Friday, May 27, 2022

The Vision (5.27.22): The Dangers of Legalism


Image: Ripening blueberries, North Garden, Virginia, May 2022.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 15:-9.

But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? (Matthew 15:3).

There are two significant dangers in the practice of religion.

One is the error of liberalism or licentiousness. This error is characterized by subtraction, taking away from, ignoring, or minimizing the Word of God, the commands of Scripture.

The Bible clearly condemns some practice, but we do it anyway, justifying our behavior by taking away from God’s word. Example: Paul said that, but that fit with the culture of his day, and it has no relevance for our day.

The other is the error of legalism. This error is characterized by addition. It attempts to add to, to augment, and to supplement the Word of God with teaching and commands and practices that are not contained within or required by Scripture.

Christ condemns both errors, one as zealously as the other.

The heading which Spurgeon gives to his commentary on Matthew 15:1-20 is “Our King Combatting Formalism.” Formalism is another term for legalism.

Here are some questions we might ask ourselves by means of self-examination upon reading this passage:

How am I like the scribes and Pharisees?

Am I prone to judge the disciples of Jesus, rather than examining first my own life?

I recently saw this tweet from an RB pastor: “May the Lord help us not to be more worried about other people’s sins than our own sins.”

Christ did not teach that we should never offer any judgments, but that we should first examine ourselves before judging others (see Matthew 7:1ff).

Have I taken up extra-biblical standards (the commandments of men) rather than the commandments of God?

This implies first that I must dedicate myself to knowing what the Bible teaches. Can I cite book, chapter, and verse to justify the beliefs and practices I set as a standard for myself and for others?

Have I looked for loopholes to justify my disobedience?

Have I said to myself, It’s ok for me to break this aspect of God’s moral law, because the circumstances allow it, or the ends justify the means?

Could it be said of me, that I have drawn nigh to Christ with my mouth and honored him with my lips, while my heart is far from him?

Have I offered to Christ only what Spurgeon called “mouth-religion, lip-homage”? Has my religion been, as a friend of mine from Kentucky would have called it, merely “chin-music”?

Now, is the time when things might be made right.

The Psalmist says, “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart” (Psalm 95:7b-8a).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Book Review: Abidan Paul Shah, Changing the Goalpost of New Testament Textual Criticism

I have posted my written review to my page. It appeared in Puritan Reformed Journal, Vol. 14, No. 1 (January 2022): 174-178. You can read it here.

I gave an expanded version of the review in my WM 2015 podcast in November 2022 (look here).


Four Biblical Bases for Communion Among Churches


Image: Scene from the 2021 Keach Conference, hosted by the Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Virginia, at Redeeming Grace Baptist Church, Gloucester, Virginia.

The 2LBCF-1689 teaches the necessity and benefits of “communion” among churches (see 26:14-15). Particular Baptist churches have historically realized this through formal associations and assemblies. Last Sunday pm I preached on “The Biblical Basis for Communion Among Churches” and covered these four points (bases):

First: The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-4):

For the background for the church at Antioch, see Acts 11:19-26. Notice that the church at Jerusalem was involved from the very beginning in the planting of the church at Antioch, providing leadership in the form of Barnabas the great son of encouragement.

The church at Antioch then sent out Paul and Barnabas on what we call Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:2-3), and at the end of their journey they returned to Antioch (14:25-28).

Then, there arose a dispute at Antioch over circumcision (Acts 15:1), and the decision was made to send Paul and Barnabas as representatives of the Antioch church to the church at Jerusalem (v. 2). Not only were there living apostles in that church but also elders: “unto the apostles and elders” (v. 6).

This leads to what we call the Jerusalem Council (see vv. 4-6), which resulted in a letter or decree being issued by the council or assembly to the church at Antioch declaring that circumcision was not required. This was delivered not only by Paul and Barnabas but also by Judas and Silas, “chief men among the brethren” (see vv. 22-31).

So, here is perhaps the chief prooftext for the practice of communion among churches.

Second: The tendency of the apostles at times not only to address individual churches, but also to address groups of churches, especially those in the same geographical area.

See the introduction to Galatians (Gal 1:1-2; contrast with Phil 1:1 written to a single church).

See also Paul’s instruction to the church at Colosse and the mention of sister churches in nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis (Col 4:10-16).

See also Peter’s address to the “strangers” (Christians in local churches) in various regions (1 Peter 1:1-2).

And notice the beginning of Revelation as Christ addresses the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev 1:4, 10-11).

Third: The tendency of the apostles and early churches to commend brethren from one church unto those at another.

See the church at Ephesus’s commendation of Apollos to the church at Corinth (Acts 18:24-28).

See Paul’s commendation of Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2.

There are many more examples of this. See the commendation of Timothy and the affirmation of Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:19-30 (the latter called a “messenger” or apostolos in v. 25).

Fourth, the apostolic assumption of some degree of uniformity of practice among the churches.

See Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:17b; 11:16; 14:33.

This assumes that the early churches strove for unity in faith and practice.

How did they do that? By having communion with one another.

How can we know if we share in this unity of faith and practice unless we have fellowship with other churches? It is the tendency of cults to be isolated and idiosyncratic, but of Biblical churches to be open and accountable unto other churches


Friday, May 20, 2022

The Vision (5.20.22): Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid

Image: Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 14:21-36.

Matthew 14:21-33 records the miracle of Christ walking on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples were in a ship “in the midst of the sea,” as it was “tossed with waves” and struggling against a contrary wind (v. 24). Then, in the fourth watch of the night (c. 3-6 am), Christ came walking toward them (v. 25).

As he drew near, Christ spoke to the disciples. Notice that he ministered first to them through his words. Paul will later write that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17). He offers three consecutive statements:

First, a command: “Be of good cheer.” It is just one word in Greek, a command from a verb meaning to be confident, be courageous, be cheerful. He said this to the paralytic in Matthew 9:2: “be of good cheer.” We might paraphrase it, perhaps, as, Get-ahold-of-yourselves, or Buck-up!

Second, he makes a declaration: “it is I.” In Greek is it ego eimi, or, “I am.” This echoes Exodus 3:14: “I am that I am.” It also recalls the “I am” sayings of our Lord in John (6:35; 8:12; 10:9, 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1).

Third, he commands, “Be not afraid.” Christ calls upon the disciples to push away fear as they trust in him. 1 John 4:18 says that “perfect love casteth out fear.” Trust in Christ casts out fear of circumstances, fear of death, fear of failure, fear of man.

Spurgeon said of the disciples in the storm: “How much did their case resemble ours when we are in sore distress! We are tossed about, and can do nothing; the blast is too furious for us to bear up against it, or even to live while driven before it" (Matthew, 200).

It is comforting to know that in such times, Christ says the same to us: “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

New Book Coming: Why I Preach From the Received Text

This book is coming soon! 25 Reformed ministers (Baptist, Presbyterian, and Independent; from the USA, UK, Canada, and Australia) address why they preach from the Received Text.

You can find more info on the book, including endorsements, the list of contributors, and essay titles here.


Monday, May 16, 2022

Oden on Pastoral Care and Modern Psychotherapy


Image; Thomas C. Oden (1931-2016)

Posted this thread to my twitter today, @Riddle1689:

In Thomas C. Oden's A Change of Heart memoir he notes how his "conversion" from Protestant liberalism to traditional Christianity led him to rethink pastoral care and "psychotherapeutic fads" (see pp.150-153).

In 1971 Oden gave the Finch Lectures at Fuller looking at empirical outcome studies of the effectiveness of psychotherapy. This later became the book After Therapy What? (1974).

After reviewing over 300 empirical outcome studies, he found "that the average psychotherapy cure rate was not better than the spontaneous remission rate."

"The average outcomes of all types of therapy approaches turned out to be the same rate of recovery as that which occurred merely through the passage of time, approximately 63 percent."

"Indeed those studies found that symptoms would disappear spontaneously about two thirds of the time without any therapeutic intervention."

"That finding was coupled with the alarming specter of 'client deterioration,' which showed that 10 percent of the patients found their conditions worsening under the care of professional psychotherapists."

"Those empirical facts took me aback. I had spent two decades trusting the assumed effectiveness of psychotherapies, but now I had actual rigorous empirical evidence of their average ineffectiveness."

These discoveries led Oden to move from study of modern psychotherapy to classic pastoral works like Gregory the Great's Book of Pastoral Rule (AD 590).


Friday, May 13, 2022

Broad Oak Piety: Why the Woman Taken in Adultery is Scripture


I enjoyed having this conversation with Ryan and Joey on the Broad Oak Piety podcast this week.


Sermon: Give ye them to eat (Matthew 14:13-21)

Morning sermon at CRBC, Louisa, Virginia on May 8, 2022.


The Vision (5.13.22): Give ye them to eat


Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 14:13-21.

But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat (Matthew 14:16).

We can focus on three figures in the feeding of the five thousand:

First: It tells us about the person and work of Christ.

It makes us stand in awe at the power and authority of Christ. Who has power over nature to be able to multiple loaves and fishes? Who can do such things but God himself? Christ did these things. Jesus is Lord.

Second: It tells us about the apostles (and beyond them the church today):

What does he say to the apostles?: “give ye them to eat.”

The risen Christ will tell Peter when he recommissions him: “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15); “Feed my sheep” (v. 16); “Feed my sheep” (v. 17).

At the end of this Gospel the risen Christ will say to these apostles in the Great Commission: “Go and teach all nations….” (Matthew 28:19-20).

The commission given to the apostles continues in the church, built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles with Christ being the chief cornerstone: “Give ye them to eat.”

There is significance here in the fact that the disciples had so little, humanly speaking, to offer. Spurgeon: “It is good for us to know how very poor we are, and how far from being able to meet the wants of the people around us.” Truly, our very little goes a long way in Christ’s hands.

This is a reminder that we have but one thing to give the world and that is Christ.

Third: It tells us about the multitude who were fed by Christ:

As Christians we can relate to the apostles, but more foundationally we can relate to the hungry, sick, and bewildered multitude.

We are reminded that Christ did not look upon us with indifference or disdain, but he looked upon us with compassion. He saw us as sheep without a shepherd.

He healed us and he fed us.  V. 20 describes the experience of all those who find faith in Christ: “And they did all eat, and were filled.” Christ is the only one who can fill and satisfy our hungry souls.

The deepest needs of men, our deepest needs, will not be satisfied when the church offers politics, or yoga classes, or financial counseling, but when we offer the only thing that matters and the only thing that satisfies: Christ himself.

So, when Christ says, “give ye them to eat,” let us give them Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, May 06, 2022

The Vision (5.6.22): The Witness of John the Baptist


Image: Rhododendron buds beginning to blossom, May 2022, North Garden, Virginia

Note: Devotion based on last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 14:1-12.

“And [Herod] sent, and beheaded John in the prison” (Matthew 14:10).

What do we learn from the account of the martyrdom of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12)? Here are at last four lessons:

First: We must be willing to stand and bear witness for Christ—even at the cost of our lives. John provides us an example of this.

We must be willing to speak the truth, even if we stand alone, even if the truth is not popular with men. Yes, even if it costs us our lives. We must not slavishly try to tell men what their itching ears desire to hear (cf.  2 Tim 4:2-4). We must be witnesses for Christ.

Second: We must avoid the negative example of Herod and his house. We should not make rash vows. We should not use manipulation to control others. We should be guided by godly principles, and not expediency.

Third: We can learn from the disciples of John who went to Christ in their distress. See v. 12: “And his disciples… went and told Jesus.” Spurgeon: “When we are in great trouble, we shall be wise to do our best, and at the same time tell the Lord Jesus all about it, that he may direct us further as to what we are to do.”

Fourth: John was a great man, but Christ is greater. Both came as prophets, and neither were not honored but were instead put to death. John was beheaded; Christ will go to the cross. But John’s body remained in the state of death. His disciples placed his body in a tomb. But when the disciples of Jesus came to the tomb, they found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.

I saw someone post a twitter poll last week which began, “If Jesus were alive today….” The problem with that line: He is alive today! And he is still bearing witness through his people to the reality of his death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and glorious second coming. All praise be to him.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Sermon: The Martydom of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12)

We don't normally post sermons to the youtube channel, but we did this week.


Monday, May 02, 2022

TBS Text & Translation Conference: September 15, 2022

 Looking forward to attending the Trinitarian Bible Society's one-day Text & Translation Conference on Sept 15 at Tyndale House, London and then the TBS AGM at Met Tab on Sept 17, 2022.

Spurgeon on the Martyrdom of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12)


Image: Spurgeon marker, now in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London.

I preached yesterday on the martyrdom of John the Baptist in Matthew 14:1-12. Lots of gems in Spurgeon’s Matthew commentary on this passage. Here are a few I shared on twitter @Riddle1689:

Spurgeon on Herod hearing of Jesus’s fame: “The peasant heard of Jesus before the prince” (Matt, 118).

Spurgeon on Herod thinking Jesus was John redivivus: “Great superstition often underlies a surface of avowed unbelief” (Matt, 188-189).

Spurgeon on John’s confrontation with Herod: “John did not mince matters, or leave the question alone. What was a king to him, if that king trampled on the law of God?” (Matt, 189).

Spurgeon on Herodias: “She was a very Jezebel in her pride and cruelty; and Herod was a puppet in her hands” (Matt, 189).

Spurgeon on Herodias’s daughter: “In these days mothers too often encourage their daughters in dress which is scarcely decent, and introduce them to dances which are not commendable for purity. No good can come of this; it may please the Herods, but it displeases God” (Matt, 190).

Spurgeon on Herod’s rash vow: “Rash promises, and even oaths, are no excuse for doing wrong. The promise was itself null and void, because no man has a right to promise to do wrong” (Matt, 191).

Spurgeon on John’s death: “…the man of God left his prison for Paradise by one sudden stroke of the sword… he received his crown in heaven though he lost his head on earth” (192).

Spurgeon on Herod ordering John’s death: “Men may sin by proxy, but they will be guilty in person” (192).

Spurgeon on Herodias and her daughter: “What a mother and daughter! Two bad women can do a world of mischief” (Matt, 192).

Spurgeon on John’s disciples going to tell Jesus: “When we are in great trouble, we shall be wise to do our best, and at the same time tell the Lord Jesus all about it, that he may direct us further as to what we are to do” (Matt, 192).