Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me


Just some more thoughts on Exodus 17, typology, and rocks (There are a few of my favorite things).

Moses struck Yahweh on the rock at Horeb with the staff of judgment, and water poured out for the people. A centurion struck I AM on calvary’s cross with a spear, and water and blood poured out for the life of the church. Jesus told Simon “little rock” Bar-Jonah that he (Jesus) would build his church on the rock of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ– and then he went and got struck for the life of the world. The Church’s one foundation– her precious cornerstone– is the rent Rock of ages. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the wind blew and beat on that house,” and no dice. It’s a firm foundation.

Looks like weakness to the world. But to us who are being saved, it is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Unless you fall on this rock and break, it will fall on you and crush you. The confession of the church is the Rock rejected by men but chosen by God and precious. Let us look on him whom we have pierced.


Yahweh in Judgment

Psalm 95 is quoted in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4, as a warning to the people of God not to harden their hearts “as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness” (Psalm 95:8). There are two incidents referred to as Meribah– Exodus 17 and Numbers 20– but only Exodus 17 is also referred to as Massah. In Exodus 17 the children of Israel complain because they are thirsty and they believe Moses has led them out into the wilderness to die. When Moses cries out to God, God tells him to take his staff and strike the rock. When Moses does this, water pours out from the rock. Yippee.

It is interesting, then, that of all the names which the Psalmist could have used to start Psalm 95 off with, he chose this one: “O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Psalm 95:1).

“For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

Food for thought.


Against the Arians, Against the Paedobaptists?

I sure hope that title doesn’t get me into trouble.

I’m reading Peter Leithart’s book Athanasius right now, and I just came across a blurb from Athanasius which struck me. He is defending the Nicene definition against the Arians (who deny that Christ is coeval with the Father), and he uses the traditional baptistic formula to do so. I pick up in the middle:

For not he who simply says, “O Lord,” gives Baptism; but he who with the Name has also the right faith. On this account therefore our Savior also did not simply command to baptize, he first says, “Teach;” then this: “Baptize into the Name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost;” that the right faith might follow upon learning, and together with faith might come into the consecration of Baptism. (Leithart, Athanasius, p. 35)

Interesting. So here’s my question: If Athanasius is correct in saying that the command to ‘teach’ (or make disciples) comes before ‘baptize,’ then isn’t that an argument against paedobaptism? I’d love to hear what you Reformed and Presbyterian folks think.


Worth the Price of the Book

This morning Pastor Kerry mentioned a passage from a book he and I read together, and I remembered that I had wanted to put that same passage up here.

This is from James McClendon’s systematic volume one, Ethics– I’ve mentioned it before. McClendon in this section is talking about forgiveness, and Kerry says that this paragraph alone is worth the price of the book. I agree. So here it is:

This brings up the recurrent belief that forgiving means forgetting. And indeed, Scripture says that God tells Israel he “will remember your sins no more” (Isa. 43:25 NEB). Yet this cannot be understood with literal simplicity, for in the following verse (26) the forgiving God recounts those very forgiven sins Israel has committed. In this passage, then, to forget must mean to cease to harbor resentment, must mean to hold their sins against them no longer. Indeed, it might be more truly said of forgiveness that it is a special kind of remembrance. One who forgives knows the other’s offense to be offense; forgiveness takes its rise, begins, as Butler has shown, from natural resentment, else there is nothing to forgive. Then the forgiving one takes that offense up into his or her own life, makes the other’s story part of his or her own story, and by owning it destroys its power to divide forgiver and forgiven. In this sense, to forgive is truly to love one’s offending neighbor as oneself. Forgiving is not forgetting, for we can repress the memory and still be at enmity with one another; for Christians, forgiving is rather remembering under the aspect of membership in the body of Christ: it is knowing that he who is our body and we, forgiven and forgiver, are all one. (McClendon, 225)

There is one line in the middle that deserves repeating: “Then the forgiving one takes that offense up into his or her own life, makes the other’s story part of his or her own story, and by owning it destroys its power to divide forgiver and forgiven.” This is exactly what Jesus did, and taught us to do, and enables us to do. I think that line alone is worth the price of the book.


Last Bit


Here’s the last segment from the letter I wrote to a friend about a year and some ago on sovereignty. This bit is on sovereignty and prayer.

How does my belief in God’s sovereignty aid me in prayer? Because the God who decrees ends uses means to accomplish those ends. When God decrees rain, he decrees weather systems. When he decrees growth, he decrees industry. When he decrees healing, he decrees prayer (James 5:16).

God hears prayer (Psalm 65:2). He responds to it. He will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:13). The prayer of a righteous man has great power (James 5:16), because there is none like God, “declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10). If God, who governs, ordains, and rules all things, has decided that to accomplish his purposes, he will use prayer, then those ends will not be accomplished without prayer. Our prayers matter because God wrote this play, and he waits for his cues like the rest of us.
You and I, then, having been commanded to always pray and never lose heart (Luke 18:1), can do so in faith and boldness, knowing that many will be blessed through our prayers (2 Corinthians 1:11). Prayer is working in the fields with the Father as a little child who says “look Dad, there’s a weed” to watch his Father rip the offending plant out of the ground with everlasting arms. We have been given “dignity of causality” and we have the unimaginable privilege of pointing and watching God work.
What’s more, God is able “to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Let’s put that glorious claim to the test. Start asking big. Start imagining big. And watch the power of the prayer-answering God dwarf the edifices of your imagination with a deliverance that calls to mind Egyptian armor in the middle of the Red Sea.

Sovereignty and Evangelism

I know that DA Carson wrote a book on this issue, but I haven’t read it. Here’s another segment from the letter I wrote to a friend a while back. If you wish to see the first two segments, scroll down the page.

How is my belief in God’s sovereignty an aid in witnessing? Because Jesus has other sheep that are not of this fold; he must bring them also, and they will listen to his voice (John 10:16). “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). When we speak, God raises the dead. His word will accomplish the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11), and when that purpose is the regeneration of dead hearts, then let all the powers of hell and human rebellion assemble themselves; they will be before the Lord as dust before a hurricane.

God wants your friend saved? Then preach as well you can, but do not worry about your stammering tongue, your faulty memory, your inadequate display- God will move. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Corinthians 1:18), and “we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). When we preach the Word, it hardens some to death and wakens others to life, and it is not for us to decide which is which. He has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Romans 9:18). He has mercy. He has mercy.
And over all of history stands the promise, the certainty that someday there will be “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10). Think of it! Someday you will stand shoulder to shoulder with men and women from places where there is no gospel, from tribes right now in bondage to the spirit of the age- you will stand redeemed before the Desire of nations and you will worship him! The song of praise to the Lamb will resound through eternity is English and Korean and Farsi and Zulu and languages never before heard to Western ears!
This is not a vain hope, and it’s not a goal we would like to accomplish- he will do it! And he will use you. He will use you. You. You can say with Paul “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me… this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authority in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, through whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:7-11).


Bring It All In

Hey again,

I’ve had some half-formed ideas running though my head for a while, and a stanza from a George Herbert poem helped to cement one a little bit. This is stanza 72 in his poem “Perirrhanterium:”

Judge not the preacher; for he is thy Judge:
If thou mislike him, thou conceiv’st him not.
God calleth preaching folly. Do not grudge
To pick out treasures from an earthen pot.
The worst speak something good: if all want sense;
God takes a text, and preacheth patience.

It was the last line or so that caught my eye: “The worst speak something good: if all want sense;/ God takes a text, and preacheth patience.”

I’m still having some difficulty articulating this, so bear with me. It seems that this is an example of the value of means- is that the right way to say it? Typically, we value ends; results; that which we set out to achieve when we set out to achieve something. The means- that which we do in order to get the result we want- is secondary. It may be necessary; it may sometimes even be enjoyable; but it is still secondary.

For example: When I am in my home and I want to eat a sandwich, I first must make a sandwich. This is (I think) common knowledge. The actual making of the sandwich holds no particular pleasures for me; I do not think to myself, Boy, I really could go for making a sandwich right now. I think people would begin to notice if I went around making sandwiches with great delight yet never eating them. The sandwich making is merely a means to an end. And largely, we do not associate the means with value. Perhaps in things we must practice, we think means are valuable- in learning to drive a car, for example. But not generally.

Here the line from Herbert comes in. When I sit in the church pew to hear a truly awful sermon, I’m usually not very happy; after all, I came here for the end of obtaining knowledge, receiving instruction, being stirred up in the faith, and so on, and to sit through the sermon in order for those things to happen is bad enough. Worse still is it when the text is poorly explicated by a passionless minister without a drop of charisma. Yet Herbert hits upon an important point: the event of preaching itself- whether the preaching is good or bad- is an occasion for God to teach a lesson which I could not have anticipated.

Isn’t that just like life? When I was in high school I strenuously objected to being forced to learn algebra and precalculus because I knew, I just knew that I was never going to use those things in real life. I seem to have been right thus far, in that since I graduated from high school six years ago no one has shoved a quadrilateral under my nose and demanded that I solve for x. But the equations themselves, I’ve come to realize, were the least of what I learned in my precalc class under Barney Mitchell those years ago.

Learning math, I am convinced, has helped my theology. After all, where did I learn the importance of caution in my reasoning? Where did I learn to show my work, so others might be able to learn from my method as well as correct my mistakes? Where did I learn to patiently labor at that which I did not understand, yet that which was right in front of me? I have to say, if I remember correctly, that I learned all of these things from good old Mr. Mitchell in math class. And there are a thousand examples of this.

I hope I’ve articulated myself well enough. Lord willing, I will have more to say on this subject.