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Posts Tagged ‘Alistair Begg’

The Christian Facing Death: American History, President William McKinley

July 31, 2019 3 comments

My summer reading has included a light yet interesting American history title, Walter Lord’s The Good Years: From 1900 to the First World War, published in 1960.  I’ve liked all of Lord’s history books so far (he is probably best known for his work on the Titanic, but others include the Alamo and the Escape from Dunkirk in 1940), engaging accounts of several American history events that include the many viewpoints of the people involved.  What I found of particular interest in this book are the accounts of the U.S. Presidents during these years, starting with a brief look at McKinley’s last days, through the Roosevelt years to the end with Woodrow Wilson – these men, their faith and religious views.

Though lesser known than America’s Founding Fathers, articles about these men still show up in Christian blogs, such as several from the Gospel Coalition over the past three years:

The chapters in Walter Lord’s book address specific events, and the various Presidents within the context of these events, including their professed faith.  Theodore Roosevelt was a very moral/law focused president who always saw the political/legal issues of his day from “his own view” of what was right and wrong.  Woodrow Wilson had been the president of Princeton University and described by Lord as a Calvinist (“that inflexible Calvinist streak that ran so deeply in him”).  Very little is said of one-term President Taft, and nothing of his religion; he was a Unitarian.  From additional information online, it turns out that Wilson was from the Presbyterian tradition but a theological liberal, and Roosevelt was ecumenical to the point of including people of other beliefs within his definition of Christianity (a common trait even among early 21st century Christian-professing presidents).

William McKinley stands out as the only President from this era who made a credible Christian profession, something especially seen in how he faced his own death, glorifying God in his dying days after being shot at close range by anarchist Czolgosz.  He had a good reputation, a generally well-liked and beloved President, a very kind and pious man.  Later history has tended to overlook him, especially after his successor Theodore Roosevelt, and people in our day may disagree about his politics; his view described by Walter Lord:  On the question of annexing the Philippines, he had prayed to God for guidance, and it came to him in the night:  “There was nothing left to do but to take them all and to educate the Filipinos and uplift and Christianize them and by God’s grace to do the very best we could by them as our fellowmen for whom Christ also died.”

The chapter on McKinley is primarily about his assassination, and here McKinley’s godly character really shows forth, as described in these excerpts from Lord’s account:

A few minutes after the shooting, when the President’s men were on the floor tackling the assassin:

Slumped in his chair, McKinley looked up at the scuffle.  Even at a time like this, he couldn’t bear to see anyone hurt.  ‘Go easy with him, boys,’ the President pleaded.

Near his death several days later:

Occasionally, McKinley murmured a few disconnected lines from ‘Nearer My God to Thee,’ once or twice some phrase from a prayer.  The press polished this into an eloquent farewell:  ‘Good-bye all.  It is God’s will.  His will, not ours, be done.’  Later evidence suggests he was not so articulate, but there is no doubt that such were his thoughts.  Dr. Park, who watched the President throughout his illness, was amazed that any man could be so gentle, long after it couldn’t possibly be a pose.

‘Up to this time,’ the doctor recalled years afterward, ‘I’d never really believed that a man could be a good Christian and a good politician.’

It is the great test we all will come to:  how we face our own death; it is something that we know will be met by God’s grace, “dying grace” that is given when it is needed – yet, as Alistair Begg pointed out in a few messages in the “Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances” series, it is something we need to think about and prepare for, before we can really live, a matter we all must resolve by coming to God and the salvation He gives us in Christ.

McKinley lived the Christian life, as a successful leader, and then died well – kindness expressed that day to the man who had assassinated him, and then continued gentleness, acceptance, and trusting in God’s will for him, throughout the next several days until his death 8 days later.

Lessons from the Dungeon (Alistair Begg on Joseph in Genesis 40)

June 27, 2019 2 comments

While looking at some Kindle deals several weeks ago I came across a book from Alistair Begg on the life of Joseph, The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances, (originally published in 1999, and republished in January of this year), and from that found the original audio files, which are an excellent study on Genesis 37 through 50, the life of Joseph.  The audio files are two sets of 12 lessons each, volume 1 and volume 2, at the Truth for Life website.  I have often heard of the Truth for Life site, read quotes from Alistair Begg, and listened to a few conference lectures from Begg (from more recent years), but had not previously listened to his actual sermons or sermon series.

Done in the mid-to-late 1990s, this series is an in-depth look at the doctrine of Divine Providence–from the life of Joseph, with great application of life lessons to us today.  In Joseph’s life of extreme situations (from slavery to the dungeon to an exalted position in Egypt, always attaining to the “second in command” position but never first), we can all relate to the life trials and difficulties and the emotions and relational issues.  In a similar style as the Genesis patriarch Tabletalk devotional lessons I studied last year (reference this previous post), Begg’s series looks beyond the surface level to how these people felt and how they coped with life’s disappointments and difficulties.  Volume 1 starts with the family and childhood experiences of Jacob’s family, the events that Joseph would have experienced as a young boy, through the traumatic event of Genesis 37, followed by the repeated pattern of suffering and exaltation (first as a slave in Potiphar’s household, then in the Egyptian dungeon), through the end of Genesis 41 when Joseph has just come out of the dungeon and been exalted by Pharaoh.

I’m now listening to volume 2, which starts at the end of Genesis 41, through Genesis 50, which brings additional lessons in God’s Providence and life experiences.  Here I want to highlight two messages from volume 1:  Lessons from the Dungeon, a two-part lecture from Genesis 40 with six lessons:

  1. Having a God-centered Focus
  2. Delivering the Truth Clearly, Without Ambiguity
  3. Preparing for Death
  4. Celebrating Life and Birthdays
  5. Handling Life’s Disappointments
  6. Learning to Rest in God’s Faithfulness

The lessons from the dungeon include Joseph’s interaction with the chief cupbearer and the baker and the interpretations of their dreams.  The God-centered focus was what kept Joseph going on a day by day basis in that dungeon, where he had ended up after being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife.  From the number 2 item (delivering the truth), Joseph clearly told the good news (to the cupbearer) and did not hold back the bad news from the baker.

That moves us along to the third lesson, an important one not usually addressed in sermon expositions from this passage.  As Alistair Begg noted, the baker was given advance notice of his death, a privilege that very few people have.  (Given the actual way that the ancients kept time – from the time Joseph interpreted the dreams, the fulfillment came on “the third day” — two days later — the timeline would have been somewhere around 48 to 56 or so hours notice, not 72 hours as Begg described it.)  The baker had the opportunity, whether or not he took advantage of it, to admit to Joseph, “hey, I’m scared to death,” and the possibility of discussing death and what happens after death, in conversation with Joseph during those two days.  The reality of our future death is something that we all need to prepare for, as for each of us it could come at any time.

The fourth lesson takes us past preparation for death, with how we are to live and celebrate life (until death comes).  Birthdays are an excellent, once a year time to reflect and give thanks to others:  to God, then to our parents and their special role in our lives, and to friends.

Concerning the last two lessons, of handling disappointments, and resting in God’s faithfulness:  after the many previous disappointments that Joseph had experienced, this incident provided yet another, as we are told that the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.  Here again Alistair Begg provides great dramatic effect:  it could very well have been that the cupbearer as he left the dungeon was telling Joseph, ‘I’m your man’ and being real nice to everyone; and Joseph could have been thinking, for the first few weeks after the cupbearer left, that some news of his deliverance would be coming ‘any day now’—and then it was two more years that passed.  As has been often noted by so many, when we have our hope and trust in other people, even in particular people for particular situations, we can be greatly disappointed when they let us down–and as we ourselves do with others, not remembering them and letting others down.

This 2 volume, 24 part series is very helpful and instructive, the life story of Joseph described in a very down-to-earth way in terms of our day to day life, relationships with other people, and the hardships including betrayal.  As noted above, this material is also in a book (The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances), for those who prefer it in that format.  For any study of the doctrine of Providence, this is a great study series to include.

God’s Providence: Reformed Theology Conference Lectures

June 14, 2018 4 comments

Regarding the doctrine of Providence, here are two interesting conference series from ReformedResources (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals),

  • Ian Hamilton and Alistair Begg, six sessions (three each), from the 2014 Princeton Regional Conference on Reformed Theology (full MP3 download set )

God’s Providence Defined  (A. Begg)
God’s Providence in the Lives of His Servants (I. Hamilton)
God’s Providence in the Death of Jesus Christ  (A. Begg)
God’s Providence and Our Worship (I. Hamilton)
Providence Personal Reflections (A. Begg)
Making Sense of the Mysteries of Providence  (I. Hamilton)

and —

The Meaning of Providence
The Means of Providence
The Dilemma of Providence
The Mystery of Providence
The Protection of Providence

The Scottish contribution (Hamilton and Begg) (reference this post, also with an interview link ) is less formal and easier to listen to, for a general audience.  The lectures are interesting (my first listen to these speakers) as a good base; I especially found the 4th one, which connects God’s Providence to our worship, particularly interesting as a topic for further exploration.  Here, Hamilton brought out the reason to include the Psalms in our worship (not a case for exclusive Psalmody, but a balance to include the Psalms):  worship should include the ‘minor note’ so predominant in the Psalms, along with the positive, praising and thankful ‘major note’.  Hamilton also noted a good response to the argument put forth by those who put excessive emphasis on the New Testament — why we should include the Psalms as applicable today in our New Testament age.  Paul, writing to the Romans (Romans 8:36) – in our New Testament age – directly quotes from Psalm 44:22, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’  Thus the Psalms are still applicable to New Testament Christians.

From my recent reading elsewhere, David Powlison (in ‘Speaking Truth in Love’) also referenced the point about the ‘minor key’ versus ‘major key’.

Consider the Psalms, the book of talking with God.  About ninety psalms are “minor key.”  Intercessions regarding sin and suffering predominate—always in light of God revealing his mercies, power, and kingdom.  In about one-third of these, the battle with personal sin and guilt appears.  Often there are requests that God make us wiser: “Teach me”; “Give me understanding”; “Revive me.”  In many more psalms, you see requests to change circumstances: deliver me from evildoers; be my refuge and fortress; destroy your enemies.  These are always tied to requests that God arrive with kingdom glory and power.  God reveals himself by making these bad things and bad people go away!  Then there are the sixty or so “major key” psalms.  These emphasize the joy and praise that mark God’s kingdom reign revealed.

In the 5th lecture, Personal Reflections, Alistair Begg shared much of his personal life experiences including the providence of God that brought him to pastor a church in Cleveland, Ohio.  As just a personal observation from these lectures, I note Begg’s frequent use of humor; at times the ‘laugh-track’ audience response seemed too frequent and distracting, recalling to my mind a post from David Murray (another Scottish Reformed speaker)– this link at Banner of Truth, Serious Preaching in a Comedy Culture.  Some preachers naturally like to use more humor than do others, but for my preference the laughter was too frequent at times, though the overall messages were good.

On that more serious note, the second set of lectures linked above, the five from the Westminster Confession conference series, provides the serious, doctrinal look–The Comfort of the Church: God’s Most Wise and Holy Providence.  It takes a while to get used to this style of listening; these are plenary lectures, formal papers presented (read aloud) by each speaker, seminary professors at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  The lectures are rich with references to the Westminster definitions along with many scripture references, on several aspects of providence.  (Note:  The papers from this conference can be accessed in print, the full set here.)  The fourth one, The Mystery of Providence, by C.J. Williams, includes an interesting presentation in typology.  Common “types of Christ” include Joseph and King David, but another Old Testament character I had not considered as a type of Christ, is Job.  Williams expands on the correspondences between Job and Christ:  original great esteem by God, then extreme suffering and humiliation, followed by great exaltation beyond the original condition.  Williams has since published a book, with foreword by Richard Gamble (another of the speakers in this conference set), on the Job/Christ type:  The Shadow of Christ in the Book of Job.

These two series are both good ones about the great doctrine of God’s Providence, covering the many aspects of God’s Providence from the doctrinal understanding as well as personal experience of Providence in our lives.