The Bishop: A Compass without a Needle

“Let every reader of this paper mark what I say. You may know a good deal about the Bible. You may know the outlines of the histories it contains, and the dates of the events described, just as a man knows the history of England. You may know the names of the men and women mentioned in it, just as a man knows Casar, Alexander the Great, or Napoleon. You may know the several precepts of the Bible, and admire them, just as a man admires Plato, Aristotle, or Seneca. But if you have not yet found out that Christ crucified is the foundation of the whole volume, you have read your Bible hitherto to very little profit. Your religion is a heaven without a sun, an arch without a key-stone, a compass without a needle, a clock without spring or weights, a lamp without oil. It will not comfort you. It will not deliver your soul from hell.” —J.C. Ryle, Old Paths

Your Carry-Through Luggage (John 1:1–5)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

—John 1:1–5 (ESV)

As you prepare to board the gospel of John the pilot hands you a special piece of carry-on luggage necessary for a proper flight. Don’t stow it in the overhead bin. Do not put it under the seat. This carry-on luggage is carry-through luggage. Hold on to it tightly throughout the flight. John’s prologue (1:1–18), especially the first five verses, and supremely the first verse, are your carry-through luggage. The Methodist theologian C.K. Barrett has this travel advice, “John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true, the book is blasphemous.”

When John hails Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” don’t forget that the Lamb is the Word who was in the beginning. When Jesus cleanses the temple, don’t forget that He is the Word who was with God in the beginning. When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again, don’t forget that He is the Word who was and is God. When Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well, don’t forget that He is the Word who became flesh.

Carry the beginning with you through to the end. But also, go to the end to carry it with you from the beginning. This gospel, like all the gospels, must be read backwards. You really must read any one of them twice to really have read them once, for they must be read in light of the ending. Martin Kähler, a critical theologian, is famous for his statement concerning Mark’s gospel, which has sense been applied to all of them. They are all of them, in his words, “passion narratives with extended introductions.” The last days of Jesus’ life are roughly the subject of between a quarter and a third of the synoptics. This is amplified in John. The second section of this gospel, beginning in chapter 13, is known as the “book of glory” or the “book of the Passion.” Near half of John’s gospel concerns His last days from the Passover forward.

But it is also at the end of this gospel that John makes explicit his purpose in writing. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31). Do you see all the parallels there with John’s prologue? This book is written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and from the beginning, John wants you to know this critical aspect of that confession:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

The Doctor: You Must Read

“Let me summarize all that I have been trying to say to you thus. If you want to be able ministers of the gospel, if you want to present the truth in the right and only true way, you must be constant students of the Word of God, you must read it without ceasing. You must read all good books that will assist you to understand it, and the best commentaries you can find on the Bible. You must read what I would call biblical theology, the explanation of the great doctrines of the New Testament, so that you may come to understand them more and more clearly, and may therefore be able to present them with ever increasing clarity to those who come to listen to you. The work of the ministry does not consist merely in giving our own personal experience, or talking about our own lives or the lives of others, but in presenting the truth of God in as simple and clear a manner as possible. And the way to do that is to study the Word and anything and everything which aids us in that supreme task.

You may say to me: Who is sufficient for these things? We have other things to do; we are busy men. How can we do this which you have asked us to do? My reply is that none of us is sufficient for these things, but God can enable us to do them if we are really anxious thus to serve Him. I am not much impressed by these arguments that you are busy men, that you have much to do in the world and therefore have no time to read these books on the Bible and to study theology. and for this good reason: that some of the best theologians I have met, some of the most saintly, some of the most learned men, have had to work very much harder than any of you, and at the same time have been denied the advantages that you have enjoyed. ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way.’ If you and I are concerned about lost souls, we must never plead that we have no time to equip ourselves for this great ministry; we must make the time. We must equip ourselves for the task, realizing the serious and terrible responsibility of the work. We must learn, and labour, and sweat, and pray in order that we may know the truth ever more and more perfectly. We must put into practice in our own lives the words to be found in I Timothy 4:12-16. God grant us the grace and the power to do so, to the honour and glory of His holy name.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times

The Doctor: The Real Division of the Bible

“What then, are the ways in which the covenant of grace has been dispensed under”the”old dispensation? Well, you go first of all Genesis 3:15. If you are interested in the technical term it is generally called the protevangel. In other words, there is a kind of foreshadowing of the whole gospel in Genesis 3:15. Now to me this is one of the most fascinating and thrilling things anyone can ever encounter. Here is this great book; we divide it up and we call it the Old Testament and the New Testament and we all know what we mean by that. But, you know, if we were to be strictly accurate we would not describe it in that way. The real division of the Bible is this: first, everything you get from Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 3:14; then everything from Genesis 3:15 to the very end of the Bible. What you have up until Genesis 3:14 is the account of the creation, and of God’s original covenant of works with man, and of how that failed because man broke it. Beginning with Genesis 3:15 you get the announcement of the gospel, the covenant of grace, the way of salvation, and that is the whole theme of the Bible until you come to the last verse of the book of Revelation. That is the real division of the Bible.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible

No Longer Strangers (Ephesians 2:11–13)

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

—Ephesians 2:11–12

Why study the covenants? Saints, because they’re ours. Your Bible is divided up into an Old Testament and a New Testament. “Testament” is an unfortunate though understandable rendering. “Covenant” is the idea. Old Covenant. New Covenant. That’s your Bible.

It is true that these labels are man made, but they are goodun’s. Read Hebrews again if you doubt that. If you don’t doubt it, then you can reach this conclusion: you cannot understand your Bible if you do not understand covenant. “Covenant” is like the spine of your Bible holding all its pages together. The Bible is thoroughly covenantal. The covenants are yours the way the Bible is yours. Because the Bible itself is covenantal through and through and because the covenants are yours, the Bible is yours.

There are many who would dispute this. Dispensationalist Bibles have weak spines. When you pick up a Scofield or Ryrie study Bible, a lot of stuff falls out. Dispensationalism has been the majority report within Evangelicalism since shortly after J.N. Darby planted the invasive seeds of it in the mid 19th century. Dispensationalism basically sorts all the Bible into one of two boxes labeled “Ethnic Israel” and “Spiritual Church.” Sure, upon close examination they say there are seven boxes in total, but those others are more like jewelry boxes whereas these two are shipping containers. Progressive dispensationalists allow some things to go into both boxes, but for the classic guys like Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, those boxes didn’t leak. Regardless, in both schemes, progressive and classic, there are two distinct plans, one for ethnic Israel, one for the church. The people of God are divided, and thus, so too is the Bible.

But what God has joined together, let not man separate. Two have become one, Jew and Gentile are made a new humanity, a singular people in Christ. All that was foreshadowed in the Old Covenant, the saints enjoy in fulness. Abraham is ours. Our hearts have been circumcised. The blood of the Passover Lamb marks us. We draw near to the most holy place coming to a throne of Grace. We are part of the true Exodus. Like the patriarchs, we are exiles looking for that city whose builder and maker is God. We are heirs according to the promise—the promise made in the Old Testament.

Let us not be strangers to what we are no longer strangers to—the covenants of promise. The covenants (plural) promised (singular) the Christ. In Christ, all of God’s promises are yes to His people, and by His blood, we are part of that people.

The Doctor: Reading the Scriptures Will Demand All of You and More

“It is possible for us to read the Scriptures in an utterly profitless manner. If you only read the Scriptures mechanically because you believe it is right and good to do so, or because you have been told to do so, you will probably derive little benefit. You may have an immediate sense of self-satisfaction and self-righteousness because you have read your portion for the day; but that is not to read the Scriptures. Every bit of intelligence we possess is needed as we read the Scriptures; all our faculties and propensities must be employed. Even that is not enough; we must pray for the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, (Baker Book House, 1988) p. 266

What Are We To Do with the Imprecatory Psalms? (Psalm 35)

For without cause they hid their net for me; 
     without cause they dug a pit for my life. 
Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it! 
And let the net that he hid ensnare him; 
     let him fall into it—to his destruction! 

Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD, 
     exulting in his salvation. 
All my bones shall say, 
     “O LORD, who is like you, 
      delivering the poor 
      from him who is too strong for him, 
      the poor and needy from him who robs him?”

—Psalm 35:7–10

What are we to do with the imprecatory psalms? I’m afraid the most common answer is to be embarrassed by them. Hide them in the closet. And should any nosey guest pry, pull them out, hold them up with disgust and ask “What is this?”, then respond with profuse apologies. Excuse them saying “Oh those! Those are Old Testament. We don’t use them anymore.”

I hope you find such embarrassment embarrassing. This may be what many do with the imprecatory psalms, but what should we do with them? Sing them! If that thought makes the modern church uncomfortable I’m certain the reason isn’t because she’s become so loving but because she’s become so soft. As odd as it may seem to some, what a soft church needs is more poetry; more of what James Adams calls the War Psalms of the Prince of Peace (highly recommended).

The problem is that we don’t know how to read poetry anymore. Luckily for us, Hebrew poetry doesn’t major on meter rhyme. God in His wisdom laid down a structure that translates well. It is the thought that rhymes. We call this thought rhyme structure parallelism. Translatable as this is, we still can’t read the stuff. Something more significant than a tire alignment is needed. The ignition timing is off. If you’re uneasy with the imprecatory psalms, your heart is off rhythm with the meter of heaven because your thoughts are inharmonious with the wisdom from above.

So how are we to read God’s poems? Less us. More Him. Poetry is meant to evoke strong emotion. Where we go wrong is that we make it more about expressing our emotion rather than that which is to evoke the emotions. The psalms are meant to train the affections. If there is a rub, your affections are off. You need training. Your heart must be timed. We read the psalms the same way we read modern worship lyrics off the screen. We never get past the warm up. “Do-Re-Me, me, me, me, me, me, me.” Our eyes are on our expression. Theology hasn’t given rise to doxology. We’ve become experience-expression junkies.

To read God’s poetry we must read it covenantally, and the chief covenant in view is the Davidic covenant. When you take up the psalms, think king and kingdom. The second psalm sets you up to understand all the imprecatory psalms.

Why do the nations rage 
and the peoples plot in vain? 
The kings of the earth set themselves, 
	and the rulers take counsel together, 
	against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 

“Let us burst their bonds apart 
	and cast away their cords from us.” 

He who sits in the heavens laughs; 
	the Lord holds them in derision. 
Then he will speak to them in his wrath, 
	and terrify them in his fury, saying, 

“As for me, I have set my King 
on Zion, my holy hill.” —Psalm 2:1–6

If we are embarrassed by the “war psalms of the Prince of Peace” the reason is that we are more concerned for our own name than we are zealous for the Name of our God and His King. The name of Christ is blasphemed, do you not long for this ultimately to be righted? 

When a serial rapist or a molester of children is justly sentenced, and just sentencing would mean the death penalty, would you say it is categorically wrong for the victims to rejoice?

When Nazi leaders involved in the Holocaust were charged guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, was it wrong for survivors to rejoice at justice?

Should the pro-choice movement be exposed for the lie that it is and humiliated, the Democratic party seen to be bowing before the god Molech, and the abortion of fetuses recognized as the murder of the innocent children made in the image of God so that abortionists are charged with multiple counts of first degree premeditated murder—saints, should this be so, and God that it would be, would it not be righteous and holy and good for the saints to rejoice at such a thing?

When God’s King was humble and man was proud, would it have been wrong to long for resurrection and vindication?

With God’s King risen from the grave and now seated in glory, is it wrong to rejoice at the thought of Him returning in majesty to inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” so that “they will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away form the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:5)?

Is it wrong for God to be God? Is it wrong for the saints to long for God to be God?

No! May all of our bones say, “O Yahweh, who is like you?” (Psalm 35:10).

Yes, we should long that every enemy might come to know the salvation of our Lord. Yes, pray that the persecutor may become a Paul. Pray that the abortionist may repent like Manasseh of his worship of Molech. Pray that when the justly executed criminal breathes his last, he, like the thief on the cross, awakes to paradise in the presence of Christ. But let none of this curb your desire for God to be fully God, to manifestly be all who He has revealed Himself to be—“Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6–8). With all your bones say, “O Yahweh, who is like you?”

The Doctor: Taking a Wrong Turn at Albuquerque

“It is just here that we all tend to go astray. Although we have the open Bible before us we still tend to base our ideas of doctrine on our own thoughts instead of on the Bible. The Bible always starts with God the Father; and we must not start anywhere else, or with anyone else. The Bible is, ultimately, the revelation and the record and the explanation of what God has done for the salvation of man. The Bible is the revelation of God’s gracious purpose towards a world of sinful man; it claims to be such, and the revelation is in its every book. This is what accounts for its extraordinary unity. Its controlling theme is what God has done, what God has promised to do, what God began to do, what God has actually done, what He is going to do, and the amazing outcome of it all. And that is precisely what the Apostle is doing in this section of our Epistle. He is not giving expression to his own theories or ideas, but writing about what God has revealed to him.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 40, 41

Swim by Swimming (Psalm 30)

A Psalm of David. A Song at the dedication of the Temple.

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. —Psalm 30.

Perhaps the most overlooked portion of Scripture is the headings to the psalms. Though they are in the manuscripts there is some debate among scholars as to whether or not they are part of the inspired text. Because the New Testament often recognizes the authors ascribed to the psalms by their headings, I believe it is clear that we should consider them as Holy Script.

That being so, the first thing to settle about this Psalm is that the heading isn’t multiple choice. This is both a psalm of David and a psalm written for the dedication of the temple. Further, it is a psalm written by David for the dedication of the temple. It wasn’t posthumously designated as such.

Some want to change “temple” to “house” or “palace.” These are legitimate translations but my beef is that they are too apologetic. Some scholars are thereby trying to get this psalm out of the dock instead of letting it testify. They’re fearful the witness may contradict himself. They’re afraid that the title, as it stands, is something like speaking of Honest Abe’s speech at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. Honestly? So they say that this psalm was perhaps written at the dedication of David’s palace or the tent-house that David had erected for the ark when he brought it to Jerusalem.

Let the heading testify! Is it any stretch of the intellect to think that the same David who prepared a hundred-thousand talents of gold for the building of the temple (1 Chronicles 22) could also prepare twelve verses for its dedication? This was something dear to David’s heart (2 Samuel 7), and poetry is the language of the heart, right?

Besides unapologetic zeal for the inerrancy of the text in every jot and tittle, this has significant implications for your Bible reading and comprehension. There are only a handful of headings in the Psalms that mention a historic setting and when they do I take it that that setting must be significant for meaning. For the specifics in relation to this psalm, check out the sermon linked below. Rather than tease out the details, I want to use the remainder of the post to work out a principle at work underneath all of this. Here it is:

The best way to read your Bible is to have read your Bible. 

Or, the best way to read your Bible is with a whole lot of Bible floating in you noggin.

Just like the best way to swim in the water is by being in the water, so the best way to read your Bible is by reading it. There are far too many Christians who just have their feet in the pool. They’re occasionally dipping into the Bible for some cool refreshment, but they don’t swim in it. Then, there are a few who analyze it from the concrete and run tests telling us whether or not the water is safe. Such are the sort who tell us that David couldn’t have written this psalm.

But if you swim in the Bible, then you can swim the Bible. Got it? Those who swim, can swim. Every time you read the Bible, you’re better equipped to read the Bible. This is because when you come back around to a particular passage, you’re reading it in light of the Bible itself. The stump-water of stagnant thinking is getting diluted by the influx of the fresh waters of the Word. When you remember that part of the Bible while reading this part of the Bible you’re going to read the Bible better than when you’re solely remembering something extra-biblical while reading the Bible.

When you come to this text with Ichabod, the ark being brought to Jerusalem, the Davidic covenant, David’s sin in taking the census, the threshing floor of Obed-Edom, and David’s preparations for building the temple all floating in your head rather than a bunch of textual-critical sewage, your going to read this Psalm having no problems with the fact that this is a psalm of David written for the dedication of the Temple.

Nicely Packed (1 Peter 5:5–14)

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed… Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ —1 Peter 5:1, 5 (ESV)

Do not make the mistake of thinking that the authors of the Bible are as bad of Scripture-writers as we are Scripture-readers. We often read the Bible as if it were a buffet, looking for what we like, picking a bit here and there. So it is that lo mien comes to sit alongside mac and cheese.

The Bible’s authors planned feasts. There is a theme to the meal. Things are tied together. There is a logical order to the courses.

As you come to the end of this letter, you may think Peter is just filling the empty space on his plate with the victuals he’d like. You theorize that Peter had some extra space on this parchment and means to fill it up like the poor preacher who looks at his watch and thinks, “Hey, I’ve got twenty more minutes!” and conjures up the favorite bits he returns to again and again.

Peter began a new section in 5:1 addressing the elders, but that section starts with “so” linking it back to the previous one where Peter was again expounding the theme of the letter, nicely summarized in 4:19, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” Elders are to do the good work of shepherding the flock of God among them, despite present suffering in hope of eternal glory. Peter then ends his exhortation to elders holding forth this promise of glory (5:4)

In 5:5 Peter turns to address the saints as a whole. He begins with the word “likewise.” He is now exhorting the church for the same reason he exhorted elders, because of present suffering, and future glory, and the good they are called to do. Peter ends his exhortation to the church holding forth the same hope of glory (5:10).

Peter has not neatly packed his suitcase up to this point only to randomly cram the remaining empty space with whatever else he thinks might be handy. Even in every element of his closing (5:12–14) Peter relentlessly returns to his theme. I would unpack this for you, but my exhortation here is simply for you to notice that things are exquisitely packed. Let’s endeavor to be as tenacious in our reading as Peter was in his writing.