Category Archives: Ecclesiology

“Then Luther arose” by John Calvin

“At the time when divine truth lay buried under this vast and dense cloud of darkness;

when religion was sullied by so many impious superstitions;

when by horrid blasphemies the worship of God was corrupted, and His glory laid prostrate;

when by a multitude of perverse opinions, the benefit of redemption was frustrated, and men, intoxicated with a fatal confidence in works, sought salvation anywhere rather than in Christ;

when the administration of the sacraments was partly maimed and torn asunder, partly adulterated by the admixture of numerous fictions, and partly profaned by traffickings for gain;

when the government of the church had degenerated into mere confusion and devastation;

when those who sat in the seat of pastors first did most vital injury to the church by the dissoluteness of their lives, and, secondly, exercised a cruel and most noxious tyranny over souls, by every kind of error, leading men like sheep to the slaughter;

then Luther arose, and after him others, who with united counsels sought out means and methods by which religion might be purged from all these defilements, the doctrine of godliness restored to its integrity, and the church raised out of its calamitous into somewhat of a tolerable condition.

The same course we are still pursuing in the present day.”

—John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, Trans. Henry Beveridge (London: W.H. Dalton, 1544/1843), 39-40.

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“A minister needs to be a jack of all trades” by John Newton

“Give my love to Mr. ****. He has desired a good work; may the Lord give him the desires of his heart.

May he give him the wisdom of Daniel, the meekness of Moses, the courage of Joshua, the zeal of Paul, and that self-abasement and humility which Job and Isaiah felt when they not only had heard of Him by the hearing of the ear, but saw His glory, and abhorred themselves in dust and ashes.

May he be taught of God, (none teacheth like Him,) and come forth an able minister of the New Testament, well instructed rightly to divide and faithfully to distribute the word of truth.

In the school of Christ, (especially if the Lord designs him to be a teacher of others,) he will be put to learn some lessons not very pleasant to flesh and blood: he must learn to run, to fight, to wrestle, and many other exercises, some of which will try his strength, and others his patience.

You know the common expression of a jack of all trades. I am sure a minister had need be such an one: a soldier, a watchman, a shepherd, a husbandman, a builder, a planter, a physician, and a nurse.

But let him not be discouraged. He has a wonderful and a gracious Master, who can not only give instructions, but power, and engages that His grace shall be sufficient, at all times and in all circumstances, for those who simply give themselves up to His teaching and His service.

I am sincerely yours’s,

John Newton”

–John Newton, “Letter XVIII (August 13, 1773)” in The Works of John Newton, Vol. 6. Ed. Richard Cecil (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 6:102–103.

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“A most ordinary pastor” by D.A. Carson

“Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people in the Outaouais and beyond testify how much he loved them.

He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book.

He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough.

He was not a far-sighted visionary, but he looked forward to eternity.

He was not a gifted administrator, but there is no text that says, ‘By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators.’

His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his children and grandchildren remember his laughter. Only rarely did he break through his pattern of reserve and speak deeply and intimately with his children, but he modeled Christian virtues to them.

He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stir things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle.

His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive.

He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists.

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation.

In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side all the trumpets sounded.

Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man-he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor-but because he was a forgiven man.

And he heard the voice of Him whom he longed to hear saying, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.'”

–D.A. Carson, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 147-148.

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“A deeper lineage than our genes” by Sinclair Ferguson

“What are our privileges? They are truly amazing:

“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest… But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering” (Heb. 12:18, 22, ESV).

In the days of promises and shadows, believers came to an assembly convened at a mountain engulfed with a sense of awful judgment. By contrast, in the full blaze of light that has appeared in Christ, we have come to the abiding city of God, angels in festal gathering, the assembly of Christ, and the spirits of departed believers.

Indeed, we have come to God Himself, not with Moses, but to Jesus. We have received the new covenant in His shed blood.

This is the assembly in which we gather for worship to hear the voice of Christ in His Word, to lift our voices under His choral direction in praise, to share His trust in His Father, and to gather around Him as His brothers and sisters (cf. Heb. 2:10–13).

Consequently, this is also our family—composed of the redeemed from among all mankind and the elect among the angelic host. This is the kingdom in which our names are enrolled as citizens (12:23).

It is a kingdom, unlike all the kingdoms and empires of this world, that can- not be shaken (12:27–28). What riches are ours in these three dimensions of the life of grace!

An assembly, a family, a kingdom! And they are already ours in Christ! Here and now our lives are punctuated by special visiting rights to heaven’s glory as we assemble with our fellow believers.

We are brothers and sisters together—for Christ’s blood creates a deeper lineage than our genes. Thus, we have the full rights of family members and citizens in the city of God. No wonder we should be grateful (12:28)!”

–Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2007), 156-157.

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“Now to this God I commend you” by George Swinnock

“Now to this God, according to my power, I have, I do, and I shall commend you, to his favour and singular affection, to His power and special protection, and to His care and universal benediction.

I cannot commend you to one so faithful; though others fall off like leaves in autumn, He will never leave you that are His, nor forsake you.

I cannot commend you to one so loving; He lived in love, He in our natures died for love. His love is like Himself, boundless and bottomless.

It is impossible to commend you to one so able; He can supply all your needs, He fill all your souls to the brim; grace is lovely in your eyes, whoever beheld it.

Glory is infinitely amiable in your judgments, whoever believed it. He can build you up, and give you an inheritance, where all the heirs are kings and queens, and you shall sit on thrones, and live and reign with Christ forever and ever.

There you shall have robes of purity on your backs, and palms of victory in your hands, and crowns of glory on your heads, and songs of triumph in your mouths.

There you may meet together to worship Him without fear, and drink freely of His sweetest, dearest favour.

There your services will be without the smallest sin, and your souls will be without the least sorrow.

If pastor and people meet there, they shall part nevermore. It is some comfort now, that though distant in places, we can meet together at the throne of grace.

But oh, what a comfort will it be to meet together in that palace of glory!

But since we must part here, ‘finally, my brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind. Live in peace and the God of love and peace shall be with you.’

‘And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance amongst all them that are sanctified.'”

–George Swinnock, “The Pastor’s Farewell,” in The Works of George Swinnock, Vol. 4 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust reprint of the 1868 James Nichol edition, 1992), 99-100. Swinnock preached this farewell sermon to the congregation of Great Kimble, Buckinghamshire on Black Bartholomew’s Day, August 24, 1662.

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“Bless us, Lord God, with faithfulness” by D.A. Carson

“And now, Lord God, I ask your blessing on all who read this book, for without it there will be no real benefit.

We may have education, but not compassion; we may have forms of praying, but no fruitful adoration and intercession; we may have oratory, but be lacking in unction; we may thrill your people, but not transform them; we may expand their minds, but display too little wisdom and understanding; we may amuse many, but find few who are solidly regenerated by your blessed Holy Spirit.

So we ask you for Your blessing, for the power of the Spirit, that we may know You better and grow in our grasp of Your incalculable love for us.

Bless us, Lord God, not with ease or endless triumph, but with faithfulness. Bless us with the right number of tears, and with minds and hearts that hunger both to know and to do your Word.

Bless us with a profound hunger and thirst for righteousness, a zeal for truth, a love of people. Bless us with the perspective that weighs all things from the vantage point of eternity.

Bless us with a transparent love of holiness. Grant to us strength in weakness, joy in sorrow, calmness in conflict, patience when opposed or attacked, trustworthiness under temptation, love when we are hated, firmness and farsightedness when the climate prefers faddishness and drift.

We beg of You, holy and merciful God, that we may be used by You to extend Your kingdom widely, to bring many to know and love You truly.

Grant above all that our lives will increasingly bring glory to Your dear Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip us with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

–D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992), 225-226.

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“The orb of Jesus’ sovereignty” by D.A. Carson

“What would you have chosen to describe God’s power? When you think of God’s sovereignty, to what does your mind turn?

I confess I am inclined to think of God’s power in creation. He speaks, and worlds leap into being. He designs the water molecule, with its remarkable atomic structure that ensures greater density is achieved at four degrees Centigrade than at the freezing point, so that lakes and rivers freeze not from the bottom up but from the top down, providing a blanket of ice with water underneath so that fish can survive.

I think of God calculating the mathematics of quarks, with half-lives in billionths of a second. I think of God designing each star and upholding the universe by His powerful word. I think of the pleasure he takes in the woodpecker, with its specially designed tailfeathers that enable it to peck with such force. I marvel at a God who creates emus and cheetahs and the duck-billed platypus. His power extends beyond the limits of our imagination.

But that is not what Paul turns to. After all, for an omnipotent God there cannot be degrees of difficulty. There is no one act that is ‘most powerful.’ Paul does not hunt for the most powerful or the most difficult displays of God’s power, since such categories are essentially meaningless. Rather, he hunts for the most glorious, the most revealing. As a result, he focuses on three events.

Paul mentions the power exerted when Christ was raised from death. The power that Christians must experience is like the power God exerted in Christ ‘when He raised Him from the dead’ (1:20). Paul thinks of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here is the undoing of death, the destruction of sin; Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits of the mighty resurrection that will mock the death of death and inaugurate a new heaven and a new earth. Small wonder Paul elsewhere declares that he wants to know Christ and the power of His resurrection (Phil. 3:10).

Paul describes the power displayed in the exalted Christ. The power that Christians must experience is like the power God exerted in Christ ‘when He … seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come’ (1:20–21). There are levels of authority of which we know very little, demonic powers and seraphic powers, not only in this world but in the heavenlies (see Col. 1:16). But over all of them is Christ Jesus, elevated to the Father’s right hand in consequence of His obedience to death and His victorious resurrection (see Phil. 2:6–11).

Indeed, this vision controls part of the line of argument in chapter 2. There Paul says that although we were dead in our trespasses and sins and were by nature objects of wrath (2:1), nevertheless because of His great love for us, God, ‘who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.… [and] raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’ (2:4–6). Of course, in one sense I’m still here, not there. But because God views me as ‘in Christ,’ and Christ is seated with His Father in the heavenlies, therefore God views me as there in principle. That is my destination; that is where I properly belong, because of God’s great love for me. That is why my Canadian citizenship can never be more than secondary: I’m already a citizen of the new Jerusalem, and I am seated with Christ in the heavenlies.

Paul declares the power exercised by Christ over everything—for the church. ‘God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way’ (1:22–23). All of God’s sovereignty is mediated through Christ (see 1 Cor. 15:27; Ps. 110:1), and all of this sovereign power is for the good of the church. Christ is the head over everything: that is, He exercises authority over everything. But this ‘head’ metaphor takes a sudden shift when the ‘body’ is introduced. Although Christ is the head over everything, He is in particular the head of the church, which is His body. He is ideally placed to ensure that all of His sovereignty is exercised for His people’s good.

Not a drop of rain can fall outside the orb of Jesus’ sovereignty. All our days—our health, our illnesses, our joys, our victories, our tears, our prayers, and the answers to our prayers—fall within the sweep of the sovereignty of One who wears a human face, a thorn-shadowed face. All of God’s sovereignty is mediated through One who was crucified on my behalf.”

–D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992), 178-180. Carson is commenting on Ephesians 1:3-23.

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