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Philip Ryken, and J.C. Ryle, on the Gospel of Luke

October 2, 2020 5 comments

A weekly Bible Study at church has started on a study of the gospel of Luke this year, and included Dr. Ryken’s Commentary in the list of recommended resources. So I’m listening to the next best thing to the commentary: the volumes of sermons from Dr. Ryken that form the basis of his commentary, a set of 14 volumes from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ podcast “Every Last Word,” available at ReformedResources.org.  The first three volumes cover the first 5 chapters of Luke, and are straight-forward sermons with exposition and application, on the wide range of topics within these first chapters of Luke’s gospel.

One pleasant surprise has been the frequent references to J.C. Ryle, with quite a few quotes from the great 19th century Anglican bishop.  In fact, in the early chapters at least (I’m currently in Luke 6) of Ryken’s sermon series, J.C. Ryle is one of the most (or possibly the most) frequently cited resources — along with quotes from a few others such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and at least one quote from existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

That brings me back to reading J.C. Ryle, several years after I read  his books such as Practical Religion, Holiness, and his book on prophecy, Coming Events and Present Duties.  Over the years I’ve read selected portions from his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (full e-book in PDF, Kindle, and EPUB formats available here), and now it’s been refreshing and enjoyable to read sequentially through J.C. Ryle’s full commentary on the gospel of Luke, alongside Ryken’s sermons each week.

Ryle’s writing style here is similar to other works, a devotional and educational commentary, simple and clear statements packed with truth, and always very quotable.  He well described the faith of the Old Testament saints, with the original, plain historic understanding that believers always had the Holy Spirit indwelling, though in less measure (quantity) — unlike several modern day teachers who want to come up with innovations, even such as a few who would come up with a “spirit of Christ” that indwells New Testament saints in contrast to Old Testament saints that were regenerated but not actually Spirit indwelled (since, supposedly, the Spirit of Christ did not exist in that earlier era).

Ryle’s Expository Thoughts also addresses the basics, with great application of texts, to exhort believers on the importance of Bible reading and study, evangelism, and diligence and hard work in our occupations and callings.  His comments on the Lord’s Day Sabbath, at the beginning of Luke 6, are also spot-on, instructive regarding Christ’s teaching on works of necessity and works of mercy brought out in the text, and in response to the same Sabbath criticisms in our day:  We live in days when anything like strict Sabbath observance is loudly denounced, in some quarters, as a remnant of Jewish superstition.  We are boldly told by some people, that to enforce the fourth commandment on Christians, is going back to bondage.  Let it suffice us to remember, when we hear such things, that assertions are not proofs, and that vague talk like this has no confirmation in the word of God.   J.C. Ryle elsewhere wrote an excellent short summary tract, Sabbath: A Day to Keep, referencing  many scriptures and how they relate together; but the additional comments in his Luke 6 commentary add to the full picture.

Just in going through the first chapters of Luke, it’s also interesting to see his clear statements regarding the future millennial era and ethnic Israel’s future, as with this sampling:

Christ was indeed “the glory of Israel.” The descent from Abraham–the covenants–the promises–the law of Moses–the divinely ordered Temple service–all these were mighty privileges. But all were as nothing compared to the mighty fact, that out of Israel was born the Savior of the world. This was to be the highest honor of the Jewish nation, that the mother of Christ was a Jewish woman, and that the blood of One “made of the seed of David, according to the flesh,” was to make atonement for the sin of mankind.  . . .

The day shall come when the veil shall be taken from the heart of Israel, and all shall “glory in the Lord.” (Isaiah. 45:25.) For that day let us wait, and watch, and pray. If Christ be the light and glory of our souls, that day cannot come too soon.  . . .

“and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever.” The literal fulfillment of this part of the promise is yet to come. Israel is yet to be gathered. The Jews are yet to be restored to their own land, and to look to Him whom they once pierced, as their King and their God.  . . .

The full completion of the kingdom is an event yet to come. The saints of the Most High shall one day have entire dominion. The little stone of the Gospel-kingdom shall yet fill the whole earth. But whether in its incomplete or complete state, the subjects of the kingdom are always of one character.

Also, a sampling of general application from passages in Luke’s gospel:

We do not expect a child to do the work of a full-grown man, though he may one day, if he lives long enough. We must not expect a learner of Christianity to show the faith, and love, and knowledge of an old soldier of the cross. He may become by and bye a mighty champion of the truth. But at first we must give him time.

and

In every calling, and vocation, and trade, we see that great effort is one prominent secret of success. It is not by luck or accident that men prosper, but by hard working. Fortunes are not made without trouble and attention, by bankers and merchants. Practice is not secured without diligence and study, by lawyers and physicians. The principle is one with which the children of this world are perfectly familiar.

A Spurgeon Christmas Sermon: Mary’s Song

December 23, 2014 1 comment

It’s that time of year again, to highlight one of Charles Spurgeon’s Christmas sermons. Click here to see all of the previous Spurgeon Christmas sermon specials.  For this year, one delivered 150 years ago this Christmas day: December 25, 1864 – Mary’s Song.

Mary had much to give thanks for and to praise God for, and Spurgeon notes several aspects of Mary’s faith, for us to follow as an example. In Mary’s Magnificat we find true joy, a personal Savior, great faith, humility, confidence and familiarity – as well as the great Covenant of Grace.

True Joy

Mary’s heart was merry within her; but here was the mark of her joy—it was all holy merriment, it was every drop of it sacred mirth. It was not such merriment as worldlings will revel in today and tomorrow, but such merriment as the angels have around the Throne of God, where they sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” while we sing, “On earth peace, goodwill towards men.” Such merry hearts have a continual feast.

A Personal Savior

Her peculiar delight was not that there was a Savior to be born, but that He was to be born of her! Blessed among women was she, and highly favored of the Lord; but we can enjoy the same favor; no, we must enjoy it, or the coming of a Savior will be of no benefit to us. … The Savior was peculiarly, and in a special sense, hers. She sung no “Christ for all,” but “Christ for me,” as her glad subject!

Great Faith

As yet there was no Savior born, nor, as far as we can judge had the Virgin any evidence such as carnal sense required to make her believe that a Savior would be born of her. How can this thing be, was a question which might very naturally have suspended her song until it received an answer convincing to flesh and blood; but no such answer had been given. She knew that with God all things are possible, she had His promise delivered by an angel, and this was enough for her; on the strength of the Word which came forth from God, her heart leaped with pleasure and her tongue glorified His name.

When I consider what it is which she believed, and how unhesitatingly she received the Word, I am ready to give her, as a woman, a place almost as high as that which Abraham occupied as a man! And if I dare not call her the mother of the faithful, at least let her have due honor as one of the most excellent of the mothers in Israel. The benediction of Elizabeth, Mary right well deserved, “Blessed is she who believes.”

Humility

Her lowliness does not make her stay her song. No, it imports a sweeter note into it—“For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.” Beloved Friend, you are feeling more intensely than ever the depth of your natural depravity; you are humbled under a sense of your many failings; you are so dead and earth-bound even in this House of Prayer, that you cannot rise to God. You are heavy and sad, even while our Christmas carols have been ringing in your ears; you feel yourself to be today so useless to the Church of God, so insignificant, so utterly unworthy, that your unbelief whispers, “Surely, surely, you have nothing for which to sing.” Come, my Brother, come my Sister, imitate this blessed Virgin of Nazareth, and turn that very lowliness and meanness which you so painfully feel, into another reason for unceasing praise!

Confidence

She sings confidently . She does not pause while she questions herself, “Have I any right to sing?” but no, “My soul does magnify the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.” “IF” is a sad enemy to all Christian happiness; “but,” “perhaps,” “doubt,” “surmise,” “suspicion,” these are a race of highwaymen who waylay poor timid pilgrims, and steal their spending money. Harps soon get out of tune, and when the wind blows from the doubting quarter, the strings snap by the wholesale. If the angels of Heaven could have a doubt, it would turn Heaven into Hell. “If you are the Son of God,” was the dastardly weapon wielded by the old enemy against our Lord in the wilderness. Our great foe knows well what weapon is the most dangerous. . . . You think that it is a sign of Divine Grace to have doubts, whereas it is a sign of infirmity. It does not prove that you have no Grace when you doubt God’s promise, but it does prove that you need more—for if you had more Grace, you would take God’s Word as He gives it, and it would be said of you as of Abraham, that, “he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, being fully persuaded that what He had promised He was able also to perform.” God help you to shake off your doubts.

Familiarity

She sings with great familiarity, “My soul does magnify the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He who is mighty has done to me great things; and holy is His name.” It is the song of one who draws very near to her God in loving intimacy. . . . For my own part I want a form of worship in which I may draw near to my God, and come even to His feet, spreading my case before Him, and ordering my cause with arguments—talking with Him as a friend talks with his friend, or a child with its father—otherwise the worship is of little worth to me. Our Episcopalian friends, when they come here, are naturally struck with our service as being irreverent because it is so much more familiar and bold than theirs. Let us carefully guard against really deserving such a criticism, and then we need not fear it; for a renewed soul yearns after that very communion which the formalist calls irreverent. To talk with God as my Father—to deal with Him as with one whose promises are true to me, and to whom I, a sinner washed in blood, and clothed in the perfect Righteousness of Christ, may come with boldness, not standing afar off—I say this is a thing which the outer-court worshipper cannot understand.

And finally, a wonderful theological reference point, The Covenant:

She does not finish her song till she has reached the Covenant. When you mount as high as Election, tarry on its sister mount, the Covenant of Grace. In the last verse of her song, she sings, “As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.” To her, that was the Covenant; to us who have clearer light, the ancient Covenant made in the council chamber of Eternity is the subject of the greatest delight. The Covenant with Abraham was in its best sense only a minor copy of that gracious Covenant made with Jesus, the Everlasting Father of the Faithful, before the blue heavens were stretched abroad. Covenant engagements are the softest pillows for an aching head; Covenant engagements with the Surety, Christ Jesus, are the best props for a trembling spirit!—

“His oath, His Covenant, His blood, Support me in the raging flood.

When every earthly prop gives way, This still is all my strength and stay.”

If Christ did swear to bring me to Glory, and if the Father swore that He would give me to the Son to be a part of the infinite reward for the travail of His soul, then, my Soul, till God Himself shall be unfaithful, till Christ shall cease to be the Truth, till God’s Eternal Council shall become a lie, and the red roll of His Election shall be consumed with fire, you are safe!

A very Merry Christmas to all of this blog’s readers!

Topics From Today’s Bible Readings

April 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Today’s Bible readings in my Bible Reading Plan include two themes: eschatology (Luke 21, Zechariah 10, and Revelation 20), and the Christian traits of humility versus pride (1 Corinthians 3-4, and Job 23).

In the second category, 1 Corinthians 4 includes Paul’s sarcasm as he tells the Corinthians that already they are rich and are kings — and then reminds them of the great sufferings and trials of the apostles. “What do you have that you did not receive?” Really good reading, that which we all need to be reminded of. The next reading, Job 23, is a good follow-up for contrast, as in verses 4-6 where Job says: “I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me.” Of course we all know the end of the story, and Job will get to the right place by chapter 40.

As regarding eschatology, today’s readings again show the abundance of biblical texts concerning Christ’s Second Coming. I’ve heard it said that about 1/4 of the Bible deals with prophetic events, and that Bible prophecy refers more often to Christ’s Second Coming than to His first — and based on all my readings this last year I would agree. Often my reading combinations include one or two prophetic sections. After all, I’m reading Revelation for 22 out of every 50 days (although not every chapter in Revelation is prophetic) and reading something from the Major or Minor prophets every day — though again not every text there deals with future events; sometimes the reading combinations mean that I’m reading through five chapters of OT history instead, such as days when I’m reading narrative events in lists 2 (Pentateuch), list 6 (History) and list 7 (Prophets — historical narrative sections in Isaiah and Jeremiah for instance). But then I have reading days like today, with eschatology featured in three different places — the gospel accounts, Zechariah, and Revelation.

One additional observation from Luke 21: verse 25 mentions the sea, that people are perplexed because of the roaring of the sea and the waves. This reminds me of my recent study through Acts 27 in S. Lewis Johnson’s series. The sea was not something pleasant in the 1st century, and voyage by sea was often dangerous or even impossible. Johnson noted also the reference to Revelation 21, that in the New Heavens and New Earth there would be no more sea — a description not so meaningful to us today, but something designed to bring comfort to readers of that day.

Luke’s Gospel and Eschatology

February 12, 2010 2 comments

I’ve been reading through Luke’s Gospel lately, up through chapter 19 today, and have noticed quite a few eschatological references.  At the same time I’ve noticed a few blog postings also in connection with these chapters.

As I read through Luke 17 I noted the commonly cited verse where Jesus says that the kingdom is spiritual and among you.  The verses immediately after this statement talk about the signs of His second coming.  Over at Dr. Reluctant’s blog, the latest posting addresses this very issue — “Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (17)“.

In reading through Luke 19 today, I also noted the kingdom references in Jesus’ parable about the minas and the servants (Luke 19:11-27).  Jesus tells the parable to the people as they approach Jerusalem, because “the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.”  The main feature of the parable is the three servants and what they did with their minas.  But notice verse 15, which states that He did (later) receive the kingdom:  “He was made king, however, and returned home.”

Here I am reminded of a common practice among amillennialists and preterists:  expounding theology from a parable.  They do this with some parables, such as the Matthew 13 parable about the wheat and the tares and the harvesting angels, or the sheep and the goats parable in Matthew 25, to try to prove their idea of a simple, one event resurrection and judgement of everyone.  As many dispensationalists point out, using parables to such extent, is problematic — an approach that fails to consider the full context of the parable and its context and relationship to other passages of scripture, both other passages nearby in the text as well as other parts of scripture.  But if they really want to use parables to affirm a particular theological position, why not use the one in Luke 19:11-27?  That passage is very clearly talking about the future kingdom of God.  Just as in Acts 1:6-7, Jesus does not rebuke the disciples for asking the question but simply tells them it’s not for them to know the times or dates, so here in Luke 19, Jesus does not rebuke the kingdom idea itself but again emphasizes that it will come at a future time.  If the kingdom of God was really just a spiritual kingdom now, Jesus had plenty of opportunity, both in Luke 19 and Acts 1, to explain otherwise.  Similarly, if the kingdom is only spiritual and among us as said in Luke 17:20-21, then why bother adding the rest of that chapter?

Which brings me to a third interesting passage, though I admit I scanned over it at first and didn’t catch the significance right away.  Immediately after the Luke 17 passage comes the parable about the widow and the unjust judge — Luke 18:1-8.  The significant verse is the last one, where Jesus states “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”  Yesterday’s post at the “World and Church Trends” prophecy website, “When Jesus comes will there be faith on the earth? Yes, no and then yes!”   takes this very passage, notes the importance of verse 8:  “The major mystery that remains in this passage is why does Jesus ask if there will be faith on the earth when He comes?” and concludes that it’s a reference to the pre-wrath rapture: the rapture will remove all the believers, then during the Great Tribulation many more people will come to faith in Christ, and then when Jesus comes to Earth at the end He will find those believers.

While I agree with the basic sequencing of the Second Coming events, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that Luke 18:8 is referencing the rapture.  Yet the matter intrigued me enough to look up what John MacArthur had to say about this parable, from his Luke series.  His sermon on this text, “Persistent Prayer for the Lord’s Return” does not propose the rapture idea, but does point out the very eschatological focus of the parable, noting its placement immediately after Luke 17, and the statement in verse 8.

Now you say, “How do you know this is a Second Coming section?” Well verse 8 is the key to that. It says at the end of verse 8, “However, when the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?” Will He find this kind of persevering faith? Will He find this kind of persevering prayer? Will He find this kind of enduring confidence? This is definitely eschatological praying. No one of us knows the time of the Rapture. We don’t know when the events that are the Second Coming will be launched. We don’t know when the day of the Lord is going to come, but two thousand years have passed by, believers have been waiting and waiting, and suffering at the hand of sinners. Sin escalates, evil men grow worse and worse and worse. We see the pollution inside and outside Christendom. False teachers abound everywhere. We’re endeavoring to endure true and faithful, trusting in the Word of God. We have been promised that He will come. We believe that He will come. And here He says, “Keep praying for that event.” He will come but part of the means of that coming is our prayer life. Prayer moves God to accomplish His work and therefore having accomplished His work, bringing it to its great culmination in His Second Coming. He will come. He promises He will come. He will be faithful to His elect. He will bring judgment to the ungodly. He will vindicate the saints. He will exalt Himself. He will establish His throne on earth. He will reign in a Kingdom on earth and He will establish the new heaven and the new earth. And that is what we are to pray for relentlessly.

This takes us back to Matthew 6:10 and Luke 11:2. “When you pray, pray like this. Our Father who art in heaven, Thy Kingdom come.” This is Kingdom pray…praying. This is praying for the Kingdom to come, for the Lord to punish the ungodly, reclaim the earth, mete out righteous judgment, vindicate His elect, establish His glory on the earth, vanquish Satan, take His throne and establish the glorious fulfillment of all His promises. So again I say, the key to the parable hangs at the front door, we know what this story is about. We are to be living our lives saying, “even so, come Lord Jesus. Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.”

MacArthur then points out the importance of Christ’s Second Coming as part of a Christian world view.  He’s right, understanding the future events and our blessed Hope makes such a difference in how we act in this world.  MacArthur:

I was reading a book this week that is a world view book of great note and a significant and helpful book on the world view. I couldn’t find one place in the book where it referred to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. You can’t even begin to have a proper world view unless you understand how it all ends.

I suspect he was referring to the same group as http://www.worldview.org, a popular teaching and training site with worldview curriculum.  At any rate, I googled their site for several specific key terms related to the Second Coming (Second Coming, Rapture, Great Tribulation, Day of the Lord, Christ’s Return, return, rewards, Israel, etc.) and likewise found nothing.

The shallow teacher, who misses the significance of a proper worldview regarding how it all ends, comes up with very general teachings that might do well enough for superficial followers content to do a few minutes of devotional reading each day, but it does not satisfy the believer who earnestly studies God’s word as a great treasure.  That shallow view says that Luke 18:1-8 is about persistence in prayer, as in prayer for our daily, temporal needs of this life.  The same type of teaching, though, also says that the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 is about our love for the brethren, how we treat fellow believers (same as taught in 1 John), and that Ezekiel 36-37 is (only) talking about spiritual regeneration.