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John R.W. Stott (1921-2011)

Around 9:15am CST on Wednesday morning, John R.W. Stott’s great faith became sight.  The psalmist says, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Ps 116:15, ESV).  How precious, indeed, must be the Lord’s sight of his servant, John Stott.  How precious, indeed, must be John Stott’s sight of his Lord.

Who knows the number of Stott quotations that have salted my sermons over the years.  I’ll never forget the impact of, “The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales” (from Authentic Christianity) the first time I quoted that in a sermon.  I remember the looks on the faces of my flock when that pearl was dropped.

Would you believe me if I told you that my print library of some 4,500 volumes, in a sense, has at its root a tattered little Tyndale series NT commentary by Stott on the Letters of John?  I purchased that little volume, and the fuse was lit.

Honor Stott’s memory by reading one of my favorites, The Cross of Christ.

You can also check out the following tributes at Justin Taylor’s and Tim Challies’ blogs:

 

Justin Taylor

 Tim Challies

Like the weekend warrior who gets giddy when he walks into Dick’s Sporting Goods, like the do-it-yourselfer who feels tingly when he goes to Home Depot, like my children when they get to go to Toys R Us… I just picked up my copy of the ESV Study Bible today.  It is like a beautifully appointed warehouse of biblical and theological treasure, and I feel good all over.  I had actually scheduled an hour next Wednesday to go to Logos Bookstore here in Nashville to pick it up.  But, today, going in to by a gift for a friend, I discovered they were just putting them out for sale… TODAY!  First, if you live in Nashville, buy your Reformed literature at Logos, thereby supporting Ken, Ralph, and Matt for their good work and faithfulness in supplying us with theologically rich fare, here in our city.  Second, you simply us secure a copy of this magnificent accomplishment that is the ESV Study Bible.  I really do not know where to begin, in order to give you some idea of all this study Bible offers.  This is a resource for the long haul – one with which you can grow old, with which you can grow as a disciple of Christ.  There is far more than enough in this sizable package to enlightened, educate, edify, and encourage you for years upon years of diligent study of God’s Word.  Thank you to Crossway.  Thank you to the first rate team of scholars.  Thank you to Logos for hooking me up with one today.  Above all, thank you to our Triune God for, as Calvin tells us, “lisping to us as nurses do with infants” in giving his precious Word.  This study Bible will help you learn, love, and live that divine “lisp.”

When our daughter, Lydia, was born some five years ago, my favorite baby gift we received was from Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn of the Westminster Assembly Project.  It was a baby bib, with William Gouge’s face, and the baby-talk words, “Googie, Googie, Gouge.”  I assured my wife that this was the most important baby gift we had ever received.  Perhaps, now that Lydia no longer needs a bib, I could have it sown onto my ministerial robe, as a sort of Geneva bands.

William Gouge (1575-1653) was minister at Blackfriars Church, Longdon for some 45 years.  He was the eldest member of the Westminster Assembly, and was considered the “father” of that august gathering of divines.  He was a first order of the theologian/pastor model.

Back to Gouge in a minute.  This afternoon, as I was working on my sermon for this coming Sunday, the third of a three-part mini-series, God’s Encouragement Suite, on Hebrews 10:19-25, I consulted my favorite Hebrews commentary by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes.  I esteem many commentaries in my study for their usefulness as tools, both techincal and expository.  However, this commentary is dear to me, not only for its sermonic aid, but for its devotional strength.  I always find useful insights here. I not only consult this commentary, I actually read this volume.  It is full of underlining and highlighting, multicolored, depending upon whatever pen I had handy at the time.  It is also becoming a little worse for wear, so I did one of my skilled paperback book corner strengthening procedures on it this morning.  This involves tape and these nice little plastic adhesive corner tabs available through DEMCO.

As I picked up Hughes and began to turn to Hebrews 10, I stumbled across a place wherein I had years earlier placed a bookmarker – 3:1, wherein the author of Hebrews speaks of Christ as the “apostle and high priest of our confession.”  While the priestly work of Christ is all over the Epistle to the Hebrews, this designation as “apostle” is, perhaps, underplayed in our preaching and teaching.  Hughes, in typically economic and engaging style, writes:

Unique though the designation of Christ as apostle is, its appropriateness is apparent throughout the New Testament and particularly in the Johannine literature; for the word “apostle” means “one who is sent,” and Jesus repeatedly describes himself as having been sent by the Father in to the world (see Jn. 3:17, 34; 5:36ff.; 6:29; 57; 7:29; 8:42; 10:36; 11:42; 17:3; also 1Jn 4:10).  In the basic sense of the word, he is indeed the first apostle, the great apoestle, and the source of all apostleship.  This is plain from the terms with which he commissioned those who are familiarly known as the apostles: As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn. 20:21; similarly 17:8).  His apostleship is prior to and the ground of theirs (pp. 126-27).

This started me to thinking about how this has been explicated by the likes of Calvin, Owen, etc.  While Owen’s mountainous commentary on Hebrews was full on this verse, and specifically, the doctrine of the apostleship of Christ, it was another volume that I found most satisfying.  This brings us back to Gouge.  A couple of years ago, Solid Ground Christian Books, down in Birmingham, AL produced an excellent reprint of the old 1980 Kregel edition, which was taken from the even older 1866 Nichols edition, of Gouge’s A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews: Exegetical and Expository, 2 vols.  This commentary “contains the notes of more than a thousand sermons given over a thirty year period at Blackfriars,” writes Joel Beeke in his helpful biographical sketch at the front of volume one, continuing, “It is a golden exposition of the fullness of Christ, second only to Owen on Hebrews.”

 

Turning to the verse under consideration, Gouge serves up fine and full fare in typical Puritan expositional thoroughness.  Sec. 21. Of considering, shows Gouge’s care for the original language of the sacred text, as he makes sure the reader knows just what kind of consideration the believer is enjoined to do.  Sec. 22. Of considering weighty matters, goes a step further, teeing up this Westminster father’s actual discussion of Christ as apostle, practicing consideration through meditation as an individual and conference with others on the subject.  In other words, we are to seriously meditate on the notion at hand, as well as, discussing the concept with other, who can help us better understand.  Of meditation, Gouge gives us something to chew on, “Meditation to man is as chewing the cud to sundry beasts, whereby that which is they eat is better digested.  Sundry beasts which chewed the cud were under the law counted clean, which in a figure commendeth meditation.  Surely this brings much profit, which they find who carefully use it” (206).

In Sec. 24. Of Christ as apostle, Gouge’s exemplary Biblical-Theological method grounds Christ’s apostleship in the broad witness of Scripture.  Christ was an apostle: 1. In his general function – that is, he as prophet, was sent to reveal the will of the Father; 2. In his special calling thereunto – immediately commissioned of the Father; and 3. In the privileges that appertained to that function – here is Christ-exalting food focusing on the authority and power of Christ, manifesting Gouge’s sophisticated handling of biblical texts.

In Sec. 25. Of duties arising from Christ’s apostleship, Gouge applies the doctrine of Christ’s apostleship to the lives of Christians, leaving part of the cud unchewed, in effort to prove our duty and delight to receive and obey the word of the apostle of our confession.  These two sections alone are an excellent font for personal reflection on a relatively underdeveloped aspect of the person and work of Christ in modern exposition.  These two sections would make a great basis for a short sermon series or Bible study on the doctrine of Christ’s apostleship.

Gouge, having treated of Christ’s high priestly work more fully in Chap. ii. 17, Secs. 172, 173, &c., draws together Christ’s apostolic and priestly offices in Sec. 26. Of Christ’s being both and apostle, and also an high priest, with an observation sure to capture the affection and admiration of the believer’s heart for Jesus:

The function of an apostle and an high priest were the greatest functions that ever God instituted in his church.  None greater than an high priest under the law; none greater than an apostle under the gospel.  Fitly, therefore, doth the apostle here apply them to Christ, who is the most excellent of all, and undertook for his church those things which were of greatest concernment for her.

These two offices, apostle and high priest, were never joined in one man; but here they are by thos copulative particle, kai, and.  The same Jesus that was an apostle, was also an high priest; he there is all in all.  Several persons among men are to be deupted to several functions; but Christ alone is sufficient for all functions.  As for continuance of the same function, there needs many men, because they are mortal, and they must supply it one after another; but Christ continueth ever, Heb vii. 23, 24.  So for performing several and distinct duties, there needs sereval distinct men, because all abilities are not in any one man; yet Christ is able to manage all, for ‘it please the Father that in him should all fulness dwell,’ Col. i. 19.

Thus have we no need to go to any for the furthering of that which Christ undertakes.  He performs the parts of an high priest, he also performs the parts of an apostle.  This also he doth in all things that are absolutely necessary for the eternal happiness of his church (I. 208).

While, given the context of Hebrews’ emphasis on the superiority of Christ to Moses, we might discuss the way in which Moses, in a certain sense, was apostolic, as in commissioned or sent, as well as, the way in which he provided some likeness of a priestly role for his family and the children of Israel under his charge, Gouge is, technically speaking, correct as to none other prior to Christ having legitimate claim to both titles, apostle and high priest.

What is most salient is that, we, who are the Church, find happiness in the doctrine of Christ’s apostleship, which happiness, I look forward to experiencing for all eternity.  For, we, who will someday be part of the Church Triumphant, will have ages with no end to explore and revel in the presence of the apostle of our confession.

Some suppose Reformed dogmatics of the seventeenth century a chilly discipline. However, the first thing I did upon arriving at my study this morning, in providential randomness, was pick up a precious volume sitting on my desk – Reformed Dogmatics: Seventeenth-Century Reformed Theology through the Writings of Wollebius, Voetius, and Turretine, ed. and trans. by John W. Beardslee, III.  I had placed it there the evening before, as I left the study, so as to readily entice me when I returned today.   This rare and inexcusably out-of-print treasure was given to me by one of my pastoral interns, Chris Rhoades, who always ferrets out gems for me at used book stores.

I happened to open this volume to a section from Johannes Wollebius’ Compendium Theologiae Christianae.  Wollebius (1586-1629) is a relatively lesser-known Continental Reformer, from Basel.  He succeeded his mentor, Amandus Polanus von Polanssdorf, as Professor of Old Testament at Basel in 1610.  Wollebius’ Compendium was an influential and generally representative statement of the theological trajectory of his day and context. 

In a discussion of the nature  and proper object of faith, Wollebius offers the standard tri-complex of faith, along with a warm explication of the objective and subjective aspects of saving faith:

“VII. The form of faith, for purposes of teaching, may be described under three heads: knowledge [notitia], assent [assensus], and trust [fiducia].

Knowledge is understanding of those things that are necessary for salvation.  Assent means that whatever is taught by the word of God is firmly believed to be true.  Trust us that [aspect of faith] by which each of the faithful applies evangelical promises to himself.

VIII. Knowledge and assent are common to historical faith and saving faith; trust is peculiar to the latter.

It is called, by the apostle, pepoithesis (Eph. 3:12) and plerophoria (1Thess. 1:15).  By this word may be understood either the apprehension and application of Christ with all his benefits, or the giving of peace to the conscience.  The first is the form of faith; the second, its effect on the feelings” (pp. 162-63).

 I figure a nice, warm bowl of Wollebius was a good way to start my day, as well as, this blog.