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Original article by David Mathis at Desiring God Ministries 

 

 Twice Jesus was offered wine while on the cross. He refused the first, but took the second. Why so?

The first time came in verse 23, “they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” William Lane explains,

According to an old tradition, respected women of Jerusalem provided a narcotic drink to those condemned to death in order to decrease their sensitivity to the excruciating pain . . . . When Jesus arrived at Golgotha he was offered . . . wine mixed with myrrh, but he refused it, choosing to endure with full consciousness the sufferings appointed for him (The Gospel of Mark, p. 564)

This first wine represented an offer to ease the pain, to opt for a small shortcut—albeit, not a major one in view of the terrible pain of the cross, but a little one nonetheless. But this offer Jesus refused, and in doing so, chose “to endure with full consciousness the sufferings appointed for him.”

The second time came in verse 35. After some bystanders thought he was calling for Elijah, “someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’” Lane comments,

A sour wine vinegar is mentioned in the OT as a refreshing drink (Numbers 6:13; Ruth 2:14), and in Greek and Roman literature as well it is a common beverage appreciated by laborers and soldiers because it relieved thirst more effectively than water and was inexpensive . . . . There are no examples of its use as a hostile gesture. The thought, then, is not of a corrosive vinegar offered as a cruel jest, but of a sour wine of the people. While the words “let us see if Elijah will come” express a doubtful expectation, the offer of the sip of wine was intended to keep Jesus conscious for as long as possible” (Ibid., 573-574).

So the first wine (mixed with myrrh) was designed to dull Jesus’ pain, to keep him from having to endure the cross with full consciousness. This wine he refused.

And the second (sour) wine was given to keep him “conscious for as long as possible,” and thus have the effect of prolonging his pain. This is the wine Jesus drank.

Other condemned criminals would have taken the first (to ease their torment) and passed on the second (so as not to prolong their horrific pain). But Jesus would take no shortcuts on the way to our redemption.

At the cross, he drank the wine of his Father’s wrath down to its very dregs, and he did so for us—that we might enjoy the wine of his Father’s love, join him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and live redeemed forever in the glorious presence of the one who took no shortcuts in saving us.

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by Pastor John Samson

 

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23: 39

I have often contemplated the potential scene in my mind as one by one, the proponents of all religions were given the opportunity of talking to the thief on the cross, and what they would say to him. This was a man who was a criminal, a notorious sinner, and definitely one whose so called “bad deeds’ would outweigh the good ones. Being nailed to a cross negates any further opportunity for good works to be done. But it would be an interesting conversation, wouldn’t it, to hear what each religionist might say to him? In every case (apart from perhaps universalism which teaches that all people will be saved regardless of their works) each religion would require the man to somehow come down from the cross to do something.

What would a spokeman for Islam say? How about a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness? What would a Buddhist say? or a New Age guru? How about a Roman Catholic? If each could speak to this man, what religious advice would or could they give to him for the purpose of being saved (however they even define what that means)? Some might say that all he could do would be to hope for mercy, but Christ, the biblical Christ gave him far more than just hope. In contrast to what all man made religious systems could give the man, Christ gave him full assurance of salvation – and not just eventual salvation after countless years in the fires of purgatory, but bliss and paradise that very day!

Certain religions would require baptism, others would require the man go through religious instruction and devotion of some sort, while others would ask him to do more good works before his death hoping that they might outweigh the bad ones. But here’s my point, the man could never find salvation in those religious systems because he was stuck, pinned, nailed to a cross. His chance to help elderly people cross roads, or to give to charity or to live a life of service was gone. Nailed to a cross, works and service were no longer possible. His was a totally hopeless case.. except that crucified next to him was Someone who was able to save him by what He was doing, rather than what the man might do. Only the real biblical Jesus with the real biblical Gospel could announce to a criminal that before the day was over, he would be with Him in Paradise!

This thief’s salvation portrays the Gospel so clearly. Someone embracing anything other than the biblical gospel can only scratch their heads in wonder at the precious words given to this man, for in their system, such words would be impossible to say.

As far as I know, this man was the only person in the Bible that Jesus gave instantaneous assurance of salvation to. Jesus’ words, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” removes all doubt.

Can we know what was going on in the heart of this man? Well, we do not have a perfect understanding, but putting the pieces of the biblical text together, we can get quite a good picture. What is clear from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark is that this man had been amongst the many who had mocked Christ. Yet seemingly, out of nowhere, he turns to the other thief and says, “Don’t you fear God?” Obviously, this thief was now fearing God for him to be asking this question of the other one.

He also knew he was getting exactly what he deserved – “we indeed suffer justly” he said.

He also recognized the innocence of Christ when he said, “he has done nothing wrong.”

When he turned to Jesus and requested, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom” though knowing death was inevitable for all three of those crucified, he believed Jesus would triumph over death, and therefore, would be resurrected.

In affirming the fact that Jesus would come into His kingdom, he affirmed the Lordship or even the Deity of Christ. How much he knew of this we do not know, but obviously, he knew that Christ was indeed King.

So, he had an awareness of divine judgment, he knew the availability of forgiveness, he believed Christ was the true King and that in Christ there is hope even for him, he knew of the coming Kingdom and wanted to be a part of it.

As God opens our hearts and mind to the one true biblical Gospel, we will also find in Christ the full assurance of salvation. As we turn away from any attempt at self justification, knowing that it is by grace that we are saved, through faith and all of this is the gift of God, not as a result of works (Eph. 2:8,9), we too will enjoy the sweet saving mercy of God.

What a testimony to the Gospel this thief is. His testimony is exactly the same as mine. God saves sinners through the perfect work of the perfect Savior, plus nothing! Hallelujah!

 

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I am currently reading F. B. Meyer’s book entitled, The Secret of Guidance – Moody Classics, Moody Press 1997.  The section on ‘burdens’ presents encouragements which I will be posting in short excerpts under the new category of ‘Cast Your Burden Upon the Lord’.  May each reader find the source of his strength and hope only in the Lord Jesus Christ.

EmmausTrekker

 

The one cure for burden-bearing is to cast all burdens on the Lord.  The margin of the Revised Version of Psalm 55:22 reads thus: “Cast that He hath given thee upon the Lord.”  Whatever burden the Lord has given you, give it back to Him. Treat the burden of care as once you did the burden of sin; kneel down and deliberately had it over to Jesus.  Say to Him, “Lord, I entrust to You this, and this, and this.  I cannot carry them, they are crushing me, but I definitely commit them all to You to manage, and adjust and arrange,  You have taken my sins.  Take my sorrows, and in exchange give me Your peace and Your rest.”  As George Herbert says, “We must put them all into Christ’s bag.”

Will not our Lord Jesus be at least as true and faithful as the best earthly friend we have ever known? And have there not been times in our lives when we have been too weary or helpless to help ourselves and have thankfully handed some wearing anxiety to a good, strong man, sure that when once it was entrusted to him, he would not rest until he had finished it to his satisfaction?  Surely He who loved us enough to die for us may be trusted to arrange all the smaller matters of our daily lives!

Of course, there are one or two conditions that we must fulfill before we shall be able to hand over our burdens to the Lord Jesus and leave them with Him in perfect confidence. We must have cast our sins on Him before we can cast our cares.  We must be at peace with God through the work of our Savior before we can have the peace of God through faith in His gracious interposition on our behalf.  We must also be living on God’s plan, tarrying under the cloud, obeying His laws and executing His plans so far as we know them.  We must also feed faith with promise, for this food is essential to make it thrive.  And when we have done all this we shall find it difficult

To kneel, and cast our load,

E’en while we pray upon our God.

Then rise with lightened cheer.

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Foreword:  This is the last installment on the series  from Modern Reformation, Nov./Dec. Vol. 5 No. 6 1996 issue. To see the complete list and full articles, go to ‘Categories’ from the sidebar and choose the section on The Life of A Justified Sinner. – EmmausTrekker

 

By Dr. Michael S. Horton

Everyone knows St. Augustine , that fourth-century giant, as the doctor of grace. To a large extent, the Reformation was simply a recovery of and improvement on Augustine’s system. Few quills have graced the subject of guilt and grace like the Bishop of Hippo’s. And yet, Augustine’s own conversion was not so much due to the guilt of his sins, as to their power. You see, Augustine had been a member of a heretical sect known for its immorality. The immediate point of contact for him was the indomitable tyranny of sin. Theologians have distinguished three aspects of sin: its guilt, its power, and its presence. The moment we place our confidence in Christ’s saving work, we are instantly justified, liberated from the condemnation which the guilt of our sins deserves. Further, because of the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work, we are not only given the faith to believe, resulting in our justification; we are also given the gift of repentance, resulting in a life of sanctification or growth in Christian maturity. And yet, we know the struggle of Romans 7 all too well. Though we are justified and are being sanctified, we are engaged in a war and will know no peace until we are finally delivered from the presence of sin altogether in the New Jerusalem.

Know The Enemy
The unholy trinity most often identified in Scripture is well-known to most of us: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

First, the world. Now, be careful with this one, because it is not the world per se that’s the problem, but the world as it has come to be shaped by the warped hands and minds of sinful human beings. As God created it, the world was a good place–“very good,” God said. The Creator placed Adam in the garden as the worldly custodian, to insure that all creation served and praised its glorious Maker. But we know the story: Adam and Eve failed God in this task and the entire creation was placed under a curse to bondage and decay. The second law of thermodynamics was one physical aspect of this curse. And yet, God did not leave it this way. In the very day on which God pronounced judgment, He also promised redemption (Gen. 3:15). From Eden , history unfolds in successive stages of redemptive acts pointing to the ultimate act of redemption in Christ’s self-sacrifice.

But we very often forget that the world itself was included in this promise of redemption. It wasn’t just for Christians that the “new creation” or the “new age” dawned. In Romans chapter eight, St. Paul informs us, “The whole creation is on tiptoe” waiting to see our redemption. “The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited–yet it has been given hope.” That’s right, even creation itself has been given the promise of redemption. “And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!” ( Rom. 8:20-21, Phillips).

Therefore, the world has now become the theater of war. Just as Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait made that state the theater of conflict, so too Satan has invaded this world through the disobedience of our first parents. The world is our enemy, therefore, not in the sense that we are hostile to its culture, its music, its science, its art, its civic and social life–for we were created to participate in these activities. Rather, it is the world as dominated by alien forces hostile to the reign of Christ which presents some of our most urgent challenges.

This is why the Apostle warned, “Do not be conformed to this world’s pattern of thinking, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind” (Rom. 12:2). Hence, we “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Every method, belief, outlook, agenda, must become a POW of Jesus Christ. Our beliefs and attitudes must pass His inspection. Some years ago, the National Council of Churches, often railed against by evangelicals as liberal, made the remark that, “The world sets the church’s agenda.” But today, it is often evangelicals themselves who are taking in uncritically the popular trends and fashionable thoughts which make it difficult sometimes to discern where Christianity ends and pop culture begins.

If the conflict with the world is a war without, the conflict with the flesh is the war within. St. Paul makes it the subject of his seventh chapter of Romans. “We know,” he says, “that the Law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” At this point, Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles, does not experience the “victorious Christian life” so many Christians are promised these days. He feels like a POW in the battle with sin. One minute, in Romans six, we find him fighting and overthrowing attacking forces in hand-to-hand combat. The next, in Romans seven, he is a prisoner. This is the nature of the Christian life. This is the course of sanctification. What many Christians today regard as a “carnal Christian” is really either an unbeliever or, like the rest of us–a struggling saint. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out . . . When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am!” (vv. 21-24).

The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not, as is often suggested, that the former lives a “victorious life,” or that he “lives above all known sin.” Rather, it is that the Christian is at war within, while the non-Christian is not even aware of any conflict. The Christian houses two hostile forces. He is at once “justified and sinful,” pro-God and anti-God. And this war with oneself will never be resolved until we reach the Promised Land. As Alexander Whyte, the Presbyterian pastor of the previous century informed his congregation, “You will never leave Romans seven while I am your minister!”

The third enemy, archenemy, in this war, is the devil himself. Unlike the mystery religions surrounding the Jewish and early Christian cultures, biblical faith located evil in personal beings rather than impersonal forces. A revived collection of mystery religions, the New Age movement seeks to discover and manage these evil forces, but Christians know where evil comes from. It is the result of personal, active, willful rebellion by creatures brought into being as good creations by a good God.

In Revelation twelve, we read about a “war in heaven.” After our Lord ascends, war breaks out and Michael defeats Satan. The dragon is therefore expelled from heaven and is no longer given access to the court where his prosecution against Christians can be heard. And yet, “Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” Thus, the theater of war moves from heaven to earth itself. Here, Satan prowls like a “roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” He deceives unbelievers with false teaching; he entices Christians with false promises, and though he knows his time is short, his hatred for Christ and His redeemed hosts drives him to assault. Though he cannot win the war, he is happy to win battles, making common cause with the world and the flesh.

Know The Weapons
“Put on the full armor of God,” Paul’s command in Ephesians chapter six, is well-known to many of us. First up is the “belt of truth.” Before anything else, we have to know what we believe and why we believe it if we are to withstand the world, the flesh, and the devil. Another metaphor might be that of roots reaching deep into the soil of Scripture. We must read Scripture not only for devotional purposes, but to understand in a profounder way the meaning of our faith. We ought to read great Christian classics instead of light and fluffy popular books. There is a war for our mind and truth is the place to start. As a belt, it holds our pants up in battle.

Second, the “breastplate of righteousness” is listed. According to the Cambridge Biblical Commentary, “Most likely, this refers not to the believer’s moral character, but describes God’s rescue operation in Christ, bringing the assurance that the Christian is right with God.” In other words, our protection in battle is the confidence that we are justified–that is, already declared righteous. Whenever Satan comes to tempt us, we hold up the cross. Whenever the flesh threatens to bring us back under the dominion of Adam, we remind ourselves of our union with the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Whenever the world tells us about self-esteem or self-confidence, or takes a short-cut around dealing with the real problem of guilt, we respond with this doctrine of justification.

Third, there are the “ready feet.” Once armed with truth and the knowledge of our justification in Christ, we are now ready to zealously act. This is of great importance. St. Paul refers in Romans to his legalistic friends as those who “have tremendous zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” This zealous ignorance was especially disastrous, he says, because what they failed to understand was essential to the gospel: “For not knowing about the righteousness of God which is by faith, they set out to establish their own righteousness.” Zeal must be led and directed by the truth and justification which have already been discussed. That being said, many of us are so content with the belt and the breastplate that we forget our shoes. Zeal without knowledge is misguided energy, but knowledge without zeal is a profound waste of good news.

Fourth, we have the “helmet of salvation.” What is important to note in all of this is that every weapon with which we have been provided is outside of us. In other words, whether it’s truth, or salvation, the weapons with which we fight the world, the flesh, and the devil are not inner resources. So much of the emphasis I see these days on “spiritual warfare” calls believers into themselves through spiritual exercises like “spiritual breathing” or other forms of subjective, mystical navel-gazing. But this is just what Satan’s strategy has been. In every pagan folk culture, mysticism dominates. Techniques are provided for dealing with the forces within. Sin becomes a matter not of personal rebellion as much as demonic conflict (such as Jimmy Swaggart’s insistence that he was fine now after Oral Roberts cast the demons off of the evangelist’s back), and the war becomes a “good force” vs. “bad force” nonsense. This is folk religion rather than Christian warfare and it certainly has nothing to do with Ephesians six.

One should also notice that the helmet of salvation is given at the beginning of the war, not the end. Salvation is never a carrot God dangles in front of us to keep us going, but is a declaration already made at the beginning of it all. What commander would send his forces into battle without a helmet, merely promising them one as a reward for their success? God gives us the “helmet of salvation” right from the start, not if we win, but so that we will win.

Know The Captain
Each of these weapons mentioned in Ephesians six is first listed in the Old Testament, particularly Isaiah 11. Of the Messiah it is promised, “Truth will be the sash around His waste.” “Righteousness will be His armor . . . His own arm worked salvation. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, He put on garments of vengeance and wrapped Himself in zeal as a cloak.” Further, He is even the shield and the helmet: “He is my shield behind whom I take refuge” (Ps. 144:1-2); “He will wear the helmet of salvation upon His head” (Is. 59:17). And He is the sword, known to John’s Gospel as “the Word of God.”

In all of our battles with the enemy, we reach for nothing that Christ has not already won for us. Even when we win a personal battle, it is because Christ has already fought and successfully won over His trials and temptations. In Christ, the war is already won, so the battles are real but the outcome is already known.

I hear someone saying, “Wait a second, even when you guys do talk about sanctification and the pursuit of godliness, you end up talking more about justification and ‘alien righteousness’ than practical steps of holiness.” That’s correct, and any method that does not do that is not Pauline, evangelical, or Reformational in any sense. Let me give an example of how genuinely practical this approach is even for godliness. In Shakespeare’s “MacBeth,” the witches’ prophecy that “no man born of a woman will conquer you” inspires MacBeth to fight even the dreaded MacDuff. In the heat of battle, MacBeth taunts his enemy with the prophecy and confidently wields his sword because of it. But then MacDuff informs the usurper that he was not, technically speaking, born of a woman, having been torn from his mother in her death. Just as soon as the news reaches MacBeth’s ears, the strength leaves him and he is immediately taken in battle.

Many Christians live defeated lives, not because they are failing to follow certain steps or are not living up to the “victorious Christian life” (whatever that is), but because they do not have the confidence that no one, not even Satan, can “lay any charge to God’s elect” (Rom. 8:32). In the heat of battle, the strength we have to keep on going is knowing that our Commander has already determined the outcome of the war by His victory. His ascension into heaven and the devil’s expulsion from the same guarantees that our skirmishes, serious as they certainly are, will nonetheless not bring us ultimate defeat. Knowing that already makes all the difference.

Conclusion
Having said all of that, I wonder if we really want to be rid of our sins. In Romans six, Paul cheers us on: “Do not let sin reign, therefore, in your mortal body.” In Romans seven, he is more sober, reflecting on his own personal struggle to “practice what he preached” in the previous chapter. In the eighth chapter, he goes on to encourage us that even though we lose battles here and there, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1).

As believers, we live between those three poles–energetic zeal, struggle/failure, gospel. But I wonder if we take the first two poles as seriously as we really ought. Knowing that our salvation is sealed in the courts of eternity, do we eventually ignore the challenges of Romans six because of the failures of seven and the unconditional “no condemnation” in eight? I guess what I’m saying is: What do we have to lose? If we’re afraid of losing a battle, of being disappointed with a failure out on the field, we need only remember that our success or failure on the battlefield does not determine the outcome of the war. We can fight with confidence.

John Owen once said of Christ, “When He comes to war, he finds no quiet landing place. He can set His foot on no ground but that which He must fight for.” We will not grow without a fight, without sharing in His sufferings. Unlike justification, our sanctification is a lifelong struggle–so much for “let go and let God.” Small victories are prized; battles lost are soon forgotten, extracting lessons for the next. None of our enemies–the world, the flesh, or the devil, will simply move aside and put up a white flag. And yet, in our fighting we fail to hide our unrestrained anticipation prefigured in the arrival of Israel in the Promised Land: “Then the land had rest from war.”


Dr. Michael Horton is the chairman of the Council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and is associate professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California . Dr. Horton is a graduate of Biola University (B.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary in California (M.A.R.) and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (Ph.D.). Some of the books he has written or edited include Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, Beyond Culture Wars, Power Religion, In the Face of God, and We Believe.

 

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I have transcribed the introduction below from the White Horse Inn broadcast on December 6, 2009 regarding the subject – EmmausTrekker

 

What is Discipleship? by Michael Horton

Once we sit down and really become a disciple, a listener, a learner, once we really do, first of all, receive from Jesus the truth, the doctrine that He wants to teach us, then that is our Christian formation – the Gospel as it is explored and explained shapes us into Christian followers of Jesus.

 A young Christian entrepreneur becomes enamored on the superbly crafted cuckoo clock he picked up one day in a quaint village driving from Geneva to Zurich. A year later he returns with an idea. If he can figure out how the clock he bought was made, he could develop a prototype and put it out on the assembly line in China for mass distribution around the world. It can be made more quickly, efficiently, therefore cheaply once the secrets of its construction are put down on paper. Locating the craftsman who made this clock, the American opens his laptop, ready for notes and begins asking details about its construction. Soon however, the craftsman runs out of answers, so the entrepreneur looks over his shoulders as he sets to work. “How do you make that squiggle?” he asks. “I don’t know,” the craftsman replied, “I’ve just done it for years. I grew up making these clocks with my father. This is his shop. It’s just in my blood I guess.” Eventually the American did try to copy the clock, squiggles and all, but it wasn’t the same. You can’t just make a great piece of culture by formulas that can be ‘routinized’ and duplicated on the assembly line.

Christian discipleship is a lot like craftsmanship. It can’t be reproduced with formulas, principles and steps. Disciples don’t come off an assembly line. There’s no get-spiritual-quick scheme. It takes time, energy, effort, patience and skill. It takes life in a community. It means belonging to a group that passes along habits, many of which can’t be even stated explicitly in so many words. The habits of a craftsman are simply different from those of an entrepreneur or industrial manager.

For a lot of reasons that has been wisely explored by many people today, we are increasingly becoming a society and a church that has lost its habits of Christian formation. Some say, “Well, if we just get the doctrine right, everything else will follow.” Others shout back, “No, deeds not creeds!” But neither answer really gets to the point that growing up into Christ can’t be reduced either to intellectualism or activism. There is no doctrinal proposition or spiritual program that will conform us to the image of Christ. The Gospel must transform us over a lifetime of very ordinary and sometimes even plodding habits that we cannot always even articulate. And that’s why the disciples walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, observed His actions as well as His teachings.

In this process, it is often hard to distinguish between doctrinal instruction and practical living. They were just there with Jesus as He was explaining who He was and showing them by His deeds that He was the Messiah. Reading the Gospels, we look over their shoulders and say, “Ah, that’s what the kingdom is!”

Yesterday I heard an interview with NPR and she was asked at a “Read-to-Grow” rally why she loves reading books even over the summer break. With enthusiasm the girl talked about the many other worlds she had visited in her books. “What would you tell someone who says it’s boring and they just can’t get into reading?” the interviewer asked. The little girl said, “Well you just got it start. The more you read, the more you want to keep on doing it. Then it becomes a habit and it’s what you want to do whenever you can.”

What if parents and pastors took that approach more often? Our children as well as new converts to the faith need time to mature, and they need pastors not programs. They need to belong to a community of disciples – older believers – fellow saints from various walks of life and ethnic backgrounds who simultaneously show and tell what it means to trust in Christ and love and serve their neighbors. There’s no manual for this. Not even the Bible is really a manual of discipleship. Rather, it’s the unique story that inducts us into the life of Christ. It’s the story that gives rise to the doctrines, the rituals of baptism and the Supper, habits of praise and prayer, fellowship and witness that had authorized it as our canon. There is no quick and easy path, no shortcut to success. It takes a lot of work. Although we’re not working for our salvation, we are working it out as God works in us both to will and to do according to His good pleasure.

Marriage involves a lot of work and involves time and patience. No program for how to raise a family will actually raise our children and form us to be better parents. It takes time, patience, a lot work and wisdom from a lot of people. To do it well, we often have to change our priorities in daily routines. And we can’t do it alone; we need others. Even more do we need the constant, ordinary, sometimes all-too-familiar habits of family worship, the Lord’s Day, fellowship and personal bible reading and prayer especially when the burdens and distractions of our temporal callings threaten to become idols rather than gifts. Even personal private disciples will be of no spiritual benefit in shaping our Christian discipleship apart from the ordinary means of grace in the church and the distinct type of piety that arises out of it.

Perhaps instead of the Christian life, we should speak of the Christian lifetime. Even at the end of our days, we will not be a finished piece of divine craftsmanship but one day we will be as exquisitely refined as Jesus Christ, living out these days from the established fact of Christ-saving work in the past, and our liberation from the guilt and tyranny of sin in the present, we strain toward the price as Paul described it. Only with the Gospel in our hearts can we say with Paul’s confidence, “The sufferings of this present life are not worth being compared with the joy that will be revealed in us.”

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by John Calvin, from the Institutes of John Calvin and Calvin’s Commentary on Hebrews

“For in [Christ] ‘all treasures of knowledge and wisdom are hid’ (Colossians 2:3) with such great abundance and richness that either to hope for or to seek any new addition to these treasures is truly to arouse God’s wrath and provoke him against us. It is for us to hunger for, seek, look to, learn, and study Christ alone, until that great day dawns when the Lord will fully manifest the glory of his Kingdom (cf. 1Corinthians 15:24) and will show himself for us to see him as he is (1John 3:2). And for this reason this age of ours is designated in the Scriptures as ‘the last hour’ (1John 2:18), the ‘last days’ (Hebrews 1:2), the ‘last times’ (I Peter 1:20), that no one should delude himself with a vain expectation of some new doctrine or revelation. ‘For at many times and in many ways the Heavenly Father formerly spoke through the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken in his beloved Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2), who alone can reveal the Father (Luke 10:22); and he has indeed manifested the Father fully, as far as we require, while we now see him in a mirror (1Corrinthians 13:12)” (Institutes 4.18.20).

“This, however, remains certain: the perfect doctrine he has brought has made an end to all prophecies. All those, then, who, not content with the gospel, patch it with something extraneous to it, detract from Christ’s authority. The Voice that thundered from heaven, ‘This is my beloved Son; … hear him’ (Matthew 17:5; cf. Matthew 3:17), exalted him by a singular privilege beyond the rank of all others. Then this anointing was diffused from the Head to the members, as Joel had foretold: ‘Your sons shall prophesy and your daughters … shall see visions,’ etc. (Joel 2:28). But when Paul says that He was given to us as our wisdom (1Corinthians 1:30), and in another place, ‘In him are hid all the treasures of knowledge and understanding’ (Colossians 2:3), he has a slightly different meaning. That is, outside Christ there is nothing worth knowing, and all who by faith perceive what he is like have grasped the whole immensity of heavenly benefits. For this reason, Paul writes in another passage: ‘I decided to know nothing precious … except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1Corinthians 2:2). This is very true, because it is not lawful to go beyond the simplicity of the gospel And the prophetic dignity in Christ leads us to know that in the sum of doctrine as he has given it to us all parts of perfect wisdom are contained” (Institutes 2.15.2).

“And when he speaks of the last times, he intimates that there is no longer any reason to expect any new revelation; for it was not a word in part that Christ brought, but the final conclusion. It is in this sense that the Apostles take ‘ the last times’ and ‘ the last days.’ And Paul means the same when he says, ‘Upon whom the ends of the world are come’ (1Corinthians 10:11). If God then has spoken now for the last time, it is right to advance thus far; so also when you come to Christ, you ought not to go farther: and these two things it is very needful for us to know. For it was a great hindrance to the Jews that they did not consider that God had deferred a fuller revelation to another time; hence, being satisfied with their own Law, they did not hasten forward to the goal. But since Christ has appeared, an opposite evil began to prevail in the world; for men wished to advance beyond Christ. What else indeed is the whole system of Popery but the overleaping of the boundary which the Apostle has fixed? As, then, the Spirit of God in this passage invites all to come as far as Christ, so he forbids them to go beyond the last time which he mentions. In short, the limit of our wisdom is made here to be the Gospel” (Commentary on Hebrews 1:1).

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Book Review: Deserted by God? by Sinclair Ferguson

Reviewed by Nathan Pitchford

Deserted by God - Sinclair FergusonWhere do you go when you’re feeling depressed, disconsolate, overwhelmed by sin, discouragement, loneliness, painful afflictions, dark valleys of despair? For the believer, there is no source of comfort that can compare to the psalter, that blessed “anatomy of the soul,” an apt description of the Book of Psalms first given by Calvin and referred to by Sinclair B. Ferguson in his book of remedies for the trials of this life, Deserted by God?. Happily, Ferguson is well aware of the rich cures of the psalter for every kind of painful affliction of the soul, and he spends the entire book walking through the darkest psalms of lament, distilling the precious cordial of hope from the bitterest agonies of the very human psalmists. For that reason, it is not just another book about depression – it is a book that cannot fail to help all who take its instructions to heart, no matter how deep their trials may be.

Ferguson is a spiritual physician that knows to prescribe only the medicines that really do cure. He speaks compassionately, with empathy – but what really matters is that he speaks the truth, truth that is living and active and able to help all who listen. If you struggle with depression, no matter the precise cause or form it may take, then read this book. It will help you, by God’s grace, even when nothing else can.

I appreciate the fact that Ferguson is not naively optimistic or nauseatingly super-spiritual in how he addresses those who are overcome by despair, and yet he still does not buy into the nonsense that it’s somehow ok to be angry with God and vent your sinful frustration in foolish words of accusation. Speaking of the idea that a good Christian will never doubt or be in despair, he states, “Nor is this biblical spirituality; it is a false ‘super-spirituality’ that ignores or denies the reality of our humanity. We live in frail flesh and blood and in a fallen world which, John says, ‘is under the control of the evil one’ (1 John 5:19). There is much to discourage. Jesus felt that. To be free from the possibility of discouragements would be more ‘spiritual’ than Jesus – and therefore not truly spiritual at all.” So yes, Ferguson would say, pour out your complaint to God and seek his mercy, as the psalmists did – but there is a humble, reverent, and appropriate way to roll even your deepest trials on the merciful and loving God who is ready to take them upon himself for your greatest good.

What makes the book applicable for any discouraged person, no matter what he might be struggling with specifically, is that it simply walks through a few well-selected psalms, giving a straightforward and accurate exposition and application. And no matter what a person is dealing with, even when it feels like no one else has ever experienced the same thing, the psalmists dealt with something similar, and found hope and relief at the end of their journey. Ferguson’s keen psychological acumen makes him able to probe what was really happening in the psalmists’ perplexed souls, and give fitting application to modern humans who have the same trials.

Whether you struggle with guilt over sins in your past, feelings of abandonment and betrayal, physical illness or affliction, bereavement, unfulfilled dreams, or any other similar problem, you will probably find a chapter that speaks directly to you. Personally, I was greatly helped by the chapter, “Can I Be Pure?”. My discouragement comes most poignantly from shame and frustration over falling into the same old sinful attitudes and actions that I thought I had left behind – and there are psalms that deal with that! Whatever causes your despair, there are psalms that you’ll find apply most aptly to you to.

The most outstanding portions of the book look ahead to Christ our great Champion and Savior, who took our weaknesses and infirmities, and who very often speaks through the psalmists who were types and foreshadows of him – my only regret about the book was that, although there was much of this, in my opinion there wasn’t always as much as there could have been. But when Ferguson does look ahead to the unspeakably wonderful Messiah, heaven comes down and fills the soul. I conclude with a quote from one of those times:

In asking for “mercy,” David, you are asking that God will show it to you, but withdraw it from Jesus.

In asking to experience God’s “unfailing love,” you are asking that Jesus will feel it has been removed.

In asking to taste God’s “great compassion,” you are asking him to refuse it to Jesus as he dies on the cross.

In asking God to “blot out” your transgressions, you are asking that they will be obliterated by the blood of Jesus.

In asking to be washed, you are asking that the filth of your sin will overwhelm Jesus like a flood.

In asking to know the joy of salvation, you are asking that Jesus will be a Man of Sorrows, familiar with grief.

In asking to be saved from bloodguilt, you are asking that in your place Jesus will be treated as though he were guilty.

In asking that your lips will be opened in praise, you are asking that Jesus will be silenced, as a sheep before her shearers is dumb.

In asking that the sacrifice of a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart be acceptable, you are asking that Jesus’ heart and spirit will be broken.

In asking that God will hide his face from your sins, you are asking that he will hide his face from Jesus.

In asking that you will not be cast out of God’s presence, you are asking that Jesus will be cast out into outer darkness instead.

Oh, the depths to which Jesus went to bear our burdens and carry our sorrows! When we see such a Savior as that, what trial could we ever suppose will finally overcome us who are recipients of so vast a love?

 

Publisher: Banner of Truth
Author: Ferguson, Sinclair B.
ISBN-10: 0851516912 | ISBN-13: 9780851516912
Available at  Westminster Bookstore

 

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