Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A Simple Church History Timeline

I have been teaching an ancient history course at a local homeschool co-op. In doing so, I have found that beginning with the worldwide flood of Noah's day, church history can be nicely summarized in five hundred year increments. Of course, church history begins with Adam and Eve, but the five hundred year increments do not work as nicely for the pre-flood period. I should also note that the two dates for the flood and for Abraham depend on how you calculate the length of time Israel spent in Egypt.

2500 BC - Great Flood (c. 2518 or 2348 BC)

2000 BC - Abraham (born c. 2166 or 1996 BC)

1500 BC - Exodus (c. 1446 BC)

1000 BC - King David (became king c. 1010 BC)

500 BC - Temple rebuilt (516 BC)

AD 1 - Jesus (born c. 4 BC)

AD 500 - Fall of Rome, conversion of the "barbarians" begins (last Roman emperor deposed in AD 476) 

AD 1000 - Vikings come to Christ, effectively completing the conversion of Europe.

AD 1500 - Protestant Reformation (Luther published his "95 Theses" in 1517)

AD 2000 - Christianity is worldwide 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Thoughts on "Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden"

Earlier this month, a group describing themselves as "Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden" issued a short statement explaining their support for Joe Biden for president, asserting that "Joe Biden’s policies are more consistent with the biblically shaped ethic of life than those of Donald Trump." That is a bold claim and I think it warrants some criticism.

I think the biggest error in the statement is when it compares the failure of the government to provide more healthcare and childcare with the civil government’s protection and support for murderers (in the case of abortion). Healthcare and childcare are natural responsibilities of the family - even the church needs to be careful to not supplant the family in caring for the needy (1 Timothy 5:3-6). But the civil government's foundational mandate is to punish the one who sheds innocent blood (Gen. 9:6). 

(Besides healthcare and childcare, the other Democratic policy it mentioned is raising the minimum wage, but President Trump has expressed openness to raising the federal minimum wage, although he prefers to gives the states the freedom to make their own decisions on the matter.)

Ironically, while opposing “one issue” political thinking, the statement still boils everything down to being “pro-life.” It neglects the importance of private property and religious liberty, the protection of which are also important duties of civil government. And both are being threatened by present trends in the Democratic party. It also neglects the issue of what role the civil government has in promoting a "biblical shaped ethic of life." The civil government is but one tool in the toolbox in the work of preserving the life of ourselves and our neighbors. 

I agree that a “biblically balanced” agenda is important. If you want to know what I think that looks like, check out this post: The Duty of Civil Government. Both political parties in our country fall short in some ways. Yet I am far from being convinced that Joe Biden’s policies reflect this biblical agenda more than Donald Trump’s. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Liberty of the Church

It is important for the well being of a nation for its civil government to protect and bless the church of Jesus Christ. The church of Christ is a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:2-3, Matt. 5:13-16, Acts 13:47), and Jesus takes the treatment of his church personally (Acts 9:4, Matt. 25:40, Zech. 2:8). 

In Genesis 12:2-3, God told Abraham, "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Some people use this today to argue that the civil government should support the modern state of Israel. There might be political reasons to support Israel, but this passage does not apply to it. It applies to Jesus Christ and his church. 

In Galatians 3 we learn that Jesus is the offspring of Abraham and heir of these promises, the one who brings blessing to the nations (Gal. 3:14-16). Blessed are the nations and rulers who submit to the Lord Jesus. We also learn that those who are in Christ are the offspring of Abraham and heirs of these promises (Gal. 3:29). Abraham is the father of those, Jew or Gentile, who walk in the footsteps of his faith (Rom. 4:11-12). Christ's church can claim the promises made to Abraham. The church of Christ, Jew and Gentile, is a continuation of Israel (Rom. 11). 

Isaiah contains prophecies of the restoration of God's people, particularly with the coming of the Messiah. This restoration and expansion includes an inclusion of the Gentiles and the support of the nations' civil rulers. These prophecies began to be fulfilled when the rulers of Persia supported the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. But combined as they are with the coming of the Messiah, they continue to speak to the present new covenant age. 

God tells his people that "Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers" (Is. 49:23). He promises the church that "Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you" (Is. 60:10). God tells his people, "You shall suck the milk of nations; you shall nurse at the breast of kings; and you shall know that I, the LORD, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob" (Is. 60:16). Not only is this a prediction, but this is also his will and desire, for God also gives a warning concerning those who do not support his church, "For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste" (Is. 60:12). 

Our Presbyterian doctrinal standards reflect this point. It its exposition of the Lord's Prayer, our larger catechism teaches us to pray that the church be "countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate." The confession of faith also address this in its chapter "Of the Civil Magistrate." In short, it says that while civil magistrates may not take over the church's functions, yet it is their duty to protect the church as "nursing fathers" (a reference to Isaiah 49:23 and 60:16), such that "ecclesiastical persons" (church officers) are free to discharge "every part of their sacred functions." Here's the full statement:

"Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance." (23.3). 

Fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies have been seen throughout much of church history. Historically our country has sought to protect the freedom of religion and to be supportive of the church through policies like tax-exemption and sabbath laws. But over the last century there has been a growing hostility to any special favor and protection to Christianity, the church, and the practice of religion. Many Christians themselves have grown skeptical or lukewarm about the church and organized religion. In some cases, this zeal for Christ's church has been replaced with a religious zeal for the modern state of Israel. Sometimes America itself replaces the church as the object of religious zeal and hope. Often the church is neglected due to a conception of the faith centered on the individual and subjective experience, the church serving as an optional boost to a person's spirituality. We should not expect society to value the church and take religion seriously if Christians treat it lightly. I hope that the trials of this year may awaken American Christians to the importance of the visible church and its ministry, community, and public worship. May God grant us good rulers who value the church and promote its freedom, and may he direct us to use this freedom well. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

How Not to Receive God's Word

"St. John the Baptist preaching before Herod Antipas" by Pieter de Grebber

A week ago, I preached on Matthew 13:53-14:12, which tells of the rejection of Jesus in his hometown of Nazareth and the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod at the request of Herodias. You can listen to the full sermon here. Something I pointed out in this text are the hinderances which led astray the people of Nazareth and Herod and Herodias. May we beware these hinderances so that we might receive the word of God with benefit. 

1. Familiarity. As the saying goes, “familiarly breeds contempt.” The people of Nazareth were familiar with Jesus and his family and this led to their contempt for his messianic claims. Your familiarity with Jesus can lead to apathy if you are not careful. And your familiarity with those who preach Jesus and share his word can also be a hinderance. You know his disciples and his preachers are normal people, flawed, weak, inconsistent at times; who are they to correct you and show you the way to life? 

2. Offense at Jesus. The people of Nazareth took offense at Jesus and his claims. Jesus is a stumbling block for some. He is not the man or message they wanted. Some are offended at his mercy. Some at his judgment. Some at his humble condition. Some at his message (repentance, atonement, grace, self-denial). Blessed are those who are not offended by him (Matt. 11:6). As Calvin said, “We are not liberty to imagine to ourselves a Christ that corresponds to our fancy, but ought simply to embrace him as he is offered by the Father.”

3. Unbelief. Jesus did not do many miracles in Nazareth because of their unbelief. They saw, but did not truly see. You need faith to receive benefit from Jesus. If you think of salvation like water, then faith is like a bottle - without faith you cannot receive salvation. Without faith, all the grace remains out there, of no benefit to you. And Jesus takes away what is not received. He does not "cast pearls before swine" (Matt. 7:6). 

4. Resentment at rebuke. Herod and Herodias grew hostile when they were corrected by John. Do not let your pride and lust get in the way of faith and repentance. Hunger and thirst for righteousness, so much that you are willing to be corrected and to deny your desires. The kingdom of heaven is for the humble. Be willing to listen to reproof. 

5. Pleasures. Herod was ensnared at a birthday feast by a dance. Beware lest pleasures and entertainments leave you unguarded. Always be vigilant against sin, even in your mirth. Beware lest entertainments lead you astray into pride, lust, and folly. Do not be a slave of your passions like Herod, easily manipulated, led from one sin to another. Be discerning with the movies you watch, the songs you listen to, and the events you go to. Entertainments are often good in principle, but can be corrupted by design or by your use of them. 

6. Rash oaths and the praise of man. Herod carried out the execution of John because of the oath he had made and because of the crowds. Oaths cannot make sin a duty. But when an oath requires sin, in that case they are vain oaths (and it is wrong to use oaths in that way) and they serve as a temptation to sin (because of social pressure). So beware of the commitments you make. And beware the love of man’s praise. Do not be driven by the crowd lest they steer you to do evil. 

So be wary of these hinderances and receive the word of God with faith, that you might be fruitful disciples of Christ and heirs of the kingdom. Even though the men of Nazareth and Herod and Herodias fell prey to these hinderances, yet others steered clear of them and received the word. While many in Nazareth rejected Jesus, yet Jesus’ mother and brothers would believe in him and formed part of the early church in Acts 1:14. And while Herod opposed John, yet we find that his steward’s wife Joanna became a disciple and helped support Jesus financially (Luke 8:3) and that Herod’s life-long friend Manaen became either a prophet or teacher in the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1). The word bore fruit, even though it was rejected by some. Praise be to God who opens the eyes of the blind that we might turn and be saved. May we all be good soil for the word of God, turning at its reproofs, trusting its promises and claims, and obeying its commands as disciples of Jesus Christ. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

William Tyndale on the Need for Reformation

On this day (October 6) in 1536, William Tyndale, Bible translator and Protestant reformer, was burned at the stake for heresy. His desire and goal can be seen in the following salutation and prayer from the preface to his book, "An Answer unto Sir Thomas More's Dialogue" (1531). 

“The grace of our Lord, the light of his Spirit to see and judge, true repentance towards God’s law, a fast faith in the merciful promises that are in our Saviour Christ, fervent love toward thy neighbour after the ensample of Christ and his saints, be with thee, O reader, and with all that love the truth, and long for the redemption of God’s elect. Amen.” 

And the beginning of the book, he described the need for reform in the church in this way, 

"This word church hath divers significations. First it signifieth a place or house; whither christian people were wont in the old time to resort at times convenient, for to hear the word of doctrine, the law of God, and the faith of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and how and what to pray, and whence to ask power and strength to live godly. For the officer, thereto appointed, preached the pure word of God church only, and prayed in a tongue that all men understood: and the people hearkened unto his prayers, and said thereto Amen; and prayed with him in their hearts, and of him learned to pray at home and everywhere, and to instruct every man his household.

"Where now we hear but voices without significations, and buzzings, howlings, and cryings, as it were the hallooing of foxes, or baitings of bears; and wonder at disguisings and toys, whereof we know no meaning. By reason whereof we be fallen into such ignorance, that we know of the mercy and promises, which are in Christ, nothing at all. And of the law of God we think as do the Turks, and as did the old heathen people; how that it is a thing which every man may do of his own power, and in doing thereof becometh good, and waxeth righteous, and deserveth heaven; yea, and are yet more mad than that: for we imagine the same of fantasies, and vain ceremonies of our own making; neither needful unto the taming of our own flesh, neither profitable unto our neighbour, neither honour unto God. And of prayer we think, that no man can pray but at church; and that it a nothing else but to say Pater noster unto a post: wherewith yet, and with other observances of our own imagining, we believe we deserve to be sped of all that our blind hearts desire."


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

John Calvin on Birthdays

This Sunday I plan to preach on Matthew 13:53-14:12, which tells of Jesus rejection at his hometown and John the Baptist's execution at the hands of Herod. In his commentary on this passage, John Calvin (1509-1564) addresses the practice of celebrating one's birthday, since Herod was persuaded to execute John at Herod's birthday party. Obviously, this particular birthday party was the occasion of a great sin, so Calvin points out the temptations that accompany celebrations, but he also points out that birthday celebrations themselves are lawful and can be a beneficial observance if rightly used.
"The ancient custom of observing a birthday every year as an occasion of joy cannot in itself be disapproved; for that day, as often as it returns, reminds each of us to give thanks to God, who brought us into this world, and has permitted us, in his kindness, to spend many years in it; next, to bring to our recollection how improperly and uselessly the time which God granted to us has been permitted to pass away; and, lastly, that we ought to commit ourselves to the protection of the same God for the remainder of our life.

"But nothing is so pure that the world shall not taint it with its own vices. A birthday, which ought to have been held sacred, is profaned by the greater part of men with disgraceful abuses; and there is scarcely a single entertainment at all costly that is free from wicked debauchery. First, men drink more freely; next, the door is opened to filthy and immodest conversation; and, lastly, no moderation is observed. This was the reason why the patriarch Job was in the habit of offering sacrifices, while his sons were feasting alternately in each other’s houses (Job 1:5). It was because he thought that, when the guests invite one another to mirth, they are far from maintaining due moderation, and sin in a variety of ways." (source)
His reference to Job points us to what is probably another biblical reference to birthday celebrations (the phrase in Job 1:4, "his day," is also used in Job 3:1 where it clearly refers to the day of one's birth). As Calvin describes birthdays, so Job 1:4-5 portrays birthdays both as a good thing, a sign of God's blessing upon Job's family, as well as a possible occasion of sin. 
"His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, 'It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.' Thus Job did continually." (Job 1:4–5)
Indeed, as Calvin says, "nothing is so pure that the world shall not taint it with its own vices." Let us not make the day an occasion of selfishness or a time when we lower our guard against sin, but rather may each of us make a good use of this observance when it comes. May we gratefully mark the life God has given us and "number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Ps. 90:12), rejoicing in the mercy he has shown. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven

In Matthew 13:31–33, Jesus tells two parables about the growth of the kingdom of heaven on earth during this age. 

The parable of the mustard seed:

"He put another parable before them, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.'" (13:31-32)

The mustard seed was proverbially small, and yet it grew to tower over all the vegetables, growing to be about 10 feet tall. Jesus describes it as a tree, recalling Old Testament imagery. In Daniel 4:10-12, 20-22 King Nebuchadnezzar and his imperial dominion is described as a great tree in which the birds find shelter. In Ezekiel 17:22-24 God promises to plant the offspring of David as a twig that will become a great tree in which the birds find shelter. Thus Jesus describes the extensive growth of the kingdom of heaven over the earth. The nations will take refuge in it.

The parable of the leaven:

"He told them another parable. 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.'" (13:33)

The hidden leaven grows to transform every part of the dough. Three measures is a lot of flour, around 60lbs of flour, enough to feed about 150 people, so that Jesus emphasizes the vast and pervasive transformation resulting from what appears to be a little thing. In Matthew 16:5-12, Jesus warned of the "leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees," referring to their teaching. So in this parable, he refers to the transforming and contagious impact of his teachings. He describes the intensive growth of the kingdom in the earth, impacting every part. 

From these two parables we learn three things about the kingdom of heaven:

1. The kingdom of heaven begins small and often works in hidden ways. Its weapons are not of the flesh or of the world, but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4). It looks foolish and weak until it puts the wise and powerful to shame. Many of its victories are not public or the kinds of things that make the news. It becomes evident in time, but it continues to work even when its work is not so evident. 

2. The kingdom of heaven grows during this age. It does not come to earth fully formed - not as a tree, but as a seed. It does not win with one decisive battle, but a long campaign in which it progressively gains ground. Its growth might be imperceptible - try watching dough rise or a plant grow - but it is progressive and ongoing. The progress can be seen in the light of history.

3. There is a twofold benefit to this kingdom: it is a shelter and a transforming power. It is a tree where the birds make their nest and it is leaven which transforms the dough. First, it is a shelter where there is reconciliation with God rather than condemnation, favor rather than wrath. In this kingdom there is justification and adoption, and thus peace and joy, through Jesus Christ (Col. 1:12-14). Second, it is a power which sanctifies, turning people from sin unto righteousness. Jesus reigns in our hearts by his grace, producing sanctification, societal reform, and a new way of life. His kingdom is the opposite of sin’s corrupting effect. As a little sin can spread its corrupting influence in people and communities (1 Cor. 5:6), so the reign of Christ spreads is reforming influence in people and communities. 

For more on these two parables and six practical implications of these lessons, listen to my recent sermon: The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Public Reading of Scripture

Recently in our church, the elders decided that I would read both the Old Testament and New Testament readings in worship. This brings our practice more into conformity with the OPC Directory for Public Worship. While it allows ruling elders and men training for the ministry to read Scripture in worship as the session deems fitting, it also says that the public reading of Scripture is ordinarily to be done by the minister of the Word. 

“Because the hearing of God's Word is a means of grace, the public reading of the Holy Scriptures is an essential element of public worship. He who performs this serves as God's representative voice. Thus, it ordinarily should be performed by a minister of the Word.” (DPW II.A.2.a)

The public reading of Scripture is an essential part of Christian worship and of a minister’s duty. Just as reading the Scripture was a part of weekly Old Testament worship in the synagogue (Acts 13:27, Acts 15:21), so Paul exhorted Timothy concerning New Testament worship, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). In fact, it is evidence of the fact that the apostles viewed their teachings as on par with the Old Testament when they directed the churches to read their writings in the assembly (1 Thess. 5:27, Col. 4:16). When John wrote the book of Revelation, he wrote it to the seven churches via their “angels,” that is, their preachers (the word can be translated “messengers”; Rev. 2:1, 2:8, etc.), who would “read aloud the words of this prophecy” so that the people of the churches would “hear” it (Rev. 1:3). 

Our OPC Directory for Public Worship builds upon the earlier Directory for Public Worship written by the Westminster Assembly in 1645, which said, 

“Reading of the word in the congregation, being part of the publick worship of God, (wherein we acknowledge our dependence upon him, and subjection to him,) and one mean sanctified by him for the edifying of his people, is to be performed by the pastors and teachers. Howbeit, such as intend the ministry, may occasionally both read the word, and exercise their gift in preaching in the congregation, if allowed by the presbytery thereunto … Beside publick reading of the holy scriptures, every person that can read, is to be exhorted to read the scriptures privately, (and all others that cannot read, if not disabled by age, or otherwise, are likewise to be exhorted to learn to read,) and to have a Bible.” 

The Westminster Assembly also included this distinction between public and private Bible reading in our Larger Catechism (1646), which in answer to question 156 says,

“Although all are not to be permitted to read the word publicly to the congregation, yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves, and with their families…” 

The Westminster Assembly defended this position in its Form of Presbyterial Church Government (1646). There it said of pastors that 

“ belongs to his office … To read the Scriptures publickly; for the proof of which, 1. That the priests and Levites in the Jewish church were trusted with the publick reading of the word is proved (Deut. 31:9-11, Neh. 8:1-3, Neh. 8:13). 2. That the ministers of the gospel have as ample a charge and commission to dispense the word, as well as other ordinances, as the priests and Levites had under the law, proved, where our Saviour entitleth the officers of the New Testament, whom he will send forth, by the same names of the teachers of the Old (Is. 66:21, Matt. 23:34). Which propositions prove, that therefore (the duty being of a moral nature) it followeth by just consequence, that the publick reading of the scriptures belongeth to the pastor’s office.” 

With respect to the Old Testament practice, I might add that later on it seems that public reading and teaching was also done by rabbis under the supervision of the elders, which is why Jesus and Paul were able to read and teach in the synagogue despite not being Levites. Yet I do not think it affects the assembly's argument much, since the public reading was still restricted to approved men who find their New Testament equivalent in the ordained pastors and teachers of the church. I think their argument from the Old Testament is sound, but I also realize that many Christians today might find the argument from New Testament that I mentioned above (1 Tim. 4:13, Rev. 1-3) more convincing. 

You will notice that the Westminster Assembly, unlike the OPC directory, does not make an exception for ruling elders to lead public worship. Presbyterians have differed over the years on where exactly to draw the line between ruling elders and teaching elders. We they have generally agreed that while all elders ought to be able to teach and defend the faith, among the elders of the church there are some elders "who labor in the word and doctrine" (1 Tim. 5:17 NKJV) and that these "teaching elders" or "ministers of the word" are at least primarily responsible for the public reading and preaching of Scripture. 

Why is all this important? Not only as a history lesson, but because Scripture is central to the relationship between God and his people. It is the covenantal document that binds us to him. It seems ironic that many liberal mainline churches and Roman Catholic churches have more Scripture reading in their service than many Bible-believing evangelical and fundamentalist churches. The Bible itself and our Presbyterian heritage would urge us to cherish the public reading of Scripture as an essential part of worship in its own right (in addition to preaching, prayer, etc.). May the messengers of the churches read the word, as well as preach the word, with authority and clarity. May we all listen attentively and receive it with understanding, reverence, and faith. 

"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near." (Revelation 1:3) 

Examples of Biblical Meditation

“The hearing of the Word may affect us, but the meditating upon it transforms us.” 
-Thomas Watson

About two months ago, I taught a Sunday school lesson on Christian meditation (you can listen to it at this link). I began by addressing problems related to meditation (e.g. not meditating, meditating on sinful or unhelpful things, meditation driven by false religion). I also noted the various uses of the term: there is a place for counting sheep to help you sleep, but this is not a form of spirituality nor is it what the Bible has in mind when it speaks of meditation. 

God exhorts his people to meditate on his word (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2, 119:23, 78), on what he has done (Psalm 143:5, 145:5), and on the glorious splendor of his majesty (Psalm 145:5). In Psalm 143:5, this practice is described with three parallel terms: remember, meditate, ponder. Bringing these passages together, Thomas Watson described biblical meditation in this way: “It is a holy exercise of the mind whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance, and do seriously ponder upon them and apply them to ourselves” (Heaven Taken by Storm, p. 23).

Not only does Scripture tell us to meditate and on what to meditate, but it also gives us examples of what meditation looks like. Consider these three Psalms:

Psalm 19This psalm is described as a meditation in the final verse (19:14). There are three things on which the psalm meditates. The first is God's revelation of himself through his creation. For the first six verses, the Psalm looks up to the sky and considers how it displays the wisdom and majesty of God to all the earth. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (19:1). The second thing on which the psalm reflects is the word of God. For five verses, it reflects on the attributes of God's word, attributes which reflect its divine author. It observes that Scripture is perfect, life-giving, trustworthy, morally upright, pure, enlightening, true, giving joy and wisdom even to the simple. Therefore it is of great benefit to those who read it and observe it. It turns them from danger unto salvation. The word is more precious than fine gold; it is sweeter than honey. The third thing on which the psalm meditates is the self. It turns from examining the creation and God's word to self-examination. "Who can discern his errors?" (19:12) Our sins and need for mercy are particularly noticeable after reflecting on God's works and word. And so the meditation ends with a prayer for forgiveness and sanctification. "Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!" (19:12-13) 

Psalm 77. This psalm recounts a meditation which moves from discouragement to hope. The psalmist begins his meditation during a restless night in a troubled state of mind: "when I meditate, my spirit faints" (77:3). Then in verse 6, he revolves to meditate in his heart and make diligent search with his spirit, considering questions like "Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased?" (77:7–8a). Then in verse 10 he appeals to the character of God revealed by his past deeds and resolves to bring these deeds to remembrance. "I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds" (77:12). In the rest of the psalm, he recounts God's works of deliverance, how he led his people like a flock through the sea by the hand of Moses and Aaron. This meditation is both an encouragement to the psalmist and an appeal to God to act in accordance with his past deeds. 

Psalm 104. This psalm, like Psalm 19, is described as a meditation at the end of the psalm, "May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD" (104:34). The psalm is an extended meditation on God’s works in nature. It meditates on his work of creation and his ongoing work of providence. After observing and describing these works, it notes how they display his wisdom (104:24), generosity (104:27-28), sovereignty (104:29-30, 32), and glory (104:31). The result is that these observations move the psalmist to joy (104:34), worship (104:33), and a zeal for God and his reign (104:35). 

In all of these examples, God's word, works, and character are brought to mind and pondered. Implications are drawn out and observations are made. And all three of these examples are practical. The meditations leads to conviction, comfort, joy, and reverence. 

This kind of thoughtful meditation might not be natural to you. The mind likes to wander and there are many things that call out for our attention. It takes self-discipline to focus our mind. It takes some resolve to set aside time to think. But the effort is worth it. Meditation is good for us. It allows the word of God to settle more deeply into our minds and hearts. To benefit from food, not only do you need to chew it and swallow it. You also need to digest it. And as cows digest their food by chewing the cud, so we have need to recall what we have heard and read and to chew on it more to receive its nourishment. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Goal of Christian Discipleship

"The aim of our charge is love that issues from 
a pure heart and a good conscience 
and a sincere faith." 
(1 Timothy 1:5)

In this verse, the apostle Paul succinctly summarizes the goal of Christian instruction. It is easy to get sidetracked. It is easy to drift from the mission. We should regularly come back to the goal. What are we seeking? Our goal is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 

In 1 Timothy 1:3-7, instruction that aims for this goal is contrasted with unprofitable instruction. Not only is Timothy told to charge people to not teach any "different doctrine" - that is, false doctrine - but also to not devote themselves to "myths and endless genealogies." Why? Because they "promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith." There is some debate about what myths and endless genealogies were in view when Paul wrote this letter, but we do not need to know the exact identity. The point is that there are some extra-biblical teachings which are dangerous not because they are heretical, but because they are distracting. They promote speculation rather than godliness. When we loose sight of our aim, we are in danger of wandering away into vain discussion. We must be careful to not devote ourselves to such things. Beware of teachers who focus on speculations, theories, rumors, and indifferent things. Look for edifying instruction. 

This point is useful in two ways. First, this aim described in 1 Timothy 1:5 should be the goal of Christian instruction. This should be the goal of pastors. It should be the goal of parents as they train their children. It should be the goal of all Christians as they seek to edify their brothers and speak the truth in love. Do you speak and share things which promote this aim? Second, this should be the instruction that we seek. We should look to fill our minds with teaching that promotes this aim. Examine what you listen to and what you read - how much of it is edifying? How much of it fulfills this aim? 

Biblical doctrine is not the only edifying thing to study - we must also study this world to fulfill our callings in it - but it is the most edifying thing to study and it is infallibly edifying. Biblical doctrine accords with godliness (2 Tim. 6:3, Titus 1:1). It is through biblical doctrine that we are saved (Rom. 1:16, 2 Tim. 3:15), and it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). It is designed to achieve this end. 

"Our charge" in 1 Timothy 1:5 refers to the gospel which Paul and Timothy and other teachers of the church have been charged to preach and defend. Indeed, the whole church is to be a "pillar and buttress of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:16), the revealed truth of Scripture. The aim of this ministry is "love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." We have been given a mission and we have been given the proper tool which is designed for this mission, which is the word of God.

Consider what is involved in this goal. "Love" includes both love for God and for neighbor, and as such it fulfills the two greatest commandments (Mark 12:29-31). It is an inner affection and devotion which results in action. It expresses itself in mercy, kindness, faithfulness, and righteousness. This godly love is defined in part by its source. A "pure heart" is one that is devoted to God, having been cleansed by Christ and released from bondage to sin (for more on a pure heart see this post on the corresponding beatitude and this post on 1 Peter 1:22). A "good conscience" is in contrast to a seared conscience (1 Tim. 4:2) and a defiled conscience (Titus 1:15). It is a clear conscience with respect to the sincerity of one's profession of the faith and service of God (1 Tim. 3:9, 2 Tim. 1:3). A "sincere faith" is a genuine and unfeigned trust in God and his word (Rom. 4). By this faith, a person beholds, receives, and rests upon the mercy of God in Christ. This true faith results in action (Heb. 11) and works through love (Gal. 5:6). Paul spoke of "sincere faith" again when he wrote to Timothy the second time: "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well" (2 Tim. 1:5). May it dwell in the hearts of many, being planted and nourished by sound doctrine, bringing forth love as its fruit. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Shamgar the Son of Anath

"After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel." (Judges 3:31)

Shamgar’s story is told in one verse, and yet it is an encouraging story for God’s people. One of the few things noted about him is that he saved Israel not with iron blade and chariot wheel, but with the humble oxgoad - a stick with a sharp end which was used to prod cattle. The other passage that makes reference to him, Judges 5:6-8, notes that in his days the highways were abandoned. They were lawless days and people lived in fear. It also seems their enemies had kept them from accessing shields and spears (Judges 5:8, 1 Sam. 13:19). Even though Shamgar lived in dark times when the people of God were weak and outgunned, yet with faith and zeal he took up his oxgoad and fought to deliver his people. 

We learn from his story to not be discouraged in such times, for God is able to restore his church by what looks foolish and weak in the eyes of the world. May God raise up many with the boldness of Shamgar to contend against the world, the flesh, and the devil, forces which seek to keep the peoples in darkness and destroy the church of Christ. They have certain advantages, but God has given us the means to destroy strongholds and overcome the world: the word of God and prayer (Eph. 6:10-20), faith in Christ (1 John 5:4-5), and the fruit of the Spirit (2 Cor. 6:6-7, 10:4-5). He can work great victories through cattle herders like Shamgar and fishermen like Peter, for they are but instruments of his mighty power. May God use our faith and obedience for the good of his people and the triumph of his advancing kingdom. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Chrysostom on Bringing Heaven to Earth

As I have been preaching through the gospel of Matthew, I have been reading several commentaries such as those by John Calvin (1509-1564), David Dickson (1583-1663), and R.T. France (1938-2012). For a perspective from the early church, I have also been reading the sermons of John Chrysostom (347-407). Chrysostom gained his name (which means "golden-mouthed") from his reputation as a good preacher who was eloquent, engaging, and bold. His preaching was also respected by the Reformers for his exegetical and practical approach as he worked verse by verse though books of the Bible. You can read many of his sermons here (his sermons on the Gospel of Matthew are here). Here I want to share the ending of his sermon on Matthew 12:38-45 where he exhorts his congregation on the perennial issue of Christ and culture, of being "in the world but not of the world," of being godly in the midst of our earthly callings.

"Let us show forth then a new kind of life. Let us make earth, heaven; let us hereby show the Greeks, of how great blessings they are deprived. For when they behold in us good conversation [behavior], they will look upon the very face of the kingdom of Heaven...

"Let us take heed therefore to ourselves, that we may gain them also. I say nothing burdensome. I say not, do not marry. I say not, forsake cities, and withdraw thyself from public affairs; but being engaged in them, show virtue. Yea, and such as are busy in the midst of cities, I would fain have more approved than such as have occupied the mountains [as monks]. Wherefore? Because great is the profit thence arising. 'For no man lighteth a candle, and setteth it under the bushel' (Matt. 5:15). Therefore I would that all the candles were set upon the candlestick, that the light might wax great.

"Let us kindle then His fire; let us cause them that are sitting in darkness to be delivered from their error. And tell me not, 'I have a wife, and children belonging to me, and am master of a household, and cannot duly practise all this.' For though thou hadst none of these, yet if thou be careless, all is lost; though thou art encompassed with all these, yet if thou be earnest, thou shalt attain unto virtue ... For so Daniel was young, and Joseph a slave, and Aquila wrought at a craft, and the woman who sold purple was over a workshop, and another was the keeper of a prison, and another a centurion, as Cornelius; and another in ill health, as Timothy; and another a runaway, as Onesimus; but nothing proved an hindrance to any of these, but all were approved, both men and women, both young and old, both slaves and free, both soldiers and people.

"Let us not then make vain pretexts, but let us provide a thoroughly good mind, and whatsoever we may be, we shall surely attain to virtue, and arrive at the good things to come; by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom be unto the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, glory, might, honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen." 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Sermon Podcast for Covenant Family Church

If you are interested, not only can you find my sermons online, but you can also subscribe to them as a podcast. Go to Covenant Family Church's page on Sermon Audio (here) and click on the podcast button for ways to subscribe. The podcast button is circled in the screenshot below.

Each Sunday the sermon and the Sunday school lesson will appear on the feed. The current sermon series is on the Gospel of Matthew. In Sunday school the current series is composed of questions from the congregation (e.g. what is Christian meditation? What are some misconceptions about the end times? What are some reasons for singing traditional hymns and Psalms?) 

Of course, you are also welcome to join us in person on Sunday mornings at 968 Meyer Road, Wentzville 63385. Our Sunday school lesson goes from 10:00-10:30am and our worship service begins at 11am. If you have any questions, you can contact me here.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Enduring to the End

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)

In this verse, Jesus exhorts his disciples to be faithful to him to the end, enduring any hatred or reproach which should come their way on his account. There are many ways in which the fallen world, the evil one, and our own sinful desires tempt us to forsake Christ. But we are called to persevere in the faith. Perseverance is a gift of God given to his elect - all who are chosen by God and who come to true faith in Christ will endure to the end (Rom. 8:28-30, Phil. 1:6, John 10:28-29). Nevertheless, it is also something which we do, using the means he has given. One mark of true faith is that it is a faith that endures. 

We are called to press onward to the finish line. We run to obtain the prize (1 Cor. 9:24, Phil. 3:12-14). A runner doesn’t get credit for running the race unless he crosses the finish line. As Hebrews 12:1-3 says, we must run the race with endurance, laying aside the sin which weighs us down, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who also endured and was exalted. 

Do not think you have sacrificed enough, as if you are owed a reprieve. Do not think weariness will excuse compromise or apostasy.  Endure to the end, unto death, so that your profession and suffering is not in vain. Those who confess Christ will be acknowledge by Christ, but those who deny Christ will be denied by him (Matt. 10:32-33). Perseverance in the faith is a condition of salvation (Col. 1:21-23). “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). 

I hope you see that perseverance is important. How then do we persevere? We persevere by God's grace, but here are means that God uses:
  • We persevere by faith in Christ, trusting him more than anything else, drawing strength from our union with him (Col. 1:23, 2:7, 19). 
  • We grow in this union and strengthen our faith by participation in the visible church and a diligent use of God's ordinances, especially the word of God, the sacraments, and prayer (Acts 2:42, Heb. 10:23-25). 
  • We strengthen this faith by exercising this faith, like one exercises his muscles, by putting it into practice, especially in trials. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3). Smaller trials prepare you for larger ones. 
  • We strengthen this faith by growing in spiritual maturity, for like a plant we either grow or die. This involves a life of repentance where we continue to turn from our sins and to develop godly virtues. “For if these qualities [faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, love, etc.] are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ … Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (2 Peter 1:8–10)
  • We also strengthen this faith by looking to the end: the one who endures to the end will be saved. There is an end. Trials and suffering will not last forever, and the result is glorious and eternal. Full deliverance from sin, suffering, and danger will be granted to those who endure. They will not be harmed by the second death. They will inherit honor and reward and blessing and unbroken fellowship with God. Why did Moses consider "the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt"? Because "he was looking to the reward" (Heb. 11:24-26). 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

God's Promise and the Future

Last Sunday, I addressed some common misconceptions about the end times during our Sunday school lesson. You can listen to the lesson here. In addition to dealing with the rapture, the great tribulation, and the "terminal generation," I also asserted that the idea that the future will be one of increasing wickedness and decline until Christ comes is mistaken. Bad times are not unique to the end times. Sin, error, suffering, disasters, and apostasy have been around ever since Adam's fall. Rather, while "in this world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33), yet the future is one of increasing victory and blessing. Jesus is conquering the world, a conquest which culminates at his return. 

There are many passages in Scripture which portray this hopeful view of the future, such as Genesis 12:1-3, Psalms 2, 72, 110, Isaiah 2:1-5, 11:1-10, Daniel 2:31-45, 7:13-14, Matthew 13:24-33, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, and 1 John 2:8, 17. One which I noticed more recently is Genesis 22:17-18. This was God's reassertion of his promise to Abraham after Abraham had demonstrated his faith by his willingness to sacrifice Isaac at God's command:
"I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:17–18)
This remains God’s promise to his people, particularly to Jesus Christ and those who believe in him. In Galatians 3, Paul describes how this promise was made to Jesus, the offspring of Abraham, and by extension to all who are in Christ (Gal. 3:7-9, 16, 29). Consider what this means for us: 

"I will surely bless you..." God promises to bless Christ’s church, to revoke the curse which was laid upon humanity in Adam and to grant them his grace and favor through faith in Christ. 

"...I will surely multiply your offspring..." God promises to greatly increase the church's numbers so that it becomes an innumerable host.

"...your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies..." God promises to give Christ and his church victory over his enemies. A person might grant that the church will grow, but might qualify this by saying fallen humanity will grow quicker - yet here the church is promised not mere parallel growth but victorious growth, not mere preservation but advance. Not only shall the gates of hell not prevail against the church, but Christ and the church shall prevail against the gates of hell. Christ conquers through his grace and judgment and uses the spiritual weapons of his church to promote his kingdom among his enemies. 

" your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed..." God promises to use his church to successfully bring the blessing of Christ to all nations. Not only shall the gospel be preached to all nations, but in time it shall be a blessing to all the nations. In time, all the nations shall receive Christ by faith and receive the blessings of Christ's reign.

Even though these promises have been continually unfolding since they were spoken to Abraham, yet they can be difficult to believe when we see the sin, error, and apostasy which surround us. Our personal experience might not seem to match up with the picture painted by these promises. But if you find these promises hard to believe in our day, imagine how hard it was for Abraham. And yet he believed. Even before Isaac was born and when his body was "as good as dead" (Rom. 4:19), he believed his offspring would be like the stars and the sand and that all the nations would be blessed through him. 
“No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:18-21)
Like our father Abraham, let us believe God and his promises, knowing that our perspectives are limited and God's power is not. And also like Abraham, let us put our faith into practice by obeying God's voice. Have confidence in the reigning Christ, in the directions he has given us, and in the means he has appointed to establish and extend his kingdom. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Augustine and Covenant Theology

Recently I was looking back over The City of God by Augustine and came across what has become a classic description of the unity of old and new covenants as administrations of God’s redemptive grace. In his discussion of God’s covenant with Abraham, Augustine writes, 
“For what else does circumcision signify than a nature renewed on the putting off of the old? And what else does the eighth day mean than Christ, who rose again when the week was completed, that is, after the Sabbath? The very names of the parents are changed: all things proclaim newness, and the new covenant is shadowed forth in the old. For what does the term old covenant imply but the concealing of the new? And what does the term new covenant imply but the revealing of the old?” (The City of God, 16.26)
In describing why infants received a symbol of renewal, Augustine goes on to distinguish these covenants from the covenant of works made with mankind through Adam: 
“But even the infants, not personally in their own life, but according to the common origin of the human race, have all broken God’s covenant in that one in whom all have sinned. Now there are many things called God’s covenants besides those two great ones, the old and the new, which any one who pleases may read and know. For the first covenant, which was made with the first man, is just this: ‘In the day ye eat thereof, ye shall surely die.’” (The City of God, 16.27) 
While the covenantal nature of God's dealings with man received a great deal of attention following the Reformation, especially by Reformed and Presbyterian theologians, here we see the same basic understanding articulated by Augustine in the early 5th century. Outside the covenant of grace, we are all condemned by our violation of the first covenant and are doomed to death. But God has made his covenant of grace with those who believe in Christ and their offspring, administering it now in its new covenant form with greater clarity and efficacy. 

I have written more about the Reformed doctrine of the covenant in this blog post. You can also see all my blog posts on the topic here

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Trust and Community

"Do not plan evil against your neighbor,
who dwells trustingly beside you."
(Proverbs 3:29)

Proverbs 3:29 points out that plotting evil against a neighbor is not only wrong because it breaks God's law, but also because it severs the bonds of community and betrays the trust your neighbor has placed in you. Community is built on trust. For people to dwell together, they must trust those around them to some degree. Perhaps they do so reluctantly and minimally, only because such trust is a necessary part of living in a community. Perhaps they do so willingly - perhaps they even move to a community because they trust the people there. A certain degree of trust is necessary for people to merely have homes close to each other, and the more they interact together as a community, the more trust is required. When people do not trust each other, they become increasingly distant and the community breaks down. 

Our society suffers from a lack of trust. Suspicion of other people is very high and plays a role in many issues such as race relations, law enforcement, zoning laws, schools, politics, and COVID-related issues. I believe this lack of trust has also created fertile ground for conspiracy theories - once you are already convinced that a group is deceptive and malicious, it is easier to believe speculative theories about their nefarious deeds and plans. These theories then further erode trust in other people and make it easier to believe increasing far-fetched claims. 

To be suspicious is not necessarily wrong. Sometimes suspicion is justified and sometimes it is not. Sometimes a little suspicion is justified and sometimes a lot of suspicion is called for. To be totally without suspicion is to be naive, simple, and unprotected. But even if at times suspicion is a necessary evil, it is yet an evil - it makes life difficult for those who are suspected and hinders the community from working together as a society. And it is an evil which is wreaking havoc on our communities.

Unfortunately, trust is not built very well by merely telling people to stop being suspicious of everyone. Blanket condemnation of suspicion tends to provoke more suspicion, since it seems to call for blind trust. To restore the bonds of community, we need to be about the work of building trust. We should be working to show ourselves to be honest and dependable people who seek the well-being of our neighbor and the common good. And of course, we must be working to actually be honest and dependable people who seek the well-being of our neighbor and the common good, otherwise we only further the suspicion of hypocrisy which we are seeking to heal. Not only must we not plan evil against our trusting neighbors, but we must devise plans for their good, seeking the welfare of the community where we live and praying on its behalf (Jer. 29:7).  

Likewise, to restore the bonds of community, we must also hold our suspicions to a minimum, treating them as a necessary evil at best. Be slow to believe accusations against other people and groups of people, as well as negative characterizations of them. Do not spread "conspiracy theories," by which I mean speculative theories which are harmful to the reputations of others. Beware of judging others hastily. Instead, treat others the way you would wish to be treated. While exercising discernment, treat those who are superior in age, skill, and authority with a basic attitude of humility rather than hostile suspicion. Give honor to whom honor is due. Love your enemies by keeping your suspicion to an appropriate level rather than demonizing your enemies and putting everyone into two camps: completely trustworthy or not trustworthy at all. These are all biblical principles and they are essential for the functioning of any community. 

Building trust is important in the family, church, and commonwealth if these organizations are to function well. May we build trust in the body of Christ by pursuing and demonstrating our unity in love and in the truth. May we also built trust within our cities, counties, and neighborhoods by being trustworthy and charitable neighbors who demonstrate a shared commitment to the common good. We will still need to guard ourselves against harm in this fallen world, but in doing so may we not cut ourselves off in cynical isolation. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

America the Beautiful?

"I dread the depravity of human nature. I wish to guard against it by proper checks, and trust nothing to accident or chance." - Patrick Henry, 1788

Some of us may find it quite easy to point out wrongs in our society and our institutions. But the issue is not simply out there in other people. This is an issue rooted in human nature. As I point out in this video, not only does this have implications for civil government which our founders understood, but this also has implications for you as an individual.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Saint Louis, King of France

In recent weeks there has been some controversy over the statue of Saint Louis (1214-1270) in front of the Art Museum. There is a petition to take it down and rename the city, claiming that Saint Louis was anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic. Others are defending it, claiming that it stands for the pursuit of justice, charity, and piety exemplified by Saint Louis. 

It is true that King Louis IX had his faults, particularly in relation to the Jews. Yet his attitude and actions toward the Jews - the burning of Talmuds and his threats to expel the Jews - were not racially driven (in fact, he was generous to Jewish converts), but driven by his desire to suppress blasphemy and usury - a good reminder for present-day activists to not let a desire for reform lead them astray. He did lead two crusades, but these were defensive actions against Muslim aggression in the holy land, rather than an expression of hatred for Muslims. As Protestants, we would note as a fault that his conception of the faith was marred by some of the errors which were developing in the medieval church.

But King Louis IX has been honored for seven centuries as a good king, not because of his actions towards the Jews, but because of things like his humility, piety, judicial reforms, and charity. He was faithful in prayer, attentive to sermons, and sought to practice his faith in his public and private life. He fed the poor at his table and regularly washed their feet. He built hospitals and orphanages. He systematized the laws, reformed the courts, and held powerful men accountable. He abolished trial by combat, establishing trials with presumption of innocence and examinations of witnesses under oath. His reputation for impartiality was such that he was called upon by those outside France to arbitrate disputes. To learn more about Saint Louis, read more here: and here:

King Louis IX played an important role in developing Western Civilization, an imperfect civilization which has been greatly blessed by the influence of Christianity over the centuries. This civilization first came here by the French settlers who named the city St. Louis, and then by English-speaking settlers and the United States. This civilization has proven attractive enough that people of many backgrounds, including Jews and Muslims, have come here to share in the benefits developed by men like Louis IX. The statue of Saint Louis was created for the 1904 World’s Fair and served as the primary symbol of the city of St. Louis until the Gateway Arch was built in 1965. May it continue to stand in gratitude to the best of our society’s Western and Christian heritage. And may we continue to practice our faith for the glory of God and good of our community. For just as faith without works is dead, so monuments to the past without present-day faith and works are also dead and doomed to be taken away.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Presbyterian Roots of American Liberty

As we approach Independence Day, it is good to remember that one significant root of American liberty was the biblical teaching of Puritan and Presbyterian pastors. This teaching was carefully articulated back in 1644 by Rev. Samuel Rutherford in his book Lex, Rex. In the context of the English Civil War, he argued against the divine right of kings and for a biblical view of civil government and lawful resistance to tyranny. At the same time he worked as a commissioner of the Church of Scotland to the Westminster Assembly which would produce the doctrinal standards that would define Presbyterianism to the present day.

Rev. Rutherford and the others at the Westminster Assembly were careful to teach due honor and loyalty to civil authorities, as they wrote in their confession of faith: “It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake” (WCF 23.4). Yet, they also argued that the king did not have arbitrary and unaccountable authority to do as he pleased - other governing authorities like Parliament could resist him in certain cases (or the Continental Congress, in the case of the American colonists). It is a complicated topic and Lex, Rex was not a simple book, but here I want to share a few quotes from it (I have also written more about a Reformed approach to resisting tyranny at this link).

On checks and balances due to man's depravity:

“Power and absolute monarchy is tyranny; unmixed democracy is confusion; untempered aristocracy is factious dominion...all three thus contempered have their own sweet fruits through God's blessing, and their own diseases by accident, and through man's corruption; and neither reason nor Scripture shall warrant any one in its rigid purity without mixture.”

Against treating kings like God, who determines right and wrong:
“That which is the garland and proper flower of the King of kings, as he is absolute above his creatures, and not tied to any law, without himself, that regulateth his will, that must be given to no mortal man or king, except we would communicate that which is God's proper due to a sinful man, which must be idolatry.”

On tyranny and resistance:
“Therefore an unjust king, as unjust, is not that genuine ordinance of God, appointed to remove injustice, but accidental to a king. So we may resist the injustice of the king, and not resist the king. 8. If, then, any cast off the nature of a king, and become habitually a tyrant, in so far he is not from God, nor any ordinance which God doth own.”

“A tyrant is he who habitually sinneth against the catholic good of the subjects and the state, and subverteth law.”

On rulers’ duty to secure private property rights, rather than being destructive of that end by claiming unlimited power:
“… to conserve every man’s goods to the just owner, and to preserve a community from the violence of rapine and theft, a magistrate and king was devised …. And a king being given of God for a blessing, not for man’s hurt and loss, the king cometh in to preserve a man’s goods, but not to be lord and owner thereof himself, nor to take from any man God’s right to his own goods.”

Monday, June 22, 2020

Captain Samuel Woods: Scot-Irish Presbyterian Frontiersman

One of my wife's ancestors was Captain Samuel Woods, a pioneer, soldier, and Presbyterian elder from the early days of our country. To be precise, Captain Woods is her great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. A while ago I pieced together his story from various sources, mostly for the family. But I thought I would also share his story here as the story of one of the many lesser known individuals who labored to preserve our country's freedom and promote the growth of our church on the American frontier. 

One of the important records for Samuel Woods comes from the journal of Rev. Harvey Woods, son of John Woods, son of Samuel Woods[1]. He wrote that Samuel Woods came with his family from Ireland at the age of 8, and that he settled in North Carolina. There he married Margret Holmes and had several children. In 1780 or 1782 the family moved to Paint Lick, Kentucky. Samuel’s oldest son was killed by Indians during that time.

Neander Montgomery Woods, in his book, The Woods-McAfee Memorial, argues that Samuel Woods came from Virginia rather than North Carolina[2]. He notes that there was a Samuel Woods who lived in Rockbridge County, VA who sold his land in 1783. This Samuel Woods of Rockbridge County, VA was a son of Richard Woods and part of the larger family that Neander follows in that book. His arguments are that (1) in 1783 a Samuel Woods sold land in Virginia and a Samuel Woods gained land in Kentucky, (2) other extended family from Virginia had moved to Kentucky, and (3) similar family names are used. This claim is doubtful, as will be evident as we proceed. Our Samuel Woods is also sometimes confused with a Samuel Woods (1741-1820) who was the son of Samuel Woods (b. 1718)[3]. This Samuel Woods was born in VA or PA, lived in Rowen County, NC, married Elizabeth Patton, and settled in Georgia in 1793 with his brother William, receiving land for service in the war.[4] I mention these because accounts of Samuel Woods on the internet can sometimes conflate these figures. Yet, the advantage of this mistake is that Neander Woods gathers and records information about our Samuel Woods since Neander thinks he is related to Neander’s family.

For example, Neander mentions that the Madison County, KY records show that this Samuel Woods of Kentucky had a wife named Margaret. This fits with others like Rev. Harvey Woods who testify that Samuel’s wife’s name was Margaret Holmes. The Rowan County, North Carolina Marriage Records contain the record: “Samuel Woods to Margaret Holmes, Sept. 29, 1768. Margaret, daughter of John Holmes.”[5] This verifies Rev. Woods’ account and argues against Neander’s Rockbridge County theory. 

Another piece of the puzzle that verifies a North Carolina origin and adds a colorful stroke to the portrait, is that Lyman Draper records in King’s Mountain and Its Heroes that “Samuel Wood commanded a company at King’s Mountain…[and] removed to Lincoln County, Kentucky.”[6] Draper mentions him as one of the officers under Col. Joseph McDowell in the Burke County [NC] regiment. Paint Lick, KY was part of Lincoln County, KY until 1786 when it became part of Madison County.[7] Thus, Draper verifies that Samuel Woods lived in North Carolina, fought at King’s Mountain, and later moved to the area of Paint Lick, KY.

A pension record of John Dysart mentions that he served under Captain Samuel Woods and Colonel McDowell in 1779-1780, first driving the Tories out of the state, then at the battle of Cane Creek, and then at King’s Mountain.[8] This is also important because John would go on to marry one of the daughters of Samuel Woods of Paint Lick, KY,[9] hence provide another link between the Samuel Woods in North Carolina and in Kentucky. 
A list of North Carolinian officers of the War for Independence in NC Patriots 1775-1783: Their Own Words by J.D. Lewis says that Samuel Woods served from 1779 to 1782 and fought in Cane Creek, King’s Mountain, Cowpens, and Eutaw Springs.[10] It says that he was from what became Alexander County, NC (this area was Rowen County, NC in 1768 when Samuel was married and was Burke County during the war). It also says that he was born in 1735 in Albemarle County, VA. Unfortunately, even though this book has a large bibliography and is obviously well researched, it is not footnoted, so it is not clear from what source he gets this birth place and year. 
Thus far we have a picture of a Scot-Irish man who was either born in Ireland or in Virginia and who came to North Carolina in what is now Alexander County. There he married Margaret Holmes, and from there he enlisted and served in the Burke County regiment as captain from 1779 to 1782. Then he moved his family in 1782 to Paint Lick, Kentucky. There his oldest son was killed by Indians. 

Another source for Samuel Woods's life is a book by LeGrand M. Jones, Family Reminiscences (St. Louis, MO: C.R. Barnes Pub. Co., 1894). LeGrand’s wife was a great-granddaughter of Samuel and knew several of Samuel’s grandchildren. On pages 43-46, he records what he learned about Samuel Woods from Judge Gideon B. Black, a grandson of Samuel’s. His story fits with Rev. Woods’ account. He said that Samuel was the son of a Scotch-Irish immigrant and lived in North Carolina. There he married Margaret Holmes and later moved to Madison County, KY. When Samuel briefly returned to North Carolina to bring his youngest child who had been left behind, his oldest son was killed. “Some neighbor boys and his son Oliver were together; they heard what they took to be dogs barking, as if they had brought something to bay. They went in the direction of the barking. Indians in ambush fired upon them and killed Oliver; the others escaped. I suppose the Indians were imitating the barking of dogs to decoy the boys from the house.” At the time Paint Lick was a fort, about 26 miles from Fort Boonesborough (and about 8 miles from present day Berea, KY). It had been founded by William Miller in 1776. Violence from native tribes continued into the 1790s, as resident Jinney Adams was killed by Chief Thunder in 1791.[11] 

Samuel Woods acquired 350 acres of land on a branch of Paint Lick Creek from William Miller, and date of the survey of his land is dated May 3, 1783.[12] He also was a founding elder of Paint Lick Presbyterian Church in 1784, serving for at least fifteen years.[13] Rev. David Rice, the “father of Presbyterianism in Kentucky” helped organize the church, and Samuel Woods was “responsible for securing the appointment of David Rice as their minister for one Sunday in each month.”[14] Samuel Woods represented the church at a conference of Presbyterian ministers and elders at Cane Run Presbyterian Church in 1785 which led to the organization of the Presbytery of Transylvania.[15] Samuel Woods represented his church at the the first meeting of that presbytery in 1786, as well as in 1794 and 1797.[16] He is also one of the elders who signed the call for Rev. Cary H. Allen to the church in 1792.[17] The church would flourish and became at one point prior to 1860 the “largest congregation in Kentucky.”[18]

There were many others like Captain Woods coming to Kentucky. One pioneer woman of the time described her party by saying how they "rode upon horses, and upon other horses were placed the farming and cooking utensils, beds and bedding, wearing apparel, provisions, and last, but not least, the libraries, consisting of two Bibles, half a dozen Testaments, the Catechism, the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church, and the Psalms of David. Each man and boy carried his rifle and ammunition, and each woman her pistol."[19]

Samuel and Margaret’s youngest son, Oliver, was born in Madison County, KY on Oct. 15, 1784,[20] and one source identifies the place of birth as “Boone’s Station,” which was founded by Daniel Boone in 1779 about 30 miles north of Paint Lick.[21] Another possible Boone connection is that there is a “Samuel Woods” on the list of the men who fought at the Battle of Blue Licks, August 19, 1782.[22] It is difficult to prove that this is our Samuel Woods, but one source does refer to his “active interest…in the Indian wars.”[23]

In 1800, Samuel Woods moved to Williamson County, Tennessee, settling on Harpeth Lick.[24] Another source says that he came to Fort Nashville, TN, which is not far from Harpeth Lick.[25] Later he moved to Carroll County, Tennessee in the western part of the state in 1820 to live with his son Samuel until his death about 1825. Samuel Woods Jr. had a farm about where McLemoresville, Tennessee stands today.[26]

Regarding their children, Samuel and Margaret had eleven children:
“(a) Oliver, who was born about 1764, and was killed by Indians; 
(b) Martha, who married John Dyzart, by whom she had two sons and two daughters, one of the sons being named John; 
(c) Jane, who married John Herron, and by whom she had one daughter and three sons, the daughter marrying John Dyzart her cousin, and the sons being named John, William, and Frank, respectively; 
(d) Margaret, who married Thomas Black August 20, 1793, and by whom she had twelve children, the youngest of whom was Judge Gideon B. Black, born February 4, 1816; 
(e) John, who was born April 21, 1774, and died August 20, 1846; 
(f) Samuel, who married Ann Prevince; 
(g) David, who married a Miss McLaryo, by whom he had several sons who moved to Arkansas; 
(j) Daniel T., who married a Miss Reese, by whom he had several children, among whom was a son named Leroy, who was a distinguished Cumberland Presbyterian minister; 
[William Woods, born between Daniel and Oliver [27]], 
(k) Oliver, named for the first son of this name who was killed by Indians, as stated above; and
(l) Polly, (Mary) who married John Holmes, by whom she had several children, among whom were sons named John, William and Samuel, respectively.”[28]

1. The journal is quoted in Lucile Womack Bates, “Captain Samuel Woods of King’s Mountain” Pioneer, vol. 10, #2, April 1965 (Benton Co., Arkansas Historical Society). Rev. Woods was a Presbyterian pastor in Kentucky, mentioned in Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (Applewood Books, 2001), 356, 370.  
2.  Neander Montgomery Woods, The Woods-McAfee Memorial (Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal Job Printing Co., 1905), 83-86. 
5. North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. provides a photocopy of the original document. 
6.  Lyman Draper, King’s Mountain and Its Heroes (Cincinnati: Peter G. Thomson Pub., 1881), 474.
8.  Pension Application of John Dysart S3315 f40NC. 
9.  Armstrong records that the John Dysart in NC married Capt. Woods’ daughter and ended up in TN, and Neander Woods records that Samuel’s daughter Martha married John Dyzart. Zella Armstrong, Some Tennessee Heroes of the Revolution (Genealogical Publishing Com, 1933), 41. Neander Montgomery Woods, The Woods-McAfee Memorial (Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal Job Printing Co., 1905), 85.
10.  J.D. Lewis, NC Patriots 1775-1783: Their Own Words, Volume 2, Part 2 (Little River, SC: J.D. Lewis, 2012), 1135-1136. (the same information can be found here: 
12.  Neander Montgomery Woods, The Woods-McAfee Memorial (Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal Job Printing Co., 1905), 148. It adjoined the lands of Brooks, Kennedy, Bett, McCormack, Miller, and McNeely. He is also listed in a real estate transaction in July of 1796 (Woods, 83).
13.   Ibid. See also the list of elders on the roadside marker: 
14.  “Paint Lick Presbyterian Church” Kentucky Historic Resources Inventory (1983). It cites as a source, Patches of Garrard County- Ed. by Lancaster Woman's Club by Mrs. Anna Burnside Brown. 
15.  William H. Averill, A History of the First Presbyterian Church, Frankfort, Kentucky (Frankfort, KY, Monfort, 1901), 15ff. See also Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (Applewood Books, 2001), 73. 
16.  Neander Montgomery Woods, The Woods-McAfee Memorial, 83.  
17.  Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (Applewood Books, 2001), 108. See this book for more information on the stories, events, and controversies among Presbyterians in Kentucky at the time.
18.  “Paint Lick Presbyterian Church” Kentucky Historic Resources Inventory (1983). This is possibly an overstatement, and probably refers to the largest Presbyterian congregation in Kentucky.
19. Quoted in Henry Alexander White, Southern Presbyterian Leaders (New York, 1911), 207. 
20.  The History of Appanoose County, Iowa (Western Historical Company, 1878), 603 (see here for link); and Barbara L Hughes, who cites an article from Lucile Womack Bates, in the Benton County Pioneer, p. 60. 
21.  The History of Appanoose County, Iowa (Western Historical Company, 1878), 603. Oliver is here mentioned in a bio of his daughter and her husband. 
22.  Neal Hammon, "Daniel Boone and the Defeat at Blue Licks” (Minneapolis: The Boone Society, 2005),
23.  History of Newton, Lawrence, Barry, and McDonald Counties, Missouri (Chicago: Goodspeed Pub., 1888), 1005. ( This bio of Samuel’s great-grandson follows the general narrative established thus far, but calls Samuel “John Woods.” Since everything else seems to match it is probably the same person but with the name wrong.
24.  Neander Montgomery Woods, The Woods-McAfee Memorial, 83. Carrol County Historical Book Committee, History of Carroll County, Tennessee, Volume 1 (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 1986), 198. 
25.  History of Newton, Lawrence, Barry, and McDonald Counties, Missouri (Chicago: Goodspeed Pub., 1888), 1005. ( See note about this source in footnote 22 above. 
26.  Carrol County Historical Book Committee, History of Carroll County, Tennessee, Volume 1 (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 1986), 198. See also, who appears to be quoting from “Captain Samuel Woods of King's Mountain” by Lucile Womack Bates in the Benton County, Arkansas Historical Society Magazine “Pioneer," published in Pea Ridge, Arkansas. Bentonville Public Library, Vol. 10#2, April 1965.
27. Ibid.
28.  Neander Montgomery Woods, The Woods-McAfee Memorial (Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal Job Printing Co., 1905) , 85-86.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Baptism of Daniel Boone

Daniel Boone is a well known American pioneer who lived the last twenty years of his life here in Missouri. Those who know me know that I love to study early American history and that I have a long standing interest in Daniel Boone in particular. A few years ago I came upon a little known event in his life: his baptism. 

It seems that Daniel Boone and his family were baptized by a traveling Anglican minister in 1772. During that year, Daniel Boone was living on the Watauga River (in what is now eastern TN), living near James Robertson, later known as the "Father of Tennessee." Robertson's children later wrote to historian Lyman Draper that "a traveling Episcopalian clergyman" baptized Daniel Boone, his wife Rebecca, and their seven children, and three of the Robertson children at the Robertson's house. This is significant because Daniel and Rebecca had been raised as Quakers, and Quakers do not practice baptism. This is therefore an important link in the shift Daniel and his family underwent from his Quaker upbringing to mainstream Protestantism. It is also an indication of Daniel Boone's Christian faith that he would desire baptism for him and his family. This event fits with how Daniel's son, Nathan Boone, said that his father "fully believed in the great truths of Christianity ... seemed most partial towards the Presbyterians ... had all his children, when he could, regularly christened."

Robert Morgan, in his modern biography of Boone, briefly mentions this account, but dismisses it as "almost certainly untrue." But his piece of evidence against it is that Anglicans were not called Episcopalians until after the American Revolution. But the letters to Draper which calls the minister an Episcopalian were written in 1854 and 1855, and it would have been natural for Robertson's children to call the denomination by its current name. The event is not something they were unsure of, writing that "such events are rarely forgotten" and saying one of them had "heard her mother relate it so frequently that she has no doubt of it."

In fact, there is a likely candidate for the identity of this traveling minister: Rev. John Lythe. Even Draper, in his short bio of Rev. Lythe in The Life of Daniel Boone, refers to him anachronistically as "of the Episcopal Church." He was a traveling minister who was from Virginia, spent a year in South Carolina in 1767, and shows up in Harrodsburg, KY in 1775 as the first clergyman in Kentucky. He was a delegate to the first legislative assembly held in Kentucky at Fort Boonesborough in 1775 and served as its chaplain. He proposed a bill "to prevent profane swearing and Sabbath-breaking" and the next day held the first Christian worship service in what would become Kentucky.

- Letters from Felix Robertson (James Robertson's son) to Lyman Draper, quoted in William Curry Harlee, Kinfolks: A Genealogical and Biographical Record, 3 vols. New Orleans: Searcy & Pfaff, 1935-1937, 3:2500, 2513. 
- My Father, Daniel Boone: The Draper Interviews with Nathan Boone, ed. Neal O. Hammon, p. 38, 139.
- Lyman Draper, The Life of Daniel Boone, p. 284, 295, 569.
- Robert Morgan, Boone: A Biography, p. 431.
- The Churchman's Year Book, with Kalender for the Year of Grace 1870, compiled by William Stevens Perry, p. 264-265; available for free online at Google Books.