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Tim Challies

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Quotes

May 25, 2014

It was pretty ornery preaching,” Huckleberry Finn mused when he found himself in church one particular Sunday morning, “and had such a powerful lot to say about faith and good works and free grace of preforeordestination, and I don’t know what all, that it did seem to me to be one of the roughest Sundays I had run across yet.” “But,” according to Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones in their book PROOF, “free grace and preforeordestination” were never meant to produce rough Sundays or “ornery preaching.” Here’s what the doctrine of predestination provides for the people of God, according to the Scriptures:

May 18, 2014

Mack Stiles has a new book called simply Evangelism. I haven’t read it all yet, but I sure did enjoy this quote about the power of a church that evangelizes. Don’t you long for this kind of a church?

I long for a church that understands that it—the local church—is the chosen and best method of evangelism. I long for a church where the Christians are so in love with Jesus that when they go about the regular time of worship, they become an image of the gospel. I long for a church that disarms with love, not entertainment, and lives out countercultural confidence in the power of the gospel. I long for a church where the greatest celebrations happen over those who share their faith, and the heroes are those who risk their reputations to evangelize.

I yearn for a culture of evangelism with brothers and sisters whose backs are up to mine in the battle, where I’m taught and I teach about what it means to share our faith; and where I see leaders in the church leading people to Jesus. I want a church where you can point to changed lives, where you can see people stand up and say, ‘When I came to this church two years ago, I didn’t know God, but now I do!’ I long to be part of a culture of evangelism like that. I bet you do, too.

March 28, 2014

Praying, and especially praying in public, represents a challenge to most Christians. It represents a challenge to the one praying—a challenge to pray humbly and clearly before others. Too often it represents an even greater challenge to the ones who hear that prayer—a challenge to follow a too-long and too-rambling prayer interspersed with filler words like “I just…” and “Father God.” D. A. Carson provides some timely counsel in his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. His solution is simple: Work at your prayers. Here is what he says:

If you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers. It does not matter whether the form of spiritual leadership you exercise is the teaching of a Sunday school class, pastoral ministry, small-group evangelism, or anything else: if at any point you pray in public as a leader, then work at your public prayers.

Some people think this advice distinctly corrupt. It smells too much of public relations, of concern for public image. After all, whether we are praying in private or in public, we are praying to God: Surely he is the one we should be thinking about, no one else.

This objection misses the point. Certainly if we must choose between trying to please God in prayer, and trying to please our fellow creatures, we must unhesitatingly opt for the former. But that is not the issue. It is not a question of pleasing our human hearers, but of instructing them and edifying them.

The ultimate sanction for this approach is none less than Jesus himself. At the tomb of Lazarus, after the stone has been removed, Jesus looks to heaven and prays, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41-42). Here, then, is a prayer of Jesus himself that is shaped in part by his awareness of what his human hearers need to hear.

The point is that although public prayer is addressed to God, it is addressed to God while others are overhearing it. Of course, if the one who is praying is more concerned to impress these human hearers than to pray to God, then rank hypocrisy takes over. That is why Jesus so roundly condemns much of the public praying of his day and insists on the primacy of private prayer (Matt. 6:5-8). But that does not mean that there is no place at all for public prayer. Rather, it means that public prayer ought to be the overflow of one’s private praying. And then, judging by the example of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, there is ample reason to reflect on just what my prayer, rightly directed to God, is saying to the people who hear me.

In brief, public praying is a pedagogical [teaching] opportunity. It provides the one who is praying with an opportunity to instruct or encourage or edify all who hear the prayer. In liturgical churches, many of the prayers are well-crafted, but to some ears they lack spontaneity. In nonliturgical churches, many of the prayers are so predictable that they are scarcely any more spontaneous than written prayers, and most of them are not nearly as well-crafted. The answer to both situations is to provide more prayers that are carefully and freshly prepared. That does not necessarily mean writing them out verbatim (though that can be a good thing to do). At the least, it means thinking through in advance and in some detail just where the prayer is going, preparing, perhaps, some notes, and memorizing them.

Public praying is a responsibility as well as a privilege. In the last century, the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon did not mind sharing his pulpit: others sometimes preached in his home church even when he was present. But when he came to the “pastoral prayer,” if he was present, he reserved that part of the service for himself. This decision did not arise out of any priestly conviction that his prayers were more efficacious than those of others. Rather, it arose from his love for his people, his high view of prayer, his conviction that public praying should not only intercede with God but also instruct and edify and encourage the saints.

Many facets of Christian discipleship, not least prayer, are rather more effectively passed on by modeling than by formal teaching. Good praying is more easily caught than taught. If it is right to say that we should choose models from whom we can learn, then the obverse truth is that we ourselves become responsible to become models for others. So whether you are leading a service or family prayers, whether you are praying in a small-group Bible study or at a convention, work at your public prayers.

March 17, 2014

Last week John Piper spoke at Westminster Seminary, and delivered the seventh annual Gaffin Lecture on “The New Calvinism and the New Community: The Doctrines of Grace and the Meaning of Race” (audio and video). That may not sound like the most exciting lecture you’ve ever listened to, but I found some time to listen in today, and found what Piper began with fascinating (especially in light of last week’s Visual History of the New Calvinism). He began by defining what he means by New Calvinism, and to do that he offered twelve defining features of the movement. He was very careful to stress that these are not things that necessarily separate the New Calvinism from traditional Calvinism or make the new better than the old. Rather, these are simply the markers of the New. 

Here then, in brief, are John Piper’s 12 features of the New Calvinism.

1. The New Calvinism, in its allegiance to the inerrancy of the Bible, embraces the biblical truths behind the five points of Calvinism (TULIP), while having an aversion to using the acronym (or any other systematic packaging) along with a sometimes-qualified embrace of Limited Atonement. The focus is on Calvinistic soteriology but not to the exclusion or the appreciation of the broader scope of Calvin’s vision.

2. The New Calvinism embraces the sovereignty of God in salvation and all the affairs of life and history, including evil and suffering.

3. The New Calvinism has a strong complementarian flavor (as opposed to egalitarian) with an emphasis on the flourishing of men and women in relationships where men embrace a call to robust, humble, Christ-like servant-leadership.

4. The New Calvinism leans toward being culture-affirming, as opposed to culture-denying, while holding fast to some very culturally-alien positions on issues like same-sex practice and abortion.

5. The New Calvinism embraces the essential place of the local church: it is led mainly by pastors; it has a vibrant church-planting bent; it produces widely-sung worship music; and it exalts the preached Word as central to the work of God both locally and globally.

6. The New Calvinism is aggressively mission-driven, including missional impact on social evils, evangelistic impact on personal networks, and missionary impact on the unreached peoples of the world.

7. The New Calvinism is inter-denominational, with a strong (some would say oxymoronic) Baptistic element.

8. The New Calvinism includes both charismatics and non-charismatics.

9. The New Calvinism places a priority on pietism or piety in the Puritan vein, with an emphasis on the essential role of the affections in Christian living, while esteeming the life of the mind and being very productive in it, and embracing the value of serious scholarship.

10. The New Calvinism is vibrantly engaged in publishing books, and, even more remarkably, in the world of the Internet, with hundreds of energetic bloggers and social media activists, with Twitter as the increasingly-default way of signalling things new and old that should be noticed and read.

11. The New Calvinism is international in scope, multi-ethnic in expression, and culturally-diverse. There is no single geographic, racial, cultural, governing center. There are no officers, no organization, nor any loose affiliation that would encompass the whole. (As an aside, he adds: I would dare say there are outcroppings of this movement that no one in this room has ever heard of.)

12. The New Calvinism is robustly gospel-centered, cross-centered, with dozens of books rolling off the presses coming at the gospel from every conceivable angle and applying it to all areas of life, with a commitment to seeing the historic doctrine of justification finding its fruit in sanctification both personally and communally.

So what do you think? Would you have gone with the same features? Would you have added or skipped any of them?

February 09, 2014

Over the past few months I have enjoyed exploring some theological and historical themes and I have been posting the results here every Sunday morning. I hope to begin a new series next week called “The False Teachers.” The series will look at some of church history’s notorious false teachers, stretching from ancient times to today.

This morning, though, I found myself enjoying this prayer from The Valley of Vision and wanted to share it because it is ideal for the Lord’s Day. Did you know Banner of Truth has the whole of Valley of Vision at their site? (Simply visit, then scroll down and look in the right sidebar.)

This is a sweet prayer; maybe it be a prayer shared between you to your God today…

O God, My Exceeding Joy,
Singing thy praises uplifts my heart,
    for thou art a fountain of delight,
      and dost bless the soul that joys in thee.
But because of my heart’s rebellion
I cannot always praise thee as I ought;
Yet I will at all times rest myself in
  thy excellences, goodness, and loving-kindness.
Thou art in Jesus the object of inexpressible joy,
  and I take exceeding pleasure in the thought
    of thee.
But Lord, I am sometimes thy enemy;
  my nature revolts and wanders from thee.
Though thou hast renewed me,
  yet evil corruptions urge me still to oppose thee.
Help me to extol thee with entire heart-submission,
  to be diligent in self-examination,
  to ask myself
    whether I am truly born again,
    whether my spirit is the spirit of thy children,
    whether my griefs are those that tear
      repenting hearts,
    whether my joys are the joys of faith,
    whether my confidence in Christ works
      by love and purifies the soul.
Give me the sweet results of faith,
  in my secret character, and in my public life.
Cast cords of love around my heart,
  then hold me and never let me go.
May the Saviour’s wounds sway me more
    than the sceptre of princes.
Let me love thee in a love that covers
    and swallows up all,
  that I may not violate my chaste union
    with the beloved;
There is much unconquered territory
    in my nature,
  scourge out the buyers and sellers
    of my soul’s temple,
  and give me in return pure desires,
    and longings after perfect holiness.

December 29, 2013

The new year is fast approaching it. As 2013 wanes and prepares to draw to a close, I find myself pensive, reflecting on the year gone by and a new year ahead. As I’ve considered the year that is almost upon us, I have been helped by this prayer from John MacArthur’s At the Throne of Grace. I think you’ll enjoy it too.

Thank you, Lord, for calling us into Your kingdom and family. Two of our responsibilities as family are to restore with humility those who have been caught in sin’s web, and to help carry one another’s burdens. In such actions, we fulfill the royal law of Christ, which is distilled in the principle of love. We recognize that all the moral duties Your law sets forth are precisely the same virtues that arise out of authentic love. May we be faithful vessels of the love Your Spirit sheds abroad in our hearts. May we never be guilty of hiding the light of Your love under a bushel.

Your Word often reminds us of the inexorable law of sowing and reaping. Whatever we sow we reap, spiritually as well as physically. May we always sow to the Spirit and not to the flesh! We confess that we cannot do that without Your gracious enablement, and so we seek the aid of Your Spirit.

You have also taught us that the one who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will reap bountifully. May we always be liberal and open-handed in the sowing of good things. We’re reminded especially of our duty to share in all good things with those who have taught us the Word. Fill us with gratitude and with generosity; then open our hearts to be channels of blessing, especially to those who have so wonderfully blessed us.

Help us to be both wise and aggressive in taking advantage of the opportunities we have to do good to all, especially our own dear bothers and sisters in Christ. Harness our gifts and abilities—along with all our human faculties—and employ them for Your glory. Empower us to work harder, serve more faithfully, labor more diligently, and still press on—even when the trials and distractions of this life seem to offer compelling motives to turn away from the needs of others. Energize us by Your Spirit and keep us faithful to our calling.

You know, dear Lord, that our lives here on earth are full of burdens, heartaches, and disappointments. You permit those things to use them for our benefit. May we bear them with grace and courage. We thank You for the grace that sustains us in the midst of all our troubles. We pray that through the trials You send our way You will keep our hearts filled with that peace which surpasses all comprehension and guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Thank You that when we falter or fail, You always restore us. You give us grace upon grace without measure. You abundantly supply every need we have.

But we confess, Lord, that one of our greatest needs is for holiness. We are prone to sin, predisposed to folly, given to stubbornness, and easily confounded by our own self-will. Guide, guard, and sustain us to keep our feet from slipping, and keep us ever mindful of—and firmly anchored to—the solid foundation You have given us in Christ.

Give us a greater love for Him, so that all our service flows from hearts of gladness. Give us a holy longing to be free from sin in both mind and action. Whether Your plan for our immediate future entails prosperity or adversity, blessing or suffering, joy or sorrow—or a loving mixture of all those things—prepare us to respond with uprightness of heart and Christlike holiness. Your grace is sufficient for all these things, and Your truth strengthens us for all things.

We bow our hearts to worship You in Your Son’s blessed name. Amen.

September 13, 2013

When I was in Scotland I spent one day on an impromptu and informal church history tour of the highlands. It was one of the best days I have ever had. We made many stops along the way and saw many relics of days gone by. At one point we parked beside an old graveyard and passed by many old tomb stones in order to stand by the grave of John Kennedy of Dingwall. Here is an excerpt from a book he wrote (Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire) in which he commemorates the ministers of that area. I cannot judge whether or not he remembers them accurately, but he certainly lays down the challenge to all who would call themselves ministers of the gospel.

There are some who preach before their people, like actors on a stage, to display themselves and to please their audience. Not such were the self-denied preachers of Ross-shire. There are others who preach over their people. Studying for the highest, instead of doing so for the lowest, in intelligence, they elaborate learned treatises, which float like mist, when delivered, over the heads of their hearers. Not such were the earnest preachers of Ross-shire. There are some who preach past their people. Directing their praise or their censure to intangible abstractions, they never take aim at the views and the conduct of the individuals before them. They step carefully aside, lest their hearers should be struck by their shafts, and aim them at phantoms beyond them. Not such were the faithful preachers of Ross-shire. There are others who preach at their people, serving out in a sermon the gossip of the week, and seemingly possessed with the idea that the transgressor can be scolded out of the ways of iniquity. Not such were the wise preachers of Ross-shire. There are some who preach towards their people. They aim well , but they are weak. Their eye is along the arrow towards the hearts of their hearers, but their arm is too feeble for sending it on to the mark. Superficial in their experience and in their knowledge, they reach not the cases of God’s people by their doctrine, and they strike with no vigour at the consciences of the ungodly. Not such were the powerful preachers of Ross-shire. There are others still, who preach along their congregation. Instead of standing with their bow in front of the ranks, these archers take them in line, and, reducing their mark to an individual, never change the direction of their aim. Not such were the discriminating preachers of Ross-shire. But there are a few who preach to the people directly and seasonably the mind of God in His Word, with authority, unction, wisdom, fervour, and love. Such as these last were the eminent preachers of Ross-shire.

Their preaching was remarkable for its completeness. It combined carefulness of exposition, fullness and exactness of doctrinal statement, a searching description of experimental godliness, and close application of truth to the conscience. The admixture of these elements, in wisely adjusted proportions, constitutes the true excellence of preaching. Careful to ascertain the mind of God in his Word, they were not content merely to prefix a passage of Scripture as a motto for their sermon. Their zeal for sound creed was at least equalled by their desire for a godly experience and a holy life. They loved ‘the form of sound doctrine,’ but they also loved ‘the power of Godliness’. They insisted on a clear understanding of the former, but they also insisted on a deep experience of the latter.

June 15, 2013

One of Satan’s favorite devices in deceiving people and leading them astray is to camouflage sins as virtues and to convince us that our sins are actually very small. Thomas Brooks provides a powerful response in Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. Don’t tune it out just because it’s from a Puritan author. Read it and you will be blessed.

Even those very sins that Satan paints, and puts new names and colors upon, cost the best blood, the noblest blood, the life-blood, the heart-blood of the Lord Jesus. That Christ should come from the eternal bosom of his Father to a region of sorrow and death!

That God should be manifested in the flesh, the Creator made a creature; that he who was clothed with glory should be wrapped with rags of flesh; he who filled heaven and earth with his glory should be cradled in a manger; that the almighty God should flee from weak man—the God of Israel into Egypt; that the God of the law should be subject to the law, the God of the circumcision circumcised, the God who made the heavens working at Joseph’s homely trade; that he who binds the devils in chains should be tempted; that he, whose is the world, and the fullness thereof, should hunger and thirst; that the God of strength should be weary, the Judge of all flesh condemned, the God of life put to death; that he who is one with his Father should cry out of misery, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”; that he who had the keys of hell and death at his belt should lie imprisoned in the sepulcher of another, having in his lifetime nowhere to lay his head, nor after death to lay his body…

…That that head, before which the angels do cast down their crowns, should be crowned with thorns, and those eyes, purer than the sun, put out by the darkness of death; those ears, which hear nothing but hallelujahs of saints and angels, to hear the blasphemies of the multitude; that face, which was fairer than the sons of men, to be spit on by those beastly wretched Jews; that mouth and tongue, which spoke as never man spoke, accused for blasphemy; those hands, which freely swayed the scepter of heaven, nailed to the cross; those feet, “like unto fine brass,” nailed to the cross for man’s sins; each sense pained with a spear and nails; his smell, with stinking odor, being crucified on Golgotha, the place of skulls; his taste, with vinegar and gall; his hearing, with reproaches, and sight of his mother and disciples bemoaning him; his soul, comfortless and forsaken.

And all this for those very sins that Satan paints and puts fine colors upon! Oh! how should the consideration of this stir up the soul against sin, and work the soul to fly from it, and to use all holy means whereby sin may be subdued and destroyed!

April 13, 2013

Some Christians see God as a kindly but passive observer of our choices. After all, God wouldn’t ever interfere with our free will, would He? Ask Jonah and a wry smile would come over his face.” This is how Colin Smith introduces a fictional anecdote from the life of the prophet Jonah:

Would God ever interfere with our free will?

Hmmm … let’s see.

I had made my choice. I suppressed my conscience, steeled my nerves and, by a free act of my own will, boarded the ship to Tarshish. But God would not let me go.

My will was taking me in the wrong direction. So God made an intervention, graciously messing with my rebellious heart to save me from a life wasted in disobedience.

God stepped into my life uninvited, through an unexpected storm, rolling dice, and pounding waves that pushed me down until, finally, I came to my senses and called on the Lord, only to find that He had already planned and provided for my salvation by sending a great fish.

But that was only the beginning. Having stretched myself out in ministry, I experienced a strange darkness in which I was overcome by resentment. Left to myself, I would have slouched into retirement angry with God and bitter about the events that had shaped my life. But God stepped in and showed me His compassion.

Would God interfere with our free will? I’m glad He interfered with mine! Left to myself, I would still be running from God, and who knows where I would be today? Rebellion and resentment were my foolish choice. Salvation comes from the Lord.

April 05, 2013

Josh Harris slapped me across the face. He did it through his book Humble Orthodoxy and a little story that is adapted from the words of Jesus in Luke 18. He tells the story “to challenge those of us who trust in the rightness of our doctrine and look down on others.” In other words, people like me.

One day two men went to church to pray.

The first man was a shallow, uninformed evangelical. Everything about him shouted of squishy theology. He didn’t know or use big theological words. He watched Christian TV and thought it was deep. He bought books from the inspirational section of the bookstore. He attended one of those megachurches where the sermons are short and the worship leaders look like American Idol contestants.

The second man who went to pray was different. He was a Christian of theological depth and substance—this was obvious by the heavy study Bible he carried with him. He only read books by long-dead theologians. He subscribed to the podcasts of all the solid, gospel-centered expository preachers who didn’t tell funny stories or make jokes in their sermons. He felt cheated if a sermon was less than an hour long.

This second man began to pray. He said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—doctrinally ignorant, theologically clueless, superficial in their saccharine-sweet evangelicalism. I thank you that you have made me what I am: true to good doctrine, uncompromising on teaching, orthodox to the core.”

But the first man would not even look up to heaven. Instead he beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

He follows up with this application: “If you consider yourself a person who takes doctrine seriously, do you see yourself in this story? Has a humble gratefulness for God’s mercy been replaced by a pride in all that you know? Are you prone to have contempt or a sense of superiority toward those with less knowledge? I believe Jesus would confront our misplaced confidence just as he did the self-righteousness of the Pharisees in his day.”

This is just one of the reasons I intend to read the book on a regular basis

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