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Sinclair Ferguson on “Considering the Glory of God”

Consider the Glory of God

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By Sinclair Ferguson

John Newton (1725–1807) is best known today for his great hymns (including “Amazing Grace” and “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”). But in his own day, he was perhaps more highly prized as a letter writer — “the great director of souls through the post,” as someone described him. Such was the value of his correspondence that he published several volumes of his letters (including one of his letters to his wife, which called forth the comment by one reviewer, his friend Richard Cecil, that wives would be in raptures reading such love letters while “we [husbands] may suffer loss of esteem for not writing them such gallant letters”).

In several of his letters, he comments on the subject of controversy. He had a distaste for it. (It would be an unhappy thing to have a “taste” for it, would it not?) He also had a sense of being unfitted for it. He remarked that it was “not only unpleasing to my taste, but really above my reach.” But lack of experience is not necessarily an obstacle to one’s ability to give biblical counsel. Newton constantly sought to give such counsel. (Did he not encourage William Wilberforce in the great public controversy of slave trading?) In a day when only a paltry number of Anglican ministers were evangelical, he was particularly conscious that Calvinists, being much in the minority, might feel pressed into controversy too frequently.

It is surely for this reason that one of his chief concerns was that if we are to engage in controversy, our perspective needs to be dominated by the issue of the glory of God. “If we act in a wrong spirit,” he writes, “we shall bring little glory to God.” The first question of The Westminster Shorter Catechism is relevant here as everywhere: How do I speak, write, or act in situations of controversy so that God may be most glorified?

This is the principle. But it needs to be particularized. Newton realized that sometimes we engage in controversy professedly “for the glory of God” but are blind to the ways in which our own motives impact and play out in our speech and actions. The rubric “for the glory of God” must transform how Christians respond to controversy.

For the glory of God” does not call for a monolithic response to every controversy. Circumstances alter cases. We do not cast pearls before swine.

Here are three illustrations of controversy. In the first, silence is the appropriate God-glorifying reaction; in the second, confrontation; and in the third, patience. Why such different responses?

KEEP SILENCE

Isaiah 36 vividly describes how Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Judah. The Rabshakeh (an Assyrian officer) sought to stir up controversy. He spoke, as Hezekiah recognized, “to mock the living God” (Isa. 37:17). But the leaders followed their king’s counsel: “They were silent and answered him not a word” (36:21). The end of the story? God vindicated their response. The angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 Assyrians. Sennacherib retreated.

Would it not have been bolder, more “faithful,” to engage in verbal controversy in defense of the Lord? Why silence? For three reasons:

1. FIGHTING WORDS would not have defended the Lord’s glory here. At such times, we look to the Lord to defend His own glory and not give it to another.

2. WE BEST DEFEND the Lord’s glory by speaking first to Him about unbelieving men rather than speaking first about Him to unbelieving men. Hence Hezekiah’s prayer: “O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord” (37:20). Alas, not all strong controversialists are strong intercessors.

3. WE CAN MAR the Lord’s glory — as Newton hints — by how we respond to controversy. Man’s insulting God is not reversed by our insulting man.

SPEAK DIRECTLY

A less public, but no less breathtaking, incident took place in the early church.

Imagine the electric atmosphere: Simon Peter had table fellowship with Gentiles. Then “certain men came from James” (Gal. 2:12). Peter separated himself, as did other Jewish Christians, “even Barnabas” (vv. 11–14). How did Paul respond? He “opposed [Peter] to his face” (v. 11).

Paul was surely right. But why was this a God-glorifying response, rather than silence in deference to Peter and Barnabas, avoiding embarrassment and potential division?

1. THE PROTAGONISTS were present and believed the same gospel. Paul did not wait and later “bad mouth” Peter. He did the hard thing. He spoke personally and directly to him. That glorifies God because it follows a biblical pattern (Matt. 18:15James 4:17).

2. THE VERY HEART of the gospel was at stake here (as Paul notes in Gal. 2:15–21).

3. “ORDAINED” MINISTERS of the gospel were involved, not a single, ordinary individual. The deviation of both Peter and Barnabas would lead to the deviation of others and a disastrous disruption of the whole church. God’s glory in the church required direct speech.

RESPOND PATIENTLY

Some years later, Paul encountered a situation that, at first sight, seems similar. There was an ongoing controversy about “diets and days” in the Roman church(es). Some observed special days and refrained from certain foods. It was presumably a controversy between Jewish and Gentile believers (the latter being the majority in the churches after the expulsion of Jews and Jewish Christians from Rome, see Acts 18:1–2). Paul had an eye to God’s glory. How could the two groups in this controversy “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6)?

1. STRIKINGLYTHE “STRONG,” those on “the right side” of the controversy (14:14), are the ones who should refrain from insisting that others adopt their “right” position and practice. The glory of God is best seen when “the strong” welcome “the weak” — because this is what God has done in Christ: “For while we were still weak … Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6).

2. FELLOW BELIEVERS are Christ’s servants, not ours. To demean or despise the weak is to despise the Lord of glory. (Remember Matt. 25:40?)

3. TO INSIST ON exercising one’s “liberty” on a controversial matter (to eat meat, to ignore days, and so on) compromises that very liberty itself. It means we are driven by inner “need” rather than by love. We are focused on self-glory rather than God’s glory. Since “Christ did not please himself” (Rom. 15:3), should we?

These examples are by no means comprehensive. But they illustrate Newton’s point. In all things seek God’s glory — and guard your heart. Christians are always in need of that wise counsel.

Source: May 1, 2012 http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/consider-the-glory-of-god/

 

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Speed With God by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson

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When Sereno E. Dwight included the seventy resolutions in his biography of his great-grandfather Jonathan Edwards, he added the arresting comment: “These were all written before he was twenty years of age.”

Doubtless the resolutions display the marks of relative youth — references to God are frequent, while references to Christ and to grace are noticeably infrequent. Edwards’ sense of the need for radical consecration was then greater than his ability to show how such devotion would need to be resourced in Christ over the long haul. While this is not wholly lacking, there is no doubt that introspection dominates over divine provision. That notwithstanding, the “Resolutions” provide a very powerful illustration of an often-repeated divine pattern: those the Lord means to use significantly he often deals with profoundly in early years.

Edwards stood in a great puritan tradition of resolution-forming and covenant-making. Both are lost spiritual arts, substituted at best by life-plans that tend to focus on the externals. Edwards, by contrast, was deeply concerned with the internals. He early grasped the value of a deliberate binding of the conscience to a life of holiness and of expressing such commitment in a concrete, objective, and also very specific way. Thus for him, the practice of keeping a journal (in which half of his resolutions are found) was not merely an exercise in narcissism but a careful guarding of the heart against sin. In addition, Edwards was conscious from his teenage years that dealing with indwelling sin (“mortifying” it in the older terminology) meant a commitment to deal generally with all sin, and also repenting of — and mortifying — “particular sins, particularly” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 15.5; Rom. 8:13Col. 3:58–10. Indeed, these words of Paul form the unwritten backdrop to a number of the resolutions).

What can we learn for Christian living today from the resolutions themselves? Here are only three of many outstanding lessons:

Life is for the glory of God. Resolution 4 epitomizes this: “Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.”

These words have a Daniel-like ring about them (Dan. 1:8). When coupled with Edwards’s further principle that we learn from Scripture how God is to be glorified in our lives, this is both a life-goal statement and a life-simplifying one. The question, what will most tend to the glory of God in this situation? asked against the background of growing biblical wisdom wonderfully simplifies and clarifies the choices of life. In a world full of apparent complexities, this is an invaluable litmus test to use — not least if, like Edwards, you are a teenager.

Life should be lived in the light of eternity. This was, of course, a dominant perspective throughout Edwards’ later life. But it was already powerfully present in his late teens. He sought to relate the whole of life to its end (in both senses of the word). In pain he reflected on the sufferings of hell (resolution 10). He lived from death and judgment backwards into the present (resolution 17), and endeavored to do so as if each hour might be his last (resolution 19). He sought to make future happiness a central goal (resolutions 22, 50, 55). Thus, if living for the glory of God simplifies all of life, living in the light of eternity solemnizes all of life and enables one increasingly to give weight to every thought, word, and deed.

Life is lived best by those who guard the heart. Edwards guarded his emotions and affections — and his verbal and physical expressions of them — with great care. This emerges in several resolutions (including 31, 34, 36, 45, 58, and 59). Particularly noteworthy is resolution 25. Here he stresses that, if he wishes so to live in a holy manner, he must be “resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.” Whether consciously or not, Edwards here recognized a cardinal element in the original temptation — to malign and thus destroy a sense of the generous love and goodness of God to Adam and Eve (“Has he set you in this garden and forbidden you to eat of all the trees?” seeGen. 3:1).

As early as the age of nineteen, therefore, Edwards recognized that if he lost a sense of the greatness and generosity of the divine love, there would be no resources of grace to motivate the life of holiness to which he committed himself in his resolutions. Therein lay wisdom far beyond his years.

When he penned his final series of resolutions in the summer of 1723, Edwards appears to have been reading through Thomas Manton’s sermons on Psalm 119. He refers to the idea of being open to God found in Manton’s exposition of Psalm 119:26 (sermon 27 in a series of 190). There Manton had given directives for those “who would speed with God.” Edwards was certainly such a young man. Great intellect though he was, he recognized that to “speed with God” was a matter of the heart. That is why all of us — teenagers included — can still aspire today to share the devotion to God he expressed so powerfully in his resolutions.

FROM Tabletalk Magazine
DATE January 1st, 2009
TOPICS Spiritual Growth,Sanctification and Growth
KEYWORDS Jonathan Edwards,Sanctification

Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson is senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2012 in Church History, Spiritual Life

 

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Dr. Sinclair Ferguson on 20 Resolutions on Speech that Glorifies God from the Book of James

(Scriptures are from the ESV) 

(1)  I resolve to ask God for wisdom to speak out of a single-minded devotion to Him – James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

(2)  I resolve to boast only in the exultation I receive in Jesus Christ and also in the humiliation I receive for Jesus Christ – James 1:9-10, “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.”

(3)  I resolve to set a watch over my mouth – James 1:13, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”

(4)  I resolve to be constantly quick to hear and slow to speak – James 1:19, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

(5)  I resolve to learn the gospel way of speaking to both the rich and the poor – James 2:1-4, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

(6)  I resolve to speak in the present consciousness of my final judgment – James 2:12, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.”

(7)  I resolve never to stand in anyone’s face with the words I employ – James 2:16, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

(8)  I resolve never to claim as reality in my life what I do not truly experience – James 3:14, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.”

(9)  I resolve to resist quarrelsome words as evidence of a bad heart that needs to be mortified – James 4:1, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”

(10) I resolve never to speak decided evil against another out of a heart of antagonism – James 4:11, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”

(11) I resolve never to boast in any thing but what I will accomplish – James 4:13, Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”

(12) I resolve to speak as one subject to the providences of God – James 4:15, “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

(13) I resolve never to grumble. The judge is at the door – James 5:9, “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”

(14) I resolve never to allow anything but total integrity in everything I say – James 5:12, But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

(15)  I resolve to speak to God in prayer whenever I suffer – James 5:13a, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.”

(16) I resolve to sing praises to God whenever I’m cheerful – James 5:14b, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

(17) I resolve to ask for the prayers of others when I’m in need – James 5:14, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

(18) I resolve to confess whenever I’ve failed – James 5:15-16, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

(19) I resolve to pray with others for one another whenever I am together with them – James 5:15-16, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

(20)  I resolve to speak words of restoration when I see another wander – James 5:19-20, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

About the Author: Sinclair Ferguson (born 1948) is a Scottish theologian who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen. He is known in Reformed Christian circles for his theologically rich and practical teaching, writing, and editorial work. He is currently a professor at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, and the Senior Minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina. He has written numerous books including: In Christ Alone; John Owen: The Man and His Theology; The Christian Life; Heart for God; Discovering God’s Will; Grow in Grace; The Holy Spirit; and The Big Book of Questions and Answers about Jesus.

 

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Book Review: Discovering God’s Will by Sinclair B. Ferguson

My Favorite Scottish Theologian/Pastor on God’s Will

 I am partial to pastor theologians (men that teach or have taught in the seminary and are also preaching pastors) like R. C. Sproul, John Piper, Mark Dever, Eugene Peterson, James White and the writer of this book, Sinclair Ferguson, because they are well studied, but as they have a book on one knee, they also have a lamb on the other knee. They know the Scriptures, but they also know people and how the two need the Word and Shepherding.

In this book Ferguson emphasizes the fact that the best way to get guidance in the Christian life is by knowing the Guide – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s very important to know about the Guide, but so much more important to know the Guide personally and intimately as your Shepherd, Leader, Supplier, and Restorer. He instills in us the idea that you will only do the will of God insofar as you follow His lead in your life.

In the first chapter of the book Dr. Ferguson develops the ideas that a Christian is one who walks on the paths which God has laid; enjoys the purpose for his life which God has ordained; and looks to the destiny which God has planned. Some of the key questions he grapples with are the following: Why has God made me? What is my life for? Will this course of action tend to further the glory of God? What does it mean that our lives should reflect his glory?

In chapter two Sinclair develops the idea of how God has revealed his character and ways in three specific ways: 1) God’s direct commandments and prohibitions; 2) The numerous principles worked out in the Scriptures; and 3) The illustrations and biographical accounts which reveal how these principles of God’s working with his people turn out in personal experiences. He states, “The chief need we have is that of increased familiarity with sensitivity to the wisdom of his word…But we are not called by God to make the mysterious, the unusual, the inexplicable the rule of our lives, but his word.”

Some practical principles on guidance:

1)    God’s guidance will require patience on our part.

2)    It is essential that we come to see the part which our own thinking should play in the discernment of the will of God.

3)    The discovery of God’s will and its accomplishment involves our own will.

In chapter three he develops the idea of guarding the heart, and deals specifically with our motives and conditions with an excellent treatment of the deceptiveness and transformation of the heart from the Proverbs, Psalms, and the book of James.

In chapter four Ferguson develops the idea that “to live in the will of God is to walk in love, to walk in light and to walk in wisdom.”

The principles of conduct he develops in chapter five are to help us answer six key questions when the Bible doesn’t specifically address something we have to decide about with reference to moral or ethical dilemmas we encounter:

1)    Is it lawful? (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

2)    Is it beneficial to me? Will it complicate, rather than simplify my life? (1 Tim. 4:4; Rom. 14:14; 1 Cor. 6:12)

3)    Is it enslaving? (1 Cor. 9:27; 2 Tim. 1:7)

4)    Is it consistent with Christ’s Lordship? (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 7:23)

5)    Is it helpful to others? (Rom. 14:20; 1 Cor. 10:33; Jn. 17:19; Rom. 15:3; Heb. 4:12)

6)    Is it consistent with the example of Christ and the apostles? Are there incidents, or is there teaching in Scripture, which can be applied to the situation in which I find myself? Will it give me a clue to the will of God for my life now? Is it for the glory of God? For that matter, am I living for the glory of God? (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:7; 2 Tim. 3:20; Heb. 6:12; 13:7)

In chapter six he urges us to consider our calling by considering our gifts, needs, and settled interests.

Chapter seven underscores several principles and questions to ask concerning marriage:

1)    Be realistic in your expectations.

2)    Be biblical in your preparation by answering some of these key questions: What is marriage for? What should I look for in a husband or a wife?

3)    How do we fulfill the different roles of husband and wife? (Eph. 5:21-33)

4)    What is the character of marriage?

5)    What is the ultimate aim of marriage? I love what Ferguson says in answering this particular question, “The ultimate aim of marriage is to reflect God’s image; to reflect the glory of his grace and Being. This means that marriage can never be an end in itself. It exists for a greater purpose than its own fulfillment.”

Chapter 8 develops the theme of waiting on the Lord. He elaborates on issues we wrestle with like impatience, God’s apparent silence, and how to trust in God during these waiting times. Some of the difficulties of waiting are addressed as well like:

1)    We are reluctant to accept our status in this world as pilgrims.

2)    We are sometimes unwilling to bow to the sovereign providences of God in our lives.

3)    We lack faith in the goodness of God.

4)    We are too easily influenced by the attitudes of the age in which we live.

The last chapter of the book hones in on the ways God leads us. He closes by giving a practical exposition of Psalm 23 – God supplies our needs (v.1); God restores His people (v.3); God leads His people (v. 3); God protects His people (v.4); God richly blesses his people (v.5); God preserves to the end with his people (v.6).

I would describe this book as encouraging, Christo-centric, pastoral,  helpful, enriching, and biblically grounded. I highly recommend this book – especially if you don’t like to read a lot – the chapters are short and concise, and Dr. Ferguson does not waste words – short, sweet, and to the point.

 

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