Friday, October 30, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: O Word of God Incarnate

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 29 Num. 14

In this season of the year, we often gather our families and read the beautiful accounts of Christ’s nativity found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. This is good, but we should not forget John. He, too, gives an important account of our Lord’s entrance into the world. True there are no shepherds or wise men or mangers in his account, but his words are chock full of glory and joy.

Remember the opening verses? “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).

As J.C. Ryle has reminded us “. . . there are heights and depths in [this passage] which are far beyond man’s understanding. And yet there are plain lessons in it which every Christian would do well to treasure up in his mind.” Permit me to point to five of these lessons for your edification.

First, note that we learn here that Jesus Christ is eternal (“In the beginning was the Word”). Jesus is here called “the Word” (John explicitly makes the connection in verses 14, 17-18). He was born into the world and born of Mary, but He pre-existed his human birth, and He pre-existed the world itself. Second, we find that Jesus Christ is a person distinct from the Father (“the Word was with God”). Hence, the Word (the preincarnate Son of God) is not only eternal, but also personal (a He not an it), and indeed He is alongside God the Father eternally.

Third, John boldly states that Jesus Christ is very God (“the Word was God”). This is a straightforward assertion of the deity of our Lord. No other estimation of Jesus will suffice. As Robert Lewis Dabney once said: “He who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ is a Christian; he who does not, (whatever his profession), is a mere Deist.”

Fourth, Jesus Christ is the Creator of all things (“All things came into being through Him”). Not only is the Word eternally existent, not only is He personal, not only is He ascribed the name of God, but He is also the Creator (a task which every good Jew knew was performed by God alone).

Fifth, Jesus Christ is the source of all spiritual life (“In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men”). John tells us that the Word, the Lord Jesus is the only Hope and Savior of the world because all life and light reside.

By the way, in a nutshell, we have here the rudiments of Scripture’s doctrine of the Trinity. That is, though there is but one true God, there is an eternal personal fellowship between the divine Word and God, the Word shares the name of God, and the Word does the works of God. Correlate with this passage the New Testament teachings on the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit, and you have the doctrine of the Trinity: one God in three Persons.

What a glorious passage on which to reflect in all seasons of the year. Ryle urged: “Would we know . . . the strength of a true Christian’s foundation for hope? Let us often read these first five verses of St John’s Gospel. Let us mark that the Saviour in whom the believer is bid to trust is nothing less than the eternal God. . . . In ourselves we are great sinners. But in Jesus Christ we have a great Saviour.” May you share this message this faithfully and may it be your everlasting comfort.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: More than Just Knowing

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 29 Num. 12

Last week we observed that saving faith involves a true knowledge. In other words, we must know certain truths in order to exercise saving faith. These truths are found in the Word of God and are part of true Gospel preaching. So, in order to embrace Christ in a saving relationship, we must also embrace the truth about Him (both about His Person and Work) revealed in the Holy Scriptures. By the way, the importance of catechizing our children becomes apparent when the above truth is grasped.

However, there is more to faith than knowledge, for saving faith also entails a FIRM BELIEF (Hebrews 11:6). That is, when confronted by the truth-claims of the Gospel, saving faith responds not with mere assent or acquiescence (The Bible tells us that the demons “assent” and tremble! - James 2:19), nor with apathetic acknowledgment (that bored yawn that says in the heart “so what?”), but with a firm and hearty conviction. Saving faith always involves a personal embrace of the truth of the Gospel. This conviction of saving truth means a whole-hearted commitment that confesses “I BELIEVE” both the facts of the Gospel and the Savior of the Gospel. In other words, I believe in Christ and His Word, and I believe in the Christ of the Word. The church has always recognized the essential importance of such a faith commitment, and that is one reason it composed creeds (from the Latin “credo” -- “I believe”) -- short summations of Biblical truth meant to be confessed by the church and its ministry
May I mention in passing the dangerous modern tendency to set belief in a Person and belief in truths in opposition to one another. We often hear evangelicals say “Christianity is a Person, not a doctrine.” This is precisely what the Liberals began teaching a century ago. And it is a soul killing lie. Saving faith is a personal relationship, true, but it is a relationship with a Person who is revealed to us in the Word of God alone. So if we are going to know Him, we are going to have to know Him as He has revealed Himself (and not on our own terms). Saving faith says both “I believe in you, Jesus” (Your Person -- who You are) and “I believe you, Jesus” (Your Word -- what You say)
Let me say in conclusion that GOD GIVES FAITH (Phil. 1:29; Eph. 2:8). It is true, we must believe, but we cannot do it on our own. We need the grace of God. There are two enemies of real faith: self-confidence and despair. Self-confidence assumes that faith is an almost effortless action -- anybody and everybody can do it. Despair fears that faith is impossible. Satan knows this and so he tempts us with two lies or half-truths. On the one hand, he persuades some to believe that faith is the easiest thing in the world. Thus they think that they can do it on their own. But in the end, they end up trusting themselves, or their faith, and not Christ. On the other hand, he persuades others that faith is the hardest thing in the world. Thus they never believe because it seems impossible. They are paralyzed by the fear that they might not be able to believe, and thus their fears become so many self-fulfilling prophecies.
The Bible unties this knot by reminding us that for us alone, by ourselves, on our own, faith is impossible, but that with God all things are possible! The Lord gives faith. The Lord enables our belief. This is the blessed truth of Scripture. The Bible teaches that saving faith is the fruit of divine election (Acts 13:48), the result of regeneration (I John 5:1) the effect of the Spirit’s work (I Cor. 12:3). It is the Father who enables us to come to Jesus (John 6:65) and Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). So the proper Biblical posture with regard to faith is always: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Yours joyfully,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, October 26, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Faith and Knowledge

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 29 Num.11

Last week we noted that saving faith is much more than a momentary decision or something that we did in the past. In fact we saw that, according to the Bible, saving faith involves both acceptance of truth and personal trust. It is the instrument by which we lay hold of Christ in all His benefits.
We live in a day that is characterized by a preoccupation with our emotional responses to events (rather than the realities themselves), and with our perceptions (rather than the facts). In such a time as this, then, it is important for us to remember that FAITH ENTAILS A TRUE KNOWLEDGE.

We often hear people say “we believe in a person (Jesus), not in propositions.” But though it is true that the object of our faith is a Person (the Lord Jesus), we must know something about Him before we can have a saving relationship with Him. In other words, saving faith involves both trust and beliefs. Saving faith is not “contentless faith” or a faith without knowledge, nor is it “faith in faith” (“if I just believe enough it will come true” -- which is not Christian faith), nor “faith in ourselves” (“you just have to believe in yourself” -- which is pagan).

Our Lord Himself stressed that the truth makes us free (Luke 24:25, 45), so before we can have saving faith in a Person we must know some things about Him. This is why Paul says “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). A key part of faith’s knowledge is the realization of the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. That is, we must recognize that, in spite of the fact the we deserve to be condemned, God had manifested His readiness to save repentant sinners by giving His Son on our behalf. Only God’s grace can reveal this to a sinner.

The fact that saving faith involves a true knowledge reminds us of the importance of being good students of the Bible and Christian Doctrine. Saving faith is a faith which is instructed by the Word of God. Saving faith trusts in Christ as He is presented in the Gospel (not Christ according to our opinions). So, if we do not know the Book and its teachings, our faith will be deficient (or even empty).

We will continue our reflections on saving faith next week. In the meantime, let’s commit ourselves to attaining the true Biblical knowledge that fortifies faith.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Faith in Christ

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 29 Num. 10

According to the Holy Scriptures, FAITH is the saving response to the gospel. We all speak and hear a great deal about faith. Still, there are many who don’t seem to know what “saving faith” means. But if faith is necessary for our salvation, then it is vital that we know what it is and what it involves. Indeed, according to the Bible “without faith, it is impossible to please God" (Heb. 11:6).

In the New Testament, the Greek noun for “faith” means a person’s “conviction of the truth” (as in Acts 11:24; Rom. 3:28; Eph.2:8) or else refers to “the content of our belief” (as in Jude 3; Gal. 1:23; I Tim. 4:1). The Greek verb for the act of faith can emphasize “believing a thing to be true” (Matt 24:23), “accepting (acknowledging) a message from God’s messengers” (Acts 24:14), or “acknowledging Jesus to be the Messiah and trusting Him for salvation” (John 3:16).
A variety of word-pictures are employed in the New Testament to illustrate what it means for a person to have saving faith. Four of the most vivid examples are found in the Gospel of John. There, faith is described as “coming to Christ,” that is, turning from trust in self to trust in Christ (John 6:37). In John 6:51, faith is graphically depicted as “eating of Christ,” that is, gaining Spiritual nourishment from Christ. It is likened to “drinking of Christ” in John 4:14, that is, finding our Spiritual needs met in Christ. And our Lord speaks of it as “abiding in Christ” (John 15:5), that is, receiving our Strength from Him alone and finding our blessedness in fellowship with Him. It is evident from these passages that saving faith is much more than a momentary decision or something that we did in the past. Indeed, according to the Bible saving faith involves both acceptance of truth and personal trust. It is the instrument by which we lay hold of Christ in all His benefits.

We’ll continue exploring this theme next week. Until then, I trust that the Lord will find us all a people of faith.

Yours joyfully,

Ligon Duncan


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Perspectives on Giving

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 29 Num. 9

During our “Commitment Sunday” services, we looked at Biblical principles for Christian giving. As there are many folk still preparing to hand in their pledge cards for the 1997 Church budget, perhaps it would be good to review those principles here. We saw in our study of four New Testament passages at least nine principles for Christian giving.
1. Christians will give. Jesus said to his disciples, “when you give” not “if you give” (Matthew 6:2)! Hence, Christian giving is not optional, but rather essential. 2. Christians must give for the right motives. Jesus warned his disciples not to give for the sake of being admired by men. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them,” He said (Matthew 6:1). 3. Christians should remember that they are giving to the all-seeing Father. Jesus said “When you give to the poor . . . in secret; your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4). Our reward in giving comes from our heavenly father. 4. Christian giving is an act of worship. We see this in Paul’s word’s “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save” (1 Corinthians 16:2). In other words, Paul sees the taking up of the collection for the needy as an act of worship which is a part of the regular Lord’s Day worship. 5. Christian giving should be done in light of the incarnation. Paul reminds us “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Our giving is to be inspired and instructed by Christ’s inexpressible gift. 6. Christian giving should be done readily and according to our means. Paul is quite clear on this: “For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12). Put another way Paul is saying that you should give in proportion to what God has given you. He said it this way in 1 Corinthians 16:2 -- “each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper.” 7. The liberality of God’s blessings to us is connected to the liberality of our Christian giving. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:6 “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” About this matter J.A. Beet once said: “They who in giving think, not how little they can give, as they would if self-enrichment were the aim, but of benefits to be conferred, will receive back on the same principle. As they do to others, so God will act to them.” 8. Christian giving must be willing giving, free giving. We learn this in 2 Corinthians 9:7 “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion.” 9. Christian giving ought to be cheerful giving. As Paul says “God loves a cheerful giver.”
May the floodgates of your generosity be opened wide for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yours joyfully,

Ligon Duncan

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Preparing to Call upon God

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 29, Num. 4

A friend and I were talking this past week about the remarkable sense of anticipation amongst the congregation leading up to our first morning worship service in September. And what’s more, the service itself seemed to be characterized by an holy excitement and Spiritual intensity that I have rarely felt so keenly.

It was, of course, an occasion that I had personally looked forward to with much expectancy. One does not begin a ministry at First Presbyterian, Jackson everyday! But nerves and adrenalin aside, I believe that our worship was singularly God-blessed. I have had many comment about their own sense of the Lord’s gracious presence among us. Furthermore, particularly in our singing of praises to God, I have had many mention how they were moved to tears of joy by holy affections.

Such pleasant reflections have led me to ask myself about our preparation for Lord’s Day worship on a regular basis. I know, for instance, how many of the good folk of First Presbyterian had been laboring in prayer with a view to the worship services of September 1 (so many of you mentioned to me how you had regularly prayed for the Lord’s blessing on us that day). I can honestly say that I felt the effect of the those prayers. Perhaps we would more regularly know God’s presence so vividly, if we were more often so bathed in prayer for corporate worship and more desirous of truly meeting with Him.

Calvin reminds us in his commentary on Isaiah that the Bible often characterizes the whole of worship as “calling upon God.” Is it any wonder then that we ought to regularly prepare for our corporate worship in earnest prayer--calling upon God? Calvin also says, elsewhere, that “the principle of worshiping God is a diligent love of Him.” Is it any wonder then that when our love for Him is strong, our sense that we have worshiped (and that He has met with us and has been glorified) is more acute?

Let us each devote himself to Spiritual preparation for worship in prayer and single-hearted devotion to our gracious God.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Friday, October 16, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Saving Knowledge

The Pastor’s Perspective

Vol. 29. Num. 3

Last week, we were reflecting on the nature of the saving knowledge of God: what is it to know Him? We said that saving knowledge of God is more than merely being aware of God or believing in his existence. And we pointed out that saving knowledge of God is more than any real or imagined experience of God. To these two points we may add two more.

The saving knowledge of God is more than knowing about God. There is a difference between knowing notions and knowing God -- just as there is a difference between a knowledge gained by hearing a description of someone, and the knowledge one has by acquaintance with someone. To be sure there are some things to be known about God that are vital to a relational knowledge of him. We must know that he is the source of all wisdom, righteousness, goodness, mercy, truth, power and life. We must know that all things were created for his glory. We must know that he is a righteous judge who punishes sin. And we must know that he is full of mercy and freely shows his favor to those who come to him for forgiveness. That having been said, our knowledge about God contributes to a saving knowledge of God only in the context of a relationship of commitment and trust -- in other words, a relationship of faith.

Finally, we should remember, the saving knowledge of God involves knowing something about ourselves as well. We cannot have a true knowledge of God without also knowing who we are. He made us. We are dependent on him as our creator. And we are needy sinners. Apart from him we have no hope. This self-knowledge is necessary is necessary for our knowledge of God. Because his relationship to his children is a saving relationship. Only when we recognize our need do we begin to have a real knowledge of God. As J.I. Packer has said: “knowing God by faith according to the Scriptures is three things together: it is apprehension of who and what he is; it is application to ourselves of what he gives; and it is adoration of him, the Giver.”

May the Lord grant you a sure and saving knowledge of himself.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: To Know Him

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 29 Num. 2

If it is true that “God has made us to know him” (an astounding thought, but true! -- see John 17:3 and Jeremiah 9:23f), and that consequently our prime aim in life is to know and glorify the triune God through Jesus Christ, then perhaps we would do well to reflect on just what it means to “know God” or “glorify God.” We are not so concerned to race ahead to the good question of “how” we know God (though the answer lies in the phrase “through Jesus Christ), but rather want to reflect on the nature of saving knowledge of God: what is it to know Him?

First, we can say that saving knowledge of God is more than merely being aware of God or believing in his existence. Paul tells us that all men have this kind of knowledge of God whether they admit it or not (Romans 1:19-21). All men know that God exists. All men are aware of him. Even unbelievers! So, there is a sense in which there is really no such thing as an atheist. Those who claim to be agnostic are engaging in psychological suppression.
Second, the saving knowledge of God is more than any real or imagined experience of God. Real knowledge of God comes by faith, and experience is the by-product not the basis of that faith. This is an important lesson for us to learn in our experience-oriented age. We tend to believe that the more extraordinary our experience, the more spiritual it is. But experience cannot bear the weight of religion. We must look outside of ourselves to a greater Reality to find the foundation of faith. Indeed, the ground of faith in God, of knowledge of God, is God himself.
We’ll continue with our reflection on this important matter next week. Until then, may the Lord give you a sure and saving knowledge of himself.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, October 12, 2009

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective

"Aims and Goals"
Vol. 29 Num. 1

What are your aims in life? What are your real goals? When no one is listening, what do you say to yourself that your true desires are? What do you think of most, want most, long for most? Perhaps you are striving for financial security or professional achievement. Or yearning for a husband or wife or children. Or longing to be loved by your mate. Or wishing for a relationship with good communication. Or hoping to escape the shadows of past tragedies or present trials. Or aching for relief from pain. Or looking to become a better father or mother or child. I may not have touched on your particular objective or preoccupation, but you get the point -- you can fill in the blank.

Now none of these things is illegitimate in itself, but can any of them count among the “first things,” -- should any of them be our prime ambition? Is there something greater, something higher under which all these dreams are subsumed? You know the right answer because you’ve heard the Shorter Catechism tell you that “Man’s chief end is to glorify and enjoy God.” But is that your answer? Is that what you really think? And, more importantly, is that how you live? Is knowing God truly what you want? Do you want him more than anything else? Does this aim reflect itself in your priorities?

God made us to know him. This saving knowledge is the “eternal life” that Jesus gives: “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). This then ought to be our prime aim in life: to know the triune God through Jesus Christ. Such an aim and such a knowledge will not mean that all your struggles disappear and that all your wishes are immediately realized, but as J. I. Packer has said: “Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.” It is my prayer that we will be, together, characterized by our mutual pursuit of the first thing.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


Monday, October 05, 2009

I Love Thy Church, O Lord: Gleanings from Past “Pastor’s Perspective” Columns in the First Epistle

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

During the summer we received an encouraging email from a young man who serves as a research assistant for a well-respected evangelical theologian. In the course of his weekly duties, one of the things he regularly did was scan the pages of our First Epistle (the weekly church newsletter of First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS, USA). Along with his kind words of appreciation, he had a suggestion to this effect: “Why don’t you re-post past editions of the “Pastor’s Perspective” column for easier internet access (and in a way that people could more easily track them, for instance, via their feed readers).”

Well, we discussed it and thought it was a good idea. Though many back issues of my and Derek’s columns are archived on the First Presbyterian Church website (, you kind have to know where to go to find them. We thought to ourselves: re-posting these articles via the church blog would make it easier for people know about and to get to the material.

Starting next week, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, we are going to be posting many of the “Pastor’s Perspectives” articles, going back as far as 1996. It is our hope that as you read some of these articles, they will encourage you in your Christian life, and increase your knowledge of how God works with His people.

It is also our prayer that you will benefit from reading these, as much or more as when they were first written and published.

Your friend,
Ligon Duncan


Saturday, October 03, 2009

Highland Theological College - Upcoming Events

Graduation & Awards Ceremony
Fri 23rd Oct, 7pm, Castle Street Church, Dingwall
Rev. Dr Derek Thomas (Professor of Practical and Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi) will be preaching.
Come along to support our new graduates and celebrate with them.

Evening classes: 'Getting to Know the Father'
Mon 26th Oct every Monday for 8 weeks (finishing 14th Dec), 7pm, Hilton Church, Inverness
Rev Hector Morrison (Principal, HTC)

Conference Day/Open Day
Sat 31st Oct, 10.15am, HTC Conference Room
Find out what goes on at HTC. Join us for worship, meet the tutors, sample a lecture, see around the building, visit the library, and more…The day is for both students and visitors. If you're interested in our work please come along. Attending doesn't assume you'll sign up to becoming a student!

Public Lecture: 'Jesus Loves Me: the Reformed Doctrine of Assurance'
Fri 20th Nov, 7.30pm, Greyfriars Free Church, Inverness
Professor Donald Macleod (Principal, Free Church College, Edinburgh)

These events are all open to the public. They're not just for students and academics!
All welcome.

Highland Theological College, High Street, Dingwall, Scotland IV15 9HA
phone: 01349 780000 fax: 01349 780001
Scottish Company Number: 149728 Charity Registration Number: SC 029190
A Community of Faith and Scholarship