Thursday, October 31, 2013

Understanding, then knowledge

Give me understanding, that I may know thy testimonies. [Psalm 119:125 In the [previous] verse he sought teaching; but here he goes much further, and craves understanding. Usually, if the instructor supplies the teaching, the [pupil] finds the understanding; but in our case we are far more dependent, must beg for understanding as well as teaching: this the ordinary cannot give, and we are thrice happy that our Divine Tutor can furnish us with it. We are to confess ourselves fools, and then our Lord will make us wise, as well as give us knowledge. The best understanding is that which enables us to render perfect obedience and to exhibit intelligent faith, and it is this which David desires, — "understanding, that I may know thy testimonies." Some would rather not know these things; they prefer to be at ease in the dark rather than possess the light which leads to repentance and diligence. The servant of God longs to know in an understanding manner all that the Lord reveals of man and to man; he wishes to be so instructed that he may apprehend and comprehend that which is taught him. A servant should not be ignorant concerning his master, or his master's business; he should study the mind, will, purpose, and aim of him whom he serves, for so only can he complete his service; and as no man knows these things so well as his master himself, he should often go to him for instructions, lest his very zeal should only serve to make him the greater blunderer.
It is remarkable that the Psalmist does not pray for understanding through acquiring knowledge, but begs of the Lord first that he may have the gracious gift of understanding, and then may obtain the desired instruction. All that we know before we have understanding is apt to spoil us and breed vanity in us; but if there be first an understanding heart, then the stores of knowledge enrich the soul, and bring neither sin nor sorrow therewith. Moreover, this gift of understanding acts also in the form of discernment and thus the good man is preserved from hoarding up that which is false and dangerous: he knows what are and what are not the testimonies of the Lord.

From Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 119:125

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Doing justice

I have done judgment and justice; but, that I may always do it, and never fail in doing it, "uphold thy servant unto good," by directing him, so that he may always relish what is good, and then the consequence will be that "the proud will not calumniate me;" for he that is well established "unto good," and so made up that nothing but what is good and righteous will be agreeable to him, he will so persevere that he will have no reason for fearing "the proud that calumniate him." 

Robert Bellarmine, quoted in Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, in relation to Psalm 119:121-2. 

Bellarmine was a Jesuit, famous in his day for his writings and teaching, and canonized as a Saint in the Catholic Church. It's interesting to find Spurgeon often quoting him, given his even more frequent irritation at Catholicism. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The effecting of reconciliation

The fifth of six summings-up that P T Forsyth gives in the sixth chapter of his book, The Work of Christ (pages 150/1)

What we have in Christ's work is not the mere prerequisite or condition of reconciliation, but the actual and final effecting of it in principle. He was not making it possible, he was doing it. We are spiritually in a reconciled world, we are not merely in a world in process of empirical reconciliation. Our experience of religion is experience of a thing done once for all, for ever, and for the world. That is, it is more than even experience, it is a faith. The same act as put God's forgiveness on a moral foundation also revolutionized humanity. Hence we are not disposed to speak of substitution* so much as of representation. But it is representation by one who creates by his act the humanity he represents, and does not merely sponsor it. The same act as disburdens us of guilt commits us to a new life. Our Saviour is his salvation is not only our comfort but our power; not merely our rescuer but our new life. His work is in the same act reclamation as well as rescue. 

*Because substitution does not take account of the moral results on the soul, and for a full account of the cause we must include all the effects. To do justice to the whole of Christ's work we must include the Church, and in justification include sanctification. [Forsyth's own footnote]

For me this is one of the prime paragraphs in the book. While Forsyth goes into a lot more detail about what he's saying he, this is a wonderful summing-up of much of what he says.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Just deserts

The fourth of six summings-up that P T Forsyth gives in the sixth chapter of his book, The Work of Christ (page 150)

In this relation to God's holiness and its satisfaction, nobody now thinks of the transfer of our punishment to Christ in its entirety - including the worst pains of hell in a sense of guilt. Christ experienced the world's hate, and the curse of the law in the sense of the suffering entailed on man by sin; but a direct infliction of men's total deserts upon him by God is unthinkable. His penalty was not punishment, because it was dissociated from the sense of desert.  Whatever we mean by atonement must be interpreted in that sense. And judgement is a much better word than either penalty or punishment.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Newbigin's six views of the church 3

Earlier this year I began presenting extracts from Lesslie Newbigin's book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.  Amongst those extracts were the first two relating to Newbigin's view of what the church will be.  [First extract - second extract]
Here is the third point. 

Third, it will be a community that does not live for itself but is deeply involved in the concerns of its neighborhood. It will be the church for the specific place where it lives, not the church for those who wish to be members of it-or, rather, it will be for them insofar as they are willing to be for the wider community. It is, I think, very significant that in the consistent usage of the New Testament, the word ekklesia is qualified in only two ways; it is "the Church of God," or "of Christ," and it is the church of a place. A Christian congregation is defined by this twofold relation: it is God's embassy in a specific place. Either of these vital relationships may be neglected. The congregation may be so identified with the place that it ceases to be the vehicle of God's judgment and mercy for that place and becomes simply the focus of the self-image of the people of that place. Or it may be so concerned about the relation of its members to God that it turns its back on the neighborhood and is perceived as irrelevant to its concerns. With the development of powerful denominational structures, nationwide agencies for evangelism or social action, it can happen that these things are no longer seen as the direct responsibility of the local congregation except insofar as they are called upon to support them financially. But if the local congregation is not perceived in its own neighborhood as the place from which good news overflows in good action, the programs for social and political action launched by the national agencies are apt to lose their integral relation to the good news and come to be seen as part of a moral crusade rather than part of the gospel. The local congregation is the place where the proper relation is most easily and naturally kept.

Lesslie Newbigin, in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.

Photo courtesy of Ron Smith's Sharpened Edges blog.

More of an action

The third of six summings-up that P T Forsyth gives in the sixth chapter of his book, The Work of Christ (page 150)

This reconciling and redeeming work of Christ culminates in his suffering unto death, which is indeed more of an act than an experience.  Here, in the Cross, is the summit of his revelation of grace, of sin, and of humanity.  And the central feature of this threefold revelation in the Cross is the holiness of God's love.  It is this holiness that deepens error into sin, sin into guilt, and guilt into repentance; without which any sense of forgiveness would be but an anodyne and not a grace, a self-flattering unction to the soul and not the peace of God. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Setting up...

The second of six summings-up that P T Forsyth gives in the sixth chapter of his book, The Work of Christ (pages 149-50)

Reconciliation rests on Christ’s person, and it is effected by his entire work, doing and suffering.  This work does three things. (1) It reveals and puts into historic action the changeless grace of God.  (2) It reveals and establishes his holiness, and therein also the sinfulness of sin. And (3) it exhibits a humanity in perfect  tune with that will of God. And it does more than exhibit these things – it sets them up, grace, holiness, and the new humanity in its Head.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


The first of six summings-up that P T Forsyth does in the sixth chapter of his book, The Work of Christ.

Reconciliation is not the result of a change in God from wrath to love.  It flows from the changeless will of a loving God.  No other view could make the reconciliation sure.  If God changed to it, he might change from it. And the sheet-anchor of the soul for eternity would then have gone by the board.  Forgiveness arose at no point in time.  Grace was there before even creation.  It abounded before sin did. The holiness which makes sin sin, is one with the necessity to destroy sin in gracious love.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Not lost

When I think of the incredible, incomprehensible sweep of creation above me, I have the strange reaction of being fully alive. Rather than feeling lost and unimportant and meaningless, set against galaxies which go beyond the reach of the furthest telescopes, I feel that my life has meaning. Perhaps I should feel insignificant, but instead I feel a soaring in my heart that the God who could create all this can still count the hairs on my heard.

Madeleine L'Engle in The Irrational Season

Friday, October 18, 2013

No Government without Law

Psalm 119: 118. Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes 
There is a disposition to merge all the characteristics of the Divinity into one; and while with many of our most eminent writers, the exuberant goodness, the soft and yielding benignity, the mercy that overlooks and makes liberal allowance for the infirmities of human weakness, have been fondly and most abundantly dwelt upon— there has been what the French would call, if not a studied, at least an actually observed reticence, on the subject of his truth and purity and his hatred of moral evil. 
There can be no government without a law; and the question is little entertained— how are the violations of that law to be disposed of? Every law has its sanctions— the hopes of proffered reward on the one hand, the fears of threatened vengeance on the other. Is the vengeance to be threatened only, but never to be executed? Is guilt only to be dealt with by proclamations that go before, but never by punishments that are to follow?...Take away from jurisprudence its penalties, or, what were still worse, let the penalties only be denounced but never exacted; and we reduce the whole to an unsubstantial mockery. The fabric of moral government falls to pieces; and, instead of a great presiding authority in the universe, we have a subverted throne and a degraded Sovereign...If there is only to be the parade of a judicial economy, without any of its power or its performance; if the truth is only to be kept in the promises of reward, but as constantly to be receded from in the threats of vengeance; if the judge is thus to be lost in the overweening parent — there is positively nothing of a moral government over us but the name, we are not the subjects of God's authority; we are the fondlings of his regard. Under a system like this, the whole universe would drift, as it were, into a state of anarchy; and, in the uproar of this wild misrule, the King who sits on high would lose his hold on the creation that he had formed. — Thomas Chalmers.

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Sanctity of Human Life

Our society could be transformed by Christians who refuse to participate in the viciousness of our current public conversation. Imagine the impact on our talk radio and our TV opinion shows if everyone somehow came to recognize the dignity and sacredness of their political and ideological enemies, and if Christians refused to support media personalities known for their anger and dismissive contempt for adversaries. Christians must be visibly different in how we speak of, and speak to, those we disagree with. Here is a person for whom Christ lived, died, and rose again. We know this, and must act accordingly.
David P. Gushee"The Sanctity of Human Life" from Advancing the Common Good

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The last judgement

The holiness of God becomes our salvation not by slackness of demand but by completeness of judgement; not because he relaxes his demand, not because he spends less condemnation on sin, lets us off or lets sin off, or lets Christ off ('spared not'); but because in Christ judgement becomes finished and final, because none but a holy Christ could spread sin out in all its sinfulness for thorough judgement.
I have a way of putting it which startles some of my friends.  The last judgement is past. It took place on Christ's cross. What we talk about as the last judgement is simply the working out of Christ's cross in detail. The final judgement, the absolute judgement, the crucial judgement for the race took place in principle on the Cross of Christ. Sin had been judged finally there. All judgement is given to the Son in virtue of his Cross. All other debts are bought up there.

From The Work of Christ, by P T Forsyth, page 137

God builds

Let's be quite clear ... God builds God's kingdom. But God ordered his world in such a way that his own work within that world takes place not least through one of his creatures in particular, namely, the human beings who reflect his image. That, I believe, is central to the notion of being made in God's image. God intends his wise, creative, loving presence and power to be reflected -- imaged, if you like -- into his world through his human creatures. And, following the disaster of rebellion and corruption, he has built into the gospel message the fact that through the work of Jesus and the power of the Spirit, he equips humans to help in the work of getting the project back on track.
N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope

Monday, October 14, 2013

Increate Godhead

The atoning thing [of the Atonement] was not its amount or acuteness, but its obedience, its sanctity.

These pathetic ways of thinking about Christ regard him too much as a mere individual before God. They do not satisfy if Christ's relation with man was a racial one and he represented humanity. Especially they do not hold good if that relationship was no mere blood relationship, natural relationship, but a supernatural relationship - blood relationship only in the mystic Christian sense. We are blood relations of Christ, but not in the natural sense of that term, only in the supernatural sense, as those who are related to him in his blood, in his death, and his spirit. The value of Christ's unity and sympathy with us was not simply that he was continuous with the race at its head. It was not a relation of identity. The race was not prolonged into him. The value consists in that life-act of self-identification by which Christ the eternal Son of God became man. We hear much about Christ's essential identity with the human race. That is not true in the sense in which other great men, like Shakespeare, for instance, were identical with the human race, gathering up in consummation its natural genius. Christ's identity was not natural or created identity, but the self-identification of the Creator. Everything turns upon this - whether Christ was a created being, however grand, or whether he was of increate Godhead.

P T Forsyth in The Work of Christ, pages 135/6