Taking the Sufficiency of Scripture Seriously (Murray)

 John Murray’s article, “The Finality and Sufficiency of Scripture” is a wonderful explanation of those twin biblical truths about Scripture.  One section of this article that I read today had some comments in it that are still applicable for us in our setting:

Here, I believe, we have too often made the mistake of not taking seriously the doctrine [of Scripture] we profess.” If Scripture is the inscripturated revelation of the gospel and of God’s mind and will, if it is the only revelation of this character that we possess, then it is this revelation in all its fulness, richness, wisdom, and power that must be applied to man in whatever religious, moral, mental situation he is to be found.  It is because we have not esteemed and prized the perfection of Scripture and its finality, that we have resorted to other techniques, expedients, and methods of dealing with the dilemma that confronts us all if we are alive to the needs of this hour.

Later Murray wrote,

..Let us learn from our tradition, let us prize our heritage, let us enter into other men’s labours; but let us also know that it is not the tradition of the past, not a precious heritage, and not the labours of the fathers, that are to serve this generation and this hour, but the Word of the living and abiding God deposited for us in Holy Scripture, and this Word as ministered by the church.  And we must bring forth from its inexhaustible treasures, in exposition, proclamation, and application what is the wisdom and power of God for man in this age in all the particularity of his need, as for man in every age.  There will then be commanding relevance, for it will be the message from God in the unction and power of the Spirit, not derived from the modern mentality, but declared to the modern mentality in all the desperateness of its anxiety and misery.

…Let us reassess the significance of Scripture as the Word of God and let us come to a deeper appreciation of the deposit of revelation God in his grace and wisdom has given unto us as the living Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, and let us know and experience its power in its sufficiency for every exigency of our individual and collective need, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in our hearts.

John Murray, Collected Writings, Vol. 1, p. 21-22.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Blessings of Bible Study (Witsius)

On the Character of the True Divine Don’t let anyone convince you that those older Reformed theologians were dry, dispassionate teachers who were only concerned about bare doctrine and orthodoxy.  Read what Herman Witsius (d. 1708) had to say about the blessings of Bible study. I take it he’s speaking from experience!

The Word of God… when studied attentively, has also an indescribable power of attraction. It fills the mind with the clearest ideas of heavenly truth. Its method of teaching is distinguished by purity, solidity, certainty, and the absence of the least mixture of error. It soothes the mind with an ineffable sweetness, it satisfies the hunger and thirst of sacred knowledge with flowing brooks of honey and butter,it penetrates, by its irresistible power, into the inmost recesses of the heart, it imprints its testimony on the mind so firmly and immoveably, that the believing soul rests upon it with as much security as if it had been carried up to the third heaven, and had heard it directly from God’s mouth, it moves all the affections, and, exhaling in every line the most delightful odor of sanctity, breathes it [sanctity] into the soul of the pious reader, even although he perhaps does not reach the full meaning of all that he peruses….

 Witsius, H. (1856). On the Character of the True Divine: An Inaugural Oration, Delivered at Franeker, April 16, 1675 (p. 19). Edinburgh: James Wood.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Christ Still Teaches (Murray)

  In the first few sentences of Acts, Luke said that in his former book (which we now call the Gospel of Luke), he wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach… (Acts 1:1 NIV).  One thing this means is that the book we now call Acts (Luke’s second book) is a record of what Jesus continued to do and teach even though he had ascended into heaven.  As John Murray wrote, Jesus “is ever active in the exercise of his prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices.”

The fact that Jesus continued to teach after his ascension is of paramount importance for the authority of Christ in the teaching of the apostles and in the books of the New Testament.  Prior to his ascension Christ’s teaching was directly by word of mouth.  But afterwards he taught by a different mode.  He taught by the ministry of appointed witnesses and inspired writers.  The New Testament, all of which was written after Jesus’ ascension, is not one whit less the teaching of our Lord than that delivered verbally during the days of his flesh.  How utterly false it is to set up a contrast between the authority of Jesus’ spoken words and the authority of the New Testament as Scripture.  The latter is the teaching of Christ given in his own appointed way after his ascension.

We are reminded of Jesus’ word to the disciples: ‘I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, comes he will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:12, 13).  It is from his own lips the certification of Luke’s statement in our text (Acts 1:1-2).  The guiding of the Holy Spirit into all truth does not suspend Jesus’ own speaking.  ‘I have yet many things to say to you.’  But he says these things through the Holy Spirit and thus there is the seal of both divine persons, the Son and the Spirit.

So we don’t need a red-letter Bible, nor do we need to put Jesus’ spoken words on a higher level than the Spirit-inspired words of Paul (or the other human authors of the New Testament)!  Murray ends the paragraph like this:

Let us prize with the ardor of our soul what Jesus continues to do, and teach.  He is the living, acting, and teaching Lord.

John Murray, Collected Writings, volume 1, pages 41-41.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Saving Eutychus: A Review

Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God's Word and Keep People Awake As a pastor, I try to read homiletics books from time to time to help me continue to grow as a Christian preacher.  I recently purchased Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell (two Presbyterian pastors from Australia).  I want to point out this brief book here because it is a good resource on preaching.

I recommend this book because it is like a good sermon: biblical, to the point, gospel-centered, and applicable.  Millar and Campbell are firmly committed to expository preaching that has Christ at the center.  There’s even a brief chapter in the book on how biblical theology relates to the pulpit (and how it doesn’t!).  I also appreciated their emphasis on prayer and sermon prep.  The authors don’t cover every topic in this book, but they touch on the basics in a way that is helpful for developing the skill of good preaching.

As with all homiletics books, there are things in Saving Eytychus that are debatable.  For example, one of the authors is committed to sermons that are around 20 minutes long.  Some might argue that a few points in this book are cultural (i.e. the need to use short, simple words in sermons).  One author gave a sermon example in which a slide presentation and video clip were used.  This struck me as odd since the entire book is about biblical, expository preaching of a text.  Presenting a video clip in corporate worship is not preaching!  Some of the argumentative force of the book was lost on me because of this.

However, I still recommend this resource on preaching.  I needed to read this book as a good reminder to keep studying the text hard and with much prayer.  I was glad to be reminded of the need to fight against monotone and dry preaching and was happy to read ways how to improve on sermon delivery.  The emphasis on “the big idea” of the sermon was also a good one; point well taken!

Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

“Just about the worst thing that can happen when we finish preaching is that someone will walk out of the door of the church buoyed by their own resolve to try harder” (p. 77).

“The key to preaching…is to make the message of the text obvious.  Help people to see it and feel it.  Help people to understand the text” (p. 29).

“When I listen to you preach, do I want to see that you have grappled with the biblical theological implications of the text?  Yes, I do.  Do I want listening to a sermon feel like sitting at home reading a book on biblical theology?  No, I don’t.  There is a difference between doing biblical theology and preaching in a way that is shaped by biblical theology” (p. 91).

This isn’t an “end all” book on homiletics.  Millar and Campell don’t do everything in this book.  But what they do include is extremely helpful.  I’ve already made a few slight changes in my own sermon preparation and delivery.   In fact, I’m confident it will be a blessing for pastors who have labored for three months or thirty-five years.

Gary Millar and Phil Campbell, Saving Eutychus (Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2013).

rev shane lems

The Pope’s Second Hand Junk

 The following are words from the last few minutes of an address R. C. Sproul gave to the 2008 graduating class of Westminster Seminary California

“[In a sermon late in his life, Luther] wondered, why is it that [despite gospel preaching] people are still spending their money on indulgences and on what Luther called the Pope’s second-hand junk [i.e. relics].  He said, the Pope is like a decoy duck, sitting on a pond with a great bag of tricks, seducing people with this nonsense.  He wondered why it is that people ignore the Word of God and exchange it for Joseph’s pants.”

“…What relevance does that have for us today?  We don’t see the evangelical church of our day rushing to depositories of sacred relics.  Nobody’s looking for Joseph’s pants.  Rather we have invested our time, our energy, and our money in more contemporary ways to improve the gospel.  We look to programs, to Madison Avenue methodologies, to entertainment, to pop psychology, even to the establishment of Starbucks in the church to improve the gospel.”

“Why do we do this?  I think people in the church today are looking for exactly what they were looking for in sixteenth-century Germany.  They went to Trier, they went to Aachen, they went to these relics because they believed the relics had power.  Every pastor wants to have a powerful ministry.  And so we look to the latest program, to the latest method to give us a powerful ministry, forgetting where the Lord God omnipotent has put the power the in the first place.”

“In the first chapter of Romans, Paul introduces himself as a slave of God, one who’s called to be an apostle, and for what mission is he set apart?  For the gospel of God.  IF we look at that text carefully, we will see that what Paul says is that he has not been consecrated to preach a gospel about God, but rather the text means that it is the gospel that belongs to God.  It’s God’s gospel.”

“We will inevitably be tempted by decoy ducks on the pond to seduce us into thinking that we can improve upon the power that is in the gospel.  It is, however, our task to diligently and faithfully preach the Word of God, which Word he has empowered and has promised will never return unto him void.  We don’t need anything more.  We can’t improve on that in any manner.”

This excellent address can be found on pages 188-191 of Always Reformed.

shane lems

Humility Before the Word

“Over against all human beings, Scripture occupies a position so high that, instead of subjecting itself to their criticism, it judges them in all their thoughts and desires.  And this has been the Christian church’s position toward Scripture at all times.  According to Chrysostom, humility is the foundation of philosophy.  Augustine said: ‘When a certain rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied, ‘Delivery’; what was the second rule, ‘Delivery’; what was the third rule, ‘Delivery’; so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, and third, and always I would answer ‘Humility.” Calvin cites this statement with approval.  And Pascal cries out to humanity: ‘Humble yourself, powerless reason!  Be silent, stupid nature! …Listen to God!’  … And the Christian dogmatician may take no other position.”

When I was starting to first feel the weight of the cross in my life, I met some horribly arrogant Christians.  This threw me off quite a bit; I was thinking about how Jesus humbled himself but his followers often didn’t.  I’ve also recently talked to some disillusioned Christians who stumbled because of arrogant Christians in their lives. Finally, I know unbelievers who say many Christians they know are arrogant jerks who are simply not kind to people outside their “bubble.”  Truth hurts, I guess.

Based on Herman Bavinck’s great quote above, Christian humility not only has to do with imitating Christ (1 Cor 11.1), but submitting to his word with “trembling” (Is 66.5).  There is no room for arrogance!

The above quote is from Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics I: Prolegomena, 441.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa