A Hymn to God the Father

For Maundy Thursday:


A Hymn to God the Father



WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.


Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.


I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.

–John Donne

Ok, let’s take a moment to comment about this piece. The author opens up by making this assertion:

One of the major ways in which the Federal Vision departs from the historic Reformed/Presbyterian confessions is in their view of baptism.  They view baptism as effective instrument which unites a person to Christ.

The author then gives damning quotes from me, Rich Lusk, and Doug Wilson, wherein each of us acknowledge that we in fact hold that baptism unites one to Christ and then, he concludes:

Unlike the Federal Vision, the Reformed position doesn’t attribute this type of efficacy or instrumentality to baptism.  Instead, the Reformed talk about faith alone (sola fide) as an instrument

Of course, not a single one of us denies the necessity of faith in Jesus for salvation as the author implies, but that aside, let’s check his main assertion out for a minute. Is it true that the “Reformed position doesn’t attribute this type of efficacy or instrumentality to baptism”? Here’s what John Knox thought about baptism:

By baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted. (1560 Scots Confession)

Here’s the teaching of the French Confession (1559):

Baptism witnesses to our adoption, for by it we are grafted into the body of Christ, that being washed with his blood we might be renewed by his Spirit unto holiness of life. In baptism, God gives us really and in fact that which he there sets before us; and that consequently with theses signs is given true possession and enjoyment of that which they present to us.

Martin Bucer, in his 1537 liturgy for infant baptism, directed the minister to pray this prayer after the administration of baptism:

Almighty God, heavenly Father, we give you eternal praise and thanks, that you have granted and bestowed upon this child your fellowship, that you have born him again to yourself through holy baptism, that he has been incorporated into your beloved son, our only savior, and is now your child and heir.

John Calvin says:

We assert that the whole guilt of sin is taken away in baptism, so that the remains of sin still existing are not imputed. That this may be more clear, let my readers call to mind that there is a twofold grace in baptism, for therein both remission of sins and regeneration are offered to us. We teach that full remission is made, but that regeneration is only begun and goes on making progress during the whole of life. (Antidote to the Council of Trent, 1.5)

The position of the Reformers is summarized in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566) on the efficacy of baptism:

To be baptized in the name of Christ is to be enrolled, entered, and received into the covenant and family, and so into the inheritance of the sons of God; yes, and in this life to be called after the name of God; that is to say, to be called a son of God; to be cleansed also from the filthiness of sins, and to be granted the manifold grace of God, in order to lead a new and innocent life. Baptism, therefore, calls to mind and renews the great favor God has shown to the race of mortal men. For we are all born in the pollution of sin and are the children of wrath. But God, who is rich in mercy, freely cleanses us from our sins by the blood of his Son, and in him adopts us to be his sons, and by a holy covenant joins us to himself, and enriches us with various gifts, that we might live a new life. All these things are assured by baptism. For inwardly we are regenerated, purified, and renewed by God through the Holy Spiorit and outwardly we receive the assurance of the greatest gifts in the water, by which also those great benefits are represented, and as it were, set before our eyes to be beheld.

And many, many more quotes could be lined up to confirm what those who stood in the historic Reformed tradition have believed about baptismal efficacy.

In spite of this our author concludes, apparently, without even the slightest twinge of uneasiness, that the “Reformed position” doesn’t hold these views. Well, ok boss, if you say so. The problem is the only way I can agree with you is if I ignore what the vast majority of the Reformers actually believed. You’ll forgive me if I conclude that your assertion is a tad weak.

But since the “Aquila Report” (to some, the official arbiter of what being “Reformed” means nowadays) has endorsed this position, I’ll just say that being called “unReformed” is a small price to pray for the privilege of standing with Knox, Calvin, and Bucer.

The shacking up delusion

Jonathan Last in his book What to Expect When No One is Expecting points out some sobering statistics to those couples who think it is better to live together instead of getting married (or before getting married). Over the last half-century, nothing has grown in popularity more than couples living together outside of marriage. Last points out that “by the late 1980s, half of all couples getting married lived together first. By 2002, half of everyone had cohabited at some point. . . . Among people in the prime marrying years–those aged 25 to 44–over 60 percent had, at some point, shacked up with a girlfriend or boyfriend.”

In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. The latest figures put this number at 7.5 million couples (a 1,500 percent increase).

If you ask twenty-somethings why living together is preferable to marriage, you’ll hear that it gives the couple time to get to know one another and see how compatible they are together – thus, cutting down on bad marriages, hasty unions between people who fall in love but don’t really know one another, all which leads to more stable, long-term relationships.

And that sounds reasonable.

The only problem is, it isn’t true. As clinical psychologist Meg Jay pointed out in an opinion piece in The NY Times Sunday Review, the statistics demonstrate that “Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages – and more prone to divorce – than couples who do not.”

Jonathan Last points to some hard facts:

– Whereas there’s a 64 percent chance that a first marriage will last at least 10 years, 50 percent of couples living together break up after just one year.

– White women who move in with a boyfriend have a 27 percent chance of getting married after year one and a 59 percent chance if they make it to year three. A woman who lives with a man for five years has only a one-in-four chance of being married to her Romeo (and the odds for minorities are even longer).

Part of the answer for this is the different expectations (and motives) that men and women have for living together. For most women, living together is simply the intermediate step before marriage. For most men, living together is an opportunity to postpone commitment and a way to test the relationship (i.e., get the sexual and economic benefits of marriage without tying yourself down for life). Women commonly feel more loyal to their live-in partners than men. Since there has been no commitment, men don’t feel an equal sense of obligation to their girlfriends. And, over time, this becomes painfully apparent to the women involved. “Jennifer” (one of Meg Jay’s clients who lived together with her boyfriend, got married, and divorced less than a year later) said, “I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife.”

Jay observes, “A life built on top of ‘maybe you’ll do’ simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the ‘we do’ of commitment or marriage.”


So, it turns out that living together (as exciting and even as glamorous as it sometimes may sound) is just another recipe for disappointment, sorrow, and regret. Love consists of a willingness to sacrifice for another, to give up yourself for the good of another and to deny yourself and take the risks involved in committing yourself and all you have and are to another, for your whole life. A man or woman unwilling to do this doesn’t understand love no matter how much they might enjoy sex. Saving on rent and utilities and getting to sleep in the same bed every night (at least until your partner finds someone more interesting) is not the same thing.

Cohabitation makes promises it can’t keep – because it’s simply another lie Satan spreads in his on-going effort to destroy God’s institution of marriage.

So, girls, when your Casanova suggests that you move in with him (or when he asks to move in with you), ask him two questions: “Where’s my ring?” and “When do you want to have the wedding?” If he can’t answer those questions, walk away.

And don’t look back.

The apostles say some amazing things about baptism. By it, Paul says, we are united to Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 6:2; Gal. 3:27) in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-6). Thus, Peter says, “baptism now saves us” (1 Pet. 3:21). And Paul follows by saying that being washed in baptism brings us new life and renewal by the Spirit (Tit. 3:5). Thus, the washing of baptism both sanctifies and justifies us (1 Cor. 6:11).

How can they say these things? Everything depends upon the first thing – i.e. by baptism the Spirit unites us to Jesus and makes us members of His body.

If the Spirit unites us to Christ at baptism and if all spiritual blessings are ours in union with Christ (Eph. 1:3) then we can understand why the apostles can say what they say about baptism. Baptism saves because we are united to the Savior; baptism sanctifies because we are united to the Holy One; baptism justifies because we are united to the Just One; baptism brings new life because we are united to the One who is life (John 1:4; 1 John 1:1-3). Baptism is no bare human ritual. It is inseparably joined to the purpose of the Father, the Person and work of the Son, and the power of the Spirit.

Yet, there is mystery here. Not all who are baptized enter into eternal life. What gives?

Baptism doesn’t save us automatically by itself and alone. Rather, the Spirit by baptism unites us to Jesus (who is Life). And, all those baptized are required to abide in Him by a living faith, trusting in Him alone for salvation, confessing their sins, walking in joyful obedience, and living in gratitude for the grace of God shed abroad in their hearts through Jesus (John 15:1-6).

In other words, the union established by the Spirit between us and Jesus works like the union He establishes between a man and a woman in marriage. The two become one by the blessing of the Spirit (“what God has joined together . . .” Matt. 19:6) and by virtue of this are obligated to cleave to one another throughout all their days (Gen. 2:24). The union of husband and wife depends upon their mutual loyalty and persevering love. If one partner ceases to love the other and forsakes his mate for another, the marriage is destroyed. The union that was brought about by the Spirit and the new life that was created by Him by means of the wedding, dies.

In the same way, one who is united to Jesus and decides to forsake Him for another god, forfeits the blessings that were his in union with Jesus and ends up like the prodigal, destitute and deserted. This is exactly what happened to God’s son, Israel (1 Cor. 10:1-11).

Of course we know that since salvation is all of grace (i.e. not based upon human merit or works but a free gift of God, Eph. 2:8-9), if anyone perseveres in faith, that too is the gift of God. So to point to perseverance as a baptismal obligation is not to mix human works with God’s grace but simply to magnify the fullness of God’s grace. (more later)



[from La Corona John Donne]

Moist with one drop of Thy blood, my dry soul
Shall—though she now be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly—be
Freed by that drop, from being starved, hard or foul,
And life by this death abled shall control
Death, whom Thy death slew ; nor shall to me
Fear of first or last death bring misery,
If in thy life-book my name thou enroll.
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
But made that there, of which, and for which it was ;
Nor can by other means be glorified.
May then sin’s sleep and death soon from me pass,
That waked from both, I again risen may
Salute the last and everlasting day. 


[From La Corona by John Donne]


By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate:
In both affections many to Him ran.
But O! the worst are most, they will and can,
Alas! and do, unto th’ Immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a fate,
Measuring self-life’s infinity to span,
Nay to an inch. Lo! where condemned He
Bears His own cross, with pain, yet by and by
When it bears him, He must bear more and die.
Now Thou art lifted up, draw me to Thee,
And at Thy death giving such liberal dole,
Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.

The gay marriage debate

Aaron Eley has posted a helpful note over at The Kuyperian Commentary on the recent debate held at the University of Idaho on the topic of homosexual “marriage” between Pastor Doug Wilson and Andrew Sullivan.

If you’ve missed out on the discussion that’s going on, you may want to go over and check out the post. It gives a number of additional links to help you catch up.

And that will also give you the opportunity to check out The Kuyperian Commentary. A great site with some great articles.

Lent’s focus

Tomorrow we begin another Lenten season which now means we will all have to endure endless posts on Facebook from “friends” telling us about all the things they’re “giving up” for Lent.

Here’s my problem: If Lent is the season when we consider afresh the great love and mercy of our Savior in willingly dying for our sins, then it has absolutely nothing to do with giving up chocolate (or caramel-mocha lattes or good barbeque). The purpose of Lent is to remind us of the hatefulness and deadliness of sin. Thus, if we’re going to “give up” something in honor of Lent, that something ought to be sin – and not something that God is perfectly pleased with.

God loves chocolate and good barbeque (He probably even tolerates caramel-mocha lattes) but it’s certain that He hates sin. Lent, if we’re observing it properly, should teach us to hate what God hates – and give that up.

Further, remember this: repentance means not only “putting off” sin and evil, but “putting on” new obedience (Eph. 4:22-24; Rom. 6:1-4). So, our focus during Lent is not merely to be negative – growing in our hatred of sin – it should also be positive – praying for strength to walk in new obedience. Where have you been unfaithful or careless in your walk? Where are you negligent in your obedience? Make Lent the time to identify these areas and focus upon growing in faithfulness.

Lent is the season when we are to remember the high price that was paid for our salvation. And as we remember, we are to give ourselves to growing in gratitude for God’s love and growing in likeness to the One who gave Himself for us.

So, here’s a Lenten resolution for you: “This Lenten season, I want to grow in my hatred of sin so that I can turn from it and walk in new obedience, growing in conformity to my faithful Savior, Jesus. . . . and I’m going to give thanks for Jesus’ love by eating some really good food in anticipation of Easter.”


Paris je t’aime is not a movie I can recommend. The two-hour film consists of eighteen brief stories set in eighteen of the twenty administrative districts that make up the city of Paris. Each of the short films is directed by a different director (all totaled, 22 directors were involved in the entire project). The movie as a whole is very uneven — some of the vignettes are ok, some are good, some are simply terrible — but my favorite of the bunch (and the only one I can fully recommend) is “Bastille” directed by Isabel Coixet.

It’s a powerful story of a man who has been involved in an affair with a much younger woman and has come to the point of telling his wife that he’s leaving her for his lover. The plan was to tell her over lunch at one of their favorite restaurants. But his plan (and his heart) is changed by unexpected news.

Take five minutes and watch this piece — you’ll be happy you did.

Christmas and gift giving

Ok, I know I do this every year, but I can’t help it. Someone keeps on bringing it up and I have to say something. Just yesterday a well-meaning reporter for our local newspaper asked me how I would respond to those who say that all the “commercialization” that surrounds the celebration of Christmas distracts us from its true meaning? We spend too much money. Shopping brings stress and anxiety and the hustle and bustle and worry drives everyone crazy! Why can’t we just forget the gifts, spend time around the fireplace thinking warm thoughts of love and gentleness, sipping hot chocolate, and maybe enjoying some simple, home-made gifts (which are far more meaningful than anything you could possibly buy from one of those greedy merchants at the mall or online)? This is how we remember the Reason for the Season. 

You’ve heard it before. Indeed, we hear so much that many of us have begun to think it is actually true.

It isn’t.

In fact, I will go so far as to say, if you really believe this, you don’t understand the true meaning of Christmas.

And I don’t mean that we’re free from sin in the celebration of Christmas. There are real sins connected with our celebration that we need to be mindful of and avoid:
– There are people who spend more than they can afford on gifts and go into unnecessary debt. That’s bad stewardship and that’s sin.
– Many still think (in spite of all the evidence to the contrary) that money and things can bring happiness and contentment. Materialism is idolatry.
– Many fall into the trap of focusing more upon the hassle and the expense of gift-giving than upon the privilege of giving. This is the sin of selfishness.
– Many don’t spend enough time with their children and loved ones and neglect the cultivation of their relationships with others. That’s another form of self-centeredness.
– Many forget that there are people in need of basic necessities and do nothing to help them. That’s the sin of indifference and a lack of love for our neighbor.

And ALL OF THESE SINS are present with us and contradict the true meaning of Christmas.

But the “true meaning of Christmas” police are saying more than this. They imply (and often say bluntly) that giving unnecessary and expensive gifts to friends and family is a waste of money that encourages selfishness, covetousness, materialism and indifference to others. And thus, these actions are a great dishonor to God and contrary to “the true meaning of Christmas.”

To which I say, Bah! Humbug!

Christmas is the celebration of the infinitely loving Father who gave His Son to be the Savior of the world. Christmas is the celebration of the infinitely loving Son who gave Himself joyfully and willingly to suffer and die for the salvation of the world. Christmas is the celebration of the infinitely loving Spirit who continues freely to give all good gifts to us and to all men. Christmas is the celebration of the incredible, indescribable, hilarious, ecstatic, generosity of the Triune God who has always existed in joyful, holy, loving communion and whose love moved Him not only to create but to redeem the world and mankind. Christmas is the celebration of the astonishing, unbounded, overflowing, love of the Triune God who gives us all things richly to enjoy and daily loads us with benefits.

And we’re worried that somehow if we give some gifts to our friends and loved ones that we’ll distract them from the true meaning of Christmas? We’re worried that if we spend money on gifts to express our love for others that we’re missing the true meaning of Christmas? Really?

If extravagant generosity automatically tempted men to these sins, then the holy, Triune God would be a more dangerous Temptor than Satan himself. The Lord gives to us generously, without measure, pressed down, overflowing, exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think — and He does this every day. He doesn’t merely give us necessities, He gives us far above what we need. He gives us luxuries, things we could easily get along without, and He does it every day. And yet, He’s not afraid that His extravagance will transform you into a materialistic monster who covets his way to hell.

I even have a Bible passage that proves this: Deuteronomy 14:22-27. There, the Lord commands Israel to take a tithe of their increase and spend it for anything their hearts desire. The only requirement is that they enjoy these things before Him in Jerusalem. Obviously, we don’t know the income of the average Israelite, but it’s not hard to imagine that this would have been a huge celebration, filled with expensive, once-in-a-lifetime-type foods and drinks. Think of how much your tithe would purchase for a feast and the things you would be able to obtain if you spent it all on special items? It sounds like gross extravagance, like something that can only lead to evil, right?

And yet, the Lord commands Israel to do this so that they can learn to fear Him (Deut. 14:23). This is the same reason given for the public reading of the law that was commanded every seven years (Deut. 31:10-13). God says this extravagant celebration was designed to accomplish the same thing that hearing His Word was intended to accomplish. If you obeyed Him and put on this huge party, you would grow in His fear. How can this be?

The answer is fairly simple. The triune God is the God who has eternally and continually loved. The Father has loved the Son from eternity. The Son has loved the Father from eternity. And the Spirit has eternally been the One through Whom the Father and the Son love one another. This is why John can say, “God is love.”

But go further: Love means giving. Giving yourself. Giving gifts. Giving to meet the needs of others. Giving to enrich and delight others. Giving to bring joy and hilarity to others. Giving so that others may know your love for them. NOTHING is more important to the true and living God than this. And that’s why He continues to do it. All the time. Every day.

So that when He sent His Son into the world — giving us the most extravagant and expensive, valuable gift imaginable — He wasn’t acting out of character. He wasn’t doing something unusual. He was simply being Himself. And He didn’t worry that His extravagant gift would spoil you, or make you arrogant and ungrateful, or tempt you to become a materialist. He knew that His extravagance would humble you and eventually make you like Him. He knew that His love would provoke your love for Him in return so that you would become generous like Him. So He commands Israel to take a tithe of their increase and buy whatever their hearts desire and enjoy it with the poor and the Levites before His face, knowing that if they do this, the sheer extravagance and joy of such a celebration would destroy covetousness and materialism and remake them in His likeness.

The covetous man doesn’t have any desire to spend his money for others. The materialist has no regard for the joy he might bring to others with his wealth. This grand celebration was intended to expose the ugliness of covetousness and materialism. And a joyful, generous, ecstatic celebration of Christmas (along with our other feasts) will do the same for us.

God doesn’t attack consumerism and materialism by being stingy with His gifts or restricting the number of them because He’s afraid that you will become a selfish pig. Rather, He lavishes His gifts upon you so that you will learn to be like Him. And Christmas, if we celebrate it rightly, gives us the opportunity to grow in godliness (God-likeness). By giving generously and joyfully, we imitate the One who has loved us and who delights in nothing more than in giving good gifts to His children.

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas!

Today is the day set aside by the Church to commemorate the life of Nicholas, bishop of Myra, who died on December 6, 342. Nicholas was orphaned early in life and inherited great wealth from his parents. He used his wealth throughout his life to assist the poor and afflicted.

Nicholas became known for his compassion to children, great deeds of generosity, and concern for sailors and ships. Like many of the faithful, his life became surrounded by a number of fantastic stories of miracles and amazing feats but his most famous act of charity may well be true. It involved a nobleman of the city of Patara who suddenly became bankrupt. The man had three daughters whom he wished to give in marriage, but his bankruptcy meant that he had nothing for a dowry. Unable to support his daughters, he resolved to sell them into prostitution. Nicholas heard of the situation and decided to do what he could to prevent this.

He learned that the man slept with his window open and so, under the cover of night, he threw a bag of gold in the man’s open window. This act was repeated three times for each of the man’s daughters.

Nicholas served as bishop of Myra during the reign of Emperor Diocletian and, consequently, like many other bishops of the day, he suffered persecution and exile. One of the biographers of Nicholas, St. Methodius, records, “As he was the chief priest of the Christians of this town and preached the truths of faith with a holy liberty, the divine Nicholas was seized by the magistrates, tortured, then chained and thrown into prison with many other Christians. But when the great and religious Constantine, chosen by God assumed the imperial diadem of the Romans, the prisoners were released from their bonds and with them the illustrious Nicholas, who when he was set at liberty returned to Myra.”

Not only did Nicholas attend the Council of Nicaea, but, according to legend, he became so infuriated with Arius’ folly that he punched him in the face (commemorated in the lovely painting on the left). Methodius credits the teaching of Nicholas for preserving Myra from “the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as death-dealing poison.”

Because the day set apart to commemorate his life is so close to Christmas, and because his three gifts to the poor man are somewhat analogous to the three gifts received by Christ from the Magi, St. Nicholas became closely associated with Christmas. And that is how he became associated with the most venerated saint in America. “Santa Claus” is simply a corruption of “Sanctus Nikolaus.”

“Almighty God, who in your love gave to your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the well-being of others, the care of widows and orphans, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” Amen.

No, not going in

You know, just the fact that I know this exists, is going to cause me nightmares.

This is a pool in the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Casino in Singapore. Yes. It hangs out from the side of the hotel, 57 floors above the city.

Why would anyone build this? But, more than that — why would anyone go swimming in this?

I imagine it sitting there getting weaker by the day, hairline fractures in the superstructure caused from the weight of the water, slowing spreading, stressing the steel support beams, day by day, until that day that I find myself somehow in Singapore and somebody says, “Hey, why don’t we go get in the pool at the Marina Bay Sands Casino?” and I foolishly and stupidly and unthinkingly say, “Ok” and so we go to the hotel and go up to the 57th floor and walk out to the pool and then when I step in, the whole thing begins to creak and groan and crack and start tilting downward toward the street and I slide down to the edge and can’t get back to the main structure because the water is rushing over the edge and as it swings slowly down, I end up trying to hang on the railing of this stupid pool, dangling 57 floors above the streets of Singapore, saying “I KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN!”

It’s so real to me, just thinking about it makes me want to scream like a little girl.

And you will NEVER convince me that it’s all in my mind.

So. No. I’m not going in. I’m not going to go look at the pool. I’m not going to the hotel. I’m not even going to Singapore.



What I missed

If I had known this was going to happen, I would never have turned off the debate after 10 minutes. I can’t believe I missed this!

New from Athanasius Press

Well, looky what just came in! Toby Sumpter’s new commentary on Job, A Son for Glory — the latest in AP’s Through New Eyes commentary series.

This is an outstanding exposition of a difficult book. In a brief compass (197 pp.) Pastor Sumpter lays out the meaning of Job clearly and understandably so that we can grow in wisdom and glory ourselves. It’s perfect for book studies and small-group Bible studies. It’s practical, plainspoken, well-written, truly an outstanding work.

And what’s more, you can purchase it now through the end of October at a 50% discount!

All you have to do is go to the Athanasius Press website and place your order.

Do it today!

Athanasius Press News

I’ve neglected to mention that Athanasius Press is in the process of putting its publications into e-book format.

And it so happens that the first one is finished and ready to be ordered: Why the End is Not Near by Duane Garner is now available at Amazon.

All you have to do is click here and buy it!

So, do it!

And we’d greatly appreciate it if you would help us pass the word along.

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