Monday, October 29, 2012

Are Some Sins Worse Than Others?

I have been often asked whether some sins are worse than others.

My reply is that I suppose that depends on what the questioner means by "worse."

On one hand, we can say that all sins are equal in their adequacy to condemn the sinner to hell and make him liable to the judgment of God. In that we respect, we can answer the question with a qualified "no." No one particular sin is worse than another.

Jesus taught, for instance, in the Sermon on the Mount that anger is equivalent to murder (Matthew 5:21-22) and that lust is equivalent to adultery (Matthew 5:27-30). But this equality is in respect to the pronouncement of guilt made necessary by the sin. In both cases, the mental sin (anger/lust) has the same damning power over the sinner as the actual committal of the sin (murder/adultery) would have.

Too, we can say that all sins are equivalent in that they are a violation of the holiness of God and are tantamount to what R.C. Sproul called "cosmic treason." There is no such thing, then, as a sin (no matter how small) that is not an affront to the majesty of God's nature. A peccadillo (literally: small sin) is an oxymoron.

I might also add another way in which all sins (when confessed) are equal: they can be forgiven. The Apostle John reminds us, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9, ESV).

On the other hand--and I think this is highly significant--we shouldn't pretend for a single moment that being angry with a brother or calling someone a fool has consequential equality with committing murder. In the former, a man burns with hatred in his inner life; in the latter a dead body lies bleeding on the ground. In the same way, only a fool would suggest that lust has equality of consequence with actual committed adultery.

A number of Scriptures suggest the inherent inequality of the consequences of sin, including: Luke 12:47-48; John 19:11; Hebrews 10:29 [cf. 2:2-3]; 1 John 6:16. By the way, the first text listed in Luke's Gospel seems to suggest that hell itself will be worse for some than others.

This is why repentance and confession of sin must be in relation to the destructive "real time" power of sin. Personal, private sin may require no more than sincere and immediate repentance between the redeemed sinner and his Redeemer.

A man who unexpectedly lusts over a tawdry billboard while driving up 75N, for instance, does not likely need to do any more in confession than immediately repent, even while he is still driving. (Of course if lust is a perpetual problem and a repeated stumbling block for him, he may seek the counsel and comfort of confession of sin alongside his pastor or elders).

If that lust is physically carried out in such a way that he actually commits adultery--he breaks his covenant with his wife, destroys the marriage of another man, and dishonors his family and church--his confession will likely need to be public.

In this sense, then, all sins are by no means "equal." Some sins destroy the inner-life of a man. They burn like a house-fire in his heart while the man is destroyed from the inside out. And yet other sins break out of the heart and burn like wild fire. They destroy not only a man, but his family, his church, and possibly even his country.

These sins are no doubt "worse."

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Please consider following on Twitter at @matt_everhard. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Good Tree, Bad Trees, and the Profession of the Gospel

are your good works like fake fruitThe Westminster Confession of Faith, in Chapter XVI, states “…good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto…

In my experience, Christians tend to have a hard time fitting good works into their lives and theology. Most protestant, evangelical believers understand that salvation, if it is anything, is ”not by works” but it is “the grace of God”. Thankfully, I think that’s clear, but does that mean we are off the hook from all charitable acts? Yes!  I mean, No? … Well…  In fact… I think that entire way of thinking is off. Let me take my schizo pills and explain…

When Jesus talks about good works, he uses an analogy that I think is very helpful and very simple. He says, “a bad tree cannot bear good fruit, and a good tree cannot bear bad fruit”. Get it? If a tree has been made good (saved, born-again, redeemed, regenerated), then it will necessarily produce good fruit. It cannot NOT bear good fruit. In like manner, a bad tree (someone who remains in his/her sin) cannot bear good fruit.

By the way, there is an important distinction that should be made here. When we talk about good fruit, we are not talking about the plastic kind that sits in a bowl on your kitchen table. In other words, real fruit (the kind Jesus is talking about), is not just good deeds, charitable giving, and service to the poor… but it’s ALL of those things SO THAT God may be glorified.

Any other motivation falls short. Any other motivation is like rotten or plastic fruit that may look nice on the outside, but on the inside it is incapable of being consumed and therefore incapable of glorifying God.

Atheists give money to the homeless in Haiti. Buddhists feed the hungry.
What makes you and I different from an agnostic philanthropist? The glory of God. We do good works, we feed the hungry, we care for orphans and widows, and we are generally good citizens… why?  To earn God’s favor? No, He already loves us perfectly. Because we love people? Yes, but it can’t stop there. If our motivation is because we love people, then we have made people, not God, our object of ultimate worth and that is called idolatry. No, we do all of these things because God is the singular treasure of our lives and whatever makes Him happy makes us happy.

Only good trees enjoy producing this kind of fruit. Fruit without joy is religion.

How do our genuine good works “adorn the profession of the gospel”? They adorn the gospel, because when people see us doing as Jesus did, they get it. They know we are truly His people by the way that we love one another and by the way we love the unlovable. To quote one of my favorite professors, Dr. Steve Brown, it makes us “smell like Jesus”. If they cannot smell Jesus on us, then there’s a good probability that they will not listen to us when we admonish them to repent and believe the gospel. Why should they, honestly? The world is full of religious hypocrites as far as the eye can see. I know, I am one. But, is it possible that the reason why our message is not heard by our culture is because on one hand they hear, “Jesus is Lord and Savior”, but on the other hand, they really know we love football, politics, and tradition much, much more?

Ok, that’s the problem, but what’s the answer? Jesus, of course. He’s always the answer. Be a good Sunday School student and just say “Jesus”, and 9 times out of 10 you’ll be right on the money. What can we do to produce good fruit and therefore adorn the profession of our gospel witness? Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2), and again He said, “apart from me you can do nothing”. I take that to mean that branches that do not bear fruit (bad trees or false converts) will eventually fall away. However, those whom God has chosen to redeem and regenerate WILL bear more and more fruit if we keep our eyes on Jesus. It’s not about us, it’s all about Jesus! Legitimate fruit will adorn the profession of our gospel, and our churches will become full of fruit-bearers who will influence a community that desperately needs to hear the gospel from people who live it daily.

Are you doing your good works to adorn the gospel and glorify God?

If not… it’s time for a root-check.

Matt Johnson is an instrumental part of the Providence Church plant in Spring Hill Florida, and a deacon at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Matt works in the new product development department of Accuform Signs. Reprinted with permission from

Book Review: R.C. Sproul. The Holiness of God.

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul is a classic in Reformed devotional literature. I would heartily recommend this work to all thoughtful Christians who are pursuing the glory of God.

The purpose of this work is to reignite a passion for worship and service of God fueled by a love for His full majesty and divine worth. In this book, Sproul masterfully shakes the reader out of his complacency by reminding him of God's utter power, absolute Lordship, and incomparable purity.

In each chapter, Sproul smashes the brittle world of generic evangelicalism with the hammer of biblical authority. When much of the evangelical world is trying desperately to cast God as either an unimposing grandfatherly figure, a divine butler waiting to assist needy persons, or a motivational guru intent on building our self esteem, Sproul has instead reminded us that such flippancy is entirely inappropriate to Biblical worship.

In chapter after chapter, Sproul sets out to prove that "the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God" (Deuteronomy 4:24, cf. Hebrews 12:29) and is still the same God who struck down Uzzah for touching the ark (2 Samuel 6:7), and Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire (Leviticus 10).

Of course, Sproul does not want to create unmitigated fear in the believer's heart, but rather to reveal the ultimate reason why Christ had to die on the cross as an atoning propitiation for our sins: God's holiness demanded the cross since sin is "cosmic treason" against His authority, Lordship, and purity.

Sproul's chapter on Martin Luther's insanity is particularly masterful. Here, he shows how "insane" Luther really was: he saw the holiness of God and his own frailty in comparison more clearly than most. Sproul intends to show that what appears to be mental brokenness on the part of the great German Reformer was actually his ability to retain a far more accurate spiritual perception of the transcendence of God.

Thankfully, Luther was driven to the cross of grace. So too should we be driven to the foot of the cross by the impending wonder of God's holiness.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Please consider following on Twitter at @matt_everhard.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Approaching Reformation Day

As we approach Reformation Day I look back on the journey my family has taken in our twelve years together (my wife and I were married on October 7, 2000).  As I formed Christian convictions I rejected the practice of Halloween due to the evil often associated with it.  The celebration of fear is not something I am willing to identify with.  When I was younger I would often think of 1 Timothy 1.7, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind," (NKJV) as I formed this conviction.

The rejection of Halloween as an acceptable celebration gave me two choices at that time: ignore the practice or celebrate an alternative.  We did both.  However, in time I realized that October 31 was the date Martin Luther posted his "95 Theses" on the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany, an act that really ignited the fires of Reformation that had begun previous to him (see Jan Hus, John Wycliffe for instance).

With this, I determined that the proper celebration for Christians should be Reformation Day.  Since Luther was the focus of this day, it was not just a Reformed perspective, but an Evangelical one.  I decided that we would celebrate Reformation Day as a family.  It has been a slow process, but we look to the history of the Reformation and celebrate the Biblical fact of justification by faith ("Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 5.1 ESV; "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Epeshians 2.8-9 ESV) and the Five Solas (Sola Scriptura - Scripture Alone; Solus Christus - Christ Alone; Sola Gratia - Grace Alone; Sola Fide - Faith Alone; Soli Deo Gloria - The Glory of God Alone).

Granted, our celebration is a work in progress, and my young daughters are influenced by the constant barrage of Halloween advertisements around us- and churches offering Halloween parties and alternatives (I do not take issue with the alternatives, I just have a different conviction and side with Augustine: "In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity"). 

One day I would like to see many non-Reformed churches embrace Reformation Day in place of Halloween since it is a celebration directly related to Church history- something we do not teach enough of in the United States.  Anecdotally, this can be seen in a time I preached and mentioned Martin Luther and afterward was asked why I did not mention his "I Have a Dream" speech (which, for any who may be confused by this, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the "I Have a Dream" speech- which was also a needed speech).

I did have someone object to Martin Luther's anti-Semitic writings, and I do take issue with racism of any type- anti-Semitic, hate based on skin color or ethnic background, etc.  Martin Luther was a flawed man.  He pointed to a Gospel that has no flaws.  Calvin was flawed.  John Wesley was flawed.  You are flawed.  I am flawed.  The greatness of the Reformation is that it was bigger than any one man.  It was a return to a focus on the greatness and grace of God.  People could find hope in God instead of finding corruption in the Romanist church.  We can look to Jesus as our head, not a fallible pope. We are justified by our faith in God, not by our obedience to the papacy.

That is why Reformation Day has a growing significance for our family.  I look forward to learning more ways to make it even more a part of our practice as my daughters grow toward adulthood.

Pete Garbacki is a minister with Time for Truth Ministries and Mission.Brasil.  Follow him on Twitter @mission_brasil or FaceBook at

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Justification: The Absolute Center of Biblical Christianity

Here is a ridiculous hypothetical. Suppose that earth was visited by aliens from a distant world. And suppose further that their job was to observe life on Earth to determine whether or not it was intelligent. The aliens would probably watch an episode of "Swamp People" or "Duck Dynasty" on the Discovery Channel and suspect that they had landed on the wrong planet!

But suppose that they began to survey our beliefs and fixed their attention on Christianity: What would they discover to be the central core belief of our faith?

Let me turn that question on you for a moment. What would you say is the central article of faith of Christianity?

Some might say “Upholding a certain set of values. Voting for this party or that.” That is important, but Christianity is not a political movement. Others might say “Being a good person; kind, loving, and warm. After all, Jesus told His followers to ‘love their enemies.’” But Christianity is not a social theory. Still others might say, “Obeying the Ten Commandments; living in accordance with God’s moral Law.” Oh how critical! But Christianity is not just an ethical system—it is so much more!

Here is what I would say: “At its absolute center, Christianity is a way (THE ONLY WAY!) for unrighteous sinners to be reconciled to a holy and just God.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith defines justification as follows:

Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed (placed upon) to us, and received by faith alone (WSC #33).

Some say, we don’t need theology, just our Bibles; yet this term, "justification" is thoroughly Biblical and is central to Paul's theology in Romans. It is found five times in Romans 3:21-31 for instance. Justification is a legal word drawn from the courtroom of Paul’s day. Literally, it means “to declare to be just.”  God does this, of course, only on the basis of His grace given us through the cross of His Son (vs. 23-25).

Historically, teaching on justification has lit churches up with power, grace, forgiveness, worship, mission, giving, and service! Listen to some of the all time great Reformers:

  • Martin Luther (1483-1546): “This is the chief article from which all other doctrines have flowed… It alone begets, nourishes, builds preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the Church of God cannot exist for one hour.”
  • Thomas Cranmer (1489-1566):  “Whosoever denies [the doctrine of justification] is not to be counted for a true Christian man… but for an adversary of Christ.”
  • John Calvin (1509-1564): “Where ever the knowledge of [justification] is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished… [Justification] it is the main hinge on which salvation turns.”

Brothers, let us not forget to preach justification to our people. It is central to historic Christianity, central to the message of the Gospel, and central to revival.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow on Twitter @matt_everhard

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Revival and the Lord's Supper

Is it possible that the Lord's Supper may be one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated events that prepares a church for revival? I would argue that this is precisely the case. Here are four reasons why I believe this from Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church.

1) The Lord’s Supper is primarily a recognition and proclamation of the absolute lordship and supremacy of Jesus Christ. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11:26).

We call this sacred meal the “Lord’s Supper,” not the Pastor’s Potluck or the Believer’s Brunch, or the Church’s Chow.  “The Lord’s Supper” is not just an arbitrary designation some theologian gave it, that title comes right out of 1 Corinthians 11:20. Both words are instructive:
  • Lord’s: It is not just any meal, it is the Lord’s Supper. Jesus commanded it, He ordained it, and it points directly to Him. If this meal is anything at all, it is first and foremost a recognition of--and surrender to--the Lordship of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Every time believers gather around the two simple elements of bread and cup, they are consciously submitting to—and also proclaiming—the Lordship and authority of Jesus Christ as King and Head of the church. The very act of putting that piece of bread in your mouth is a declaration to yourself, your neighbor and the world “Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King. Jesus is God.” 
  • Supper: But that second word is important too. It is a supper. That implies that you and I come empty and hungry, not full and proud. You come in need, as a beggar to consume a meal that you did not and could not prepare for yourself—belly aching to be filled by the goodness and mercy of God! Just as could not be saved by bringing good deeds to God, so you can’t be nourished by bringing your own worthiness to the Table. No one should ever approach the Table as though it were some form of “institutional religion” or “ritual,” or “high church formalism.”  
2) The Lord’s Table is a unifying event within the Body of Christ.  Paul is livid with the Corinthians!  He is angrier than a tornado in a trailer park! Why is he so mad? Because the very event that is meant to hold the church together is actually tearing them apart. "When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not" (1 Cor 11:20-22).  

Whenever The Lord's Supper is received as a church, unity is one of the many glorious results. There has never been a revival where hatred, envy, rank, and jealousy are the results. When the church comes to the Lord’s Table, there is no rank, no hierarchy. The smallest child and the most wizened elder are the same rank.

3) The Lord’s Supper (as an act) must never be divorced from repentance (as an attitude).  "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Cor 11:27-29).

One phrase that we need to unpack here are the words “unworthy manner.”  It cannot mean that sinners are not welcome, or that if one is struggling with temptation that he is not welcome. Some have refrained from the table because they feel unworthy. But that is not the point. John Calvin said that would be like a man refusing medicine on the grounds that he is sick.

 On the contrary, "unworthy manner" means to receive the supper flippantly without doing the heart work of “examining oneself” mentioned in verse 28. You might ask yourself these questions:
  •     Do I recognize myself as being a sinner in need of a Redeemer?
  •     Do I desire to turn from my sin and acknowledge Christ’s supreme Law?
  •     Do I trust that Christ’s blood alone has justified me and made me righteous?
  •     Have I come hungry for grace or full of pride?
4) Communion is a real first-hand, direct, encounter with the person and work of Christ as given to us through the bread and cup. Let me put it to you this way: the communion event is the closest personal encounter we will have with Christ this side of Heaven.

That’s not just an opinion. I am drawing that statement from 1 Corinthians 10:16. Where Paul says, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor 10:16). That word “participation” is the Greek word koinonia which means the an intimate form of person-to-person fellowship.

Some love to be in nature, hiking or kayaking, mountain climbing or swimming. But being in nature is never called participation in the body and blood of Christ in Scripture. Others love praise music or the good old hymns from centuries past. But music is never called koinonia with the body and blood of Christ. Others still love a good sermon, or commentaries, or church history. Some (nerds like me) like books by dead theologians. But these are never called koinonia with the body and blood of Christ.

Theologians have long debated exactly HOW Christ is present in the elements of the Lord’s Table. In the middle ages a view developed that the bread and cup literally transform into the body and blood of Christ in a doctrine called “transubstantiation.” Others have swung too far to the other side and said that nothing special happens at all; that the LS is just a visual reminder of the cross in history, like an old dusty dog-eared photograph. This is called the “Memorial” view.

But John Calvin and the Reformed theologians of our church have always said something different. We have maintained that while the bread remains bread and the juice remains juice; that nonetheless something much more is happening here. Something on the spiritual level. We are actually being drawn into the presence of the Reigning Resurrected Christ. We call it the “Real Presence” view. It states that in some mystical way, Christ is actually, really, and truly present with us in a first-hand way. Although His body is literally raised to the Right Hand of God, that He is really and truly among us at the Table. God shows up!

In some mysterious way—even the best theologians admit some mystery here—we are feasting on Christ and what He has done for us. It is quite literally “soul food.” Therefore, the moment the bread hits your tongue, you taste the forgiveness that Christ bought for you with His body. The moment that the tangy crispness of the juice or wine hits your palate, you taste the grace that He bought for you by His blood.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow on Twitter @matt_everhard

Friday, October 5, 2012

Every Chapter of the Entire Bible in Chronological Order

It's a discovery that every student of Scripture makes eventually. What?! The Bible isn't in chronological order? No. Not even close. As a matter of fact, it is a pretty complicated puzzle to unravel and put back together all of the chapters in order from beginning to end.  

If you have ever had the desire  to read the Scriptures in chronological order, here is the whole of Scripture as the consensus of biblical scholars would order them in redemption history. (It is a given, of course, that many portions of Scripture--Job for instance--are very difficult to date).

Sources: This chart has been modified slightly and compressed from several sources including the following:, and 

Gen 1-11
Job 1‐42
Gen 12‐50
Ex 1‐40
Lev 1‐27
Num 1‐36
Deut 1‐34
Ps 90, 91
Josh 1‐24
Judg 1‐21
Ruth 1‐4
1 Sam 1‐20
 Ps 11, Ps 59
1 Sam 21‐24
Ps 7, 27, 31, 34, 52, 56, 120, Ps. 140‐142
1 Sam 25‐27
Ps 17, Ps 35, Ps 54, Ps 63
1 Sam 28‐31, Ps 18
Ps 121, 123‐125, 128‐130
2 Sam 1‐4
Ps 6, 8‐10, 14, 16, 19, 21
1 Chr 1‐2
Ps 43‐45, 49, 84‐85, 87
1 Chr 3‐5
Ps 73, Ps 77‐78
1 Chr 6
Ps 81, Ps 88, Ps 92‐93
1 Chr 7‐10
Ps 102‐104
2 Sam 5, 1 Chr 11‐12
Ps 133
Ps 106‐107
2 Sam 6; 1 Chr 13‐16
Ps 1‐2, 15, 22‐24, 47, 68
Ps 89, Ps 96, Ps 100, Ps 101, Ps 105, 132
2 Sam 7; 1 Chr 17
Ps 25, 29, 33, 36, 39
2 Sam 8‐9, 1 Chr 18
Ps 50, 53, 60, 75, 76
2 Sam 10, 1 Chr 19, Ps 20
Ps 65‐67, Ps 69‐70
2 Sam 11‐12, 1 Chr 20
Ps 32, Ps 51, Ps 86, Ps 122
2 Sam 13‐15
Ps 3‐4, 12‐13, 28, 55
2 Sam 16‐18
Ps 26, 40, 58, 61‐62, 64
2 Sam 19‐21
Ps 5, Ps 38, Ps 41‐42
2 Sam 22‐23, Ps 57
Ps 95, Ps 97‐99
2 Sam 24, 1 Chr 21‐22, Ps 30
Ps 108‐110
1 Chr 23‐25
Ps 131, 138‐139, 143‐145
1 Chr 26‐29, Ps 127
Ps 111‐118
1 Kgs 1‐2,
Ps 37, 71, 94, 119
1 Kgs 3‐4, 2 Chr 1,
Ps 72
Sng 1‐8
Prov 1‐24
1 Kgs 5‐6, 2 Chr 2‐3
1 Kgs 7, 2 Chr 4
1 Kgs 8, 2 Chr 5
2 Chr 6‐7, Ps 136
Ps 134, Ps 146‐150
1 Kgs 9, 2 Chr 8
Prov 25‐29
Eccl 1‐12
1 Kgs 10‐11, 2 Chr 9
Prov 30‐31
1 Kgs 12‐14
2 Chr 10‐12
1 Kgs 15; 2 Chr 13‐16
1 Kgs 16; 2 Chr 17
1 Kgs 17‐22
2 Chr 18-23
Obad 1, Ps 82‐83
2 Kgs 1‐13
2 Chr 24
2 Kgs 14, 2 Chr 25
Jonah 1‐4
2 Kgs 15, 2 Chr 26
Isa 1‐8
Amos 1‐9
2 Chr 27,
Isa 9‐12
Mic 1‐7
2 Chr 28, 2 Kgs 16‐17
Isa 13‐27
2 Kgs 18:1‐8, 2 Chr 29‐31
Ps 48
Hos 1‐14
Isa 28‐48
2 Kgs 18-19
Ps 46, Ps 80, Ps 135
Isa 49‐66
2 Kgs 20‐21
2 Chr 32‐33
Nahum 1‐3
2 Kgs 22‐23, 2 Chr 34‐35
Zeph 1‐3
Jer 1‐40
Ps 74, Ps 79
2 Kgs 24‐25, 2 Chr 36
Hab 1‐3
Jer 41‐52
Lam 1-5
Ezek 1‐48
Joel 1‐3
Dan 1‐12
Ezra 1‐6
Ps 137
Hag 1‐2
Zech 1‐14
Est 1‐10
Ezra 7‐10
Neh 1‐13
Ps 126
Mal 1‐4

Luke 1, John 1
Matt 1, Luke 2
Matt 2,
Matt 3, Mark 1, Luke 3
Matt 4, Luke 4‐5,
Mark 2
John 2-5
Matt 12; Mark 3,
Luke 6
Matt 5‐8
Luke 7
Matt 11
Luke 11
Matt 13, Luke 8
Mark 4‐5
Matt 9‐10
Matt 14, Mark 6,
Luke 9
John 6
Matt 15, Mark 7
Matt 16, Mark 8,
Matt 17, Mark 9,
Matt 18
John 7‐8
John 9-10
Luke 10‐16
John 11
Luke 17-18
Matt 19, Mark 10
Matt 20‐21
Luke 19
Mark 11, John 12
Matt 22, Mark 12
Matt 23, Luke 20‐21
Mark 13
Matt 24-26
Mark 14
Luke 22,
John 13‐17
Matt 27, Mark 15
Luke 23, John 18‐19
Matt 28, Mark 16
Luke 24, John 20‐21
Acts 1‐14
Jas 1‐5
Acts 15‐16
Gal 1‐6
Acts 17
1 Thes 1‐5
2 Thes 1‐3
Acts 18-19
1 Cor 1‐16
2 Cor 1‐13
Acts 20
Rom 1‐16
Acts 21-28
Col 1‐4,
Phm 1
Eph 1‐6
Phil 1‐4
1 Tim 1‐6
Titus 1‐3
1 Pet 1‐5
Heb 1‐13
2 Tim 1‐4
2 Pet 1‐3,
Jude 1
1 Jn 1‐5
2 Jn 1
3 Jn 1
Rev 1‐22

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review: The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne. By Andrew A. Bonar.

Every once in a while, I finish a book that, the very act of finishing the last page, makes me feel that I have just lost a dear friend. This is especially true for me in biographies wherein the protagonist dies an early and untimely death.

Such was the case of the biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne (1813-1843) by his contemporary Andrew A. Bonar. At the end of the book, at M'Cheyne's early death at age 30, I found my own soul crying out to God in grief for a lost friend.

M'Cheyne a young Presbyterian pastor in the town of Dundee, Scotland seems to have been one of those rare souls who continually lived in the conscious, joyful presence of God. His own kindred spirit, Andrew Bonar, does an admirable job of capturing the essence of a young pastor who seemed to have had two passions above all things: a zeal for personal holiness and devotion, and an unquenchable desire to save souls.

Clearly the author (Bonar) wrote this work as a eulogy for the life of a close friend. In that sense, it is far from objective. Picking up this work for the first time, the reader must realize that these pages were written to memorialize a man dearly loved by the author. It was not meant to be an evenhanded critique of M'Cheyne's successes and failures as a minister. The author, therefore, is not concerned to set out in public view the many shortcomings that M'Cheyne saw resident within his own soul.

Having said that, the biography itself is a stirring first-hand recollection of one of nineteenth century Scotland's most fire-baptized preachers. As M'Cheyne's closest mortal friend, Bonar was privileged to have access to many of his personal affects. Within this book, the reader finds an equal mixture of quotations from M'Cheyne's extant letters, poetry, journal entries, sermon manuscripts, and no short supply of his more lively verbal quotations.

Bonar stirringly traces the life of his protagonist from his birth, to his immense grief at his brother's death as a young man, to his ordination in the church of Scotland, to his charge in the Dundee church, to his evangelistic mission to Israel to preach the gospel to the Jews, to his participation in the revival fires of Scotland, and finally to the stirring account of his death.

The reader is constantly refreshed in his own walk with the Lord as we hear M'Cheyne preach passionately to his own people both from the pulpit and by house-to-house interviews. One gripping event was moving to this reviewer (himself a pastor): when M'Cheyne and Bonar returned from their life's great mission-adventure to Israel, M'Cheyne found that the interim pastor had been used of God to spark a revival in the church he himself loved so dearly. Rather than fight a deadly jealousy within his own soul that God had so used another man, M'Cheyne praised God knowing that the salvation of his people's souls is infinitely more valuable than his own reputation as a preacher. 

Throughout, M'Cheyne is imminently quotable, and many of his gems are so striking to the reader so that he is forced to put the book down and engage in prayer himself:
  • "I fear the love of applause...May God keep me from preaching myself instead of Christ crucified." 
  • "Rose early to seek God and found Him whom my soul loveth. Who would not rise early to meet such great company!...They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."
  • "Never see the face of man till you have seen His face who is our life, our all." 
  • "It has always been my aim, and it is my prayer, to have no plans with regard to myself, well assured that I am, that the place where the Savior sees fit to place me must ever be the best place for me." 
  • "I see a man cannot be a faithful minister until he preaches Christ for Christ's sake--until he gives up striving to attract people to himself, and seeks only to attract them to Christ. Lord give me this!"
M'Cheyne was a man whose doctrine was solidly rooted in the Confession of his Presbyterian tradition. He openly confesses his love for the Westminster Confession of Faith and its doctrine while at the same time cherishing the very presence of Christ alone in the "secret" places of his study. As a divine, M'Cheyne preached with full vigor both the electing grace of predestination, and the responsibility of man to repent and believe the Gospel. His doctrine of election, therefore, did not quench his zeal for evangelism. (It never should, of course).

Two things will be of lasting worth to me having read this biography.

First of all, in the waning pages of his biography, Bonar includes an unfinished manuscript of M'Cheyne's own pen called "Reformation." Here, the young pastor wrote out his own guidelines for seeking personal holiness, especially through the God-ordained means of confession of sin. These short pages are a masterpiece of self-reflection, mortification of the flesh, renunciation of the world, and the grace of repentance. He begins, "I am persuaded that I shall obtain the highest amount of personal happiness, I shall do most for God's glory and the good of maintaining a conscience always washed in Christ's blood." Anyone who seriously pursues holiness would do well to put into practice the recommendations with which M'Cheyne charges himself.

 Secondly, among his poems, "Jehovah Tzidkenu" must surely be his greatest. Here, he writes of the obstinacy of the human heart, the free grace of God in Christ, and the treasure of salvation. He writes,

I once was a stranger to grace and to God,
I knew not my danger, and felt not my load;
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.

I oft read with pleasure, to sooth or engage,

Isaiah´s wild measure and John´s simple page;
But e´en when they pictured the blood sprinkled tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu seemed nothing to me.

Like tears from the daughters of Zion that roll,

I wept when the waters went over His soul;
Yet thought not that my sins had nailed to the tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu"”´twas nothing to me.

When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,

Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see"”
Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be.

My terrors all vanished before the sweet name;

My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life giving and free"”
Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me.

Jehovah Tsidkenu! my treasure and boast,

Jehovah Tsidkenu! I ne´er can be lost;
In thee I shall conquer by flood and by field,
My cable, my anchor, my breast-plate and shield!

Even treading the valley, the shadow of death,

This "watchword" shall rally my faltering breath;
For while from life´s fever my God sets me free,
Jehovah Tsidkenu, my death song shall be.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow on Twitter @matt_everhard.