Monday, August 30, 2010

Gospel Wakefulness with Richard Sibbes

In the third sermon of Richard Sibbes' Bowels Opened he preaches Song 5:1 on the invitation to the feast and then the dangers of becoming sleepy, rather than having a gospel wakefulness (a phrase I'm borrowing from Jared Wilson). I'm finding the series very helpful and I share these highlights and a pdf of the whole for your benefit.

DOWNLOAD PDF: Bowels Opened (3 of 20): Gospel Wakefulness

Sibbes sets the scene:
 "From this mutual delight between Christ and his spouse we observe next, that there is a mutual feasting between Christ and his church. The church brings what she has of his Spirit; and Christ comes with more plenty."
The church is invited to feast with Christ.
 "This is an invitation to the most magnificent feast: The comforts we have from Christ are the best comforts; the peace, the best peace; the privileges, the highest privileges... What could Christ give, better than himself to feed on?"
Sibbes shows the excellence of communion with Christ, and his Father, the Spirit, the church. And there is music "At a feast, because it is intended for rejoicing, there is music; and what music like to the sweet harmony between God, reconciled in Christ, and the soul, and between the soul and itself, in inward peace and joy of the Holy Spirit, shedding the love of Christ in the soul"

The feast is brilliant. And it is the ministers of the word who invite the church to come, and so she should - joyfully accepting the invitation. Why would we refuse? We should keep up our appetite, exercising ourselves so that we will eat while we can... "There is no danger of taking too much. Where the spring is infinite, we can never draw these wells dry..." Come and eat joyfully, knowing he will welcome us - like the Father to the prodigal. Welcomed as friends of God. Sibbes shows us friendship.
(1) Friendship is the sweetness, intimacy and strength of love.
(2) In friendship there is mutual consent, a union of judgment and affections. "one soul in two bodies."
(3) There is liberty which is the life of friendship; there is a free conversation between friends, a free opening of secrets.
(4) In friendship, there is mutual solace and comfort one in another. "Christ delights himself in his love to his church, and his church delights herself in her love to Christ."
(5) In friendship there is a mutual honour and respect one of another; but here is some difference in this friendship. "Christ's honouring of us is his putting honour upon us. Our honouring of him is the giving him the 'honour due to his name,'"
The second half of the sermon concerns the danger of becoming sleepy after feasting. Abraham, David, Job and Peter stand as examples. The church though can be open about how she is - frank about her sin. Such openness at our sin (1) give honour to God (2) shame Satan (3) prevent accusation from the world (4) ease our souls (5) be delivered. 

Only the gospel gives us the freedom to show our weaknesses. We can become sleepy from (1) A full stomach (2) Sorrow (3) Weariness (4) Music (5) Lack of exercise  (6) Disease (7) Poison (8) Yawning company. Each has it's spiritual parallel.

Sleep makes us want to (1) Be alone "Those likewise that are disposed to take a spiritual nap, will avoid company, especially of such as would awake them. They will hardly endure rousing means." (2) Shut others out (3) Live in dreams and fantasy. This is illustrated from the history of the church, with a warning that even the best of men can become sleepy.
What are the signs of sleepiness?
(1) If we differ from that we were, then all is not well
(2) The true rule is, that description that is in the word, of a waking and living Christian.
(3) Look to the examples of others that are more gracious.
(4) It is evident that we are growing on to a sleepy condition by this, when we find a backwardness to spiritual duties, as to prayer, thanks giving, and spiritual conference.
(5) When the soul begins to admire outward excellencies;

Motives against sleepiness
(1) Consider the danger of a secure and sleepy estate.
(2) A sleepy man can lose everything.
(3) God meets some with crosses in this world that gain nothing from them.
(4) Sleepiness is an odious temper to God.
(5) Sleepiness is irksome to our own spirits.
Finally... "A man is not a man, a Christian is not a Christian, when he is not awake. He so far degenerates from himself...  A Christian as a Christian, that is, in his right temper, should be in the act an exercise of what is good in him, upon all occasions; as we say of God, he is a pure act, because he is always in working....  What a deal of ill might they escape and avoid that they lie in, if they would rouse up their souls to be as Christians should be, and as their soul and conscience tells them they ought and might be, did they rightly improve the means they have!"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jesus brings a new day

Twice this summer former Exeter CU presidents have preached at our church - so much for people involved in CU not being committed to or sticking with church. Another former CU president wrote this:
"the most important thing that happened to me at Uni? I fell in love with the local church"
But anyways, today was last years CU president and our new church administrator Dan Partridge on the parable of new and old wineskins in Luke 5:33-39. It was a great morning of being church family, meeting with God, hearing testimony of salvation and healing, and Dan gave us an excellent end to our parables series. Two things really struck me. One was the need to replace old wineskins with new ones. Illustrated from the film Anchorman (verbally):

Repenting of our old life isn't add in Jesus to what you already have. Jesus wont fit and he'll ruin the old (as in the Pharisees failure to understand why the disciples of Jesus-the-bridegroom weren't fasting). Don't sew Jesus onto the old life, the old needs to be dropkicked off the bridge like Baxter the dog...

Secondly, the seduction of the old way in 5v39. Once you've tasted old wine you think it tastes better. This has explanatory power for why it's particularly the old wine connoisseur Pharisees who the parables always seem to bite. The new has come - the feast of the bridegroom, yet they tragically cling on to the old.

Friday, August 27, 2010 is back is back online, with a new design and database. There will be some fresh new content on September 1st but go explore today.
Follow @beginwithmoses to keep updated.

Big thanks to Mark Owens for stepping in as the new editor, and to David Turner who has done all the tech and design work.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Praying and Poverty of Spirit

“You don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit.”

I read that in Paul Miller's A Praying Life.
Upside down thinking. That'll be the gospel. In my old self I love to think that my ability to be disciplined, or my determination will get me praying. It wont. It doesn't. The gospel shows me my poverty. My bankruptcy. And yet I'm invited. Best news ever.
Matt Hosier said in a sermon on Galatians
"We don't need to struggle and strive for the favour of God... we don't need to come and spend 25 minutes working our way into a place where God might find us acceptable. We come straight to God. Even when you arrive 10 minutes late because you've been having a blazing row with your wife and you walk in, and you don't want to worship God and you don't want to talk to anybody,   and you've just come here because this is what you do and somehow you got here when you didn't want to be here, you can still come straight into the presence of God"
I come in my poverty of spirit because I come because of Jesus.

The Sunshine of the Gospel (Josiah's Reformation by Richard Sibbes)

Sibbes expounds four sermons from Josiah's life. The first "The Tender Heart" is particularly warm and rich on how to have a soft heart to Christ in the gospel. In this he famously said:
" always under the sunshine of the gospel. Be under God's sunshine, that he may melt your heart; be constant in good means; and help one another."
The gospel is the sunlight by which I see everything, I see my sin and coldness, and I see my great salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Download PDF: Josiah's Reformation by Richard Sibbes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"So come on church!"

We sang some of Matt Giles' new songs at our regional church conference. They're derived from Ephesians after our summer preaching series. For your glory, This was your design and a brand new one:
Download acoustic mp3 for Our God is King 
Being led by someone like Matt is a real blessing to the church, both for his gifting as a musician and leader and because of the Biblically rich songs he providing to help us express our hearts to God.

OUR GOD IS KING (Matt Giles, 2010)
Arise and shine, we are the heirs of God,
Saved to share the riches of His love.
Open your eyes, we are His chosen ones,
He has qualifed us through His Son.

Keepers of His Word, Called to tell all powers that He reigns, He reigns.
Strengthened by His love, Called to tell the world that He saves, He saves.

Our God is King, forever King,
No power can overcome Him.
Invincible, Unstoppable,
His Kingdom always advancing.

Filled with His power, He can do more with us,
More than we can ask or can conceive.
Given to us, the power that conquered death
Working now in us who have believed.

So come on Church, what shall we say?
If God is for us, who can be against us?

We can proclaim Christ is our victory.
But if we have not love we're just a noise.
So come let us love, let us be hands and feet,
That others might be called into His joy.

Friends woo for Christ and open the riches, beauty and honour, and all that is lovely in him

In the 2nd sermon of the Bowels Opened series on Song of Songs, Richard Sibbes takes up the text:
I am came into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have gathered my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved: SONG 5:1.
PDF: Bowels Opened by Richard Sibbes: Sermon 1 & 2

In this verse Christ accepts the invitation of the bride to come. Sibbes describes us as having a sibling and spouse relationship as the church to Christ. He calls us collectively "my sister, my spouse". He becomes one of us in the incarnation so that he can marry the church. In the gospel:
"The church of Christ is every way royal."
Christ has been wounded so that we might gain the true riches of his grace. In the marriage of the church to Christ (1) we have taken his name, Christians of Christ. (2) He has taken on all our debt and we gain all that is his. And (3) those who bring the parties together are friends of the bride. From this he defines the task of a gospel minister!
"so they woo for Christ, and open the riches, beauty, honour, and all that is lovely in him, which is indeed the especial duty of ministers to lay open his unsearchable riches, that the church may know what a husband she is like to have, if she cleave to him; and what an one she leaves, if she forsake him."
What can we do with this?
1. Think often of the nearness of Christ and the church. Answering every accusation with "Go to Christ".
2. His desire is to make us better.
3. Let us live for him. Though this raises the question: are we espoused to Christ. Sibbes identfies the answer in two ways - (1) your heart knows, (2) will we follow him in everything we discover in his word
4. There is grace for us! So consider (1) the excellence of Christ, (2) the necessity of being near him, and (3) the hope of being near him.
As those accepted by Christ we desire Christ and know that he does not come to us empty handed but with abundance of grace and comfort for us. How do we know his acceptance?
"the declaration of the acceptance is most in peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Spirit, and from a holy fire of love kindled by the Spirit"
And so we know that our prayers are accepted, we want to have our hearts right with Christ, for when he comes he comes with grace. So "let us be stirred up to have communion with Christ" for "the church is brought in, delighting in Christ, and he in the church". It is a joyful relationship:
"Whatsoever Christ says to the church, the church says back again to Christ, and he back again to the church. So there is a mutual contentment and joy one in another. 'Eat, friends, drink,' etc."
Shared joy is the Christian life, for others and ourselves. To have joy we need the Spirit:
"There is joy in heaven at the conversion of one sinner, Luke 15:10. God the Father joys to have a new son; God the Son to see the fruit of his own redemption, that one is pulled out of the state of damnation; and God the Holy Spirit, that he has a new temple to dwell in; the angels, that they have a new charge to look to, that they had not before, to join with them to praise God. So there is joy in heaven; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with the angels, joy at it; and all true-hearted Christians joy in the graces one of another.... All that have grace in them are of Christ's and of the angels' disposition. They joy at the conversion and growth of any Christians. Here, such as they are styled friends and beloved; and indeed none but friends and beloved can love as Christ loves, and delight as Christ delights. "

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The church never has enough of Christ

Sibbes preached 20 sermons on The Song of Songs that tell of Christ and the church. Some might think this a bit strange, prefering the more popular Mark Driscoll angle that says its just about human relationships. It is that, but more too. Sibbes says: "Only our care must be not to look so much on the colours as the picture, and not so much on the picture as on the person itself represented; that we look not so much to the resemblance as to the person resembled."
"The Holy Spirit has chosen this way in this song, by elevating and raising our affections and love, to take it off from other things, that so it might run in its right channel."
What is God seeking to do through this book:
"Let God's stooping to us occasion our rising up unto him... the communion betwixt Christ and his church, is set out in the familiar comparison of a marriage, that so we might the better see it in the glass of comparison, which we cannot so directly conceive of; as we may see the sun in water, whose beams we cannot so directly look upon... "
This sermon turns to the call of the husband to the wind to blow on his garden:
Song 4:16 "'Awake, north wind'" - "Christ then answers those desires by commanding the winds to blow upon her"
What does this mean for us?
1. 'The wind blows where it wants,' as it is John 3:8. So the Spirit of God blows freely, and opens the heart of some, and pours grace plentifully in them.
2. ...the Spirit of God purges our hearts 'from dead works to serve the living God, making us partakers of the divine nature,' 2 Pet. 1:4.
3. ...the Spirit disperse such clouds as corruption and Satan rises up in the soul, that we may clearly see the face of God in Jesus Christ.
4. ...the Spirit of God allays the unnatural heats of the soul in fiery temptations, and brings it into a good temper.
5. ...the Spirit is of a searching nature, and discerns betwixt the joints and the marrow, betwixt the flesh and the Spirit, etc., searching those hidden corruptions that nature could never have found out.
6. ...the Spirit is a quickening and a cherishing Spirit, and makes the heart, which is as a barren wilderness, to be fruitful.
7. ...the Spirit in the word conveys the seeds of grace and comfort from one to another. It draws out what sweetness is in the spirits of men, and makes them fragrant and delightful to others.
What happens as Christ blows the Spirit upon his people. The Spirit stirs us above all to desire Christ - and the Song is a place where this happens:
"the Spirit first kindles a holy fire, and then increases the flame... We must first take in, and then send out; first be cisterns to contain, and then conduits to convey. The wind first blows, and then the spices of the church flow out. We are first sweet in ourselves, and then sweet to others... The Spirit in the spouse is always saying to Christ, 'Come.' The church never has enough of him... the church, after it is once blown upon, is not satisfied without a further presence. It is from the Spirit that we desire more of the Spirit, and from the presence of Christ that we desire a further presence and communion with him."

Guest post at

I've guest posted at - "Richard Sibbes on the New Creation"

Monday, August 23, 2010

What do you make of Tim Keller, Tom Wright and Rob Bell?

At the 2010 Newfrontiers Leadership conference Mick Taylor, Andrew Wilson and Adrian Birks led a other leaders through a discussion of Tim Keller's The Reason for God, Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis and Tom Wright's Surprised by Hope, it's a stimulating series of three 80 minute sessions pursuing doctrine with generosity - wanting to learn from others without just accepting everything.

Download the mp3s on Tracking Theological Trajectories
Session 1 - The Reason for God
Session 2 - Velvet Elvis
Session 3 - Surprised by Hope

Buy the books

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Together at Westpoint

We've been at Westpoint this weekend with 1700 others from churches in the South and West area of Newfrontiers (roughly Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire plus some from Portugal & Spain). Churches in newfrontiers are essentially independent but they're also interdependent and operate under apostolic oversight - teams that establish foundations and serve the advance the church's mission with the gospel and through church planting. It's about family - a family on a mission. Plenty of fun, plenty of gospel.
"Even 4x4 volvo driving, caravan towing cat-owners from Winchester aren't beyond the grace of God" Matt Hosier

Terry Virgo: "Apostolic" vs. "Missional" from Jubilee Church on Vimeo.

This weekend many of us gathered to spend time together, to worship together (led by Evan Rogers and Matt Giles - some great new songs from them).

Brilliant to hear God's word preached by Guy Miller from Bournemouth, David Stroud who leads Newfrontiers in the UK. Parental responsibilities meant I missed one of David Stroud's session but I really appreciated his other session which was a Bible Overview, calling us to our part in God's story - to faith and courage. "My story is too small a story". There was a call to seek God but with a fresh reminder not to wait for a prophecy which may not come, but to be in the word of God, filled with the Spirit and getting going.
"And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord God" Ezekiel 39:29
Guy Miller spoke in the evenings from Exodus which I've been studying this summer - great to be stirred afresh by God's mission, centred upon the gospel. Exodus is getting in my blood and that great - such a defining book for our grasp of the gospel. Taking in the view.

I've left the conference refreshed by the gospel, knowing that my family is in Exeter for now, that we want to reach our city, that we want to build our church, and I feel more up for that than ever.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Great leaders rally people to a better future."

Title quote from Marcus Buckingham via What's best next. Leadership mumbo-jumbo and psychologising-babble or a glimpse of truth? It's along the lines of Henry Ford: “If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse" Or Antoine de Saint-Exupery:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
A Christian has an unbeatable vision of a better future because they have a vision of Jesus . A Christian has the potential to be a leader - not necessarily a politician, a business-tycoon or even a church leader, but someone who is marked by a gospel optimism that lifts others - and called by God to rule the world under God. We know history is a story that is going somewhere, and with a happy ending that anyone can share in. We believe in history. And we're convinced its a comedy.
"This means that a leader must have a talent for optimism. If you are not an optimistic person, nobody will want to go to the future that you see. Leaders rally to a better future. “As a leader you must believe, deeply, instincitvely, that things can get better” Matt Perman with a quote from Marcus Buckingham
But Utopia isn't in my heart or my brute force or my mindset. Hope is a Christian distinctive that the resurrection permits me to believe in. As I've read Revelation recently that vision of the future that has lifted my heart. Jesus said to the church of Pergamum in Revelation 2:25 "Only hold fast what you have until I come." and the application of the book has to be 22:17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”

The Book of Revelation is a revelation of Jesus (1:1) to call me to hold to the gospel til Jesus comes, crying "Come" with increasing urgency. This happens as I'm shown a great vision of Jesus the Victorious Husband. The one who wins by being the slain lamb who laid his life down to crush his enemies and win for himself a bride, the church. It's a vision of a better future. In the letter to Thyatira shows the Divine Husband as the one who will crush the seducer who is forever whispering lies in the ear of the bride, or to Pergamum where a similar critique against false teaching comes with the hope that it will be met by the sword that is the word of God that comes from the mouth of Jesus to cut down the lies and establish the truth. Each page paints a picture of a better future.

Of course a Christian leader is realistic about people, about sin, and very much about their own failings and weakness and hardness, but remains an optimist not in self but in the gospel. A leader knows that life now might be hard, training, service even dying, but what's ahead is approval, a crown, a harvest and resurrection life reigning with the eternal king (2 Timothy 2:3-13). The better future is Jesus. Meanwhile this week:
"Professor Priyamvada Natarajan of Yale University, a leading cosmologist and co-author of this study, said that the findings finally proved "exactly what the fate of the Universe will be"."
I don't want to dismiss science out of hand and people can hold whatever story they want, but the long slow chillout being a particularly compelling vision of the future, any more than merely chemical creation stories make for a compelling opening. Left to "it's own devices" maybe the universe would end up as cold as an abandoned cup of coffee (a true tragedy), I'm just not so sure it's just been left to cool down. The appeal of a story isn't everything, it needs facts too (to which Christians turn to the historically evidenced resurrection of Jesus) - takes both to move people. A vision of a better future that isn't mere fantasy but backed up with evidence, sounds like Christianity to me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A desire to play a part in seeing new churches planted

In July I was one of 120 delegates at the first Sovereign Grace Ministries [CO]MissionUK church planting conference. I only made half of it but the sessions I was able to attend were brilliant.

What I love about the guys in Sovereign Grace is not that they're perfect people but that they're people who take the gospel very seriously, who hold themselves lightly, and in whom I see evidence of grace (to use one of their phrases) in their welcome and their generosity and their hospitality. The people I know in Sovereign Grace are some of my favourite people and I thank God for their partnership in the gospel.

You can watch two sessions from the conference here, and get the rest from The [CO}Mission website. See also CJ Mahaney interviews Pete Greasley about the conference.

[CO]MISSION UK Wired for Glory from Christchurch, Newport on Vimeo.

[CO]MISSION UK The Pastor's Charge from Christchurch, Newport on Vimeo.

Disappointing Stories

Genesis 3 is a tragedy. It's called The Fall for a reason. Yet even in the darkest moment there is a glint of light:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

The story moves forward. Next chapter.

This story is a search for offspring and a battle. Abel is born (4v1-2) and is a true worshipper (v4), his brother has the opportunity to crush the head of the serpent lurking at his door (v7). Instead he strikes his brother (v8). He’s a serpent seed (1 John 3:12). Hope is there but is put in the ground (v11), and the ground cries out curse… The story could have been over, but this is not the ending we wanted. Yet.

Oh for better blood (Heb 12v24). Exodus opens with a woman having a son (Moses) while a tyrant tries to strike him. Also Herod vs. Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. When Solomon reflects on life it is Abel’s name he chooses to capture his frustration (Ecclesiastes 1v2). The Hebrew word Hebel (Abel) is his word Meaningless! Vanity! Smoke! It's all we've got until we had a reason for real hope. On Good Friday our hope is in the grave... and if he stays there then no one has a happy ending.

Ian McEwan is a brilliantly disappointing author. He writes in the world of Genesis 4. He knows we want happy endings (why is that?!) but doesn’t believe in them. And his stories are stronger for their honesty. McEwan lets me be melancholy about the world (where do you go when you want to be melancholy?). This is a world where in the short-term people rarely get a Hollywood happy ending.

E.g. In Atonement McEwan explicitly tries this as Bryony offers a happy ending before confessing that it’s a fantasy. In On Chesil Beach he explores the insecurities of a couple on their wedding night, will love triumph? In his latest novel Solar, we see a man who could save the world from climate change, will McEwan let him win?

Where does the story go?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I've sought God's love but not found it?

As Sibbes approaches the end of his first sermon on The Matchless Love & In-being he addresses objections and questions. This is a helpful style used by the Puritans to stop us wriggling out of what has been said.

To those who say, I've sought God's love and not found it, Sibbes says - wait. Not everyone is called when they're young. Sibbes cites examples of Josiah and Timothy who came to God young, but Paul and many in the crowd at Pentecost were older. So, wait and "in time God will speak to you, and will say to your soul that he is your salvation..." Wait and pray:
"Lord, I do not ask of you riches, I ask not glory, I ask not preferment in the world, I ask none of these: I ask your love, in which all is which is good."
And find this love:
"For the love of God it is a rich love, as that love that he bears to his Son. If he loves me once, he loves me as he loves his Son. Now, he loves him freely, and richly, and unchangeably, and with an incomparable love. God's love both to him and us, it is an incomparable love."
In suffering and afflictions particularly we know the love of God:
"We shall not care for any affliction whatsoever. Paul in the dungeon.. Daniel in the lions' den, the den shall be a kind of paradise... where God is, there is paradise... where God's love is, there is heaven itself... If God has kindled love in us, there is no such sweet estate. If it comes from God, it will make us digest anything. Love will put such life in us that we shall want or suffer anything quietly. When we feel the love of God in us, that he loves us to immortality, that he loves us to life everlasting, to an inheritance immortal and undefiled, that he loves us in things that accompany salvation, peculiar blessings, this will swallow up all discouragements whatsoever, it will make us be in heaven before our time."
We long for this because of how good He is:
The sense of the love of God, when it is shed into our hearts, as it is Rom. 5:5, what will it do? It will make all tribulations, afflictions, crosses, and wants sweet unto us. "
But we might ask, when does Christ show his Father's love most to us by the Spirit?
"It is with a Christian's soul as it is with the days of the year, or the seasons of the day. There is foul and fair, there is darkness and light, there is an intercourse, not always an even apprehension to us of God's love in Christ at all times. God has his reasons why..."
When most of all?
God's love is in us most when we stand most in need of it, in extremities. When no creature can help us, when we stand most in need of the manifestation of God's love, we have it.
Nothing can match the love of God
What makes heaven “heaven” but the sense of his love, of his sweet fatherly face in Christ shining upon us in his Son, and persuading of us that we are his sons? Why, this divine comfort that comes from the favour of God, it is that that makes all nothing, commands all the creatures, rebukes all, Satan and all. The beams of such a rich and gracious God is above all discouragements"
And so Sibbes says - desire God's love. Christ prays that we might.
"Would you have more than God himself, and his love? What if you want a beam? You have the sun itself, God's love. You want perhaps riches or friends; Yes, but you have God's love, which is a wise love. If he saw it was for your good, you should not want them. If you want a stream, you have the spring itself."
And so strive to find this love of God, and root out all other things. Seek the work of the Spirit and ask God to show his love. Make this your prayer:
"'Lord, let me feel your love in Christ; I cannot love holy duties without the manifestation of your love; and therefore manifest your love to my soul. Lord, show yourself, show your love; your pardoning love first, and then your curing love; your forgiving love and giving love. I am in a sinful state, forgive that which is amiss, and give me that which I want; show your large love every way, both in giving and forgiving; heal me and cure me; let me feel this your love in the sweetest peculiar fruits of it;' "
In closing "let it be our prayer that God would show his love and mercy, that he would show his love to us in Christ, which is better than life itself." In the second sermon he goes on to unpack how we know the love of God in the gospel. I recommend that you go, read and digest The Matchless Love & In-being (pdf).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Richard Sibbes Interview

Ron Frost and Mike Reeves share a table talk about Richard Sibbes. God's heart and ours - Table Talk at Theology Network. You can expect more of my favourite Puritan here in coming months, I plan to blog my way through some of his fabulous "Bowels Opened" sermon series.

Monday, August 16, 2010

How can we know the love of God?

Richard Sibbes continues in  The Matchless Love & In-Being:

1. Present God to ourselves as he is presented in our glorious gospel. There we see "the Father of mercy and the Father of Christ." Whereas the devil "presents him as a tyrant, as a judge, as a revenger, as one that hates him."

2. Strive to be those God loves. Be in the image of Christ "beg of him, that by his Spirit he would stamp his likeness in us; that as he is light, we may be light; as he is love, so we may have love; as he is merciful, so we may have our hearts enlarged; as he is free in love, so we may be free in love; and that we may be holy, as he is holy; that as he hates sin, so we may hate it; that we may joy in him, affect what he does affect, hate that which he hates; that so he may look upon us, as his own image, and delight in us, as the representation of his own likeness."

3. Keep from being like his enemies. " unlike the world and wicked persons that are yet in the state of corruption and danger of damnation." Why would God delight in us if we delight in sin?

4. By the Spirit and the gospel. "Especially, by the Spirit, and Christ's manifesting of God himself in the gospel: 'I have declared unto them your name, and will declare it, that the love wherewith you hast loved me may be in them.'"

Ultimately Sibbes rallying cry is this, to know the love of God: "Go to Christ!"
Beg of Christ, the spirit of revelation, as in Eph. 1:17.
Beg of Christ to show the Father to us. You know what that holy man said in the gospel, “Show us the Father, and it is sufficient,' John 14:8. So too we desire to see the Father. We must go to Christ that he would show us the Father; and we must go to God the Father to discover his Son. For either or both discover the other. God draws us to Christ. 'There is none come to me,' says Christ, 'but the Father draws them.' And Christ opens and shows the Father to us, and the Holy Spirit shows them both... he shows us the love of both. He shows us the love of the Father and the Son... strive for the manifestation of Christ, that Christ would manifest his Father's love to us, and that God would manifest Christ by his Spirit: that the Father would give us his Spirit, and the Son would give us his Spirit, which is his love. For God's love is always with God's Spirit. 
How does Christ reveal himself?
"He opens the understanding by his Spirit, and then he speaks to every man's particular soul by his Spirit. 'I am your salvation;' he gives faith, etc., Luke 24:45. All knowledge of God's love is from the knowledge of the gospel, together with his Spirit. For how can I know that God loves me, but by his own word and Spirit, by his own Son, Christ? The Spirit and the word persuade and convince my heart of God's love in Christ."
But I struggle to know...
"Because I cannot enlarge myself, beg the Spirit of revelation; and because the Spirit and word go together, attend always upon the word, and think the promises are God's promises, and desire that Christ would set the promises upon our hearts, that we may know the things that belong to us in particular."
What do I need for this:
" shall I know that God loves me, but by declaring his name by the word, and by the Spirit? Christ by the Spirit and by the word declares his Father's name, and so I come to know the Father's love to me. How pitiful is the estate of those souls that live where there is no means, no word of God, no declaring of God's name?"
Next (and lastly from this sermon): But, I've sought to know God's love and not found it? 

Friday, August 13, 2010

How can we stay faithful to Jesus?

My friend Rich Carding preached on Sunday at his church on Jesus' letter to the church of Thyatira in which we see:

1. Jesus the Son of God is powerful and pleased - he's the Psalm 2 Son who knows his people and sees their progress. He loves his bride.
2. Jesus the Son of God is intolerant and angry - he's intolerant of their tolerance of the seducer Jezebel who wants to lead them astray into adultery. He fights for his bride for whom he laid down his life. Let him win your heart again and drown out the lies.
3. Jesus the Son of God is the victorious lover - he has and will overcome all the liars who want to break up his marriage. His bride lives in hope that the lies will end and her husband will come and she'll have him.

We're given a portrait of the divine husband who fights for his people, even against the seductions of Jezebel who whispers in the ear of the church that she can find a better lover than Jesus. Listen and be encouraged.
Download Sermon on Revelation 2:18-29 (30mins)
Rich would value your feedback on this sermon - comment here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Seven Marks of Being Trinitarian

The first doctrine of Christianity, whatever other nuances is surely this:
"There is one God in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." (For example, UCCF's Doctrinal Basis of Fellowship, point 1)
There's a lot more to being a Christian but this is surely fairly key. Strange thing is that this is often considered fairly incidental rather than central and defining. CS Lewis famously called "grace" the defining mark, but grace is really an implication of being Trinitarian isn't it?

Ron Frost reflects on the marks of being truly Trinitarian.
1. Starting point, Trinity is key rather than just a secondary point about God. That means Trinity is on page 1 of your Systematic Theology rather than page 226 (as in Grudem's Systematic Theology.....). That God is Triune isn't the wierd mystery we leave for the theology freaks it's who God is, and turns out he is able to reveal himself.
2. Christology, Christ is key. The centre of the Father's revelation and relationship with us is in the Son who is our bridegroom and the one in whom we're adopted.
3. Pneumatology, the Spirit is personal not a force, and is the person who brings us into the fugue of Triune life.
4. Love of God, is to be experienced.
5. Sin,  "is a relational violation rooted in absolute disaffection (“hatred”) that Jesus overcomes by his own loving atonement."
6. Revelation "is no longer seen as merely contractual and rational but as the passionate and compelling disclosures of the Triune God’s love for us."
7. What else?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How did the Father love his Son?

The joyful message of the Christian gospel is that God the Father will love the believer as he loves God the Son. Richard Sibbes continues in The Matchless Love & In-being to ask, what is that love like? 
Did the Father...
"....fence him from poverty, from disgrace, from persecution, from the sense of God's wrath? No. ..the first-begotten Son, the natural Son, he was persecuted as soon as he was born; he was disgraced, calumniated, slandered, and abused to death. He felt the wrath of God... We then may be in the love of God if we be no otherwise than the natural Son was, in whom the love of God was when he was at the worst. In the lowest degree of his abasement, God loved him then as much as at any other time, even when he was accompanied with the sense of the wrath of God. So, reject and beat back all temptations with this invincible argument: It is no otherwise with me than it was with his natural Son."
Which is to say, if I want to pray the Spirit's prayer "Abba Father", why would I expect to utter it outside the stresses of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed it too?
"Shall I desire to be loved differently than Christ was loved? God’s love to Christ did not exempt him from slander, from disgrace, from abasement, from the sense of his wrath. Yet he was always the Son of God; so, shall I doubt of my adoption? Shall I dishonour God? Shall I add this sin to the rest of my sins? Satan is wonderful prone to take these weapons, to sharpen them, as I said before, of sin, desertions, sometime of temptations and outward afflictions; and so he comes with his 'If,' 'If you were the Son of God, would he deal thus and thus with you?' It was always his course.
Why would we expect our lives to look different to that of the Son of God... (granted he came for a particular purpose, and very significantly he bore wrath so that I don't have to, nonetheless the life of the early church says suffering is pretty much the norm for those loved by God)....
"We must repel all such temptations. God loves us as he loves his Son, he chastises every son; and that God's love is not always and only manifested in exempting of us from these things. Let us measure God's love that he bears to us in Christ, by the best fruits of his love. What are those? A heart to seek him; to fear his name; love to his majesty; love to his children; delight in good things; hatred of that which is evil. None but his can esteem and value his love by these things. By these therefore, and the like peculiar marks and stamps of the Spirit that are in us, let us judge of his love, and not by any outward thing whatsoever; for all outward crosses whatsoever befell his own Son. And can we desire that he should love us otherwise than he loved him? We are predestined to be conformed to him, Rom. 8:29, and why should we refuse to be conformed to him in abasement, with whom we hope to be conformed in glory? Let faith therefore plead against all the suggestions of Satan and accusations of conscience."
This is no easy life. How do we live it?
"By faith in the word of God persuade we ourselves that we are in the love of God."
Previously Sibbes argued that faith is the apprehension of the love of God in Christ" therefore the focus of persuasion that we're in the love of God is in turning ourselves to the gospel, where we apprehend the love of God. Reasonably and worshipfully.

Feed your new heart upon the Son of God whom the Father reveals to us in the Spirit-inspired Scriptures. Behold him there in the gospel. Worship him. Enjoy him. Know him. Come into loving relationship with the Father by adoption into the Son.

Next question: How do we come to have the love of God in us?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What's stopping us knowing the love of God?

Continuing in The Matchless Love and In-being, Sibbes observes:
1. Outward abundance, goodness and gifting are no sign of God's love.
"God fills their bellies with abundance of outward things, whose hearts he never fills with his love... plenty in outward things, accompanied with [God's] patience, is no true sign of God's love... The way, therefore, to bring those that have not the love of God to love God, is to show them their vain confidence."

2. Does my sin exclude me from the love of God?
" the gospel, this is not put as a bar of God's love, that I am a sinner, that I have committed any degree of sin whatsoever.
None are shut out but those that will be as they are... There is hope for you. He keeps open house for every one.
He shuts out none but those that shut out themselves, that think these things are too good to be true, and therefore will enjoy their pleasures, and go on still and daub with their conscience.
But if their hearts are awakened, if they will go to God and cast themselves upon his mercy, whosoever is weary, whoever is thirsty, whoever is heavy laden, God is no accepter of persons, but at ' what time any sinner whatsoever repents of any sin whatever,' God will show mercy, if he come in and accept of the proclamation of pardon, Ezek. 28:22. If he come in, and will not continue in his rebellion still, but cast himself upon his mercy, and resign, and yield himself to God and to Christ's government, to be ruled by him, as a subject should be, he shall find mercy."

3. How can a struggling believer be persuaded of the love of God?
Know that Satan comes with accusation for sin:
"...they should not be discouraged. We have many examples in Scripture:
'If we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Christ Jesus,' etc., 1 John 2:1; and he is the propitiation for our sins.
We ought not, therefore, to be discouraged from going to God, humbled as we ought to be. Here is place for humiliation, but there is no place for base discouragement, and calling God's love into question...
Shall he run away from God? No. A bastard, a slave, will [run away from God]; but [a son] runs to God.
Even as a child, when he has offended his father, does not run away from him; but, knowing that his father is merciful and loving, though he have offended him, and that he is now a son, though under his wrath, he goes and studies to appease his father, casts himself upon his favour and mercy, and will endure his correction gently... we run deeper and deeper into God's books...
Oh come in quickly and repent. It will be easier. Your comfort will be stronger. God will be sooner pacified. Your heart will not be so hardened. Do not call in question God's love to you "

Know that Satan comes with "if":
"Satan does use as a weapon, to shake our sonship or adoption, and our estate in God's love, manifold temptations and crosses, and such like, to discourage us. He comes with ' If.'
'If you were in the love of God, and the love of God in you, and did belong to you any way, would God follow you thus and thus, with these declarations of wrath and anger?'
I answer, A man may retort that upon Satan the tempter, and upon his own heart....Every child God corrects; and for poverty, shame, and the like, we must not measure God's love by these, for God loves us as he loved Christ."

Next question: How did the Father love his Son?

Whose job is it to raise children?

Stu is a member of our home group and the assistant pastor at our church, he's also been a dad since about three months after I became a dad. He's serving us as a church by doing a lot of reading and thinking on parenting - for the sake of his family - and then sharing that on his Blog. In the third post of this parenting series he writes this:
The Bible addresses parenting commands to Dad, not mum.... This is not to deny or minimize the crucial, society transforming role of mothers. Instead, this is a call for men to take God given responsibility and also heart posture towards mum... I confessed and apologised to my wife for making her feel like Rufus was her responsibility and that I am gracious to help her out. Nothing could be further from the truth. She is my team mate who is helping build my home which I am responsible for. I am to help, support, release her in her talents and receive her as a precious gift from God.... God holds fathers accountable for parenting because he gives them inordinate influence over their children."
One of those ouch moments that helps you to set your course again.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Can I know the love of God?

In The Matchless Love and In-being Richard Sibbes says Yes. We can and we ought to.

To know the love of God is the source of our thanksgiving to God:
"As the shining of the sun enlarges the spirit of the poor creatures, the birds, in the spring time, to sing, so proportionately the apprehension of the sweet love of God in Christ enlarges the spirit of a man, and makes him full of joy and thanksgiving. He breaks forth into joy, so that his whole life is matter of joy and thanksgiving."
If we do not know the love of God, we wont suffer for him.
"Who will abide anything for him that he loves not? What does set us to suffer all things that may be for God? The apprehension that he loves us. What makes a man willing to end his life, and to yield up his soul to God? He knows he shall yield his soul to him as to a father that loves him, that will save his soul. Can a man be willing to leave his home here, when he knows not whether he shall have a better or no? Can a man commend his soul to one that he knows not to be his friend? No. Can he commend such a jewel to one that he knows not but to be an enemy? Can he say with Simeon, 'Lord, let your servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen your salvation? Luke 2:29. Does not all joy and comfort come from the love of God in Christ?"
Moreover it is a develish doctrine to say that we shouldn't. Sibbes attacks the Roman Catholicism of 1629:
"...which teaches that we ought to doubt of God's love. It cuts the sinews of endeavour. Who will endeavour after the attaining of the love of God, and this assurance, when this is laid in the way that we ought not to do it? Are we not prone enough to distrust, but we must be taught it? Is not Satan malicious enough, but we must light a candle to him, and arm his malice with this doctrine, that we ought to doubt? He is the master of doubting; for the works of darkness, and all the discomfort and sin that he brings on us is in darkness, in this particular darkness, that we know not whether we be the children of God or no. So, some say, why should we leave our gain, our profit, and our present pleasures that we have? What does he aim at by the sins he tempts us to, but to shake our assurance of God's love? They teach the doctrine of devils in diverse things, amongst which this is one that strengthens the kingdom of Satan much, that people ought to doubt, and that there is no way or means to get assurance of God's love."
Such shaking and doubt persist in various forms today. But Sibbes shows that Jesus in John 17 says and prays "I have declared your love" and moreover that
So that a Christian
"...knows that God loves him. There is no truth in the world so illustrious, so gloriously and manifestly true, as this. Would you have a better pledge of his love than Jesus Christ, the Son of his love, to be given for us, the dearest thing that God has?
All of which makes me ask....
Do you/I know God's love? 
What happens if we don't? How can we know the love of God?
How's that definition of faith, and what are the implications of it?

Photo via: love photos. Sibbes sourced from Monergism - 56mb pdf, language modernised slightly and reformatted in this pdf: The Matchless Love & In-being (228kb)

Friday, August 06, 2010

Seven things about the love of God

The two sermon series The Matchless Love and In-being by Richard Sibbes are a wonderful invitation to experience the love of God. At the start of the sermon he recaps some lost sermons on the subject. His summarising remarks are worth noting.
"We never know all, but we may know more, and we ought to know more. So that by consequence there is a perpetual necessity of Christ's prophetical office: 'I have declared, and I will declare,' etc. "
"When God is the teacher, it is no matter how dull the learner is, for Christ does not only bring doctrine, but he brings wit, grace, and ability to the inward man; that is, not only a declaration, as man does teach the outward man, but he unlocks and opens the heart..."
Sibbes notes that now God would makes himself known to us relationally as "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ". Our knowledge is not complete, but we have the person Christ who comes to us, to our hearts.

From John 17v26 he notes that he has previously outlined six points. It's a rich summary and regretful that the sermon being recapped has been lost.

1. God loves Christ, because he is the first object of his love, his own image.
2. After Christ, God loves all that are Christ's with that love with which he loves Christ.
"He loves Christ, and he loves us in Christ, and not otherwise....God loves us in Christ therefore, and only in Christ; because in Christ only his wrath is satisfied. Christ only is the mediator, the only treasury of the church to convey all to us. The adopted sons find their excellence, and all that they have, in the virtue of the natural Son."
3. The love of God to us is in Christ, loving us in him, as electing us, and doing all good to us in him
"This love in them will be enough to set them on fire on all good things whatsoever. 'We love him, because he loves us first,' 1 John 4:19. We know him, because he knows us first, Gal 4:9, and we choose him, because he chooses us first. We joy and delight in him, because he joys and delights in us first. All is a reflex from him... "
4. This love of God to us may be known, and ought to be known of us
5. The way to know God's love to us, is the manifesting of his name in the gospel
6. Christ being in us.

And then on to the actual sermon! Of which more another day.
What do you make of Sibbes six things about the love of God? What would you add?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Do you have a new heart?

Terry Virgo argues persuasively, and with some controversy, that Christians are not sinners but saints. In this he takes seriously that the believer is a new creation. This is no innovative teaching. Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote in his sermon Josiah's Reformation: The Tender Heart
“It is a supernatural disposition of a true child of God to have a tender, soft, and a melting heart.”
Whereas he argues that naturally the heart is
“a stony heart… say what you will to a hard heart, it will never yield. A hammer will do no good to a stone. It may break it in pieces, but not draw it to any form. So to a stony heart, all the threatenings in the world will do no good. You may break it in pieces, but never work upon it. It must be the almighty power of God. There is nothing in the world as hard as the heart of man..... “
How then do you get a new heart?
“...Tenderness of heart is wrought by an apprehension of tenderness and love in Christ. A soft heart is made soft by the blood of Christ… I am sure nothing will melt the hard heart of man but the blood of Christ, the passion of our blessed Saviour… When a man considers of the love that God has showed him in sending of his Son, and doing such great things as he has done, in giving of Christ to satisfy his justice, in setting us free from hell, Satan and death: the consideration of this, with the persuasion that we have interest in the same, melts the heart, and makes it become tender… because with the preaching of the gospel to broken-hearted sinners cast down, there always goes the Spirit of God, who works an application of the gospel.”
What should we do with a tender heart to keep it soft? Should we treat it with law and tell it how to behave? No, Sibbes goes on to argue that we should:
“be always under the sunshine of the gospel.”
We treat a renewed heart with the gospel of the Lord Jesus. It is the grace of God that teaches us. Those who are converted by the gospel, stay with the gospel. Those who begin with the Spirit, continue with the Spirit. Indeed the only way to live the Christian life, with a new heart, will be to be filled again and again with the Holy Spirit, who alone will produce change. To treat my own sin with law and rules is to fail to take sin seriously, it's to say I can fix myself. The only option for the true child of God is to be changed by the Triune God - to pursue the work of the Holy Spirit whom the Father, who sent his son into the world, has sent into our hearts (Galatians 4:4-6).

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Good Samaritan is about the Gospel

I've been arguing this way for a while, as usual Glen puts it better: He saved my life and I don't even know his name

This famous parable in it's context isn't about being a good samaritan but about being helped by the last person you might choose/expect to get help from. A man comes to test Jesus and intends to love his neighbour. This self-justifier asks though, who is my neighbour - i.e. who am I to love.

Jesus asks back, via the parable, who was a neighbour to the man. The lawyer says - the one who helped him. Jesus says go and do likewise... we presume that means go and help others. But the question was who is the neighbour I'm to love, which is to say - loving your neighbour is more about receiving help than giving it.

In the context, where Luke is obsessive about arranging material he's just talked about the disciples receiving from Jesus not working for salvation, and will go on to speak about Mary's receiving ahead of Martha's busyness... and then to the Lord's prayer and the call to ask for salvation... it's all about receiving help from Jesus, the only one who can save.