A Short, Yet Serious Series

Count me among the many Christians who find unique inspiration from biographies. Maybe it’s because we are imitators by nature. As image bearers, we reflect the character and nature of Him who created us (Gen. 1:27). God also commands us to imitate the apostles’ example (1 Cor. 11:1) and the model of any who keeps to their pattern (Phil. 3:20). In his book, Discipling, Mark Dever says, “Discipling is inviting [others] to imitate you, making your trust in Christ an example to be followed. It requires you to be willing to be watched, and then folding people into your life so that they actually do watch . . . All of us, in turn, should be able to say to the other Christians in our lives, as Paul did, ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.’ Maybe this is why Christian biographies are so useful.”

A Wonderful Place to Start

One reason why many faithful Christians struggle to profit from Christian biographies is that the best ones are typically long, some even very long. Does Arnold Dallimore’s magisterial work on George Whitefield ring a bell?

Evangelical Press has thus done us a favor with their “Bitesize Biography” series, which flies too far under the radar. I’d love to see every Christian and church profit from these volumes. Each entry is compact, yet full of impact for our faith and life. EP has put out twenty-seven (!) volumes so far, many focus on famous figures and many highlight lesser known paragons. Click on any of the titles below to get your copy. Tolle lege!

 

Some Help on Teaching Theology

A few years ago, I listened to a panel discussion in which someone asked Joel Beeke, “If you could take one set of books with you to a deserted island, what would you choose?” He said, without hesitation, “The Christian’s Reasonable Service by Wilhelmus à Brakel.” And I asked myself, “What? By whom?”

Beeke’s subsequent explanation convinced me I should buy the four-volume set. I then worked through all four volumes in a year, reading seven pages a day. I found myself enjoying—dare I say it—The Christian’s Reasonable Service even more than Calvin’s Institutes. Calvin’s work is gloriously devotional; à Brakel improves on Calvin with his relentlessly warm application.

A Devotional Doctrine of Scripture

I remembered à Brakel’s skill in heart-searching application earlier this week as I prepared to teach a Sunday School class on the doctrine of Scripture. I glanced around the study and grabbed the usual Reformed suspects I dialogue with when preparing a lecture: Calvin, Dabney, Hodge, Bavinck, Vos, and Murray. I find these men leading me to drink at theology’s deep wells. But they don’t always invite you to jump in and swim. The Christian’s Reasonable Service, however, always summons you to a deep theological and doxological dive.

For example, in his chapter, “The Word of God,” à Brakel concludes by talking about six obligations we have to Scripture. For two and a half pages he cries out, “Oh, delight in God’s word! Read it ‘in prosperity, adversity, darkness, seasons of doubt, times of perplexity, and your entire walk.'” To ensure we do this well he rounds out his exhortation with several pages of “Guidelines for the Profitable Reading of Scripture.” In order to see how useful à Brakel is, here are his five encouragements for reflecting on Scripture.

The reflection upon reading Scripture consists in”

  1. joyfully giving thanks that the Lord has permitted His Word to be recorded, that we may have it in our homes, that we can and were privileged to read it, and that it was applied to our heart;
  2. painstakingly striving to preserve this good spiritual frame which is obtained by reading God’s word;
  3. meditating while engaged in one’s occupation upon that which one has read, repeatedly seeking to focus his thought upon it;
  4. sharing with others what was read, whenever possible, and discussing it;
  5. especially striving to comply with what was read by bringing it into practice.

He then writes, “If the Holy Scriptures were used in such a fashion, what wondrous progress we would make in both knowledge and godliness! Children would soon become young men, and young men would soon become men in Jesus Christ.”

Doctrine that Lives

There’s something compelling to me in à Brakel. His a model of teaching worthy of emulation, I think. Each volume shows us what it means, as teachers, to be alive to God’s truth when teaching God’s truth. Let our doctrinal instruction pulse with Christ-exalting piety. Faithfully instructing others in the living word (Heb. 4:12) means teaching in a way that students, peers, and church members feel something of our flame of devotion. Wilhelmus à Brakel will help us all.

If you need any more encouragement to take up and read, consider Derek Thomas’ gushing praise:

No systematic theology compares to Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service for its explicit concern to weld the objective and subjective in theology. Emerging from the Dutch Further Reformation, à Brakel is without equal in exploring both the intricate details of the Reformed theological system whilst ensuring that at every turn theology is done in the interests of piety and the glory of God. In an era when the subjective has either been lost in a sea of postmodernity or viewed with suspicion for its apparent lack of academic integrity, only those who have never read this monumental treatise would dismiss it as guilty of either. An achievement to place alongside Calvin’s Institutes and the systematic theologies of Turretin, Hodge, and Berkhof.

You can grab a set at WTS or RHB.

Brown’s 7 Rules for Preaching

John Brown of Haddington (1722–1787) is an old giant of Scottish theology that has been mostly lost to history. In the late 1800s, William Blaikie said that Brown “towered above his fellows.” Reformation Heritage is trying to retrieve Brown’s legacy by republishing his Systematic Theology and his Counsel to Gospel Ministers. If you’ve never read Brown before, let me see if I can convince you to take up and read.

To do that, let’s turn to his letters on “Directions with Respect to Preaching the Gospel, and Administering the Sacraments.” Tucked away in Letter 1 of Part 3 are Brown’s rules for gospel preaching. Are these not as relevant today as they were two hundred years ago?

7 Rules for Preachers

  1. Keep in view that it is the gospel you are preaching, and it is God ordained.
  2. Found the sermon on the Scripture as your text and proof.
  3. Insist chiefly on the greater points of revelation concerning Jesus Christ, faith in him, and repentance toward God through him.
  4. Make application that it may awaken, and “captivate their affections to Christ.”
  5. Let your language be adapted to that of the hearers, and let it be scriptural. Do not be philosophical.
  6. Avoid anything which will detract, for example, speaking too quickly, or indistinctly, poor pronunciation, awkward gestures, wandering from the subject, useless quotations, expressions which would promote laughter. Also do not adhere too scrupulously to your notes.
  7. Never draw attention and focus upon your honors. You are to promote the glory of Christ.

“Unsurpassed Even By Spurgeon”

Yesterday, as I tinkered around the New College Library in Edinburgh, I came across a lecture Sinclair Ferguson gave on William Chalmers Burns.

Burns is a notable figure for anyone studying 19th-century evangelicalism, but I wish every Christian knew his story. His life is a burning testimony that the gospel is God’s power for salvation. A humble, fiery Spirit burned within his soul, and there are lessons worth learning if we’d listen.

And Dr. Ferguson’s lecture is a most excellent place to start.

If you’re interested in reading more about Burns, here are two works you might consider:

An Update

My time as pastor of IDC concluded just over six weeks ago. Much has happened in the intervening time. We took our first-ever family vacation; a two-week jaunt to and from Muskegon, MI where my grandparents live. The kids loved Lake Michigan and the cool summer weather. We joined Redeemer PCA here in McKinney. Our children were baptized last Lord’s Day. I’m helping to teach a Sunday School class on the doctrine of Scripture this fall and leading a small group through Everyday Church. The shepherds and saints at Redeemer have been marvelous to fellowship and worship with.

But the overwhelming part of my life is spent in Ph.D. work. I am, for the first time, very much a full-time Ph.D. student.

Theology, Spirituality, and History

I wake up each day at 4:00 a.m. After prayer and Bible reading, I dive into my dissertation on Robert Murray M’Cheyne. I’m almost done with the second chapter. I often get asked, “What’s your thesis on M’Cheyne?” The broad answer is that I’m looking at how M’Cheyne’s Christology bears on his piety. A more narrow version is my assertion that, for M’Cheyne, personal holiness is the mature expression of love to Christ.

I initially thought of my work as a reinterpretation of M’Cheyne’s piety. I felt too few noticed the centrality of love to Christ as the animating passion in M’Cheyne’s spirituality. Yet, the more I research, the more I saw how many did mention the centrality of Christ. I’m convinced, however, that no one has yet adequately emphasized and demonstrated this focus. I tend to think it’s because most works have leaned on his private writings (diary and letters) to the exclusion of his sermons where the emphasis is undeniable. So, I now think of the project more as reorientation than reinterpretation. I’m contending that you cannot understand M’Cheyne unless you see his piety as laced with a romantic Christology. M’Cheyne’s passion for Christ humbles me every day.1

Around 10:30 a.m. I shift from the dissertation to studying for comprehensive exams. My major is Biblical Spirituality with a minor in Christian Worship. The respective study guides for comps have made it clear I need to know a fair amount of about all kinds of things in every era of church history. It often feels daunting—as it should. Studying for comps sometimes feels a climb up Mt. Everest while writing on M’Cheyne is a climb up Pike’s Peak.

Thus, from 4:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. I’m in the study. It’s taxing work for sure, but it has to be done.

If you ever think about it, I’d sure appreciate prayer for diligence and comprehension.

Off to the Archives

http://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/newcollegelibrarian/files/2013/09/divinity-library.jpgI leave this weekend for a two-week study trip in Edinburgh, Scotland. New College Library holds M’Cheyne’s papers, and I’ll be in the Funk Reading Room all day looking at them. I’m particularly interested in a collection of sermons and some theological notebooks he kept. Lord willing, I’ll finish my work in the library a couple of days early, which will allow me to spend the last two days taking in all the incredible sights.

If you ever think about it, I’d sure appreciate prayer for my wife and five children while I’m away.

In the Waiting Room

As I study Scripture, it seems the basic posture of the Christian life is one of waiting. We wait for God’s promises to pass. We wait for prayers to be answered. We wait for growth in grace. We wait for the conversion of friends and families. We wait for the Lord’s return.

Our family is still waiting for God to reveal what’s next for us. I won’t be a Ph.D. student much longer. We still believe Christ has commissioned me to preach the gospel and shepherd some of His sheep. We don’t know where—or when—He’ll open a call to ministry. So, we wait—imperfectly, but prayerfully and patiently.

If you ever think about it, I’d sure appreciate prayer for God to send us into a new field of pastoral labor. We are eager.

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  1. If you follow me on Twitter, this is why M’Cheyne’s quotes are my usual tweets.

With Authority and Tenderness

Ambassadorsfor Christ

I count it a supreme blessing to study Robert Murray M’Cheyne. Never does a day go by without finding conviction or comfort in his works.

I read his sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:20–21 this morning, where Paul writes, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In meditating on ministers being ambassadors for Christ, M’Cheyne says,

Learn from this, how we should preach, and how you should hear. We do not come in our own name, but in Christ’s. We are to do as the disciples did when they received the bread from Christ. We are to receive our message from him and give it unto you; so, in one sense, it is immaterial to us whether you receive the truth or not. Observe, we are to speak with authority. Many of you are not pleased at what we say; you say we might have spoken less severely; you quarrel at our words; but ah! if you look into your own heart, you would see, that it is not us you quarrel with, it is with Christ. Observe, still farther, that we are ambassadors; we must speak tenderly. God is love. Christ is love. I am afraid it is here we err, and show that the vessel is earthly. When Christ came into the world, it was a message of love he brought.

On which side might you err? Maybe your zealous proclamations are so loud that no hearer sense your soul is taken in love to Christ. Or perhaps, your graceful preaching is never forceful enough to break through a hardened heart. Oh, let us pray for the fullness of authority and tenderness in preaching!

Chalmers Still Speaks

47896I’ve spent today wading through the voluminous works by or about Thomas Chalmers, trying to understand his influence on Robert Murray M’Cheyne. As David Yeaworth says, “In Chalmers, more than any other person, M’Cheyne found the mold for his ecclesiastical and religious thought, and a worthy pattern for his own ministerial life.”

If evangelicals know anything today about Chalmers, it’s probably his sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Few may know he was arguably the most famous British preacher at the time, a brilliant mathematician who theorized on everything from astronomy to politics to economics to social reform, and an evangelical who longed to see Christ proclaimed in slums of Scotland and far away nations.

What is remarkable is how he wielded his immense intellect to serve the church. Consider the following encouragement and warning about preaching:

By far the most effective ingredient of good preaching is the personal piety of the preacher himself . . . How little must the presence of God be felt in that place, where the high functions of the pulpit are degraded into a stipulated exchange of entertainment, on the one side, and of admiration, on the other! and surely it were a sight to make angels weep when a weak and vapouring mortal, surrounded by his fellow sinners, and hastening to the grave and the judgment along with them, find it a dearer object to his bosom to regale his hearers by the exhibition of himself, than to do, in plain earnest, the work of his Master.

Put simply: in your preaching, are you exalting yourself or the Savior?

A (Short) Bibliography on Covenant Baptism

Baptism copy

I’ve received many questions about my theological pilgrimage from “Believer’s Baptism” (credobaptism) to “Covenant Baptism” (paedobaptism). But the most common has been: “What book changed your mind?”

I’m always tempted to say, “The Bible,” because my move across the confessional waters is indeed one of sola Scripture. God’s word alone gave—and continues to give—authoritative instruction on baptism. But, it would be wrong to say the journey was one of solo Scriptura. None of us exist in such a vacuum. God places His people in the church to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. He gives us teachers to guide us into and friends to help us hear the truth.

Many conversation partners joined me along the paedobaptist path. There were professors, mentors, fellow pastors, and ordinary church members. I also had a study full of books, many on the sacraments. I read every one I own on each position.

Maybe you are on a similar search for truth, or maybe you want simply to understand the covenant baptism position better. Here’s a short bibliography of what I think are the most helpful books representing the Reformed paedobaptist position.

Beginner

9781601781178Beeke, Joel R. Bringing the Gospel to Covenant Children. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2010.

Christian parents need to see that their children are in the covenant. They should also understand that baptism is only the start of covenantal parenting. There’s much work to do. Beeke’s little book gives wise counsel for Spirit-dependent, earnestly-evangelistic leadership of covenant kids.

1596380586Chapell, Bryan. Why Do We Baptize Infants? Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2006.

Chapell’s booklet is most useful for those unaware of the reasons why a Reformed church would baptize covenant children. Incredibly pastoral.

9781935369127Hyde, Daniel R. Jesus Loves the Little Children: Why We Baptize Children. Grandville, MI: Reformed Fellowship, 2006.

An excellent and accessible defense of why Reformed churches baptize children.

087552429XSartelle, John P. Infant Baptism: What Christian Parents Should Know. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1985.

Sartelle’s booklet is similar to Chapell’s, but it a bit more rigorous in its theology.

Intermediate

9781596382183Chaney, J. M, and Ronald Evans. William the Baptist: A Classic Story of a Man’s Journey to Understand Baptism. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2011.

I’m amazed so few mention Cheney’s work. Sure, he downplays the reality of baptism signifying union with Christ, but he’s useful on virtually every other matter. The greatest value in the book, however, is its format. William the Baptist is basically a novel, saturated with pastoral dialogue, about one 19th-century man’s path into confessing covenant baptism.

9781601782826Fesko, J. V. Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010.

If you are looking for a “One Stop Shop on Covenant Baptism,” this is it. Fesko deftly works through the historical, biblical, and theological issues.

0875523439Murray, John. Christian Baptism. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1980.

The book short, but dense. Murray’s skill as an exegete shines through on every page.

Advanced

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Jeremias, Joachim. Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1960.

Jeremias’ goal is to “lay before the reader the historical material relating to the history of infant baptism in the first four centuries in as concrete and sober a manner as possible.” His study of the extra-Biblical evidence around the early church shows the historical rootedness of covenant baptism. He also makes valuable conclusions related to the issues of household baptisms and corporate solidarity.

MARCEBAPTIMarcel, Pierre Charles, trans. Philip E. Hughes. The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism: Sacrament of the Covenant of Grace. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002.

When it comes to the subject of baptism, Marcel’s work is one every scholar must consider. Not many of us are scholars, of course, but that doesn’t mean we can profit from his teaching.

If you want a longer bibliography that lists representative paedobaptist and credobaptist books, try this.

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A Mentor in Grace

Yesterday, I read a portion of Spiritual-Mindedness by John Owen—a most excellent read on a slow Lord’s Day afternoon. Around page twenty-four, I realized 2017 is something like my ten-year anniversary with the Puritans. For it was just over a decade ago that I first feasted on their writings. And I owe it all—humanly speaking—to Dr. Joel Beeke.

A Round About Way

Joel-Beeke_Profile-369x424-c-defaultIn the spring of 2007, I read George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life. What struck me most about the Northampton minister was his heavenly-mindedness. I then picked up a few more recent publications on Edwards that emphasized his pursuit of heaven on earth. 1 Those sources further cemented my attention on Edwards and heavenly-mindedness; things that, for me, at the time represented “Puritanism.”

Through online research, I eventually stumbled across the voluminous writings of Dr. Joel Beeke.  With relish, I purchased and devoured his many books on Christian living, and the emphasis he gave to the Puritans did not go unnoticed.  Thus, it was from Beeke’s many citations of Puritans that I began to move back from Edward’s and the mid-eighteenth century to the Westminster divines and the mid-seventeenth century.

My soul has never been the same.

A Mentor from Afar

He wouldn’t remember me, but I met Dr. Beeke at Together for the Gospel 2010 as he manned the Reformation Heritage book table. He immediately suggested I buy Meet the Puritans. My wife had given me the book for Christmas just a few months earlier, and so we struck up a short conversation on other books I might consider.

We later traded a few emails on my M.A. thesis: This is Not the End: Puritans on the Glory of Heaven. He was always kind and quick in his responses.

Over the years I’ve collected most of the books Dr. Beeke has published. Each one has served my life and ministry in countless ways. His Puritan Reformed Spirituality ignited a desire to pursue Ph.D. studies at SBTS in the area of Biblical Spirituality. His Parenting by God’s Promises: How to Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace shaped my role as a father in profound ways, and had a substantial role in my shifting views on baptism.

I don’t agree with Dr. Beeke on everything—as it always is with a mentor. But God has used him in my life almost as much as any living person. His passion for evangelism convicts me, his zeal for godliness inspires me, and his preaching of Christ humbles me.

Well Worth a Listen

One of my Sunday morning duties is ironing the family’s church clothes. De-wrinkling for seven can take a little while, so I tend to pass the time by listening to an edifying sermon. Yesterday I stumbled upon Dr. Beeke’s testimony. I’ve heard or read bits and pieces of it throughout the years, but never encountered his story of God’s grace in detail. And what a story it is!

I never cease to be amazed at how God works in the lives of His people. He overflows with wisdom and mercy toward all.

If you have an hour this week in traffic, on a run, or by the ironing board, listen in and be encouraged. You too might just find a new mentor in grace.

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  1. See Stephen J. Nichols, Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards’ Vision of Living in Between (Crossway, 2006); Steven J. Lawson, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust, 2008).

Marks of the Christian Life

following jesus1

In 1872, Horatius Bonar published Light & Truth, a collection of his sermons and articles. One of my favorite entries is, “The Model of a Holy Life.

Bonar begins by considering four Bible passages:

  • “These are those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”—Revelation 14:4
  • “Follow me!”—John 11:22
  • “Leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps.”—2 Peter 2:21
  • “I Paul myself beseech you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.”—2 Corinthians 10:1

He then writes, “These four passages point more or less to our responsibility for a holy life—and to Christ as the true model of that life. We are redeemed—that we may be holy. We are freely pardoned—that we may be holy. We look to Jesus—that we may be holy. We are filled with the Spirit—that we may be holy. The true religious life rises out of redemption—and is a copy of Christ’s walk on earth. Beholding Him—we are changed into His image, from glory to glory.”

Bonar proceeds to meditate on the mark of a growing Christian life. Each trait was found in Christ, and so should be found in us, for “a Christian, then, is a copy of Christ. His inner and outer man are to be copies of Christ. It is Christ’s footsteps he is to walk in. It is Christ’s image that he is to reflect. It is not Paul, nor Peter, nor Luther, nor Calvin, nor Rutherford that he is to copy—but Christ Himself. Other models may illustrate this, and so help in the imitation of Christ; but only as doing this are they useful; otherwise they are dangerous.”

What then is a Christian man?

Bonar answers that question in six ways. I read these yesterday afternoon and found much cause for conviction, encouragement, and prayer. May they do the same for you.

I. He is a man of FAITH. It was by giving credit to God’s word that he became a Christian man; for it is by faith that we become sons of God. And his whole life is to be a life of faith. As Christ lived by faith on the Father, so does he. Christ is his model as a believing man. The more that he understands of Christ’s life, the more will he see the faith that marks it, and will learn to copy it, to live, act, speak, and walk by faith.

II. He is a man of PRAYER. In this too he follows Christ. Christ’s life was a life of prayer. In the morning we find Him praying a great while before day. All night we find Him praying more. No one, we would say, needed prayer less—yet no one prayed more. And the disciple herein imitates the Master. He prays without ceasing. He is instant in supplication. His life is a life of prayer—constant communion with God.

III. He is a man of HOPE. Christ looked to the joy set before Him—and so endured the cross. He anticipated the glory, and so was a man of hope. There is the hope, the same glory, the same joy for us. The things hoped for are the things we live upon and rejoice in. Our prospects are bright—and we keep them ever in view. The kingdom, the crown, the city, the inheritance—these are before our eyes. They cheer, and sustain, and purify us! Were it not for the hope, what would become of us? What would this world be to us? Learn to hope as well as to believe.

IV. He is man of HOLINESS. He is the follower of a holy Master. He hears the voice—Be holy, for I am holy. He knows that he is redeemed to be holy—to do good works—to follow righteousness—to be one of a peculiar people. He is not content with merely being saved—he seeks to put off sin, lust, evil, vanity—and to put on righteousness, holiness, and every heavenly characteristic. He seeks to rise higher and higher—to grow more unlike this world—more like the world to come. He marks Christ’s footsteps, and walks in them. He studies the Master’s mind, and seeks to possess it; mortifying his members and crucifying the flesh. He aims at shining as He shone, and testifying as He testified.

V. He is a man of LOVE. He has known Christ’s love, and drunk it in, and found his joy in it. So he seeks to be like Him in love—to love the Father, to love the brethren, to love sinners—to show love at all times, in word and deed. His life is to be a life of love, his words the words of love, his daily doings the outflow of a heart of love. He is to be a living witness of the gospel of love. Love—not hatred, nor coldness, nor malice, nor revenge, nor selfishness, nor indifference—love such as was in Christ—that he endeavors to embody and exhibit.

VI. He is to be a man of ZEAL. ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten me up,’ said Christ. His life was one of zeal for God—zeal for His Father’s honor and His Father’s business. So is the disciple to be ‘zealous of good works.’ Zeal steady and fervent—not by fits and starts; not according to convenience, but in season and out of season; prudent, yet warm and loving; willing to suffer and to sacrifice; no sparing self or the flesh, but ever burning; zeal for Jehovah’s glory, for Christ’s name, for the Church’s edification, for the salvation of lost men—this is to give complexion and character to his life.

These things are to mark a Christian man. He is not to be content with less. He is to grow in all these things—not to be barren, not to stagnate, not to be lukewarm—but to increase in resemblance to his Lord—to be transformed daily into His likeness, that there may be no mistake about him—as to who or what he is.