Author: Mark Johnston
It is mildly amusing that a phrase so innocuous as ‘the wall’ should literally reverberate around the world, provoking reaction from every quarter. But don’t panic, it is not my intention to pass comment on the particular structure in the news at this time! What struck me in following this saga has been the fact the Bible appears to have an inordinate fascination about another wall. A wall that had more to it in terms of its significance than might immediately meet the eye.
Date posted: Thursday, January 31, 2019 - 3:29pm
Author: Mark Johnston
The closing chapters of the Old Testament are set against the looming ‘Dark Ages’ of Ancient Israel. God had spoken through his prophets and his people had persistently ignored his word and strayed from his ways – even after the exile. The final words of Malachi could not be more ominous. The Old Testament ends with the words, ‘…or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction’ (Mal 4.6).
Date posted: Thursday, December 27, 2018 - 1:10pm
Author: Mark Johnston
The very first Nancy Guthrie book my wife and I were given was Holding on to Hope. Before we had even turned a page, the title grabbed us because it resonated deeply with the needs we had been living with, at that stage of our life, for almost 16 years. Our daughter was born with severe disability and we were discovering that her needs were to bring fresh challenges year on year. At times our hopes had been shaken and at other times they were simply dashed, but what we knew we needed was the perspective from Scripture that allows us as God’s people to hold on to hope, even when it feels like it has gone.
Date posted: Thursday, December 20, 2018 - 3:26pm
Author: Mark Johnston
The ‘wars’ that have raged around ‘worship’ are anything but new. Even though they may only been expressed explicitly in these terms in the recent history of the church, they are as old as the church. Indeed they are as old as our race itself. The very moment the serpent questioned the principle God gave in the garden to regulate how he should be honoured, the conflict had begun.
Date posted: Friday, November 9, 2018 - 4:32pm
Author: Mark Johnston
The Ten Commandments, given by God at Sinai, have played a vital role in both the Jewish and Christian faiths ever since. Indeed, given that they reflect God’s character and enshrine is perfect will for the ordering of the human race in its entirety, these ten ‘words’ have impacted the nations among which God’s people have lived and had an influence.
Date posted: Thursday, November 1, 2018 - 1:41pm
Author: Mark Johnston
For more Christians (and Christian ministers) than we might imagine, one the biggest struggles in their life of faith is that of prayer. Every Christian knows that prayer matters, but many of us know how hard it can be for multiple reasons.
Date posted: Thursday, October 4, 2018 - 8:13pm
Author: Mark Johnston
The language of ‘covenant’ has a much wider history in the church than merely those churches and congregations that self-identify as ‘covenantal’. Some include it merely as a reflection of the contractual dimension they see in how Christians relate to God in his church. It is more than a casual arrangement; but one that entails conscious, self-sacrificing commitment. In other churches, a similar idea is there; but in a way that picks up more overtly on the Bible’s use of ‘covenant’ and ‘covenant renewal’ in the history of God’s dealings with his people.
Date posted: Thursday, September 20, 2018 - 5:56pm
Author: Mark Johnston
Ours is an age of rapidly rising social disintegration. Loneliness and isolation are major issues – not just for the elderly, but for every other age group as well. It would be naïve not to see some connection between these issues and the steady erosion of the classic concept ‘family’ in Western culture for over half a century.
Date posted: Thursday, August 30, 2018 - 5:26pm
Author: Mark Johnston
Christians have a remarkable ability to skew what the Bible’s teaches about the church. As with so many things in life, we tend to perceive and define it with ourselves as the key reference point. But when this happens it distorts both our understanding and our enjoyment of whatever is in view.
Date posted: Saturday, August 18, 2018 - 2:16pm
Author: Mark Johnston
Preaching is often described (and derided) as ‘monological discourse’. At one level this is true; but scratch beneath the surface and we quickly realise that nothing could be less true. There is something about Christian preaching that is altogether unique.
Date posted: Tuesday, July 31, 2018 - 7:27pm
Author: Mark Johnston
Just recently I had the opportunity to worship in the church in which I grew up. It is Episcopalian and for the first time in a very long time I found myself following the order of the Book of Common Prayer. It was one of the more recent editions of the Prayer Book; but, nevertheless, the shape and contours of the 16th Century original were still very recognisable.
Date posted: Thursday, July 26, 2018 - 7:56pm
Author: Mark Johnston
It is fascinating to see how St Paul looks back over his Christian life in face of his fast approaching departure from this world. Writing to Timothy, he describes it as a race to be run, a faith to be kept and also as a fight to be fought (2 Ti 4.7). Each metaphor sheds its own light on how we understand our new life in Christ. It involves endurance: ‘The one who perseveres to the end will be saved’ (Mt 24.13). It requires fidelity – both to the doctrines to which we have been committed (Ro 6.17); but also to the kind of life to which they call us (Eph 4.1). It is, however, also a life that entails combat.
Date posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2018 - 2:56pm
Author: Mark Johnston
It was John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, who added discipline to the word and sacraments as the third mark of a faithful church. Perhaps it was because the Celts are an unruly lot by nature and he felt the latter two needed the firmer hand of the former to bring the Scottish churches into line! Nevertheless, he rightly highlighted the need for this third element of church life for the church to be what it ought to be under Christ, its sole King and Head.
Date posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 - 1:12pm
Author: Mark Johnston
How much is prayer a priority in the life of those who are called to the ministry? It is a probing question, because it relates largely to the hidden life of ministers. In that sense, if we who are ministers are honest, it is also an embarrassing question; because the answer may well be that it comes further down our list of priorities than it ought.
Date posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - 1:46pm
Author: Mark Johnston
Jesus is simultaneously the master theologian and the perfect pastor. He sets the deepest of truths before his people, but in a way that pastorally meets their deepest needs. This should give pause for thought for thought on different fronts.
Date posted: Saturday, April 28, 2018 - 12:00pm
Author: Mark Johnston
The very first John Piper book I read was Future Grace. Its title is taken from Peter’s exhortation, ‘Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed’ (1Pe 1.13). It provides the important reminder that no matter how great our experience of grace may be in this present age, it will take on a whole new dimension in the age to come.
Date posted: Thursday, April 19, 2018 - 2:02pm
Author: Mark Johnston
The French Jesuit priest and philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) said, ‘Joy is not the absence of pain’. Others have made the same observation repeatedly, either quoting de Chardin, or else expressing the same thought from their own perspective. It is a vital aspect of the joy we discover in the Bible and something we very much need to grasp if we are to experience this joy ourselves.
Date posted: Thursday, March 22, 2018 - 12:18pm
Author: Mark Johnston
In the American Declaration of Independence, ‘the pursuit of happiness’ was listed along with ‘Life’ and ‘Liberty’ as one of three ‘inalienable rights’ common to all people. It is a striking and curious inclusion. But, whatever lay behind its place in this history-making document, it recognises that joy lies at the very heart of our humanity.
Date posted: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 - 1:58pm
Author: Mark Johnston
God’s Providence is a wonderful thing. The Westminster divines spoke of it in these terms: ‘God's works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions’ (WSC 11). The Heidelberg Catechism captures in warmer tones like this: ‘God's providence is his almighty and ever present power whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth and all creature and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand’ (HC 27).
Date posted: Friday, January 26, 2018 - 9:36pm
Author: Mark Johnston
Although for many churches, the celebration of Christ’s Nativity is over for another year, for many others it is yet to come. They will celebrate the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th and on into the Sunday that follows. In part it will mark the visit of the Magi to worship the infant Jesus; but overall it will provide further opportunity to reflect on and rejoice in the Incarnation itself.
Date posted: Saturday, January 6, 2018 - 6:00am
Author: Mark Johnston
Employment in the secular sphere is usually evaluated in terms of job satisfaction and job prospects. But what are their equivalents for those who work in the church – notably as Christian ministers?
Date posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - 10:04pm
Author: Mark Johnston
Out of all the names given to the Holy Spirit as he is revealed in Holy Scripture, few are more profound or precious than the ‘Paraclete’ (Jn 14.16). This designation has at one and the same time intrigued, but also excited Christians everywhere as they try to peer into the depths not only of what this means regarding the Spirit’s identity, but also how it is manifested through his ministry.
Date posted: Tuesday, October 17, 2017 - 2:53pm
Author: Mark Johnston
It should go without saying that preaching, praying and the progress of God’s kingdom through the gospel are inseparably bound up with each other. Jesus taught his people to pray, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done’ and made it clear that all believers are all involved in the answer to this request as they obey his great command to go to the ends of the earth with the gospel.
Date posted: Thursday, September 21, 2017 - 6:00am
Author: Mark Johnston
In the Western world at least, the glory of the church seems to be fading fast. Far from those days when her influence was far-reaching and wide-ranging, her values and opinions respected and her numbers strong; she has become the object of public ridicule and, too often, seen as the great irrelevance. It is perhaps not surprising therefore, that Christians and even Christian ministers are tempted to keep their church affiliation and involvement to themselves. These are challenging times for many churches.
Date posted: Tuesday, August 8, 2017 - 12:01pm
Author: Mark Johnston
In this quincentennial year, marking Martin Luther’s memorable act of defiance in Wittenberg, much has been said regarding his famous dictum about ‘the Word doing its work’. Far from attributing the impact and success of the Reformation on his own natural abilities or dogged persistence, he humbly acknowledged the Holy Scriptures in the hand of the Holy Spirit as the key to all it accomplished.
Date posted: Thursday, July 20, 2017 - 5:52am
Author: Mark Johnston
The debate over worship and liturgy has been both long running and many faceted. Its spectrum ranges from the ultra-free self-expression of certain types of contemporary worship through to the high liturgies of traditional Roman Catholicism and its Episcopalian counterparts. A debate that is very much alive and well in Reformed churches.
Date posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017 - 6:00am
Author: Mark Johnston
I was speaking with some ministerial colleagues recently about a conference one had just attended. The conference had been great, but to his surprise, after one of the sessions, a friend next to him put his head in his hands and said, ‘I’m a failure!’ Having just listened to an inspiring account of how a church on the verge of closure had been remarkably revitalised, this dear brother could only see what hadn’t happened in his similar situation despite his faithful labours.
Date posted: Thursday, June 29, 2017 - 6:00am
Author: Mark Johnston
The grand storyline of the Bible can at times make depressing reading if we do not pay close attention to the gospel threads that hold it together. After its glorious beginning in the accounts of creation in Genesis, our high hopes for God’s wonderful world are dashed by the third chapter and its record of the fall. (Though it is all too easy to allow the space devoted to the dark tragedy and implications of this event to eclipse the disproportionate weight and glory of the single verse that contains the protoevangelion.) And, as the narrative continues over the eight chapters that follow, the same is true. In that brief compass, covering vast swathes of human history, we encounter some of the darkest moments of time. So much so that God intervenes with the drastic measure of the flood in Noah’s day. But here again we must not allow the dark matter bound up with human sin and its consequences to blind us to the irrepressible workings of God’s covenanted grace.
Date posted: Thursday, June 1, 2017 - 6:00am
Author: Mark Johnston
"One of our regular PFT columnists, Mark Johnston, submitted this brief article, which relates directly to the recent attacks in Manchester. We posted it first on our sister site, Reformation21.org, but we wanted to also post it here for our readers as well."
Date posted: Thursday, May 25, 2017 - 4:59am
Author: Mark Johnston
Holiness has too often been embroiled in confusion and distortion within the Christian community and, sadly, ends up being neglected rather than cultivated within the church. This is especially true in times, like our own, when the gospel becomes more ‘me-focused’ than ‘God-focused’.
Date posted: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 2:02pm
Author: Mark Johnston
I recently found myself in conversation with a pastor’s wife who was describing some of the grief her husband had endured through a turbulent time in one of his churches. Her/their experience bore all the marks of similar stories I have listened to more often than I care to remember over the past 35 years and longer. As she was speaking, the thought that went through my mind was, ‘But ministers are human too’ and by the time she had finished talking, those were the very words she used to round off the conversation.
Date posted: Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - 12:15pm
Author: Mark Johnston
The gospel is, without question, the most wonderful message this world has ever heard or will ever hear. If we are Christians we love to hear it and [should] never tire of reflecting on it. But the big question we face is how to communicate or proclaim it. How do we get it across to those who need to hear it, because they are not yet saved? It is a bigger question than we might at first imagine. Not least because we are instinctively inclined to approach it from the perspective of our own flawed logic and not in the light of the Scriptures that contain, explain and proclaim it as their central message.
Date posted: Tuesday, April 4, 2017 - 12:31pm
Author: Mark Johnston
A much loved and highly trusted friend spoke to me recently about ‘preacher’s tunnel vision’. He mentioned it in the context of a major preacher’s faux pas I had made in the pulpit the previous Sunday. I completely overlooked a significant detail in the text that was right there in the passage, but I was so preoccupied with the ‘main point’ I just hadn’t seen it. I duly acknowledged and apologised for the oversight the next Lord’s Day! Needless to say, it came as some relief to realise I wasn’t the only preacher to make such a blunder.
Date posted: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - 4:44pm
Author: Mark Johnston
We may well complain that our generation ranks among the most immoral generations of history and that could well be true. But the more sinister issue is the reason that lies behind this tragedy. It is the fact that ours is probably the most amoral generation of history. It simply does not possess any meaningful framework of morals to guide its conduct. To borrow the overused cliché, ‘It lacks a moral compass’. People behave the way they do because morally and spiritually, as in the days of Jonah’s Nineveh, ‘they cannot tell their right hand from their left’ (Jon 4.11). This does not mean they are less culpable for their conduct, but it does explain the recklessness of their actions.
Date posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 12:20pm
Author: Mark Johnston
I love photography and, although I’m not a great photographer, I have learned some of the secrets of capturing a scene or portrait effectively: the most important being to choose angles that allow the details to stand out clearly.
Date posted: Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - 11:44am
Author: Mark Johnston
There are many dimensions bound up with what it means to be a Christian. Its roots stretch back into eternity past, its experience is bound up with our existential present and its horizons take us into eternity future. It changes what we are in ourselves as we are united to Christ and, because of that same union; it will ultimately change what we shall be in the world to come, when God’s saving work in us is brought to completion (Php 1.6).
Date posted: Tuesday, January 3, 2017 - 5:06pm
Author: Mark Johnston
It has been on my mind for quite a while to post an article on ‘sinner theologians’, but I hesitated because of its potential for being misconstrued. However, having just received the latest issue of the Westminster Theological Journal and having read a review article by Professor Donald Macleod, I was persuaded to go ahead and do so.
Date posted: Tuesday, December 27, 2016 - 6:00am
Author: Mark Johnston
No serious-minded Christian would argue with the truth of the Shorter Catechism’s assertion that ‘the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever’. (It is nothing less than Jesus’ exhortation to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God…’ [Mt 6.33] in statement form.) However, since attitudes and actions speak louder than words, the reality is often very different.
Date posted: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - 1:13pm
Author: Mark Johnston
This little trilogy of posts relates to godliness and the Christian ministry. It arises out of Paul’s counsel to his young ministerial protégé, Timothy, the then pastor of the church in Ephesus. As with many a young pastor, Timothy was discovering the downs as well as ups of the work of the ministry and needed to hear a steadying word from his spiritual father in the faith, mentor and friend, the apostle Paul.
Date posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2016 - 6:00am
Author: Mark Johnston
During my years at seminary, in what now seems like a different lifetime, a little group of us first encountered Robert Murray McCheyne in the Banner of Truth reprint of his Memoir and Remains by Andrew Bonar. The story of his life immediately struck a chord with us. He was young and so were we. He was eager for the work of the ministry – a heartfelt aspiration we all shared that had brought us to seminary in the first place. And he became an instrument for unusual blessing under God, a dream that we cherished as we wondered what might lie ahead of us in ministry, should we eventually be called to a church.
Date posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2016 - 6:00am
Author: Mark Johnston
How do you know if you are doing theology as it should be done? In one sense it could be by asking the obvious question as to whether or not it is orthodox. Is it in step with the historic creeds and confessions of the faith? That indeed must be requisite to all attempts to faithfully articulate the teaching of Scripture, but is there more to it? And the answer to that must be ‘Yes!’
Date posted: Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 6:00am
Author: Mark Johnston
The idea of the United Kingdom’s pre-Summer vote to leave the European Union, the upcoming vote in the United States to elect the next President and the English Reformation being lumped together in the same sentence may seem ludicrous in the extreme, but it is not without reason.
Date posted: Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - 6:00am
Author: Mark Johnston
For all is quaintness, the opening question and answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism is iconic. Despite the best attempts by its updaters to give it a more contemporary feel, none seem to resonate in the way the original wording still does. (‘What is our main purpose in life?’ just does not convey the majesty of what’s in view!) It was a stroke of theological genius on the part of the Westminster divines to begin this wonderful little document by asking ‘What is man’s chief end?’ and then supplying the answer, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever’.
Date posted: Monday, September 26, 2016 - 4:06pm
Author: Mark Johnston
Some of Jesus’ statements in the Gospels stand out vividly, but their full force is somewhat vitiated because they are often only quoted partially. His statement in response to the Pharisees’ question, ‘Which is the greatest commandment?’ (Mt 22.36) is a significant case in point.
Date posted: Tuesday, September 13, 2016 - 3:41pm
Author: Mark Johnston
The book of Job is full of enigmas. The man who gives the book his name is an enigma. The book’s style is enigmatic. Its entire structure and drama raises all kinds of questions. And, of course, its central theme is the greatest enigma of all: theodicy – how do we relate a good and sovereign God to the reality of evil and suffering in his world?
Date posted: Tuesday, August 30, 2016 - 11:19am
Author: Mark Johnston
Too many churches never sing the psalms in public worship. Despite the fact the two direct injunctions that relate to singing in the New Testament place psalms at the head of the list of what Christians ought to sing as they ‘make music in [their] heart to the Lord’ (Eph 5.19; Col 3.16), these expressions of praise are strangely absent from many orders of service.
Date posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 11:12am
Author: Mark Johnston
The task of theology is multi-layered and multifaceted. Behind its obvious component of exploring the Bible’s teaching on the major doctrinal loci there are many other factors that influence the task and its outcome. At the most basic level there is the issue of our presuppositions about Scripture. (This is, of course, as much an issue of faith as of philosophical perception.) How we regard the Bible – notably in terms of its authorship, authority and integrity – will have an enormous impact on how we understand and apply its message.
Date posted: Tuesday, July 19, 2016 - 12:41pm
Author: Mark Johnston
The idea of ‘the means of grace’ has undergone an encouraging rehabilitation in the life and ministry of many Reformed churches in recent years. This has come as a healthy corrective to pressure from the wider church to embrace ideas and practices that seem more effective vehicles for church growth. However ‘effective’ these alternative means may have seemed, it has been at the expense of a meaningfully biblical definition of the church. So, the widespread return to emphasising the Word, sacraments, fellowship and prayer (Ac 2.42) as the core components of a faithful and effective church has been welcome. These ‘ordinary’ means of grace are God’s ways of communicating his great salvation in Christ and by his Holy Spirit.
Date posted: Tuesday, July 5, 2016 - 6:00am
Author: Mark Johnston
‘Grace’ could easily be seen as one of those doctrines every child from a Christian home ought to know from Kindergarten. Whether it be through the acronym God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense, or just the plain and often repeated ‘God’s unmerited favour’, it would be easy to check it off as ‘learnt’ and just move on. If that is the case, then we should think again. Like many of Bible words that underpin and define great Bible truths, the apparent simplicity of ‘grace’ belies its depth and richness.
Date posted: Tuesday, June 28, 2016 - 6:00am
Author: Mark Johnston
There is no shortage of handbooks on what it means to be an effective pastor; but none can begin to compare with actually meeting someone who is just that. To have such a man as your pastor, or to cultivate a friendship with someone who embodies the qualities needed for the task, is guaranteed to leave an imprint on your life in the best possible way. The reason being that what shapes a man for this kind of service is nothing less than the imprint of Christ – the true Pastor – upon his life.
Date posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2016 - 4:22pm

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