Jacob Tanner

Psalm 126: Set Free

Psalm 126 is an encouraging reminder to saints throughout all ages that, just as the Israelites were saved from Babylonian captivity, God now saves sinners from captivity to sin. We may sow seeds of the gospel in desert places but will one day bear witness to a great harvest with unparalleled joy in our hearts. Though we often find ourselves in hard trials, the Lord will turn our sorrow to joy in his own perfect timing and for his own perfect glory.

That Psalm 126 bears the heading “A Song of Ascents,” and is within the grouping of the Psalms of Ascent is a providential grace of God. Likely penned later than most other Psalms, it offers a great degree of hope and comfort to those weary saints who, like the Israelites of the Babylonian exile, long to be set free from their burdens and trials. It is a Psalm that promises the pious tears of troubled saints will turn to laughter and joy by the grace of God.
The Psalm is believed to have been penned around 530 B.C., about the time certain Jews began to make their way back to Jerusalem after their decades-long captivity in Babylon (2 Kings 24:10, 14, 16).
This was a miserable time for the people of God, who were not only forcefully removed from their homes, but forced to watch their homes and places of worship desecrated by these foreign Babylonian invaders. Yet, this was the just will of God coming to pass. The people had long been in sin, and God was now fulfilling his promises to bring judgment upon his unrepentant people for their sin.
Of course, God would not punish his people forever. He promised to show his people mercy by visiting them once more and restoring them to their own land (Jer. 29:10-14). They would find joy in their God again.
It is believed that Psalm 126:1 describes the heart of those first Jews being freed from Babylon to return to Jerusalem: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” Have you ever received such great news that you wondered if you were really just dreaming? That was the reaction of the Jews. They could hardly believe that God was showering them with such favor and blessing. They could hardly believe the time had come to return to their own land.
Yet, as they began to recognize the reality of their situation, their hearts turned to praising the Lord. The Psalmist says that “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy” (vs. 2a). The one who experiences the grace of God cannot help but laugh with joy and praise God with song.
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Union with Christ and Participation in Christ’s Sufferings

We can rejoice when we participate in the sufferings of Christ, knowing that God has divinely ordered and appointed them for the good of both ourselves and Christ’s Body, and the strength to withstand the suffering steadfastly is made possible through our union with Him. God is making us perfect through both our union with Jesus and our participation in the sufferings of Christ.

One of the greatest joys of the Christian life is knowing that we have not only been purchased by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, but that we have been joined together to Christ by faith. We are counted as members of His very Body. The beauty of this consists in the fact that all who come to Christ—no matter who they were, what sins they committed, or where they’re from—are welcomed into His Body. We are made one with Christ and one with one another. As 1 Corinthians 12:13 succinctly puts it, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” Yet, as glorious as union with Christ is, there is a neglected aspect of it that is ignored to our own peril: the fact that union with Christ means participation in the sufferings of Christ.
What Makes Union with Christ So Great?
Notice the language that the Apostle Paul used: “In one Spirit, we were baptized into one body, and we are made to drink of one Spirit.” In Romans 6:3-4, Paul elaborated on this idea by explaining that, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Therefore, our union with Christ consists of a spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit, whereby we are counted as having been joined together with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection. Physical baptism symbolizes this great truth: as the minister takes us and lowers us into the water, our death is pictured. Held beneath the water, our death with Jesus is symbolized by the water surrounding us. Finally, as he lifts us from the water, our resurrection to new life in Christ is pictured.
We are, spiritually, now one with Christ. But our union with Christ does not end with a spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit. Our union with Him is an eternal union, with covenantal bonds no less dissoluble or breakable than God’s love for us is conquerable. This is a union to which we are permanently and inseparably joined.
We share all things with Christ: His righteousness is ours, His peace is ours, His standing before God is ours…We are led to continually boast in Christ alone for, in Him, “All things are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:21). Now, clearly, that does not mean that we become as God, or share in His incommunicable attributes, like His sovereignty or aseity. But it does mean that He has graciously poured out an incredible number of gifts upon us—including the gift of participation in His sufferings.
What it Means to Enjoy Participation in Christ’s Suffering
There are various texts that point to the suffering that Christians can expect to experience when they are joined together to Christ. From the hatred of the world (John 15:18-25) to the persecution of the godly by the ungodly (2 Timothy 3:12), there is a great deal of suffering to be experienced in the Christian’s union with Christ.
Of course, Scripture not only warns us to expect suffering, but encourages us to delight in it. Now, that may seem strange and even impossible at times, but consider the following from James 1:2-4, which states, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
In other words, the suffering we endure on account of the trials we face is purposed by God to produce steadfastness, and steadfastness in Christ makes us mature in Christ so that we lack nothing. Therefore, we must rejoice! No suffering is without its purpose; all of it is divinely purposed and appointed for our good and God’s glory.
In Acts 5:41, we find the Apostles being persecuted for their faith in Christ.
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Inerrancy: Does God Matter to the Discussion?

Scripture is about God and His glory, and we can trust its inerrant revelation about Him precisely because He is without error and has inspired the Scriptures.

The physical act of writing out letters and then physically sending them in the mail to others is part of a bygone era. These days, fingers strike digital keyboards and send icons, and digital texts and emails are electronically sent. But while the format of writing and sending letters has largely changed in our digital age, two things have remained the same: Who writes the letter and what they have to say still matters a great deal.
We largely care about the content of letters because of who has sent them. If I were to receive a certified letter from the President of the United States and, within this letter, he was to present me with an invitation to the White House, wherein I was to be honored with a reward, I would pay special attention to every word written. As one in a position of authority and power, his words in such a letter would carry significance and weight. On the other hand, when I receive an email from the latest displaced Nigerian prince requesting I give him full access to my bank account, I give much less weight to what is written. The former writes from a position of power and authority; the latter writes with no authority.
The biblical doctrine of inerrancy has just as much to do with who has inspired the Scriptures as it does with what the inspired Scriptures have to say. If, for example, we were to contend that the Scriptures had been inspired by a mere mortal man, then we would place much less significance on what they have to say. Even if the man purported to have inspired them was generally acknowledged as good, trustworthy, and mostly faithful to the truth, we would still have to consider it likely that he had gotten certain facts wrong. We would even need to agree that his directions and commandments could be the result of his own faulty desires, and therefore not always good. We could hardly claim a book inspired by a mere mortal man was inerrant; on the contrary, we would be forced to admit that it was extraordinarily likely that there were multiple errors and inconsistencies to be found throughout.
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Unconditional Election & Shepherding

Unconditional election is a reminder that just as surely as God elected and then saved a Christian, He will bring about their conformity into the image of Jesus Christ by completing the good work He began in them (Phil. 1:6).  This frees me to preach expository sermons, trusting that the Lord can and will take my feeble efforts and use them to edify, strengthen, and conform the saints into the image of Christ. The edification of the elect is not an abstract possibility, but a definite reality. The chain of salvation is forever and always an unbroken chain.

Unconditional election, when rightly understood, is one of the most freeing doctrines for the under shepherd to embrace and one of the most assuring doctrines for the Christian to hold. It is beautiful because it reveals the beauty of our God whose grace is sovereign and whose mercies are new every morning. It reveals the immense power of a Father who has lovingly determined to give a certain number of sinners to His Son, Jesus, as an eternal gift (John 6:37). It proves that the Church is never in danger of failing, but always being built up as God has intended (Eph. 1:3-14, 2:19-22). Rightly understood, unconditional election is a powerful testimony unto the goodness of God and a tool for missions and evangelism. But what happens when it is ignored?
When Unconditional Election is Neglected
In my own experience, Calvinism is typically rejected because the rejecter cannot reconcile election with the free offer of the gospel. However, the result of rejecting Calvinism, or unconditional election, is usually detrimental to the pastor and his congregation.
I, unfortunately, write from experience. When I first started preaching, I was still young – both physically and theologically. I was sixteen years old and had grown up in Holiness circles which held firmly to a system of works-based-righteousness. Underneath this framework, I had been taught that it was basically up to sinners to save themselves through their own efforts and that salvation had to be maintained through a great deal of effort. One slip up, I had been taught, was enough to cast the saint away from Jesus. The Christian life became a game of hide and seek, where salvation was constantly lost and had to be found again.
The impact of this teaching upon my preaching at the time was obvious enough. I regularly preached doom and gloom sermons, warning of the wrath and judgment of God to come, but without any true lasting hope for the sinner; after all, salvation was likely to only be temporary until the next sin was committed. Similarly, I carried a very unnatural burden upon myself. I knew that Heaven and Hell were real destinations, and I even understood (at least fundamentally) that the gospel was the only real hope for sinners, but I thought the salvation of sinners literally depended on me preaching well.
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God Is Sovereign

Our God is not like those despots or tyrannical madmen we know from history. Our God is more powerful than them and, thankfully, far better, for He is good and without sin. We can find confidence, hope, and trust in His sovereignty.

History is replete with the stories of despots and tyrants who wielded unbridled power with cataclysmic results. Everyone knows the horrors of the Hitlers of the world. Shakespeare famously wrote about a man who committed atrocious acts of paranoid murder to keep power in Macbeth. In both history and fiction, the adage “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” has proved true, time and again. Indeed, unchecked power often leads one down the downward spiral of destruction. Scripture itself speaks of such accounts, with the story of King Saul of Israel standing tall as a surprising example of how power may corrupt a man.
Thus, when we speak of the sovereign power of God, there are generally a few questions that people raise about God and His power. Those varied questions generally fall under one of two categories: 1. Just how far does God’s power extend? 2. Can we trust God’s power?
To answer the first question, we must remember that God is not like man. His power is not limited by any external factors. Nothing can interfere in history that could somehow stop God from completing something He intended to do.
Consider the time when Balak, king of Moab, tried to hire the prophet Balaam to curse Israel. God would not permit him to do so, instead leading Balaam to declare, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num. 23:19). The extent of God’s power is such that once He has determined to do something, He does it. Period.
Though God does act in time and space, His sovereign decrees transcend time and space. From the Covenant of Redemption, wherein the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit covenanted to save sinners, to the rise and fall of kingdoms (Acts 17:26), to the number of our own days (Job 14:5, Ps. 139:16), God has ordained all according to His infinite wisdom, goodness, and power.
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Let’s Study the Beatitudes! Part 9, Persecution

When persecution occurs for righteousness’ sake, remember that there is every reason for blessed joy now, for we have been counted worthy by God to suffer for Jesus’s sake, we stand in a long line of godly saints who have experienced what we do, persecution strengthens our faith, and our reward in Heaven will be great.

There was a time when 2 Timothy 3:12 worried me. In it, Paul tells Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It wasn’t the idea of persecution that worried me, but the idea that, at that point in my life, I couldn’t really think of any great moments of persecution I had experienced.
I need not have worried. Pastoring, preaching, evangelizing, defending the faith, and writing for the glory of God have brought more than their fair share of persecution. I have been verbally lashed at (even by those within the church), ridiculed publicly for my faith in Christ, and mocked for my pursuit of holiness (usually being labeled a Puritan, which is more a compliment than they realized). There have even been times where I have been threatened. Perhaps the reader can relate.
There’s good reason Jesus said to both count the cost of following Him and to recognize that if we don’t love Him above all else, we cannot follow Him (Lk. 14:25-33). Those who desire biblical fidelity and faithfulness to Christ will be persecuted. So, it may come as a surprise to know that Jesus has promised that those who are persecuted are blessed.
While it is true that each of the Beatitudes is counter-cultural and a reflection of God’s economy rather than man’s economy, no Beatitude is more counter-cultural than the eighth: Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed.
Most try to avoid persecution. Even those with considerably great power are oftentimes fearful of being persecuted for their Christian faith. Consider how, in John 12:42-43, even the authorities who believed in Jesus were afraid to let it be known lest they suffer on behalf of their righteous confessions of faith.
Yet, there is wonderful encouragement for those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: They not only will be blessed, but already are blessed.
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Edwards on Testing True Revival

It is to be expected that wickedness will often attempt to tarnish God’s good works, working to extinguish the light of the Gospel. But evidence of some perversion did not, and could not, destroy the whole. Revival is the work of God and must be judged by the whole, according to Scripture, distinguishing good from evil. Let us, like Edwards, judge rightly and earnestly pray for religious revival in our own day.

The Great Awakening of the mid-eighteenth century provoked the ire of many Protestants. This was due to reports of hysteria surrounding the Awakening’s particular brand of revivalism. Many did not know what to make of the excitement and fervor exuded by those caught-up in the movement.
In New England, the relatively unassuming Jonathan Edwards found himself at the center of debates concerning the revival’s legitimacy. He was friends with men like George Whitefield who (his opponents believed) had a certain degree of pageantry while preaching that played on the emotions of listeners to manipulate and coerce various responses. This emotional style of preaching had evidently been taken up by other preachers in Edwards’ day, adding fuel to the fiery distrust of many.
While Edwards was not particularly known for any sort of flamboyance in his preaching, he had special interest in the events taking place and had experienced some of the religious fervor firsthand. His most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was met with a shocking response when he preached it in 1741 for a second time in the town of Enfield. Edwards could not finish the sermon because the congregation erupted in a flurry of emotions. Many came to saving faith that day.[1]
A Definition of Revival and the Need to Judge Rightly
Iain H. Murray helpfully defined revival as: “A sovereign and large giving of the Spirit of God, resulting in the addition of many to the kingdom of God.”[2] Just as in Edwards’ time, many today are right to distrust the supposed “revival services” offered by some churches.[3] Just as no mortal can produce salvation in another, neither can a preacher or church produce legitimate revival apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as the salvation of the sinner cannot be scheduled or planned, neither can revival. As Jesus taught, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8). It is God’s sovereign work to save and revive, and no amount of scheduling, planning, or blue-faced preaching can accomplish what only God sovereignly can.
Edwards wrote Some Thoughts on the Present Revival because he saw three ways to judge the legitimacy of an apparent spiritual awakening. He explained that many had erred in their judgments of the revival:
“First, In judging of this work a priori. Secondly, In not taking the Holy Scriptures as a whole rule whereby to judge of such operations. Thirdly, In not justly separating and distinguishing the good from the bad.”[4]
The First Judgment
First, Edwards warned against judging the apparent revival a priori because the way something began would necessarily be the way something ended. Just as a prophet was to be judged based on whether the prophecy came to fruition (Deut. 18:22), an apparent revival could only be truly understood as a whole. Edwards explained, “We are to observe the effect wrought; and if, upon examination of that, it be found to be agreeable to the word of God, we are bound to rest in it as God’s work…”[5]
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Charnock and the Knowledge of God

To know Jesus in both head and heart, by faith, is to experience salvation, for the one who knows Him has first been known by Him (Gal. 4:9). This may be referred to as salvific knowledge of God, and it is grasped through special (or divine) revelation—the Word of God.

In His glorious high priestly prayer (Jn. 17), Jesus reveals His heart for His followers. He earnestly asks that His glory might be made known to the elect. The reason? Such knowledge will strengthen their faith, allowing them to persevere in union with their Savior.
One of the central themes of this chapter is the connection between salvation in Christ and the proper knowledge of God. As Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Indeed, salvation in Christ and the knowledge of God are intrinsically linked to one another.
Stephen Charnock, recognizing the great truth contained in this verse, wrote two entire discourses on it. The first, A Discourse of the Knowledge of God, focuses on how God makes Himself known to His creation.
The beginning of the first Discourse concerns itself especially with understanding why Jesus prayed in the manner that He did. Before one can begin to truly grasp why the knowledge of God is so vital to the health of the Church and the believer, one must first understand that “The glory of Christ, and the glory of the Father in and by Christ, is the security of the glory of the church and every believer.”[1]
In the person of Jesus, God is most fully known, and in being made known to His creation, God is also most glorified. Afterall, Jesus is “The brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person,” (Heb. 1:3). As John earlier explained, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). One of the reasons, then, that Jesus became incarnate was to glorify Himself (the Triune God) through making Himself known. God, who is above all and transcendent, condescended to our low estate, through taking humanity upon Himself, so that we may perceive and understand Him as He truly is. Charnock explained:
This knowledge of God is not only a knowledge of God and Christ in the theory, but such a knowledge which is saving, joined with ardent love to him, cordial trust in him, as 1 Cor, xiii. 12, ‘Then I shall know even as also I am known,’ i.e. I shall love and rejoice, as I am beloved and delighted in by God. It is not only a knowledge of God in his will, but a knowledge of God in his nature; both must go together; we must know him in his nature, we must be obedient to his will. The devil hath a greater knowledge of God’s being than any man upon earth, but since he is a rebel to his will, he is not happy by his knowledge. It must be such a knowledge as leads to eternal life, and hath a necessary and infallible connection with it, as the effect with the cause, which is not between a speculative knowledge and salvation. It must be therefore such a knowledge which descends from the head to the heart, which is light in the mind and heat in the affections; such a knowledge of God as includes faith in him.[2]
To know Jesus in both head and heart, by faith, is to experience salvation, for the one who knows Him has first been known by Him (Gal. 4:9). This may be referred to as salvific knowledge of God, and it is grasped through special (or divine) revelation—the Word of God. God makes Himself known in this way only to His elect through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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Martin Luther on Predestination

When one studies Luther on the doctrine of predestination, it quickly becomes apparent that he believed in what has been called “double predestination.” In this teaching, it is recognized that the same God who sovereignly predestined the elect to salvation also sovereignly passed over others.

Martin Luther is best remembered today as the Reformer who defended the doctrine of justification by faith alone against the constant assaults of the Roman Catholic Papacy. However, this was but one conflict that Luther was engaged in during his lifetime. Another significant conflict of Luther’s day involved the doctrine of divine predestination and would, in part, lead to one of Luther’s greatest works, The Bondage of the Will. At the end of this work, which is a rebuttal to Erasmus’ writings and part of a debate concerning God’s election of sinners and man’s free-will (or lack thereof), Luther writes:
Moreover, I give you [Erasmus] hearty praise and commendation on this further account—that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with those extraneous issues about the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences, and such like—trifles, rather than issues—in respect of which almost all to date have sought my blood (though without success); you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot.[1]
While justification is the “doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls,” Luther saw the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and predestination as the “hinge on which all turns.”
The doctrine of predestination teaches that God, in His perfect sovereignty, has both elected a certain number of sinners to salvation and has ordained all that comes to pass. Not one thing is outside of His sovereign and controlling decrees. For many, this is a doctrine of great comfort; the Triune God reigns, and so we can rejoice. Our election to salvation is certain because God has predestined all that comes to pass. But, for others, there is perhaps no stranger and no more hated doctrine than this. Some have even gone so far as to say that they would not worship a God who predestined all we experience in this life. A large question that many ask is, “If God has predestined all things, whatsoever they may be, then can man be truly free?” Luther was at the center of this argument in the sixteenth century and defended the sovereign, predestining decrees of God over and against those who lauded the free-will of man above God’s power.
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Tulip: Irresistible Grace

To the Christian who has experienced this efficacious, lavish outpouring of amazing grace from the Holy Spirit will look to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and see the wisdom and glory and power of God though it be foolishness to those who are perishing. Be encouraged: The same grace that saved is the same grace that preserves and the Holy Spirit who breathed new life into you at the first will keep you alive in Christ until we see Him face to face.

Irresistible grace is the fourth part of the Tulip acronym and is the one doctrine of grace that every Christian, deep down, can never deny. No Christian will balk in a Sunday morning worship service when the congregation sings Amazing Grace (written by John Newton, a Calvinist pastor of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century) because every Christian knows that it was the amazing grace of God that saved us and, if not for this astonishing grace from the Lord, we would be eternally lost. It is, in fact, foundational in understanding the other four doctrines of grace. If election is thought of as the work of the Father, and atonement thought of as the work of the Son, then grace must be thought of as the work of the Holy Spirit.[1] It His divine task to efficaciously draw the sinner to Christ.
Salvation is a Trinitarian work, expressed best within the Covenant of Redemption. This Covenant of Redemption is implicitly understood from such passages as John 6:37 and 44, John 17, Ephesians 1:10-11, and many others. The basis of this teaching is that, from eternity past, the Father covenanted with the Son and Spirit, planning salvation, and promising an elect number of people from His creation as a gift and Bride to His Son in an arranged marriage. The Son covenanted with the Father and the Spirit and promised to incarnate as a man and redeem the elect, that He would then have a perfect Bride, not having any spot of sin or wrinkle of unholiness but declared perfectly holy and righteous through union with Him (Eph. 5:25-27). The Spirit covenanted with the Father and the Son, promising to efficaciously draw the elect to Christ through the preaching of the Gospel, and to seal them with an eternal seal until the day of their glorification (Eph. 1:13-14). It is within this framework of the Covenant of Redemption that the doctrines of grace are properly understood.
Man, who is dead in his trespasses and sins, is unable to come to Christ of his own accord; his will is stubbornly opposed to the things of God. Yet, God has elected a certain number from the human race to come to the Son, and the Son has already procured salvation for that elect number. Not a drop of Christ’s redeeming blood can be wasted.
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