Did you make a New Year's resolution to increase your devotional time this year to study the Bible more? Stay tuned. I think we'll be able to help. The New Year is always a good time to reassess, to take a look at our habits and make some adjustments, especially when it comes to Bible study and our devotional time.
So often, though, we get bogged down and lose steam. But what if you had the opportunity to study the Bible with a respected theologian and pastor? Today on Renewing Your Mind, we are pleased to introduce a new Bible study tool, a devotional podcast with Sinclair Ferguson. He sat down with my colleague Nathan W. Bingham to talk about it. Well, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, thank you so much for taking this time to sit down with us today. Well, very glad to be with you again, Nathan.
Dr. Ferguson, the last time that you were here on the Ligonier campus, I was actually out of town and didn't get to see you. So it is really good to hear your voice. In fact, I'd be happy to hear your voice every day, which is why we're actually speaking today, because you have a new weekday devotional podcast titled Things Unseen with Sinclair B. Ferguson.
Could you tell us a little bit about that podcast and about the name Things Unseen? Well, essentially what I've done as I've begun to prepare these podcasts is to try to take a theme for each week that will enable us to follow through an idea for five days, just for a few minutes every day, and I think hopefully give us pause moments in our lives that we can focus our attention on the things that are unseen that you'll remember, Paul says in 2 Corinthians chapter 4, these are the things that are eternal. And I imagine many listeners will probably be like me. I have a relatively short attention span.
I'm very easily distracted. There are many voices that call for our time and our attention, so much so I think that for some of us it's actually quite difficult to sit down for five or six minutes and to think in spiritual ways. And when that's true of us, I think it's often helpful for us to be drawn to think by what someone else is either writing or for many of us who prefer to listen to a voice that's speaking to us about spiritual things and pointing us through all the other voices to the voice of God himself in his word. And so that's really my hope for the podcast, but it will be a journey for me to make my way through a whole year reflecting on different aspects of the Christian life. Well, Dr. Ferguson, we so appreciate you and the pastoral heart that you have that as we've listened to several of these episodes, it's only in its second week now we really can hear your love for the church, your love for God, and your desire to encourage people, as you say, to see those things unseen and not be distracted by the things of this age. Well, as I said, we're only in its second week, but the third episode I really want to share just a brief clip to our listeners this morning because you charge us that in 2023 what we should be pursuing above all else is knowing Christ.
So let's listen to that now. I was a small boy in Scotland each New Year's Eve, Hugman A as we called it. My parents would tell me to go into my room and write out 10 New Year's resolutions for the year to come. I laugh now looking back when I remember how hard I thought it was to find 10 ways in which I needed to improve.
I could write them out much more easily today, I suspect. But you know, if you are a Christian, you really need only one New Year resolution, and Paul's will be a great help to you, especially if you're a younger Christian or a younger person, a teenager or perhaps a student. Few things can be more helpful to you than to understand that this is the way to both simplify and integrate your life.
This is what will give you direction. This is what will help you answer the great question, what am I really for? As one of the older translations puts it, all I care for is to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, to share the fellowship of His sufferings and be made like Him, that one day I may attain to the resurrection.
What a great New Year, great New Year resolution. This one thing I do, I want to know Christ. That's such an important and helpful charge from you, Dr. Ferguson, and as our listeners hearing that, many Christians have used this language of knowing Christ, particularly when they're talking to unbelievers. Do you know Christ? Do you know God? But for someone that is a Christian and they do know God and they've been saved, what does it look like for the Christian to pursue knowing Christ throughout 2023 or any year?
Well, I think I probably could put it under two headings, Nathan. The first would be that the way we all get to know Christ is through our reading and study meditation on the one book in which Christ makes Himself known, namely the Scriptures. So there is actually no substitute for us than soaking ourselves in the pages of Scripture. And I must say increasingly, I think I've felt how important it is if we're to know Christ to get to know the Gospels really well.
So I think a great thing for all of us to do during the course of 2023 would be to pick one of the four Gospels and to say to ourselves, well I'm going to find some way of reading and rereading and rereading this Gospel. Because to me what the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews chapter 13 is a great key to our knowing Christ. Do you remember when he says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever? And I find myself quite often saying we mustn't think that that's just a clever way of saying Jesus is eternal. What the author is saying is that the way Jesus was in what the author of Hebrews calls the days of His flesh, that is the way Jesus was as He's described in the Gospels, He still is today.
That's what He was like in the authors yesterday. And He's saying Jesus is still the same today. And so we need to get to know Him as we read through the Gospels. And then of course the rest of the New Testament and the rest of the Bible helps us to put that in a picture frame and to understand the significance of what we read in the Gospels. So the whole Bible is important. I think it'd be very helpful for us if we took a focus in addition to all the other Bible reading we might do on one of the Gospels to get to know the person of the Lord Jesus there. I think often as Christians, as we grow in Christians, we really develop our taste for Christian doctrine. And I think it's always important to remember that Christian doctrine in a sense is just giving us Velcro strips in our thinking to help us to understand who the Jesus of the Gospels really is.
So that's the first thing. Knowing Christ is personal knowledge of Christ, and we get to know Christ as we become familiar with who He is in the Gospels because that's who He is for us also today. And then the second thing I think I found this helpful really from my teenage years is to think of everything I do as just another way of getting to know Christ. So you know I often think about our younger people today that the voices that call for their attention seem to be a multiple of the voices that called for my attention when I was a teenager. But even so, when I was a teenager, somehow or another I happened on this principle in Paul in Philippians 3, this one thing I do. And I began to realize instead of all the different things that I did, for example, I was a student and I studied. For example, I had friends and I spent time with them.
For example, in those days I was a relatively good golfer and I played golf competitively. And these were just some of the many things that I did, like any other teenager. But then to think that each of these things and everything that happened in them would be another way in which the Lord Jesus Christ was teaching me about Himself and training me, almost taking me by the hand and saying, now this is happening in your life just now. I want you to know me better as a result of this. I want you to know me better because of what I'm doing here, because of how I'm challenging you to be a witness here, because how I'm putting learning before you that will enable you to grow to be a more useful servant of mine in the future. And so seeing everything through this lens, this single lens, that in all of life our great goal is to know Christ better, I think to me wonderfully simplifies life. At times life can become tremendously complex and sometimes very, very complicated.
And we can't see our way through or work out our situation. But when we reflect on the fact that in every situation the Lord is saying, this is in your life so that you can get to know me better, then in a way I think that helps us to walk steadily through the difficulties as well as through the joys and grow in grace. And when we do that, then it happens as the Lord Jesus Himself said that the more we get to obey Him, the more we get to know Him, the more we come to love Him, the more we discover about Him. And these are two things then that I think are really helpful to any Christian who wants to pursue the knowledge of Christ.
Dr. Ferguson, I feel like I just listened to another episode of Things Unseen. That truly is helpful and a blessing. Stepping back and going back to the unbeliever, Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that there really are no atheists. There's no that God has not just revealed salvation within the Scriptures, but He has revealed Himself in creation. And there's a clip from today's episode of Things Unseen that I just want to share with our Renewing in Mind listeners, where you talk about how we know God from creation. I wonder if you felt, as I have in recent years, that while scientists want to explore the nature of the cosmos, there are some scientists in particular who seem to want to get right back to the beginning of things, to the alpha point, and then go over the border of that alpha point in order to prove that there is absolutely nothing there. And their deep motivation actually is to deny the existence of God. And of course, not all scientists have that kind of disposition, but some of them are, like I remember as a youngster Yuri Gagarin, the first Russian cosmonaut, going up into space and coming back down and saying, I went there to the edge of the universe, which of course he didn't, and there was no God.
You know, if that ever did happen, I think we might be justified in saying, we Christians have been telling you that for centuries. We've been telling you that when you get to the edge of the cosmos, you will find nothing because God has created all things out of nothing. And after all, the eternal God is not going to be subject to your little scientific experimentation. No, the age-old question that philosophers have always asked and scientists still seek to penetrate, why is there something and not nothing, is a question that's answered right in the very first chapter of the Bible, right in the very first verse. It is because God has revealed Himself in creation.
The uncreated God has made all things. Dr. Ferguson, what I so appreciate about your devotional material here is that there's so much theology in it. Even in that clip that we just heard, there's apologetics in there, how we can respond to an unbeliever. So in many respects, this is not a typical devotional, is it?
Well, there is a reason for that. And it's both a personal reason and also, I think, a reason that very much harmonizes with the heartbeat of Ligonier Ministries and certainly with the heartbeat of Dr. Sproul. And that is that devotion is actually driven and enhanced by doctrine. And if we don't grasp that principle, then, especially in our own time, I think we tend to become so much flotsam and jetsam on a kind of sea of subjectivity. And the important thing, and I guess this is maybe what you're driving at, the important thing for us is that a devotional should make us feel better.
When I think really the purpose of a devotional is to help us to think better, to think more clearly, and as a result of that, to be able to live more clearly. And especially in a world where, for example, recently in the United Kingdom, I think as the result of the devotional process, in the United Kingdom, I think as the result of a recent census, for the first time since they started taking these censuses, apparently less than 50% of British people say that they are Christian. The fact that more than 50% of British people would say that they were Christian would be a source of amazement and astonishment, actually, and I wouldn't believe it. But even the statistics now, as it were, are showing us that in somewhere like the United Kingdom, and in many other parts of the Western world, if you're a Christian, you're in a minority. And in order to cope in a world in which you are a minority, you need to be able to think clearly about what the Gospel really is. And as Peter says, you need to be always ready to give a reason for the hope that's in you.
And it seems to me that this is one of the purposes of these devotionals, not to give long, heavy doctrinal expositions of recondite topics, but to take issues that are basically our daily bread and butter, and to try to show how an understanding of Scripture and the doctrine that Scripture teaches us helps us to negotiate our way in the world in which we live in a way that will enable us to glorify God. If, for example, one lives in the United Kingdom, then you now know that one out of every two people you are likely to meet is willing to say, I am not a Christian. I think it might be true if you said to them, by the way, you are not a Christian. They might feel offended because people have such strange ideas of what being a Christian really is.
But this is the world in which we live. We can no longer take it for granted that people understand what the Christian faith is. The terrible statistics that come out of the surveys actually show in many areas of the Christian Gospel, a majority of people who profess to be Christians don't actually understand what the Christian faith is. And I personally don't think it would be enormously helpful to us to have a long series of devotionals that simply left us feeling better about ourselves. What we need most of all is for our thinking and our living to be re-centered in God. You reference surveys and even Ligonier's State of Theology survey, which people can see at thestateoftheology.com. When we survey those in the United States, even those who would profess to be evangelicals, it is clear that they do not know who God is. And basic areas of doctrine and theology, they simply get wrong and alarming numbers.
We've said this before, Dr. Ferguson, this is five days a week, so Monday through Friday. And we are encouraging people that as they listen, that this is pointing them to God and His Word. So we're not wanting this to supplant anyone's Bible reading. But knowing that this is the new year, we're just here in January, and many people will have started a Bible reading plan, and they're in Genesis now, and they're going to move into some more challenging areas of the Old Testament and perhaps get discouraged. What advice would you give to a Christian that has committed to read more of the Bible, perhaps read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation this year, and they're getting a little bit discouraged?
What tips do you have to help them to remain in the Word? Well, I think there are several ways that a person can go about reading and studying the Bible. And just speaking for myself, I don't always do it the same way every year. So, for example, this year I've actually been reading through the Bible from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation. And it just so happens that this year of 2023, my plan has been to go back to what I think of as the Robert Murray McShane Bible reading pattern, which was to read a chapter, more or less a chapter, from four different parts of the Bible every day. And that way you get through the whole of the Bible. And one of the things that may encourage is a little variety in our reading. I mean, the Bible is a unique book. It's God's Word to us, but it's also a book and we also read it. And we have different instincts about reading. So, variety and change can sometimes be helpful to us. I think, too, that there are Bible reading programs that will take you through the Bible more slowly or more quickly.
So, for example, not to engage in too much product placement. I think that Tabletalk magazine has one of the best and most helpful Bible reading programs that is out there, because it has guidance about reading through the whole Bible, and it also has guidance about reading through the Bible more slowly. And I certainly would recommend to somebody who was finding that, you know, starting in Genesis and then finding themselves in Chronicles or wherever, they were just finding that almost physically and mentally difficult, that they might be able to recalibrate their love for reading Scripture by going more slowly, by having helpful comments like in Tabletalk magazine that would stimulate them to slow down and to reflect more. Bible reading is a habit, and like every habit, we can get into bad habits in the habit. We can do the reading because we've got to do the reading for today or we'll get behind.
So, we need to have a little imagination and a little self-understanding to ask ourselves, what is the kind of program that will be helpful to me? And as we do that, and as perhaps we experiment a little, reading a chapter a day or reading the Tabletalk section, I think we'll find that our hearts will be strangely warmed and we'll be encouraged to keep going. And another thing about doing something like following through Tabletalk is that you're doing your personal Bible reading and Bible study in an enormous community of people, and so you're never alone in doing it.
And I think that's always a help to us when we think of ourselves as isolated individuals doing something, then the fire can pretty easily burn out. But when we keep on remembering that we are part of a community that's far larger than ourselves, far larger than our own churches worldwide, and is multilingual, then I think that's just another encouragement to us to keep on going at the discipline of daily Bible reading. Well, thank you, Dr. Ferguson, for sharing that. We didn't ask you to mention Tabletalk, but if you're not a Tabletalk reader, you can visit tritabletalk.com and request a trial there. Also, if you're looking for a Bible reading plan, perhaps even after hearing what Dr. Ferguson said, you want to change the plan that you're using this year, the Tabletalk reading plan, the Robert Murray McShane reading plan is available in a post I publish annually at ligonier.org with a list of several Bible reading plans that you might find helpful.
So if you go to ligonier.org and simply search for Bible reading plans, you will see that post and perhaps you'll find a new way to study God's Word and be immersed in the Word of God this year. Well, to give our Renewing in Mind listeners just a peek behind the curtain and a tease of an upcoming episode of Things Unseen, I want to play this clip. It comes from really one of my favorite episodes. I so appreciate what you say here.
So let's play that and then we'll talk about it, Dr. Ferguson. Remember how in Hebrews chapter 12 when the author of Hebrews quotes from the book of Proverbs, he doesn't say, this is what God said. He says, this is what our Heavenly Father is saying to us.
He is now through the Scriptures addressing us as sons. I think we need to recover that sense of the amazing privilege we have in possessing the Bible. There are more editions of the Bible, more shapes and sizes of the Bible. More Christians own many, many copies of the Bible. But all the statistics tell us that we are a generation that knows so little about the Bible. And perhaps it's because we've forgotten what the Bible really is.
It's the mouth of God. And we need to learn to say with the Lord Jesus in the words of Isaiah, morning by morning, He wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. And if we do that, we'll begin to grow and become more like our Lord Jesus. You know what I really appreciate about this conversation, Dr. Ferguson?
We've gathered together to talk about this new podcast, Things Unseen. But we've actually spent most of our time talking about God's Word, which is what we should always be meditating upon. And I just wonder, as you reflect on that, why is it that many Christians are so easily tempted to try and listen for that still small voice, to kind of shortcut knowing Christ by not opening by not opening their Bible and reading it, but trying to find some other way to have, you said, nice feelings earlier?
We shouldn't be looking for that still small voice. God has spoken very clearly and loudly in God's Word. Why do we find that so difficult sometimes?
I think maybe there are several reasons, Nathan. One is that that idea, I think, has been pretty deeply embedded in the evangelical culture over the last, at least the last couple of centuries, in the 19th century and right through the 20th century. That it was, if I can put it this way, it was what happened inside you that was more real and more spiritual than anything that happened outside you. Now actually, if you go back in history, you find that happening right since the time of the Reformation. John Calvin actually wrote an entire book about the problems he felt there were with people in the church who said, now the really important thing is not so much your study of Scripture, but what the Spirit says to you. And the fundamental problem with that is that the Scriptures themselves make it clear that the way in which the Spirit speaks to us is through the Scriptures. And I think one of the things we discover, and I suppose I've often thought about this in terms of Jesus' teaching and in the Upper Room and the Farewell Discourse, one of the things that we discover in Jesus' teaching is that a very important reason He actually called the apostles and set them apart was to give the church the New Testament. And He says very explicitly, doesn't He, that when the Spirit comes, He will lead the apostles into all truth.
And the important thing to remember there is He wasn't speaking to anybody else. I mean, I've been struck by the number of people who pick up that verse and think Jesus is speaking to them there, but He was speaking only to the apostles. And therefore, the way we are led into all truth is not by the Spirit giving each of us new revelation.
If that were the case, we would each end up writing our own Bibles. The way He leads us into truth is through the truth into which He led the apostles. And it's in that context that Jesus also says that when the Spirit comes, He would remind the apostles of everything that He, Jesus, said. He would show them things that were still to come, and He would lead them into the truth, that is, into a true understanding of the things that He was revealing to them. And I've often thought and sometimes said, that's about as good a description of the New Testament as you'll find anywhere. The Gospels are the things that Jesus did and said. Most of the rest of the New Testament leads us into a full understanding of who He is and the meaning of what He did. And there are parts of the New Testament that point us to the things that are still to come. So, it's actually embedded in biblical Christianity that our one access point to the knowledge of God and to the knowledge of God's will is to be found in the Scriptures and in learning to apply them to the different circumstances of our daily lives. But in the evangelical tradition, even since the time of the Reformation, there's always been this tendency to think that the subjective is more important than the objective.
Then added to that, there is this reason that, actually, that's easier, isn't it? It doesn't take a lot of discipline to think that God is speaking to you directly from heaven. The only problem is how do you distinguish the voice of God from the voice of the devil or from your own voice and your own desires? Studying the Bible is a lifelong process. I was at a Thanksgiving service for an elderly Christian lady who, with her husband, was very kind to me when I was a young student.
She was in her 90s, and my friend Ian Hamilton, who was conducting the service, said that she had said to him recently that one of the things she regretted was she didn't know her Bible better. And I feel that very much indeed myself. I wish I knew my Bible better, because the better you know it, the more sensitive you become to what God wants you to do in every given situation. I think in this way, John Newton uses a lovely illustration. He says, you know, learning to live according to God's will is a bit like somebody learning to play the piano. There's the score, and you go over it again and again and again and again until eventually the music becomes part of you.
And when the music becomes part of part of you, that's when you're able to play it best. And I think the same is true of Scripture. A third thing that I think is worth saying that often people don't notice is that when you depend on God's immediate revelation to you, that almost certainly is going to take priority in your life over what God says to you in His Word.
And again and again, I think in church history and in things I've observed myself, I've seen that in people's lives. So these are reasons for us to give ourselves to the study of God's Word and to do it the way it seems to me the Lord Jesus did, as I mentioned in that clip that you played from the podcast that's still to come. Morning by morning, says the Servant in Isaiah.
And ultimately, of course, the Servant is the Lord Jesus. Morning by morning, He wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. And then the passage goes on, doesn't it, to explain that's why He, Jesus, was able to speak so well to others.
And I think of that as one of the best descriptions in the Bible of what it means to open the Bible and to pray, Lord, open my ear so that I may hear your voice speaking to me as a father speaking to his son in this living Word. And then as I listen, as I take it in, as it becomes part of me, then I'm going to be surely more and more useful in your service, whatever your calling on my life happens to be. And so this, as you said earlier on, is a great reason for re-emphasizing that these podcasts are not intended to take the place of our own exposure to the teaching of Scripture, but simply meant to be an encouragement to do that more and more in our own lives. Well, I believe, Dr. Ferguson, that Things Unseen will encourage people to spend more time in God's Word. I know it's been true for me and the feedback that we have received so far has been really, really encouraging. So as our time comes to a close today, Dr. Ferguson, what would you say to someone who is considering subscribing and following this new podcast, Things Unseen, what would you say to them? I think what I would say is that when I've been preparing podcast after podcast, I've been talking really to myself and to one other person. And I hope that that one other person will multiply and that we'll become a kind of community who go through the year, yes, as individuals, but as individuals who are listening to the same truth from the same Word of God and putting it into application in our daily lives in a thousand, maybe a hundred thousand different ways so that as individuals, we'll be getting to know Christ better by doing this one thing.
But that one thing that we're doing, that each of us is doing in our lives, getting to know Christ better will be multiplied in many different parts of the world. We're grateful for your labors, Dr. Ferguson. If you would like to subscribe to Things Unseen, you can, of course, search for Things Unseen with Sinclair B. Ferguson wherever you listen to podcasts, or you can go to Ligonier.org slash Things Unseen and you can learn more.
You can listen to some of the episodes and you can see all of the places where you can follow and subscribe for free to Things Unseen. Well, Dr. Ferguson, we're grateful for your time. Thank you for being with us. And again, thank you for this new podcast, which I really believe will be a blessing for God's people. Thanks very much, Nathan. Always a pleasure to speak to you.
I trust that this year, 2023, will be a blessing to you and your family too. At Sinclair Ferguson, talking about his new podcast, Things Unseen. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Monday.
I'm Lee Webb. And I'd like to make you aware of another resource from Dr. Ferguson. It's his teaching series, Who is the Holy Spirit?
Dr. Ferguson's goal in the series is to help us know who the Holy Spirit is as a person, the third person of the Trinity, and to know of His power and work within us. We'll send you the two DVD set for your donation of any amount today to Ligonier Ministries. And once you complete your request, we'll provide you access to the digital study guide for the series. You can make your request and give your gift at renewingyourmind.org, or you can call us.
Our number is 800-435-4343. And next time, we'll feature a message from Dr. Ferguson's series. Here's a preview. Who is the Holy Spirit? What kind of character does He have? How can we come to know Him and to have fellowship with Him? And how is it that it's to our advantage that the Lord Jesus has gone away and that the Holy Spirit has come to the Church? I hope you'll make plans to join us Tuesday for Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-09 02:27:48 / 2023-01-09 02:40:28 / 13