Puritan Portraits

Although Joel Beeke’s Meet the Puritans is the gold standard reference work on the Puritans and their books, if I wanted to introduce someone to the Puritans for the first time, I’d now give them J I Packer’s Puritan Portraits. I would also give it to someone who was wondering where to start reading in the Puritans.

In Puritan Portraits, Christian Focus have taken the seven biographical essays Packer wrote to introduce a number of Puritan classics in the Christian Heritage series, put them together in one slim and readable volume, and bookended them with valuable longer Packer essays on the pastoral work and programs of the Puritans. The short epilogue, A Puritan Pastors Program, could transform many modern ministries for the better.

A survey of seven Puritan lives ministries is followed by a summary of at least one of his books, together with choice and appetizing extracts from them. They include:

  • Henry Scougal: The Life of God in the Soul of Man
  • Stephen Charnock: Christ Crucified
  • John Bunyan: The Heavenly Footman
  • Matthew Henry: The Pleasantness of a Religious Life
  • John Owen: The Mortification of Sin
  • John Flavel: Keeping the Heart
  • Thomas Boston: The Art of Man Fishing.

William Perkins and Richard Baxter get longer treatments.

What I especially liked about this book was its honesty. Packer recognizes flaws and failings in some of these men’s writings, making them difficult to read at times. However, he also provides practical helps to enable the reader to overlook or overcome these faults, and balance out some of the imbalances.

Having been deeply impacted by the powerful combination of doctrine, devotion, and duty in these Puritan works, Packer is clearly anxious for others to benefit from them too and not to be deterred or discouraged by certain deficiencies in style or content.

The success of his efforts will be measured by the answer to a simple question: “Did it make you want to read one of the highlighted books?” Judged by such a criteria, it was certainly a success for me.

J I Packer, Puritan Portraits (Tain: Christian Focus, 2012), 188 pages, $9.99

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Forget about your legacy, just do the right thing
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The Importance of Multi-Cultural Congregations
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I can’t see the wood for the trees
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Three pitfalls for young evangelical leaders

Alex Crain interviews John Macarthur about his new book [Video] Twelve Unlikely Heroes: How God Commissioned Unexpected People in the Bible and What He Wants to Do with You (Nelson, 2012).

Survey: What are the 10 biggest counseling issues today?

I’d like to take a survey of the most common counseling issues pastors are facing in their daily lives. Would you write in the comments the problems you are most frequently encountering and then I’ll try to set up a Top 10 survey with the answers. One of the reasons behind the question is my concern to ensure that seminaries are preparing men adequately for the problems they will come across most.

The basic question is: If you had your seminary training all over again, what issues would you like to have the greatest focus? It could be more modern problems like anorexia, abuse, etc.;  the more “regular” issues like bereavement, pain, depression, fear, etc.; or the deeper, longer challenges like unbelief, doubt, discontent, temptation, chastisement, etc.

If you’re not a pastor, why not answer it along these lines: If you had the opportunity to have your future pastor trained to counsel in certain subjects, what would you choose?

Thanks so much for your contributions and interaction.

Reformed Theology and Ragged Schools

For as long as the Gospel’s been preached, it’s always been accompanied by a concern for the education of the poor. It’s heartening to see Christians take a renewed interest in this kind of Gospel-powered social action once again. Just yesterday the Gospel Coalition published an article by J D Grear on Why our church adopted a school.  I don’t know if there is Christian motivation behind this young teacher’s school for black boys, but it’s a great example of what Christians could also be doing to transform the futures, and even the eternities, of the most needy in our society.

Ragged Schools
My friend Andrew Murray (not a relation, though I wouldn’t mind he if was), has been practically involved in social work and Christian social action for many years in some of the toughest communities in Scotland. He’s just started Ragged Theology, a blog dedicated to the inspirational life of Thomas Guthrie, the “Apostle” of the ragged school movement in the 1800′s. You can read Andrew’s brief bio of Guthrie here. He writes:

While Dr Guthrie was one of the finest preachers of the Free Church in the 19th Century, his greatest legacy was surely as a social reformer.  This is summed up on his statue in Edinburgh which declares ‘a friend of the poor and the oppressed’.  Even in his first rural parish in Angus Guthrie was a great friend of the poor.  He established a savings bank and library; ‘The success of the bank and the library I attribute very much to this, that I myself managed them.  They were of great service by bringing me into familiar and frequent and kindly contact with my people’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 113).  Guthrie believed that the minister should live and work amongst the people.  Writing while still in Arbirlot he said to a Mr Dunlop; ‘I have discovered from my own experience that the further the people are removed from the manse, the less influence has the minister over them: and if a man won’t live among the scum of the Cowgate [central Edinburgh] I would at once say to him ‘You can’t be my minister’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 309).

Empty prisons
I think you’ll be moved by Andrew’s account of how Guthrie inspired a society-transforming, prison-emptying movement of “ragged schools.” He concludes:

Guthrie was an outstanding preacher, a faithful pastor, a winsome evangelist and one of Scotland’s finest social reformers. Guthrie’s legacy lives on in the provision that there is both in terms of welfare and education for rich and poor alike…He died in the early hours of Monday 24th February 1873 with his faithful Highland nurse and his family at his bedside.  It is said that with the exception of Dr Thomas Chalmers and Sir James Simpson, Edinburgh had not seen a funeral like it in a generation.  It was reported that 230 children from the original ragged school attended his funeral and sang a hymn at the grave. One little girl was overheard saying ‘He was all the father I ever knew.’

Amongst Guthrie’s last words he was overheard to say ‘a brand plucked from the burning!’  His legacy was that through his vision and love for his Saviour, the Ragged School movement was established which in turn plucked thousands of little brands from a life of poverty and crime, and brought them to know the ultimate friend of sinners.

From history to vision
But Andrew’s not just a historian, he’s also a visionary. He’s trying to live out Guthrie’s vision in his own day and place.  Guthrie on early intervention is a wonderful speech he gave to a group of Aberdeen businessmen last week on how they could help translate Guthrie’s model and principles into today’s culture and society.

You can read more about Andrew’s “Wilberforce-type” work at Bethany Christian Trust here or view the video below:

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How do you define preaching
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Disciple making and sentence diagramming
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How can we pursue racial reconciliation
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The NCAA continues to pimp students and the rest of us
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Gospel Church for Scotland’s Poorest
No better short video for summarizing Scotland’s glorious past, dire present, and its only hope for the future.

20 Schemes Vision from Greg A. Cash on Vimeo.

What Lance Armstrong teaches us about the unevangelized heathen?

Two great errors plague our world. First, there is the idea that if we have the Bible, we are safe. That was the Jewish error in New Testament times, the notion that being blessed with the possession of God’s Word would be enough. It’s still with us today and so is Paul’s warning that more light actually brings more responsibility. God may favor some with more light than others, but He doesn’t show favoritism in judgment (Rom. 2:1-11).

Second, there’s the misconception that if people don’t have the Bible, they are safe. God wouldn’t judge anyone who never heard the Gospel, would He? Paul’s answer? “God will never judge people for what they never knew and could not do, but He will judge them for what they did know and didn’t do” (Rom. 2:12).

On the judgment day, God will ask the unevangelized heathen three simple questions:

  1. What did you know? (v.12)
  2. What did you do? (v. 13-14)
  3. What did your conscience say? (v. 15-16)

Unbelievers will be judged by the light that was available to them rather than by what was unavailable. They will not be condemned for sinning against a revelation they never had. They will only be judged by what they knew and didn’t do: “As many as have sinned without law, will also perish without law” (Rom. 2:12).

Notice the hope: God will not judge those who never had the written law as if they did have it. Notice the despair: Though they don’t have the written law, they all still sin against the moral law written in their hearts and will perish for that. In theory, it’s possible for someone to never have heard the Gospel or read the Bible and be saved – if they can live up to the light God has given within them. In reality, no one has ever done even that.

I was once a great fan of Lance Armstrong, the now disgraced seven-time winner of the Tour de France. I admired the way he battled through cancer to win  these titles, one after another after another. As he reflected on the time when it looked as if he was going to die from his disease, he said:

Quite simply, I believed I had a responsibility to be a good person, and that meant fair, honest, hardworking, and honorable. If I did that, if I was good to my family, true to my friends, if I gave back to my community or to some cause, if I wasn’t a liar, a cheat, or a thief, then I believed that should be enough. At the end of the day, if there was indeed some Body or presence standing there to judge me, I hope I would be judged on whether or not I had lived a true life, not on whether I believed in a certain book, or whether I’d been baptized. (It’s not about the bike, 113).

You see, we all have our own standards, our own law, our own morals. And, like Lance, none of us live up even to these rules. None of us! As our own consciences painfully testify (v. 15-16).

BUT! There’s good news for Lance – and for all of us.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24).