why not

Excerpt from a book I’ve borrowed, and was dipping into recently. It’s a small paperback, part doctrinal, part devotional, by Octavius Winslow, an English/American(?) preacher, who flourished (love that expression) in the mid 19th century. His style is sometimes too elaborate for my taste, I must admit, so I’m afraid I only read him when I’m in the mood for it. This bit is from a chapter on prayer in his Work of the Holy Spirit, where he discusses prayer in the sense of ‘coming to the throne of grace’.

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It is a throne, because God is a Sovereign. … He hears whom he will, and answers what and when he will. … But it is also a throne of grace. … A God of grace sits on it, and the sceptre of grace is held out from it, and all the favours bestowed there are the blessings of grace.

God has many thrones. There is the throne of creation, and the throne of providence, and the throne of justice, and the throne of redemption; but this is the throne of grace.

Just the throne we want! We are the poor, the needy, the helpless, the vile, the sinful, the unworthy. We have nothing to bring but our deep wretchedness and poverty – nothing but our complaints, our miseries, our crosses, our groanings, our sighs and tears. But it is the throne of grace. For just such it is set up.

It is a God of grace who sits upon it, and all the blessings he dispenses from it are the gifts of grace. Pardon, justification, adoption, peace, comfort, light, direction – all, all, is of grace. No worth or worthiness in the creature extracts these blessings; no price he may bring purchases them; no tears or complainings or misery move the heart of God to compassion – it is all of grace. God is so full of compassion and love and mercy that he does not need to be moved to pour it forth. …

Therefore, whatever your case, you may come. If it is a throne of grace (as indeed it is), then why not come? Why stand a long way off? If the poor, the penniless, the disconsolate and the guilty are welcome here, if this throne is crowded by such – why make yourself an exception? Why not come too? What is your case, what is your sorrow, what is your burden? … Go to the throne of grace. Whether the want is temporal or spiritual, take it there. …

Do not stay away from the throne of grace because of an unfavourable state of mind. If God is ready to receive you just as you are, if no questions are asked and no examination is instituted, and no exceptions are made on account of the badness of the state, then count it a great blessing to be able to go to God even when you feel at your worst. To keep away from the throne of grace because of unfitness and unpreparedness to approach it, is to turn the throne of grace into a throne of merit. …

What is your state? Are you weak in prayer? Are you tried in prayer? And yet is there anything of real want, of real desire in your heart? Is this so? Then draw near to God. Your state of mind will not be more favourable tomorrow than it is today. You will not be more acceptable or welcome at any future period than you are at this moment.

Supposing your state is the worst that can be, your frame of mind the most unfavourable, your cross the heaviest, your corruption the strongest, your heart the hardest — still go to the throne of grace.

whose story

Sometimes I’ve looked at the Pilgrim’s Progress, trying to read it through the eyes of someone who wasn’t familiar with the terminology and metaphors which Bunyan was using. I can only imagine that you would at best get the general idea that it was a story about someone making a journey from A to B through various quaintly described perils. Your reading would be pitifully superficial if you weren’t able to identify the allusions, the figures, the intricate weaving of human nature and Christian experience with the deftly assembled scriptural motifs.

But the same experience must belong to people who look at the history of the Scottish Church, or, what is largely indistinguishable, the Scottish people, without grasping at least something of the religious principles which motivated their actions and attitudes.

Yet who among us has not suffered from reading something about Scottish (church) history written by someone who was manifestly lacking in both sympathy and understanding when they put pen to paper.*

In the first volume of the Scottish Reformation Society’s unpretentiously titled Historical Journal, the editor, Douglas Somerset, makes this point in a crystal clear preface which you should be able to read as a preview here. The aim of this new journal is therefore to publish scholarly articles on Scottish church history from a perspective which understands the beliefs and practices and environment characteristic of ‘ordinary, mainstream Presbyterianism.’

The contents of this volume come from knowledgeable contributors who all seem to be attached to Scottish denominations. (The descriptor used in the preface is ‘evangelical,’ but the term is used presumably in its narrower sense, as in the Reformation-era evangelicals, or the C19th Moderate vs Evangelical parties).

The highlights for me were, firstly Matthew Vogan‘s article, ‘Samuel Rutherford and the theology and practice of preaching.’ This includes a helpful section on the development of Reformed homiletics, making reference to several papers in the useful volume Protestant Scholasticism (ed. Trueman & Clark, 1999). He then addresses the role of the affections, or emotions, in preaching, and gives a judicious selection of heart-warming quotations from Rutherford’s published sermons. The pitfalls associated with the indiscriminate use of printed ‘sermons’ as a guide to how preachers preached in the flesh are also noted. (The release of Vogan’s treatment of the piety of Samuel Rutherford is eagerly awaited.)

The other article I found particularly interesting was on a Free Church theological professor by the name of James MacGregor, who I confess I’d never before heard of. John Keddie (already famous on this blog as the author of the best biography of George Smeaton available) gives us ‘Professor James MacGregor: Theological and practical writings.’ MacGregor held the chair of Systematic Theology (he followed James Buchanan, who I’ve quoted here several times previously) before emigrating to New Zealand. The article covers his theological writings during his professorship in New College, 1868-1881, showing how he responded to the challenges of rationalistic and unorthodox trends in relation to the major controversies of the day – the atonement, the inspiration of Scripture, and creedal subscription. The article highlights the controversies and provides generous excerpts in MacGregor’s own words, giving useful quantities of airtime to his clear, orthodox position on issues such as the free offer of the gospel and the value of lengthy detailed creeds.

Well, articles on experiential preaching and nineteenth century theology I would pretty much automatically find fairly gripping, but let me just quickly also mention Norman Campbell’s ‘Giving out the line: A cross-Atlantic comparison of two presbyterian cultures,’ which succeeded in interesting me in something I haven’t previously paid much attention to. ‘Giving out the line’ is what a precentor does when he chants a line or two of the psalm for the congregation to sing after him, a practice apparently imported into Scotland from England in the 1600s. It now survives in Scotland by the skin of its teeth, almost exclusively in congregations where the psalms are sung in Gaelic, but Campbell describes how it also continues in Canada (PEI) and among Primitive Baptists in the southern American states. (Listen to the Gaelic variety here, for example; Campbell’s previous output on the topic can be found here.)

The only possible quibble I would have is that a couple of the articles would have benefited from some contextualisation. Reading perhaps particularly the first one, and possibly one of the longer ones, felt almost like an exercise in suppressing the question ‘so what’ at every turn. Some explanatory comment on the main purpose of these articles and an indication of their intended  ‘contribution to knowledge’ would have made a big difference.

All in all though, this volume is an excellent start, and the next issue is definitely something to look forward to.

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* Some day, maybe, I’ll force myself to finish reading a rather dire example of this very thing, and share the misery of it with you here.

revelation

“By the light of nature, we see that God is above us, and by the law, we see that he is against us, but by the gospel we see that he is Immanuel, God with us and for us.”

Just a snippet, since it’s been a while. From John Colquhoun, quoted here some time ago, but this time from A View of Saving Faith.

substitutions

Excerpt from a rather splendid article on the Passover at the rather excellent ‘King’s English‘ site, which happens to fit in perfectly with the Spurgeon thing from the other day.

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Well, let’s imagine three Israelite houses on the night the LORD passes through.

House A is a very religious house.  They love to have Moses over to hear the words of God.  They’re always praying.  They’re always talking about father Abraham.  They’re always doing good deeds around the neighbourhood.  They hear about Passover and on one level they’re a bit miffed because they’d quite like the LORD to come inside the home and see how good they all are.  They’re sure He’d pass over them once He saw how religious they all were.  Thankfully Moses persuades them out of that suicidal idea and they kill the Lamb and apply the blood.

House B is not like House A.  In House B they were going to be in that night anyway because they all have ASBO’s.  They are drunkards, gluttons, liars, benefits cheats and notoriously promiscuous.  But somehow they catch wind of Passover and they figure they’d probably better cover themselves.  They’re not sure it’ll do any good because if the LORD pokes His head around the door He’s bound to judge them anyway. But nonetheless, they kill the lamb and apply the blood.

House C is nothing like as good as A and nothing like as bad as B.  But in C everyone is very nervous. They keep calling up house A and saying ‘I’ve killed the lamb, I’ve applied the blood but I’m just not sure.  I mean I don’t really see how the blood of a lamb can make a difference.’  And they spend the night pacing up and down wondering whether the blood will really do the trick.

Next morning – which house loses its firstborn son?  A, B or C?

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Answers in the comments, and/or read the whole thing here.

I have now subscribed to this blog, and wondering why I didn’t sooner.

doctors and dignity

Just seen this link – ‘UK doctors consistently oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide‘. It describes a literature review of doctors’ attitudes to assisted suicide over the last 20 years, confirming that the medical profession as a whole remains reassuringly unconvinced of the value of modifying a doctor’s role to include intentionally ending their patients’ lives.

It jumped out as I’ve just recently read Against Physician Assisted Suicide: A Palliative Care Perspective, by David Jeffrey (2009).  (Amazon)

Jeffrey points out that palliative care and physician assisted suicide are fundamentally incompatible, and the perceived need for the latter arises only in the absence of the former. The UK is currently the world leader in palliative care, the approach which seeks to improve the patient’s quality of life through the prevention and relief of suffering.

It’s only a short book (120 page paperback)  but it covers a huge amount of ground – ethical, legal, and practical issues surrounding the care of the dying, with a helpful analysis of the failed Joffe Bill and the situation in Oregon and the Netherlands, where forms of assisted suicide have been legalised.

Most usefully of all, it calmly, gently, and thoroughly dismantles the myth that dying can only be dignified if it happens at a time and in a way under your own control. The ‘suffering’ component of any illness is much more of a psychological and social problem than medical, and once patients have their pain controlled, if they are assisted to address their fears and feelings of hopelessness, whatever attractiveness they had seen in ending their life prematurely seems to quietly disappear.

Scaring people about the horrors of old age and illness is a great way of instilling the idea that life is not worth living unless you’re young and fit, but it’s really just an unrealistic and defeatist attitude which treats human life with vastly less of the dignity it pretends to – as untold numbers of disabled and older people can testify.

the whole

People like George Smeaton and Hugh Martin and James Buchanan wrote the learned, technical expositions of the atonement. Charles Spurgeon, on the other hand, never spoke over the head of an ordinary hearer — but if he didn’t specifically read the works of these master theologians, had obviously thoroughly mastered and assimilated their sources, because his doctrine is identical.

From a sermon on the passover, from Exodus 12 –

We are told in the chapter that they were not to eat of the lamb raw. Alas! There are some who try to do this with Christ, for they preach a half-atoning sacrifice. They would make him in his Person and in his character to be meat for their souls, but they have small liking for his Passion, and they cast his Atonement into the background, or represent it as an ineffectual expiation which does not secure any soul from vengeance. What is this but to devour a raw Christ? I will not touch their half-roasted lamb; I will have nothing to do with their half substitution, their half-complete redemption. No, no: give me a Saviour who has borne all my sins in his own body …

What a multitude of teachers there are who must needs have the lamb sodden with water, though the Scripture saith, ‘Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water.’ … Preachers present the lamb sodden in the water of their own thoughts and speculations and notions. Now, the mischief of this boiling process is that the water takes away a good deal from the meat. Philosophical discoursings upon the Lord Jesus take away much of the essence and virtue of his person, offices, work, and glory. The real juice and vital nutrient of his glorious Word is carried off by interpretations which do not explain, but explain away. … When certain divines preach atonement, it is not substitution pure and simple – one hardly knows what it is. Their atonement is not the vicarious sacrifice, but a process of something they are long in defining. They have a theory which is like the relics of meat after months of boiling, all strings and fibres. All manner of schemes are tried to extract the marrow and fatness from the grand soul-satisfying doctrine of substitution, which to my mind is the choicest truth that can ever be brought forth for the food of souls. I cannot make out why so many divines are afraid of the shedding of blood for the remission of sin, and must needs stew down the most important of all the truths of revelation. No, no: as the type could only be correct when the lamb was roast with fire, so the gospel is not truly set forth unless we describe our Lord Jesus in his sufferings for his people, and those sufferings in the room, place, and stead of sinners, presenting absolutely and literally a substitution for them. I willl have no dilution: it is substitution – ‘He bore our sins.’ ‘He was made sin for us.’ ‘The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.’ We must have no mystifying of this plain truth, it must not be sodden at all with water, but we must have Christ in his sufferings fresh from the fire.

Now, this lamb they were to eat, and the whole of it. Not a morsel must be left. Oh that you and I would never cut and divide Christ so as to choose one part of him and leave another. Let not a bone of him be broken, but let us take in a whole Christ up to the full measure of our capacity. Prophet, Priest, and King, Christ divine and Christ human, Christ loving and living, Christ dying, Christ risen, Chrsit ascended, Christ coming again, Christ triumphant over all his foes – the whole Lord Jesus is ours. We must not reject a single particle of what is revealed concerning him, but must feed upon it all as we are able.

That night Israel had to feed upon the lamb there and then. They might not put by a portion for tomorrow: they must consume the whole in some way or other. Oh, my brother, we need a whole Christ at this very moment. Let us receive him in his entirety. Oh for a splendid appetite and fine powers of digestion, so as to receive into my inmost soul the Lord’s Christ just as I find him. May you and I never think lightly of our Lord under any light or in any one of his offices. All that you now know and all that you can find out concerning Christ you should now believe, appreciate, feed upon, and rejoice in. Make the most of all that is in the Word concerning your Lord. (p237-238)

The chief relish about our Lord Jesus to a penitent sinner is his sin-bearing, and his agonies in that capacity. We need the suffering Saviour, the Christ of Gethsemane, the Christ of Golgotha and Calvary, Christ sheddding his blood in the sinner’s stead, and bearing for us the fire of God’s wrath. Nothing short of this will suffice to be meat for a hungry heart. Keep this back and you starve the child of God. (p236-237)