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The Concert that Precedes the Worship

Every now and then, someone asks what has happened to congregational singing. Sometimes, the question is accompanied by a good answer. The latest is from Pastor Josh Buice, who offers 6 Reasons Why the Church Is Not Singing. You should read it. But first (or second, if you prefer), I’d like to chime in with my own view, from an almost entirely experiential perspective. I say that up front because, though I am thoroughly convince I am right about this (and my lack of originality bolsters this confidence), experience alone is never proof of anything. I think I have more than experience on my side, but I’m not going to go to any great lengths to prove it.

I grew up in hymn-singing churches. There was no “worship team” or band, just a pianist, sometimes accompanied by an organ, and the pastor up front leading the singing. A designated leader with some actual talent might have been nice at times, but it didn’t really matter, because he didn’t have a microphone. Everyone followed the pianist, and everyone (or mostly everyone, at least) sang out.

In those days, we never would have heard singing described as “worship” in distinction from the rest of the service, since it was not a distinct portion of the service, but interspersed throughout the liturgy.

The best quality of the church music of that time (and place—your experience may differ) was the content. Although there are certainly some pretty lame hymns and gospel songs in most hymnals, only the most ignorant can honestly deny their general superiority over the commercial pop songs that pass for “praise and worship” now. Also—and this is important—the hymns were usually selected by the pastor, guaranteeing protection that I would argue is scripturally mandated.

Then came the praise choruses, which were pretty much campfire songs from Bible camp brought into the Lord’s Day worship service. These were mostly not bad songs; although many were theologically shallow, many others were scriptural paraphrases. Who can argue with the Psalms? I think the guitar slipped in about this time, but that was okay; it’s no substitute for a piano, but it also wasn’t (probably) the harbinger of hell some folks worried it was. And everyone still sang along.

Over the years, probably due to the growth of the commercially-driven (as opposed to ministry-generated) Contemporary Christian Music industry, hymns written by competent theologians—not to mention, skilled poets—fell out of fashion, replaced by hackneyed emotional ballads with unsingable arrangements by unaccountable free-lance ditty-writers who have never seen the inside of a theology textbook or Bible commentary, and have, at best, only the most superficial understanding of God and the gospel.

While the content of the songs was devolving, the musical production was expanding. In some aspects, it may have gotten better, but mostly, it just got louder. In my church, the “worship team” is not the rock band that is so common these days, but only a pianist, three singers (usually), and a relatively restrained drummer. Now, I love my church, and I don’t like to complain, but every Sunday when the music is playing, they are very nearly all I hear. And that is not because I’m deaf; from my corner in the back, I have a pretty good view, and what I see are a lot of people whose mouths are barely moving, and many who clearly aren’t even trying.

And never, when I observe this, do I think of saying, “Come on, people, sing! Sing out!” I never think that, because I’m one of them. When an actual hymn is played, I sing to the best of my feeble ability. Otherwise, I don’t, and it’s not because I’m a stubborn, stick-in-the-mud curmudgeon (I am that, but that’s not why I’m not singing). I’m not singing because some of the songs contain words that I would be embarrassed, and sometimes even ashamed, to sing. Many of them lack any thematic continuity. Some have no logical meaning at all. I’m not singing because some of the tunes are unsingable. I realize that’s a particular problem of mine, lacking the lung capacity I once possessed, but I’ve seen it in others who are singing, but drop out when the song enters that utterly-impossible-to-navigate bridge (you know the one). And I’m not singing because I don’t know the songs. These are not songs I would ever hear during the week, and they are only memorable when they shock me with some horribly wrong doctrine, so don’t expect me to pick them up from an occasional Sunday morning performance. (In contrast, the very form of hymns makes them almost irresistibly memorable, and is usually so simple that anyone with the words (properly formatted) in front of them can, at first sight, pick it up and sing along.)

While many think of the musical portion of the service as the worship that precedes the sermon–an enormous error—I have come to think of it as the concert that precedes the worship—a concert in which many of the songs are entirely uncompelling, to put it mildly. And that is why the church is not singing.

Eight Words, Five Themes

If you’ve ever wondered how preachers can preach for an hour on a single verse (or less) of Scripture, the following is meant to show just how pregnant with meaning a short passage can be. Mind you, this is just off the top of my head, pulled together about as fast as I could copy-and-paste from If a pretender like me gets this much, imagine what a competent scholar/expositor who gave the text its due diligence could do. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus [Yahweh saves], for He will save His people from their sins. —Matthew 1:21 He will save His people from their sins. Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” —John 14:6 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. —Acts 4:12 He will save His people from their sins. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. —John 6:37–40 He will save His people from their sins. And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. —Ephesians 2:1–9 He will save His people from their sins. Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. . . . I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.” —John 17:1–2, 9–10 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. —1 Peter 2:9–10 He will save His people from their sins. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. —1 John 2:1–2

Monergist Reformer: John Calvin

To call John Calvin a monergist seems stupidly obvious, given that the fundamental doctrines bearing that description have—incorrectly—been given his name. Nevertheless, I will do so, if only for the sake of continuity. Besides, since “Calvinism” is a misnomer, and Calvin had no part in formulating the Canons of Dort (being excused from that assembly on the grounds of being deceased) or the TULIP acronym (no one really knows who invented that handy but misleading device), nor was he available to advise our Lord and his apostles in the original presentation of those doctrines, it is worth our time investigating whether Calvin was truly a Calvinist. To that end, I present for your consideration, courtesy of Steve Lawson, exhibits T, U, L, I, and P. Man is a slave of sin. . . . Man’s spirit is so alienated from the justice of God that man conceives, covets, and undertakes nothing that is not evil, perverse, iniquitous, and soiled. Because the heart, totally imbued with the poison of sin, can emit nothing but the fruits of sin. Yet one must not infer therefrom that man sins as constrained by violent necessity. For, man sins with the consent of a very prompt and inclined will. But because man, by the corruption of his affections, very strongly keeps hating the whole righteousness of God and, on the other hand, is fervent in all kinds of evil, it is said that he has not the free power of choosing between good and evil—which is called free will. . . . If you say that He [God] foresaw they would be holy, and therefore elected them, you invert the order of Paul. You may, therefore, safely infer, if He elected us that we might be holy, He did not elect us because He foresaw that we would be holy. . . . For when it is said that believers were elected that they might be holy, it is at the same time intimated that the holiness which was to be in them has its origin in election. And how can it be consistently said, that things derived from election are the cause of election? . . . I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins. . . . [Writing in 1 John 2:2, “and not for ours only,” John] added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel. Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world. . . . The external call alone would be insufficient, did not God effectually draw to Himself those whom He has called. . . . There is this difference in the calling of God, that He invites all indiscriminately by His word, whereas He inwardly calls the elect alone (John 6:37). . . . The gospel is preached indiscriminately to the elect and the reprobate; but the elect alone come to Christ, because they have been “taught by God.” . . . We ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by His Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom He has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. . . . [The elect differ] in no respect from others, except in being protected by the special mercy of God from rushing down the precipice of eternal death. . . . That they go not to the most desperate extremes of impiety, is not owing to any innate goodness of theirs, but because the eye of God watches over them, and His hand is extended for their preservation. —John Calvin, cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 517–519, 521, 525–527.

Lord’s Day 41, 2018

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” I will extol You, O Lord, for You have lifted me up, And have not let my enemies rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me. O Lord, You have brought up my soul from Sheol; You have kept me alive, that I would not go down to the pit. Sing praise to the Lord, you His godly ones, And give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning. Now as for me, I said in my prosperity, “I will never be moved.” O Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong; You hid Your face, I was dismayed. To You, O Lord, I called, And to the Lord I made supplication: “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness? “Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me; O Lord, be my helper.” You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever. —Psalm 30 Hymn XXI. The storm hushed. ’Tis past—the dreadful stormy night Is gone, with all its fears! And now I see returning light, The Lord, my Sun, appears. The tempter, who but lately said, I soon shall be his prey; Has heard my Saviour’s voice and fled With shame and grief away. Ah, Lord, since thou didst hide thy face, What has my soul endur’d? But now ’tis past, I feel thy grace, And all my wounds are cur’d! O wond’rous change! but just before Despair beset me round; I heard the lion’s horrid roar, And trembled at the sound. Before corruption, guilt and fear, My comfort blasted fell; And unbelief discover’d near The dreadful depths of hell. But Jesus pity’d my distress, He heard my feeble cry; Reveal’d his blood and righteousness, And brought salvation nigh. Beneath the banner of his love, I now secure remain; The tempter frets, but dares not move To break my peace again. Lord, since thou thus hast broke my bands, And set the captive free; I would devote my tongue, my hands, My heart, my all to thee. —William Cowper, Olney Hymns. Book III: On the Rise, Progress, Changes, and Comforts of the Spiritual Life. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Jesus in His Heavenly Glory

Jesus in His Heavenly Glory STUTTGART Jesus in His heav’nly glory, sits with God upon the throne; now no more to be forsaken, His humiliation gone. Never more shall God, Jehovah, smite the Shepherd with the sword; ne’er again shall cruel sinners set at nought our glorious Lord. Dwelling in eternal sunshine of the countenance of God, Jesus fills all heaven with incense of HIs reconciling blood. On His heart our names are graven, on His shoulders we are borne; of our God beloved in Jesus, we can love Him in return. —Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). According to Google and YouTube, this hymn has never been recorded to any tune. However, the tune, STUTTGART, has. The current hymnal for this series is Hymns to the Living God, recently published by Religious Affections Ministries. This is such a good hymnal that I’m pretty sure I could happily post every hymn it contains, but I’ll be limiting selections to hymns I have never posted here before, especially those unfamiliar to me (of which there are many). For more information and to purchase this hymnal, visit Religious Affections Ministries.

No Other Hope

In early 1564, Calvin became seriously ill. He preached for the last time from the pulpit of Saint Peter’s Cathedral on Sunday, February 6. By April, it was obvious that he did not have long to live. Calvin, age fifty-four, faced death as he had faced the pulpit—with great resolution. The strength of his faith, built on the sovereignty of God, appears in his last will and testament. On April 25, 1564, Calvin dictated the following words: In the name of God, I John Calvin, minister of the word of God in the Church of Geneva, feeling myself reduced so low by diverse maladies, that I cannot but think that it is the will of God to withdraw me shortly from this world, have advised to make and set down in writing my testament and declaration of my last will in form, as follows: In the first place, I render thanks to God, not only because he has had compassion on me, His poor creature, to draw me out of the abyss of idolatry in which I was plunged, in order to bring me to the light of His gospel and make me a partaker of the doctrine of salvation, of which I was altogether unworthy, and continuing His mercy He has supported me amid so many sins and short-comings, which were such that I well deserved to be rejected by Him a hundred thousand times—but what is more, He has so far extended His mercy towards me as to make use of me and of my labour, to convey and announce the truth of His gospel; protesting that it is my wish to live and die in this faith which He has bestowed on me, having no other hope nor refuge except in His gratuitous adoption, upon which all my salvation is founded; embracing the grace which He has given me in our Lord Jesus Christ, and accepting the merits of His death and passion, in order that by this means all my sins may be buried; and praying Him so to wash and cleanse me by the blood of this great Redeemer, which has been shed for us poor sinners, that I may appear before His face, bearing as it were His image. Three days later, on April 28, 1654, Calvin called his fellow ministers to his bedchamber and issued his farewell address to them. He cautioned them that the battles of the Reformation were not over, but only beginning: “You will have troubles when God shall have called me away; for though I am nothing, yet know I well that I have prevented three thousand tumults that would have broken out in Geneva. But take courage and fortify yourselves, for God will make use of this church and will maintain it, and assures you that He will protect it.” With that, he passed the torch from his feeble hands to theirs. Calvin died on May 27, 1564, in the arms of Theodore Beza, his successor. Calvin’s last words—“How long, O Lord?”—were the very words of Scripture (Pss. 79:5; 89:46). He died quoting the Bible he had so long preached. Appropriately, this humble servant was buried in a common cemetery in an unmarked grave—at his own request. Looking back on Calvin’s life, Beza concluded, “Having been a spectator of his conduct for sixteen years . . . I can now declare, that in him all men may see a most beautiful example of the Christian character, an example which it is as easy to slander as it is difficult to imitate.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 510–511.

The Bull and the Owl

Martin Luther and John Calvin were two very different men, united in purpose, whom God used mightily. Though the two Reformers never met, they greatly admired one another’s works. Luther praised Calvin’s early writings, stating, “[His] books I have perused with singular pleasure.” Calvin, in turn, addressed Luther, twenty-five years his elder, as his “most respected father” and “a remarkable apostle of Christ, through whose work and ministry, most of all, the purity of the gospel has been restored in our time.” In fact, Luther may have helped bring Calvin to faith in Christ through his treatises The Freedom of a Christian and The Babylonian Captivity of the Christian Church. Despite this mutual esteem, the two Reformers were as different as night and day. Luther was fiery, spontaneous, and explosive, while Calvin was more careful, pensive, and systematic. Luther has been likened to a bull, stubborn and strong-headed, whereas Calvin has been compared to an owl, wise and calculating. Luther was passionate, dynamic, and prone to exaggeration. Calvin was a logical systematizer, quiet, and thoughtful, with a far more stable character. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 501. Though vastly different in personality, when it came to theology, the two men were fundamentally the same, standing firmly on sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli Deo Gloria. And, as Lawson says, “Both were strict predestinarians of the Augustinian stripe. In short, these two magisterial Reformers were champions of the God-exalting truths of sovereign grace.  Calvin, however, went further than Luther in advancing these doctrines. He took the central tenets of the Reformation and fashioned them into a comprehensive body of divinity. “From the disparate, disorganized heritage of Luther and Zwingli,” Jonathan Hill writes, “[Calvin] forged a systematic version of the Christian faith and life that still profoundly influences modern Western society.” Whereas Luther emphasized justification by faith, Calvin took aim at a higher target, underscoring the glory of God in the display of His sovereignty in the world, both in salvation and in providence. Both Reformers were correct in their teachings in these areas, but Calvin gave a more comprehensive explanation of the many facets of the doctrines of grace. . . . Martyn Lloyd-Jones contrasts the two Reformers in this way: “Luther was a volcano, spewing out fiery ideas in all directions without much pattern or system. But ideas cannot live and last without a body, and the great need of the Protestant movement in the last days of Luther was for a theologian with the ability to arrange and to express the new faith within a system. That person was Calvin. . . . It was he who saved Protestantism by giving it a body of theology with his Institutes; and it is from this that the faith and the theology of most of the Protestant churches have sprung.” R. C. Sproul explains the roles these titans played as follows: Luther, being a brilliant student of language, brought to the theological table an uncanny ability to provide vignettes of insight into particular questions of truth. But Luther was not a systematician by nature, and so he could not be the theologian of theologians. He never developed a full-orbed systematic theology for the instruction of the church. That task in the sixteenth century was left to the genius of the Genevan theologian John Calvin. Calvin brought to the study of theology a passion for biblical truth and a coherent understanding of the Word of God. Of all of the thinkers of the sixteenth century, Calvin was most noted for his ability to provide a systematic theological understanding of Christian truth.“Calvin’s great achievement,” Timothy George likewise argues, “was to take the classic insights of the Reformation (sola gratia, sole fide, sola Scriptura) and give them a clear, systematic exposition, which neither Luther nor Zwingli ever did. . . . From Geneva they took on a life of their own and developed into a new international theology, extending from Poland and Hungary in the East to the Netherlands, Scotland, England (Puritanism), and eventually to New England in the West.” William Cunningham adds, “Calvin was by far the greatest of the Reformers with respect to the talents he possessed, the influence he exerted, and the services he rendered in the establishment and diffusion of important truth.” Thus, it was Calvin, a second-generation Reformer, who brought order to the Reformed ideas that were emerging and fashioned them into a seamless tapestry of thought, a systematic whole that was exegetical, logical, and sound. It is no exaggeration to say he was the architect of Reformed theology. —Ibid., 502–503.

Monergist Reformer: Heinrich Bullinger
Zwingli’s Sixty-Seven
The Myth of the Noble Beast, etc.
Lord’s Day 40, 2018
In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Lamb of God, Thou Now Art Seated
Monergist Reformer: William Tyndale
Monergist Reformer: Ulrich Zwingli

Made Forever Common
Monastic Monergist: Bernard of Clairvaux
The Bernardine Tradition
Lord’s Day 38, 2018
In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: How Blest Is He Whose Trespass
Frivolous Friday: Take It
Put Away Empty Thinking

An Independent Work
Two Reformation Branches
Monergist Reformer: Martin Luther
Lord’s Day 39, 2018
In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Our Great High Priest Is Sitting
Monergist Pre-Reformer: John Hus
Scholastic Monergist: John Wycliffe


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