Why Church?

“To unite with the Church is to take one’s place among the followers of the Master. It is a public act. It is a confession of Christ before men. It is not a profession of superior saintliness. On the other hand, it is a distinct avowal of personal sinfulness and unworthiness. Those who seek admission into the church come as sinners, needing and accepting the mercy of God and depending upon the atonement of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. They come confessing Christ. They have heard his call, “Follow me,” and have responded.

Uniting with the Church is taking a place among the friends of Christ; it is coming out from the world to be on Christ’s side. There are but two parties among men. “He who is not with me is against me,” said Jesus. The Church consists of those who are with Christ. This suggests one of the reasons why those who love Christ should take their place in the Church. By so doing they declare to all the world where they stand—and cast all the influence of their life and example on Christ’s side.”

J.R. Miller, Uniting with the Church

A Bruised Reed and a Smoldering Wick: J.C. Ryle on Weak and Small Faith

a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench – Matthew 12:20a

What are we to understand by the bruised reed, and smoking flax?  The language of the prophet no doubt is figurative.  What is it that these two expressions mean?  The simplest explanation seems to be, that the Holy Ghost is here describing persons whose grace is at present weak, whose repentance is feeble, and whose faith is small.  Towards such persons the Lord Jesus Christ will be very tender and compassionate   Weak as the broke reed is, it shall not be broken.  Small as the spark of fire may be within the smoking flax, it shall not be quenched.  It is standing truth in the kingdom of grace, that weak grace, weak faith, and weak repentance, are all precious in our Lord’s sight.  Mighty as He is, “He despiseth not any” (Job  36:5).

The doctrine here laid down is full of comfort and consolation.  There are thousands in every church of Christ to whom it ought to speak peace and hope.  There are some in every congregation, that hears the Gospel, who are ready to despair of their own salvation, because their strength seems so small.  They are full of fears and despondency, because their knowledge, and faith, and hope, and love, appear so dwarfish and diminutive.  Let them drink comfort out of this text.  Let them know weak faith gives a man as real and true an interest in Christ as strong faith, though it may not give him the same joy.  There is life in an infant as truly as in a grown up man.  There is fire in a spark as truly as in a burning flame.  The least degree of grace is an everlasting possession.  It comes down from heaven.  It is precious in our Lord’s eyes.  It shall never be overthrown.

Does Satan make light of the beginnings of repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ?  No!  Indeed! He does not.  He has great wrath, because he sees his time is short.  Do the angels of God think lightly of the first signs of penitence and feeling after God in Christ?  No!  Indeed! “There is joy” among them, when they behold the sight.  Does the Lord Jesus regard no faith and repentance with interest, unless they are strong and mighty? No!  Indeed!  As soon as that bruised reed, Saul of Tarsus begins to cry to Him, He sends Ananias to him, saying, “Behold he prayeth” (Acts 9:11).  We err greatly if we do not encourage the very first movements of a soul towards Christ.  Let the ignorant world scoff and mock, if it will.  We may be sure that “bruised reeds” and “smoking flax” are very precious in our Lord’s eyes.

May we all lay these things to heart, and use them in time of need, both for ourselves and others.  It should be a standing maxim in our religion, that a spark is better than utter darkness, and little faith better than no faith at all.  “Who hath despised the day of small things?”  (Zechariah 4:10) It is not despised by Christ.  It ought not to be despised by Christians.

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew (Michigan: Baker Book House, 2007), 126-128.

The Battle at Fort Defiance

Revolution-MainHere is a bit of forgotten American history that I share for no other reason than my personal interest in the Revolutionary War.  To some, this may not seem like a theological post, but if you believe in the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, you will appreciate it.  Psalms 103:19 says, “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.”  In this world, nothing is left to chance.  The sovereign rule of God extends to all things, and that includes nations in world history.

So here it is. Did you know that the first and largest battle of the Revolutionary War was fought right here in Brooklyn, New York?  Although the battle itself was a defeat, it marks a critical turning point in the War.  It is April 1776, and the American General, George Washington arrives in Brooklyn, New York.  Alongside the New York Harbor, at Red Hook, Washington quickly recognizes the strategic value of a little holdout at Red Hook Point. He describes it as a small but “exceedingly strong defensive position”[1] and orders his soldiers to build a fort.

The events of August 27th, 1776 prove his instincts right.  In a bid to entrap and defeat Washington, the British Admiral Howe sails seven ships around Red Hook, and up the East River. Howe sends the Man-O-War Roebuck, the head ship of the British fleet, to lead the way. It is an overwhelming sight and a strong statement to the opposition.  The ship is so close to the Fort that the Patriot soldiers can see and hear the British sailors. The soldiers, outnumbered and ill-equipped, are now surrounded on three sides.  As they bravely hold the line against the advancing British fleet, they sustain enormous damage and casualties.  It is evident they are no match. But an unseasonable wind kicks in.  Recognizing the window of opportunity, and not knowing how long it will last, the Patriots unleash a barrage of fire so intense that Admiral Howe calls the pursuit off.  The fleet turns back abruptly.  Because of this retreat, Washington and his troops can escape (just barely!) under the cover of night. Had the winds of Providence blown a different way, had the Americans not waged such a relentless defense, Washington would have been forced to surrender or be destroyed. Instead, he and his army withdrew to Manhattan, regrouped, and went on to win the war.

So there you have it.  Fort Defiance.  Now you have a reason to visit Red Hook! :)

[1] Henry Whittemore, The Heroes of the American Revolution and their Descendants (New York: The Heroes of the Revolution Publishing Company, 1833) Digitized Version.

Other Sources Consulted:

The Fort that Saved America by John J. Burkard 

Bloodshed in Brooklyn by Frederick Foy

BOOK REVIEW & GIVEAWAY CONTEST: The Simple Gospel by Jon Cardwell

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Click here to pre-order The Simple Gospel by Jon Cardwell

Recently I was honored to receive a preliminary copy of Jon Cardwell’s most recent work, The Simple Gospel.  As many of you already know, Jon is Pastor at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Anniston, Alabama, and is the author of several books including Christ and Him Crucified.  His latest work, The Simple Gospel is a compilation of nine fairly short essays in which he unpacks the scriptures concerning several misrepresented (and misunderstood) topics such as propitiation through faith, manmade traditions, what it means to be born-again, and others. Despite its brevity (131 pages total), The Simple Gospel is theologically rich and scripturally dense. Cardwell demonstrates his high regard for the Word of God by supporting each assertion with multiple scriptures that he expounds upon.  This is the kind of book that you will want time to absorb fully

In the first chapter, Cardwell lays out the essential truths contained in the gospel by focusing on the Person and work of Jesus Christ in His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and restitution of all things upon His return.  A right understanding of these essential doctrines is important lest we have “believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:2) and if we are to grow in grace, and persevere.  It’s a humbling chapter to read in view of the fact that many Christians cannot stand up for the faith — let alone articulate it.

In a chapter called “The Trouble with Traditions of Men” Cardwell discusses how clinging to seemingly benign traditions —  like believing the three kings went to worship Jesus at the manger (despite biblical proof to the contrary) are indication of our own rejection of the Word of God.  When we downplay the importance of these errors we “testify against ourselves as Christian believers, behaving as if God’s gospel were powerless.” Cardwell concludes, “If we would only cling to Him and submit to the Spirit of Christ as much as we did our erroneous traditions, we might find ourselves walking in the spirit, moment by moment, in the Spirit’s power with the reality of the truth that the cross of Jesus Christ, according to God’s holy Word, is all that matters in the universe.”

In another chapter entitled “The Chief End of Man” Cardwell addresses the prevailing belief in many Western churches that church growth begins with “the felt needs” of the unchurched. He systematically and biblically dispels the faulty premises that support this thinking.  He writes, “The lack of discernment because we just don’t know the full counsel of God … is appallingly grievous and alarmingly disconcerting.  As church leaders in America, it seems that we have become more or less like Eve; deceived and unconscious of the truth  (2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:14); or like Adam; willfully disobedient to the truth (Romans 5:19; 2 Corinthians 11:3).”

In the final chapter, “A Glimpse of Eternity” Cardwell asserts that most Christians don’t have a biblical view of eternity.  Rather than renew our minds with the full counsel of God, many are too easily influenced by preachers who falsely assert Christians don’t need all sixty-six books of the Bible. “This is what really bothers me about skits, plays and dramas within the local congregations,” says Cardwell.  “In the Dark Ages, plays, icons, and the lighting of votive candles were used to placate the masses because the Word of God was not available to everyone … Why have we relapsed into such a sinister time?  We have lost the glimpse of heaven because we have removed the Word from its place of importance and replaced it with visual stimulation in skits, plays, dramas, and cinematic entertainment.”

In typical Cardwell fashion, each chapter of The Simple Gospel exalts Christ in his person and work. For Cardwell, it is Christ and him crucified — the whole counsel in its unadorned simplicity or nothing else.  The common thread in each essay is that the root of all debase thinking concerning Jesus Christ is the total depravity of man, and the downward tendency toward sin in redeemed men.  In an age when so many have grown weary of the plain gospel, where entertainment is preferred over preaching, where programs and pragmatism, fables and pleasures take the place of truth, Cardwell’s The Simple Gospel is a clarion call to return to the “old paths.”   It is a plea for biblical discernment in an age of error.

As in the day of Jeremiah, God is calling us back to “stand in the ways, and see.”  He desires that we “ask for the old paths where is the good way, and walk therein” (Jeremiah 6:16) because it is in the old gospel paths found in the Word of God, the way of the cross of Jesus Christ, that allows us to take the Lord’s yoke upon us to learn of Him, and we “shall find rest” for our souls (Matthew 11:28; 16:24).  – Jon Cardwell

kid-on-megaphone3GIVEAWAY CONTEST:  Jon Cardwell has generously made 5 ARC (Advanced Reader Copies) available in paperback. Thank you, Jon! You may enter the contest by leaving a comment on this post. And be sure to spread the word! If you share this on any other form of social media, indicate what you have done and I will add your name for each share.  The contest will close Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at 9pm EST.  Winners will be notified by email.