“Calling on the Name of the Lord” – A Review

Calling on the Name of the Lord, Vol. 38 (New Studies in Biblical Theology) I typically enjoy the books found in the “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series.  Recently I finished Gary Millar’s Calling on the Name of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer (Downers Grove: IVP, 2016).  Like the other books in this series that I’ve read, this one is a good example of summarizing a certain theme of Scripture.  Beginning with Genesis and ending with Revelation, Millar explains what calling on the name of the Lord means.  As I’ve mentioned before, “Biblical Theology” in this context simply means the study of a certain theme in Scripture, from beginning to end.

The book has nine main sections: 1) Prayer in the Pentateuch, 2) Prayer in the Former Prophets (Joshua-Kings), 3) Prayer in the Latter Prophets, 4) Prayer in the Writings, 5) Prayer in the Psalms, 6) Prayer in the Gospels, 7) Prayer in Acts, 8) Prayer in Paul’s Letters, and 9) Prayer in the rest of the New Testament.  There is an afterword of around five pages that gives brief application on prayer.  As you can see, the structure of the book is pretty straightforward and easy to follow.

I appreciated this book because it was well written, it stuck to explaining Scripture, and it highlighted the gospel throughout.  The main phrase Millar emphasizes is found in Genesis 4:26: At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD (NIV).  The point Millar makes from this phrase is that it means “asking God to intervene specifically to do one thing – to come through on his promises” (p. 22).  When you find this phrase (or similar ones) in Scripture, Millar says, it is a prayer asking God to fulfill his covenant promises.  This is the main point Millar makes in the book.

There are two minor weaknesses of the book.  First, since Millar made his point up front (that calling on God’s name means asking him to keep his promises), he sort of gave a spoiler.  After reading just a little of the book, I knew that every prayer he was examining would be summarized as asking God to keep his promises.  I don’t necessarily disagree, but the book was less exciting to read since I knew exactly how it would unfold.  Second, I didn’t like how Millar constantly quoted very large portions of Scripture.  I know that sounds odd, but his frequent and long Scripture quotes were sometimes overwhelming and I wasn’t sure which verses he was really talking about.  Again, these are minor weaknesses that came to mind as I finished the book.

So now you have a resource if you want to study prayer from Genesis to Revelation.  It doesn’t give all the nuances and aspects of prayer, and it’s not a manual of how to pray better, but it does trace the theme – from Genesis to Revelation – of calling upon the name of the Lord.

Gary Millar, Calling on the Name of the Lord (Downers Grove: IVP, 2016).

Shane Lems

Not For Works Which We Have Done (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.) I always like reading the original words of the solid hymns we know and love.  As I was looking through Augustus Toplady’s hymns in volume 6 of his Works I recently came across “How Vast the Benefits Divine.”  Here are the original words, which are based on 2 Timothy 1:9 – He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time… (NIV).

  1      HOW vast the benefits divine,
Which we in Christ possess,
Sav’d from the guilt of sin we are,
And call’d to holiness.
   2      But not for works which we have done,
Or shall hereafter do;
Hath God decreed on sinful worms,
Salvation to bestow.
      3      The glory, Lord, from first to last,
Is due to thee alone;
Aught to ourselves, we dare not take,
Or rob thee of thy crown.
     4      Our glorious surety undertook
To satisfy for man,
And grace was given us in him,
Before the world began.
        5      This is thy will, that in thy love
We ever should abide,
And lo, we earth and hell defy,
To make thy counsel void.
    6      Not one of all the chosen race,
But shall to heav’n attain;
Partake on earth the purpos’d grace,
And then with Jesus reign.
        7      Of Father, Son, and Spirit, we
Extol the threefold care,
Whose love, whose merit, and whose pow’r,
Unite to lift us there.

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 6 (London; Edinburgh: William Baynes and Son; H. S. Baynes, 1825), 415.

Shane Lems

The Puritans on the Law/Gospel Distinction

One thing I always appreciate about the Puritans is the fact that they make the proper distinction between the law and the gospel.  From Thomas Watson to John Bunyan to William Perkins, the Puritans did not mix the law with the gospel or the gospel with the law.  I got to thinking about this again recently when looking over the chapter on the law and the gospel in A Puritan Theology.  As I noted before, this is one of the weaker chapters in an otherwise helpful book.  I’ve written extensively on the law/gospel distinction here before, but I thought it would be beneficial to give a few more examples of how the Puritans distinguished between the law and the gospel.  First, here are a few quotes from Thomas Goodwin:

“The law was a dead letter, and though it shewed us the will of God, yet it changed us not into the image of it; but the gospel reveals the glorious image of Jesus Christ to true believers, and changeth them into the same image, yet so as by degrees, from one degree of glory to another, this glorious image being perfected by little and little, till we come to the full stature of Christ” (Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1863), 218).

“Now what is the gospel? Truly it is nothing else (take it strictly in the special sense and meaning of it) but that doctrine which holds forth the grace of God justifying, pardoning, and saving sinners, and which holds forth Jesus Christ made righteousness to us. Now then, this gospel it is called in a peculiar respect ‘the word of faith;’ and for what respect but this? because it is a special object of a special faith which God saveth us by. The apostle, in Rom. 10:8, speaking of the gospel in distinction from the law, and from all else in the Scripture, saith, ‘This is the word of faith which we preach….’” (Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 8 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1864), 286.)

Here’s Thomas Boston:

That which I aim at, and intend therein, is to show unto myself, and others that shall read it, the difference betwixt the Law and the Gospel — a point, as I conceive, very needful for us to be well instructed in, and that for these (two) reasons:

  1. Because, if we be ignorant thereof, we shall be very apt to mix and mingle them together, and so to confound the one with the other; which, as Luther on the Galatians truly says, “doth more mischief than man’s reason can conceive;” and therefore he doth advise all Christians, in the case of justification, to separate the Law and the Gospel as far asunder as heaven and earth are separated.
  2. Secondly, Because if we know right how to distinguish betwixt them, the knowledge thereof will afford us no small light towards the true understanding of the Scripture, and will help us to reconcile all such places, both in the Old and New Testament, as seem to be repugnant; yea, and it will help us to judge aright of cases of conscience, and quiet our own conscience in time of trouble and distress; yea, and we shall thereby be enabled to try the truth and falsehood of all doctrines…”  (Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Explication of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 7 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1850), 459.)

I like how Goodwin explained the power of the gospel and how Boston listed the benefits of knowing how to distinguish between the two.  Indeed, as the author of the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharius Ursinus, said,

“…The law and gospel are the chief and general divisions of the holy scriptures, and comprise the entire doctrine comprehended therein” (Zacharias Ursinus and G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 2.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI

When Darkness Hides His Face

calvincommentaries Sometimes life for the Christian is just plain hard.  We’re not exempt from the effects of Adam’s sin, so we face debilitating illnesses, allergies that nearly cripple us, mental anguish that makes for dark days, and other people often are like thorns in our flesh.  Sometimes we still wander and stumble into sin.  Following Jesus doesn’t mean life will be painless and easy!  I know a contemporary version of the hymn My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less says “When darkness seems to hide His face;” however, I think the original is more accurate: “When darkness veils His lovely face.”  It reminds me of Cowper’s great hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, which says,

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”

This also makes me think of the criminal on the cross, who truly repented and made the good confession.  He was loved by Christ, promised heaven, but his pain and torture didn’t immediately end.  He still suffered terribly as a convicted criminal.  Calvin comments well on this:

What is promised to the robber does not alleviate his present sufferings, nor make any abatement of his bodily punishment. This reminds us that we ought not to judge of the grace of God by the perception of the flesh; for it will often happen that those to whom God is reconciled are permitted by him to be severely afflicted. So then, if we are dreadfully tormented in body, we ought to be on our guard lest the severity of pain hinder us from tasting the goodness of God; but, on the contrary, all our afflictions ought to be mitigated and soothed by this single consolation, that as soon as God has received us into his favor, all the afflictions which we endure are aids to our salvation. This will cause our faith not only to rise victorious over all our distresses, but to enjoy calm repose amidst the endurance of sufferings. (John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 314.)

Dear Christian, if you’re suffering, facing affliction, or if your cross has recently been very hard to bear, don’t take it as a sign that God is angry with you, has stopped loving you, or has forgotten about you.  By God’s grace, our suffering is productive (Rom 5:3-4).  Our feelings are not a reliable guide in the Christian life; God’s gracious promises are.  “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace!”

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI, 54015

As The Sun Shines on the Dung Hill (Or: Grace and Works Inconsistent)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston (12 vols.)  Thomas Boston (d. 1732) was a preacher-theologian who clearly preached and taught the gospel truth that a sinner is justified through faith alone apart from works.  God justifies a sinner only by grace, and faith is a God-given instrument that receives God’s free gift of Christ’s righteousness.  In a sermon on Ephesians 1:6, Boston noted that grace is “love and favor freely flowing, without anything in the object to draw it out.”

Later in the sermon Boston explained the way a sinner is accepted by God:

“First, It is “freely.” There is nothing in the sinner himself to procure it, or move God to it (Rom. 3:24), but as the sun shines without hire on the dung-hill, so God accepts sinners of mere grace.”

How is it free?

“It is without respect to any work done by the sinner (Titus 3:5). Grace and works are inconsistent in this matter. Men may render themselves acceptable to men, by some work of theirs, that is profitable or pleasant to them; but no work of ours can render us acceptable to God. It is natural for men to think to gain acceptance with God, by their doing better; and when they have set themselves to do and work for that end, they please themselves that they are accepted. But mistake it not, that way of acceptance is blocked up.”

This is true because:

(1.) All works of ours are excluded from our justification, whereof our acceptance is a part (Rom. 3:20), and faith and works are opposed in that matter (v. 28; Gal. 2:16).
(2.) Our best works are attended with sinful imperfections (Isa. 64:6), and mixed with many evil works (Jam. 3:2). So in them there is ground for God’s loathing and condemning us; how then can we be accepted for what is in itself loathsome and condemnable?
(3.) We can do no good works before we be accepted (John 9:31; Heb. 11:6). The tree must be good, ere [before] the fruit can be so. The person out of Christ can work no works, but dead works (John 15:5), for he is, while so, in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. And what is all that the man can do before he believe and be accepted in Christ, but a parcel of hypocritical works?

You can read this entire excellent sermon in Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Discourses on Prayer, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 11 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1852), 162.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Faith and Work Bible (NIV)

For review purposes I recently received the “NIV Faith and Work Bible“(edited by David Kim and published by Zondervan).  It isn’t exactly a study Bible; instead, it’s a Bible that has doctrine and application articles scattered throughout.

More specifically, the theme of these articles have to do with core Christian doctrines and what it means to live them out in our daily vocations.  There are also 31 short articles at certain places in Scripture which gives readers a summary of the overall story of redemptive history.  Basically, in this Bible you’ll get articles on 1) Bible storylines, 2) Doctrine, 3) Application to the workplace.

Many of the articles in this Bible are solid and helpful, utilizing various resources such as Abraham Kuyper, Anthony Hoekema, John Murray, and many others.  There is something of a “renewing creation” emphasis, but it didn’t seem to be taken to the extremes that I’ve seen elsewhere.  I also like the real life stories of how a person in a certain vocation applied doctrine to life.  You can preview this Bible on Amazon if you want more detail.

I do like the larger font in this Bible, and it is edited nicely.  However, I’d rather have these articles in a separate book rather than scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments.  I didn’t really need a new Bible, but I did want to read these articles in this Bible, and I’m glad I own them.  But now I have one more large resource on my shelves that could have been much smaller if the articles were published separately.  I’m guessing that most people who buy this Bible already have enough Bibles, and now you have to spend more than thirty bucks to get yet another new one.

In summary, the articles and application stories in the “NIV Faith and Work Bible” are helpful, but it would have been better if they had been published as a separate book instead of mixed throughout a Bible.
(NOTE: I received this Bible as part of the Booklook blogger program, and was not compelled to write a positive review.)
Shane Lems

Law, Gospel, and Conversion (Ursinus)

In Reformed theology, the law and gospel are distinguished, yet God uses both in his sovereign way.  Zacharius Ursinus, the primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism, understood this well.  After talking about how the Holy Spirit is the primary agent in a sinner’s conversion, he talks about the instrumental causes of conversion (that is, the instruments the Spirit uses to convert a sinner).  Here are his comments:

The means or instrumental causes of conversion are the law—the gospel, and again, the doctrine of the law after that of the gospel. For the preaching of the law goes before, preparing and leading us to a knowledge of the gospel: “for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20.) Hence, there can be no sorrow for sin without the law. After the sinner has once been led to a knowledge of sin, then the preaching of the gospel follows, encouraging contrite hearts by the assurance of the mercy of God through Christ. Without this preaching there is no faith, and without faith there is no love to God, and hence no conversion to him. After the preaching of the gospel, the preaching of the law again follows, that it may be the rule of our thankfulness and of our life. The law, therefore, precedes, and follows conversion. It precedes that it may lead to a knowledge and sorrow for sin: it follows that it may serve as a rule of life to the converted. It is for this reason that the prophets first charge sin upon the ungodly, threaten punishment, and exhort to repentance; then comfort and promise pardon and forgiveness; and lastly, again exhort and prescribe the duties of piety and godliness. Such was, also, the character of the preaching of John the Baptist. It is in this way, that the preaching of repentance comprehends the law and the gospel, although in effecting conversion each has a part to perform peculiar to itself.

I realize many people dangerously mix this up today – even some who consider themselves Reformed.  But the historic Reformed position is really not overly difficult or complicated.  Ursinus said it well, the Heidelberg Catechism says it well, and the Westminster Standards say it well.  Making a distinction between the law and the gospel runs through the fabric of Reformed theology.  With Scripture, we say that through the law comes the knowledge of sin, and in the law we find a guide for the Christian life (Rom. 3:20, Ps. 119:174, etc.).  But the only thing that can give us life and salvation is the gospel, not the law (Rom. 1:16).

The above quote is taken from Zacharias Ursinus and G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 472.

Shane Lems