Category Archives: The Church

“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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“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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“This happy victory” – The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

“O Almighty God,

The sovereign commander of all the world, in whose hand is power and might which none is able to withstand:

We bless and magnify Thy great and glorious name for this happy victory, the whole glory whereof we do ascribe to Thee, who art the only giver of victory.

And, we beseech Thee, give us grace to improve this great mercy to Thy glory, the advancement of Thy gospel, the honour of our nation, and, as much as in us lieth, to the good of all mankind.

And, we beseech Thee, give us such a sense of this great mercy, as may engage us to a true thankfulness, such as may appear in our lives by a humble, holy, and obedient walking before Thee all our days, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with Thee and the Holy Spirit, as for all Thy mercies, so in particular for this victory and deliverance, be all glory and honour, world without end.

Amen.”

–Samuel L. Bray and Drew Nathaniel Keane, eds., The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, International Edition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2021), 576.

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