 esv

At the recent Banner of Truth Conference, Dr Joel Beeke, a long-time pastor, and President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Michigan (and a friend of mine), spoke from John 18 of our Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. We’re told that Jesus knew what would happen to Him (18:4), yet still entered the familiar place of prayer so that these events might unfold according to Scripture (18:9). It ought to amaze us to see here our 33 year old Savior directly in harm’s way yet acting with royal bearing, controlling the very circumstance of that night. Let me share Dr Beeke’s main points from first part of his address last Tuesday night….

THE KING’S THREEFOLD SOVEREIGNTY

(1) A Question asked with Authority. Jesus boldly takes the lead with the approaching mob: “Whom do you seek?” Faced with many men, with weapons, Jesus did not shrink back, but stepped forward. He is already in charge.

(2) Sovereign Self-Identification. Hearing their derisive reply (“Jesus of Nazareth“), He is not put off. “I am,” Jesus firmly answered — “ego emi” in Greek, the root meaning of the name LORD. At this, the formidable mob falls back, to the ground! Do you see this? If this Judas-led mob thought they were simply grabbing a troublesome young rabbi hiding in an olive grove at night, they were now sorely mistaken! His voice, that profession, His presence was awesome, if not fearful. They shrink back and cower. What would He say next?

(3) His Sovereign Self-substitution. After confirming His identity a second time, Jesus directs them in their task: “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” For many months Jesus had set His face towards Jerusalem. He was heading into His cross. The Gospel of Mark provides Jesus’ explanation: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45). He offers Himself, and directs that His disciples be free to go. This was our Savior’s intention and work from the beginning: “Me for them.”

Amazing. Hail Jesus, the King of Gethsemane!

The second half of this conference message goes on to speak of the Lamb of Gethsemane. [more soon, DV].
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Piper & Sproul, honest and passionate dealers in truth


*(title of this post has been changed by pdb)

John Piper and R C Sproul were recently together at the Ligonier conference in Florida. Two very significant men, representing two very significant ministries in our day (Desiring God & Ligonier). I can easily say that these men (I’ve met both) and their books have greatly shaped my own theology and ministry.

In a simple blog post about them and this event (by Justin Taylor), the following comment was made about why these men appeal so well to the younger generation….

Why, under God, are people attracted to the teaching of Dr. Sproul and Dr. Piper? Why do so many folks see them as “spiritual fathers”?

One reason is that younger believers, in particular, have highly attuned “boloney detectors” (to use the technical term). They are hypersensitive to hypocrisy and phoniness. And when they hear Dr. Sproul and Dr. Piper teach and preach, they hear authority and authenticity, truth and love, passion and power, combined in a compelling and arresting way. It’s not merely the God-centered, biblically saturated content. It’s that this deep theology is creatively presented and passionately believed. These men do not merely teach; they herald, they summon, they exhort, they plead, they yearn. In a way that’s difficult to describe in a non-clichéd way, the timber of their voices contains both sorrow and joy. And in that sense, I think they echo the tone of their sorrowful-yet-always-rejoicing Savior.

You can read the whole post here, and visit the Ligonier site for links to the conference video, etc. In 2009, at Piper’s 30th anniversary in ministry, I wrote about my time serving under him at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis here and again here.

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Pray for the preacher

Here is a candid plea from the esteemed John Newton — 

I trust I have a remembrance in your prayers. I need them much: my service is great. It is, indeed, no small thing to stand between God and the people, to divide the word of truth aright, to give every one portion, to withstand the counter tides of opposition and popularity, and to press those truths upon others, the power of which, I, at times, feel so little of in my own soul. A cold, corrupt heart is uncomfortable company in the pulpit. Yet, in the midst of all my fears and unworthiness, I am enabled to cleave to the promise, and to rely on the power of the great Redeemer.