Category Archives: Joy

“Gratitude echoes grace” by John Webster

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:2–3)

Like nearly all the other letters of Paul that we have in the New Testament canon, 1 Thessalonians starts with thanksgiving. It’s relatively easy to breeze through these sections of thanksgiving at the beginning of Paul’s letters without really paying attention to the fact that something of importance is happening in them.

All too easily we can think of them as just courtesies that Paul goes through before getting on with the real business of his letters, or perhaps we may read them as if Paul were engaging in a bit of flattery, winning his readers over before he has a go at them on some issue that’s troubling him. But if we pause over them and ponder a little, we soon come to see that something else is going on.

Far from being mere civil preliminaries, these introductory thanksgivings tell us something very profound. They signal to us the kind of existence in which both Paul and his readers are caught up. Paul gives thanks because, for him, Christian life, life in Christ and life in the church of Christ, is a life in which thanksgiving is a fundamental dynamic.

Thanksgiving isn’t just decoration; it’s primary. Basic to the whole pattern of living in which Paul and his readers share is the giving and receiving of thanks.

Thanksgiving in the church of Jesus Christ is a deep reality. It’s not just a sign that Christians are a well-mannered lot who say nice things about one another and are suitably grateful to God for their blessings.

Thanksgiving is one of the signs of convertedness—that is, it’s a mark of the fact that those who live in Christ have been remade, transplanted out of one way of living into another, new way. This is because, as Paul puts it, the gospel has come to them in power and the Holy Spirit.

Because they have turned to God from idols—because under the impulse of God they have abandoned an entire way of living—their mode of existence has been turned inside-out. One of the essential aspects of that conversion and renewal of human life is the move from ingratitude to thanksgiving.

Christian life is new life because it transforms us out of our refusal to live thankfully to a life which acknowledges, celebrates, and lives from the grace of God.

Part of what makes the church such a strange reality in the world is that it’s a place where callousness and ingratitude are being set aside and human beings are beginning to learn one of the fundamental things we must learn if we are to be healed—namely, how to say those words which can chase away an entire army of demons: we give thanks to God always.

So thanksgiving is one of the chief fruits of that complete reorientation of human life that Christian faith is all about: to be in the church is to rediscover gratitude to God.

Thanksgiving is thus rooted in grace: to live in gratitude to God is to live out of God’s grace. And grace is not a thing but a person and an action. It’s the personal presence and action of God; it’s God giving to us wretched and convoluted creatures everything we need to rescue us from our wretchedness and set our lives straight.

Who is this grace-filled God whose goodness sets us free for thanksgiving? For Paul in 1 Thessalonians, it is God who is Father, Son, and Spirit, the merciful three-in-one.

The God who sets us free for thanksgiving is, Paul tells us, “God the Father” or “our God and Father”; He is “the Lord Jesus Christ,” equal to Him in majesty and grace; and He is God “the Holy Spirit,” the life-giver.

This God, in his threefold work of grace, is the one who comes to us in His great act of friendship, wiping out our sins, reconciling us to Himself, restoring us to fellowship, and setting us free to be who we are made to be: God’s thankful people.

Gratitude, we might say, echoes grace; the giving of thanks flows from God’s supreme gift of fellowship with Himself.”

–John Webster, Christ Our Salvation: Expositions and Proclamations, ed. Daniel J. Bush (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), 121–123.

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“A doctrine of the church” by John Webster

“A doctrine of the church is only as good as the doctrine of God which underlies it.”

–John Webster, Confessing God: Essays in Christian Dogmatics II, The Cornerstones Series (London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury T&T Clark: An Imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc; Bloomsbury, 2016), 156.

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“How can His chastisement make us whole?” by John Webster

“The chief task of Christian soteriology is to show how the bruising of the man Jesus, the servant of God, saves lost creatures and reconciles them to their creator.

In the matter of salvation, Christian theology tries to show that this servant—marred, Isaiah tells us, beyond human semblance, without form or comeliness or beauty—is the one in and as whom God’s purpose for creatures triumphs over their wickedness.

His oppression and affliction, His being put out of the land of the living, is in truth not His defeat at the hands of superior forces, but His own divine act in which He takes upon Himself, and so takes away from us, the iniquity of us all.

How can this be? How can His chastisement make us whole? How can others be healed by His stripes?

Because, Isaiah tells us, it was the will of the Lord to bruise Him; because God has put Him to grief; because it is God who makes the servant’s soul an offering for sin.

And just because this is so—just because He is smitten by God and afflicted—then the will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand, and the servant Himself shall prosper and be exalted.

And not only this: the servant shall also see the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied; he shall see His offspring.

As it tries to explicate how God is savingly at work in the affliction of His servant, Christian soteriology stretches both backwards and forwards from this central event.

It traces the work of salvation back into the will of God, and forward into the life of the many who by it are made righteous. Soteriology thus participates in the double theme of all Christian theology, namely God and all things in God.

The matter of the Christian gospel is, first, the eternal God who has life in Himself, and then temporal creatures who have life in Him.

The gospel, that is, concerns the history of fellowship—covenant—between God and creatures; Christian soteriology follows this double theme as it is unfolded in time.

In following its theme, soteriology undertakes the task of displaying the identities of those who participate in this history and the material order of their relations.

The Lord who puts His servant to grief is this one, dogmatics tells us; this is his servant, these the transgressors who will be accounted righteous.

So conceived, soteriology pervades the entire corpus of Christian teaching, and its exposition necessarily entails sustained attention to trinitarian and incarnational dogma, as well as to the theology of creatures and their ends.

Indeed, no part of Christian teaching is unrelated to soteriology, whether immediately or indirectly.”

–John Webster, God without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, God and the Works of God, vol. I (London; Oxford; New York; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury T&T Clark: An Imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2016), 143–144.

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“A pointer to something other and outer” by C.S. Lewis

“But what, in conclusion, of Joy?

For that, after all, is what the story has mainly been about. To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian.

I cannot, indeed, complain, like Wordsworth, that the visionary gleam has passed away.

I believe (if the thing were at all worth recording) that the old stab, the old bittersweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life whatever.

But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it.

It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.

While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts.

When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter.

He who first sees it cries, “Look!” The whole party gathers round and stares.

But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare.

They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up.

But we shall not stop and stare, or not much; not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold.

‘We would be at Jerusalem.'”

–C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1955), 238.

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“In faithful wonder” by Herman Bavinck

“The theological task calls for humility. Full comprehension is impossible; wonder and mystery always remain.

This must not be identified with the New Testament notion of mystery, which refers to that which was unknown but has now been revealed in the history of salvation culminating in Christ.

Neither is it a secret gnosis available only to an elite, nor is it unknown because of the great divide between the natural and the supernatural.

The divide is not so much metaphysical as it is spiritual—sin is the barrier.

The wonder of God’s love may not be fully comprehended by believers in this age, but what is known in part and seen in part is known and seen.

In faithful wonder the believer is not conscious of living in the face of mystery that surpasses reason and thus it is not an intellectual burden.

Rather, in the joy of God’s grace there is intellectual liberation.

Faith turns to wonder; knowledge terminates in adoration; and confession becomes a song of praise and thanksgiving.

Faith is the knowledge which is life, ‘eternal life’ (John 17:3).”

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, vol. 1, Ed. John Bolt, and Trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 1: 602.

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“The happiness of the Christian is a serious happiness” by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“For the Christian man who mourns because of sin and because of the state of the world, there is this comfort—the comfort of the blessed hope, the glory that yet remains.

So that even here, though he is groaning, he is happy at the same time because of the hope that is set before him. There is this ultimate hope in eternity.

In that eternal state we shall be wholly and entirely blessed, there will be nothing to mar life, nothing to detract from it, nothing to spoil it.

Sorrow and sighing shall be no more; all tears shall be wiped away; and we shall bask for ever and ever in the eternal sunshine, and experience joy and bliss and glory unmixed and unspoiled. ‘Happy are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.’

How true it is. Unless we know that, we are not Christian.

If we are Christian, we do know it, this joy of sins forgiven and the knowledge of it; the joy of reconciliation; the joy of knowing that God takes us back when we have fallen away from Him; the joy and contemplation of the glory that is set before us; the joy that comes from anticipation of the eternal state.

Let us, then, try to define this man who mourns. What sort of a man is he?

He is a sorrowful man, but he is not morose.

He is a sorrowful man, but he is not a miserable man.

He is a serious man, but he is not a solemn man.

He is a sober-minded man, but he is not a sullen man. He is a grave man, but he is never cold or prohibitive.

There is with his gravity a warmth and attraction. This man, in other words, is always serious; but he does not have to affect the seriousness.

The true Christian is never a man who has to put on an appearance of either sadness or joviality. No, no; he is a man who looks at life seriously; he contemplates it spiritually, and he sees in it sin and its effects.

He is a serious, sober-minded man. His outlook is always serious, but because of these views which he has, and his understanding of truth, he also has ‘a joy unspeakable and full of glory’.

So he is like the apostle Paul, ‘groaning within himself’, and yet happy because of his experience of Christ and the glory that is to come.

The Christian is not superficial in any sense, but is fundamentally serious and fundamentally happy.

You see, the joy of the Christian is a holy joy, the happiness of the Christian is a serious happiness.

None of that superficial appearance of happiness and joy! No, no; it is a solemn joy, it is a holy joy, it is a serious happiness; so that, though he is grave and sober-minded and serious, he is never cold and prohibitive.

Indeed, he is like our Lord Himself, groaning, weeping, and yet, ‘for the joy that was set before him’ enduring the cross, despising the shame.

That is the man who mourns; that is the Christian. That is the type of Christian seen in the Church in ages past, when the doctrine of sin was preached and emphasized, and men were not merely urged to take a sudden decision.

A deep doctrine of sin, a high doctrine of joy, and the two together produce this blessed, happy man who mourns, and who at the same time is comforted.

The way to experience that, obviously, is to read the Scriptures, to study and meditate upon them, to pray to God for His Spirit to reveal sin in us to ourselves, and then to reveal to us the Lord Jesus Christ in all His fullness.

‘Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.’(Matt. 5:4)”

–D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Second edition. (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1976), 65-66.

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“It is only an infinite God, and an infinite good, that can fill and satisfy the immortal soul of man” by Thomas Brooks

“He who is not contented with a little, will never be satisfied with much. He who is not content with pounds, will never be satisfied with hundreds; and he who is not content with a few hundreds, will never be satisfied with many thousands.

‘He that loveth silver, shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance, with increase.’ (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

Money of itself cannot satisfy any desire of nature. If a man be hungry, it cannot feed him; if naked, it cannot clothe him; if cold, it cannot warm him; if sick, it cannot recover him.

A circle cannot fill a triangle; no more can the whole world fill the heart of man. A man may as soon fill a chest with grace, as a heart with wealth.

The soul of man may be busied about earthly things, but it can never be filled nor satisfied with earthly things.

Air shall as soon fill the body, as money shall satisfy the mind. There is many a worldling who hath enough of the world to sink him, who will never have enough of the world to satisfy him.

The more a man drinketh, the more he thirsteth. So the more money is increased, the more the love of money is increased; and the more the love of money is increased, the more the soul is unsatisfied.

It is only an infinite God, and an infinite good, that can fill and satisfy the precious and immortal soul of man, (Gen. 15:1).

Look, as nothing fits the ear but sounds, and as nothing fits the smell but odours, so nothing fits the soul but God.

Nothing below the great God can fit and fill an immortal soul.”

–Thomas Brooks, The Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 6, Ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1666/2001), 6: 259.

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“Christian hope is hope in God” by John Webster

“Christian hope is hope in God, for the God confessed by the Christian fellowship is ‘the God of hope’ (Rom. 15:13).

Christian hope and its activities have to be explicated out of faith’s apprehension of God and God’s ways with the world as its maker, reconciler and consummator.

In formal terms, this is simply an application of the rule that Christian moral theology ought not to exist in independence of Christian doctrine.

In material terms, it is an application of the rule that all Christian teaching, including teaching about the moral life, is an extension of the doctrine of the Trinity, which is the Christian doctrine of God. Christian hope is hope in this God; and the doctrine of the Trinity can therefore rightly be said to furnish ‘the environment of Christian behaviour’. How is this so?

The Christian confession of God as Trinity attempts to indicate that the sovereign majesty and perfection which is God’s life is that of the eternal and perfect relations of Father, Son and Spirit.

God is the relations of these three persons; his being is his eternal fullness as the Father who begets the Son, the Son who is begotten of the Father before all worlds, and the Spirit who proceeds from them. In these relations, fully achieved and lacking nothing, God is one; his unity is the repleteness and blessedness of the fellowship of the three.

This repleteness of God’s life includes within itself, as an integral aspect of its perfection, a turn to that which is not God. In this turn there occurs a movement in which the fellowship of the immanent life of God creates a further object of love.

This turn is free, self-caused, wholly spontaneous, original to the divine being; its necessity is purely the necessity of God’s own self-determination to be in fellowship with that which is other than himself. As such, it is not a turn which completes or extends the divine life; it is a turning out of fullness, not out of lack.

More simply: it is gift, love. This turning or act of love is the work of the triune God as the world’s creator, reconciler and consummator. It takes historical form in the simple yet staggeringly complex work of God’s majesty in the entire scope of the economy, as God brings creaturely reality into being, redeems it and ensures that it will arrive at its perfection.

As Father, God purposes that in its abundance, the divine love should be directed to bringing creation into being, bestowing upon it life, order and direction. Because it is rooted in the Father’s will, this purpose is unshakeable. That is, God’s relation to what he makes is not simply an act of origination, but an act which ensures the creation’s destiny, and therefore one which oversees, directs and protects the creation so that it attains that destiny.

As Son, God intervenes in the history of creation when by its own perversity the creature seeks to struggle free from the Father’s purpose, refusing to be a creature, and in so doing exposing itself to mortal peril. Only as creature can the creature have life; and it is the work of the Son to reconcile and therefore to recreate what has brought destruction upon itself.

Through the person and work of the Son, gathering created being to himself and bearing in himself its alienation from the source of its life and well-being, creation is reintegrated into the Father’s purpose.

Lastly, as Spirit, God acts to bring to completion that which the Father purposes and the Son secures against all opposition, namely the identity and integrity of the creation in fellowship with God. God the Spirit perfects, bringing creaturely being and history to their completion.

What is the significance of this for Christian hope? Hope is that creaturely disposition which corresponds to the fact that all occasions of human history, including its future, are caught up within the economy of the triune God’s mercy.

Because God is to the depths of his eternal being triune, and because he acts in the world as the one he is in himself, then the entire scope of human history and action is embraced by God’s purpose. God is not simply originator (setting the creation in motion), nor simply end (tying up the loose ends of history at its terminus).

Rather, as Father, Son and Spirit, God is infinite—no time or space is apart from or beyond his presence and action—and so steadfast—his purpose has been, is and will be at all times constantly and reliably at work.

And it is as this one that God is the ground of hope, for hope trusts that, because the Father’s purpose has been accomplished in the Son and is now at work in the world in the Spirit’s power, then human history is God’s economy.

Within the space which the triune God creates, hope is neither a fantasy nor a gesture of defiance, but a fitting, truthful attitude and shape for action. In sum: hope rests upon God’s faithfulness, and God’s faithfulness is triune.

One immediate effect of rooting a theology of Christian hope in the doctrine of the Trinity is to prevent an exclusive orientation towards eschatology. Hope is not simply a correlate of the divine futurity or the coming of God; it is, rather, a disposition which is related to the entirety of God’s dealings with his creature, past, present and future.

Within this, hope undoubtedly has an especial regard for the future horizon of human history. But this future quickly becomes isolated when not adequately related to a theological account of God as the world’s creator and as its reconciler in the person and work of Christ.

An isolated eschatology accords little weight to created nature, and often functions with only a pale theology of incarnation and atonement, precisely because the preponderant doctrinal weight is placed in the future of God.

This imbalance within the structure of Christian teaching orients hope, not to the fulfilment of God’s eternal purpose but to an absolute eschatological novum. The corrective to the imbalance is achieved by relating hope not simply to the future but also to the triune eternity of God, that is, to God’s sovereign and purposive presence to and action within all creaturely time.

Christian hope, and therefore hopeful Christian action, rests not simply on what will be, but on what will be as the fulfilment of God’s steadfastness as Father, Son and Spirit, his already-enacted, present and promised constancy to the creature.

Hope is hope in God’s steadfast love (Psalm 33:18, 22; 130:7; 131:3; 147:11). A Christian moral theology of hope begins thus with the perfection of the triune God.”

–John Webster, “Hope,” in Confessing God: Essays in Christian Dogmatics II, The Cornerstones Series (London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury T&T Clark: An Imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc; Bloomsbury, 2016), 197–200.

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“Our best havings are wantings” by C.S. Lewis

“All joy (as distinct from mere pleasure, still more amusement) emphasizes our pilgrim status: always reminds, beckons, awakes desire.

Our best havings are wantings.”

–C.S. Lewis, Letters of C.S. Lewis, eds. W.H. Lewis and Walter Hooper (New York: Harper, 1966), 565.

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“The Lord is close to those who have bruised their hearts” by Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430)

God is most high, yet near.

I will cry to God Most High. If He is most high, how can He hear your crying?

‘My confidence is born from experience,’ the psalmist replies, ‘because I am praying to God, who has dealt kindly with me. If He dealt kindly with me before I sought Him, will He not hear me now that I am crying out to Him?’

The Lord God dealt kindly with us by sending us our Savior Jesus Christ, to die for our misdeeds and rise for our justification. (Rom. 4:25)

And for what kind of people did God will His Son to die?

For the godless. The godless were not seeking God, but God sought them.

He is “most high” indeed, but in such a way that our wretchedness and our groans are not far from Him, for the Lord is close to those who have bruised their hearts.

I will cry to God Most High, to God who has dealt kindly with me.”

–Augustine of Hippo, Expositions of the Psalms 51–72, trans. Maria Boulding, ed. John E. Rotelle, vol. 17, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2001), 17: 108–109. Augustine is commenting on Psalm 57:2.

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