Richard Gaffin on the relationship between the first day Sabbath and biblical eschatology 

Richard Gaffin, in the last footnote of his article “A Sabbath Rest Still Awaits the People of God” (in Pressing Toward the Mark, edited by Charles Dennison and Rochard Gamble), beautifully expresses the significance of the change of the Sabbath day from the seventh day of the week to the first day:

…the shift of the weekly Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day reflects the present eschatological situation of the church – the change to the first day is an index of eschatology already realized, of the eschatological new-creation rest inaugurated by Christ, especially by his resurrection; the continuation of a weekly rest-day is a sign of eschatology still future, a pointer to the eschatological rest to come at Christ’s return. (page 51n37)

We begin our week with rest, rather than ending it with rest, for rather than anticipating the rest Christ was to bring his people (as the Old Covenant saints did), we already experience it now and work forward from and out of that rest. We continue to observe the 4th commandment by keeping a weekly day of rest, because the eternal rest of Hebrews 4 is not yet ours. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus – and until then, let us delight in our Sabbath days spent in close fellowship with Him!

Preachers, does your preaching sound anything like this?

Samuel Blair, an 18th century American Presbyterian pastor and revivalist in Pennsylvania, beautifully describes the preaching that God used to bring about great revival in the church:

The main scope of my preaching was, laying open the deplorable state of man by nature since the fall, our ruined, exposed case by the breach of the first covenant, and the awful condition of such as were not in Christ, giving the marks and characters of such as were in that condition, through a Mediator, with the nature and necessity of faith in Christ the Mediator. I labored much on the last mentioned head, that people might have right apprehensions of the gospel method of faith of life and salvation. I treated much on the way of a sinner’s closing with Christ by faith, and obtaining a right peace to an awakened, wounded conscience; showing that persons were not to take peace to themselves on account of their repentings, sorrows, prayers, and reformations, not to make those things the grounds of their adventuring themselves upon Christ and His righteousness, and of their expectations of life by Him, . . . but by an understanding view and believing persuasion of the way of life, as revealed in the gospel, through the surety-ship, obedience, and sufferings of Jesus Christ, with a view of the suitableness and sufficiency of that mediatory righteousness of Christ for the justification of law-condemned sinners; and thereupon freely accepting Him for their Savior. I endeavored to show the fruits and evidences of a true faith.

For more on Blair, see the entry at the PCA Historical Center. 

Do you delight to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy? Or is the Lord’s Day a burden to you?

As I prepare to teach Sunday School on the Lord’s Day as a primary (and forgotten/ignored) habit of family discipleship, these words of Walter Chantry do such a beautiful job of getting to the heart of the matter:

…So insensitive have men become to God’s moral law that we must point out that the fourth commandment is speaking of an entire day. Reference is not made to a few hours for church attendance. One entire day in each cycle of seven days is to be kept holy. Six days may be spent in our own work but the seventh is the Sabbath of the Lord our God.

An entire day is to be ‘kept holy.’ By this the Scripture means that it is to be set aside from ordinary use to be devoted to the Lord God. This portion of time is for sacred use – to worship and serve the Lord. When tables and bowls and forks were called ‘holy’ in Old Testament times, it was meant that they were no longer to be employed in common ways. They were to be devoted exclusively to sacred usage. They were set aside for activities related to the worship and service of God. In similar fashion, this commandment requires that a day of time be completely dedicated to spiritual uses. ‘The seventh day (as opposed to six used for our own business) is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.’ It is his day. He has staked out a claim upon it. It belongs to him.

This is not a narrow or restrictive requirement. A heart that loves the Lord will leap for joy at the prospect of a day with him. Doesn’t a child love to have a day with his father? Of course the worldly will loathe giving any time to God. The self-absorbed will regret any day spent in his presence. Without love for God such a requirement will seem narrow and a heavy burden. But for the godly it is a broad road of liberty and joy. There is an entire day each week liberated from my ordinary recreations and labors to serve the lover of my soul and to be with him.

If a Christian takes a bit of time on the Sabbath for private Bible reading and prayer, if he is faithful in public worship on God’s holy day, if time is spent teaching his children God’s word, time preparing and teaching a Bible lesson, time visiting the sick and poor in Jesus’ name, time witnessing to a friend, time fellowshipping with the saints, time singing praises to God – soon the day seems all too short for the spiritually minded. There is so much to do for God in private, in the family, in the church. there is so much to do in worship and praise. It is a holy day, different from the other six. It is devoted to the Lord in his worship and service.

J. C. Ryle on the glories of Christ’s return

Christian, do you “long pain and sorrow bear”? Are you walking in the midst of darkness and have no light? Then I encourage you to meditate on the second coming of Jesus Christ. In preparing for my sermon this Sunday on the parable of the ten virgins, I’ve come across this gem from J. C. Ryle:

True Christians shall alone be found ready at the second advent. Washed in the blood of atonement, clothed in Christ’s righteousness, renewed by the Spirit, they shall meet their Lord with boldness, and sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb, to go out not more. Surely this is a blessed prospect.

They shall be with their Lord – with Him who loved them and gave Himself for them – with Him who bore with them, and carried them through their earthly pilgrimage – with Him, whom they loved truly and followed faithfully on earth, though with much weakness, and many a tear. Surely this also is a blessed prospect.

The door shall be shut at last – shut on all pain and sorrow – shut on an illnatured and wicked world – shut on a tempting devil – shut on all doubts and fears – shut, to be opened again no more. Surely, we may say again, this is a blessed prospect.

Let us remember these things. They will bear meditation. They are all true. The believer may have much tribulation, but he has before him abounding consolations. Heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. The day of Christ’s return shall surely make amends for all.

Thoughts from Trujillo

We’ve been in Peru since Friday evening, arriving around midnight and getting to sleep in our hotel around 2:30 a.m. The flights from Jackson to Houston and Houston to Lima were thankfully uneventful, and the longish layover and long flights afforded me good time to read from several different good books (Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper, Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell, The Next Christendom by Phillip Jenkins, The Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming, Tomorrowland by Stephen Kotler and Inprove Your Chess Pattern Recognition by Oudeweetering). The length also gave our team opportunities to bond, and the Lord has been gracious to give us 19 easy-going, flexible, servant-hearted souls who desire His glory rather than their own, who know how to enjoy themselves and laugh with one another, and who possess an array of talents and personalities that make a mission team like a spice rack makes a soup.

On Saturday we woke up late, walked to a tourist area of Lima for brunch, then walked to a market to exchange our dollars into soles and buy souvenirs. Lima is on the Pacific coast, with high cliffs overlooking the ocean. Surfers were braving the cold waters for what appeared to me to be not so big waves. Lima is a city of 10 million souls, so we obviously didn’t see all of it – but I was impressed with what I saw. After a brief time of shopping, we went back to our hotel and traveled to the airport to fly to Trujillo. The flight was only an hour up the coast to the north, and our landing over the Pacific was beautiful.

The foothills of the Andes begin in Trujillo, which itself is a desert. Every morning so far has been cloudy, and so the effect is to feel like we’re in a Lord of the Rings movie – the background almost doesn’t look real. Sand is everywhere, and there isn’t much grass, in part because they only receive half an inch of rain each year. But because of that, coupled with a temperate climate, houses are open to the outside in some surprising ways. Not just open windows, but even open plazas inside of houses. It’s a different way to live certainly, but going from 100 degree heat in Jackson to 65-70 degree coolness here has been a great delight.

Our hotel is near the center of Trujillo, a city of 1 million (either the second or third largest city in Peru, I’ve gotten conflicting reports). Trujillo is a cacophany of sights and sounds, with unfinished concrete buildings everywhere, water tanks on top of every roof, walls surrounding every residence/business (except gas stations), taxis and combis honking as often as they can, children and adults begging through street performances at many stop lights, people selling their wares on the streets and in the streets at intersections. It’s a clean city in parts, but there is trash piled up in several places, awaiting garbage pickup that seems to be infrequent. There are more taxis, buses, combis, and motorcycle taxis than personal cars. The people are very friendly, and welcoming to foreigners. Evidently Trujillo can be a dangerous city in parts, but we’re not in those parts, and I’ve been impressed with the parks and activity all around. The most impressive thing I’ve seen in Trujillo, apart from the scenic natural beauty surrounding us, is the ability of the taxi drivers to navigate traffic that seems chaotic. We’ve nearly hit or been hit at least a dozen times, yet each time the drivers find a way to avoid the wreck and keep on going. It’s a fearful display of human agility and reflex.

Sunday we worshipped in Arevalo, a neighborhood where Peru Mission has planted a church, a school, and a medical clinic. I was privileged to preach through a translator (Stuart Mills, a friend from Zachary, Louisiana) on Titus 2. There is nothing like worshipping in another language. It is a reminder in stereo that the last day will be filled with voices of praise from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. As my friend Paul Randall put it, it’s one thing to profess that, it’s another thing to experience it. It’s one of the great reasons why short term mission trips are so invaluable. It would be easy to ask, “Why spend so much money taking 19 people to Peru? Why not just send the money to the missionaries?” I’m learning the answers to that question are many. 1) Because without the people, the money wouldn’t come. We would have been hard pressed to raise $50,000 to send to the Peruvian church if we ourselves were not going. And when a large chunk of that money goes directly to the projects of Peru Mission, the chunk we sent to United Airlines is more easily digested. 2) Both the foreign participants and the nationals have a chance to experience heaven on earth, in the sense of two cultures worshipping together. Both of us are reminded that the kingdom of God is larger than our little corner of the globe. 3) Those who go are changed forever. We go back with new eyes – to see the spiritual need around us, to see the physical need around us, to see the value of supporting missionaries, to see the need for prayer. And we go back with transformed relationships with the other team members. That’s been one of the best parts of this trip so far

Ministers, never forget that piety must be at the foundation of any long continued & cheap usefulness in the church.

So said William Swan Plumer in a sermon on the call to the ministry (found in Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry, edited by James Garretson). But what does he mean by “cheap” usefulness? 

He explains: “The phrase ‘cheap usefulness’ is not employed without design. For it is not impossible for a man without piety, and under the influence of ambition, or false zeal, to be useful to some extent; but it will be at a tremendous expense. In compassing some good, he will create a world of mischief. At least his good, which perhaps first appears, will be followed by a train of evils, that may not cease their operation on earth in a century. Indeed, men of some real piety may do this in many ways; and how much more, men without it!”

May the Lord daily grant me and all His ministers a cheap usefulness!

Dating and marriage advice from a 19th century Presbyterian pastor (it’s actually quite helpful)…

In 1850, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, a 19th century Presbyterian pastor in Columbia, SC, and New Orleans, LA, was asked by a single young pastor friend for some advice on the subject of finding a spouse. His words of wisdom are quite insightful, though perhaps not what one would expect from a pastor one hundred and sixty-five years ago. But before hearing the actual counsel, Palmer’s self-deprecation concerning his fitness to give such advice is refreshing: “I had a hearty laugh, but have committed [your request] to nobody’s confidence but Mrs. Palmer’s; whose aid I must require, if I am to provide a wife for you.”

Now, for Palmer’s advice:

I have but two suggestions on the general subject; for really my creed as to matrimony is exceedingly simple. The first is, commit this selection of a wife to Providence, and wait until you are caught. In matrimony, the fancy of the affections must take the initiative. There is no use of spurring these into action, they act best when they act spontaneously; and while they do not act it will not distress you to live singly. There is no benefit that I know of in loving the abstract passion. Wait until it assumes the concrete, and is associated with some object of love. My second suggestion is, do not surrender yourself blindly to the impulses of the taste and heart, but weigh in the balance of  sound judgment the qualities of any who may have caught you by the horns. Piety, prudence and intelligence are the prominent characteristics she should possess. If to these she can add a trace of beauty, that will please the eye; and if a little pelf [money], that will relieve the purse. But neither of these is indispensable… A good wife is from the Lord: therefore deliver yourself in this to the guiding of his Providence. The great secret of a happy choice may be given in a single sentence: it consists in united the taste and the judgment equally in the selection. Let the former be the active power, going forward in the choice; and let the latter be the satisfying power, indorsing or else vetoing, as the case may be. If both are satisfied, there is not much danger of forming a connection that will be regretted hereafter. — Life and Letters of Benjamin Morgan Palmer, p. 145-146

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