Friday, January 26, 2024

The Vision (1.26.24): The Tower of Babel


Image: Peter Bruegel the Elder, The (Little) Tower of Babel, c. 1563,
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Genesis 11.

“And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven…” (Genesis 11:4a).

“And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded” (Genesis 11:5).

Moses reports that in the time after the flood men came into the land of Shinar and said, “Go to, let us build us a city and a tower….” The mention of a tower likely indicates that they thought to defend themselves, rather than depend upon the protection and provision of the LORD.

Moses adds of their design for this tower, “whose top may reach unto heaven.” Many have seen spiritual significance in this description. These men literally had lofty visions of what their status would be. The sky was the limit. They could lift themselves up by their ingenuity and labors “unto heaven,” into the abode or realm of God himself.

So, it is a picture of man in his pride. In the Scriptures we often read of a contrast between God who is in heaven and lowly man who is on earth. Consider:

Psalm 115:16: “The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.”

Ecclesiastes 5:2: “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.”

There is a sense here of men leaving their rightful station or standing in life and attempting to put themselves in the place of God.

We soon read, however, in Genesis 11:5, “And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower….” What we are being taught here is that the actions of man on earth never go unnoticed by the LORD. He may be quiet for a season. He may give men over to their own devises and inclinations, but there always comes a time when he arrives to inspect the cities we have built and the towers we have erected.

Meditation on this account in Genesis 11, may lead us more soberly to heed the exhortation offered by the apostle Peter, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, January 19, 2024

The Vision (1.19.24): The Table of Nations


These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood (Genesis 10:32).

Genesis 10 has traditionally been referred to as the Table of Nations. It presents the descendants of the three sons of Noah, and the nations that sprang from them, after the flood, the line of Japheth (vv. 2-5); the line of Ham (vv. 6-20); and the line of Shem (vv. 21-31). 70 descendants or nations are listed (14 from Japheth; 35 from Ham; and 21 from Shem). This is a number of fullness (10 x sabbath) and completion.

In the end Genesis 10 might be considered a missions chapter, a “Great Commission” chapter.

It is a reminder that God is sovereignly working out his plan of redemption in a post-fall, post-flood world. The gospel had first been proclaimed in Genesis 3:15. The seed of the woman will eventually crush the serpent’s head, even as he bruises the Messiah’s heel.

Sinful men and the serpent, however, will not go down easily. Their rebellion will encompass the pride that will lead to Babel and the division of languages (Genesis 11), which will make it even harder for the Gospel to reach all men, humanly speaking.

Yet this will not thwart the Lord’s plan of redemption, to seek and to save all kinds of men from all over the earth. His gospel will reach even those at the farthest “isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands” (v. 5).

Luke 10 provides an intriguing parallel to Genesis 10. In Luke 10, Luke offers a unique record of the time when Christ sent out a group of men “into every city and place” (v. 1) to declare, “The kingdom of God is come nigh to you” (v. 9). Guess how many he sent? 70. See Luke 10:1-3. Do you think that was by accident? Of course not. Luke even records the report of the 70 as they returned in triumph (v. 17), and Christ’s response (vv. 18-20).

After his resurrection, Christ commissioned the apostles to go and teach all nations (Matthew 28:19-20)

Before his ascension, Christ told his apostles that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and “unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

What had been divided by sin and the fall will be united in Christ. God would have some from every nation, even the nations that hated him and resisted him the most, Egyptians (v. 13) and Philistines (v. 14), and Hebrews (v. 25),  to come unto him.

Even men like us.

In a book on missions, an evangelical author once wrote, ‘Where worship is not, mission is.’ Where there are nations where men do not know and serve the one true God our Father, and his Son our Lord Jesus Christ, through his Holy Spirit, there must be missions.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, January 12, 2024

The Vision (1.12.24): Noah's Failure


Image: Noah's Drunkenness, French manuscript illumination, c. 1250.

Note: Devotional based on last Sunday's sermon on Genesis 9:18-29.

Genesis 9:20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: 21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.

The Lord graciously preserved the life of Noah and his sons from the flood. He then blessed them and made a covenant with them, promising never to destroy the earth again by means of a flood, and he set the bow in the clouds as a token of that covenant (Genesis 8:1, 11).

The world after the flood was a time of hope and promise, but in Genesis 9:18-29 we read, to our dismay, of Noah’s failure. He becomes drunken and uncovered in shame.

What application can we draw from this description of Noah’s failure?

We are reminded of a reality for all men, even redeemed men, as Noah was. There are remaining corruptions within us. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8). He was a just (justified) man (6:9). But after the flood he fell into grievous sin.

Noah anticipates one who will come after him from his line, King David, the man after God’s own heart, the sweet Psalmist of Israel. But David fell into adultery with Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 11). He arranged the death of her husband. He was a murderer. And yet when confronted by Nathan the prophet, he repented in sackcloth and ashes, penned Psalm 51, and pleaded with the LORD, “Create in me a clean heart O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (v. 10).

Even the great apostle Paul would write of a struggle within him in Romans 7 when he spoke of doing that which he knew was not right and failing to do what he knew was right, because of sin dwelling in him (see Romans 7:15-20). He cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (v. 24). He then declared, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 25).

For every Noah who truly knows and loves the Lord but who succumbs to sin, whether drunkenness or lasciviousness or a thousand other sins, his only hope is the righteous life of Christ given to him by grace through faith. This does not permit him to excuse his sin, but it allows him to repent of his sin and to strive after new obedience.

Noah’s failure, like all our spiritual failures, in the end, only shines greater light upon Christ’s victory.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, January 05, 2024

The Vision (1.5.24): That they all may be one


Image: Some CRBC youth sing at a retirement home outreach in December, 2023.

In our first Midweek Meeting of this New Year (January 3, 2024), I offered a meditation on Christ’s so-called High Priestly Prayer as recorded in John 17.

It was fitting to begin the year with reflection on this prayer from our Lord at the initial prayer meeting of the New Year. In his first advent ministry Christ showed himself to be a man of prayer, and even now he “ever liveth to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25).

The apostle John did not record Christ’s prayer of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, as did the other Evangelists, but he alone did record this prayer in John 17 in which Christ offered petitions before the Father as our Great High Priest (cf. Hebrews 4:14-16).

This prayer has traditionally been understood to consist of three main petitions:

First, Christ prayed for himself (17:1-5). As true God, the Son has shared in fellowship with the Father and the Spirit from all eternity. As true man without sin he enjoyed perfect harmony with the Father and rightly was in constant communion with him. With the cross and resurrection in view in which his glory would be fully revealed, Christ acknowledged, “the hour is come” (17:1; cf. John 2:4; 7:6), and prayed, “glorify thy son” (17:1; cf. 17:5).

Second, Christ prayed for the original disciples or apostles (17:6-19). What a task was about to be set before them! They would be given the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Christ prayed for their holiness, “Sanctify them, through thy truth; thy word is truth” (17:17).

Third, he prayed for those who would come to the faith through the witness of the apostles (17:20-26), beginning, “Neither pray I for them [the apostles] alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (17:20). These men would indeed preach the gospel, and they would write the NT Scriptures, which continue to be preached to this day. Christ was praying for us, those who would come to faith by hearing Christ preached in the Scriptures. The focus of his petition was for their unity: “That they all may be one….” (17:21 ff.).

            As we enter this New Year may the Lord grant unity to his church. Let the unity we have enjoyed in this local church continue, as we love the brethren and bear one another’s burdens in the name of Christ. Let that unity be demonstrated through our fellowship with likeminded Reformed Baptist churches throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, this nation, and the world. Let it also be demonstrated through our unity with all other churches where Christ is at the center, the Bible is believed and preached, and the core tenants of orthodox Christian faith and practice are upheld.

            Let us indeed “all be one.”

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

Personal Reflections: A Dozen Interesting Reads in 2023


“…when thou comest, bring with thee… the books….” (2 Timothy 4:13). Both ministry and scholarship require constant reading. Here are a few notes on a dozen interesting books, of various stripes, read in 2023 (listed in no particular order). I posted similar articles on reading in 2021 and 2022.

One: Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, Expanded Edition (University of Chicago, 1948, 2013): 203 pp.

This is the best-known work of Weaver (1910-1963), the Southern philosopher, historian, and literary critic, with roots in Asheville, North Carolina, who taught at the University of Chicago. Weaver critiques the “hysterical optimism” of modern post-WW2 American society, including the “Great Stereopticon” and the “Spoiled-Child Psychology” of modern life.

Two: Eusebius Pamphilus, The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine (original 337; Aeterna Press, 1845, 2014): 243 pp.

The “father of church history” wrote this glowing account of the Roman Emperor who brought an end to the Diocletian persecution of Christianity and became a patron and protector of the fledgling Christian movement.

Three: Robert P. Ericksen, Theologians Under Hitler (Yale University Press, 1885, 1986): 245 pp.

This book offers a compelling survey and analysis of the life and writings of three German theologians whose reputations were tarnished by their association with National Socialism: Gerhard Kittel (editor of the famed multi-volume Bible dictionary); Paul Althaus; and Emmanuel Hirsch.

Four: Robert C. Gregg, Trans. and Introduction, Athanasius: The Life of Anthony and the Letter to Marcellinus (Paulist Press, 1980): 166 pp.

This book presents a translation of two works by Athanasius, the fierce defender of the Trinitarian orthodoxy. The work on Anthony offers a glimpse into the ascetic piety of the famed desert father and his influence on monasticism.

Five: B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins (MacMillan, 1925): 622 pp.

This groundbreaking work by the English New Testament scholar Streeter famously expanded upon the “two source” hypothesis solution to the so-called Synoptic Problem by suggesting four sources (Mark, Q, M, and L). The “assured results” of source criticism have since (rightly) fallen on hard times, but this work still offers an interesting look into what was “cutting edge” scholarship in the early twentieth century. 2024 will mark the 100th anniversary of this book.

Six: Francis Watson, The Fourfold Gospel: A Theological Reading of the New Testament Portraits of Jesus (Baker Academic, 2016): 207 pp.

Watson offers a “theological reading” of the four Gospels. Of special interest are his references to how the Eusebian canons represent an early effort to provide a harmonious understanding of the fourfold Gospel.

Seven: Geoffrey Thomas, In the Shadow of the Rock (Reformation Heritage Books, 2022): 325 pp.

I read this biography of the Welsh Calvinistic Baptist preacher anticipating his speaking at the 2023 Keach Conference. An interesting memoir of 50 years in pastoral ministry in one church, but also offering insight into Westminster Seminary (where Thomas studied) in its “glory days” and anecdotes on various key figures in evangelicalism, including D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Albert Martin, and others. I’ve written a review of the book that I hope will be published in 2024.

Eight: C. H. Spurgeon, Commentary on Matthew: The Gospel of the Kingdom (Banner of Truth, 1893, 2019): 442 pp.

I read this work, the only complete commentary on a NT book penned by Spurgeon, section by section as I preached expositionally through Matthew and finished it last year when I completed the sermon series. It offers a treasure trove of homiletical insights and pithy aphorisms for the preacher. Very useful for those preaching through the First Gospel.

Nine: Iain R. K. Paisley, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans: Prepared in a Prison Cell (Marshall, Morgan, and Scott, 1968): 191 pp.

I got this book after returning home from a trip this year to Northern Ireland and stopping by the Martyrs Memorial Presbyterian Church in Belfast where this controversial Ulster politician and Free Presbyterian minister served. It is a “prison epistle” written while the author was jailed for his political activity in 1966. Like Spurgeon’s Matthew commentary, loaded with quotable quotes. A book written by a gifted orator. For a list of quotes, see this blog article.

Ten: Alister E. McGrath, A Life of John Calvin (Baker Academic, 1990, 1991, 1995): 332 pp.

I got this before going to the Calvin Congress in Grand Rapids and finished reading it shortly afterwards. Though I did not agree with every area of analysis, one of the best biographies of Calvin and overview of his writings I have read.

Eleven: John P. Thackway, Ed., Valiant for Truth: The Collected Writings of Bishop D. A. Thompson (Bible League Quarterly, 2020): 352 pp.

I worked my way slowly through this book last year. D. A. Thompson was a former bishop in the Free Church of England and editor of the Bible League Quarterly from 1961-1970. These are a collection of his devotional and scholarly articles from his days as BLQ editor. Thompson was a pious, erudite, winsome and capable defender of the “Reformation Text.” I’ve written a review of the book that I hope will be published in 2024.

Twelve: Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (original 1862; Oxford World Classics, 2008): 296 pp.

I heard a mention of this book while listening to a podcast and was intrigued enough to give it a listen on LibriVox. Then I had to get a hard copy. It is a short, very readable novel. The central figure is Bazarov, a “nihilist” who comes home from university to challenge the views of his elders. It rejects the notion that overthrowing tradition is warranted in the name of “progress” and is especially poignant given what would happen in Russia just a few decades later.


Monday, January 01, 2024

Personal Reflections: A Dozen Memorable Events of 2023


Image: CRBC Meeting House, Louisa, Virginia

Here are a few reflections on at least a dozen highlights from 2023 in general chronological order. I’ve composed similar lists the last couple of years. Look here for 2021 and 2022 reflections.

First: My oldest daughter Hannah was married to her husband James on January 7, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia. I was honored to walk her down the aisle and co-officiate at the wedding with their Pastor.

Second: On Friday, April 14, 2023 I was happy to serve as host Pastor for the inaugural Presbyterion, Spring Pastors’ Fraternal, hosted by the Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Virginia, meeting at CRBC, and to offer a review of a chapter, along with three other brothers, of James Renihan’s Exposition of the 1689 Confession.

Third: I greatly enjoyed teaching a weeklong intensive course on the Gospels for IRBS-UK in Ramsbottom, England from April 24-28, 2023. I also had the privilege of preaching at the Trinity Baptist Church in Charlesworth and the Trinity Grace Church in Ramsbottom on Sunday, April 23, 2023.

Fourth: My second daughter Lydia was married to her husband Brendon on June 3, 2023 in Alexandria, Virginia. I was honored to walk her down the aisle and to co-officiate at the wedding with one of their Pastors.

Fifth: I traveled to the UK June 12-17, 2023 to speak at two Trinity & Text conferences for the Trinitarian Bible Society. I gave lectures on “The Providential Preservation of Scripture” and on “The Trinity and the Text of John 1:18” in Lisburn, Northern Ireland on June 14 and in London on June 16. I enjoyed good fellowship and travel with Samet Sahin of Turkey and Jonathan Arnold of TBS. I also preached in midweek meetings at Westminster Baptist Church in central London and Ridley Hall Evangelical Church in Battersea.

Sixth: I taught the Life and Teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ from the Gospel of Luke to the children of CRBC during our annual Vacation Bible School, June 19-22, 2023 in Louisa, Virginia. Later in the summer, on July 21-22, 2023, I organized and oversaw the 2023 Virginia Reformed Baptist Youth Conference at Machen Retreat and Conference Center in Highland County, Virginia.

Seventh: I enjoyed a week of vacation with my family at the beach in Topsail Island, North Carolina July 10-15, 2023, which included a 90th birthday celebration for my father-in-law.

Eighth: My booklet Why John 7:53—8:11 Is In The Bible was published by the Trinitarian Bible Society. Along with several other articles and book reviews which appeared in various places, I also wrote an extended essay titled “Retrieving the Bibliology of John Owen” for the 2023 Journal of International Reformed Baptist Seminary.

Ninth: I attended the International Congress on Calvin Research, held at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, July 25-28, 2023, where I presented a paper on “John Calvin as Textual Critic in his Commentary on John” and got to visit the Meeter Center for Calvin Research. Some of my family came along for the trip and we got to watch several baseball games along the way including Tigers-Giants in Detroit and Pirates-Phillies in Pittsburg, as well as the minor league White Caps-TinCaps in Grand Rapids.

Tenth: I attended the 2023 Keach Conference at Covenant Reformed Baptist Church in Warrenton, Virginia on Saturday, September 30, 2023 where I delivered the annual “Orientation” to the conference and enjoyed meeting and hearing Pastor Geoffrey Thomas of Wales.

Eleventh: I officiated at the wedding service for my niece and her husband at Ash Lawn Highland in Albemarle County, Virginia on October 28, 2023 and got to spend time with my siblings and their families.

Twelfth: I attended and had the privilege of giving two lectures on the “Authenticity of Scripture” and the “Accuracy of Scripture” at the 2023 Kept Pure in All Ages Conference hosted by the Five Solas OPC Church in Reedsburg, Wisconsin on November 3-4, 2023.

I am thankful for the Lord’s kindness in these and many other memorable moments in 2023. I am very blessed to pursue and do many things that I greatly enjoy.