Tag Archives: Liturgy

“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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“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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“The unstoppable miracle of God’s mercy” by John Webster

“Before it is proposition or oath of allegiance, the confession of the church is a cry of acknowledgement of the unstoppable miracle of God’s mercy.

Confession is the event in which the speech of the church is arrested, grasped and transfigured by the self-giving presence of God.

To confess is to cry out in acknowledgement of the sheer gratuity of what the gospel declares, that in and as the man Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s glory is the glory of His self-giving, His radiant generosity.

Very simply, to confess is to indicate ‘the glory of Christ’ (2 Cor. 8:23).”

–John Webster, “Confession and Confessions,” in Confessing God: Essays in Christian Dogmatics II (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 71.

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“We also pray to You, true Father and Savior, for all the pastors” by John Calvin

“We also pray to You, true Father and Savior, for all those whom you have ordained as pastors for the faithful, and to whom You have entrusted the charge of souls and the dispensation of Your holy gospel.

We pray that You would guide them by Your Holy Spirit, that they may be found to be faithful and loyal ministers of Your glory, always having this aim, that all the poor, lost sheep would be gathered and brought back to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd and Prince of the overseers, so that they would benefit from, and grow in Him, day by day, in all righteousness and holiness.

Moreover, be pleased to deliver all churches from the mouths of ravenous wolves and from all the hired hands who seek their own ambition or profit and not the exaltation of Your holy name alone and the salvation of Your flock.

We also pray to You, most kind God and merciful Father, for all people generally, since You desire to be known as Savior of the whole world, through the redemption accomplished by Your Son Jesus Christ.

We pray that those who are still estranged from the knowledge of Him, in darkness and the captivity of error and ignorance, would be brought back to the straight way of salvation, which is to know the only true God and Him whom You sent, Jesus Christ, through the illumination of Your Holy Spirit and the preaching of Your gospel.

May those whom You have already visited in Your grace and illumined with the knowledge of Your Word grow daily in goodness, being enriched with Your spiritual blessings, that we may adore You altogether with one heart and one mouth and give honor and homage to Your Christ, our Master, King, and Lawgiver.”

–John Calvin, “Form of Ecclesiastical Prayers (Geneva 1542),Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present, Eds. Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2018), 322-323.

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“We are fascinated with ourselves but the Psalms are fascinated with God” by C. Richard Wells

“Apart from biblical illiteracy, there are special reasons for neglect of the Psalms. The language of poetry doesn’t easily connect in a sound-byte culture.

The Psalms call for time, not tweets– time to read, ponder, pray, digest. It’s easy to be too busy for the Psalms.

Then again, the strong emotions of the Psalms make many modern people uncomfortable– which is ironic since our culture seems to feed on feelings.

On top of everything else, strange to say, the Psalms are just so… well… God intoxicated. We are fascinated with ourselves; the Psalms are fascinated with God.”

–C. Richard Wells, Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 203-204.

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“Prayer on Sunday after the Sermon” by Zacharias Ursinus

“Almighty God, heavenly Father, who has promised us that whatever we ask of you in the name of Your dear Son Jesus Christ, You will surely give to us. (John 16:23)

[Hallowed be Your name]

We ask You to work in us by Your Holy Spirit, so that we may rightly know You, and sanctify, glorify, and praise You in all Your works, in which shine forth Your omnipotence, wisdom, goodness, righteousness, mercy, and truth. Grant us also that we may so direct our whole life—thoughts, words, and deeds—that Your name is not blasphemed because of us but honored and praised.

[Your kingdom come]

Rule us also by the scepter of Your Word and the power of Your Holy Spirit that we and all men may daily more and more surrender and submit to Your Majesty. Preserve and increase Your Church. Destroy all works of the devil, and every false and wicked counsel conceived against Your holy Word. Bring to ruin Your enemies by the power of Your truth and righteousness, so that every power that raises itself against Your honor may be more and more destroyed and demolished each day, until the fullness of Your kingdom comes, when on the final day You will reveal Your glory in us and You will be all in all forevermore.

[Your will be done]

Grant also that we and all men may deny our own will and all the lust of our flesh, and without any murmuring obey Your will, which alone is good. Grant that everyone may carry out the duties of his office and calling as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven.

[Give us today our daily bread]

Provide us also with all our bodily needs, peace, and a good government, so that we may acknowledge that You are the only fountain of all good, and a faithful Father who cares for His children; that also our care and labor, and also Your gifts, cannot do us any good without Your blessing. Grant, therefore, that we may withdraw our trust from all creatures and put it only in You.

[Forgive us our debts]

And for the sake of the shedding of Christ’s blood, do not impute to us, poor sinners, any of our transgressions and debts, nor the evil which still clings to us, as we also find this evidence of Your grace in our hearts that we desire to wholeheartedly forgive our neighbor and increase His benefit.

[And lead us not into temptation, etc.]

And because we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand even for a moment, and moreover, our sworn enemies—the devil, the world, and our own flesh—do not cease to attack us. Will You, therefore, keep and strengthen us by the power of Your Holy Spirit, so that we may firmly resist them and not go down to defeat in this spiritual war, but remain persistent until we finally obtain the complete victory and reign together with Your Son, our Lord and Protector, Jesus Christ, in Your kingdom forevermore.

All this we ask from You, not so that we, but that You may be praised forevermore, and because You are able to do so as Almighty God, and are also willing as a faithful Father, as certainly as we wholeheartedly desire these things from You, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.”

—Zacharias Ursinus, “Palatinate Church Order (1563),” as quoted in Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present, Eds. Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2018), 614-615.

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“Let us worship God on earth as He is worshiped in heaven” by Jonathan Gibson

“The story of human history, from beginning to end, is the story of worship. This is because God has so structured His world that every person will worship through one of two men—Adam or Jesus Christ.

The first man Adam was made homo liturgicus, and everyone bearing his image has inherited his fallen liturgical orientation toward idolatry. We are born worshiping the creature, not the Creator; we live our lives seeking salvation and satisfaction in pseudo-redeemers, not the Redeemer.

We are a restless race, wandering ‘east,’ away from the divine sanctuary. But, through the Second Man Jesus Christ, we have the invitation to return and worship God aright in spirit and truth, in His presence.

Through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ—the true Homo Liturgicus—God has opened a way back into His presence.

Since the first son of God, Adam, through the national (typical) son of God, Israel, and the royal (typical) son of God, Solomon, to the final (last-days) Son of God, Jesus, and now the (redeemed) sons of God, the Church—God has been seeking a people to worship Him.

We are called to worship, and our hearts are restless until we respond to that call by faith and obedience, and come and feast on Christ: ‘[W]hoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’ (John 6:35).

The consummate experience of this truth must await the final day when we will feast on, and with, the glorified Son of God Himself, at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

For now, it is right, fitting, and delightful to worship as God’s redeemed people; then, it will be right, fitting, and delightful to do so as God’s glorified people. It is why worship matters now—because it will matter then, forever.

And so, as we gather each Lord’s Day, between the now and not yet of God’s kingdom, let us worship God for who is He, as one eternal God in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and for what He has done in creation and redemption, and for what He will do in the coming consummation.

Let us worship God on earth as He is worshiped in heaven.”

–Jonathan Gibson, “Worship On Earth As It Is In Heaven,” Reformation Worship, Eds. Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2018), 20-21.

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“God’s gracious assault” by Michael Horton

“We do not find God; He finds us. Faith comes not by feeling, thinking, seeing, or striving, but by hearing. Proclamation does involve doctrinal and ethical instruction, of course. The law and the gospel not only kill and make alive; they direct our life and doctrine.

However, we must come to church expecting nothing less than God’s gracious assault on the citadels of our autonomy, our supposing that we could ascend to God by our theological acumen any more than by our actions.

This confrontation occurs not only in the sermon, but in the entire liturgy, including the singing, whose purpose is to ‘let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God’ (Col 3:16).

While carefully distinguishing the Spirit’s illumination of the preached Word from the Spirit’s inspiration of the canonical Word, we can affirm that the content– Christ and all His benefits– is exactly the same. This should create a sense of urgency and expectancy in our public assembly, as God addresses us here and now.”

–Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 763.

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“Worship in the church” by Peter Toon

“Worship in the church was centred on the Word of God and on free prayer.  This was possible because the Book of Common Prayer had been set aside in 1644 by Parliament and the Directory for Public Worship brought in to replace it.

Beginning with a solemn call to worship, followed by a prayer acknowledging the majesty of God and the sinfulness of man, the service proceeded with the singing of psalms and the public reading of Holy Scripture.

Then perhaps another psalm was sung before the long prayer that preceded the sermon was uttered.  This prayer began with a full confession of sin and a plea for divine grace and forgiveness.

It continued by beseeching God for the conversion of the Jews, the fall of Antichrist (the Pope), and the hastening of the second coming of Jesus Christ; for deliverance of the distressed churches abroad from the tyranny of Roman Catholicism and from the cruel blasphemies of the Turk and for blessing upon the Church in Britain.

Then came prayers of intercession for the King, Queen and Prince as well as for the Queen of Bohemia and the Elector Palatine of the Rhine.  Also the divine blessing was asked for those in positions of authority in England, for Parliament, the judges, magistrates, nobles and gentry.

Following this long prayer which would have taken anything from ten to twenty minutes, the people listened to a sermon which would have taken at least one hour.

This contained the exposition of one or more principles of the Faith from the Word with suitable application to the needs and hearts of the hearers.  Finally the worship closed with a prayer that the divine Word would bear fruit in repentant and obedient souls.”

–Peter Toon, God’s Statesman: The Life and Work of John Owen, Pastor, Educator, Theologian (London: Paternoster, 1971), 26. This is a description of the worship service in John Owen’s church at Coggeshall.

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