Books About the Christian Life!

Here at Fire and Hammer Reformation we have for about the past four months been incredibly quiet, and for this we apologize. We are, however hoping to start writing again, (And we pray the Lord would Bless it) so please stay tuned! After a brief chat with all of our authors we would like to put out a list of books that are on the Christian Life, which we have found to particularly helpful. These books have helped us in our daily walk with Christ, have promoted sanctification or given us knowledge about God’s truth that has shaped how we walk with God. Please enjoy and read them!

  1. The Path of  True Godliness by Willem Teellinck. Which maybe purchased here: http://www.heritagebooks.org/products/the-path-of-true-godliness.html

2. Holiness by J.C. Ryle. Which maybe purchased here: http://www.heritagebooks.org/products/holiness-ep.html

3. Practical Religion by J.C. Ryle. Which maybe purchased here: http://www.heritagebooks.org/products/practical-religion-paperback.html

4. The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification  by Walter Marshall. Which maybe purchased here: http://www.heritagebooks.org/products/the-gospel-mystery-of-sanctification.html

5. The Christian’s Daily Walk by Henry Scudder. Which maybe purchased here: http://www.heritagebooks.org/products/The-Christian%27s-Daily-Walk.html

6. Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks. Which is available here: http://www.heritagebooks.org/products/precious-remedies-against-satans-devices.html

7.  The Life, Walk, and Triumph of Faith by William Romaine. Which is available here: http://www.heritagebooks.org/products/The-Life%2C-Walk%2C-and-Triumph-of-Faith.html

8. The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson. Which is can be obtained here: http://www.heritagebooks.org/products/The-Godly-Man%27s-Picture.html

9.  A Spiritual Appeal to Christ’s Bride by Jacobus van Lodenstein which is available here: http://www.heritagebooks.org/a-spiritual-appeal-to-christs-bride/

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Experiential Theology 4: Divine Decrees

Brown of HaddingtonHow should one contemplate the mystery of the divine decrees, and of eternal election? Our Confession of Faith gives direction to this end (3.8); in this same vein, Brown of Haddington offers several searching thoughts on this topic that we would consider well.

“Having thus reviewed the mysterious purposes of Jehovah, think, O my soul, if even the supposed possibility of His having loved me, having so early loved me, and thought on me in my low estate, ought not, in the earliest periods of my life, to have instigated and animated me, to exercise my utmost care and diligence in improving the gospel method of certainly knowing that these things were so. Upon the apprehension of a mere possibility of future existence in this world, what thoughts, what cares, what labors have I exercised about the concerns of it, from time to time? Why then so few, and these so languid, so lifeless, about things of infinitely greater importance? things of infinite, of everlasting consequence?

“But hath the great, the eternal God, thought, always thought on and loved me? And have I spent so many moments, so many hours, so many years of my short life, without thoughts—without high, fixed, and heart-inflaming thoughts—of Him? without love, without superlative love, without an all-subjecting, all assimilating love to Him?—Hath the infinite JEHOVAH, with all His heart, chosen ME to be His vessel of mercy, His jewel, His portion, His friend, His child, His bride? Ought not I, if I had ten thousand hearts—ought not I, with them all, to choose Him?—Him, who is infinite LOVELINESS and LOVE, for my SAVIOUR, my FRIEND, my FATHER, my HUSBAND, my GOD, my ALL?—Passing by millions, not one of them worse, did He set me apart for Himself? And shall not my soul prefer Him to every trifle of creation? Whom, my INFINITE ALL, have I in heaven, but THEE; what on earth do I, dare I, desire besides THEE?—Hath He, in His persons and perfections, so exerted Himself in the establishment of my election—my eternal salvation? Let me work together with Him, giving all diligence to make my calling and election sure.—Did He choose me to holiness, to love? Let me follow hard after it, as a part, a mean of my eternal felicity.—Hath His unchangeable purpose infallibly fixed me and my everlasting salvation, in Himself? Let me be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.

“But is there a tremendous purpose of reprobation? Break not through, my soul, unto the Lord to gaze; but, if I be uncertain with respect to my state, let me exceedingly fear and quake. Let me escape for my life. Arise, O my sleeping soul; cry mightily to thy God, thy offered Saviour, that He may think on me, that I perish not. Let me give Him no rest, till my salvation go forth as a lamp that burneth, till He say, Fear not, I am with thee; be not dismayed, I am thy God. I have loved thee with an everlasting love, and therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.

“But have I, in God’s light, perceived that He hath not appointed me to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ? Let me then forever admire, forever adore, His sovereign mercy and grace, that left not me to perish in my sin, when He passed by thousands, nay millions, of my brethren in iniquity, whose crimes He foresaw would be fewer and far less aggravated than mine. Many, O Lord my God, are Thy gracious thoughts to me-ward; they are gone above all thought; when I speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.”

—John Brown of Haddington, A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion (1782), pp. 190, 191 (see here for more information).

The Wings of Conversion and the New Birth

The Puritan Isaac Ambrose was an English Presbyterian serving mostly in the north of England, and like many of that era pushed out of his pulpit by the marauding conformists, was a preacher of not a common dexterity and depth. His sermons were said to cause even the most mature Christian to pause and weep for their sins and admire afresh the beauty of the grace of their Savior. While not a lot of his works remain extant, the ones that are available should be on the kindle and pdf bookshelves of any serious Christian. Today in this post I want to examine and lay before you a couple of “wings” upon which Ambrose calls the Christian believer to rest as they come into faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in Him for Salvation. These “wings” follow Ambrose’s eight signs of true conversion, which themselves are worth meditating on in your devotions in making your calling and election sure.

Ambrose introduces the section with this preface:

If then as yet thou feelest not this mighty work of God in thee, and yet fain wouldst feel it; I shall lend thee two wings to lead thee, to the foot of the ladder, where if thou ascend these steps aforesaid, I dare certainly pronounce of thee, thou art born again.

His purpose in these searching sermons is to challenge the comfortable Christian into seeing where exactly their assurance of faith resides: does it sit in worldy things, like the will of the flesh in birth, or the will of man in the false pronouncements of a hireling, or does it rest in the sure promise of the will of God Almighty in His Word? The situation in which many of Ambrose’s hearers lived is not too terribly different from where many Christians in our time find themselves. In that day they looked to the historical faith of their parents or grandparents and found a certain peace in that or to the faulty word of an uncaring priest in order to point to their place in the Kingdom of Christ. However in reality their hearts were far from true faith in the risen Jesus. How often is this the case in the 21st Century? A large portion of the American church does not have the full gospel of Christ. Even more to the point a false assurance is the rule rather than the exception. The experience of a Northern Irish Belfast man in the middle of the 20th Century is illustrative:

Free Presbyterian converts often described their lives in two epochs. in the first period, they were good Presbyterians and went to church regularly and lived moral lives, but were not saved. They blamed this firmly on the unsaved Presbyterian ministers who did not preach the whole gospel to them. In the words of a working-class Belfast man who later became a Free Presbyterian minister: ‘I was completely ignorant of what not only Presbyterianism was but also what the gospel was. I had no idea. Sunday School boy all my life. Youth fellowship all my life. Went to church every Sunday practically. Never, never was confronted with the fact that the Bible condemned me as a lost sinner.” — Steve Bruce, “Paisley”, pg. 41

This point cannot be made too much. These evangelical sermons, not just of Isaac Ambrose, but any number of Puritan pastors, were preached to men and women who had sat through hundreds of sermons and were regular attenders to the services of the Church, yet never heard the Gospel as given in the Holy Scriptures. This is one of the reasons why it is vital that every sermon preached in Christian worship lay before the hearers the place of the sinful human being in the wrath of God and the perfect life, death, and resurrection of the risen Christ and His payment for the transgressions of His sheep, both in Adam and in themselves. In preaching in the way that he did Ambrose is cautiously and deliberately walking his flock through the means of Grace in God’s appointing for salvation in order that they might find comfort in the mercy of their Heavenly Father. So in light of these things here are the two wings upon which Ambrose calls upon these people and you to rest as you wrestle with your own heart and the doubts that undoubtedly will accompany this work of the soul.

The first wing that Isaac Ambrose presents is the wing of prayer, citing Hosea 14:2 which says, “Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.” He calls upon the struggling believer to take advantage of probably the greatest gift of the new birth, which is the right of sons and daughters by adoption to come before their Heavenly Father and seek His ear. The preacher says this in defense:

The soul may object again, ‘How can I pray, and have not [true] faith? I answer, put thyself upon prayer, and who knows but blessing and faith may come? It is the Lord that converts, and heals, and saves; and prayer is the means to produce this effect: when we are required to pray, to repent, and believe, we are not to seek strength in ourselves, but to search into the covenant, and turn the promise into prayer.

One can hear in these words the prayer of the doubting man in Mark 9 as he spoke to Jesus about the healing of his epileptic son. He found himself in the presence of the very Second Person of the Trinity and was turned out by his own uncertainty, yet Christ calls on him in the warm compassion of a true shepherd to rest and trust in the promise despite what his heart may be wavering upon. This is the kind of thing that must be at the forefront of the Christian’s search for assurance. If you are having moments of doubt Ambrose and the Word of God pleads with you to go to God in prayer and rest lovingly in the peace which comes from this blessed gift.

Secondly, Ambrose calls upon the people of God to not forsake the assembly of God’s people on the Lord’s Day. He pulls all of the ordinances of this blessing under the rubric of the “hearing of the Word”. The Christian Sabbath is a non-negotiable in the growth of the believer in the things of Christ and is especially given that we might be rightly and truly be assured in the goodness of our faith. Hear Ambrose on this:

Certain it is, no man should expect God’s blessing without his ordinances, no eating of bread without ploughing and sowing, no recovery of health without eating and drinking; so no blessing, no grace, no regeneration, without waiting upon God in His ways, and in His ordinances.

In other words how can you expect to grow in your knowledge of the mercies of God and be grounded in the comfort of Christ if you do not seek to be under the glorious love of the Word of God in the unique pleasures of corporate worship? The blessings of this particular work of the Holy Spirit in girding up the Christian in the elements of Lord’s Day worship is why God calls on you to not forsake the remembrance of the resurrection of Christ and the vital place it plays in your assurance of faith.

In closing, I want to ask you to examine your own heart. Where do you follow the dictates of this world and wrongly rest on your own strength and power in your salvation? Where and how do you bring your own works into your redemption? Where does your assurance lie? In the act of water baptism or in the promise of that baptism? In the testimony of your lips or the finished work of your Savior Jesus Christ? Do you get in by grace and stay in by works? Or do you place all things in the bosom of your Great Shepherd who has done all things for the glory of His Father so that you would be brought out of death and into life, be given eyes to see and ears to hear? Be comforted in prayer. Be comforted by public worship and the power of the Word of God. Call out to your Gracious Father. Do not take for granted this great gift, which no other religion can offer. I leave you with the words of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians:

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.

Cotton Mather’s Thoughts for National Repentance

Cotton MatherIn the United States today, we are a nation in need of gospel repentance. We once again need the Spirit of God to work mightily in our land. The much-acclaimed New England Puritan Cotton Mather saw the society of New England regressing toward apostasy in the late seventeenth century. In response to this, on May 27, 1696, he preached a sermon before the General Assembly of Massachusetts Bay entitled, “Things for a Distress’d People to think upon.” Mather opened his sermon with these words:

“In a General Assembly there is this Day Convened, a whole Province, that hath Eminently professed the Religion of the Lord JESUS CHRIST; and some Advice from the Lively Oracles of the Lord JESUS CHRIST, unto such a Province, now Labouring under the Deadly Tokens of His Displeasure, is this day called for.”

When calling New England to repentance, Mather did not mince any words. He knew that their sin had brought them under the sore displeasure of the Lord Jesus Christ. How American Christians should take heed to this most sober and solemn warning. The church in the United States does not want to realize that we as a nation have been receiving the “Tokens of His Displeasure” for some time now. The nation does not want to confront our great national sins; the church wants to slumber without confronting our sins. We live in a nation where a large segment of the population profess Christ without actually knowing Christ, yet the church in our land seems content to allow many to slumber into hell than to awaken them with the reality of their state!

Mather’s text was 1 Samuel 7:6, 10b:

And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the LORD, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the LORD. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh.

10B But the LORD thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel.

Mather makes three points based on the text to awaken his hearers:

1. “May the Tears of a profound HUMILIATION, be this Day shed among us, upon the the Sorrowful Occasions of those Tears. The Tears of an Humbled, a Melted, a Broken Heart, O let us Draw that Water, and pour it out before the Lord.”

The United States needs this profound experimental humiliation! There are very few real tears in our day over our own sinfulness as men and the sinfulness of our nation! There are few calls for the whole nation to have a broken heart over our inquity, but we need this—our nation needs a heartfelt sense of sin and the broken and contrite heart of repentance (Ps. 51:17; Isa. 66:2). We should pray that our national leaders and church leaders will do as Israel did in 1 Samuel 7:6, and acknowledge that our nation has sinned against the Lord.

2. “May the Prayers of a fervent SUPPLICATION, be from this Day, raised among us, upon the manifold Occasion for such Prayers.”

Mather is here calling the people to pray. In the United States today, the church is not looking to the Lord in prayer as she is called. I fear that the church lacks the spirit of prayer and has forgotten the word of James 5:16: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” In our own churches, we seldom pray for our nation’s leaders or our nation’s state before the Lord; nor are professing believers as ready to bring these matters before the Lord in private prayer.

Mather particularly called upon his hearers to pray to God for His blessing upon the nation and its people, and for the conversion of those around them. Secondly, Mather called them to supplication in prayer so they could escape from God’s impending judgment on their irreligious land. (If you look at New England now, you will see quite readily that that judgment came.) Christians in the United States should pray for national repentance and cry out to God in supplication that He would turn us from the road which we are on.

He also called upon ministers of the gospel to lead the way. This should be a somber reminder to church officers that they must lead and shepherd the saints. In our nation today, we have so many “ministers of the gospel” who merely entertain and do not preach the full counsel of God; how this fact alone should drive the Christian to most earnest prayer!

3. “May the Cares of a Thorough REFORMATION, be from this Day used among us, upon the multiplied Occasions for such Cares.”

We are called to strive to strive thoroughly for the reformation of our land, through the preaching of the gospel, living of godly lives, and lobbying for godly government. We must preach the gospel in all its fullness. We must not compromise; we must rather strive against all enemies, because we know that the Gospel will ultimately be triumphant! We must work to govern ourselves in a godly manner, striving to have a godly framework of government and godly Leaders. Let us strive for this great reformation in our land.

Now let us go forth, calling to mind our national sins and repenting of them, praying with earnest supplication that God would be merciful to our nation; and let us strive for reformation, to have a land where iniquity is not prized, but rather where Christ is King.

The Chief End of Preaching

KnoxThe phrase “the chief end” is well known, appearing in the first question and answer of our Shorter Catechism:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.

Many today who know virtually nothing of the Catechism are still familiar with this question (would that they knew the other 106 questions and answers!). As familiar as it may be, some may not quite understand what it means to refer to a “chief end.” Thomas Vincent helpfully defined this phrase, as “that which man ought chiefly to aim at, or design, to desire, seek after, and endeavour to obtain, as his chief good and happiness; unto which his life and his actions should be referred and directed.”

In speaking on this question of the Catechism, Thomas Boston identified three different things which must be present for God’s glory to be our chief end:

  1. When whatever end we have in our actions, the glory of God is still one of our ends in acting.
  2. It must not only be our end, but it must be our main and principal end, that which we chiefly design.
  3. When it is the ultimate end, the last end, the top and perfection of what we design, beyond which we have no more view, and to which all other ends are made subservient, and as means to that end.

With that point clarified, let us consider this question as it applies to the preaching of the Word of God. This may be considered in two respects.

  1. Man’s chief end [in preaching] is to glorify God [to declaratively glorify God, i.e. worship him], and to enjoy him for ever [to experience true fellowship and communion with him in spiritual worship].
  2. Man’s chief end [in preaching] is to glorify God [that God’s glory would be manifested, i.e. that God would glorify himself], and to enjoy him for ever [in the hearers’ being drawn into spiritual fellowship with him, i.e. in their salvation].

Just as the Catechism holds out two things as the one “chief end of man,” so there are really two things comprehended in the one “chief end of preaching”: the worship of God, and the salvation of the hearers.

Preaching is, on the part of the preacher, an act of worship; and the design, aim, and goal of preaching is to lead the hearers into worship. “The sound preaching; and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God with understanding, faith, and reverence” is one of the “parts of the ordinary worship of God” (Confession of Faith 21.5)—we might say, the “chief” part of ordinary Sabbath worship. Likewise, the design and goal of preaching is that both preacher and hearers would be saved (1 Tim. 4:16). In this case, “salvation” is a concept large enough to embrace both the conversion of those who are still dead in trespasses and sins, and the sanctification of those who are already converted.

When considering “the chief end of preaching,” or “the chief end of man in preaching,” notice some of the items that do not make the cut:

  • Performing and explaining exegesis of the biblical text;
  • Demonstrating where the text is in the flow of redemptive history; and even,
  • Giving application to the hearers (whether or not such application is searching or convicting).

It is my conviction that the root problem with what passes for preaching in many Reformed pulpits today is not dry intellectualism, manuscript reading, lack of application, or commentary-style lectures. The root problem is a tendency to take some of the above subordinate ends (as well as others), and substitute them as the chief end. Many of these other problems would tend to resolve themselves, if this were addressed and corrected.

Proper interpretation of the Scriptures is important; both the immediate context of a passage and its larger redemptive context are important to consider; and “application is the life of preaching” (James Durham). But strictly speaking, these are all means by which one accomplishes the chief end of preaching; they are not the end themselves.

If you are a preacher or minister of God’s Word, I would ask that you consider these questions, and search your own heart, as well as your own preaching.

1. Do your sermons breathe a spirit of worship? Do you, by your words, even mannerisms, seek to evoke reverence to God on the part of your hearers? Do you speak of Him as “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” (Isa. 57:15), unto whom we must approach in worship only through the blood of His Son (Heb. 10:19)? More than this, are you actively worshipping God during the whole time that you are preaching to your congregation? Or are you rendering praise and glory to the Triune Jehovah through your lack of preparation in the Word? your want of due reverence when in His presence in a special way? your jokes which would be questionable anywhere else, but which are blasphemous when delivered from the pulpit? or your failure to lead worshippers in worship, during the most important part of the worship of God?

2. Seeing that the preaching of the gospel is the instrument God uses to awaken, convert, and sanctify its hearers; do you preach, so that your hearers would be saved? Before, during, and after the sermon, are you in fervent prayer to God that He would bless His own means to the conversion of souls? Are you gripped by the reality that your hearers almost certainly include those who are lost, hell-bound sinners, heading for a Christless eternity? Are you persuaded in your own mind and heart that the sanctification and holiness of your hearers is so important, that without it they shall never see the Lord (Heb. 12:14)? Or do you preach as a practical hyper-Calvinist—perhaps in your creed affirming the free offer, but never actually offering Christ and His salvation? Do you have more concern when you refer to the wrong tense or aspect of a Greek verb, than when you preach without regard to your hearers’ souls? Do you think that you can “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2), without preaching the gospel (Acts 8:25), or preaching Christ (Acts 8:5, 35), and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:23)?

“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat” (Heb. 5:12). Learn again your Catechism, and seek after that chief end, not only in your life in general, but in your preaching as well; and may the Lord richly bless you and your preaching this coming Sabbath.

If you are one who ordinarily sits under the ministry of the Word (rather than one who ordinarily preaches the Word), consider this “chief end” as it pertains to you. Your aim, your goal, in hearing the preaching of the gospel, must be to worship the Lord, and to be saved (whether you are converted or unconverted). Your ultimate goal must not be that you would receive farther information or instruction, or even that you would be emotionally moved by the preaching.

Yet many, particularly in churches blessed with experiential preaching, seek as their main aim and goal that they would have their feelings or affections raised—that they would feel in their souls the truths being proclaimed, or the admonitions or warnings urged. It is certainly true that good preaching will involve these things, as the Word of God is applied to the whole man, including the affections. But unless your chief end in hearing the Word is God’s worship and your salvation, your desire to have your affections stirred up is a replacing of the chief end with another subordinate end.

Thomas Boston, after referring to a person who “prays more fervently, hears attentively, and strives to get his heart affected in every religious duty he performs,” concludes with these frightening words: “Wonder not at this, for there is nothing in it beyond the power of nature, or what one may attain to under a vigorous influence of the covenant of works.” Do not rest content under the preaching of the Word if your “heart is affected in every religious duty”—do not rest until you have closed with Christ, as He is held forth in the gospel; and may He have all the praise and glory for your salvation.

Experiential Theology 3: Divine Attributes (Incommunicable) and the Trinity

Brown of HaddingtonHow should we dwell upon the divine mystery of an infinite God in three divine Persons, and make application to our own souls and lives?

“Now think, O my soul, what an insignificant nothing I am before this infinite, this eternal, this all-mysterious God! How little a portion I have known or even heard of Him? How astonishing, if He be a Saviour, an Husband, a God, an ALL IN ALL, to mean, to vile, to monstrous, murderous ME!

“Alas, why did, why do I, ever exchange this inestimable pearl of great price, this unbounded treasure of Godhead itself, this infinite Lover, nay, LOVE; for that which is of no, of worse than no, value? Why despise eternal LOVE, for the sake of a transient shadow? Of a taste of gall and wormwood? of vanity and vexation of spirit? Alas, why doth ever my heart turn from Him? Why do my desires after Him ever cool or flag? Why is my love, my life, ever unanswerable to His unchangeable excellency and kindness? When these INFINITE THREE are ever with me, are all my own, why am I not always ravished with Their loves? Why am I not ever listening to Their voice and pouring out my heart into Their bosom? Why doth not my soul talk with Them, when I sit down, and when I rise up?

“But have these honored, these true and faithful, these unchangeable THREE, by solemn oath, attested and confirmed every promise of the new covenant, that I might have strong consolation and good hope through grace? Dare I then stagger at the promises through unbelief, and not be strong in the faith, giving glory to God?

“O thrice happy new-covenant state, in which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost undertake all for ME, perform all for and in ME, and are ALL IN ALL to ME! Thrice happy heaven, where the glittering vanities of creation shall be forever forgotten, and a three-one redeeming God shall be forever seen, forever known, forever immediately enjoyed as MY GOD, and MY ALL IN ALL.”

—John Brown of Haddington, A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion (1782), pp. 164, 165 (see here for more information).

Dr. James Begg and Anarchy in Worship

In reading older Reformed works one always comes to the conclusion that Solomon’s well-known words “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9) are so obviously correct as to be unassailable. This is most true it seems when it comes to the Presbyterian church and her worship. As anyone reading this post is more than aware there has been quite a declension in the normal mode of operations when it comes to the Lord’s Day worship of the people of God in our several Presbyterian denominations over the last century. What once was a hallmark of our faith (Regulative Principle worship) has given way to a hodgepodge of everything from Broad Evangelical worship concerts to near-High Church Anglican practices. The Sabbath is a complete unknown, and in fact is derided, mocked, and ignored. Much digital ink has been spilled chronicling the truth that just because it says “Presbyterian” on the door is no guarantee what one will find inside. While a few still hold on to the older, biblical forms finding even moderately regulated worship in confessional Presbyterian churches is becoming more and more rare the longer we are away from the position of our forefathers.

Now it is certainly the case that there is a resurgence of sorts in our circles, especially as books from the period of fidelity to WCF 21 become more available via the common grace blessings of the fine folks at Internet Archive and Google, but this is not what one would call a significant, or even negligible sea change in the general trajectory of confessional Presbyterianism in America (or elsewhere) today.

Going back to the aforementioned dead white guys and my reading thereof I recently stumbled across a short work by Scottish Free Church minister James Begg. Begg is probably best known in Scotland for his work with Thomas Chalmers in moving the government to provide better living conditions for the poor (not sure how that sits with the libertarian streak in Presbyterianism these days, but that is another issue for another blog post) and was also involved with Dr. Chalmers in the creation of the Free Church after the Disruption of 1843.

Along with all of these things Dr. Begg also found time to write a number of works concerning the worship of the Church. In the following he gives a sermon of warning against the changing tide, both in the established Church of Scotland and in his own Free Church assembly. I am going to provide some quotations from his work “Anarchy in Worship” to illustrate that the problems he faced in his day with worship came down to the basic principles of what we believe and why we believe it and that these same things still trouble our churches today. As you read these quotations, since this is a blog focused on “experimental” religion, I want you to think and pray about your own worship practices, the reasons for them, and if they meet the standard set by the Word of God. If your service on the Lord’s Day does follow the RPW to the proverbial “T” is your worship merely a formal exercise or is a true spiritual, grace-saturated, loving devotion to our common Lord a reality for your congregation? Take a moment and consider these admonitions:

“Hence the true scriptural principle and that of our Church is, that we must find a Divine warrant or ‘prescription’ for everything that we do in the worship of God. It is not enough that a thing is not forbidden. It must be expressly commanded by God, and that as a duty binding under the New Testament dispensation, or it is absolutely inadmissible in worship. John Knox clearly announces and defends this principle, ‘All worshiping, honoring, or service invented by the brain of man,’ says he, ‘in the religion of God, without His own express commandment, is idolatry.'” — James Begg, “Anarchy in Worship”, pg. 7

“And that is principal idolatry when our own inventions we defend to be righteous in the sight of God, because we think them good, laudable, and pleasant. We may not think us so free nor wise that we may do unto God and unto His honour what we think expedient. No! The contrary is commanded in Deut 4:2 by God, saying, ‘Unto my word shall ye add nothing; nothing shall ye diminish therefrom, that ye may observe the precepts of the Lord your God,’ which words are not to be understood of the Decalogue and moral law only, but of statutes, rites and ceremonies; for equal obedience of all His laws requireth God. … Of this many falsely conclude they, or the Kirk, may do anything that seems good for the glory of God, and whatsoever the Church does that means acceptance and approval of God.” — James Begg, “Anarchy in Worship”, pg. 8

“Every Presbyterian office-bearer is as much bound as we are to maintain and vindicate these principles, and neither directly nor indirectly to connive at their subversion. We live, however, unfortunately, in a day when ‘truce breaking’- cf. WLC 145 is not uncommon; and when many, instead of following ‘no divisive courses,’ according to their solemn vows, seem to make the promotion of innovations in the worship of God one of their favorite employments.” — James Begg, “Anarchy in Worship”, pg. 13

“When vital religion is low, men attempt to make up for the want of spiritual life by external and carnal appliances, whilst ministers destitute of moral courage are ready to humor the wishes of the people, instead of standing up boldly for the authority of God.” — James Begg, “Anarchy in Worship”, pg. 16

“The simple worship of Scotland, coupled with a full exposition of the word of the living God, has been the means under God of elevating the common people of our land with its barren soil and inhospitable climate to a moral and intellectual elevation which has left effeminate and sensuous nations far behind; and it will be the greatest crime if this is exchanged for what is called aesthetic worship, appealing to the senses but not improving the soul.” — James Begg, “Anarchy in Worship”, pg. 24

“Two things besides are forgotten when men speak of making the worship of Scotland ‘attractive’ even if it were lawful. The one is, that we cannot, without a total change of system, gratify all aesthetic tastes, and that otherwise we are merely preparing men for Prelacy or Popery.” — James Begg, “Anarchy in Worship”, pg. 25

And to finish hear his words as he closes this short, but necessary work: