Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Watson’

On Benedictions, and Christ’s Ascension and Session

April 29, 2020 1 comment

Lately I’ve been thinking about the ‘Benediction’, as the ending in a worship service — practiced at confessionally Reformed church services.  I’ve heard it mentioned on podcasts, and also now observed it at a local church which we recently started attending (in person for a few weeks, before covid-19 shut churches down; and since then observed in online services).  I’ve also viewed this practice in a few other online church services in recent weeks.  The pastor speaks the words of the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24-26), with his hands lifted up high, with palms facing the congregation.

An essay book on Christology, David’s Son and David’s Lord  (a compilation from the 2018 Spring Theology Conference at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary), includes a helpful chapter on this very topic — relating the Aaronic blessing of the priest upon the people of God, to the Ascension of Christ, to Christ’s means of blessing His people today.  Aaron’s blessing was the pattern for Christ’s ascension.  The connection from Aaron, to Christ our great High priest, to Christ’s body His church, is built on the covenantal understanding of the unity of scripture in all its parts, understanding that what was practiced by the Old Testament high priest, for God’s people then, was a type of Christ’s ascension and priestly work, as well as something that applies to God’s people throughout all time including us today.

Describing the activity in Numbers 6:22-27 and Leviticus 9:22, Ryan Speck in the chapter “Rejoice! The Triumphant Lord Jesus,” observes:

the priest lifted his hand high but with his palm stretched out towards the congregation.  Why? The minister is reaching high (to call down from the exalted God a heavenly blessing) and reaching towards the people (to place the blessing upon the people).

Then, the same things happened in Acts 1, when Christ blessed His disciples—and was parted from them:

Like the high priest when he came forth from the temple on great feast days, He lifts up his hands and blesses His disciples as the eternal High Priest.  And so, with outstretched hands, while the disciples look up to Him with receptive and worshipful hearts (Acts 1:9), He is parted from them and He, who had from all eternity been with the Father in divine glory, had again entered the Invisible World, and had returned to Him, but now with a human though glorified and heavenly body.  (Ryan Speck, quoting Norval Geldenhuys)

Importantly, explained in a Matthew Henry quote:

While he was blessing them, he was parted from them; not as if he were taken away before he had said all he had to say, but to intimate that his being parted from them did not put an end to his blessing them, for the intercession which he went to heaven to make for all his is a continuation of the blessing.  He began to bless them on earth, but he went to heaven to go on with it.

Christ’s intercession for His people today includes blessings upon us, in three ways.  The first of these is through the ministers at local church – the ministers of the Word that God gave to His church.

As you may hear Christ, the Good Shepherd, speak to you in the preaching of His word, so too you may receive Christ’s blessing to you at the end of the service. …As Aaron blessed the people and God promised that He Himself would bless them, so too Jesus calls His ministers to bless His people with the implicit promise that He Himself from heaven will bless them.  Thus, Christ’s blessing continues through the means of His church.

Thomas Watson’s Body of Divinity, makes a similar point regarding the preacher as Christ’s ambassador, in question 31 on Effectual Calling (a recent reading, per the Westminster Daily calendar readings):

So, perhaps, you think it is only the minister that speaks to you in the word, but it is God himself who speaks. Therefore Christ is said to speak to us from heaven. Heb 12:25. How does he speak but by his ministers? as a king speaks by his ambassadors. Know, that in every sermon preached, God calls to you.

Christ also pleads with the Father, as our Advocate, to hear our prayers – the Old Testament incense type (here, I also note Revelation 8:4, which also makes this direct connection).  In addition, Christ intercedes for us with His own petitions.  Romans 8:26-27 is a good reference; Paul notes that the Spirit Himself intercedes for us, “according to the will of God.”  Ryan Speck here provides some interesting illustrations and descriptions, including an excerpt from John Bunyan’s Holy War:

When this petition was come to the palace of the King, who should it be delivered to but to the King’s Son? So he took it and read it, and because the contents of it pleased him well, he mended, and also in some things added to the petition himself. So, after he had made such amendments and additions as he thought convenient, with his own hand, he carried it in to the King; to whom, when he had with obeisance delivered it, he put on authority, and spake to it himself.

Or, in modern terms:

Have you ever, in frustration, screamed in your mind, ‘That’s not what I prayed for!’  Yet, perhaps, that irritating outcome resulted from Christ’s editorial work in your prayers, which means that unexpected and undesired answer is the best answer to your (edited) prayer.

Throughout this reading (the chapter on this topic), comes the amazing discovery / reminder, the reality hitting home in a real way, that whenever I pray, Christ is (really, actually) interceding and adding to the prayer, bringing it before the Father.  Such is a great point to remember, the great love and continual presence, and intercession on my/our behalf, of our great High Priest.

Studies on The Lord’s Prayer

April 8, 2019 4 comments

The Lord’s Prayer is a familiar scripture passage, one of the most memorized passages (along with Psalm 23 and a few other verses such as John 3:16).  From Christian contemporary music (when I listened to it in the late 1980s through mid-1990s) two song versions come to mind, from Tony Melendez and Steve Camp.

The Sunday School class has been studying Al Mohler’s book on The Lord’s Prayer (The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down), and so a blog post about this and related resources is fitting.  Mohler’s book is a good layperson resource, with good introductory material, many quotes from Martin Luther (especially his words addressed to his barber, Peter Beskendorf), J.I. Packer and others, and examination of the theology involved in each clause of this prayer (from Matthew 6 and Luke 11).

Classic Puritan recommended resources (from others in online reading groups) include Thomas Watson’s The Lord’s Prayer (free e-book available from now on my list to read.  Martyn Lloyd Jones’ series through the Sermon on the Mount ,and other expositions on the Sermon on the Mount / The Lord’s Prayer, are also recommended studies.

From the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, the 2002 PCRT conference has an interesting 4-part series with messages by Richard Phillips and Hywel Jones: “Lord, Teach Us to Pray”. Dr. Jones’ three lectures provide exposition of Luke 11:1-13, of the prayer itself and the related parable.  Among the highlights from this series, Hywel Jones exposited Luke 11:1, the introductory words that we usually do not think about, which provide the setting and the fact that Jesus was praying in a certain place and for a specified time.  The Luke 11 account is shorter than the Matthew 6 parallel, but Luke’s version should not be considered incomplete; it has the same basic content that is expanded on in the Matthew 6 version.  This prayer has some similarity, along with important differences, to other 1st century Jewish prayers in its form.  The Lord’s Prayer (a model prayer for us to follow) fits the common pattern, yet includes a personal touch:  the word “Father” and “my” personal father, and that we are to forgive others “as we have been forgiven.”

I do not see these concepts as really absent from the Old Testament.  Throughout the Psalms, Proverbs, and the Prophets, for example, we have many instances of Israel in a corporate relationship with “Our Father,” yet this God is personally prayed to by the psalmist.  Though the Old Testament does not use the explicit terminology found in the New Testament, certainly texts such as in Proverbs point out the need of forgiveness for ourselves as well as extending mercy and kindness (and forgiveness), instead of holding grudges or doing wrong to our neighbor.  Certainly it is true, though, that the gospel texts of The Lord’s Prayer set out clearly the things that are more implied in the Old Testament, as to our prayers and the right perspective.

These lectures provide a good overview of the Lord’s Prayer, with consideration of the two passages (Luke and Matthew) and the overall historical context.   For a more in-depth, book study, Mohler’s The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down is good for basic theology as related to the clauses of this prayer — easy reading, yet very instructive on so many areas of theology.  A sampling of a few quotes:

All we can learn about God from his revelation is designated his Name in Scripture…. A name is something personal and very different from a number or a member of a species. It always feels more or less unpleasant when others misspell or garble our name; it stands for our honor, our worth, our person, and individuality. … There is an intimate link between God and his name. According to Scripture, this link is not accidental or arbitrary but forged by God himself. We do not name God; he names himself. … Summed up in his name, therefore, is his honor, his fame, his excellencies, his entire revelation, his very being. – Herman Bavinck

Prayer and praise are like a bird’s two wings: with both working, you soar; with one out of action, you are earthbound.  But birds should not be earthbound, nor Christians praiseless. – J.I. Packer

Mohler’s book, the PCRT lectures, and the classic Reformed Puritan resources all contribute to a good study on this model prayer, the Lord’s Prayer — a few verses in scripture, yet packed with so much meaning, truths that we can never exhaust and will always be learning and gaining new insights.

Biblical Meditation, and God our Solid Rock and Ground

April 1, 2016 3 comments

Earlier this year in the 1689 Confession study I looked at the topic of Christian meditation (as related to chapter 13 of the confession, Sanctification)—and a recommended Puritan work on the topic, Thomas Watson’s “A Christian on the Mount,”  available from Gracegems here.

For a modern-day summary of biblical meditation, present-day author Michael P.V. Barrett, in the book I’m reading through, observes:

The word meditate has the idea of being consumed or preoccupied with something.  The blessed man just cannot get the law out of his mind.  .. Whereas worldly meditation seeks to empty the mind of everything, biblical meditation seeks to fill the mind with the word of God.  According to that biblical definition, there is precious little meditation in the average Christian’s life.  … Devotions sadly consist of little more than a few verses before leaving home at the beginning of a busy day or a few verses before going to bed after a busy day.  There is just so much to do, and we feel guilty if we are not busy doing. … Very simply, meditating is thinking, and here is the proverbial rub.  Thinking takes time; thinking is work.  But thinking time is not wasted time.

Watson (as always) has some great quotes about what meditation is:

The memory is the chest or cupboard to lock up a truth, meditation is the palate to feed on it. The memory is like the ark in which the manna was laid up, meditation is like Israel’s eating of manna.

And, for one meditation topic (what he called the category of Occasional, sudden occasions):

When you look up to the heavens, and see them richly embroidered with light, you may raise this meditation. If the footstool is so glorious, what is the throne where God himself sits! When you see the skies bespangled with stars, think, what is Christ The Bright Morning Star!  Monica, Augustine’s mother, standing one day, and seeing the sun shine, raised this meditation, ‘Oh! if the sun is so bright, what is the light of God’s presence?’

The “deliberate meditations” (Watson’s term) — in terms of finding a regular time each day for meditation/devotionals; and, per Hodgins’ (1689 series) suggestion, of finding a specific text or idea to meditate on and stay on that one idea throughout the day – haven’t worked out so well for me lately – the busy-ness of daily life does often get in the way, as Barrett observed.  Yet I have found certain ideas to frequently think upon in recent days: to be content with life’s situation and trusting in God’s providence, recognizing God as the First Cause of everything.

For nearly a month now, since returning from a week-long cruise, I continue to feel what is sometimes called “sea legs,” the sense of still being on a boat, the ground unsteady and moving.  Per material available online, this is the Mal De Debarquement syndrome, which affects some people for months and sometimes even years.  It often starts immediately after a cruise or other motion experience; per the description at this website I’m at the 3-4 severity level (thankfully, sometimes down to the 1-2 level).  In the midst of this ongoing feeling of movement, what often comes to mind are scriptures about God as our solid Rock, our solid ground, and the great events that will come to pass on this earth at Christ’s Return (reference Hebrews 12:26-29 about the removal of things that are shaken; also 2 Peter 3:10-13).

Even the sense of standing on solid ground on this planet, as we go about our daily life, can be taken away.  Regardless of what the brain and/or inner ear recognizes about our sense of balance and the world around us, this world and this creation is temporary and passing, and our hope and trust must be in God, the only solid ground, the One who will shake this world and remove everything that can be shaken (“things that have been made”), as we look forward to the coming Kingdom, that which cannot be shaken, and all the promises, our great inheritance and blessed hope.