Category Archives: The Church

“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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“The Word of God is a deep mine of costly treasure” by George Swinnock

“Out of His infinite favour God is pleased to give some— in those places where He intendeth to gather a people to Himself, for His eternal praise— beside the twinkling starlight of nature, the clear and perfect sunlight of Scripture, to ‘guide their feet in the ways of peace.’

This Word is one of the most signal mercies that ever He bestowed upon the sons of men, the whole world without it being but a barren and rude wilderness.

The Word of God is a spring of living water, a deep mine of costly treasure, a table furnished with all sorts of food, a garden wherein is variety of pleasant fruits, the church’s charter, containing all her privileges and her deeds, manifesting her title to the purchased possession.

It hath pious precepts for the Christian’s reformation, and precious promises for his consolation.

If the saint be afflicted, it can hold his head above water, and keep him from sinking when the billows go over his soul; there are cordials in it rich enough to revive the most fainting spirit.

If the saint be assaulted, the word is armour of proof, whereby he may defend himself manfully, and wound his foes mortally.

If the soul be unholy, this word can sanctify it; ‘Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken to you,’ (John 15:3). This water can wash out all the spots and stains.

If the soul be an heir of hell, this word can save it: ‘From a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise to salvation,’ (2 Tim. 3:15). Other writings may make a man wise to admiration, but this only can make him wise to salvation.

This word, which is of such unspeakable worth, God hath deposited as a special treasure into the hands of the children of men, that they might ‘obey His will, and know the just one.’

And, reader, it is thy duty to search and study this book. When kings send out their proclamations, either concerning acts of grace, or some law which their subjects ought to obey, they expect that all should take notice of them, and give them the reading and hearing.

What an affront dost thou offer to the King of the whole world, if thou turnest thy back upon His word! I must tell thee it is no less than crimen lœsœ majestatis. (‘the crime of injured sovereignty‘)

‘He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me,’ (Luke 10:16).

Thou mayest think, possibly, that by neglecting to hear, thou dost only contemn the preacher; but believe me, it is a contempt of thy Maker—ministers are God’s ambassadors.

Now to deny an ambassador audience, is one of the greatest disrespects which can possibly be offered him, nay, it is an affront to his prince, on whose errand he cometh, and whose person he representeth; and what is the conclusion usually of such bad premises, but a bloody war?

Consider what thou dost, when thou ‘refusest Him that speaketh from heaven;’ for if thou shuttest the windows of thine eyes from reading, and the door of thine ears from hearing, God may clap such a padlock of a judiciary curse upon them both, that thou shalt never open thine eyes nor ears, till thou comest, as the rich glutton, to see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, and to hear and bear thy part in those dreadful screechings and howlings which are in hell.

It is a mercy that the tree of knowledge, the word of God, is not forbidden, but commanded fruit; nay, that it groweth in the very path to the tree of life.

Oh, why shouldst thou then, like the pharisees, ‘reject the counsel of God against thy own soul’? If thou art a child of Adam, I am sure thou hast thy death’s wound; now by neglecting the word, thou, like a frantic patient, throwest away that medicine which only can cure thee.

Do not say thou wast not warned of thy danger and duty. I do here show thee the hand and seal of the King of kings to that warrant to which I require thy obedience.

The Scripture is the word of Christ, and God commandeth thee upon thine allegiance to hear him, (Col. 3:16; Matt. 3:17).

The Word is the cabinet in which thy Saviour, that pearl of infinite price, is laid up; and therefore thou art commanded to look into it for this jewel: ‘Search the Scriptures, for they are they which testify of Me,’ (John 5:39).

The word is ἐρευνᾶτε (search), and speaketh such a diligent search as covetous men make for silver; they spare no labour, that they may attain their deified treasure. What shouldst not thou do for ‘durable riches and righteousness’?

But, reader, if thou art a child of God, I doubt not but thou delightest to look into thy Father’s will, and weighest every word in it, as knowing that in his testament there is a great charge committed, and a great legacy bequeathed, to thee.

It is thy daily companion and counsellor; thou darest not go without thy cordial, being liable every day to faint; nor without thy weapons, being called every hour to fight.

The Scriptures are the light by which thou walkest, and the tools with which thou workest.

Let me persuade thee to persevere in this gracious practice; take the counsel of the author of it, who is fittest to give laws for thy carriage towards it: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,’ (Col. 3:16).

The word is ἐνοικέτω (dwell), and signifieth to keep house with you. Do not leave thy Bible, as some do, at church, and hear nothing of it all the week long; but bring it home to thy house, let it dwell with thee.

Let not the word be ‘as a wayfaring man, to tarry with thee but for a night,’ and so begone; but let it be an inhabitant, one that accompanieth thee to bed and board, and with whom thou conversest continually as thy familiar and intimate friend.

Make thine heart, as Jerome saith of Nepotianus, by his assiduous reading and hearing the Scriptures, Bibliothecam Christi, the library of Jesus Christ.

I cannot but think that thou hast found the Bible so bountiful a guest, to pay thee so liberally for its board, that thou hast bid it heartily welcome, and wouldst not part with it for the whole world.”

–George Swinnock, “The Christian Man’s Calling,” The Works of George Swinnock, Volume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1992), 1: 141-143.

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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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“I am swallowed up in God” by Thomas Goodwin

Thomas Goodwin died in London at age eighty. His son wrote this about his father’s final days:

“In February 1679, a fever seized my dear father, which in a few days put an end to his life.

In all the violence of it, he discoursed with that strength of faith and assurance of Christ’s love, with that holy admiration of free grace, with that joy in believing, and such thanksgivings and praises, as he extremely moved and affected all that heard him.

He rejoiced in the thoughts that he was dying, and going to have a full and uninterrupted communion with God.

‘I am going,’ said he, ‘to the three Persons, with whom I have had communion: they have taken me; I did not take them. I shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye; all my lusts and corruptions I shall be rid of, which I could not be here; those croaking toads will fall off in a moment.’

And mentioning those great examples of faith, Heb. 11,

‘All these,’ said he, ‘died in faith. I could not have imagined I should ever have had such a measure of faith in this hour; no, I could never have imagined it. My bow abides in strength.

Is Christ divided? No, I have the whole of His righteousness; I am found in Him, not in my own righteousness, which is of the law, but in the righteousness which is of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.

Christ cannot love me better than He doth; I think I cannot love Christ better than I do; I am swallowed up in God.’

Directing his speech to his two sons, he exhorted them to value the privilege of the covenant. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘I shall be ever with the Lord.’

With this assurance of faith and fulness of joy, his soul left this world, and went to see and enjoy the reality of that blessed state of glory, which in a discourse on that subject he had so well demonstrated.

He died February 1679, and in the eightieth year of his age.”

–Thomas Goodwin, Memoir of Thomas Goodwin, D.D., Composed Out of His Own Papers and Memoirs, By His Son, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 1861/2006), 2: lxxiv–lxxv.

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“The Spirit prays in you, because Christ prays for you” by Thomas Goodwin

“Let us consider what Christ did when He was come to heaven and exalted there: how abundantly did He there make good all that He had promised in His last sermon!

For, first, He instantly poured out His Spirit, and that ‘richly’ (as the apostle to Titus speaks), and He ‘being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this which you now see and hear,’ says the apostle in his first sermon after, Acts 2:33.

He then received it, and visibly poured Him out. So Eph. 4:8, it is said, ‘He ascended up on high, and gave gifts unto men … for the work of the ministry (4:15), and for the jointing in of the saints to the increase of the body of Christ’ (4:16), that is, for the converting of elect sinners, and making them saints.

And the gifts there mentioned (some of them) remain into this day, in ‘pastors and teachers,’ &c. And this Spirit is still in our preaching and in your hearts, in hearing, in praying, and He persuades you of Christ’s love to this very day; and is in all these the pledge of the continuance of Christ’s love still in heaven unto sinners.

All our sermons and your prayers are evidences to you, that Christ’s heart is still the same towards sinners that ever it was, for the Spirit that assists in all these comes in His name, and in His stead, and works all by commission from Him.

And do none of you feel your hearts moved in the preaching of these things, at this and other times? And who is it that moves you?

It is the Spirit who speaks in Christ’s name from heaven, even as Himself is said to ‘speak from heaven,’ Heb. 12:25.

And when you pray, it is the Spirit that indites your prayers, and that ‘makes intercession for you’ in your own hearts, Rom. 8:26, which intercession of His is but the evidence and echo of Christ’s intercession in heaven.

The Spirit prays in you, because Christ prays for you. He is an intercessor on earth, because Christ is an intercessor in heaven.

As He did take off Christ’s words, and used the same that He before had uttered, when He spake in and to the disciples the words of life, so He takes off Christ’s prayers also when He prays in us; He takes but the words as it were out of Christ’s mouth, or heart rather, and directs our hearts to offer them up to God.

He also follows us to the sacrament, and in that glass shews us Christ’s face smiling on us, and through His face His heart; and thus helping of us to a sight of Him, we go away rejoicing that we saw our Saviour that day.”

–Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ in Heaven, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, Volume 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 1861/2006), 4: 107-108.

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“History ends with a wedding” by Herman Bavinck

“All of the phenomena we have discussed prove that the family, despite being despised and opposed, is far from being registered as dead. Its forms may change, but its essence abides.

It is an institution of God, maintained after the entrance of sin not by the will of man but by God’s power. And it will continue to be preserved, as long as the divine purpose with the human race has not yet been attained.

That purpose is familiar to Christians from Scripture. For Christians, the future is portrayed entirely differently than for those without faith in any revelation.

For apart from revelation, the origin, essence, purpose, and destiny of the human race are entirely unknown to us. Because without this knowledge we cannot live and cannot die, cannot think and cannot labor, the Christian faith is replaced by arbitrary guesses and the Christian hope by vain expectations.

People then dream of a future state that will arise automatically through evolution, in which everyone will live happily and contentedly.

But in this case it’s like a hungry man dreaming that he is eating, but when he awakens, his soul is empty; or like a thirsty man dreaming that he is drinking, but when he awakens, he is still parched and his soul is thirsty.

Christians know about other and better things. They do not look back to the past with homesickness, for even then not everything that glittered was golden.

They do not surrender their hearts to the present, for their eyes see the suffering that belongs inseparably to the present time.

And they do not fantasize about a perfect society, because in this dispensation sin will continue to hold sway and will constantly corrupt all that is good.

But they are assured that God’s purpose with the human race will nevertheless be attained, despite all the conflict involved.

Humanity and the world exist, after all, for the sake of the church, and the church exists for the sake of Christ’s will, and Christ belongs to God.

In the city of God the creation reaches its final goal.

Into that city all the treasures will be brought together that have been acquired by humanity in the course of time through fearsome conflict; all the glory of the nations is gathered there; and in the spiritual association of Christ with his church, marriage will also reach its end.

Marriage was instituted so that the glory of the King would come to light in the multitude of his subjects. Once it has attained this goal, marriage itself will pass away.

The shadow will make way for the substance, the symbol for the reality.

The history of the human race began with a wedding; it also ends with a wedding, the wedding of Christ and his church, of the heavenly Lord with his earthly bride.”

–Herman Bavinck, The Christian Family, ed. Stephen J. Grabill, trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian’s Library Press, 2012), 160–161.

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“He does not find, but makes her, lovely” by C.S. Lewis

“The Church has no beauty but what the Bridegroom gives her; He does not find, but makes her, lovely.”

–C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1960/1988), 105.

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“The oil of prayer” by William Gurnall

“The Christian’s armour will rust, except it be furbished and scoured with the oil of prayer.”

–William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1662/2002), 2: 289.

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“Clad in His own promises” by John Calvin

“We enjoy Christ only as we embrace Christ clad in His own promises.

Thus it comes to pass that he indeed dwells in our hearts [cf. Eph. 3:17], and yet: “We are absent from him. For we walk by faith, not by sight” [2 Cor. 5:5–7].

Now these two things agree rather well with each other: we possess in Christ all that pertains to the perfection of heavenly life, and yet faith is the vision of good things not seen [cf. Heb. 11:1].

Only, we must note a difference in the nature or quality of the promises: the gospel points out with the finger what the law foreshadowed under types.”

–John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 2.9.3., 426.

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“The love of Christ contains within itself the whole of wisdom” by John Calvin

“By those dimensions Paul means nothing else than the love of Christ, of which he speaks afterwards. The meaning is, that he who knows it fully and perfectly is in every respect a wise man.

As if he had said, “In whatever direction men may look, they will find nothing in the doctrine of salvation that does not bear some relation to this subject.”

The love of Christ contains within itself the whole of wisdom.

Almost all men are infected with the disease of desiring useless knowledge.

Therefore this admonition is very useful: what is necessary for us to know, and what the Lord desires us to contemplate, above and below, on the right hand and on the left, before and behind.

The love of Christ is held out to us as the subject which ought to occupy our daily and nightly meditations, and that which we ought to be wholly immersed in. (Ephesians 3:18-19)

He who holds to this alone has enough.

Beyond it there is nothing solid, nothing useful, nothing, in short, that is right or sound.

Go abroad in heaven and earth and sea, you will never go beyond this without overstepping the lawful bounds of wisdom.”

–John Calvin, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, Volume 11, Trans. T.H.L. Parker (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 168-169. Calvin is commenting on Ephesians 3:18-19.

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