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September 05, 2013

Satan bears many names. Satan has many schemes. Satan wears many hats. Satan comes in many disguises. And through it all, one of his favorite tactics and one of his most successful tactics is to be an accuser. The book of Revelation assures us that night and day he stands as our accuser.

accuser (noun)

1: one that charges with a fault or offense
2: one that charges with an offense judicially or by a public process

Satan is an Accuser and you know his accusations. You have heard him charge you with a fault, you have heard him proclaim your guilt. You have heard it in the courtroom of your heart and mind and conscience.

You commit a sin. You fall into that same old sin you’ve been battling, that sin you swore you wouldn’t commit again. You discover a new sin and for a time revel in it. And then you hear the accusation. “You are guilty. You have committed an offense and need to be punished. You have offended God and he wants nothing to do with you. You have sinned beyond his grace. Give up.”

Satan stands between you, the offender, and God, the offended, and cries out that you are guilty, he cries out that you must be punished, he cries out that you deserve to have the consequences of this crime heaped upon you.

There is an Accuser.

There is also an Advocate.

John, who wrote the words of Revelation, also wrote these words (1 John 2:1-2): “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

September 01, 2013

Stephen Charnock was born in London in 1628. He went to Cambridge University at age 14, and it was there that he came to faith in Jesus Christ.

In 1655 he was sent to Dublin to be a chaplain to Oliver Cromwell’s son, Henry, who was then governor of Ireland. At this post, Charnock gained the reputation of being a great preacher.

In 1660, when the monarchy was restored in England, Charnock returned to London. He is reported to have made a living practicing medicine for the next 15 years, until he and Thomas Watson began co-pastoring a nonconforming congregation. He served in this role until his death five years later.

Charnock was apparently a lifelong bachelor. Perhaps this helps explain his reputation of being a passionate and dedicated student. He is said to have had a very strong command of the original languages of Scripture and to spend 60 hours each week in study.

He wrote out much of what he studied and taught in the form of discourses that were much like extended sermons, each structured to focus on three things: a particular doctrine, the reasons for believing it, and its practical use.

Unique Contribution

Charnock had an analytical gift that enabled him to take great amounts of theological information and condense it down into clear, concise sentences. J. I. Packer writes that Charnock “of all the Puritans is the most brisk and businesslike when it comes to saying things straight.” Unfortunately, this gift came with a weakness on the other side. As Packer goes on to say, “Charnock is as strong as any in clearing heads, but is less able than some to stir the imagination and touch the heart.”

Most Important Works

Here, courtesy of Meet the Puritans, are brief descriptions of his two most important works.

The Existence and Attributes of God - “This is the work on the character and attributes of God. It should be read by every serious Christian. The twelfth discourse on the goodness of God … is unsurpassed in all of English literature.”

Christ Crucified: The Once-For-All Sacrifice - “Linking the Old and New Testaments, Charnock explains how Christ’s sacrifice fulfills the Old Testament requirements.”

August 29, 2013

In 2012 Stevenson University, located on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland, entered into an important partnership with the Maryland Bible Society. The Society had an extensive collection of rare and antique Bibles and related documents but no place to properly store and display them. Stevenson University offered space in its library and today houses the collection. The jewel of this collection is a rare first edition King James Bible, the next of the 25 objects through which we can trace the history of Christianity.

KJBThe Protestant Reformation was inseparable from a new and heightened commitment to the Word of God. The Bible in the people’s common tongue was the key to the growth and the influence of Protestant theology. In 1525 William Tyndale produced his great English translation of the New Testament and once it got into the hands of the general population, England would never be the same. In the decades that followed, many other translations would appear, none so prominent and none so important as the King James Bible of 1611.

In 1603 Queen Elizabeth died without an heir and Scotland’s James VI acceded to the throne of England where he was crowned James I. The following year he convened the Hampton Court Conference to enter into discussions with leaders of the Church of England, including several Puritans. Not surprisingly, the conference turned out to be something of a farce. James had a lofty view of his own intellect and was dismissive of others, especially the Puritans. However, he did give in on one crucial matter important: the commissioning of a new, authorized translation of the Bible.

The early English translations of the Bible had been the work of individuals. However, this new translation was to be the work of committees. Fifty four eminent scholars were chosen to take up the work and they were divided into six teams, each of which would translate a selection of books. Though guided by the original Hebrew and Greek text, the translators worked primarily from existing English translations. The Bishops’ Bible of 1568 would be the foundational text, but, when the translators lacked clarity, they were authorized to consult the Tyndale Bible, the Coverdale Bible, Matthew’s Bible, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible. Before their work began, Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London, drafted fifteen translations principles that would govern their work.

It was not until 1607 that the labor began in earnest. Work continued until 1611 when the first editions were finally published by Robert Barker, a printer officially licensed by the king.

August 28, 2013

A music studio in Peoria, Illinois recently launched a singer-songwriter contest and asked local musicians to upload their original songs to YouTube. The studio got one song that did not quite meet the requirements, but it was a song that told a story too good to ignore.

Fred Stobaugh had been married to Lorraine for 73 years before she passed away last year. Now 96 years old, Fred penned a tribute to his wife and titled it, “Oh Sweet Lorraine.” He wrote the lyrics, but was no musician, so simply forwarded the song to the studio in the hope that they might do something with it.

The studio responded by making a professional recording of the song. They released a video that immediately went viral and has already surpassed a million views on YouTube. In the video Fred tells about meeting his wife when she was a car hop at the local A&W, about their 2 years of dating and their 73 years of marriage. “She gave me 75 years of her life.” And then the video transitions to the song:

Oh Sweet Lorraine,
I wish we could do
The Good Times
All over again
Oh Sweet Lorraine
Life only goes around
But never again
Oh Sweet Lorraine,
I wish we could do
The Good Times all over again
The Good Times all over
The memories will always
Linger on
Oh Sweet Lorraine

The memories will
Always Linger on

Go ahead and watch it. (Skip to 5:53 if you’d like to hear only the song.)

The song hits hard; it is difficult to watch the video without tears, to hear the music, to watch Fred’s reaction as he listens to it for the first time. It calls to that part of us that longs for love, that longs for loyal love, that honors the kind of love that lasts a lifetime. Fred has been loved and he has loved the one who loved him. Now that love has been lost and he longs for it to return, he wishes he could go back, that he could relive those days, that he could experience those good times again and again and again after that.

I love Fred’s story and I love Fred’s song. I am grateful to Green Shoe Studio for recording it and giving it to us. Yet I couldn’t help but see that Fred’s love only reaches back. He looks back in time to precious memories, but does not look forward. He expresses wishes, but not hope.

August 25, 2013

Richard Baxter was born in Rowton, England in 1615, the only son of Beatrice and Richard Baxter, Sr. His father was converted when Baxter was about 10 years old, which he says God used to prepare his own heart to believe. Eventually, “a prolonged illness and various books—William Perkins’s Works in particularwere the means God used” to confirm Baxter’s conversion.

For his education, Baxter attended Wroxeter grammar school under John Owen. In lieu of going on to study at a university, he continued his learning through private study. 

In 1638 Baxter entered into the ministry as a deacon, and in the years that followed he would go on to hold offices of curate, lecturer (paid preacher), army chaplain, and vicar.

Baxter’s most sustained role was at Kidderminster, where he labored for nearly 20 years. His work was so effective that nearly the whole town was converted. The ministry philosophy behind his work here became the basis for his classic book The Reformed Pastor.

The great religious and political upheavals in 17th century England had their effect on Baxter as they did for so many of his fellow Puritans. The Act of Uniformity removed him from the Church of England when he was nearly 50 years old, and he never again entered the pastorate. He was also jailed on at least two occasions for nonconformist teaching.

Shortly after the Act of Uniformity, Baxter married one of his converts, Margaret Charlton, who at the time was about half his age. Their disparity in years was somewhat controversial, but the evident goodness of their marriage soon put the issue to rest. They lived privately in or near London for the 29 years of their marriage.

In the remaining years of his life, Baxter would preach occasionally, but he devoted the majority of his time to writing, leaving behind, in total, a library of over 150 treatises and countless letters and papers.

He died December 8, 1691 at the age of 76.

Unique Contribution

Perhaps the most unique feature of Baxter’s ministry is the sheer volume and scope of what he wrote. J. I. Packer notes that he was “the most voluminous English theologian of all time”:

In addition to the approximately four million words of pastoral, apologetic, devotional and homiletic writing that are reprinted in his Practical Works he produced about six million more on aspects of the doctrine of grace and salvation, church unity and nonconformity, the sacraments, Roman Catholicism, antinomianism, millenarianism, Quakerism, politics and history, not to mention a systematic theology in Latin…

But he was able to do more than just write a lot. Packer also remarks on the quality of his work:

Whether or not one finally agrees with Baxter’s positions, one finds oneself confronted with the mature judgment of a clear, sharp, well-stocked, wise mind, as distinguished for intellectual integrity as for spiritual alertness. I do not think Baxter was always right, but I see him … as one of the most impressive of Christian thinkers.

This combination in Baxter of broad learning, sound thinking, and spiritual sensibility has led Packer to dub him “a man for all ministries.”

Most Important Works

The Saint’s Everlasting Rest - “An all-time devotional classic on how thoughts of God and heaven can renew the heart for service here below” (Packer).

The Reformed Pastor - A detailed look at the kind of oversight Baxter believes pastors should have over themselves and their flocks.

The Practical Works of Richard Baxter - a compilation of Baxter’s most popular Christian writings. It contains the two titles above, A Christian Directory, A Call to the Unconverted, Dying Thoughts and many more.

August 22, 2013

Bookstores have fallen on hard times. Christian bookstores have fallen on especially hard times. Of all the industries utterly savaged by the rise of the Internet, e-commerce and digital distribution, books and music, the mainstays of Christian bookstores, are right near the top of that list. The consumer’s win has been the bookstore’s loss.

Christian bookstores played an important part in my life and in my spiritual development. When I was in my early teens I suddenly developed a great passion for Christian music. It seems silly now, but that music filled a great need in my life. I had always loved music, and when I became a believer, one of the great spiritual markers was the day I got rid of my “secular” music. It’s not that all of that music was so bad, but that it represented a past I was eager to move beyond. For many years I would listen exclusively to Christian music.

In that day Christian music was available from only one source—the local Christian bookstore. I became a regular at a couple of those stores. In my high school days I would often run off at lunch to see what was new. I still remember being there and waiting on release day for Petra’s Wake-Up Call. They had to crack open some boxes of newly-delivered music until they found it for me. Once it was in my hands I listened to it the rest of the afternoon and all evening long. On Saturdays I would sometimes jump on my bike, or when a little older, I would get into my truck, and ride clear across town to get to the bookstore, to spend time listening to the new and exciting albums, and to rifle through the bargain section. At one point in my life I had hundreds of albums lining my walls.

I developed relationships at these stores; we looked out for one another. I bought their music, and they helped me find what I was after. I was such a consistent customer at one bookstore that they began to loan me pre-release editions of albums that would not be out for another few months. Even today if I play PFR’s album Them, I am instantly transported to my little Chevy S10 pickup truck as I drove all around Southern Ontario from work site to work site. On release day I would return their pre-release album as I bought my own copy of the final product.

For many years Christian bookstores were really music stores to me. But then, as I grew to an adult and began to develop deeper spiritual interests, bookstores began to serve another purpose. Shortly after I got married I was working a job I hated and would often escape at lunch to wander the town. One day I meandered into a Christian bookstore and, instead of looking at the music, looked at the books. I walked away that day with two of them: Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur and Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? by James Boice. I knew nothing of either author, and cannot recall why I purchased those books out of the thousands in the store. But today I can see God’s hand in it, as those books utterly transformed me. Two serendipitous purchases at the local Christian bookstore forever changed my life. They put me on the path out of an unhealthy church and into a healthy one, and out of unhealthy doctrine and toward sound doctrine.

August 21, 2013

Christians differ in their attitudes toward alcohol. Some Christians believe that we have freedom to consume alcohol in moderation. Others hold that the Bible forbids all consumption of alcohol or that, even in the absence of a clear command to abstain, it is so dangerous and so likely to lead to addiction, that it is downright foolish to drink. Regardless, all Christians hold that drunkenness is a sin and that this sin relates to the loss of control. A drunken man loses his sense and his self-control. As Solomon says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.”

On Monday I attempted to anticipate some of the cost to the church if young Christian men continue to spend their youth embroiled in the pursuit of pornography. Solomon warns that pornography is sapping them of their strength. In their strongest and most energetic years, in the years when so many promises and possibilities lie open before them, they are giving it all away to pornography. It saps them of strength and it saps them of life.

In that same passage Solomon asks, “Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” He describes this sexual captivity as a kind of intoxication, a form of drunkenness. Do not give up self-control and throw yourself into the arms of another woman, whether those arms are real or simply pixels on a computer screen. Do not invest your strength where it will be wasted. That is the very height of stupidity.

But it is not only illicit sex that is intoxicating. The same Solomon who would forbid getting drunk on wine or strong drink, and the same Solomon who would describe the stupidity of getting drunk on illicit sex, would command a different kind of intoxication. “Rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love (Proverbs 5:19).”

He does not criticize or downplay the presence of sexual desire and the longing to find sexual fulfillment. Rather, he admits it, celebrates it, and shows that to direct that energy toward adultery, fornication or pornography is to completely misuse it. His solution is simple: Put your sexual desire to the best use of all. “Rejoice in the wife of your youth…be intoxicated always in her love.” Donald Spence-Jones interprets this way: “The teacher, by a bold figure, describes the entire fascination which the husband is to allow the wife to exercise over him.”

August 19, 2013

Dear Southern Seminary,

If I am reading the seminary calendar correctly, this is the day you begin classes for your fall term. And as you begin your classes once again, I want to send along just a brief note.

I should begin with a word of explanation. A little while ago I signed up for a service to help me organize some of the behind-the-scenes information related to my web site. I generally do not do so well with numbers and graphs and charts, but as I poked around one day, I stumbled across a little graphic that even I could understand. I knew instantly that this mattered, that this would be a defining moment in what I do and in how and why I write. Here it is:

That little graphic displays where the people are located who read articles I wrote over a certain period of time. And right at the top is Louisville, Kentucky. Perhaps this is an unfair leap, but I am assuming a connection to Southern Seminary; a couple of friends down there tell me this is probably a safe assumption.

I don’t know that I can easily explain what it did to me to see that graphic. It meant so much to me because you—seminarians—are some of my favorite people. I consider it a high honor and a high privilege that you read this site. I consider it a challenge as well, because I want this site to be worthy of your time. (And yours, too, if you are at Master’s or RTS or Westminster or Puritan or any of the other seminaries where Christ is held high; you are there in the graph too!).

Here is what I want to tell you as you set out into another year:

August 19, 2013

For months now the question has been in front of me. It has been there in the document I open every day, the document that contains a list of articles to write, and questions to explore. “What will be the cost to the church if young men continue to give themselves to pornography?” What do we, as Christians, stand to lose if so many of our young men continue to spend their teens and twenties in the pursuit of pornographic pleasure?

The question has been on my mind all the more as I’ve begun to scope out a teaching series in Proverbs. Proverbs warns us at many times and in many ways of the “forbidden woman.” This is the woman whose lips drip honey, whose speech is smoother than oil. She is attractive and alluring; she knows just what to say and just what to offer to draw young men after her. And so they follow along behind her, oblivious to the fact that they are following her straight to foolishness, straight to harm, straight to hell.

In days gone by this woman may have been an adulteress or a prostitute. Today she takes the form of pornography. She is calling out to young men, she is offering herself to them, she is displaying all the pleasures she can offer, and they are following along. The Bible is honest and forthright about the cost (Proverbs 5:7-14):

Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.

Solomon says that the young man who follows the forbidden woman gives away his honor and his time, he loses his strength and his labor, and he even calls for consequences to his flesh and body. Ultimately, he calls down public humiliation and divine judgment upon himself. I have been considering one of these more than the others: strength.

We have the better part of a generation of young men who are giving their strength to this forbidden woman.

August 18, 2013

William Perkins was born in 1558 to Thomas and Hannah Perkins in Warwickshire county, England. At the age of 19 he went to Cambridge where he earned his Bachelors and then finished with his Masters in 1584.

He was converted to Christ while at Cambridge and though the details are scarce, one story is that he overheard a woman on the street instruct her child by referring to his drunkenness, which the Lord used to convict and then save him.

After graduation, he remained in Cambridge and served as lecturer (preacher) at Great St. Andrews Church, an influential pulpit just across the street from the college. He also served as a fellow at the college—one who preached, lectured and tutored students, ensuring their academic as well as financial and moral success. For a couple of years he also served as dean of the college.

In 1595 Perkins married a young widow, Timothye Cradock. In the seven years of their marriage, before his death in 1602, they conceived seven children. Three died in infancy, and the last was born after Perkins’ passing.

After his marriage, Perkins continued his preaching ministry at Great St. Andrews. He also invested much of his time in writing, composing almost 50 separate treatises on all manner of biblical, theological, and practical subjects. His works became extremely popular, winning a large audience in England and abroad and being translated into at least 9 other languages.

The depth, clarity, rigor, and scope of Perkins’ teaching made him unusually influential. As a Calvinist, he preached the sovereignty of God, but not in the hotheaded, divisive manner that some before him had. He sought to wed the truths of providence with human responsibility, and to focus on the entire spiritual lives of people and not just their theology. Instead of seeking to reform the Church of England through polity, he sought to bring change from within through biblical teaching, spiritual development, and pastoral care.

Perkins died from complications with kidney stones at the age of 44.

Unique Contribution

Perkins set the standard for what would become English Puritanism. As J. I. Packer writes, “No Puritan author save Richard Baxter ever sold better than Perkins, and no Puritan thinker ever did more to shape and solidify historic Puritanism itself” (Puritan Portraits). Perkins’ example and influence “established mainstream Puritanism as a movement majoring on evangelism and spiritual life, bearing with ecclesiastical inconvenience for the time being in order to fulfil in the Church of England a full-scale soul-saving ministry.”

Most Important Works

The Works of William Perkins (This will soon be available from Reformation Heritage Books)

The Art of Prophesying

The Foundation of Christian Religion Gathered into Six Principles