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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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THE OLD HYMNS

J. M. Boice:

James Montgomery Boicegrace boice“The old hymns expressed the theology of the church in profound and perceptive ways and with winsome, memorable language. They lifted the worshipper’s thoughts to God and gave him striking words by which to remember God’s attributes. Today’s songs reflect our shallow or nonexistent theology and do almost nothing to elevate one’s thoughts about God.” (Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? p.180)

THE REFORMED TRADITION

James Montgomery BoiceJames Montgomery Boice:

Reformed theology gets its name from the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation, with its distinct theological emphases, but it is theology solidly based on the Bible itself. Believers in the reformed tradition regard highly the specific contributions of such people as Martin Luther, John Knox, and particularly John Calvin, but they also find their strong distinctives in the giants of the faith before them, such as Anselm and Augustine, and ultimately in the letters of Paul and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Reformed Christians hold to the doctrines characteristic of all Christians, including the Trinity, the true deity and true humanity of Jesus Christ, the necessity of Jesus’ atonement for sin, the church as a divinely ordained institution, the inspiration of the Bible, the requirement that Christians live moral lives, and the resurrection of the body. They hold other doctrines in common with evangelical Christians, such as justification by faith alone, the need for the new birth, the personal and visible return of Jesus Christ, and the Great Commission. (Reformed Theology)

REFORMED DOCTRINES

James M. BoiceJames M. Boice writing on Reformed Doctrines:

These doctrines were not invented by Calvin, nor were they characteristic of his thought alone during the Reformation period. These are biblical truths taught by Jesus and confirmed by Paul, Peter and all the other Old and New Testament writers. Augustine defended these doctrines against the denials of Pelagius. Luther believed them. So did Zwingli. That is, they believed what Calvin believed and later systematized in his influential Institutes of the Christian Religion. The Puritans were Calvinists; it was through them and their teaching that both England and Scotland experienced the greatest and most pervasive national revivals the the world has ever seen. In that number were the heirs of John Knox: Thomas Cartwright, Richard Sibbes, Richard Baxter, Matthew Henry, John Owen, and others. In America others were influenced by men such as Johnathan Edwards, Cotton Mather and, later, George Whitefield. (Foundations of the Christian Faith)

A CULTURAL MANDATE

James Montgomery BoiceJames Montgomery Boice:

Reformed theology also emphasizes the cultural mandate, or the obligation of Christians to live actively in society and work for the transformation of the world and its cultures. Reformed people have had various views in this area, depending on the extent to which they believe such a transformation possible But on the whole they agree on two things. First we are called to be in the world and not to withdraw from it. This sets reformed believers apart from monasticism. Second, we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. But the chief needs of people are still spiritual, and social work is no adequate substitute for evangelism. In fact, efforts to help people will only be truly effective as their hearts and minds are changed by the gospel. This sets reformed believers apart from, mere humanitarianism. It has been objected to reformed theology that anyone who believes along reformed lines will lose all motivation for evangelism. ‘If God is going to do the work, why should I bother?’ But it does not work that way. It is because God does the work that we can be bold to join Him in it, as He commands us to do. We do it joyfully, knowing that our efforts will never be in vain. (Reformed Theology)

GLORY TO GOD ALONE

grace boiceJames Montgomery Boice:

Glory to God alone. Each of the great Solas is summed up in the fifth Reformation motto: soli Deo Gloria, meaning ‘to God alone be the glory.’ It is what the apostle Paul expressed in Romans 11:36 when he wrote, ‘to Him be the glory forever! Amen.’ These words follow naturally from the preceding words, “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (v. 36), since it is because all things really are from God, and to God, that we say, ‘to God alone be the glory.’” (Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? pp. 65-149)

FAITH ALONE

James Montgomery BoiceJames Montgomery Boice:

The Reformers never tired of saying that ‘justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone.’ When put into theological shorthand the doctrine was expressed as “justification by faith alone,” the article by which the church stands or falls, according to Martin Luther. The Reformers called justification by faith Christianity’s “material principle,” because it involves the very matter or substance of what a person must understand and believe to be saved. Justification is a declaration of God based on the work of Christ. It flows from God’s grace and it comes to the individual not by anything he or she might do but by ‘faith alone’ (sola fide). We may state the full doctrine as: Justification is the act of God by which he declares sinners to be righteous because of Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.

CHRIST ALONE

James Montgomery BoiceJames Montgomery Boice:

The church of the Middle Ages spoke about Christ. A church that failed to do that could hardly claim to be Christian. But the medieval church had added many human achievements to Christ’s work, so that it was no longer possible to say that salvation was entirely by Christ and his atonement. This was the most basic of all heresies, as the Reformers rightly perceived. It was the work of God plus our own righteousness. The Reformation motto solus Christus was formed to repudiate this error. It affirmed that salvation has been accomplished once for all by the mediatorial work of the historical Jesus Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification, and any ‘gospel’ that fails to acknowledge that or denies it is a false gospel that will save no one. (“The Five Solas of the Reformation”)

SCRIPTURE ALONE

James M. BoiceJames Montgomery Boice:

When the Reformers used the words sola Scriptura they were expressing their concern for the Bible’s authority, and what they meant is that the Bible alone is our ultimate authority—not the pope, not the church, not the traditions of the church or church councils, still less personal intimations or subjective feelings, but Scripture only. Other sources of authority may have an important role to play. Some are even established by God—such as the authority of church elders, the authority of the state, or the authority of parents over children. But Scripture alone is truly ultimate. Therefore, if any of these other authorities depart from Bible teaching, they are to be judged by the Bible and rejected. (“The Five Solas of the Reformation”)

THE VIRGIN BIRTH

James M. BoiceJames Montgomery Boice:

The virgin birth is important in regard to our world view. When I speak of a world view, I mean a total world philosophy. The most important issue in philosophy is whether we are living in a closed universe or an open universe. When we look about at the visible universe, when we see matter and the laws that govern it, the basic question is whether that is all there is. If it is, we have a closed universe. That is the dominant view of our time. On the other hand, when we look at the universe of things and ideas, do we confess that we are not dealing with a closed universe but with a universe in which God lies above and beyond what we see? That is an open universe, and that is the Bible’s view.

THE WORLD’S THEOLOGY

James Montgomery BoiceJames Montgomery Boice:

“Claiming to be wise, they became fools,” (Romans 1:22 ESV)

The world’s theology is easy to define. It is the view . . . that human beings are basically good, that no one is really lost, that belief in Jesus Christ is not necessary for salvation.

Concern for Souls

James Montgomery BoiceQuoting James Montgomery Boice:

[T]he greatest periods of faithful expository preaching were inevitably accompanied by the highest levels of sensitivity to the presence of God in worship and the greatest measure of concern for the cure of souls.

The Puritans are a great example, though one could cite the Reformation period or the age of the evangelical awakening in England as well. The Puritans abounded in the production of expository material. We think of the monumental productions of men like Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), Richard Baxter (1615-l691), John Owen (1616-1683), Thomas Watson (d. l686), John Flavel (1627-1691), Jonathan Edwards (1702-1758), and that later Puritan Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892). These men produced material so serious in its nature and so weighty in its content that few contemporary pastors are even up to reading it. Yet common people followed these addresses in former times and were moved by them. Worship services were characterized by a powerful sense of God’s presence, and those who did such preaching and led such services were no less concerned with the individual problems, temptations, and growth of those under their care. Who in recent years has produced a work on pastoral counseling to equal Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor (1656)? Who has analyzed the movement of God in individual lives as well as did Jonathan Edwards in A Narrative of Surprising Conversions (1737) and Religious Affections (1746) or Archibald Alexander in his Thoughts on Religious Experience (1844)? Questions like these should shake us out of self-satisfied complacency and show that we are actually conducting our pastoral care, worship, and preaching at a seriously lower level. (The Foundation of Biblical Authority, London & Glasgow: Pickering & Inglis, 1979, pp.123-143)

Sinclair B. Ferguson: Abiding in Christ

Sinclair B. FergusonSinclair B. Ferguson:

In a nutshell, abiding in Christ means allowing His Word to fill our minds, direct our wills, and transform our affections. In other words, our relationship to Christ is intimately connected to what we do with our Bibles!

Learning about God

James Montgomery BoiceWe are called to learn about God and know God in the fullest, biblical sense. This is the true path to wisdom. It is our duty and privilege. James Montgomery Boice writes:

What is the proper course of study for one who is a child of God? Is it not God himself? There are other worthwhile areas of learning, it is true. But the highest science, the most mind-expanding area of all, is the Godhead. Spurgeon once wrote:

“There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can comprehend and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go on our way with the thought, ‘Behold I am wise.’ But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the… solemn exclamation, ‘I am but of yesterday and know nothing.’ . . . But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continuing investigation of the great subject of the Deity.”

Every Christian should confidently pursue this goal. God has promised that those who seek him will find him. To those who knock, the door shall be opened.

Our God Whom We Serve is able to Deliver Us

James Montgomery BoiceThere are many worthwhile areas of learning. The highest area of learning, however, is the study of God. The contemplation of God improves the mind and drowns our pride. James Montgomery Boice writes:

His purposes are always accomplished. Therefore, those who know him rightly act with boldness assured that God is with them to accomplish his own desirable purposes in their lives.

Do we need an example? We can find no better one than Daniel. Daniel and his friends were godly men in the godless environment of ancient Babylon. They were slaves, good slaves. They served the court. But difficulty arose when they refused to obey anything in opposition to the commands of the true God whom they knew and worshiped. When Nebuchadnezzar’s great statue was set up and all were required to fall down and worship it, Daniel and his friends refused. When prayer to anyone but King Darius was banned for thirty days, Daniel did as he always did: he prayed to God three times a day before an open window.

What was wrong with these men? Had they fooled themselves about the consequences? Did they think that their failure to comply would go unseen? Not at all. They knew the consequences, but they also knew God. They were able to be strong, trusting God to have his way with them whether it meant salvation or destruction in the lions’ den or the furnace. These men said, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up” (Dan. 3:17-18).

A weak god produces no strong men, nor does he deserve to be worshiped. A strong God, the God of the Bible, is a source of strength to those who know him. (“On Knowing God”)

The God of the Bible is a Source of Strength!

James Montgomery BoiceThe God of the Bible is a source of strength to those who know Him. James Montgomery Boice writes:

We do not have a strong church today, nor do we have many strong Christians. We can trace the cause to an acute lack of sound spiritual knowledge. Why is the church weak? Why are individual Christians weak? It is because they have allowed their minds to become conformed to the “spirit of this age,” with its mechanistic, godless thinking. They have forgotten what God is like and what he promises to do for those who trust him. Ask an average Christian to talk about God. After getting past the expected answers, you will find that his god is a little god of vacillating sentiments. He is a god who would like to save the world, but who cannot. He would like to restrain evil, but somehow he finds it beyond his power. So he has withdrawn into semi-retirement, being willing to give good advice in a grandfatherly sort of way, but for the most part he has left his children to fend for themselves in a dangerous environment.

Such a god is not the God of the Bible. Those who know their God perceive the error in that kind of thinking and act accordingly. The God of the Bible is not weak; he is strong. He is all mighty. Nothing happens without his permission or apart from his purposes — even evil. Nothing disturbs or puzzles him. His purposes are always accomplished. Therefore, those who know him rightly act with boldness assured that God is with them to accomplish his own desirable purposes in their lives. (“On Knowing God”)

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