26. Autobiography of Charles Finney
27. The Man who was Thursday by Chesterton
28. Simply Christian by Wright
29. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Twain
30. The Contemplative Pastor by Peterson
31. The Last Battle by Lewis
Archives For December 2008
26. Autobiography of Charles Finney
Princeton Theological Seminary has set up a daily reading and commentary that begins January 1st in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth.
Notice the podcast and rss feed options.
“The fulfillment of the Torah by the Spirit is one of the main themes underlying the spectacular description in Acts 2, or the day of Pentecost itself. To this day, Pentecost is observed in Judaism as the feast of the giving of the Law. First comes Passover, the day when the Israelites leave their Egyptian slavery behind for good. Off they go through the desert, and fifty days later they reach Mount Sinai. Moses goes up the mountain and comes down with the Law, the tablets of the covenant, God’s gift to his people of the way of life by which they will be able to demonstrate that they are really his people.
This is the picture we ought to have in mind as we read Acts 2. The previous Passover, Jesus had died and been raised, opening the way out of slavery, the way to forgiveness and a new start for the whole world — especially for all those who follow him. Now, fifty days later, Jesus has been taken into ‘heaven,’ into God’s dimension of reality; but, like Moses, he comes down again to ratify the renewed covenant and to provide the way of life, written not on stone but in human hearts, by which Jesus’s followers may gratefully demonstrate that they really are his people.” (132-133)
On reading Scripture in worship:
“Reading scripture in worship is, first and foremost, the central way of celebrating who God is and what he’s done.
Let me put it like this. The room I am sitting in at the moment has quite small windows. If I stand at the other side of the room, I can see only a little of what is outside — part of the house opposite, and a tiny bit of sky. But if I go up close to the window, I can see trees, fields, animals, the sea, the hills in the distance.
It sometimes feels as though two or three short biblical readings are rather like the windows seen from the other side of the room. We can’t see very much through them. But as we get to know the Bible better, we get close and closer to the windows (as it were), so that, without the windows having gotten any bigger, we can glimpse the entire sweep of the biblical countryside.” (150-151)
On the sacrament:
“Like the children of Israel still in the wilderness, tasting food which the spies had brought back from their secret trip to the Promised Land, in the bread-breaking we are tasting God’s new creation — the new creation whose prototype and origin is Jesus himself.” (154)
“…[T]here has been endless confusion over the relationship between the bread-breaking service and the sacrifice offered by Jesus on the cross. Catholics have usually said they were one and the same, to which Protestants have replied that Catholic interpretation looks like an attempt to repeat something which was done once and once only, and can never be done again. Protestants have usually said that the bread-breaking service is a different sacrifice to the one offered by Jesus — they see it as a “sacrifice of praise” offered by the worshippers — to which Catholics have responded that the Protestant interpretation looks like an attempt to add something to the already complete offering of Jesus, which (they say) becomes “sacramentally” present in the bread and the wine.” (156)
“For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect… But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” (Heb. 10:1, 12-14)
The writer contrasts the sacrifices of the law which are offered continually but cannot make perfect (10:1) with the sacrifice of Christ which perfects forever those who are being sanctified (10:14).
What is striking is that the writer uses the same adjective to describe the continual offerings of the Law and the continual efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice (translated ‘forever’). In 10:1 the sacrifices are offered dianekes but can never bring to perfection. Likewise in 10:12, Christ has offered one sacrifice for sins dianekes and sat down at the right hand of God. And in 10:14, ‘For by one offering he has perfected dianekes those being sanctified.’
The contrast then is most clearly on the number of the sacrifices which the the priests of the Law offered “frequently” (in 10:11 it’s a different word than 10:1). Whereas the writer insists that Christ’s offering was a single sacrifice (10:10, 12, 14). In 10:10, the offering of the “body of Jesus Christ” is described as ephapax which means once-for-all (cf. Rom. 6:10, Heb. 7:27, 9:12).
The word (dianekes) is used in one other place in Hebrews 7:3 where it describes Christs perpetual ministry as priest.
Of course all of this concerns issues which were significant in the Reformation. The Reformers all insisted that the Roman Mass had obscured the once-for-all character of the sacrifice of Christ. The concern was that the Mass had become a re-sacrifice of Christ which was both abhorrent to the glory of Christ who is seated at the right hand of the Father and also because of the kind of meritorious theology that seems to naturally flow from such ideas. If the one offering of Christ on the cross must be re-exhibited, re-offered, re-presented for sins to be forgiven, how does that not undermine the once-for-all sense in which Christ suffered on the tree under Pontius Pilate? How is it not in some sense insufficient for our salvation? It seems to imply that something more must be done. And further, if the Eucharist continually offers Christ as a sacrifice for sin, how are we not back in the same position as the people under the Law?
And yet, it does seem that the common translation of this word in Heb. 10 (as ‘forever’) may create a more severe contrast than is actually meant by the writer. Whatever the priests’ many sacrifices could not do which were offered dianekes is what Christ’s one sacrifice now actually accomplishes dianekes.
“Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock.” Ez. 34:2-3
It is no accident that our Lord was born in a stable, and it is certainly not extraneous that we are told that he was laid in a manger. He was laid in a food trough, and shepherds were some of the first guests to bow before the newborn king. Shepherds, whose job it is to lead the sheep to their food, shepherds like David and Moses, whose calling it was to lead the flock of Israel, kings whose task it was to feed the people of God. But these shepherds, these representatives of the many failed kings of Israel do what every king must do in the presence of the King of Kings. They come to bow before Him. And what they find is the King of Kings not only preparing food for his flock, but having become the food for his flock. The King has been born and he has been laid in a manger, a food trough; he has immediately become their food, their nourishment, their strength. This is because He is the Good Shepherd, who gives his life for his sheep. In Christ, God has come for his scattered sheep. He has come to search for them and seek them out, and he has come to feed them in the good pasture, to lead them in quiet pastures, to restore their souls, and to give them rest. So come, your Good Shepherd still gives himself for his sheep, he still gives himself as their food. Come and rejoice, you once were lost but you have been found. You have come to the manger, and your Shepherd has given himself for you. Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
We have just declared that Christ is born and called one another to worship Him. Just as we declare Christ risen during the season of Easter, so too, we proclaim Him born like the Shepherds, like the Wise Men, like the angels. Christ is born and we call everyone everywhere to glorify him. Historically, Christmas is not one day but 12. Beginning on December 25th, the Church has dwelled on these events for nearly two weeks, culminating on the 12th day of Christmas, the Feast of Epiphany, celebrating the manifestation of God in Christ, the revelation of God to the world in the person of Jesus. And this is not a little thing. This is everything. This is the birth of the Kings and Kings and the Lord of Lords. This is the birth of the Emperor whose kingdom will have no end, and the government will be upon his shoulders and he is the Prince of Peace. This is the gospel that there is a King to whom every knee must bow and every tongue confess, and this King’s name is Jesus, Emmanuel, Mighty God, and he must reign until all of his enemies have been put beneath his feet. He must rein until greed and materialism is put beneath his feet. He must reign until tyranny and oppression is put beneath his feet. He must reign until abdicating husbands and fathers are put beneath his feet. He must reign until harping, complaining, and bitter mothers and wives are put beneath his feet. He must reign until foolish sons and daughters are put beneath his feet. He must reign until disease and heartache and death are put beneath his feet. And he will reign until every tear has been wiped from every eye, until mercy and justice kiss, until all has been put to right. And this means that our proclamation that Christ is born means everything. So as we greet one another this morning and in the coming days of Christmas, greet one another with these words. Christ is born, Glorify Him.
Christmas Eve 2008 Homily
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert; a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted; and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight; and the rough places smooth; the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Is. 40:3-5
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and Truth.” Jn. 1:14
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, who He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high…” Heb. 1:1-4
We are accustomed to describing the act of God in the incarnation as a great act of humility, a great act of condescension, an act which is wonderful and amazing but in some way involves God leaving his glory behind. God as an infant, God as a crying baby in a stable, laid in a manger, what could be more humiliating? What could be more inglorious? Passages like Philippians 2:7 are quoted to describe this act: ‘But he made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, coming in the likeness of men.’ Some translations say that he “emptied himself,” and the famous Christmas Carol says “mild, he lays his glory by/ born that man no more may die.” We routinely describe the incarnation with regard to great contrasts. There is what God is in Himself, and then there is what God became in the incarnation. There is the glory and holiness and transcendent being of God enthroned as absolute King of the Cosmos, and then there is Jesus, born of a woman, born in a stable, laid in a manger, no crib for a bed.
Our catechism implies this contrast when we ask the question ‘what is God?’ The answer is that “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” There is no mention here of the incarnation, and the answer implies that the incarnation is something quite different from the way God usually is. God is a Spirit, the answer says, God is infinite, eternal, unchangeable. Those first four attributes would seem to contradict any notion of an incarnation.
And so we describe the great act of the incarnation as this wonderful impossibility that God overcame. How can the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable become the exact opposite of those things? How can the infinite become finite? How can the eternal have a beginning? How can the unchangeable be conceived? We ask these questions with amazement and wonder, and ultimately we worship and adore the God who does this. We worship the God who is able to do this, the God who was willing to do this for us, despite His glory and perfection and honor, overcomes the distance, bridges the chasm, and becomes one of us.
And of course there is truth in all of this. There’s nothing untrue in these descriptions in and of themselves. But there is a danger if this is all that we say. The untruth can begin to creep in if we do not tell the rest of the story. If we stop here, it can serve to obscure a more fundamental fact about the person and character of our God. One of the ways, we catch a glimpse of this is in passages like the ones just read: Isaiah 40, John 1 and Hebrews 1. A common theme running through all of them is the theme of glory, and that glory being revealed. Isaiah says that the glory of the Lord is going to be revealed when God comes to save his people. The prophet doesn’t say that the glory of God will be laid aside or veiled or somewhat hidden or obscured. The prophet says that the Coming One will reveal the glory of the Lord. So too, John insists that the incarnation was fundamentally the revelation of the glory of God. When the incarnation occurred, when we saw Jesus, we finally saw His glory, and not just any glory, we beheld the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Similarly, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus the Son of God is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person. And our tendency is to jump immediately to Trinitarian categories. We’re fine with the Son being the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person, but we don’t tend to think about the incarnation. The baby in Bethlehem, lying in a food trough? That’s the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person? But that seems to be the very thing that the writer is talking about. Immediately after saying that he is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person, he says that he not only upholds all things by the word of His power, but he also purged our sins and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Hebrews says that the brightness of God’s glory and his express image is evident in both his sovereignty in upholding all things and in purging our sins on the cross. The revelation of God is that God does both of these things.
And this gets back to our prior point. We tend to contrast the God who creates, the God who rules, the God who inhabits eternity with the God who is conceived, the God who is born, the God who dies. We are Christians, and we believe the Bible and so we don’t question these things. But we tend to contrast them nevertheless. We talk about God as God and then we talk about the incarnation as though it were something somewhat different. It’s something amazing and glorious, but we tend to describe the incarnation as though it doesn’t ordinarily fit with the idea of God. We have a notion of God, an idea of deity that pushes the idea of suffering and humility and incarnation to the far side of God-ness. To be God, we think, is to inhabit eternity, is to be a Spirit, is to be infinite, is to be unchangeable, is to be something and someone quite different than our human experience. And again, there is some truth there.
But these Scriptures push against this conception of God. John says that when Jesus was born we finally saw God for who he really is. We finally saw the glory of the Father full of grace and truth when Mary brought forth her Son and laid him in the manger. And when the child grew in wisdom and stature and in grace before God and men, we finally saw what God is like. And when that same carpenter’s Son was mocked and spat upon and despised and afflicted and finally crucified, Hebrews says that we saw the brightness of His glory; the express image of His person was revealed.
Similarly, in John’s first epistle, he says that the eternal life of the Father was manifested, revealed, seen, heard, looked upon, and handled. Whatever our conception of God, it must include this. When we ask ‘what is God?’ the first thing the New Testament writers would point to is the person of Jesus. Who is God? God is the one who revealed himself in Jesus. God is the one who was born of Mary. God is the one who lived as a man, who taught, who healed, who ate and drank with sinners, who was ultimately betrayed and crucified and rose again and ascended into heaven. That is our God. God is not first of all something else. God is not first of all infinite and eternal and unchangeable in a way that is at odds with the incarnation. Rather, the incarnation is the veil finally being torn away. If the ancients thought of God as someone distant and other and infinite and unchangeable they had some excuse for thinking that, although the Jews had plenty of hints that this was not the case. But when Jesus was born, when the incarnation occurred all of those preconceived notions were blown apart.
The incarnation is not something that we must try to fit into our doctrine of God. Rather, the incarnation is the beginning of our doctrine of God. It is the revelation of the glory of Lord, the brightness of His glory, the express image of his person. The incarnation is not merely consistent with the person and character of God; the incarnation shows us the kind of God we actually serve. The incarnation shows us not an aberration from the way God usually is; rather, the incarnation shows us what God is actually like. God is the God who both creates and sustains the worlds and gives himself for sinners. God is the God who both inhabits eternity and freely enters time and space and identifies with his people. God is the one who is both unchangeable, whose Word stands forever and cannot be moved, and He is at the same time always and unalterably free to experience growth and sorrow and love and joy. The God who rules heaven and earth is also the God who is born a child in Bethlehem.
And, as the hymn declares, this really is tidings of comfort and joy. The New Testament has a great deal to say about glory, and as we look at those passages we notice over and over again the association of glory with God’s people. We’ve already pointed out that Jesus is the revelation of God’s glory, but the New Testament writers don’t stop there. Paul says that in the New Covenant we have been given the Spirit, and as we read the Scriptures and hear the gospel proclaimed, we all with unveiled face, behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, and we are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:17-18). He says that we glory in tribulations (Rom. 5:3), and while our outward man is perishing and we experience afflictions, these are working in us an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:16-17). Paul’s own tribulations are the glory of the Ephesians (Eph. 2:13). He says that the Thessalonians have suffered like Christ and therefore they are his glory and joy (1 Thess. 2:14-15, 19-20). Peter, likewise says, ‘If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.’ (1 Pet. 4:13). A little later he says that he is a “witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed.” (1 Pet. 5:1).
The reason it is great comfort and joy to know the God who is both sovereign and humble, the God who is both infinite and a child, who is both eternal and born of a woman, is that this same God promises to bestow this glory on us. Partaking of the glory of God, sharing in that glory, means living in this same reality, living as weak and broken people and yet strong and exalted, seated with Christ in the heavenly places. We live as those who have been given eternal life and yet have been born, and who will all die. We have been united to the changeless one, the one will never leave us or forsake us, and yet we grow up, and live, and change, and die and rise again.
In Ephesians Paul prays that the eyes of their understanding might be enlightened, that they might know what are the riches of his glory of His inheritance in the saints (Eph. 2:18). What the Ephesians need, and what we so often need is not for God to show us his glory. That has been revealed to us in Jesus. What we really need is for our eyes to be opened to see the glory right in front of us. We see a child in a manger, and say God has in some way laid his glory aside. But God says, ‘no, no, that is my glory, my wisdom, my infinity, my changelessness, my holiness, my justice, my goodness, my glory. God in the manger is the glory of God revealed. And if God in a manger is the glory of God revealed, then God on the cross is the Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:8). The glory of God is joy in suffering, peace in upheaval, mercy in justice, exaltation in humility, losing our lives to find them. If the glory of God is revealed in an infant lying in a manger, then why can’t the glory of God be revealed in your family? Why can’t the glory of God be manifest in your fellowship at a table, in your exchanging peace and joy and mercy with one another? Why can’t the glory of God be revealed in the midst of brokenness and confusion? Why can’t the wisdom and power of God be evident in weakness? The answer is that it can be and that it is. And so here we are assembled to proclaim that glory, the glory of the Lord that has been revealed to us and is being revealed in us through the working of the Spirit. Christ is born! Glorify Him! The glory of the Lord has been revealed. The veil is torn away. See the glory.
“O Zion, You who bring good tidings, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Is. 40:9
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Leisure takes men into pastimes whether future or past, or inner or outer ecstasies. Leisure is free time spent merely doing something else, something out of the central current of one’s vocation. And any hobby or leisure activity which becomes a job is thereby no longer leisure. Similarly, ERH gives the examples of site-seeing/travel and interest in music. It’s all good fun and serves to divert people from the central demands of life. But there is a kind of restlessness and aimless bound up in such an existence. ERH insists that peace and contentment is found in the center of this cross of human existence. If the inner, outer, future, and past form the four sides of the cross of human existence, only fixed to the center of the cross can human existence be fulfilling and fruitful. ERH names this “centered” existence one which celebrates holidays as contrasted with the individualism and escapism of mere leisure. It combines these modes of leisure into community life, fellowship, and celebration.
That’s what holidays do. The are the “mortar of society,” creating fellowship, togetherness, opportunities to plan, discuss, and organize. They are the concerted efforts of a whole community to celebrate despite what any circumstances may otherwise suggest, and ERH goes on to suggest that out of these holidays come creativity, ingenuity, productivity, and many other traits of a thriving society.
The Christian Future, 198-202.
One of the gifts of the lectionary and church calendar is the backbone it gives to our lives. If these gifts are the collective, devotional wisdom of the Church down through the centuries, then they are Fathers advising us about how to pray and what to pray for and when. Of course we may generally pray for anything at any time, any place. But following the lead of our Fathers places some healthy constraints on us. While we may face a particularly trying situation, we may find ourselves in Christmas or Easter. Or we may be blessed with overwhelming gifts and kindness and mercy and find ourselves in Advent or Lent or Holy Week. And this doesn’t mean that we must put on superficial faces to fit in with the tenor of the calendar. But it does offer a deeper wisdom to our situations. Even in deep, abounding joy and laughter, there must be a humility that recognizes our need for grace and mercy. Likewise, in our deepest sorrows, if we are entreated to sing psalms of joy and give gifts to one another, it is the wisdom of the Fathers that reminds us to rejoice in all things and to give thanks even in the shadow of death.
Something similar is found in praying through the Psalter on a regular basis. As the inspired prayer book of the Church, the Psalter leads us to pray for things we wouldn’t ordinarily pray for, thank God for things we might not otherwise remember to thank him for, and again it directs the tenor of our lives, offering a masthead to our ship in the main.
In one of the Psalms for this morning’s prayer, Psalm 99, it says, “The Lord is King, be the people never so impatient; he sitteth between the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.”
We have our storms and trials and victories and battles, and still the Lord is King, still he sits enthroned.