Eyes to See

A friend of mine led a tour last year to the seven churches of the book of Revelation. I said, “Did you go to the island of Patmos?” “No,” he said, “I asked the people about going to Patmos, and they said, ‘It would take you a day to get there, and a day to get back, and when you get to Patmos you don’t see anything.’”

And I thought to myself, “Tell that one to the Apostle John!”

—from a sermon by Sinclair Ferguson

Indicative before Imperative 5

The great gospel imperatives to holiness are ever rooted in indicatives of grace that are able to sustain the weight of those imperatives.

The Apostles do not make the mistake that’s often made in Christian ministry. [For the Apostles] the indicatives are more powerful than the imperatives in gospel preaching. So often in our preaching our indicatives are not strong enough, great enough, holy enough, or gracious enough to sustain the power of the imperatives. And so our teaching on holiness becomes a whip or a rod to beat our people’s backs, because we’ve looked at the New Testament and that’s all we ourselves have seen. We’ve seen our own failure and we’ve seen the imperatives to holiness, and we’ve lost sight of the great indicatives of the gospel that sustain those imperatives. . . .

Woven into the warp and woof of the New Testament’s exposition of what it means for us to be holy is the great groundwork that the self-existent, thrice holy, triune God has — in Himself, by Himself and for Himself — committed Himself and all three Persons of His being to bringing about the holiness of His own people. This is the Father’s purpose, the Son’s purchase and the Spirit’s ministry.”

Sinclair Ferguson, message from the 2007 Banner of Truth Conference, Our Holiness: The Father’s Purpose and the Son’s Purchase

Indicative before Imperative

Geerhardus Vos . . . says that the heart of legalism is when we separate the law of God from the person of God. And what we have got then are bare imperatives that don’t have an indicative that will sustain them. God Himself in His grace, love, kindness, and generosity was the indicative that would have sustained the imperative of “Don’t eat the fruit of this tree.” And I see that distortion of God’s character, and the notion of legalism that seeks to earn what now as fallen creatures we can never earn, and blinds us to His a priori love for us in Christ.

—Sinclair Ferguson, http://sovgracemin.org/Blog/post/Legalism-in-Eden-(Ferguson-Interview2c-pt-4).aspx)

 

Worship in Revelation (14)

This is, I think, a very significant thing in the NT, and certainly here in Revelation chapter 5—if the goal of worship is to admire Him in all of His majesty and to cast our crowns before Him and crown Him Lord of all, then notice that in this portrayal of worship, all worship flows from Christ’s leadership and through Christ’s mediation. Isn’t it interesting that John sees the Lion/Lamb standing right at the front of the throne of God, and from Him the Spirit of God flowing to all those who are present in heaven’s glory—as though to say, your worship of the One who is seated on the throne need first of all to be conducted by the One who stands at the front of the throne. And it always need to come through the Spirit by the Son to the One who is seated on the throne. Because, as we have noticed already, He is not only the Mediator of our reconciliation; He is the Mediator of our adoration in worship.

—Sinclair Ferguson, “The Church’s Worship” (audio message: Ligonier Conference, 2006)

Worship in Romans (34)

“Do not be conformed by this world; but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Romans 12:2

His actual grammar here is rather striking, isn’t it? Here is a statement, “be transformed by the renewal of your minds,” in the present tense, in the imperative mood—it’s something to do—and yet it’s in the passive voice. And here he brings us to one of the marvels of grace that enables us rightly to worship God: that we are engaged and involved in the life of sanctification; and yet the life of sanctification is a process by which we are giving ourselves over to be sanctified.

—Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship” (audio message 9/17/2004)

Seeing in the Spirit

A friend of mine led a tour last year to the seven churches of the book of Revelation.  I said, “Did you go to the island of Patmos?” “No,” he said, “I asked the people about going to Patmos, and they said, ‘It would take you a day to get there, and a day to get back, and when you get to Patmos you don’t see anything.’” And I thought to myself, “Tell that one to the Apostle John.”

But, you know, that’s church, isn’t it? That’s worship. It’s possible to be in the building and to see nothing. [John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” Revelation 1:10]

—Sinclair Ferguson, “The Church’s Worship” (audio message)

The Ministry of Song 9 (Jesus, the Psalms and Me) 5

When Paul urges us in Colossians 3 to “let the Word of Christ dwell richly in our hearts,” he goes on to say that we’re to do that as we “make melody to the Lord in [y]our hearts” and as we sing and instruct each other in our praises. Now maybe it’s right that our noses should be in our hymnbooks when we’re singing; but it’s spiritually right that we should also have an eye to our brothers and sisters and be praying, “O Lord, sanctify these words I’m singing, in order that my brothers and sisters may be so instructed in their truth, as their lives to be comforted and transformed and centered again on Your glory, and blessed again in genuine fellowship that we enjoy with one another.”

And all of this because the Lord Jesus gathers us as God’s family, and then leads us in the singing of God’s praises.

——Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship” (audio message)

The Ministry of Song 8 (Jesus, the Psalms and Me 4)

Now most of us are at one end of the spectrum or the other. And I suppose our native desire would be for a Christian life in which our emotions were on an absolutely even keel; and one day they will be. But that will be an even keel of prolonged ecstasy, that we will be able to cope with in resurrection bodies that were made for prolonged ecstasy! And until that happens, one of the things that God does to us in worship—and it seems to me so marvelously gracious that He has given us songs to sing that do this in worship—is to take those of us who have layers of emotion that need to be unpacked and unstarched, and He begins to set them free; and those of whose emotions at the other end of the spectrum are out of control, and He takes them and brings them into a certain kind of order and discipline by the very things we sing.

——Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship” (audio message)

The Ministry of Song 7 (Jesus, the Psalms and Me 3)

The pattern for song in the pages of Scripture [especially in the Psalms] is perfectly suited and balanced to the reality for our humanity. And so we’re encouraged in this different way to sing that which varies in theme, that which differs in mood, that which is different in style, that which is singular, that which is repetitive, that which is long, that which is short. Because in all of these areas, our Lord Jesus Christ is, as it were—and this is to me a very important thing—the Lord Jesus Christ is not squeezing our emotions into some small bottle of grace; but stretching and pulling our emotions in order to fulfill and transform our fallen and broken humanity.

—Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship” (audio message)

The Ministry of Song 6 (Jesus, the Psalms and Me 2)

If you make at least a quick survey of the Psalms—and I confess I’ve only done it quickly, you’ll notice a very remarkable thing which is actually perfectly in keeping with the principial teaching of the NT, and that is this: only about a third of the Psalter is addressed to God; another third of the Psalter is addressed to me; and another third of the Psalter is addressed to you. Now isn’t that interesting? Here in the midst often of rather foolish language that has not been tested by Scripture, we are sometimes urged to sing only those things that are directed towards God; and we cannot do that without saying that the Lord Jesus was singing some of the wrong things!

So we need to be very careful, for example, about some of us—you know we all belong to different ends and edges of the spectrum on this—some of us who rather despise songs that have a focus on myself. What is the key thing here? The key thing here is not the question of how many times the first person singular is mentioned, but where those many mentions of the first person singular are eventually going to lead. Are they going to lead me from the first person singular to the three Persons divine? Is it not legitimate for me to sing, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” so long as I am going to sing, “Hope thou in God, send your light forth and your truth, and let them be guides to me”?

—Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship” (audio message)

The Ministry of Song 5 (Jesus, the Psalms and Me)

It’s a marvelous incentive to sing, that you know that it’s Jesus who is leading your singing. [Hebrews 2:12] There’s also I think something that helps us to be calm in the midst of many of the controversies that presently arise about how we sing or what we sing. Because it so happens we know what Jesus enjoyed singing. There are 150 of them that He enjoyed singing—which incidentally is not on my part an argument for exclusive psalmody, although we ought to sing a lot more of them than we do. But doesn’t that teach you something in the midst of the worship wars?. . .

For example, by nature I come to some song that has only six lines in it, and I say, that’s not worthy—until I realize that my Lord Jesus Christ was prepared to sing the 117th Psalm [2 verses].

I get irritated when there is repetition. Now I don’t want to sing “Our God Reigns” 1,009 times any more than you do, but I can’t sing the Psalms with Jesus without knowing that there are lines I’m going to repeat again and again and again and again and again.

—Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship” (audio message)

 

God’s Gracious Initiative 4

Divine indicatives give rise to divine imperatives. This is the Bible’s underlying grammar. Grace, in this sense, always gives rise to obligation, duty, and law. 

Commandments are the railroad tracks on which the life empowered by the love of God poured into the heart by the Holy Spirit runs. Love empowers the engine; law guides the direction. They are mutually interdependent. The notion that love can operate apart from law is a figment of the imagination. It’s not only bad theology; it’s poor psychology. It has to borrow from law to give eyes to love. . . . Neither the Old Testament believer nor the Savior severed the law of God from His gracious person. It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything his Father commanded him. Nor is it for us.

—Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters, 168-69,173

God’s Gracious Initiative 3

There is a great book produced by Presbyterian & Reformed of quotes from Geerhardus Vos [A Geerhardus Vos Anthology]….

Vos says that the heart of legalism is when we separate the law of God from the person of God. And what we have got then are bare imperatives that don’t have an indicative that will sustain them.

God Himself in his grace, love, kindness, and generosity was the indicative that would have sustained the imperative of “Don’t eat the fruit of this tree.” And I see that distortion of God’s character, and the notion of legalism that seeks to earn what now as fallen creatures we can never earn, and blinds us to His a priori love for us in Christ.

Satan is cast out in terms of his dominion over our lives from the beginning of our Christian lives, yet we are still living in a world and with a memory and as a being for whom, I think, that battle against legalism is a lifelong reality.

And this gets back to the quiet time. I have met a lot of very fervent Christians who, if they haven’t had their quiet time, feel things will go wrong in the day. They turn the gospel on its head.

—Sinclair Ferguson, interview with C. J. Mahaney

Grace Unbounded and Undeserved

“The glory of the gospel is that God has declared Christians to be rightly related to him in spite of their sin. But our greatest temptation and mistake is to try to smuggle character into his work of grace. How easily we fall into the trap of assuming that we can only remain justified so long as there are grounds in our character for justification. But Paul’s teaching is that nothing we do ever contributes to our justification.”

–Sinclair Ferguson, Know Your Christian Life (InterVarsity Press, 1981), 73

Sanctified by Grace

“Do not be conformed by this world; but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Romans 12:2

“His actual grammar here is rather striking, isn’t it? Here is a statement, ‘be transformed by the renewal of your minds,’ in the present tense, in the imperative mood–it’s something to do– and yet it’s in the passive voice. And here he brings us to one of the marvels of grace that enables us rightly to worship God: that we are engaged and involved in the life of sanctification; and yet the life of sanctification is a process by which we are giving ourselves over to be sanctified.”

–Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship” message given at Covenant College 9/17/2004