Six things you need to remember as you walk through trials (I Peter 1:6-7)

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures, reminds us of the importance of talking to ourselves rather than listening to ourselves. But what should we be saying to ourselves when suffering and pain are our lot? I Peter 1:6-7 gives us (at least) six things that ought to fill our mouths and hearts: “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

1. Trials are distressing. It may seem pointless to tell yourself something you already know, by excruciating experience. Pain is painful; there are few truths more tautological and self-evident. Yet isn’t there great comfort in the fact that God in His word affirms the grievousness, the heaviness, the sorrow of suffering? You’re not crazy. What you’re going through hurts. God is not unaware of that fact. With the disciples in the boat, we are tempted to cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). But He is not uncaring or cold. So find solace in His sympathy.

2. Trials are various. It’s another truth that might make us raise an eyebrow and think, “Do I really need to tell myself that?” Yet how gracious and realistic is the recognition of God: our trials are like Baskin Robbins ice cream – they come in a variety of types and colors and strengths and flavors, and sometimes you get more than one scoop. Like Joseph’s coat of many colors (the same Greek word is used in Genesis 37:3), we endure a panoply of affliction, and often multiple trials at one time. Being a disciple of Christ doesn’t spare you from all sorts of suffering; indeed, the exact opposite is true (Phil. 1:29; II Tim. 3:12; Rom. 8:17). So never allow say to yourself, “I’m a Christian, why am I suffering so many things?” Rather, say, “I’m a Christian, through many tribulations I must enter the kingdom of God” (Act 14:22).

3. Trials are only for a little while. This truth can sometimes be the hardest to believe. And if it didn’t come from the mouth of God Himself, we might accuse the speaker of being trite or cold-hearted, one of Job’s comforters. This is God’s word, though. Our trials are only for a little while. In the heat of the moment(s), we are tempted to believe otherwise. Yet even if “a little while” is the entirety of our earthly lives, that span pales in comparison to eternity. One day, our trials will terminate, our suffering will stop. We must beat this into our heads repeatedly.

4. Trials only come if necessary. If comfort is found in the length of our trials, how much more is comfort found in the truth that we only get what we need? And who knows what we need better than our heavenly Father? He who ordains whatsoever comes to pass, who works all things according to the counsel of His will, never allows us to suffer one millisecond longer than is needful. He knows what we need and what we can bear. We may not see why we need to go through this or that affliction, but the all-seeing God certainly does. And so we trust Him, and entrust ourselves to Him. Speak the peace of God’s sovereignty to your heart day by day, moment by moment.

5. Trials come to prove our faith. The Bible gives us many reasons why God ordains that we go through trials (John Newton has given us several of them here). One of the most obvious, given the word itself, is to try us – to bring us through the refining fires, to test us, to purify our faith, to remove the dross and leave the genuine article. God through our suffering is proving the value and strength of our faith. It’s through faith that He keeps us, thus this faith must persevere and be strengthened. Gold grows less by the refining process; the dross is swept away. Faith, on the other hand, increases, is improved and multiplied, as the unbelief and disobedience is swept away. Our faith is strengthened through trials. But there is a reason even beyond the proving process: that the tested genuineness of our faith may be found to result in praise, glory and honor when Christ returns. Certainly the triune God will be praised, glorified and honored. But the Bible is clear that there will be praise, glory and honor for us as well (I Pet. 5:1, 4; Matt. 25; Col. 3:4; II Cor. 4:16; Rom. 2:10, 29; I Cor. 4:5). It is difficult perhaps to determine which Peter has in mind. But a refined, proven faith will result in both. There is therefore benefit in trial, both in this life and the next. Never let yourself forget this truth.

6. In the midst of trials, our joy is found in our great salvation. “In this you greatly rejoice, even though…” In what? In the wonder of God’s amazing and powerful grace unfolded with such beauty in verses 3-5: in our being born again to a living hope through Jesus’ resurrection; in our imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance that God is reserving for us in heaven; in God’s powerful protecting of us through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. We rejoice in what is eternally true, even while experiencing light and momentary affliction. Our joy is grounded in never-changing realities, not ever-changing circumstances. Joy and sorrow coexist in the Christian’s heart till the day Jesus returns. And then our joy will be complete, richer and fuller than we have ever dreamed.

Remember these six simple sentences, so that you might repeat them to yourself in times of trial. Stop listening to the lies and half-truths that are from the pit of hell, which seek to undermine our confidence in the wisdom, power and love of God. Speak truth to your heart, and be at peace.

Thomas Boston on the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant

Yesterday, Scott Swain posted links to Lee Irons’ articles on Meredith Kline’s views of the “works principle in the Mosaic economy.” In Swain’s view, “[I]it seems…that much of the republication debate boils down to whether or not the following claim from Irons is true: ‘The only way to explain the failure and fall of Israel (like the failure and fall of Adam) is to recognize that Israel as a nation was under a covenant of works (like Adam).'” I certainly haven’t read enough of the extant literature to understand all the key points in this debate, but I’ve read several chapters of The Law is Not of Faith and engaged in enough conversation about the debate to know that I’m not comfortable with the way that Kline and his disciples express their understanding of the republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic economy. Irons gives a summary statement of Kline’s view from Kingdom Prologue:

“The Mosaic economy, while an administration of grace on its fundamental level of concern with the eternal salvation of the individual, was at the same time on its temporary, typological kingdom level informed by the principle of works. Thus, for example, the apostle Paul in Romans 10:4ff. and Galatians 3:10ff. (cf. Rom 9:32) contrasts the old order of the law with the gospel order of grace and faith, identifying the old covenant as one of bondage, condemnation, and death (cf. 2 Cor 3:6-9; Gal 4:24-26). The old covenant was law, the opposite of grace-faith, and in the postlapsarian world that meant it would turn out to be an administration of condemnation as a consequence of sinful Israel’s failure to maintain the necessary meritorious obedience. Had the old typological kingdom been secured by sovereign grace in Christ, Israel would not have lost her national election. A satisfactory explanation of Israel’s fall demands works, not grace, as the controlling administrative principle” (KP 109).

Aspects of my disagreement are semantic rather than substantive, but one of my primary concerns is how absolute Kline/Klineians are in their explanations, i.e., “The old covenant was law, the opposite of grace-faith…” or “Israel as a nation was under a covenant of works (like Adam).”

A better, more balanced way to express the situation, in my opinion, is how Thomas Boston does it in his notes to Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity. In Part I, Chapter 2, Section 3, Evangelista states that the ten commandments “were delivered to Israel as the covenant of works.” Interestingly, Boston notes that concerning this point, “there are different sentiments among orthodox divines [Boston cites Willison, Flint, M’Claren, and Patrick Gillespie as agreeing with Fisher]; though all of them do agree, that the way of salvation was the same under the Old and New Testament, and that the Sinai covenant, whatever it was, carried no prejudice to the promise made unto Abraham, and the way of salvation therein revealed, but served to lead men to Jesus Christ.” It is rather comforting to me to know that these issues have been debated for centuries among Reformed theologians (as one of the chapters of The Law is Not of Faith explains in much detail; don’t have the book with me so I forget the exact title/author).

Nomista answers Evangelista’s contention, “But, by your favour, sir, you know that these people were the posterity of Abraha, and therefore under that covenant of grace which God made with their father; and therefore I do not think that they were delivered to them as the covenant of works; for you know that the Lord never delivers the covenant of works to any that are under the covenant of grace.” Evangelista then respond, “Indeed it is true, the Lord did manifest so much love to the body of this nation, that all the natural seed of Abraham were externally, and by profession, under the covenant of grace made with their father Abraham; though, it is to be feared, many of them were still under the covenant of works made with their father Adam.” Boston notes, “The strength of [Nomista’s objection] lies here, namely, that at this rate, the same persons, at one and the same time, were both under the covenant of works, and under the covenant of grace, which is absurd. Ans. The unbelieving Israelites were under the covenant of grace made with their father Abraham externally and by profession, in respect of their visible church state; but under the covenant of works made with their father Adam internally and really, in respect of the state of their souls before the Lord. Herein there is no absurdity; for to this day many in the visible church are thus, in these different respects, under both covenants. Farther, as to the believers among them, they were internally and really, as well as externally, under the covenant of grace; and only externally under the covenant of works, and that, not as a covenant co-ordinate with, but subordinate and subservient unto, the covenant of grace: and in this there is no more inconsistency than in the former.”

How can the believers in Israel be under both covenants? Boston explains a few notes later, as he speaks of the preface to the ten commandments:

“[The preface makes it] evident to me, that the covenant of grace was delivered to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. For the Son of God, the messenger of the covenant of grace, spoke these words to a select people, the natural seed of Abraham, typical of his whole spiritual seed. He avoucheth himself to be their God; namely, in virtue of the promise, or covenant made with Abraham, Gen. 17:7, ‘I will establish my covenant – to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee:’ and their God, which brought them out of the land of Egypt; according to the promise made to Abraham at the most solemn renewal of the covenant with him. – Gen. 15:14, ‘Afterwards shall they come out with great substance.’ And he first declares himself their God, and then requires obedience, according to the manner of the covenant with Abraham, Gen. 17:1; ‘I am the Almighty God (i.e., in the language of the covenant, The Almighty God to thee, to make thee for ever blest through the promised seed,) walk thou before me, and be thou perfect.’

“But that the covenant of works was also, for special ends, repeated and delivered to the Israelites on Mount Sinai, I cannot refuse, 1. Because of the apostle’s testimony, Gal. 4:24, ‘These are the two covenants; the one from Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage.’ For the children of this Sinai covenant the apostle here treats of, are excluded from the eternal inheritance, as Ishmael was from Canaan, the type of it, ver. 30, ‘Cast out the bond-woman and her son; for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman;’ but this could never be said of the children of the covenant of grace under any dispensation, though both the law and the covenant from Sinai itself, and its children, were even before the coming of Christ under a sentence of exclusion, to be executed on them respectively in due time. 2. The nature of the covenant of works is most expressly in the New Testament brought in, propounded, and explained by the Mosaical dispensation. The commands of it from Exod. 20 by our blessed Saviour, Matt. 19:17-19, ‘If thou wilt enter into life keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt not commit adultery,’ etc. The promise of it, Rom. 10:5, ‘Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doth these things shall live by them.’ The commands and promise of it together, see Luke 10:25-28. The terrible sanction of it, Gal. 3:10. For it is written, (viz. Deut. 27:26,) ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’ 3. To this may be added the opposition betwixt the law and grace, so frequently inculcated int he New Testament, especially in Paul’s epistles. See on text for all, Gal. 3:12, ‘And the law is not of faith, but the man that doeth them shall live in them.” 4. The law from Mount Sinai was a covenant, Gal. 4:24, ‘These are the two covenants, the one from the Mount Sinai;’ and such a covenant as had a semblance of disannulling the covenant of grace, Gal. 3:17, ‘The covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law which was 430 years after, cannot disannul;’ yea, such a one as did, in its own nature, bear a method of obtaining the inheritance, so far different from that of the promise, that it was inconsistent with it; ‘For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise,’ Gal. 3:18, wherefore the covenant of the law from Mount Sinai could not be the covenant of grace, unless one will make this last not only a covenant seeming to destroy itself, but really inconsistent: but it was the covenant of works, which indeed had such a semblance, and in its own nature did bear such a method as before noted; howbeit, as Ainsworth says, ‘The covenant of the law now given could not disannul the covenant of grace,’ Gal. 3:17. Annot. on Exod. 19:1.

“Wherefore I conceive the two covenants to have been both delivered on Mount Sinai to the Israelites. First, the covenant of grace made with Abraham, contained in the preface, repeated and promulgate there unto Israel, to be believed and embraced by faith, that they might be saved; to which were annexed the ten commandments, given by the Mediator Christ, the head of the covenant, as a rule of life to his covenant people. Secondly, the covenant of works made with Adam, contained in the same ten commands, delivered with thunderings and lightnings, the measure of which was afterwards cleared by Moses, describing the righteousness of the law and sanction thereof, repeated and promulgate to the Israelites there, as the original perfect rule of righteousness, to be obeyed; and yet were they no more bound hereby to seek righteousness by the law than the young man was by our Saviour’s saying to him, Matt. 19:17, 18, ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments – Thou shalt do no murder,’ etc. The latter was a repetition of the former.

“Thus there is no confounding of the two covenants of grace and works; but the latter was added to the former as subservient unto it, to turn their eyes toward the promise, or covenant of grace: ‘God gave it to Abraham by promise. Wherefore then serveth the law? it was added, because of transgressions, till the Seed should come,’ Gal. 3:18, 19. So it was unto the promise given to Abraham, that this subservient covenant was added; and that promise we have found in the preface to the ten commands. To it, then was the subservient covenant, according to the apostle, added, put, or set to, as the word properly signifies. So it was no part of the covenant of grace, the which was entire to the fathers, before the time that was set to it; and yet is, to the New Testament church, after that is taken away from it: for, says the apostle, ‘It was added till the seed should come.’ Hence it appears that the covenant of grace was, both in itself, and in God’s intention, the principal part of the Sinai transaction: nevertheless, the covenant of works was the most conspicuous part of it, and lay most open to the view of the people.

“According to this account of the Sinai transaction, the ten commands there delivered, must come under a twofold notion or consideration; namely, as the law of Christ, and as the law of works…Upon the whole, one may compare with this the first promulgation of the covenant of grace, by the messenger of the covenant in paradise, Gen. 3:15, and the flaming sword placed there by the same hand, ‘turning every way to keep the way of the tree of life.'”

From the rest of Fisher’s discussion in the Marrow and Boston’s notes, it’s clear that Boston doesn’t completely see eye to eye with Fisher. These are difficult issues to keep straight, but I appreciate and agree with Boston’s handling of them more than that of the modern day republicationists. There are other questions that Boston doesn’t address directly in this quote (such as the relationship between Israel’s expulsion from the land and his two fold understanding of the Mosaic covenant), but I bet further study would find he does address them at some point. In any event, I throw this out there as supporting evidence against those who would only see Israel as under a covenant of works, as it sometimes appears Kline and his followers do.

 

The Three Legs of the Christian Life

Every stool needs three legs to balance properly. The Christian life is no different. When it comes to maturing as a Christian, there are three areas, three aspects, three “legs” that need to be firmly in place.

First, we must know the truth. Paul says in Titus 1:1 that he is an apostle “for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth…” Knowledge is the foundation of all true faith, whether the object of that faith is a proposition or a person. We must be ever-increasing in our knowledge of sound doctrine. There is an intellectual, rational, cognitive component to the Christian life that we ignore or eschew to our spiritual detriment and harm. Paul was an apostle so that God’s elect might come to know the truth and believe that truth with all their hearts. We never stop learning the truth, deepening in our understanding and experience of it.

Second, we must grow in godliness. Paul continues in Titus 1:1, “…the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness…” The truth is according to godliness. They go together. Where you have one you must have the other. “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (I Cor. 8:1). We can know a lot of facts, but without love – and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit – our knowledge is worthless, pointless, useless, in vain. It’s no accident that Paul speaks in the same breath of those who are “always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” and who “hold to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (II Tim. 3:5, 7). True knowledge is always accompanied by genuine godliness. We must hold and speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). The “things that are fitting for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1) are the spiritual graces that ought to mark older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and servants. Grace trains us to live godly in the present age (Titus 2:11-12); that’s why Paul says we are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (I Tim. 4:7). Some people have a long leg of knowledge, and a short leg of godliness. Others have a long leg of godliness, and a short leg of knowledge. Both are unsightly, ungainly, awkward, unbalanced, halting. We should aspire to neither knowledge nor godliness by themselves, but rather to both together.

Third, we must go show (and tell) the love of Christ in good deeds. All the pastoral epistles (especially Titus!) are filled with an emphasis upon good deeds, deeds that are “good and profitable for men,” that “meet pressing needs” (Titus 3:8, 14). We are to be “careful to engage in good deeds.” That is, our lives as Christian can’t stand upon two legs only – sound doctrine and piety – but must have an active, social, merciful, serving, horizontal component as well. Only then do we have the true balance the Scriptures envision for the people of God. These good deeds are never disconnected from our verbal witness to Christ and His gospel, of course, and so showing and telling go together – we demonstrate the love of Christ tangibly in deeds of mercy and goodness, and we declare that love in the proclamation of the gospel of grace. We speak the truth in love. We love in action, and we speak the truth. We go into the world, loving the world and sharing the gospel with the world, that all might be served and that God’s elect might be saved.

These are the three pillars, the three legs of the stool of the Christian life. If you know your American Presbyterian history (nicely explained in Reformed Theology in America, edited by David Wells, especially George Marsden’s Introduction), then you won’t be surprised that these three components, found so clearly in the book of Titus (and in all the Scriptures), approximate the three extremes that American Presbyterians have tended toward: doctrinalism, pietism, and culturalism. May the Lord give us grace not to live as people of extremes, but to be committed to all three aspects of His work in us by His Spirit. Know the truth, grow in godliness, and go show (and tell) the love of Christ in good deeds.

Ode to a Crockpot (Landon Vick)

Landon Vick, my friend from Cookeville, TN, recently wrote this eloquent elegy for his crockpot. The washing machine my mom and grandparents gave us as a wedding present kicked the bucket this month (on our 14th anniversary!), so this poem hit close to the heart. If you’ve ever had to say goodby to a beloved appliance, you will love this. Landon, Tim Hawkins has nothing on you!

Ode To Crockpot

Goodbye Crockpot,
You will be missed,
We will not forget you,
I promise you this.

You were a gift,
11 years ago now,
Shining, shimmering, bright and new,
As Kandice and I took the wedding vow.

Our beginnings were humble
To say the least,
Beans, soups, chili’s, and stews,
You truly helped us feast.

As we grew together
Exploring new frontiers,
Apple cider, yogurt, barbecue,
You, you crockpot, were without fear.

For hours upon hours you
Would faithfully heat,
Anything we threw at you,
It’s an amazing feat.

I’m sorry for the times,
I neglected your setting,
Choosing keep warm instead of high,
Or just plain forgetting.

We cried the day,
Your handle broke,
I repaired you with duck tape,
But it was a deadly stroke.

We knew the day would come,
We knew it might be within reach,
When we would go to buy,
A new Hamilton Beach.

That day has come,
It’s already here,
Your time with us is through,
But one thing is clear.

When I open the door,
From a long day away,
And smell the wonders,
Of a crockpot cooking all day.

It will be you, you crockpot,
That I will ever cherish,
Your memory, oh crockpot,
It will never perish.

If you love the gospel, you need to know about the Marrow Controversy.

The PCA Historical Center has just recently posted this sermon by Alexander Whyte on the Marrow Controversy, an 18th century controversy over the nature of the gospel, the relationship between law and gospel, the relationship between assurance and faith, limited atonement and the preaching of the gospel, and several other important and interesting gospel issues. Whyte’s sermon is a great introduction to the controversy, and to Thomas Boston, one of the key figures in the controversy. For more details, read the book itself, and see Sinclair Ferguson’s three lectures (with transcripts!) here.

If you aren’t familiar with the life and writings of Kara Tippetts…

Kara Tippetts was the wife of Jason Tippetts, a PCA pastor in Colorado. She has been struggling against cancer since 2012, and just went to be with Jesus this past Lord’s Day. If you aren’t familiar with her story, which has blessed so many, you can read more here and here.

Learning the Basics of the Faith – Free study aides from the PCA Bookstore

The PCA’s Committee on Discipleship Ministries has produced study aides to go along with the “Basics of the Faith” series that P & R has published. You can find the booklets on sale here, and the study aides for free here.

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