Category Archives: God the Father

“It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything His Father commanded Him” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Neither the Old Testament believer nor the Savior severed the law of God from His gracious person.

It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything His Father commanded Him. Nor is it for us.

In some ways the Marrow Controversy resolved itself into a theological version of the parable of the waiting father and his two sons. (Luke 15:11-32)

The antinomian prodigal when awakened was tempted to legalism: ‘I will go and be a slave in my father’s house and thus perhaps gain grace in his eyes.’

But he was bathed in his father’s grace and set free to live as an obedient son.

The legalistic older brother never tasted his father’s grace. Because of his legalism he had never been able to enjoy the privileges of the father’s house.

Between them stood the father offering free grace to both, without prior qualifications in either.

Had the older brother embraced his father, he would have found grace that would make every duty a delight and dissolve the hardness of his servile heart.

Had that been the case, his once antinomian brother would surely have felt free to come out to him as his father had done, and say:

‘Isn’t the grace we have been shown and given simply amazing? Let us forevermore live in obedience to every wish of our gracious father!’

And arm in arm they could have gone in to dance at the party, sons and brothers together, a glorious testimony to the father’s love.”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 173-174.

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“We must read our Bibles like men digging for hidden treasure” by J.C. Ryle

“What our Lord did mean to rebuke was that excessive attention to labour for the body, while the soul is neglected, which prevails everywhere in the world (John 6:26). What He reproved was, the common habit of labouring only for the things of time, and letting alone the things of eternity—of minding only the life that now is, and disregarding the life to come. Against this habit He delivers a solemn warning.

Surely, we must all feel our Lord did not say the words before us without good cause. They are a startling caution which should ring in the ears of many in these latter days.

How many in every rank of life are doing the very thing against which Jesus warns us! They are labouring night and day for ‘the meat that perisheth,’ and doing nothing for their immortal souls.

Happy are those who learn betimes the respective value of soul and body, and give the first and best place in their thoughts to salvation. One thing is needful. He that seeks first the kingdom of God, will never fail to find ‘all other things added to him.’ (Matt. 6:33)

We should mark, thirdly, in this passage, what Christ advises. He tells us to ‘labour for the meat that endureth to everlasting life.’ (John 6:27) He would have us take pains to find food and satisfaction for our souls. That food is provided in rich abundance in Him. But he that would have it must diligently seek it.

How are we to labour? There is but one answer. We must labour in the use of all appointed means.

We must read our Bibles like men digging for hidden treasure.

We must wrestle earnestly in prayer like men contending with a deadly enemy for life.

We must take our whole heart to the house of God and worship and hear like those who listen to the reading of a will.

We must fight daily against sin, the world, and the devil, like those who fight for liberty, and must conquer, or be slaves.

These are the ways we must walk in if we would find Christ, and be found of Him. This is ‘labouring.’ This is the secret of getting on about our souls.

Labour like this no doubt is very uncommon. In carrying it on we shall have little encouragement from man, and shall often be told that we are “extreme,” and go too far.

Strange and absurd as it is, the natural man is always fancying that we may take too much thought about religion, and refusing to see that we are far more likely to take too much thought about the world.

But whatever man may say, the soul will never get spiritual food without labour. We must ‘strive,’ we must ‘run,’ we must ‘fight,’ we must throw our whole heart into our soul’s affairs. It is ‘the violent’ who take the kingdom. (Matt. 11:12)

We should mark, lastly, in this passage, what a promise Christ holds out. He tells us that He himself will give eternal food to all who seek it: ‘The Son of man shall give you the meat that endureth unto everlasting life.’

How gracious and encouraging these words are! Whatever we need for the relief of our hungering souls, Christ is ready and willing to bestow. Whatever mercy, grace, peace, strength we require, the Son of man will give freely, immediately, abundantly, and eternally.

He is ‘sealed,’ and appointed, and commissioned by God the Father for this very purpose. Like Joseph in the Egyptian famine, it is His office to be the Friend, and Almoner, and Reliever of a sinful world. He is far more willing to give than man is to receive. The more sinners apply to Him, the better He is pleased.

And now, as we leave this rich passage, let us ask ourselves, what use we make of it? For what are we labouring ourselves? What do we know of lasting food and satisfaction for our inward man?

Never let us rest till we have eaten of the meat which Christ alone can give. They that are content with any other spiritual food will sooner or later ‘lie down in sorrow.’ (Isa. 50:11)”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Volume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1869/2012), 1: 243-245. Ryle is commenting on John 6:22-27.

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“The whole Bible comes to us in red letters” by Joel Beeke

“The Bible has many human authors, but one divine Author speaks through them all: the triune God who draws near to us in the Mediator. Though Paul wrote his letters, he insists, ‘Christ is speaking in me’ (2 Cor. 13:3), and, ‘The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 14:37).

Therefore, in the Bible, we continue to hear the voice of Christ today. In a manner of speaking, the whole Bible comes to us in red letters.

This makes reading the Bible and hearing it preached a wonderfully personal encounter with Christ. Christ said that the Good Shepherd calls His sheep, and ‘the sheep hear his voice… and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice’ (John 10:3-4).

Christ did not refer here merely to His earthly ministry to Israel, when people literally did hear His human voice. He included the calling of Gentiles: ‘Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd’ (John 10:16).

This is the assurance of Christ’s people: ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand (John 10:27-28).

Whenever we prepare to read or hear God’s Word, we should say to ourselves, ‘I am about to hear the voice of Jesus.’ Calvin said, ‘When the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached, it is just as if He Himself spoke to us and were living among us.'”

–Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 2: Man and Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 2: 963-964.

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“Christ spoke prophetic words on the cross” by Joel Beeke

“The death of Christ is the greatest demonstration of God’s love for man (John 3:16; Rom. 5:6-8). What love is this, when God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up to save His enemies (Rom. 8:32)!

It appeared to be a a tragic display of foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18), the waste of the best of lives, but in fact it revealed God’s wisdom and power to save sinners through the most amazing means (1 Cor. 1:23-25).

Furthermore, Christ spoke prophetic words in His passion, including His seven words, or sayings, from the cross, which revealed the following:

  • God’s grace to forgive sinners through Christ: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
  • God’s salvation through Christ for the repentant: “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
  • God’s creation of a new spiritual family in Christ: “He saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” (John 19:26-27).
  • God’s abandonment of Christ to suffer divine judgment as He bore our sins: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
  • God’s fulfillment of His promises and prophecies in Christ: “Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst” (John 19:28).
  • God’s complete accomplishment of salvation by Christ: “It is finished” (John 19:30).
  • God’s acceptance of Christ’s spirit because He completed His work, in anticipation of His resurrection: “Father, into thy hands commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Christ’s greatest revelation of God took place when His deity was most hidden in suffering and shame. This hidden revelation can be accessed only by faith, a a faith that humbles our pride “that no flesh should glory in his presence,” but “he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:29, 31).

Christ is the Prophet of the cross, and we can receive His revelation by the way of the cross.”

–Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 2: Man and Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 2: 959.

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“What is a godly pastor, after all, but one who is like God, with a heart of grace?” by Sinclair Ferguson

“A misshapen understanding of the gospel impacts the spirit of a minister and affects the style and atmosphere of his preaching and of all his pastoral ministry. What the Marrow Controversy actually unveiled was the possibility of acknowledging the truth of each discrete chapter of the Confession of Faith without those truths being animated by a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel.

The metallic spirit this inevitably produced would then in turn run through one’s preaching and pastoral ministry. There is a kind of orthodoxy in which the several loci of systematic theology, or stages of redemptive history, are all in place, but that lacks the life of the whole, just as arms, legs, torso, head, feet, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth may all be present—while the body as a whole lacks energy and perhaps life itself. The form of godliness is not the same as its power.

Confessional orthodoxy coupled with a view of a heavenly Father whose love is conditioned on his Son’s suffering, and further conditioned by our repentance, leads inevitably to a restriction in the preaching of the gospel.

Why? Because it leads to a restriction in the heart of the preacher that matches the restriction he sees in the heart of God! Such a heart may have undergone the process that Alexander Whyte described as “sanctification by vinegar.” If so, it tends to be unyielding and sharp edged. A ministry rooted in conditional grace has that effect; it produces orthodoxy without love for sinners and a conditional and conditioned love for the righteous.

In the nature of the case there is a kind of psychological tendency for Christians to associate the character of God with the character of the preaching they hear—not only the substance and content of it but the spirit and atmosphere it conveys. After all, preaching is the way in which they publicly and frequently “hear the Word of God.”

But what if there is a distortion in the understanding and heart of the preacher that subtly distorts his exposition of God’s character? What if his narrow heart pollutes the atmosphere in which he explains the heart of the Father?

When people are broken by sin, full of shame, feeling weak, conscious of failure, ashamed of themselves, and in need of counsel, they do not want to listen to preaching that expounds the truth of the discrete doctrines of their church’s confession of faith but fails to connect them with the marrow of gospel grace and the Father of infinite love for sinners. It is a gracious and loving Father they need to know.

Such, alas, were precisely the kind of pastors who gathered round poor Job and assaulted him with their doctrine that God was against him. From their mouths issue some of the most sublime discrete theological statements anywhere to be found in the pages of the Bible.

But they had disconnected them from the life-giving love of God for his needy and broken child Job. And so they too “exchanged the truth about God for the lie.” (Romans 1:25)

This will not do in gospel ministry. Rather, pastors need themselves to have been mastered by the unconditional grace of God. From them the vestiges of a self-defensive pharisaism and conditionalism need to be torn. Like the Savior they need to handle bruised reeds without breaking them and dimly burning wicks without quenching them.

What is a godly pastor, after all, but one who is like God, with a heart of grace; someone who sees God bringing prodigals home and runs to embrace them, weeps for joy that they have been brought home, and kisses them—asking no questions—no qualifications or conditions required?

In these respects the Marrow Controversy has a perennial relevance to all Christians. But it has a special relevance to gospel preachers and pastors.

It raises the question: What kind of pastor am I to my people? Am I like the father?

Or am I, perhaps, like the elder brother who would not, does not, will not, and ultimately cannot join the party?

After all, how can an elder brother be comfortable at a party when he still wonders if his once-prodigal brother has been sorry enough for his sin and sufficiently ashamed of his faults?”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 71-73.

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“The matchless love the Father has for us” by Sinclair Ferguson

“When and how did God show His grace to us? Were there conditions to be met in us prior to Christ’s grace? Clearly not, since it was:

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. (Romans 5:6-10)

What conditions were met in us in order for God to send His only Son into the world to die for sinners? None. Indeed there can be none.

The Scriptures affirm that the love of God for us is the reason for the death of Christ. That is the emphasis of John 3:16. God (i.e., the Father, since here “God” is the antecedent of “his … Son”) so loved the world that He gave His Son for us. The Son does not need to do anything to persuade the Father to love us; He already loves us!

The subtle danger here should be obvious: if we speak of the cross of Christ as the cause of the love of the Father, we imply that behind the cross and apart from it He may not actually love us at all.

He needs to be “paid” a ransom price in order to love us. But if it has required the death of Christ to persuade Him to love us (“Father, if I die, will you begin to love them?”), how can we ever be sure the Father Himself loves us—“deep down” with an everlasting love?

True, the Father does not love us because we are sinners; but He does love us even though we are sinners. He loved us before Christ died for us. It is because He loves us that Christ died for us!

We must not confuse the truth that our sins are forgiven only because of the death and resurrection of Christ with the very different notion that God loves us only because of the death and resurrection of Christ.

No, He loved us from the first of time and therefore sent His Son, who came willingly, to die for us. In this way a right understanding of the work of Christ leads to a true understanding of the matchless love the Father has for us.”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 65–66.

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“There are more Simeons in the world than we suppose” by J.C. Ryle

“We have in these verses the history of one whose name is nowhere else mentioned in the New Testament, ‘a just and devout man’ named Simeon. We know nothing of his life before or after the time when Christ was born.

We are only told that he came by the Spirit into the temple, when the child Jesus was brought there by His mother, and that he ‘took him up in his arms and blessed God’ in words which are now well-known all over the world.

We see, in the case of Simeon, how God has a believing people even in the worst of places, and in the darkest times. Religion was at a very low ebb in Israel when Christ was born.

The faith of Abraham was spoiled by the doctrines of Pharisees and Sadducees. The fine gold had become deplorably dim. Yet even then we find in the midst of Jerusalem a man ‘just and devout,’– a man ‘upon whom is the Holy Ghost.’

It is a cheering thought that God never leaves Himself entirely without a witness. Small as His believing church may sometimes be, the gates of hell shall never completely prevail against it.

The true church may be driven into the wilderness, and be a scattered little flock, but it never dies.

There was a Lot in Sodom and an Obadiah in Ahab’s household, a Daniel in Babylon and a Jeremiah in Zedekiah’s court; and in the last days of the Jewish Church, when its iniquity was almost full, there were godly people, like Simeon, even in Jerusalem.

True Christians, in every age, should remember this and take comfort. It is a truth which they are apt to forget, and in consequence to give way to despondency.

‘I only am left,’ said Elijah, ‘and they seek my life to take it away.’ But what said the answer of God to him, ‘Yet have I left me seven thousand in Israel.’ (1 Kings 19:14, 18.)

Let us learn to be more hopeful.

Let us believe that grace can live and flourish, even in the most unfavorable circumstances.

There are more Simeons in the world than we suppose.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 51-52. Ryle is commenting on Luke 2:25-35.

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