Friday, November 27, 2020

The Vision (11.27.20): Be ye also patient


Image: Holly berries, Sanford, North Carolina, November 2020

Note: Devotion based on last Sunday's sermon on James 5:7-10.

Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh (James 5:8).

In v. 8 James exhorts: “Be ye also patient.” In v. 7 he offered the mini-parable of the patient farmer: “Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth….” James is saying look to the farmer as an example of one who is longsuffering even though he does not see any immediate growth on the surface, but also, most importantly, learn from the patience of the Lord himself.

He adds a second exhortation: “stablish your hearts” (v. 8b). The verb here is sterizo, meaning to strengthen. Make strong and vigorous your hearts, the center of your affections. The Christian faith is for those who know that when they are weak, then he is strong, but the Christian life is not for the spiritually faint-hearted, for spiritual weaklings. In Christ’s parable of the sower, the seed that fell on the shallow soil did not last (Mark 4:5-6).

There are just too many difficult things one will have to encounter in this life to think that he can breeze through it all without ever exercising the spiritual disciplines that will result in the strengthening of his heart. Why are we baptized? Why do we come to the Lord’s table in the context of God’s people? Why do we read and memorize God’s word?  Why do we attend to the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures? Why do we learn the practice of prayer? It is so that we might have our hearts strengthened, so that, by God’s grace, when we face resistance, obstacles, setbacks, opposition, and suffering our hearts are strong. It is so that we might face such things and not be undone and destroyed by them, but that we might be patient even in afflictions.

Finally, James adds at the end of v. 8: “for the coming of the Lord drawth nigh.” I’ve mentioned before driving once on some back roads towards the beach in NC and passing a sign that read, “Jesus is coming soon!” The problem was that the sign was faded, the paint was peeling, and the sign board was warped. It was a mixed message at best.

But we must remember what Peter said: “one day is with the Lord like a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8; Psalm 90:4).

Our job is not to know when he coming. Christ himself said that no man knows that day or that hour (Mark 13:32-33). Our job is to know that God is at work in the world and that he is coming and that in the meantime (the in-between time) we are to be found faithful, so that we are not ashamed when he does come.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel: Devotions for December Lord's Days 2020

I was happy to contribute an article to the new e-booklet O Come, O Come, Emmanuel: Devotions for December Lord's Days 2020, published by the IRBS Theological Seminary.

My article is titled "Though You Are Little," a reflection on Micah 5:2-5a; Matthew 2:1-6 (pp. 18-31).

The e-booklet is available to be downloaded for free from the IRBS website (find it here).


Saturday, November 21, 2020

Eusebius, EH.10.8-9: Constantine: Most Mighty Victor


Note: This episode concludes this series. It is Episode 126 of 126. The series began on 2/19/19.

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 10, chapter 8-9.

Notes and Commentary:

These final two chapters in the EH describe the Emperor Constantine’s final victory over his rival Licinius to unite the Roman empire and to ensure peace and security for the Christians.

Chapter 8 describes the intrigues of Licinius against Constantine and the Christian community. Eusebius notes that although Constantine acted graciously toward Licinius, who stood second in rank to him, even giving his sister in marriage to Licinius, he rejected this good will and rebelled against Constantine. In the end, however, God proved to be Constantine’s “Friend and Protector and Guardian.”

In his rebellion, the ire of Licinius was not just aimed at Constantine but also against the Christians. Eusebius notes that Licinius first drove Christians from his palace and then deprived Christian soldiers in his army of their rank.

He also passed various unjust ordinances, including a law that forbade the humane distribution of food to those who were imprisoned. He banished or arrested various men of nobility and high-esteem. Eusebius also accuses Licinius of immorality in his abuse of many married women and unwedded girls to satisfy his “unbridled lust,” calling him a “drunken old dotard.”

In the final stages of his “madness” Licinius struck against the bishops, putting some to death, and against the churches, throwing them down “from top to bottom” or shutting them up. Some of those put to death had their bodies cut to pieces with the sword and the pieces of their body were cast in the sea as “food for fishes.” Many of the men of God fled again to the fields, deserts, glens, and mountains to escape this persecution.

Chapter 9 notes how Constantine defeated Licinius. The “humane” Emperor and his son, Crispus, stretched out “the right hand of salvation” by going into battle against “the haters of God” and quickly won the victory.

Oulton explains in a footnote: “Licinius was defeated first at Adrianople, 3 July and secondly, when he had fled to Byzantium and had been forced to cross the Straits at Chrysopolis (Scutari), September 18 or 20, 324. Shortly afterwards, Constantine had him put to death” (476-477, n. 1).

The “pictures and honours” of Licinius were disgraced, and he was “cast down prostrate.”

Constantine, the “most mighty Victor,” “recovered the East” and “formed the Roman Empire, as in the days of old, into a single, united whole.” The populace had all fear taken away and celebrated the victory with “brilliant festivals,” as “all things were filled with light.” Praise was given first to God and then to Constantine and his sons.


Eusebius ends the EH with this narrative of the triumph of Constantine over Licinius and with the peace of the Christians in the Roman Empire established. By AD 380, Christianity will be made the official religion of the Empire by the Edict of Thessalonica issued by the Emperor Theodosius. It continues to be debated today whether Constantine’s embrace and protection of the church was a blessing or detriment to the Christian movement.


Friday, November 20, 2020

In Memoriam: Barbara Nixon Clark (May 29, 1942—November 18, 2020)

Elder Jeff Clark and beloved wife, Barbara.

Well done thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord (Matthew 25:21). 

A funeral service of worship in praise to God through Christ and with thanksgiving for the life and ministry of our sister will be held at Christ Reformed Baptist Church (2997 Courthouse Road, Louisa, Virginia 23093) on Monday, November 23, 2020 at 2:00 pm. The family will greet friends in the Fellowship Hall after the service. Interment will be private.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

On Amateurs and Experts and the Text of Scripture


Last week I was asked to do a Zoom lecture to a group of staff, leaders, and deputation speakers from the Trinitarian Bible Society giving my take on the current state of academic text criticism and the current popular resurgence of interest in the TR. On the latter topic I noted the following:

Just as the Reformation was aided by the printing press, this movement has been aided by the internet (blogs, websites, FB groups, and podcasts), which has allowed advocates for the TR to put forward their message and get around the normal “gatekeepers” (seminaries, mainstream book publishers, etc.).

In other words, the TR is promoted by “amateurs” and resisted by “professionals.”

I thought of this when I listened to the recent podcast on the new biography of Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, who was also an “amateur”, working outside the professional guild, laboring in the iron works by day and doing text criticism by night (though, in his case, he worked against the TR).

One thinks as well of someone like James Snapp, Jr. who often has a knack of seeing things that the “professionals” do not. Or, consider that when we were exploring Ephesians 3:9 it was an “untrained” college student (“CC”) who kept finding texts with the TR reading and not a “trained” man with a respected doctorate.

Then, this morning I happened to be reading the little booklet by media analyst Marshall McLuhan and graphic designer Quentin Fiore (co-ordinated by Jerome Agel), The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (Bantam, 1967) [Note in the title it is “Massage,” a play on McLuhan’s better known The Medium is the Message]. The point being that the electronic media “shapes, works over, alters—massages—every instant of our lives” (148). And this was written in 1967 mainly in reference to the advent of television, but eerily predictive of the internet.

More to the point, the book has an intriguing discussion of the “amateur” in this brave new world.

It begins with a paragraph on Michael Faraday, a self-taught amateur, “who had little mathematics and no formal schooling beyond the primary grades” but who became a celebrated “experimenter who discovered the induction of electricity” and thus became “one of the great founders of modern physics” (92).

McLuhan and Fiore then add this interesting paragraph:

“Professionalism is environmental. Amateurism is anti-environmental. Professionalism merges the individual into patterns of total environment. Amateurism seeks the development of the total awareness of the individual and the critical awareness of the groundrules of society. The amateur can afford to lose. The professional tends to classify and specialize, to accept uncritically the groundrules of the environment. The groundrules provided by the mass response of his colleagues serve as a pervasive environment of which he is contentedly and unaware. The ‘expert’ is the man who stays put” (93).


Sunday, November 15, 2020

Podcast recommendation: Crawford Gribben interviews Timothy C. F. Stunt on Samuel Prideaux Tregelles


Crawford Gribben of Queens University Belfast interviews Timothy C. F. Stunt on his new book The Life and Times of Samuel Prideaux Tregelles: A Forgotten Scholar on the New Books Network podcast.

Enjoy, JTR

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Vision (11.13.20): For what is your life?


Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 4:13-17.

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away (James 4:14).

I am glad to be a Christian, because we get to ask the ultimate questions of life, as James poses it here: “For what is your life?”

He begins to answer that question by stressing the brevity and fragility of life. James says that life is like a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Where we live close to the mountains it is not unusual to wake up in the early morning to find a hazy vapor hanging low in the air, which soon disappears as the sun rises. James says that life is like this. It is brief. It is fleeting. It is fragile.

A similar point had been made earlier in his warning to the rich in 1:10-11 where the brevity of life was compared to the flower of the grass that soon passes away (cf. Isaiah 40:6-8).

There are many other places in the Old Testament, in particular, where this point is made. One of the most vivid is Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses the man of God, in which we read this petition: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

In our prayer meeting last Wednesday evening we briefly discussed and prayed for the family of Canadian Christian blogger Tim Challies whose 20-year-old son suddenly and unexpectedly died last week. This young man was a believer, a student at Boyce College, a Christian college connected to Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. One moment he was playing a game with some friends, including his sister and his fiancé, and the next moment he collapsed and died, leaving behind grieving family and friends.

Week before last I was at the funeral of my 52-year-old cousin. He had been a gifted athlete in his younger years, voted most likely to succeed his senior year in high school, had a good job as an engineer, loved to build and fix things, had a wife and three young adult children, was expecting his first grandchild, and was a Christian man devoted to his local church. But cancer took his life away in a year’s time.

We also recently prayed for the family of Pastor Gary Hendrix who died last week at age 73 after 50 years as a pastor at Grace RBC in Mebane, NC. Pastor Hendrix was active on twitter and on October 23, 2020 he sent his last tweet which read, “I have kept vigil by many death beds, now it is my time to lay on one of my own. Sobbing.”

Friends, we will all one day keep vigil at our own death bed, whether we be 20, 52, or 73, or whatever.

For what is your life? The time to ask is now.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Eusebius, EH.10.6-7: Constantine's Largess to Christians of Africa


This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 10, chapter 6-7.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters present two more imperial letters (one each respectively) relating to privileges being granted to Christians following the end of persecution against them.

Chapter 6 provides a copy of a letter from Constantine to Caecilian bishop of Carthage, in which he informs the bishop that he has ordered three thousand folles be given to the churches. Oulton notes: “The follis was originally a small bag of coins, but afterwards came to denote a coin itself, the double denarius” (461, n. 2). He also tells Caecilian that if he has any trouble from any in his government who oppose the Christians he should go to Anulinus, the proconsul, and Patricius, the “Vicar of the Prefects,” to report this.

Chapter 7 is a letter from the emperor to Anulinus, proconsul of Africa, in which he orders Anulinus, that the “presidents of the church” (“clerics”) “be kept absolutely free from public offices” so that they can devote their time to performing the worship services of God, in which “they confer incalculable benefit on the affairs of the State.”


These chapters continue to show the benefits and privileges that came to Christians during the rule of Constantine. We might paraphrase a line from song in the musical Hamilton, “It must be nice to have Constantine on your side.” In the long run, this will prove to be something of a mixed blessing for Christians. They were freed from persecution, but we see their affairs becoming entangled with the state.


Saturday, November 07, 2020

Festschrift for Pastor Albert N. Martin Forthcoming: A Workman Not Ashamed


I was pleased to be able to contribute an essay on pastoral theology, "The Administration and Administrators of Baptism", to the forthcoming festschrift for Pastor Albert N. Martin, edited by David Charles and Rob Ventura.

The book titled A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin is being published by Free Grace Press and can be pre-ordered here.

Here is the forward to the work from Dr. Joel Beeke:

Al Martin’s ministry has had a profound impact on hundreds of faithful ministers and thousands of people for several decades, such that it is high time that a festschrift—that is, a book of essays reflecting his interests and passions written by friends, be written in his honor. I am grateful to David Charles and Rob Ventura who served as the organizers and editors for this festschrift, and wish to testify my gratitude to them and their fellow contributors that this book passes muster for what it is designed to do. I am confident that its honoree will be delighted with its contents.

To profit from this festschrift, one does not have to agree with every detail of each chapter of this book. A wonderful variety of subjects is presented to the reader, reaching the whole man: head, heart, and hands. Good scholarship, edifying soul-enriching food, and experiential and practical applications abound in these pages—all of which reflects Al Martin’s own ministry of the Word.

This book opens with a sketch of Al Martin’s life by John Reuther, who has known him for more than four decades, beginning when he first sat under Al’s preaching at Trinity Baptist Church in New Jersey.

Sam Waldron draws several encouraging points about preaching from Luke’s account of one of the most fruitful sermons in all history: Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Here we are reminded that preaching is the authoritative proclamation of Christ from the Scriptures with a call to practical action.

Conrad Mbewe presents a plea that pastors mentor future pastors in the context of the local church, just as Trinity Baptist Church for many years sponsored its own academy for pastoral training. Pastors need to study books, but they also need to be with people to learn how godly pastors relate to their families and church members in a variety of settings.

Richard Barcellos provides a detailed exegetical study of the Greek text of Ephesians 4:12 to support the old translation that Paul uses all three phrases to describe the results of the ministry of the word (as in “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” KJV), not the newer translation that joins the first two to suggest that the ministry of the Word equips others to build up the body.

Alan Dunn writes an essay exploring how the church overcomes the world in its witness through suffering and martyrdom. Dunn strikingly calls this “the strategy of slaughtered lambs.”

Jim Savastio exhorts pastors to “feed the flock of God which is among you” (1 Pet. 5:2), that is, to preach to address the needs of the people whom God has entrusted to them. Toward that end, preachers must know their Bibles and know their flocks.

The core of the message that we preach is the gospel of justification by faith, and D. Scott Meadows opens Galatians 2:15–19 to proclaim that we can never be justified by works of obedience to God’s law. Our righteousness is Christ alone received by faith alone.

Rob Ventura touches upon a key theme in Al Martin’s life: the Holy Spirit and the preacher. Without the prevailing power of the Spirit to convict, convert, and comfort hearers, the preacher would be wise never to enter the pulpit.

Michael Haykin offers a chapter on the life of one of the earliest Reformed (or Particular) Baptist ministers, William Kiffen or Kiffin (1616–1701). Kiffen was a signatory and probably an author of the First London Baptist Confession of Faith (1644), and in 1689 he also signed the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith.

At the heart of Christ’s purpose to build His kingdom is the church, with its ordinances of worship. Jeffrey Riddle makes an argument that the ordinance of baptism should be done in the assembly of the church by its designated officers—not just by an informal gathering of believers.

Nothing is more important for the church to do than the worship of God. Scott Aniol explains the Reformed regulative principle of worship and its particular applications by Baptist churches in their practice of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, singing, and church polity.

The goal of preaching the gospel is to restore fallen men and women to fellowship with God—deep and rich communion, as is explored in the chapter by Jeffrey Waddington. He draws particularly from Geerhardus Vos’s insights into the purpose for which God created us.

Few Calvinistic Baptists have attained to the stature of the Bible commentator and systematic theologian John Gill (1697–1771). Gill’s sermon, “The Duty of a Pastor to His People,” originally given at the ordination of George Braithwaite in 1734, rounds out the book with a call to faithful pastoral ministry.

Here, then, you will find a book that honors a veteran minister and teacher of the Word by exhorting other ministers to preach the Word, shepherd the flock, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill the commission placed upon them by the Lord. May God use the contributions of these authors to raise up preachers who fit the words of Francis Wayland (1796–1865): “From the manner in which our ministers have entered upon the work, it is evident that it must have been the prominent object of their lives to convert men to God.”


Friday, November 06, 2020

D. Scott Meadows: After the Election

D. Scott Meadows, pastor of Calvary (Reformed) Baptist Church, Exeter, New Hampshire, has written an article worth reading titled "After the Election" on the Herald of Grace website.


The Vision (11.6.20): Cleanse your hands ... and purify your hearts


Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 4:8-12.

Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded (James 4:8b).

James’s instructions here may have been taken from Psalm 24, which asks, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who shall stand in his holy place?” (3) and then answers, “He that hath clean hands and a pure heart” (v. 4a).

In his commentary on James, the Puritan Matthew Poole notes that this is a call to reform one’s actions and to amend his life. He notes that the call to cleanse the hands, as the principle instrument of bodily actions, is a call to “innocency of outward conversation [conduct].” Correspondingly, the call to purify your hearts is a call amend one’s “thoughts and inward affections, from whence the evils of your outward actions proceed.”

In the beatitudes of Matthew 5, Christ taught: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (v. 8).

And in Luke 6:45 Christ said: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.”

Our words are indeed a window into the condition of our heart.

We are to heed James’s exhortation to reform both our outward actions (hands) and our inward thoughts (heart), knowing that in this life we will not fully attain to clean hands and pure hearts. Yet we also know one who had clean hands and a pure heart, one who was tempted in all points even we are, and yet remained without sin. He is the Lord Jesus Christ, and if our lives are hid in his, we too may be found blameless in God’s sight.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Eusebius, EH.10.5: The Edict of Milan


This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 10, chapter 5.

Notes and Commentary:

This chapter contains four important ordinances and letters, translated from the original Latin into Greek, from the emperors Constantine and Licinius relating to the Christians.

The first is known as “The Edict of Milan” (313). It grants freedom of worship not only to Christians but to all Romans. It explicitly states, “we have granted to these same Christians free and unrestricted authority to observe their own form of worship.”

It also stipulates that any property (like churches) taken from the Christians without compensation should be freely restored to them.

The second is an ordinance addressed to Anulinus, proconsul of Africa. It stipulates that property taken from the churches be restored to them, “whether gardens or building or whatsoever belonged to these churches by right.”

The third is an imperial letter from Constantine to Miltiades, bishop of Rome, and to one named Mark. It calls for a synod or meeting of bishops in Rome to address controversy relating to Caecilian, bishop of Carthage, and to assure that there is no schism in the church. Oulton explains that this referred to the so-called Donatist controversy that was arising in Africa: “The Donatists (so called from a bishop of theirs, Donatus) alleged that Caecilian had been consecrated by a bishop (Felix) who in the Diocletian persecution had proved himself a traditor, i.e., had surrendered up Scriptures to the pagan authorities. Hence they held that Caecilian’s consecration was invalid; and by appointing a bishop of their own in his stead began what is known as the Donatist schism” (454-455, n. 1).

The fourth is an imperial letter from Constantine to Chrestus, bishop of Syracuse, relating to the Council of Arles (314). It calls for a synod of bishops to meet in Arles by the Kalends of August (the first day of August). The purpose of the meeting was to continue to address problems relating to the Donatus schism.


This chapter provides an important historical record of the religious freedom that came to the Christians (and pagans also) under Constantine with the Edict of Milan. It also gives insight into the rise of the Donatist controversy and of imperial intervention into the life of the church to address schism. The Council of Arles (314) will be a forerunner to the Council of Nicea (325).