Author: Mark Johnston

As we further explore what it means to ‘preach Christ from all the Scriptures’, another key strand is to remind ourselves of the first of his threefold offices. He is not only our Priest and King; but he is primarily God’s great Prophet. It is his business to make God known.

Date posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - 12:05pm
Author: Mark Johnston

Like nearly all the Christian Festivals (however many or few our particular churches may celebrate) the events marked by Easter can easily loom large on our horizons momentarily, only to be forgotten until the following year. If we allow ourselves to lapse into this pattern we can easily lose sight of the year-round, lifelong and eternal significance of what is marked by these seasons in the church calendar – all of which chart the redemptive work of our Lord. Indeed, with Easter especially, the institution of the Christian Sabbath and the Lord’s Supper forbid us from doing so.

Date posted: Thursday, May 2, 2019 - 10:50am
Author: Mark Johnston

The day of Christ’s return will be the day he will ‘judge the living and the dead’. Christians have confessed this in the words of the Apostles’ Creed for centuries; but, as so often is the case, we can rehearse these words without feeling their weight. More than that, it can be all too easy for those who are already Christians to so gravitate towards the blessing of that day for ourselves, that we do not stop to consider and shudder at what it will mean for those who are outside of Christ.

Date posted: Thursday, May 16, 2019 - 3:33pm
Author: Mark Johnston

The Lord’s Prayer is, without question, the best-known prayer of all time. Embedded at the very heart of the prayer life of God’s family, but also shared and treasured by those nations and empires through the ages that have espoused the Christian faith as their official faith – albeit nominally. Yet, for all its familiarity, there is a depth and richness to its wording that never ceases to both thrill and probe the souls of God’s people at one and the same time. The apparent simplicity of the words Jesus taught his disciples to feed and fuel their prayer life belies the depth of their meaning and relevance.

Date posted: Thursday, June 20, 2019 - 11:23am
Author: Mark Johnston

It is all too easy to be so focused on the individual components of the Lord’s Prayer – the ‘petitions’ of which it is comprised – that we lose sight of its overall topography, or landscape. Even though the details bound up with each request are vitally important, we only appreciate their full weight and significance when we survey them as part of a whole.

Date posted: Thursday, July 4, 2019 - 12:49pm
Author: Mark Johnston

The triplet of sin-related requests embedded in the Lord’s Prayer ends with the shortest, but in many ways the most potent of them all: ‘Deliver us from evil’. As many commentators point out, there is a measure of ambiguity over whether it should be rendered ‘…from evil’ or ‘…from the evil one’. However, the distinction is somewhat immaterial as evil is inseparably bound up with the one who is its source. The one who in the words of the C.S. Lewis title is none other than, ‘That Hideous Strength’. As we saw in the previous post, the request that we should not be led into temptation by definition implies that there is a tempter from whom we need to be protected.

Date posted: Thursday, July 11, 2019 - 12:40pm
Author: Mark Johnston

In our last three articles that dealt with the sin-related petitions in the Lord’s Prayer we noted in passing how striking it is that such a large proportion of this prayer is focused on our fallenness and failure. This surely says a great deal about why, in light of Calvin’s famous dictum about truly knowing ourselves as well as God, that genuine self-knowledge plays a huge part in entering more fully into a true knowledge of God.

Date posted: Thursday, July 18, 2019 - 11:59am
Author: Mark Johnston

There seems to be a never-ending market in Christian circles for books on guidance. The reason for this, of course, is that we as Christians (like all other human beings) want to make right decisions and choices in life. We want to avoid mistakes – especially when they often run the risk of major and, at times, disastrous consequences.

Date posted: Thursday, August 1, 2019 - 1:07pm
Author: Mark Johnston

Too often the idea of ‘good works’ has been the Cinderella of Reformed discussion. Wanting (quite rightly) to distance ourselves from any kind of meritorious implications attached to them (which lies at the heart of the Roman Catholic view) we have perhaps over-corrected our stance to our own loss. According to St Paul, ‘good works’ lie at the very heart of God’s purpose for his people in redemption. ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them’ (Eph 2.10). They belong to the telos – the great goal – of what it means to be a Christian.

Date posted: Thursday, September 19, 2019 - 1:40pm
Author: Mark Johnston

I heard a comment recently from one of the young men in our church that gave me pause for thought. He said, ‘I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon about assurance.’ My initial reaction was to frantically cast my mind back over the last 40 years trying to remember if I myself had ever addressed the subject (thankfully I have), but then I began to wonder why this vital topic has apparently been neglected both in the pulpit and in Christian literature in more recent times.

Date posted: Thursday, September 26, 2019 - 5:24pm
Author: Mark Johnston

Humans have been fascinated by themselves since the earliest times in the history of our race. From the crude stick figures painted on the walls of caves in prehistoric times through to the sophisticated image of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, or the mathematical musings around the Fibonacci sequence in the beauty and balance of the human form, there has been a never-ending search for the perfect paradigm for humanity.

Date posted: Thursday, October 3, 2019 - 2:05pm
Author: Mark Johnston
Date posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2017 - 11:45am
Author: Mark Johnston
Date posted: Sunday, July 9, 2017 - 11:38pm
Author: Mark Johnston
Date posted: Tuesday, August 8, 2017 - 12:26pm
Author: Mark Johnston
Date posted: Monday, November 11, 2019 - 5:34pm
Author: Mark Johnston

The concept of love has been cheapened beyond words over the past half century and longer. This is not only true in the secular realm, but sadly also for Christians. In all kinds of ways, the church’s view of love – reflected in song and sermon alike – owes more to the culture of our time than to the Bible.

Date posted: Thursday, December 12, 2019 - 10:27pm
Freshly married and out of school, Jonathan Edwards journeys on into a fruitful ministry.
Date posted: Monday, September 10, 2018 - 7:06pm
Before becoming a famous theologian, Jonathan Edwards was a son, a student, and a husband.
Date posted: Tuesday, August 28, 2018 - 6:41pm

When you recite the Apostles’ Creed you join with Christians across time and space in affirming the basics of the Christian gospel. First appearing around AD 390 the creed is an apt summation of the history of creation, providence, and redemption and the trinitarian God who stands behind and upholds it. While it was not written by the apostles themselves it provides a faithful exposition of apostolic teaching (i.e., the New Testament). Traditionally divided into twelve articles (perhaps corresponding to the number of our Lord’s apostles), we are concerned with the fourth article (italicized and boldfaced below).

Date posted: Friday, May 18, 2018 - 2:59am
2014 is sure to be greeted with numerous attempts to turn over a new leaf. Every year we hear the calls for New Year's resolutions. Since we are clearing the slate, desiring to make a new start, it makes sense that we would set out our goals for the new year.
Date posted: Monday, January 6, 2014 - 12:00am

Some years ago, while engaged in pastoral ministry in New England, I had an interesting conversation with an elderly Roman Catholic lady. Somewhat spontaneously we found ourselves talking about whether one could know if he or she was saved. This lady noted that it was not possible to know whether one was saved. As a young and rather inexperienced pastor I jumped in and argued that to the contrary, the Scriptures indicated that an individual could know that he or she was saved.

Date posted: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 11:00am

Sometimes Gospel ministers tie themselves up in knots for no good reason. We sometimes create false dilemmas. We unnecessarily pit one truth against another. We don’t slow down and consider that two or more things may be true and complementary--in tension, but not in opposition. A famous example of this is the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Properly (i.e. biblically) understood, both are absolutely true and taught in the pages of Scripture. 

Date posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 1:45pm

In his now classic work, Christianity and Liberalism, J. Gresham Machen declared that Christianity was a triumphant indicative before it was an imperative.

Date posted: Thursday, January 9, 2014 - 7:20pm
During the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers came to the conclusion, in the face of defection and departure from biblical orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and doxology within the medieval Roman Catholic Church, that there needed to be a means whereby a true Christian church could be distinguished from a false or compromised church.
Date posted: Saturday, December 29, 2018 - 1:06pm
For a decade the Westminster Assembly of divines (i.e., theologians) met at Westminster Abbey in London (1643-1653) to produce a Scriptural doctrinal standard and church government. During that time the well-known Confession of Faith was drawn up to explicate the system of doctrine drawn from the text of Scripture itself. In the profound first chapter of the confession where the primacy of Scripture was trumpeted, the divines articulated an interpretive principle that protects the sound handling and understanding of God’s Word.
Date posted: Monday, December 10, 2018 - 2:29pm
The Presbyterian tradition has had a history of doctrinal slippage. This does not make the various Presbyterian denominations unique. Pretty much all theological traditions within Christendom have fumbled the theological ball at some point in history. This fact does not excuse the church from holding firmly to the faith once for all given to the saints. Nor does it justify a que sera, sera or whatever will be, will be attitude. Latitudinarianism and biblical orthodoxy make for uncomfortable bedfellows.
Date posted: Thursday, February 22, 2018 - 1:56pm
The surging waves of the sexual revolution continue to crash on the shores of our culture and threaten to wash the Christian church, supporting institutions, and believing individuals and their families out to sea. This is not really new. While scholars often point to the 50s and especially the 60s as the groundswell of the sexual revolution in the West, human rebellion against God’s revealed sexual ethic goes back to the garden when our first parents rebelled against God. I am not suggesting, like St. Augustine, that the first sin was sexual. But we need to recognize that sexual sin in all its various permutations, like all sin, goes back to the primal sin recorded in Genesis 3 and our inheritance of a sinful nature.
Date posted: Monday, January 8, 2018 - 2:43pm
I am an avid history reader. I have been since about the age of five. That’s 48 years of history reading. I became an avid church history reader when I came to faith in Christ in 1983. Since then church history, among all sorts of historical works, has been a staple part of my reading diet. As a Christian, but especially as a pastor, reading church history and reading theology done in the past is essential.
Date posted: Wednesday, December 27, 2017 - 3:58pm
One of the landmark documents of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (1643-1653) is the Confession of Faith. This confession was created to provide a doctrinal basis for unity across the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Although in God’s inscrutable providence the confession did not ultimately achieve this status, at least not permanently, it has become the gold standard for churches within the Presbyterian circle and is widely respected beyond those Reformed denominations that hold to the Westminster Standards.
Date posted: Friday, November 24, 2017 - 2:17pm
The Westminster Assembly, which met at the behest the English parliament from 1643-1653, while not properly speaking a church court (i.e., a session/consistery, presbytery/classis, or general assembly/synod), did perform functions which we now rightly associate with the presbytery or classis level of church governance. Chad Van Dixhoorn, in his fascinating book God’s Ambassadors, refers to the examination of men for entrance upon the ministry (ordination) or transfer from one congregation to another or from one kind of ministerial work to another (e.g. pastoring to teaching at a university) as its “persistent task.” While there were no doubt multiple reasons for the Assembly taking on the persistent task of examining men for the ministry, the most significant was the abolition of the office of the bishopric.
Date posted: Thursday, October 26, 2017 - 6:00am
The work of the Westminster Assembly (1643-1653) in London, England involved the furtherance of the gains of the Protestant Reformation in the domains of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Called by Parliament amidst a civil war between parliament and the king (Charles I), the Westminster Assembly was initially given the job of revising the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles before it was assigned the more demanding work of creating a Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, a directory for church government, a directory of public worship (with a subdirectory on preaching), and a directory for ordination. What may be less well known is that while the assembly was technically not a church court, but a parliamentary advisory committee of sorts, it did conduct business that usually falls to church courts within the Presbyterian form of church government.
Date posted: Saturday, October 21, 2017 - 4:54pm
John Calvin is widely known as an accomplished Reformer, Bible commentator, theologian, and preacher. He was these things and more. He also had keen insight into the human soul and contributed greatly to our understanding of a Christian epistemology and theological anthropology. In other words, Calvin helps us to understand the nature of human thinking about ourselves and God.
Date posted: Wednesday, September 13, 2017 - 6:00am
As we contemplate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation we are reminded of the glorious truths (and their entailed spiritual experiences) rediscovered and recovered that had been long lost under centuries of encrusted extra-biblical tradition. Clericalism was one such tradition. There were many reasons for the rise of clericalism which is the exclusive focus on the ministry of the ordained priest in the church.
Date posted: Wednesday, April 26, 2017 - 6:59pm
Presbyterians put great stock in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as an ordinary means of grace. In it, believers feed upon Christ by his Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. But the Lord’s Supper is not a bare naked, self-interpreting sign. It’s rich meaning and deep significance derive from its institution by the Lord Jesus Christ himself and its subordination to the Word of God. The Word of God can stand upon its own but the sacraments must be accompanied by the explanatory Word. Many theologians going all the way back to the great Augustine of Hippo refer to the sacraments in general, and the Lord’s Supper in particular, as a visible Word. The Lord’s Supper is only one of two divinely sanctioned visual aids. The Word of God stands over the sacraments. Not only is this true during the observance of the ceremony (which accounts for why there ought to be an explanation of what the Lord’s Supper is all about at the time of its celebration) but also as we prepare ourselves for the celebration prior to receiving the bread and wine and afterwards as we meditate upon the meaning and significance of the Lord’s Supper for our daily walk with Christ. To put it another way, the Lord’s Supper is inextricably tied to the Word.
Date posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2017 - 7:51pm
The Protestant Reformation declared that the Scriptures displayed four perfections: authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency. When we say that the Scriptures are sufficient we mean that God has given us all that we need to know for salvation and life.
Date posted: Saturday, February 25, 2017 - 12:51pm
Adoptionism is an early Christian heresy regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ. This false teaching advanced the view that God the Father came upon an already-existing man called Jesus of Nazareth and adopted him as his “son” after the fact of his birth and maturation (perhaps adopting him at his baptism and departing before his crucifixion). It is almost as if the Father stumbled upon Jesus while looking for someone else. Such heretical teaching hardly squares with the biblical evidence on any level. However, the heresy of adoptionism does not mean that Jesus was not adopted in any sense. Our adoption as sons of God depends upon the adoption of Jesus in its legitimate, fully biblical sense. I do not intend to say everything that can be said about the adoption of Jesus Christ nor our adoption. But take it as axiomatic that our salvation rides on the reality of Christ’s adoption properly defined and understood.
Date posted: Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 12:26pm
Women are not second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God ruled over by Jesus Christ. There are two errors which we can fall into when we consider the role of women’s ministries in the church. We can either ride roughshod over the limits which God in Scripture places on the role of women in the official offices of the church. Women are not permitted to serve as ministers, elders, or deacons. The Apostle Paul puts this clearly in 1 Timothy 2:12-15 where we are told that Paul does not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man. Additionally, Paul sets forth the standards for leadership in the church in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. I was raised and served in a church setting where these passages were dismissed, ignored, or treated like the literary equivalent of salt water taffy.
Date posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2017 - 6:00am
In the midst of the final week of our Lord’s earthly ministry in his estate of humiliation, Jesus has an interesting exchange with Peter about his forthcoming denial. Luke 22:31-34 recounts some of the details of this conversation and they are very interesting indeed. We usually focus our attention on the end of the discussion between Jesus and Peter where Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times before the rooster crows. I am sure this was news Peter would have preferred not learning about. My concern, however, is with the opening words of the conversation in which Jesus says something striking about Peter over and above the sad fact of Peter’s coming denial.
Date posted: Wednesday, December 28, 2016 - 7:32pm
Some Christians resist belief in the doctrine of irresistible grace. These brothers and sisters find the teaching that grace conquers all pushback repugnant. How could an all-loving God run roughshod over the freedom of his human creation? This is a misunderstanding of the doctrine for sure. We should first establish that the doctrine is grounded in Scripture and then we can look at what the teaching means and doesn’t mean.
Date posted: Wednesday, November 30, 2016 - 11:47am
John 17 contains the wonderful prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ in which he bears his soul to the Father shortly before his death on the cross for elect sinners-soon-to-be-saints. In this prayer Jesus is asking that his manifest glory, which he had from before the world was created, would be his again. He desires to transition from an estate of humiliation to one of exaltation. He is not there yet. He has yet to experience the excruciating death of the cross-what has come to be called the atonement. He has yet to experience his resurrection and his ascension. The work of redemption is not quite finished.
Date posted: Tuesday, November 22, 2016 - 1:11pm
The Apostle Paul in Romans 9 addresses God’s sovereignty and uses the illustration of the potter and the clay. The potter, of course, creates out of his pile of clay whatever he or she desires. The clay has no say in the matter. Paul reaches a climax with these words in verse 18: “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” Paul here demolishes any notion of human libertarian free will. This teaching is so clear that many will bypass Romans 9 in order to avoid its clear implications. Scripture, however puts a human face on the doctrine that has come to be known as unconditional election from the acrostic TULIP that stems from the Canons of Dordt.
Date posted: Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 6:00am
Did you know that you are an intricate integrated dispositional complex? At least that’s the way God created you in the beginning. When Adam and Eve came from the hands of the Lord they were holy, righteous, and knowledgeable. How do we know this? Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10 that saints are being renewed in the image and likeness of God in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. To be renewed is to be restored. Before the fall, our first parents were created to glorify and enjoy the Triune God (is there any other God?). They did this with their whole soul. Their intellect, will, and emotions were well-integrated. They functioned properly. It is true that Adam and Eve were undergoing a period of probation and this was brought to its high point in the prohibition concerning the eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15-17). This test would have yielded a promotion from probation to unalloyed blessing had our first parents obeyed the Lord. But that is another story.
Date posted: Monday, October 24, 2016 - 3:18pm
In this age when Christians find themselves on the “wrong” side of the arc of history, especially on the losing side of legal disputes, the questions quite naturally arise, what exactly is our relation to the laws of our land and to the promulgators and enforcers of those laws, the state? These are good questions and I would like to consider some answers to them.
Date posted: Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - 3:41pm
The surging waves of the sexual revolution continue to crash on the shores of our culture and threaten to wash the Christian church, supporting institutions, and believing individuals and their families out to sea. This is not really new. While scholars often point to the 50s and especially the 60s as the groundswell of the sexual revolution in the West, human rebellion against God’s revealed sexual ethic goes back to the garden when our first parents rebelled against God. I am not suggesting, like St. Augustine, that the first sin was sexual. But we need to recognize that sexual sin in all its various permutations, like all sin, goes back to the primal sin recorded in Genesis 3 and our inheritance of a sinful nature.
Date posted: Monday, August 29, 2016 - 1:42pm
The Christian doctrine of the Triune Godhead is often thought more in terms of an intellectual puzzle to be solved than a truth to be adored. But the fact of the matter is that the truthfulness of this Scriptural teaching is of immense practical comfort for the child of God. It is the Triune God who conceived of the plan of redemption, who accomplished it in history, who applies it in our own experience, and who upholds and supplies our every need.
Date posted: Friday, August 12, 2016 - 8:43pm
Many of God’s attributes are denied these days by so-called Bible-believing Christians. Among these “questionable” attributes are divine simplicity which has been amply discussed on the Theology on the Go podcast. James Dolezal of Cairn University has been an indefatigable defender of simplicity and classical theism more generally among the ranks of Reformed-oriented Evangelicals. He is to be commended for this stand, which is contrary to the position advocated by such influential Christian philosophers as Alvin Plantinga. Another attribute that it is popular to reject or retool is divine impassibility.
Date posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - 3:30pm
Some years ago, J. Ligon Duncan, chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, declared in a sermon at the historic First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, MS that God was “not an undifferentiated monad!” Precisely so. The God of Scripture is Triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is a Triunity. God did not create out of loneliness, as if he needed the company. God is an eternal being of communal fellowship within himself. One error we want to avoid, though, is thinking of God’s unity as something other than the three persons of the Godhead in their perichoretic unity.
Date posted: Friday, July 15, 2016 - 1:32pm
God cannot learn anything new. Perhaps that is a new idea to you? The church, when it has been sound and orthodox, has always confessed this (see the WCF 2.1). It is an implication of at least two of the Triune God’s incommunicable attributes: simplicity and omniscience. Omniscience simply means “all knowledge.” God is all-knowing. Simplicity has to do with God’s essence. God cannot be divided up into parts. We will momentarily delve into these two attributes and how it is that God cannot learn anything or learn anything new.
Date posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - 1:23pm
I have been having a lot of theological conversations of late. In fact, just last night I spent nearly five hours with a friend discussing the current Trinitarian controversy among Reformed complementarians while enjoying a delightful dinner (we were worried we were overstaying our welcome but no one said anything to us, much to our relief). Eventually we got around to the question of whether we ever go too far in theological precision. Do we say more than Scripture says? That is a real possibility and we need to keep watch of ourselves. This is sometimes referred to as filling in the gaps of an underdetermined Scriptural doctrine. It is quite possible that we might be tempted to say more than the Bible. However, I suggested to my brother-in-the-Lord that whenever we are tempted to wonder whether a given discussion or formulation is straying into the penumbral zone of speculation we also need to counter that fear with another question. Are we tempted to be theologically lethargic, not to say plain ole lazy?
Date posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2016 - 1:41pm
Some folk seem to have the misapprehension that holding to a confession and catechisms (as do Presbyterians, the continental Reformed, Reformed Baptists, Lutherans, and Anglicans, just to name a few) thrusts a straightjacket on the theologian or the average Christian precluding freedom to follow Scripture wherever it leads and/or that it kills spiritual vitality. Nothing could be further from the truth. To be confessional (here I am using the expression “confessional” and its related terms in the sense of holding to a particular historical confession such as the Westminster Confession of Faith or the London Baptist Confession of 1689 rather than in the broader sense of believing in Christian or biblical orthodoxy in general) is to believe that the Bible teaches something and the Christian faith embraces specific teaching.
Date posted: Friday, June 17, 2016 - 1:51pm