23 December, 2008

Bible Study in St. Louis - Law and Gospel

Below is the substance of an invitation sent out to families attending the St. Louis Preaching Station of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). If you are interested in attending this study, please contact me for directions, etc. All are cordially invited to attend.

Dear friends,

Through our Wednesday evening study of Scottish Theology, an interesting and vital question has arisen: how should the Christian relate to the law? This is a most necessary question for us to take up, and because of the gravity of such a question, the errors that have been committed in times past, and the great confusion concerning it in the present age, we are taking a break from our usual course. For the next seven weeks, Lord willing, we will consider questions relating to biblical law and grace, with a special focus upon how such relates to the believer today.

From the outset I feel constrained to make clear that my understanding of this question has already been answered by Scripture; and that this answer is accurately stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. Such an answer I believe is not out of blind submission to these documents; indeed, I can testify of the personal struggle I experienced several years ago now as I wrestled through this and related questions in a diligent study of Scripture. With this clarification, I also wish to make it known that the course of study will be heavily Scriptural. In this study I am not interested in giving a course of lectures through the Confession or Catechisms. This has been wonderfully and helpfully done by several men of note in the past. Of course, reference may be made to these writings as reference may be made to other writings, but our great emphasis will be that of looking directly to the word of God. We hope to be of the noble character ascribed to the Bereans of old.

I heartily invite any and all to attend. Whether you are well established in the Scriptural teaching on law and grace, are continuing to study, or have not given much attention to it at all, please accept my warm invitation to you. The method will be one of orderly studying of Scripture. We will try our best to take matters in a Scriptural, and therefore logical manner. Each lesson will build upon what was considered previously, but will be able to stand alone as a self-contained study. Nonetheless, it would be best to attend all, if possible. Obviously the heart of the issue will be dealt with later on in our weekly meetings. However this is necessary for the ground work that must be laid beforehand. Such a course we feel will prevent the common disappointment of misunderstanding and also encourage a more biblically informed conviction, having spent more time in God's word together. Please consider coming if you find you have the time, also feel free to invite your friends. We will try and spend 30-40 minutes at the most in study each week, reserving time for questions and prayer. Lord willing, we will resume our study of Scottish Theology once we conclude this present course.

The tentative course of studies will be as follows:
1) Tuesday, December 23 - Introductory Matters;
2) Wednesday, December 31 - Origin of Biblical Law;
3) Wednesday, January 7 - The Biblical Distinctions and Use of the Word Law;
4) Wednesday, January 14 - Christ's Work and the Law;
5) Wednesday, January 21 - Sin and the Law;
6) Wednesday, January 28 - The Christian and the Law;
7) Wednesday, February 4 - The Christian and the Sabbath - A Special Consideration.

As we are not fixed upon this setup by any outside constraint, we will reserve the liberty to amend it as necessary. Nonetheless, the overall direction will remain the same. We neither wish to shorten or lengthen the study unnecessarily. If there are any changes, I will be sure to keep you notified.

Each of these meetings will take place at 7 p.m. Please note that this week's meeting is Tuesday, as there were several families who had made prior commitments to their extended families for Wednesday evening. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. May we all look to the Lord for direction, grace and peace.

Kind regards,


10 November, 2008

Fellowship with God in Affliction - Andrew Bonar and Samuel Rutherford

"I see plainly that fellowship with God is not means to an end, but is to be the end itself. I am not to use it as a preparation for study or for Sabbath labour; but as my chiefest end, the likest thing to heaven." Andrew Bonar - Friday, 21st of July, 1843.

Not all have the same manner of temptation mentioned above by Andrew Bonar in his Diary. He of course is specifically discussing the difficulty faced by ministers when tempted to meet with God solely to prepare sermons, etc. Nonetheless, I am quite sure that we all struggle with perceiving the glories, blessedness and beauty of fellowship with God in Jesus Christ.

Why get up early, block off time in the day or stay up late at night in order to meet with God? Undoubtedly there are many true answers to this: we see it exemplified in Scripture, it is how we grow in our enjoyment of the blessings of Christ, etc. However, when engaged in such times of devotional fellowship with God, does such a thought as that mentioned by Rev. Bonar cross our minds? Do we realize that this is the end or goal?

It is often the case that those afflicted by God's sovereign hand, find more delights and satisfaction in Christ than previous to such times. Rev. Bonar himself had recently lost his intimate friend and co-labourer, Rev. Robert Murray M'Cheyne. Moreover he and many other ministers had recently experienced the Disruption from the Church of Scotland. Perhaps it is that we, having had much by the way of ease and abundance, will soon learn the glories of fellowship with God. There is a need among God's people throughout the world and especially in our homeland to learn the glories, the beauties and the ultimate joy of fellowship with Christ. Did Christ truly satisfy all those who claim him as Savior, I am sure that much of what passes today as worship and church activities would utterly vanish. For, if Christ truly satisfied, there would be no desire for these childish games that often pass for piety and religion.

I am convinced that the more and more we lose our satisfaction with Christ, the more we will continue to see a rise of ceremonies amongst so-called Reformed Churches . Why should it be any different? The very ceremonies we see returning to these denominations and congregations have a foundation in the Old Covenant, which, in their original context, witnessed of a Christ to come. The more we lose our satisfaction and delight in our Lord, the more we will rest upon ceremonies, liturgies and a whole host of replacements.

What is the answer to such issues before us today? It is simply, but painfully, to find an earnest delight in our present and reigning Lord. The more that true, simple and experiential fellowship is shared with Jesus, the less attractive all of these replacements will become.

Samuel Rutherford, writing from Aberdeen as an exile from his ministerial charge, learned the glories of fellowship with Christ. "Oh, if my soul might but lie within the smell of his love, suppose I could get no more but the smell of it! Oh, but it is long to that day when I shall have a free world of Christ's love! O what a sight to be up in heaven, in that fair orchard of the new paradise, and to see and smell and touch and kiss that fair field-flower, that ever-green Tree of Life! His bare shadow were enough for me. A sight of him would be the earnest of heaven to me...Christ, Christ, nothing but Christ can cool our love's burning langour. O thirsty love! wilt thou set Christ, the well of life, to thy head, and drink thy fill? Drink and spare not; drink love and be drunken with Christ! Nay, alas! the distance betwixt us and Christ is a death. O, if we were clasped in [each] other's arms! We should never twin [separate] again, except heaven twinned and sundered us; and that cannot be."

May the Lord grant us such desires for Jesus Christ.

01 September, 2008

Spiritual Advance and Hope

In the Psalms of David in Metre, the 28th Psalm concludes with a stirring petition:

O thine own people do thou save,
bless thine inheritance;
Them also do thou feed, and them
for evermore advance.

How often is such a petition upon our lips? How frequently and passionately do we plead with God to bless in this manner? That we are often in describing the evils of our present generation is beyond dispute. But how often do we seek the Lord's blessing?

This is in essence the same petition our Lord taught us to pray, "Thy kingdom come." Doubtlessly this is uttered many times throughout the day, but I wonder with what confidence or manner.

The Westminster Divines gave a brief exposition to the petition taught by our Lord.

"In the second petition, (which is, Thy kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him for ever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends."

When we look at the things mentioned above, I doubt not but that we are tempted to lose hope. Take time and think of just several of these: "the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in; the church...purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate...that Christ would rule in our hearts here..."

We live in times of great declension. Because of this there are those who anticipate little spiritual good in the future. There is almost an expectation that things will only get progressively worse for the church. Whereas such may be the case for the indefinite future, it is nonetheless troubling and disheartening to look upon faces of Christians who have lost hope. They have all but thrown away hope for any spiritual renewal or revival. "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold."

Perhaps this loss of confidence is because there has been a loss of perspective. It would be entirely right for all to lose hope were the future contingent upon the church alone. Is there any hope for the healing of divisions, correction of error and heresy or restoration of vital piety by the work of men, however good? I for one have no such hope.

But revisit the words of the Psalm mentioned above.

O thine own people do thou save,
bless thine inheritance;
Them also do thou feed, and them
for evermore advance.

It should be clear to all that David's hope was not in himself, rulers and elders of Israel or any group of men - however numerous, wise or gifted. Rather he looked directly to Jehovah. The Psalm begins, "Unto thee will I cry, O LORD my rock". Here, then, is ground for a different story! When we look to Jehovah, God covenanted to us by promise and sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ, do we not have sufficient ground for an exuberant hope in spite of all opposition?

If there are those among us today, and I trust that there are, who desire to see Christ's kingdom come with power, here is where we must place our hope. Let us then begin to look to our God, to cry out to our rock with confidence that he hears us. Let us take in all of the evils facing us today; those evils outside the church and those evils within the church. Let us paint them in the darkest colors, most dreadful tones and hues and withhold no fitting description. Let us name all of the sins plaguing the church today: division, immorality, worldliness, lust, deception, compromise, and onward.

But, when we have done so and made an end of confessing the horrors opposing the onward march of Christ's spiritual kingdom, let us then look to the LORD our rock and cry out "Save thy people, and bless thine inheritance: feed them also, and lift them up for ever." Remember with whom we plead. Is anything too mighty for him? Is anything too difficult for him? Surely not! Do we not have this confidence, "Ask, and it shall be given you"?

Let us then ask, and continue asking until we find that the LORD of hosts visits his people with grace, truth and revival.

21 August, 2008

Annual Free Church of Scotland Family Conference

The beginning of August marked the annual family conference hosted by the Presbytery of the United States of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). Beyond the spectacular setting in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the wonderfully stockpiled book table of the finest of Reformed literature, the conference remains a time of spiritual renewal and encouragement.

Those in attendance represent different backgrounds, denominations and even countries. Each year we are thankful to have a minister from Scotland to share in the Gospel labour. However, not only were we blessed to have a minister from Scotland, this year we also had two families who drove from Mexico City to be in attendance! What makes this all the more exciting is that the fellowship is centered on Jesus Christ. How exciting it is to have a foretaste of heaven, where there will be those from all different backgrounds worshipping the Lamb of God! Oh how we long for that day!

The unifying theme of the conference was that of experimental religion. The phrase is certainly strange to modern ears. We no longer speak of such a thing; moreover, experimental is typically used only with reference to Science or prototypes. However, such a phrase used to be something of a watchword to former generations steeped in the piety of the Reformation. Two excellent addresses were given by Rev. Sherman Isbell, both defining what is meant, and explaining why experimental religion has been all but lost by those indebted to the Reformation. Those who find themselves wondering at the marked differences between Puritan emphases and modern Reformed emphases would benefit greatly from these addresses. You may find these addresses, and all others from the conference at a link posted below. There is also a helpful article written by Rev. Joel Beeke on experimental preaching available in PDF: http://www.frcna.org/Data/StudentSocietySpeeches/The%20Lasting%20Power%20of%20Reformed%20Experiential%20Preaching%20-%20Dr%20Joel%20R.%20Beeke.pdf.

Rev. David Murray, formerly of Stornoway and now professor at Puritan Reformed Seminary, gave four addresses on the doctrine and attainment of assurance. These were especially helpful as words of guidance and encouragement. These are fine examples of well-crafted, orderly, orthodox and heart-affecting addresses. In a day where many presume that a simple profession of faith is a warrant for assurance, these addresses are very needful. Moreover, the weak believer struggling with assurance will do well to listen and give much meditation to these words.

Rev. McCurley of Greenville's congregation gave two addresses on communing with Christ at the Lord's table. Much of the Reformed world is split into two extremes today over this issue. Many see communion as a bare remembrance of Christ's work on the cross. While no one would undermine the great benefits that come from meditating upon our Savior's work, Paul's letter to the Corinthians demands that we recognize a true communion with the living Jesus at the Lord's table. Thus there are many who have reacted to a mere remembrance and embraced a form of high Sacrementalism closely akin to that of Lutheranism or even Roman Catholicism. Rev. McCurley's addresses needfully and pastorally steer us into the Scripture's teaching of a true, but Spiritual and faithful communing with Christ. Very helpful and refreshing to the soul of the believer!

Lastly there were four sermons preached by Rev. William Macleod, principal of the Free Church Seminary, editor of the Free Church Witness and minister of a congregation in Glasgow. These were heart-stirring, convicting and edifying sermons. As a believer by God's grace, I must testify that these addresses did much to awaken me from a slumbering walk. I left stirred up to turn from my sin and pursue the will of Christ Jesus with more vigor and dependence upon the grace of God. Such addresses are needed for believer and unbeliever alike.

The Lord willing, the Presbytery of the United States hopes to host the family conference during the week of August 10-14, again in the Shenandoah Valley. For more information you may visit the conference website at http://members.aol.com/rsiworship/2009.html.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or Rev. Isbell whose information you may find at the link above.

Free Church Conference 2008 Addresses:

01 July, 2008

Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) Services in St. Louis

July 6th will mark the commencement of worship services in south-central St. Louis County, the Lord willing. The United States Presbytery of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) has established a preaching station in the area, with hopes of spreading the Gospel of our Lord and the biblical principles of the Scottish Reformation. For more information regarding the Free Church, please visit the links listed to the right.

Services will be held at the auxillary chapel of Southminster Presbyterian Church, at 10126 East Watson Road, St. Louis, Missouri 63126. Worship will begin at 6:15 p.m. Prior to worship will be a catechism class at 4:00 p.m. followed by a shared meal at 5:00 p.m.

All are cordially invited.

For more information, please contact me at 314-520-1629 or jmattull1643@gmail.com.


Jonathan Mattull

28 June, 2008

Worship - A Pastoral Resource Letter

Rev. Robert McCurley of the Greenville congregation recently composed a letter to his congregation in which he provides an overview of several important and helpful resources regarding the topic of worship. For those interested in learning more about purity of worship, psalmody, etc. this letter provides an excellent launching point for such study. The benefit lies not only in its sound direction to tried and true resources, but in that it also makes it easy to locate the resources electronically. Please find it posted below. Also, you will find a link to Rev. McCurley's sermons in the column to the right of this page.

Dear Congregation,

A few people have recently asked for material that they could use for themselves or that they could give to their friends and family that would explain the biblical basis for the singing of Psalms in worship without musical instruments. While at risk of inundating you with information, I thought that I would compile a number of resources in one easily accessible place. This will enable various people to pick and choose from the online resources that best suit their needs. This extensive list is an attempt to help you and not overwhelm you.

The best brief introduction to Psalm-singing is a booklet by G. I. Williamson, a retired OPC minister, entitled, "The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God". If someone is only going to read one thing, then I would recommend this piece by Williamson. It can be found online beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-singing-of-psalms-in-the-worship-of-god.php. In addition, there is the 1947 minority report of the OPC, written by Professor John Murray and William Young, which has come to be viewed as something of a classic 20th century statement. This is also a small piece. It is found online beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/song-in-the-public-worship-of-god.php. One of our FCC ministers, John Keddie, has also written a small book entitled, Sing the Lord's Song. It is found online beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/sing-the-lords-song-biblical-psalms-in-worship.php. The most comprehensive, contemporary book on singing Psalms exclusively in worship is, The Songs of Zion, by Michael Bushell. This is a more substantial book and can be borrowed from the GPC church library. You may also be interested in a series of articles by Pastor Sherman Isbell on exclusive psalmody in which he powerfully refutes the objections to exclusive psalmody that have been appeared in the last couple of decades. This series of articles begins at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-singing-of-psalms.php. Pastor Isbell has also written a helpful introduction to the split-leaf Scottish Psalter that we use in our congregation, which was produced in conjunction with the Westminster Assembly. The article can be found at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/how-to-use-a-split-leaf-psalter-a-book-review.php. I would also commend a nice overview about Christ in the Psalms by E. S. McKitrick, which is found online at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/christ-in-the-psalms.php. All of these above links are to Pastor Isbell's website, The Westminster Presbyterian. The homepage for his site is: [the website's contents have now been transferred to the Presbytery's site: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/ -JM, 15 June 2009]. Pastor Isbell is one of my closest friends and our FCC pastor in Washington D.C. His website has a gold mine of articles on a wide variety of topics from the classical Reformed and Puritan perspective.

A brief introduction to the question of musical instruments in worship is, "Instrumental Music in Worship: Commanded or Not Commanded?" by G.I. Williamson. This can be found online beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/instrumental-music-in-worship-commanded-or-not-commanded.php. If you want something to listen to on this topic, I preached a sermon on the biblical basis for not having instruments in New Testament worship entitled, Musical Instruments in Worship, which can be found online at: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=1140719162. We have a few books in the church library that address this topic. The best full-length book is by John L. Girardeau entitled, Instrumental Music in Worship, which is available in the GPC library. Girardeau was a 19th century South Carolinian Presbyterian pastor and theologian.

Underlying both the question of instruments and Psalm-singing is a more fundamental Reformed doctrine called the regulative principle of worship, which is spelled out in the Westminster Standards and other Reformed confessional statements. Much of the above material on Psalm-singing and musical instruments in worship will contain information on the regulative principle of worship. For additional introductory material on the regulative principle of worship itself, you can read the following: "Regulated Worship" by Pastor Isbell at: http://members.aol.com/RSISBELL/worship.html; "The Heavenly Sanctuary" by Pastor Isbell at: http://members.aol.com/RSISBELL/temple.html; "The Scriptural Regulative Principle of Worship" by G.I. Williamson beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-scriptural-regulative-principle-of-worship.php; "The Second Commandment" by William Young beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-second-commandment.php; "The Puritan Principle of Worship" by William Young beginning at: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/the-puritan-principle-of-worship.php.

I have previously circulated to the congregation electronic audio filies of most of the tunes in our Psalter, which is a helpful aid in learning new tunes at home. This can be made available to others upon request. There are also several CD recordings of singing from the Scottish Psalter -- from various folks in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Australia and the US. You can order some of these from www.psalms4u.com. My personal favorite is entitled, Performed in Heaven, seen at:http://www.christianfocus.com/search/do/-/-/n_t?term=performed+in+heaven&type=all This and several others have to be ordered from Britain ( e.g., the FP Bookshop: http://www.fpbookroom.org/.

I hope that this e-mail adequately supplies the kind of material that some of your were requesting. If you still want more after you have read all of the material in this e-mail, please let me know. There is much more material once we turn to the historic Reformed writings.

If there is anything else that I can do to be of help in this regard, please do not hesitate to ask. May the Lord pour out the abundant riches of grace upon you and your families.

Warm Regards,

Pastor Rob McCurley

25 June, 2008

Orthodox - To What End?

William Ames, the renowned and influential Puritan theologian of the 16th and 17th centuries, opened his Marrow of Theology with the words, “Theology is the doctrine or teaching of living to God.” To our contemporary ears, this definition sounds out of place to a degree. Isn’t theology the study of God? The systematization of divine truth? I do not think Ames would disagree with such sentiments rightly understood. The whole of the Marrow testifies to his appreciation of gathering the truths of Scripture into a coherent system, thus providing an overview of the whole teaching of Scripture on a given doctrine.

However, it is clear in his definition above, as well as in his handling of the various doctrines, that Ames is not content to leave theology as a mere knowledge about certain truths. Rather his aim is to procure a right understanding of divine truth in order to a right response and enjoyment of our Triune God. In other words, he lays out the comprehensive teaching of a given doctrine for the sake of gaining understanding that will affect the way we live our lives.

For instance, after spending a fair amount of space laying down the teaching of Scripture with relation to God’s attributes and subsistence he notes, “Hence God as the object of our faith is in every way sufficient to impart salvation to us. For all love, grace, and those things which pertain to living well come from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Thus we find that though Ames labors the right knowledge of truth, it is in order for our right practice and response.

It is a fearful thing to survey many debates that go on today. There is undoubtedly a place for precise and laborious debate in the midst of the church. If indeed the truth is necessary in order for right living and glorifying of God, then it is mandatory that we labor to understand the truth. However, there are many times when it seems that debates, whether formal or informal, are merely for the sake of winning and standing victorious over a conquered foe.

Whereas we must not neglect our responsibilities to stand for any portion of God’s word, however great or small, we nonetheless must be sure it is done for the right reason and in the right manner. As J. I. Packer notes in his Knowing God, “To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception.” Packer further notes that the Psalmist in Psalm 119, “was interested in truth and orthodoxy, in biblical teaching and theology, not as ends in themselves, but as means to the further ends of life and godliness. His ultimate concern was with the knowledge and service of the great God whose truth he sought to understand.”

Is this the description of the church today? Is our concern for orthodox teaching a means to fellowship with God, godliness and bringing glory to our divine Savior? If so, does it show not only in our zeal for the truth, but in our great concern for those who might differ from the truth? It is interesting that the apostle Paul exhorted us to have our “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” Is it so with us? Though we wage war against principalities and everything which raises itself against the truth, is it done ultimately to bring glory to God and enjoyment of him – both in our lives and the lives of others?

Every believer ought to make great efforts to understand Scripture. This takes place by regular Bible readings, systematic study, regular attendance upon the means of grace, fellowship, and the reading of helpful uninspired books. All of these things ought to be done by every believer, in so far as he or she can. But let us approach it with a clear purpose in mind. It is not merely that we might grow in knowledge about certain things. Rather, it is in order to grow in our knowledge so that we can better enjoy and glorify God.

Thus, during at after our times of study, reading, attendance upon the preaching of God's word, etc., let us not only think upon the intellectual growth that we hopefully gained. Let us add to this the analysis of our own lives in light of these truths. Was there instruction upon the attributes of God? Then ask whether we have been remembering this in our praise, if we have been acknowledging such attributes in our day to day lives. Was there instruction in the way of salvation? Take time and see if this is the way you have embraced. Ask yourself if you have evidence in your life that you are indeed on this way. Never let a new truth pass without taking hold of it in such a way that it affects your "living to God." Is this difficult? Certainly. However, the benefits are worth the effort.

Perhaps the best uninspired summary of this was framed by an assembly of men who met at Westminster Abbey in the 1600’s, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever."

29 April, 2008

Scripture: Source

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
2 Timothy 3:15-17.

The causes for the Reformation have been viewed from many perspectives. Specifically or materially the cause of the Reformation was the nature of salvation: is man saved by a cooperation of works and faith, or by faith alone in Christ alone? Foundationally or formally the issue was one of authority: to whom do we appeal; Scripture and ecclesiastical tradition, or Scripture alone?

There are more reasons for the Reformation, but essentially it lies in this: upon what or whom do we ground our belief and action? At the time of the Reformation this question was applied to the all-important question of our standing before God: how can an unrighteous sinner be accepted by a holy God? The resounding answer rediscovered at the Reformation was, “by grace through faith.” It wasn’t a new answer to the question. It wasn’t as if Luther, Calvin and the other Reformers thought up a better question than that of Roman Catholicism. It was the same that Augustine had given before Luther, and Paul before Augustine. Moreover, before Paul, Moses had left the same record in describing Abraham’s belief: “And he believed in the LORD and he counted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6).

The important thing to notice is that the answer was derived from Scripture. Luther, Calvin, Knox, and the Puritans after them had a great appreciation and reverence for the early church Fathers before them. Simply reading through their writings makes this beyond dispute. However, they were willing to take Scripture alone as the final word and ultimate authority by which all writings and actions were to be judged; a decision they were willing to make even in the light of much suffering, difficulty and bloodshed.

Why is this? Were not men such as Augustine, Athanasius, Tertullian and others holy, exemplary and commendable? Surely they were! May the Lord be pleased to raise up many more such men for the church today. So why then did the Reformers and their descendants subject the writings of these men, as well as popes and councils to the Scriptures?

The answer lies in the passage quoted at the beginning. Only the Scriptures were given by inspiration of God. This is that which separates the teaching of mere men, even good and holy men, from the teaching of inspired men in Scripture.

In our day we are ready to misunderstand the meaning of the text before us. Inspiration today usually means something synonymous to motivation. “Inspirational music” is that which motivates us to cherish life, beauty and goodness. An “inspirational speaker” motivates us to live in accordance to his message. It is true that Scripture is in this sense “inspirational.”

However, notice that the verse claims not that “All Scripture is inspirational.” Instead it claims that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” That is, the cause or source of Scripture is inspiration of God.

The way in which our translators understood “inspiration” is somewhat foreign to us today. They were intending a meaning related to breathing. Whereas it is somewhat foreign, it is not altogether so. For instance, one who has trouble breathing makes use of a respirator. Literally “inspiration” could be translated “to breathe into.” Thus the meaning of the verse has to do with God breathing.

This is why Peter wrote, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Spirit.” The prophets and apostles were not simply wanting to write something that would motivate God’s people unto holiness. They were writing as the Spirit of God moved them along. God was speaking through them.

This is why Scripture is called “the word of God.” Paul makes mention of this in 1 Thessalonians, “when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God…” This is something of a mystery, because the words were “heard of us”. That is, the Thessalonians heard Paul and others speak. However, what they heard was not simply Paul’s message. Ultimately and really this was God’s message, “the word of God.”

Thus, “given by inspiration of God” means that the Scriptures were spoken by God. The Bible is God’s message to his people and his world. This is a glorious truth for all men! When reading the works of the ancients such as Plato’s Symposium, Seneca’s moral essays and other works of renown, one is struck with much that is wise and noble. However, as you read through these works you become chillingly aware of a great mixture of truth and error. Such men offer some of the best that uninspired men can produce. But this is at one and the same time wondrous and dangerous. It stands as a ruined statue. There is a glory to it, but it is imperfect. Why would we imagine anything less when we realize the source of such writing? The source of such writing is fallen man.

This is not the case with Scripture. As we read through its pages we read through the very mind of a perfect and holy God. This is so because the source of Scripture is God himself. This is the God who has perfectly communicated his mind to man. The same God whose message is without spot or stain, because he is holy and cannot mislead or sin. This is why the Reformers were willing to subject the decrees and councils of church history to Scripture alone. This is what led Luther to say at the Diet of Worms with his life on the line, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” (Bainton, Here I Stand).

This has profound implications for all of life. It not only marks out the way to answer the question put forth to the Reformers during Luther and Calvin’s time relating to justification. It also marks out the way to answer all questions dealing with God’s “glory, man’s salvation, faith and life” as the Westminster Confession notes. How should I live? How should we worship? How should the church function? All of these must ultimately be answered by God. How do we know God's answers to such questions? Through Scripture. It is not that the writing of uninspired men is unhelpful. On the contrary, as the Lord has granted teachers to the church to provide aid in understanding Scripture, such teaching is immensely helpful. But it is just that, insofar as they aid in understanding God’s message they are helpful.

Ultimately we do not want to rest such decisions on good men who are prone to err. We must not look merely at how questions have been answered in our generation. Nor can we answer such questions based on an internal feeling or appreciation. These most important questions must be answered by God. How should I live? This is a question God must answer. How should we worship? This question must have a follow-up question: Whom are we worshipping? Jehovah, the triune God of all. When we realize the object of worship, we then realize the answer to the first question. Only God can inform us how we should worship him. And so on with all the other questions of faith and practice. With every question facing us today relating to true religion, let us go to the one treasury of untainted, perfect and sufficient answers – the holy word of God. May the Lord add his needed blessing as we do so.

24 April, 2008

Free Offer of the Gospel

In today's concern for relevant churches people seek out pulpits teaching on practical concerns, ethical demands, cultural issues or family friendly messages. However, what is more relevant than a church that proclaims the free offer of the gospel?

This is not to say that there is no need for such things mentioned above. Scripture certainly handles practical concerns, makes ethical demands and portrays congregations that welcome the entire family. Moreover, as a Presbyterian, the 40 plus questions in the Shorter Catechism opening the meaning of the Ten Commandments ensure that we not neglect such practical concerns. However, there seems to be a growing tendency among Reformed churches to focus exclusively on these issues. Many times in the excitement of being "culturally aware" we neglect that the church first and foremost is to proclaim the gospel to all creatures.

The most unfortunate issue, in my experience, is that it seems many pulpits have forgotten what the proclamation of the gospel sounds like, or even is. It simply is not proclaimed. Many will mention the need to come to the Lord by faith, exhort hearers unto repentance, but fall short of actually offering the good news of Christ Jesus to sinners. It is as if we hesitate at the threshold.

For instance, take the words of Professor John Murray: "It is to lost sinners that Christ is offered, and the demand of that overture is simply and solely that we commit ourselves to him in order that we may be saved. In the gospel overture Christ is brought into the lap of lost sinners and placed there in all the glory of his person and the perfection of his ministry. Here is the grandeur of the ambassador's vocation. There should be no reserve or restraint. Christ cannot be brought too near to men in the free overtures of his grace." ("Faith", in Collected Writings of John Murray, 2:259)

Why are so many Reformed pulpits relatively silent on the matter? It is almost as if we blush to hear these words - "Christ is brought into the lap of lost sinners...there should be no reserve or restraint. Christ cannot be brought too near to men in the free overtures of his grace." But, oh! the beauty of such a thing! As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5, "Now then are we ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." The apostle held out this offer with great affection. There was no hesitance, no worry, no shame in it. This is the glory of the gospel. It comes freely to all who hear. It sets our Savior "into the lap of lost sinners" and says "here is salvation!"

Furthermore, recovering the truth of the free offer affects the hearts of all Christians. John Howe in his "Redeemer's Tears Wept Over Lost Souls" wrote: "And now, shall our Redeemer be left to weep alone over these perishing souls? Have we no tears to spend upon this doleful subject? O that our heads were waters, and our eyes fountains! Is it nothing to us, that multitudes are sinking, going down into perdition, under the name of Christian, under the seal of baptism, from under the means of life and salvation! perishing! and can we can do nothing to prevent it?"

Certainly it is true that "by the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death." (WCF III:3). This decree cannot be undone by anything man does or leaves undone. However, what we sometimes forget to our own and others' hurt is that "As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto." (WCF III:6).

This is why the authors of the Sum and Saving Knowledge wrote, "In the word of God preached by sent messengers, the Lord makes offer of grace to all sinners..." And, "By these outward ordinances, as our Lord makes the reprobate inexcusable, so, by the power of his Spirit, he applies unto the elect, effectually, all saving graces purchased to them in the covenant of redemption, and maketh a change in their persons."

Thus, it is only insofar as the proclamation of the gospel is sent forth that the elect are called in. It is not that we forsake God's sovereignty in such a publication of the gospel. Rather we set before sinners the only means of salvation. Moreover, it is only because God is sovereign that we take any hope at all that the gospel will go forth victoriously. The reprobate are left inexcusable - we should shudder at the thought - but, and this is glorious!, "the elect are drawn unto Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit!

It is as Paul wrote in Romans chapter 10: "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe on him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" This is the rationale behind such an offer. The elect must hear of the good news. Without hearing there is no believing. Without believing, there is no salvation.
May our God strengthen the understanding and resolve of his servants, so that once again a full and free gospel would be proclaimed throughout all the world!

08 April, 2008

Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) Efforts in St. Louis

On Thursday, April 3rd the North American Presbytery of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) held worship and informational services in the St. Louis area. Rev. Sherman Isbell of the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Congregation led the services. This is in conjunction with an effort by the Presbytery to plant Churches throughout the nation.

Many thanks unto the Lord for his kind and generous provision in granting the opportunity to meet and worship together. It was personally encouraging to hear the preaching of God’s word, sing the Lord’s praise and enjoy fellowship with fellow Christians. Our prayer is that this would be blessed by God as the beginning of an established work in the area. Currently we have an evening Bible study which meets on the evenings of the Lord’s day, and are looking to establish weekly worship services in the area.

Mr. Jim Merkel, a reporter of the South County Suburban Journal, wrote on the event in an article you can find online here: http://southcountyjournal.stltoday.com/articles/2008/04/07/news/sj2tn20080407-0409ssj-scot0.ii1.txt.I personally offer my gratitude to Mr. Merkel and the Journal for reporting on the event. I thought it might prove helpful and beneficial to offer some further comments regarding the Free Church and some of the principles mentioned in the article. For a quick statement on identifying features of the Free Church, please consult the following link: http://www.masterstrumpet.org/features.pdf. Also the denominational website, http://www.freekirkcontinuing.co.uk/FCC/Welcome.html and the Washington congregational site, http://members.aol.com/RSISBELL/church.html will provide a helpful introduction to the Church.

Some of the principles mentioned in the article by Mr. Merkel include purity of worship, Sabbath observance and the civil establishment of true religion. At the foundation of all the principles held dear by the Free Church is the belief that the true God has revealed himself in Scripture. Thus, we view the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments to be the ultimate authority of all life, including issues of faith and practice. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” This idea is enshrined in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The second question asks, “What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?” To this the answer supplied reads, “The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.”

Consequentially, we believe that Scripture is a sufficient guide and rule for all matters of doctrine and practice. As once prominent American theologian John L. Girardeau wrote, “A divine warrant is necessary for every element of doctrine, government and worship in the Church; that is, whatsoever in these spheres is not commanded in the Scriptures, either expressly or by good and necessary consequence from their statements, is forbidden.” One of our subordinate standards, the Westminster Confession states the same principle in chapter 20, section 1: “the instituted way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to…any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”

This belief manifests in the non-accompanied psalm singing in every worship service. Whereas many of us involved in the Free Church cherish such hymns as “Amazing Grace” by John Newton or “Not What My Hands Have Done” by Horatius Bonar among many other such hymns, we find no warrant given to us in Scripture to offer such hymns to our sovereign and holy God. This is not to say that there is not much edifying and enjoyable content in uninspired hymns. However, when we read the Scriptural testimony we find the command to sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16), which are technical titles referring to the Old Testament book of Psalms. Moreover, we find that God has provided us not only with the command to praise him, but also with an entire book that form the content of that praise. At first glance this seems overly restrictive and unnecessary to many. However, if we take the word of God seriously, we cannot find any command to offer uninspired hymns unto the Lord in public worship. For more on psalm singing, please visit the following weblink: http://members.aol.com/rsichurch/worship.html. Particularly helpful is John Keddie’s, Sing the Lord’s Song, which is available by scrolling down the link above.
With reference to Christian Sabbath observance, we cherish the first day of the week as the instituted day of worship. God has kindly hedged off one day in seven that we can rest from our labors and seek the Lord’s face. To aid us in doing so, he has commanded that we cease from our normal routine. This includes such things as lawful but unnecessary employment and recreation. In the Old Covenant, God had instituted the last day of the week as the Sabbath. From Christ’s resurrection onward, the Sabbath continues on the first day of the week in honor of our Lord’s victory over sin, death and hell. Along with the Sabbath command found in Exodus 20:8-11, we also find the following from the book of Isaiah, chapter 58:13-14: “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”Certainly works of necessity and mercy are permitted upon the Christian Sabbath. As our Lord taught, “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” (Mark 2:27). We should help those who are in need, visit the sick, orphaned, homeless, and so on. We do these for the very reason we do anything: God has commanded such to be done. Moreover, in such behavior we image God who is a father to the fatherless and merciful in all his ways. It is equally necessary that we tend to the needs of our body in eating, clothing and so on. One may wish to consult the Westminster Confession, chapter 20 for more regarding the Sabbath: http://members.aol.com/rsichurch/faith.html. Also see James MacGregor’s writings on the subject beginning here: http://members.aol.com/RSIGRACE/sabbath1.html.

Something that cannot be expressed so well on paper is the Free Church's commitment to experiencing salvation. Whereas we join with other Presbyterian and Reformed Christians in emphasizing doctrine, the role of reason in religion, and right behavior, we also emphasize the desperate need we have of actually experiencing the grace of God continually. We are far from interested in merely seeing the thinking of the Church and world reformed according to Scripture. Rather, we teach and emphasize doctrine in hope that the Holy Spirit would awaken the conscience of each sinner to his desperate need to repent of his sin and believe in the Lord Jesus. Furthermore, we emphasize the need for the continual ministry of the Spirit in the daily life of each believer. We believe ardently in the necessity of truth and Spirit. Our testimony is: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). And, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Romans 8:12-14).
We recognize that not every believer is at the same state of maturity, discernment and sanctification. Thus we welcome all believers who are interested in worshipping our Lord in accordance to his word. Moreover, as Scripture teaches that God has ordained the preaching of the Gospel to be the means of converting lost sinners to Jesus Christ, we welcome anyone interested in learning more about the truth of God in Christ our Lord.

My last word, and the one I wish to emphasize and be emphasized more than any other, is that at our very root we prize the sovereign grace of God to sinners. This grace we prize has been revealed in Scripture, accomplished by Jesus Christ, and is applied by the Holy Spirit. Our greatest desire and our greatest emphasis is preaching Christ crucified for sinners. Although we deeply treasure and appreciate the Church principles mentioned above, would ever stand fast for their divine authority, and work and pray to the end that they would again be embraced by all believers in Jesus; the most treasured of all is that the true God of all men has sent his Son Jesus Christ to be crucified on behalf of sinners. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:16-17). If we maintain the other principles but forfeit the grace of God in Jesus Christ alone, we have failed and become useless though all men should join with us. Christ crucified, resurrected and reigning is our deepest and most solemn commitment. Christ is our life. Christ is our testimony. Christ is our all.

Please feel free to respond with any comments or questions. You may also email me at jmattull1643@gmail.com.
Kindest regards,
Jonathan Mattull

What's in a Name?

Warm rarely finds connection with presbyterian today. When was the last time the words "What a warm presbyterian" were heard or uttered by you? It is true, most do not speak this way today. Typically we hear or use kind, nice or friendly. With such descriptions as "frozen chosen" and "the split p's" being all too accurate, it is difficult to find presbyterians, or for that matter, believers in general today who might be described as warm.

Regardless of denomination, views of soteriology, church government, worship, etc., most today are more interested in winning a debate, gaining recognition or serving their own agenda in some way. Left in the dust is the "loser" of such debates. What a rebuke to us all! How is it that we who claim to be followers of the Lord Jesus should desire to be better known for our winning of arguments than our living out the truth in love. It is mandatory for us to be zealous for the truth. However it is equally mandatory that we be kind and humble. Is there a way of putting truth and humility together?

To begin with, there is not only hope, it is already a reality. The reality is Jesus Christ who is full of grace and truth. No one cherished truth more than our Lord, who is Truth. No one was more tender hearted than Jesus, who was full of compassion. To put truth and humility together, we must begin, continue and end with Jesus the Messiah.

But, is there a way in today's world to hold zealously to the truth and have gracious and humble hearts in so doing? My hope is that there is. In the past, men such as John Calvin, John Knox, Samuel Rutherford, Robert Murray M'Cheyne, Archibald Alexander, and others have sought to put the two together. The name of this weblog, Presbyterian Pastures, represents what I hope to be a reflection of such an effort: presbyterian in doctrine, government and practice, but pastoral in communication of such beliefs.

I wish to extend an invitation to all who might come across these pages to seek the Lord's blessing, that he would pour out his Spirit afresh upon his people. Oh that he would revive his work in our midst! Oh that the earth would be full of the knowledge of Christ!

All are welcome to read, comment and question. May it be done in a manner that honors the Lord, submits to his word and respects all of our neighbors.