Results tagged “Joy” from Reformation21 Blog

The Joy of Justification

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Theologians have often considered justification by faith alone to be "the heart of the Gospel" for the simple reason that justification is a legal declaration of pardon and righteousness--a once-for-all judicial act of God toward believers. Justification is judicial not transformative in nature. The justified believer has been acquitted before the divine tribunal and declared righteous "only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone (WSC 33)." Nevertheless, there is a real joy produced in the heart of the believer on account of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Just as Jesus experienced sorrow on account of the imputation of our sin, believers rejoice in the fact that God has clothed us in the righteousness of another. Hugh Martin, in his book The Shadow of Calvary, explained:

"The believer's own unworthiness ought not to avail to impair His joy, because a true righteousness is imputed to Him, and he has the blessedness of Him to whom the Lord imputes not his sin. The Surety's own unspotted holiness cannot avail to prevent His sorrow, because sin is imputed to Him and He has voluntarily therefore assumed what misery must belong to Him to whom the Lord imputes--not His holiness--to whom the Lord imputes nothing but sin.

The fact that the righteousness which the believer rejoices in is not his
own, not only does not diminish his joy, but on the contrary adds to it an element of wonder, a thrill of unexpected and surprising delight. To be exalted from a relation fraught with guilt and wrath and fear and death, and to be brought at once, on the ground of another's merit, into one of favor and peace and blessedness and eternal life--to have the angry frown of an incensed avenging judge turned away, and all replaced by the sweet smiles of a Father's love--this, the fruit of the imputation of another's righteousness, hiding all my sin, quenching all my fear, wondrously reversing all my fate, this is not only joyful but surprising--wonderful, the doing of the Lord and marvelous in our eyes!

And so, for Jesus to be accounted a sinner by imputation must have added a pang of amazement to the sorrow and humiliation which ensued. In point of fact, this very element in His sorrow is pointed out. He began to be "sore amazed." Not but that He fully expected it. Yet when it came, the change was in its nature "amazing." To pass from a state of unimpeached integrity to one in which He was chargeable with all grievous sins--from a state in which His conscious and unsullied love and practice of all things that are pure and lovely and of good report caused Him to obtain the announcements to his Father's complacency and love-- ("I do always those things that please Him")--to a state in which that love and practice still unimpaired, He nevertheless justified his Father's justice in frowning on Him in displeasure by the very horror and the struggle in which He would, but for His Father's will, have refused to be plunged: this must have struck into the very heart of all His sorrow an element of amazement amounting to absolute agony and horror. If an ecstasy of wonder thrills through the believer's joy in the Lord His righteousness, there must have been a deeply contrasted paralyzing amazement when the Holy One of God realized Himself as worthy, in the sins of others, of condemnation at His Father's tribunal."

On the surface, Paul's observation in Philippians 1:14 that "most of the brothers" in Rome--where Paul was chained to a member of the imperial guard awaiting the outcome of his judicial appeal to the emperor Nero--had become "more confident in the Lord" and "more bold to speak the word without fear" by virtue of Paul's own "imprisonment" makes absolutely no sense. Paul's imprisonment and the uncertainty of his own fate should have made other Christians in Rome less, not more, bold. It should have cowed them into quiet submission into Rome's inchoate stance against that upstart religion Christianity. How did it produce the opposite result? How did Paul's suffering embolden other Christians?

The answer lies in Paul's attitude towards his unfortunate circumstances, an attitude that he reveals to his readers in considerable psychological detail in Philippians 1:19-26. Paul demonstrates not the fear, worry, and anger that one would expect from someone in his circumstances (i.e., a candidate for capital punishment). He demonstrates, rather, pure joy. He portrays himself as one in the ultimate win-win situation. Either outcome of his appeal to the emperor is, in his judgment, a victory. Either he will be released from prison, and so given further opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and serve the church, or he will be executed, and so step into the inheritance that belongs to him as a believer; namely, life forever in the presence of our triune God. Paul considers death the preferable option: "My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better" (Phil. 1:23). But living has its own reward; namely, the opportunity to convince more and more people to embrace the forgiveness of sins available to them on the basis of Christ's work and so claim a share in that eternal inheritance that Paul himself anticipates. In short, "to live is Christ, to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21).

Paul's attitude towards impending death reflects the posture that C.S. Lewis hoped he might evidence if facing immediate death. Lewis was once asked by a reporter what his response would be if he were to look up in the sky and see a German bomb just about to land on his head. Lewis replied that he would stick his tongue out at the bomb and say, "Phooey! You're just a bomb. I'm an immortal soul." Lewis effectively pointed out, with this response, that Christians need not fear death -- indeed, that they might anticipate death -- because of the hope that belongs to them as believers. Paul, imprisoned in Rome and potentially facing capital punishment, exemplifies the very attitude towards death that Lewis hoped he might display if looking death in the eye. Paul is sticking his tongue out at death; looking death in the eye and grinning rather than flinching.

And that attitude towards death is the very thing that is emboldening other Christians. When Paul sticks his tongue out at death, "most of the brothers" suddenly realize that death isn't so big and bad after all. The worst (as it were) that death can actually do is usher them into the bliss of life forever with God. Suddenly Paul's Christian peers feel able to stick their own tongues out at death (or any other consequence that Rome might throw their way for their witness to Christ's person and work). Their fear evaporates and their own proclamation of the Gospel flourishes as a direct result of Paul's extended tongue. And this is cause, of course, for even greater joy for Paul: "Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice" (Phil. 1:18).

Paul's attitude towards death was a powerful form of proclamation. It was a sermon (of sorts). It's one thing to claim that Christians have a hope for something greater in the life to come, a hope that relativizes their investment in the things of this world. It's another thing to stand before death with your tongue sticking out, demonstrating to the world that you consider this life's pleasures paltry in comparison to those that await you on the other side of death's door.

By the end of Philippians chapter one, Paul is encouraging Christians in Philippi to stick their own tongues out at suffering, and reminding them that their own courage in the face of suffering is itself a form of Gospel proclamation. Christian in Philippi had "opponents" (vs. 28); they were not facing death, perhaps, for their faith in Christ (at least not yet), but they were facing lower grade forms of persecution (the loss of reputation, property, rights, etc.). Their own suffering was, Paul reminds them, part of God's plan for them; indeed, it was a gift from God to them, if rightly understood (Phil. 1:29). Their suffering was an opportunity for them to proclaim, like Paul in prison in Rome, that their hope was not in this life, but in the life to come. The testimony they were invited to give to their hope in the life to come would be, Paul observed, a word of condemnation to their opponents, a reminder of their opponents' lack of hope in anything more than this world has to offer. But, by the same token, it would be a word of encouragement to their Christian brother and sisters, and a word of witness to those in Philippi who were seeking something more solid, in terms of hope, than anything this world has to offer.

Suffering gives us the same opportunity. Every form of suffering threatens something that we value in this life: income, reputation, relationships, health, even life itself. Every form of suffering equally gives us the chance to witness to the world that we value something much, much more than whatever we stand to lose in this world. Suffering gives us opportunity, in other words, to witness to the hope that belongs to us as Christians. And that witness is powerful, because suffering invariably elicits attention from everyone around us. Suffering is mesmerizing. We've all had the experience of seeing the blue and red flashing lights ahead of us on the highway while the traffic backs up. We've all silently cursed the drivers ahead of us for slowing to a near stop in order to goggle the carnage. We've all reached the front of the line of traffic and slowed down ourselves to take in as much of an eyeful as we possibly can. Why? Because pain and suffering elicits attention. When we suffer, people notice. We invariably have a pulpit. The question is, what will we proclaim from that pulpit? Will we despair, and so witness that our hope lies in this world, and that we cannot bear the pain of losing something in this world? Or will we joyfully stick our tongues out at suffering, and so witness to a hope -- a hope of life forever with God -- that no form of suffering can take from us; a hope, indeed, that even death can only deliver, not destroy.

The Incarnate Confrontation

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We've all given and received gifts this past year, and I imagine the majority of those gifts were probably intended to be used in some way, not just owned or placed on a shelf unopened. But it's likely you've had that awkward experience of giving a gift designed to be used, and somehow finding out that the recipient hasn't used it, and has no intention of using it, other than re-gifting it at next year's White Elephant party. In some cases you just did a bad job of picking out a gift for that person - but in other cases the realization that your gift isn't being used can be discouraging, even hurtful.

So consider this: God the Father has given you the gift of the incarnation of His Son. But He hasn't given this gift merely to be a truth you take out of a Rubbermaid each December, put up on the shelf to look at, and then put back in the Rubbermaid a few weeks later. He's given it so that you might use it, not just one day or one month, but every day of the year. We should use it as the Bible uses it (both explicitly and implicitly), as a spiritual multi-tool to confront the lacks that we so often see in our lives as we follow Jesus: a lack of self-denying love, a lack of sacrificial generosity, a lack of intentionality, a lack of presence, and a lack of assurance.

In Philippians 2:1ff., Paul uses the incarnation to confront our lack of self-denying love. Paul calls a prideful and selfish church to strive for like-mindedness, humility, and self-denying love. He grounds his commands in the self-emptying humiliation of the incarnation, reminding us that Jesus, who from eternity shared all the divinity, glory, dignity, privileges, and prerogatives of God the Father, did not regard equality with God something to be greedily clung to, but willingly and humbly gave up His rights. Without ceasing to be what He was, He became what He was not - a human in a low and servile condition, coming not to be served but to give Himself away. The mind of Christ is to be the mind of Christ's people. The incarnation confronts all our lovelessness and strife, calling us (in the words of Donald Macleod) to put our petty conflict in the light of this massive theology of the eternal Word become flesh, and to love as we have been loved.

In II Corinthians 8:9, Paul uses the incarnation to confront our lack of sacrificial generosity. He grounds his appeal for the Corinthians to participate in his collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem by pointing to the grace of Jesus, who though He was rich, became poor for their sake. Mundane stinginess is met head-on with the profound mystery of the pre-existent, wealthy Son of God divesting Himself of his riches in order to make His people rich in good works. The more we meditate upon Jesus' riches-to-rags story, the more we will realize that life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions (cf. Luke 12:15; I Timothy 6:17-19), and we will hold our goods with an open palm instead of a clinched fist, willing and ready to make ourselves less rich to enrich others.

The incarnation also confronts our lack of intentionality in ministry. In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul declares that God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, when the fullness of time had come, according to His intentional, purposeful plan. Not only was all of human history sovereignly orchestrated for the entrance of Jesus, but His incarnation fulfilled God's eternal purpose and all the promises revealed to His people. Beginning in Genesis 3:15, God promised a Savior would come on a mission to undo what Adam had done, and to bring redemption through the shedding of His blood. Now connect the dots: if God sent His Son with plan, intentionality, and mission, and if Jesus says in John 17:18 that He has sent us into the world even as the Father sent Him into the world, then it follows that we too have been sent to live our lives on purpose, with design and deliberateness. We are to take the initiative with others, seeking out the lost even as Jesus sought out Zacchaeus. We are not to resemble a leaf floating aimlessly with the current of life, but a downhill skier who proactively picks her line and aims for the bottom of the mountain with all diligence. The incarnation confronts our lack of intentionality with other people, reminding us to embrace our calling as God's witnesses in every sphere He has placed us.

The incarnation also confronts our lack of presence. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) as Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). God didn't only send messengers and give us a book of sacred writings; He sent His Son in the flesh, to be with us and to reveal His glory, grace, and truth in human form. His ministry was one of presence with people, spending time with His disciples and with those who were not His disciples. Sometimes His presence was comforting, sometimes it was confrontational, always it was felt. The incarnation confronts us about our lack of "with-ness," our apathy toward dwelling among others for the sake of the gospel, so that we might create and discover opportunities to bring God's word to bear in the ordinary course of everyday life. It also encourages us by reminding us that our Lord understands the finitude of ministry in the body. He was tired and thirsty in John 4. When He spoke to the Samaritan women at the well, He wasn't in Jerusalem speaking to Nicodemus. His human body could only be in one place at time, just like ours. And so the incarnation comforts us by reminding us that we can't be everywhere all at once, and we can't do everything. So be present where you are, when you are there, and make sure in the course of your ministry to rest and spend time with your heavenly Father, even as Jesus did.

Finally, we must use the incarnation to confront our lack of assurance of salvation. The author to the Hebrews beautifully speaks of Jesus being made like His brethren in every respect, sharing in our flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14ff.). He took a human body and a reasonable soul, becoming like us in every way, sin excepted, not merely to be with us, but to die for us. By His death He has made propitiation for our sins. And because God's holy anger has been placated and His law has been fulfilled, Satan has been rendered powerless. By enduring the curse of the law against sin, Jesus has defanged the great serpent so that he can no longer use the law to accuse us. Death no longer holds us in its enslaving chains, but we have been freed from the fear of death. The incarnation confronts and calms our lack of assurance by reminding us that nothing remains to be paid, we are completely freed from our debts and have nothing to fear from God or our enemies because of the finished work of our incarnate Savior, and we have a Savior who can sympathize with our weaknesses and struggles against sin. Augustus Toplady puts it beautifully: "Complete atonement Thou hast made, and to the utmost farthing paid, whate'er Thy people owed. Nor can God's wrath on me take place when sheltered by Thy righteousness and covered by Thy blood. If Thou my pardon hast secured, and freely in my room endured the whole of wrath divine, payment God cannot twice demand, first from my bleeding surety's hand and then again from mine."

So here is your gift - the incarnation of Jesus! Will you use it every day, to spur yourself on to self-denying love, to sacrificial generosity, to intentional ministry, to a faithful presence, and to an assurance of salvation in the face of all your failures this new year?

We've all given and received gifts this past year, and I imagine the majority of those gifts were probably intended to be used in some way, not just owned or placed on a shelf unopened. But it's likely you've had that awkward experience of giving a gift designed to be used, and somehow finding out that the recipient hasn't used it, and has no intention of using it, other than re-gifting it at next year's White Elephant party. In some cases you just did a bad job of picking out a gift for that person - but in other cases the realization that your gift isn't being used can be discouraging, even hurtful.

So consider this: God the Father has given you the gift of the incarnation of His Son. But He hasn't given this gift merely to be a truth you take out of a Rubbermaid each December, put up on the shelf to look at, and then put back in the Rubbermaid a few weeks later. He's given it so that you might use it, not just one day or one month, but every day of the year. We should use it as the Bible uses it (both explicitly and implicitly), as a spiritual multi-tool to confront the lacks that we so often see in our lives as we follow Jesus: a lack of self-denying love, a lack of sacrificial generosity, a lack of intentionality, a lack of presence, and a lack of assurance.

In Philippians 2:1ff., Paul uses the incarnation to confront our lack of self-denying love. Paul calls a prideful and selfish church to strive for like-mindedness, humility, and self-denying love. He grounds his commands in the self-emptying humiliation of the incarnation, reminding us that Jesus, who from eternity shared all the divinity, glory, dignity, privileges, and prerogatives of God the Father, did not regard equality with God something to be greedily clung to, but willingly and humbly gave up His rights. Without ceasing to be what He was, He became what He was not - a human in a low and servile condition, coming not to be served but to give Himself away. The mind of Christ is to be the mind of Christ's people. The incarnation confronts all our lovelessness and strife, calling us (in the words of Donald Macleod) to put our petty conflict in the light of this massive theology of the eternal Word become flesh, and to love as we have been loved.

In II Corinthians 8:9, Paul uses the incarnation to confront our lack of sacrificial generosity. He grounds his appeal for the Corinthians to participate in his collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem by pointing to the grace of Jesus, who though He was rich, became poor for their sake. Mundane stinginess is met head-on with the profound mystery of the pre-existent, wealthy Son of God divesting Himself of his riches in order to make His people rich in good works. The more we meditate upon Jesus' riches-to-rags story, the more we will realize that life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions (cf. Luke 12:15; I Timothy 6:17-19), and we will hold our goods with an open palm instead of a clinched fist, willing and ready to make ourselves less rich to enrich others.

The incarnation also confronts our lack of intentionality in ministry. In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul declares that God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, when the fullness of time had come, according to His intentional, purposeful plan. Not only was all of human history sovereignly orchestrated for the entrance of Jesus, but His incarnation fulfilled God's eternal purpose and all the promises revealed to His people. Beginning in Genesis 3:15, God promised a Savior would come on a mission to undo what Adam had done, and to bring redemption through the shedding of His blood. Now connect the dots: if God sent His Son with plan, intentionality, and mission, and if Jesus says in John 17:18 that He has sent us into the world even as the Father sent Him into the world, then it follows that we too have been sent to live our lives on purpose, with design and deliberateness. We are to take the initiative with others, seeking out the lost even as Jesus sought out Zacchaeus. We are not to resemble a leaf floating aimlessly with the current of life, but a downhill skier who proactively picks her line and aims for the bottom of the mountain with all diligence. The incarnation confronts our lack of intentionality with other people, reminding us to embrace our calling as God's witnesses in every sphere He has placed us.

The incarnation also confronts our lack of presence. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) as Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). God didn't only send messengers and give us a book of sacred writings; He sent His Son in the flesh, to be with us and to reveal His glory, grace, and truth in human form. His ministry was one of presence with people, spending time with His disciples and with those who were not His disciples. Sometimes His presence was comforting, sometimes it was confrontational, always it was felt. The incarnation confronts us about our lack of "with-ness," our apathy toward dwelling among others for the sake of the gospel, so that we might create and discover opportunities to bring God's word to bear in the ordinary course of everyday life. It also encourages us by reminding us that our Lord understands the finitude of ministry in the body. He was tired and thirsty in John 4. When He spoke to the Samaritan women at the well, He wasn't in Jerusalem speaking to Nicodemus. His human body could only be in one place at time, just like ours. And so the incarnation comforts us by reminding us that we can't be everywhere all at once, and we can't do everything. So be present where you are, when you are there, and make sure in the course of your ministry to rest and spend time with your heavenly Father, even as Jesus did.

Finally, we must use the incarnation to confront our lack of assurance of salvation. The author to the Hebrews beautifully speaks of Jesus being made like His brethren in every respect, sharing in our flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14ff.). He took a human body and a reasonable soul, becoming like us in every way, sin excepted, not merely to be with us, but to die for us. By His death He has made propitiation for our sins. And because God's holy anger has been placated and His law has been fulfilled, Satan has been rendered powerless. By enduring the curse of the law against sin, Jesus has defanged the great serpent so that he can no longer use the law to accuse us. Death no longer holds us in its enslaving chains, but we have been freed from the fear of death. The incarnation confronts and calms our lack of assurance by reminding us that nothing remains to be paid, we are completely freed from our debts and have nothing to fear from God or our enemies because of the finished work of our incarnate Savior, and we have a Savior who can sympathize with our weaknesses and struggles against sin. Augustus Toplady puts it beautifully: "Complete atonement Thou hast made, and to the utmost farthing paid, whate'er Thy people owed. Nor can God's wrath on me take place when sheltered by Thy righteousness and covered by Thy blood. If Thou my pardon hast secured, and freely in my room endured the whole of wrath divine, payment God cannot twice demand, first from my bleeding surety's hand and then again from mine."

So here is your gift - the incarnation of Jesus! Will you use it every day, to spur yourself on to self-denying love, to sacrificial generosity, to intentional ministry, to a faithful presence, and to an assurance of salvation in the face of all your failures throughout this new year?


Caleb Cangelosi is the Associate Pastor of Pear Orchard PCA in Ridgeland, MS

Whate're My God Ordains is Right

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May 10, 2018 was the most beautiful yet painful day of our lives. Our long-awaited daughter, Dayna Euphemia, safely entered into the world and became part of our family. This is our family's story about the pain, hope, sorrow and joy that have come with the twists and turns in the adventure that is our life - an adventure we've learned can't be scripted.

Even though we had close family experience with infertility, we never thought it would be something we would personally experience when we got married in 2009. It's so natural that you fall in love, get married, establish a household and then have children. For us, this plan was falling in place perfectly until 2013. Infertility creeps up on you slowly but arrives with ferocity. The progression from wondering if it's going to take some extra time to conceive to doubting that you will ever have your own children consumes your life in the space of a year. Four and a half years, countless medical appointments, numerous procedures, thousands of dollars and one confirmed miscarriage left us feeling hopeless with the situation last summer.

We got used to pain every month - but just because it was expected didn't make it hurt any less. Infertility was a burden that was intimately woven into the fabric of our daily life. Our relationship as husband and wife grew so much deeper and stronger as a result of the pain.

Graciously, the last five years were not a negative black hole for our lives, on the contrary - when we weren't grieving we were living a great life. We have a passion for traveling and we have had the opportunity to go lots of places, including Italy, Greece, Portugal, Germany, France, Iceland, Slovenia and Croatia during our season of waiting. I'm sure many of our friends with small children looked at our social media posts with a tinge of jealousy! On many of those days life felt perfect and we felt that things would turn out alright in the end. Our desire to become parents never diminished and we knew God would fulfill that calling in His own way. As Jenn once put it, we were living in half agony and half hope.

We always seemed to have our most important conversations when we were traveling. On August 19, 2017, we had one of those conversations walking along the beach in Grado, Italy. Earlier that evening we had eaten some remarkable pizza and later than night we dodged a prodigious downpour from a thunderstorm to get back to our car. But our conversation was about neither of these things - it was an agreement that we were near the end of our journey with medical intervention for our infertility. Flying back home the following day, we could not have imagined that our prayer for a child had already been answered!

That evening was the finale to perhaps our best trip ever. During the previous week, we had road tripped through portions of Slovenia, Croatia and Italy and had a sense we were fully living life each day. In Croatia, we stayed in the gorgeous coastal town of Rovinj, where the main church was dedicated to Euphemia. Inside the church, through both our guidebook and artwork, we were drawn in by the story of Euphemia, a teenage Christian who was martyred for her faithful witness during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Her story reminded us of Stephen in Acts 7. The name Euphemia became special to us not only because of where God answered our prayers but also because it was a name to live by.

Pregnancy after infertility and miscarriage can leave you in a constant fear of what could go wrong. During the next nine months, we cautiously yet with great expectation checked off exciting milestone after milestone while all the scans showed a strong and healthy baby girl was safely developing. The pregnancy culminated in the greatest moment of our lives at 11:42 a.m. on May 10, 2018, when Dayna arrived! Her arrival wasn't without a little bit of drama when it became apparent that she had the umbilical cord doubly wrapped around her neck. It was a scary moment as she was whisked away and took longer than normal to breathe. But the medical professionals were skillful and we soon heard Dayna's little cries - the moment we had waited so long for was finally here - we were overwhelmed with joy!

After Dayna had stabilized and been given back to us, the neonatologist came in to speak with us. We expected he would simply tell us how Dayna was doing and what work had been done on her following her birth. Instead we heard phrases such as 'features of Down syndrome' and 'I'm very concerned' and that we needed to do a blood chromosome test. It was the most shocking moment of our lives. It all felt surreal, like we were watching a movie and that this wasn't actually our life.

It is impossible put into words the rollercoaster of emotions that come with shedding tears of euphoria and tears of gut-wrenching sorrow within the space of hours. During the years of infertility one of the things you dream about is that first meeting of your child; what they will look like, will they have your eyes, nose, mouth, etc - that feeling of their skin on yours for the first time. While we held Dayna's perfect form on our chest, the endorphins pumping through our body, it seemed impossible that what this man was saying could be true.

Over the past several weeks we have learned that joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive emotions. We are thrilled at the arrival of our baby girl yet look towards the future with trepidation knowing that during her life our daughter will be challenged with disability. We are grieving for our set of dreams and expectations for her life and it is still an active process. There is no quick fix to this emotional pain, though every word of encouragement we have received has slowly soothed the hurt.

Tears have been shed so many times over the past two weeks. Tears worrying about Dayna's future. Tears in coming to grips with a different set of expectations for her life. Tears at having to schedule seemingly endless medical appointments. Even more tears when the Down syndrome diagnosis was confirmed.

But there have also been tears of joy and so many wonderful moments. Tears seeing her cousins fight over who gets to hold her, be close to her and touch her. Tears in seeing her snuggle up in a perfectly peaceful way with her parents. Tears in seeing the joy in family members' eyes when meeting her. Tears in seeing each other being able to finally live out the role of mother and father. Tears in knowing that this is the child that so many prayed for so long.

During the past week we have felt our relationship grow even closer through this experience. Meanwhile Dayna is completely unfazed by any of these developments. She is a happy, content and lovely baby girl who is already exhibiting so many strong characteristics. We are filled with love for our daughter and recognize that she is the absolutely beautiful gift from God that will bring so much richness to our lives. It is touching to see the love grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends have for her - she will have an amazing support network of family and friends. She is fortunate to live in a community where there are so many excellent resources for people with disabilities that will give her great opportunities for success and happiness in her life.

This is our family, this is our story, this is our call to live in obedience to His plan. The page has turned to a new chapter in our lives and we can't wait to see what will be written - and we certainly cannot imagine turning back.

Whate'er my God ordains is right, though now this cup in drinking
May bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it all unshrinking
My God is true, each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart
And pain and sorrow shall depart - Samuel Rodigast


Jennifer Weitz blogs at Unexpected Realities. She is a member of Potomac Hills Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Leesburg, VA. 

Affliction Evangelism

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"This light momentary affliction," Paul writes, "is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor. 4:17). Paul's use of the singular noun "affliction" in 2 Cor. 4:7 is intriguing. Paul doesn't say afflictions (plural), which would suggest periodic suffering in the life of the Christian. Nor, to all appearances, is he referring to some specific episode of suffering in his own life and ministry, though Paul's life and ministry certainly contained episodes of more concentrated difficulty. He seems, rather, to be making a point generic to all Christians (hence the "for us"). "This light momentary affliction," then, seems to be a reference to the entirety of the Christian's life on this side of eternity. The Christian's life in toto can be characterized as one singular "affliction." The whole thing is hard. The hardship of the Christian life doesn't preclude joy. Nor does it preclude any number of concrete pleasures in this life (family, friendships, craft beer, pillow fights, etc.). But the life of the faithful Christian will, as a whole, be difficult.

That's a hard pill for us as Americans to swallow. Our culture puts tremendous pressure on us not just to be happy -- to pursue happiness in the here and now at any cost -- but also to look happy. Hence selfies. Selfies exist, I'm convinced, not to preserve or trigger their subjects' memories of places visited, things seen, and experiences experienced, but to be posted to some form of social media in order to project a certain image of their subjects; namely, the image of fun, adventurous, and (above all) happy people. Paul's designation of life as an "affliction" invites us to abandon the very pretense our culture bids us maintain. Acknowledging life as difficult is both scary, because it pushes against the grain of cultural expectations, and liberating, because it invites us to stop pretending that everything's peachy all the time.

But why must life be so hard for Christians? Difficulty in life is typically attended by confusion on the part of those undergoing it. The question "why?" seems to follow inevitably in the train of suffering. There seems to be a logic to Paul's sequence: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair" (2 Cor. 4:8). There is, of course, the obvious response that life is hard for Christians because it's hard for everyone in consequence of the Fall. But Paul, in 2 Cor. 4:7-12, outlines a particular logic for the suffering that Christians' encounter, a logic that, if grasped, might help Christians endure in the midst of difficulty. The suffering Paul seems especially to have in mind in these verses is persecution as a result of efforts to share the Gospel. But the logic for suffering he outlines, I think, has applicability to other forms of hardship.

Christians suffer, first of all, because God delights to triumph in weakness. "We have this treasure in jars of clay," Paul writes, "to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." The treasure that Christians' possess and seek to share with the world is the Gospel and its fruits. But their efforts to share that treasure with the world generally reap trouble. Life as a clay jar ain't pretty (see 2 Cor. 4:8-9). It's not surprising, of course, that efforts to share the Gospel with others result in unpleasantness. The Gospel is an affront to those who would deny any absolute moral standard because they wish to live their lives without accountability or consequence. It's even more of an affront to those who would acknowledge an absolute moral standard, but insist upon their own ability to meet that standard. The Gospel, in other words, is offensive.

But God grows his kingdom through the means of Christian witness, however much attended by animosity from the world. There is, in fact, a correspondence between the manner in which God accomplishes salvation through the person and work of His Son and the manner in which he advances his kingdom through the application of Christ's work to elect sinners. God triumphed over sin, death, and hell through apparent weakness -- an apparently deluded man hanging on a cross, Rome's most despicable instrument of capital punishment. God brings sinners through faith into a share in Christ's kingdom through equally apparent weakness -- persecuted, perplexed, and suffering Christians, feebly testifying to the treasure that they possess and trying to share it with others. Jars of clay. Significantly for our theme, the weakness of the means (i.e., us) that God has chosen to advance his kingdom ensures that all glory and praise for the same will be returned to him in the final analysis. The "surpassing power" that brings fruition to the efforts of silly people proclaiming a silly message clearly "belongs to God and not to us" (2 Cor. 4:7).

But there is a further logic to suffering outlined in these verses, which is this: Suffering turns our lives into sermons. Suffering may or may not show us what we're made of (as the saying goes), but it will definitely show us and others where our hope, where our identity, and where our confidence lay. The suffering Christian, in other words, becomes a form of Gospel proclamation to the world. Feed a Christian to the lions, or give a Christian some incurable disease, and what do you discover? Someone who ultimately has more invested in the life to come than this present life. Someone who can face pain and even death with ultimate hope rather than despair. Strip a Christian of his job and livelihood and what do you discover? Someone whose identity is rooted less in a profession or job title than it is in the reality of God's love and Christ's work for him. Someone whose confidence rests in God's sovereign provision more than it does in a bank account. Soak the Christian in trouble and then wring that Christian out, and what will pour from that Christian is the Gospel in visible, lived, concrete form. What will pour from that Christian, in other words, is confidence that nothing this world throws at him/her can jeopardize his/her treasure, namely, the Gospel and all that it comprises, which is chiefly the prospect of eternity in God's presence (2 Cor. 4:17).

Paul makes it clear in the opening chapters of 2 Cor. 4 that one aspect of our calling as witnesses to Christ is to make "open statement of the truth" (i.e., open our mouths, and actually articulate the gospel to others.) In 2 Cor. 4:8-12 he makes it equally clear that "open statement of the truth" can be made with our lives in addition to our lips. "We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you." Translation: We who are heirs of eternal life with God ("we who live") will regularly get the snot kicked out of us in life ("are always being given over to death"). But suffering has a purpose ("for Jesus' sake"). It puts our hope in Christ on full display to others. It turns our lives per se into a form of witness ("so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh").

Suffering is no fun, no matter how we gloss it. But seeing the opportunity that suffering affords to proclaim the Gospel with our lives may go some way towards helping us to "count it all joy when we encounter trials of various kinds" (James 1:2).

 

Hell's Horrors vs. Heaven's Happiness (Updated)

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Updated: response to Professor Helm below.

When we speak of grace, hell, heaven, etc., we must not merely speak in generalities, but as specific as the Scriptures allow us, which includes good and necessary consequences (Matt. 22:32). Someone may reference the horrors of hell or the happiness of heaven in a sermon but to little effect because they fail to explain why hell will be so horrible and heaven will be so happy. Even the popular idea that hell is "separation from God" is so misleading and wrong-headed that I'm amazed people still describe hell this way. It is quite the opposite: a God-hating sinner, who does not have a mediator, lives in the presence of a holy, righteous, and powerful God.

Christ spoke on hell more than anyone else in the Bible. But he did not merely talk about hell; rather, he also described hell (Matt. 10:28). The Scriptures don't just offer us generalities, but specifics. For example, consider the language of Luke 3:17, which ends by describing hell as an unquenchable fire. Elsewhere hell is described as a "fiery furnace" where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 13:42). Moreover, hell is a lake of fire (Rev. 19:20), an eternal fire (Jude 7), outer darkness (Matt. 22:13), blackness of darkness forever (Jude 13), and a place where "their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (Mk. 9:44). 

What I want to do in this post is consider the torments of hell in relation to the joys of heaven from the perspective of "time." In doing this, we might be able to understand a little better the glories of heaven and the terrors of hell. True, hell is a punishment so great and heaven is a reward so wonderful that neither can be properly comprehended by our thoughts in this life. But how do we seek to join with Paul, for example, in persuading men because of the terrors of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:11)? Here is one way.

Time has a beginning and an ending for all creatures in this world. "Time began with the creature" is a truer statement than that which says, "The creature began with time" (Bavinck). Eternity, properly understood, belongs to God alone. The marks of eternity are: 1) there is no beginning; 2) there is no ending; and 3) there is no succession of moment. 

But Christians will receive "eternal" life (Jn. 5:24), and those who do not love the Lord Jesus with an undying love will receive "eternal" death (1 Cor. 16:22). There is another word used by Reformed theologians, going back to the Medieval tradition (e.g., Bonaventure), called "Aeviternity" (aeviternitas). Aeviternity has a beginning but no ending; it belongs to angels and humans. Eternity has no beginning, succession, or ending; it belongs to God alone (Ps. 90:2). This is an important distinction as we try to understand how our "eternity" differs from God's "eternity."

Some (e.g., Bavinck) have also distinguished between extrinsic time and intrinsic time. We measure the motion of the earth, the heavenly bodies, etc., according to extrinsic time. Extrinsic time will cease in eternity.

However, there is also intrinsic time. This refers to our existence by which events have a past, present, and future. All created beings live in the realm of intrinsic time, and we cannot escape the fact of intrinsic time because we are creatures. 

As we think about time in eternity, and the manner in which we comfort the godly and warn the ungodly, preachers should remind their hearers that in hell it will feel as though there is only time - "slow" time. In this world, when we suffer, time seems to stand still. Even waiting in traffic or in a doctor's office, time does not fly by. We become more sensitive to the seconds. This happens when listening to poor sermons, too. 

However, in heaven, because we resemble Christ, and because we shall have joy unspeakable, we shall have a far different response to intrinsic time than the person in hell. Time flies by when you're having fun: imagine how time will seem to evaporate in heaven because of the joy that awaits us. Or consider the difference between speaking to your mother-in-law on the phone compared to when you were first courting your wife. For us a "year" will feel like a "second" whereas for those in hell a "second" will feel like a "year."

Moreover, in connection with this, consider:

1) As we enjoy heaven, our joy can only increase, not decrease. Knowing that our joy will not end only heightens the joy we will experience at that moment. One sadness in experiencing a joyful moment in this world is knowing that the experience is likely to end or change (e.g., this Belgium beer is almost finished). Not so in heaven. There will be no end to our joys, which will therefore cause us more joy in each successive moment. 

2) But for those consigned to hell, their despair will only increase, not decrease. As the creature in hell realizes more and more that he or she is suffering forever, the despair of eternal judgment can only increase. Hope has utterly vanished. In our sufferings here on earth, we always have the promises of God to look to (Rom. 8:18, 28ff.). But those in hell have no promises, and thus no hope, but only increasing despair. 

According to Thomas Goodwin, in hell the wicked will despair, for the "wretched soul in hell...finds that it shall not outlive that misery, not yet can it find one space or moment of time of freedom and intermission, having for ever to do with him who is the living God." The wicked will despair because there is no end to the wrath of the living God. For that reason, there will be perfect fear, because wicked souls in hell will not only be tormented by what they experience in the present moment, but also by what they will experience forever.

The only response of the creature in hell will be to blaspheme God. And because the creature blasphemes God, there can be no end to his/her punishment. God's eternity, coupled with the sinners perpetual blasphemy against God demand an eternal place of torment. 

Therefore, the concept of ever-increasing despair for all eternity, whereby the creature damned to hell can do nothing else but blaspheme a living, eternal God, gives us all the reason in the world to persuade men and women, boys and girls, to put their faith in the one who experienced hellish despair on the cross (2 Cor. 5).

If you really believe in the cross of Christ, then you have to believe there is a hell. If you believe there is a hell, then you are beyond thankful there was a cross for Christ.  

--

I'm always happy to hear from my drinking buddy, Professor Helm. I think perhaps he reads a little too much into what I wrote. I actually (vigorously) stand with him on the society of resurrection bodies in heaven. "Solipsistic consciousness" is about the last thing I'd want to ever affirm about heaven, and still can't quite understand how my post lends itself to such an interpretation. What was my point? Simply this: Tasks in heaven will not feel "painful" - i.e., we will not suffer in our work or feel bored - because we are "cheerful laborers." 

Bavinck speaks of the "abundant and exuberant life of the cheerful laborer, for whom time barely exists and days fly by. From this perspective there is truth in the assertion that in hell there is no eternity but only time, and that the more a creature resembles God and is his image, the more he or she will rise above the imperfections of time and approach eternity." 

I expect to drink better (Belgium?) beer and better wine in heaven (alcoholic, of course), and I shouldn't at all be surprised if I have to actually make the wine myself in a vineyard. Without the curse (Gen. 3) on my labor, I expect both the wine-making and wine-drinking to be pure bliss! I also expect to enjoy the wine with my drinking buddy, and we'll both see how the time flies by. 

But, and let's not forget this: I was quite serious about the solemnity of hell. There is nothing entertaining about eternal perdition. 

Concerning mere happiness

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You will probably have seen the latest clip of Osteenian wisdom circulating on the interweb. A gleaming Victoria, cheered by the crowd and with husband Joel oozing agreement in the background, announces the following:
I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we're not doing it for God - I mean, that's one way to look at it. We're doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy . . . that's the thing that gives Him the greatest joy this morning.

So, I want you to know this morning: just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship him, you're not doing it for God really. You're doing it for yourself, because that's what makes God happy. Amen? Let's open our hearts to him today . . .
Maybe we will pass on that amen, at least as Mrs Osteen fishes for it. Frankly, this is of a piece with the kind of tosh that we have come to expect from the Osteen stable. Responding, Al Mohler swung into action with a penetrating piece in which he concluded the following:
Mere happiness cannot bear the weight of the Gospel. The message of the real Gospel is found in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." That is a message that can be preached with a straight face, a courageous spirit, and an urgent heart in Munich, in Miami, or in Mosul.
This troubled my friend David Murray, who replied with the following:
Whenever serious error arises, like the Osteens' Prosperity Gospel message, we're always at risk of framing our theology in opposition to the error rather than by taking it straight from the Bible. Reformed Theology re-forms the biblical message from the Bible; Reactionary Theology forms theology in opposition to an error. In doing so - whether it's in reaction to secular psychology, moralistic preaching, legalism, antinomianism, or the prosperity gospel - we run the real risk of going too far the other way and losing biblical vocabulary and concepts.

I don't want the Osteens' happiness. But neither do I want to lose true biblical happiness. I steadfastly refuse to let the Osteens' steal this beautiful biblical word from me or the Church. Instead, let's reclaim it and fill it with biblical ballast. By doing so we can surely out-happify the Osteens. And yes, that kind of happiness will pass the Mosul test.
David's first paragraph above is great. It is annoying, because he has said in a single paragraph what I had intended to develop into a blog post, but it is spot on. But what of this pursuit of a happiness that passes the Munich/Miami/Mosul test?

Perhaps the particular challenge lies in our definition of the word happiness, and it is a challenge which I think David begins trying to address in his post. As with so many of the problems with beset us, a large part of the difficulty has to do with the fact that we often use the same language, but we may be using it to communicate different things.

The word 'happiness' presents this problem in spades. I imagine that, when Dr Mohler employed it in his article critical of the Osteens, he was using it primarily to refer to crass, carnal happiness of the kind celebrated by La Osteen in her little outtake. It is clear that when Dr Murray employs it, he is wrestling to define the word biblically and so reclaim it for proper use. To do so, he freights it with an entirely different sense, what the Puritans and those in their stream might have called gospel happiness or blessedness, with its primary sphere of reference in a gracious God and his good gifts to the undeserving and ill-deserving creatures upon whom he has sovereignly smiled.

It is a problem that every preacher struggles with. When I speak, for example, of the blessed man of Psalm 1, I speak of one who is "truly and lastingly happy." Even then, I still need to define what is true and lasting happiness, and to do so with biblical notions and often with explicitly biblical language.

If you will forgive what is probably considered by many to be an arch-heresy, it is one of the enduring problems with the classic formula for Christian hedonism, the notion that God is most glorified by us when we are most satisfied in him. Despite all warnings and definitions, this formulation carries the constant danger of locating the glory of God in human satisfaction. One of the reasons why it does so is because - again, in the face of all attempts to prevent it - most us of wrestle with a selfish and shallow and deceptive heart that constantly defines satisfaction in terms of our own human appetites and desires. As has been noted before, in the wrong hands this formula, with the recasting of the first question and answer of the Shorter Catechism, becomes an excuse to focus on self-satisfaction rather than God-glorification. At a popular level, it is sometimes understood to suggest that it is not possible that God should be glorified unless I am also being immediately satisfied, that if I am not being satisfied then God cannot be glorified. This has become, for some, a test of action, and it is not one that makes the glory of God the chief end of man, but swings the focus to where it does not belong--on the desires and appetites of the creature. While I do not wish again to enter the debate as to whether or not this formulation is inherently slanted toward the creature rather than the Creator, it does underline the need for definition, and to take such language in the sense in which it is intended. In fact, I was amused to read the tweet of one well-known chap who wanted a certain lady to know the following: "Victoria Osteen: God's glory and your joy are at odds." Well, they may be, but that is certainly a strange declaration to come from the Desiring God stable! The whole issue lies in the name that is attached to the front of the tweet, and the presumed sense which she attaches to the concepts of divine glory and human joy.

So, as the whole Osteen circus makes plain, the first problem to address lies in that presumed intended sense. It seems very clear from the context that we are here in the realm of that "mere" crass, carnal happiness which cannot, as Dr Mohler points out, bear the weight of the gospel. In exposing such nonsense for what it is, we must not only critique the sense (or lack of it), but - if we are to reclaim the word - we must do so by constant and careful definition. To deal with this matter properly, we must bring it into the realm of true and lasting happiness, the sphere of divine blessedness, that stable and abounding joy that is yoked to God's inherent excellences. Only this happiness passes the proposed tests. This is where Dr Murray has his work cut out for him. In defining happiness, joy and blessing biblically, we are again fighting an age-old battle. We must put and keep something - something that we constantly and instinctively wish to identify in our own terms - in the words and sense of the Lord Almighty, the great Creator and glorious Redeemer. We are reaching for notions that God has defined, notions which we are tempted to wreathe in the thoughts of the fallen creature but which we must recover as the battling redeemed.

The road to joy

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I have just returned from a very pleasant week of fellowship and ministry among the Reformed Presbyterians in Northern Ireland. It was my privilege to preach at the Knockbracken Bible Week, as well as at a men's meeting beforehand, and to the students at the Reformed Theological College during one of the days.

My appointed topic in Knockbracken was the joy of salvation. I was only able to develop it briefly, considering it first against the backdrop of the curse, then looking at justification both in terms of the forgiveness of sin and the granting of righteousness, then on to what it means to be called sons of God, then finally the unfailing God who is the eternal portion of the saints.

Though I had not particularly planned it, there was a particular theme which developed along the way. As the week advanced, I emphasised repeatedly the truth that our sense of the blessings of God is grounded not just in what we have been saved to but also in what we have been saved from. So our appreciation of the blessings in Christ are in large measure proportionate to our sense of the curse from which he has delivered us. The joy of sins forgiven will be commensurate with our grief at sins committed. Our delight in peace with God will hinge in large part on our sense that we have been at enmity with him. We will most appreciate being called sons of God when we recognise that we were by nature children of wrath. It is because our flesh and heart fail that there is sweetest relief in an unfailing God as the rock of our hearts and our portion forever.

Your entry into and experience of joy depends, then, largely on your honesty before God and with yourself and others. That begins with honesty about our misery, our sin, our rebellion, our nature and our weakness. It is only when we face these facts that we will begin to find corresponding peace with and delight in God known in Christ Jesus. As sinners - even as saved sinners - there is nothing to be gained by denying or downgrading the depth of our past and present deeds and needs. Rather, our guilt and weakness is the very backdrop against which the grace of God shines most brightly. The bitterness of our sin and frailty makes the sweetness of divine mercy all the more distinct.

That also means that it is incumbent upon ministers of the gospel to make plain what it means to be without God and without hope in the world, to be under the Lord's wrath and curse on account of our sinfulness of nature and sins in deed. There is no need - we might say, little possibility - for exaggeration. Such honesty not only drives sinners out of themselves to Christ, it also means that there will be a deep and true appreciation of the mercies of God in Christ, with all corresponding joy. Such honesty keeps the saints humble in themselves and close to God, conscious of their blessings in him alone. And all this while securing the glory of God as it brings to light the greatness of our so great salvation.

Many today - even in the church - want a gospel that has no shadows, but the good news exists and makes sense only in the context of the bad news. If we want the sick to run to the doctor seeking the right medicine, we need accurately to diagnose the disease and provide the prognosis. Repentance is the heart-cry of the sinner who has come to see his sin as God sees it, and mourns accordingly. Faith is the whole-souled casting of oneself upon Christ as we confess that there is no hope in anyone or anything else. Christ's atonement is not therapy for the lightly troubled. It is life from death. That life is all the more valued and its Giver all the more exalted when the awful nature of death is properly appreciated. Everyone seems to want joy, but few seem ready to pay the price of sorrow beforehand.

It is the darkness of the night that makes the dawn precious. It is the torment of pain that makes relief so sweet. It is the misery of sickness that makes recovery so valued. It is the grief of lostness that makes being found so wonderful. It is the emptiness of self that makes the fullness of Christ so delightful. It is the horror of the curse that makes the blessing of salvation so great. It is the weight of sin's burden that makes its removal so overwhelming. It is the pain of rebellion that makes peace so dear. It is the distance of being cast out that makes the nearness of being drawn in so enticing. It is the frailty of the creature that throws the might and mercy of the Creator and Redeemer into sharp relief.

There are no short cuts to such joy. We should not seek them or offer them. Preach the truth to bring sinners to an end of themselves and to send them to Christ. Face the truth that strips you of all hope outside of God's gracious provision. Then run to the Lord Jesus and find in him all that you will need for salvation, in time and for eternity, and there you will find joy indeed.

The Man of Joy

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If creation provides the basic mold filled by redemptive re-creation (Is 45:18; Rev 7:9; 1 Cor 15:45), and if human fathers with their children, however finitely or imperfectly, image God as the Father of His children (Matt 7:11; Heb 12:7), then many who have welcomed a new life into the world--as I had the tremendous joy of doing last week--have perhaps experienced a faint replica of the joy of heaven as countless chosen sons are reborn and brought to glory (Luke 15:7; Is 62:5). 

Of course, even the highest earthly joys can hang by a thread. The same hospital delivery room has seen many tears of heartache, too. But the Christian's joy, present by faith now (2 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:8) but one day destined to be full by sight (Ps 16:11; Matt 25:21), is everlasting.  Bound up with our eternal inheritance, the joy that flows from the exalted Christ to the saved sinner is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Pet 1:4).  It is the kind of joy that the Spirit infused into Christ's human soul when He contemplated His Father's saving wisdom (Luke 10:21). And it is the kind of joy that sustained Christ's earthly pilgrimage precisely because, as Warfield writes, "He came as a conqueror with the gladness of the imminent victory in his heart."  This joy of the Savior, he goes on to say,

"was not the shallow joy of mere pagan delight in living, nor the delusive joy of a hope destined to failure; but the deep exultation of a conqueror setting captives free. This joy underlay all his sufferings and shed its light along the whole thorn-beset path which was trodden by his torn feet. We hear but little of it, however, as we hear but little of his sorrows: the narratives are not given to descriptions of the mental states of the great actor whose work they illustrate. We hear just enough of it to assure us of its presence underlying and giving its color to all his life. If our Lord was 'the Man of Sorrows,' he was more profoundly still 'the Man of Joy.'" (Warfield, The Emotional Life of our Lord)

Speaking of sorrow and joy, which dimension of Christian living is the more profound among the Christians you know?


Fearless Leader

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Ligon Duncan has published a book called Fear Not, the compilation of several address he gave recently on the topic of death and dying at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson.