“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). I read a powerful thought this morning in Richard Sibbes’ comments on 2 Corinthians 4:11: “We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” There are no wiser thoughts in this world than judging rightly the condition of earthly things, and the condition of our own hearts in relation to them. Wisdom is seeing the vanity of this world, and our own mortality. We are “earthen vessels”, our mortal bodies are subject to decay and death. The wise person is always keeps in mind the fleeting nature of this life. This wisdom will keep us from setting our affections on things that will not last long. It is the foolishness of youth to put so much emphasis on the appearance of the body. If we have wisdom, the “life of Jesus” will be seen in us. People should see something very different and very compelling in Christians.
Friday, September 24, 2010
“And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). This is one of the most fascinating and provocative verses in all of the Bible. A great deal could be said, and a great deal has been written, concerning it. Thomas Manton’s perspective on this passage in Romans inspired a few thoughts I would like to share. Manton said that the fundamental teaching here is that the Holy Spirit directs and orders our prayers so that they will be in harmony with our ultimate purpose, which is to glorify and enjoy God. I think that is a good framework from which to approach this passage. It is our natural tendency to focus our prayers on all the things we desire God to do for us. Our prayers tend to cleave to the things of this world. The many things our bodies need everyday often crowd out concern for our souls. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that too often in prayer we try to employ God as a servant of our worldly desires. In many situations we simply do not know what is best for us or for others. What should we pray for? What would best serve their highest interests? Now the Holy Spirit intercedes in our prayers, directing them with respect to God’s will, His glory and our eternal good.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
“I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:14). The distinguishing characteristic which is singled out for special consideration here is the spiritual strength of these Christians. This is the strength that comes from God’s grace; strength to overcome temptations, to govern our passions and affections in the fear of God, to do the things which He commands. Proverbs 16;32 gives us some indication of how greatly this excels outward physical strength: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit , than he who captures a city.” By grace there is sufficient power for the Christian to perform all spiritual duties. This strength enables us to bear afflictions with patience, to resist temptations successfully, and to cheerfully do God’s will. We see in this passage what we find throughout Scripture—that spiritual strength comes from God’s word. The two are always intimately connected in the Bible. The believer who is strong is the one on whom the word has made a deep impression. Laziness is the neglect of God’s word and this enabling grace.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Jonathan Edwards wrote a famous treatise on the essence of Christianity, entitled The Religious Affections. It deals with the heart of a Christian’s relationship with God. The great Puritan preacher Richard Sibbes addressed the same subject a century earlier. It is so fundamentally important, and yet is often neglected today. I recently read Sibbes’ thoughts on this subject in one of his sermons. He said that the Christian religion is especially seen in our lives in moderating our affections. Biblical religion purges our affections from the evil that is in them. A large part of spiritual growth has to do with moderating our sorrow and our joy over earthly things. The mature Christian can show the power of religion both in restraining grief in the midst of suffering and managing prosperous times without living for the things of this world. Sibbes said Christian maturity is seen in knowing how to grieve well and how to rejoice well, and that we should ask God to give us the grace to govern our affections. The Christian who has learned this has learned the purpose of religion.
Monday, September 20, 2010
“I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me” (Psalms 119:93). Whatever our difficulty or condition might be, there is enough comfort in God’s word to support us. If His word dwells richly in our souls, it will keep our faith strong and vigorous. But God’s word is the only source for that kind of spiritual strength. Why only God’s word? Because it contains the knowledge and promises that meet our specific needs. It is filled with the serious considerations and arguments that nourish faith. It is the only source of knowledge that has the glorious authority of God behind it, and can therefore persuade us that His commands are reasonable. If this wonderful revelation from God cannot move our hearts, what can? The Holy Spirit delights to use the word as His instrument to influence us and transform us.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
“I shall delight in Your statutes, I shall not forget Your words” (Psalms 119:16). The Christian duties that God requires of us each day are meant to be done with delight. Reading and hearing God’s word should refresh us; it should be our recreation. The true character of a Christian will be manifested in recreation as well as in business, in simple daily activities as much as in religious ones. If we were as we should be, free from the influence of sin, reading the Bible and contemplating spiritual things would be immense pleasure to us. If we love something, it is because we have found joy in the object that we love. Delight in God sets all of our other affections in order. Our highest desire and delight should be reserved for God. All of the earthly things He has created are to be used in serving Him. We have liberty to enjoy earthly things, but excess is forbidden. If we delight in creation more than in God, our desire for Him will degenerate, our capacity to love Him will decay. The wonderful affections God has endowed us with, such as love, joy, fear, reverence, etc., are intended to enable us to enjoy and serve Him with everything that is in us.
Friday, September 17, 2010
“I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches” (Psalms 119:14). The Bible teaches that the true riches in life are the gracious favor of God, genuine knowledge of God, and faith. A rich person is one who is emptied of self and filled with God. Why are such spiritual things the true riches? True riches are what makes a person more valuable; they are what imparts an intrinsic worth to a person, which material wealth cannot do. Do we judge the value of a horse by the richness of its saddle? People, made by God as reasonable creatures, should be valued for something higher than the size of their bank accounts. True riches are what makes us valuable in the esteem of God, who is best able to judge. True riches are what can support us in our darkest hours. When death approaches, and we are stripped of all other comforts, the exploits of our favorite football team will be meaningless.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:31). “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). What God requires of us in these verses is staggering! And utterly beyond our own ability. The life of faith extends to every part of our lives. Our every thought and action must be directed by our religion, by our relationship to God. Christians are not left to their own resources in anything. In everything we do, we must look to Christ’s command, looking for His help, aiming at His glory. Other people should see God’s grace at work in our lives. Those who live by faith will not try to make God serve their desires. They will seek to please Him, whatever their present condition may be.
Monday, September 13, 2010
“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful” (Hebrews 12:11). Trusting God in afflictions does not make those afflictions painless. The effect of faith is patience in suffering; it does not make suffering enjoyable. Faith enlightens the mind, so that we can rightly judge the outcome of suffering. If we judge God’s care and love for us by how we feel in the midst of affliction, we will conclude that He has no concern for us. Faith concludes that God is good and loving because it judges afflictions by the outcome, by the ultimate purpose of them. Faith is necessary so that we look beyond the present pain to the blessed outcome.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
It was John Flavel’s contention that “It would not be worth living in a world devoid of God and providence.” In support of that statement, Flavel wrote: “In heaven, how delightful a sight it will be to behold the whole design of providence that we could not understand in this world! All the dark, intricate, and puzzling providences at which we sometimes stumbled, and which we could not reconcile with the promises, and which we so unjustly condemned and bitterly bewailed as if they had fallen out against our happiness; we shall then be able to understand them. A soul may now enjoy sweet communion with God in his providences.” Our earthly view of God’s sovereign providence, even with all the difficulties it presents us, has an abundance of sweetness in it. Flavel said it was “a little heaven on earth, a highway of walking with God in this world.” If we ignore or reject the biblical teaching on this subject, we cut ourselves off from one of the greatest sources of comfort the Scripture offers us. We should view it as a great mercy.
Monday, September 6, 2010
John Flavel wrote a wonderful book, The Mystery of Providence, to show how God works all things for His own glory and the good of His people. It was first published in 1678, and is probably the finest work on this subject. In the next few days I’ll share with you what has made it one of my favorite books. The subject itself is provocative, and yet so encouraging. Flavel wrote: “It is a great support and solace to the saints in all their distresses, that there is a wise Spirit setting all the wheels of providence in motion. He governs the most irregular creatures and their most destructive designs to a blessed and happy outcome. It would not be worth living in a world devoid of God and providence.” That last sentence is amazing! It is worthy of a few hours of serious thought alone! Read it again: “It would not be worth living in a world devoid of God and providence.” A world that was not fashioned by an intelligent creator has no purpose. There is no meaning to our lives in a universe ruled by blind chance. We should be so thankful that God does govern His creation with a good purpose, and that He has revealed that purpose to us. Flavel held that, “All the issues of providence are beneficial to the saints. How cheering, supporting, and encouraging is the consideration of these things! What life and hope it inspires in our hearts and prayers when great pressures lie upon us!” More tomorrow, God willing.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Oh how I love this verse! Many verses in many parts of Scripture resound with expressions of the believer’s passion for God’s word. If we don’t have that love in our hearts, how do we get it? If we must admit that we take no great pleasure in spiritual things, what are we to do? Faith can transform our hearts, so that God’s word is no longer foreign to us, but natural and delightful. David is set before us as a great example of one who loves the word of God. He was not some special saint far above the ordinary Christian. His horrible failures make that painfully evident. Yet his love for God was genuine, and the exercises of his heart in faith are beautifully portrayed for us in his many psalms. What is said of him in Scripture can be, and should increasingly be, true of us. David found delight in serving God. He loved the commandments of God more than gold. They were sweeter to him than honey. He often rose in the middle of the night to contemplate the wonders of God. Faith gave him strength in all of the troubles he endured. The sins of this “man after God’s own heart” had calamitous consequences, but the grace of God overcame them all.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Humility is an indispensable virtue in the life of a Christian. Many people conceive of humility only as weakness. The last thing they want is to be perceived as weak in character. To them, humble Christians are spineless. But the reality is exactly the opposite. The Bible teaches that humility is the foundation of a relationship with God. Those who are humble see their need of something outside of themselves. The humble have learned to depend on God and His unlimited resources for their every need. There is nothing stronger than a humble heart. Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” How can that be? “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Do not let the world’s twisted ideas of Christianity determine how you relate to God.
Friday, September 3, 2010
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). Some of Richard Sibbes’ thoughts on this great promise are really good: “If we pray, this is always sure: ‘If we ask, we shall receive.’ The Lord has said it; it is so, it must be so. Consider how God has been faithful in past times. If once he has heard you in mercy, he will hear you always. Fathers on earth care for their children, how much more pity, love, and mercy may we expect from our heavenly Father? Our great God has planted this affection in earthly parents as a type and picture of his own great love.” Whatever our condition, we will find Him exceedingly merciful. Whatever we might wonder about such a promise, we cannot doubt the love behind it. It was good to read Sibbes’ straightforward assertion: “The Lord has said it; it is so, it must be so.”
Thursday, September 2, 2010
I was gripped by a thought from Richard Sibbes this morning, that comes from his comment on two verse: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33), and “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). Sibbes said that you cannot put things in their proper priority unless you know your overall purpose in life. We must know why we are here, why we have been created, to put everything in our lives in their proper order. Things that are closer to our highest end, that are needed to fulfill the purpose of our existence, will be given a higher priority. We must seek God first each day, and then other things will fall into place. That is a tremendous thought! In Sibbes’ words. “Our care should be so to use the world that we may not lose Christ, or communion with him in better things; so to look to things temporal, as that we lose not things eternal.” “One thing I desire”, said David; “One thing is necessary”, said Christ; “One thing I do”, said Paul. Does it not just put us to shame, how often we let lesser things command our full attention?!
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
One of the greatest manifestations of the wisdom of God in the way He saves and works in the lives of people is that what glorifies Him brings us happiness. He has brought these two things together. It has often been commented on, but it never loses its wonder to the humble heart. Our greatest desire—to be happy—will be fulfilled in seeking to honor God in all that we do. Richard Sibbes said this: “What a sweetness is this in God, that in seeking our own good we should glorify Him. Therefore let us dedicate ourselves and services to God, for happy are they that can lose themselves in God, and be swallowed up in the love of Christ. For time will come, if we belong to Christ, in which we shall lament for spending our time in pursuit of our own vanities.”
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
As I was riding my bicycle this morning, I thought about all of the beautiful houses in the neighborhood that had been built since the 1960s. America has experienced sixty years of unbroken prosperity, such as the world has never seen. Americans have come to believe that prosperity is their birthright, that they are entitled to it as a matter of course. The great wealth of this country is the result of several centuries of hard work by people who believed in the “Protestant Work Ethic.” Previous generations labored long and hard, in the belief that God would prosper their honest toil. That work ethic has now been lost. It has been replaced by a generation of Americans who believe they are entitled to prosperity, regardless of how they live. The work ethic that was the foundation of our nation’s wealth is a thing of the past, and the present genearation is squandering the moral and economic legacy it inherited. The truly sad thing is that our nation no longer has the moral strength to make the hard choices that could reverse this decline.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
In Psalm 119 we find certain statements repeated again and again. This repetition indicates the importance of those statements. Verse 162 is one of many that express David’s great joy over God’s word and how highly he valued it. I have mentioned this subject often because it is so important. Let me quote a few of Thomas Manton’s comments on this subject: “This joy, which is the mark of a sound believer, is delighting to know, believe, and obey God’s word.” “Those who are most observant of God’s will, and careful to follow it, have the greatest contentment in their souls.” Manton maintains that the encouragement and comfort that result from being employed in performing God’s commands, are a continual feast to the Christian. Compared to this, all other pleasures are nothing. It is a sweet thing know God’s word and be brought under the power of it. The reason God’s word can do this, affirms Manton, is that “the godly find glad tidings in the word, suitable to their soul’s necessities. Here is enough to content them. The word of God affords such comforts, such matter of rejoicing, as cannot be paralleled. Oh! what inestimable treasure do we find in the word of God!” True Christians have tasted God’s love in the doctrines and promises of the gospel. This sweetness gives the believer such assurance, that no arguments can stand against it.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
From God’s word we learn what a treasure truth is, and what a high value we should put upon it. It teaches us that apart from true biblical religion there is no salvation. Thomas Manton had given us one of the most conclusive proofs of this. He argued that no other teaching or religion can provide salvation because there is no true holiness in anything but biblical Christianity. Hebrews 12:14 teaches that without holiness no one will see the Lord. Only the truth revealed in Scripture can make us holy. Manton maintained that those who are ignorant of biblical truth cannot have a good heart. Those who reject the gospel’s saving truth will not find salvation anywhere else. When people ignore or reject God’s word, they dam up the fountain of holiness. God works holiness in us in only one way. I think this is a very powerful line of argument. People may outwardly live a moral life, but only faith in the saving truth of the gospel can give them a clean heart. The gospel will be given its true value only when it is seen as uniquely necessary for our eternal welfare.
Friday, August 27, 2010
In John 17:17 Jesus asked the Father to “Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth.” What is called “truth” in Romans 1:18 is “that which is known about God” in the next verse. Therefore, what God’s word reveals about Him is what sanctifies the Christian. To be sanctified is to be set apart from sin for God. Knowledge of God does this. This is the knowledge that is necessary to salvation. God’s word alone provides us this knowledge. We really know the truth of His word and are able to communicate it effectively to others, only when it sanctifies us. We must experience the transforming power of truth to know it. Thomas Manton’s thoughts on this are very helpful: “God’s way of working is by light; in giving us this saving knowledge, He begins with the understanding. He deals with us as rational creatures. Therefore He not only teaches, but draws and sancifies the heart by enlightening the mind. As the rising sun dispels darkness, saving light dispels ignorance and lusts. This is the way spiritual life begins. If our minds are enlightened, our hearts will embrace the ways of God.” I will continues with this tomorrow.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
God knows the best way to answer our prayers, and He also knows the best time to answer them. If our Lord delays to answer us, it is for a good reason. Why does He delay at times? The Puritan Richard Sibbes gave a thoughtful answer to that question: “There are several reasons why the Lord delays to help us. (1.) That our faith and dependence on him might be better tested. Christ refused to answer the Canaanite woman’s plea for help. She had come to Christ because her daughter was possessed by a demon. The Lord put her off that he might display her faith to us forever (Matthew 15:28). (2.) Sometimes he delays in order to humble us. ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (James 4:6). Until we are nothing in our own eyes, God delays to help us. The Lord took away Paul’s hope of life (2 Corinthians 1:9), that he might know the only place to find help and comfort in all his extremities. (3.) God delays and puts off our requests to enhance the value of the gift. We highly prize that which costs us dear. God delays his gifts that we may know their true price.”
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Many times I have talked with Christians over the place of our emotions in our spiritual lives. Often I have heard someone describe the spiritual struggles of a Christian this way, “They are just going on their emotions. Their feelings rule them, not God’s word.” They are encouraged to “obey the Bible, no matter how you feel.” We must obey the Lord even though our fallen nature is resistant. The fallen nature will always be there. But new desires will be there too. If nourished and strengthened these desires will transform us. Christians who never develop a fervent passion for God’s word will never consistently read it. Christian obedience is not about ignoring our affections, it is a matter of seeing our desires changed! That is the heart of Christian spirituality. So often in the Psalms David expresses his great love for God’s word! The first and greatest commandment is to love God. The Bible tells us that the beginning of wisdom is to fear God. Love and fear are affections. As Jonathan Edwards wrote, religious affections are the heart of our relationship with God. One popular Evangelical author acknowledges that we must read our Bibles, even though we all know we would rather watch a movie. I know no such thing! I will go along with David, who often said that God’s word was his delight.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Strong affections cannot be hidden. Whatever desires are prominent in our hearts, either good or evil, they will be revealed by the effects they produce. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). If we have genuine and fervent longings for spiritual things, we will earnestly seek them and labor to get them. To have strong desires for the things of God we must value them highly. We cannot care deeply for something or someone if have no knowledge of them. The way to increase our affections for spiritual things is to increase our knowledge of them. God has given us that knowledge in His word for that very purpose. We are all acquainted with the passion people display over various things in the world. If we valued spiritual things in proportion to their true value, our desire for those things would dwarf our desire for anything the world can offer us. Growing as a Christian involves the gradual transformation of our passions—away from the world and toward Christ.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Of all the affections God has endowed us with, desires are the most earnest and vigorous. Thomas Manton said of them, “Desire does all that is done in the world; for it lifts up the soul to action, that we may possess the things we desire. I desire it, and therefore I labor for it. Therefore the main thing that God craves from us is our desires.” “My son, give me your heart” Proverbs 23:26. Of all desires, those which draw our hearts to love and seek God and spiritual things should have the greatest influence in our lives; we should carefully nourish them. The most noble objects for our desires will be found in God’s word. Our affections need to be guided to right objects, and restrained from harmful ones. The importance of this for our spiritual lives cannot be overstated. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” Proverbs 4:23. We speak and act out of what fills our hearts.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
“I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments” Psalm 119:131. This verse expresses in a picturesque way David’s great affection for God’s word. The soul’s passionate desire for God’s word is like the body’s thirst for water. He longed for all of the encouragement and blessings that come from the knowledge of God. God has endowed us with various affections so that we can know Him, serve Him, and enjoy Him. He has given us the ability to love, fear, and admire HIm, along with other affections that make it possible for us to experience a full and satisfying relationship with Him. Thomas Manton’s explanation of the purpose of our affections is brilliant: The soul never works better than in the strength of some eminent affection. In all things that we take in hand, we do so weakly. while we have a listless will; but when the force of a strong affection is upon us, the soul is carried along strongly; for affections are the forcible and vigorous motions of the will. Were it not for affections, our nature would be sluggish and idle. The stronger our affections, the better we act.” The more we love something, the harder we will work for it. The purpose of biblical religion is to set our affections on the right objects. The first and greatest commandment is that we love God with all our heart, and soul, and strength. The foundation of our faith is setting our affections on God. The capacity to love enables us to cling to Him passionately. God’s grace works in our hearts to make that a reality. More of Manton’s thoughts on this tomorrow
Friday, August 20, 2010
“I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13. This verse expresses what the glorious power of the Holy Spirit can do in a strong Christian. It is a pattern for all Christians. Paul says that he is able to do all that God requires of him because God gives him strength. The apostle has been given the power to be content in every circumstance. This is one of the great things that makes Christianity unique. Biblical religion is not a matter of words only, but of power. It makes a person able to do God’s will. What Paul has learned is revealed by what he can now do, by his new ability. If this is what the Holy Spirit can teach us, if this is what He can give us, we should evaluate our profession of faith by this. Are we learning to display the fruits of the Spirit in every situation? Are we able to handle every condition we face in life in a way that glorifies God? God’s grace is able to carry believers above everything. Every genuine Christian will display a degree of freedom from the world’s influences, and will be learning to live more and more in the power of the Holy Spirit. What can you do “through Him who strengthens” you?
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
“I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13.
The “all things” referred to here by Paul is being content in all conditions, whether in abundance or in adversity. Christians will readily acknowledge their need of God’s grace to be cheerful and content in affliction. But we must realize that divine aid is also necessary in abundance; in fact it is equally necessary in every condition a Christian will face in life. Prosperity presents us with different temptations than suffering does, but we are equally in need of grace in both. Paul says that this is something that must be learned. Every Christian needs God’s help to handle abundance in a righteous way, just as much as His grace is needed in suffering. The wonder of the Christian religion is that God’s grace is available to us and is sufficient to meet our every need! What a fabulous blessing it is, in all the uncertainties of the world, to have a certain rule to go by, which carries us above the every uncertainty! Only Christians have this. A Christian is not at the mercy of the world; our contentment is not dependent on anything in the world.
Monday, August 16, 2010
“Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them” (Psalm 119:129). Why are some Christians very sluggish when it comes to reading the Bible, while others have a burning desire to fill their minds with its truth? The usual reason (excuse) given for neglecting Scripture is a lack of time. But the actual reason is that they do not see anything wonderful or special in Scripture. Christians will fervently desire to read, obey, and interact with God’s word only if they see it as something wonderful. We must view God’s word as something filled with wonders, with things that are above the ordinary. We must be convinced that the effects of regularly nourishing our faith on God’s word will be worth every moment dedicated to this sacred study.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23). In His love, God gives us nothing but what is good. We cannot deny that some things He sovereignly brings into our lives appear anything but good to us; but we also cannot deny that the Bible promises exactly that to believers. The great privilege of those whom Christ loves is that nothing shall befall them, but what shall prove good for them. The Puritan David Clarkson said this concerning God’s loving providence over the lives of His people: “They may conclude, in whatever condition they are in, it is best for them, and if it had not been so, they would never have been brought into it; and whenever it shall cease to be so, they shall be removed out it.” Now that is quite a statement! Yet in various ways, by promises and commands, God’s word justifies that conclusion. Clarkson continued, “This is the sweetest privilege, yet the most difficult to believe at all times, since there is great opposition to it by our sense and reason.” His concluding remark just took my breath away! “Take a survey of heaven and earth, and all things therein,” Clarkson said, “and whatever on sure grounds appears good, ask for it confidently from Christ, for his love will not deny it.”
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Thank you all for your prayers. Heavy rain predicted for our area passed to the south of Ames, narrowly averting continued flooding. I just read a wonderful sermon by John Flavel on the glory of Christ and the immense encouragement believers can receive by dwelling on His glory. Flavel said, “The study of Jesus Christ is the most noble subject that ever a soul spent itself upon. Studying Christ stamps a heavenly glory upon the contemplating soul. How little do we know of Christ, in comparison with what we might have known! O how much time is spent in other studies and worldly employments; but how little in the search and study of Jesus Christ! O then, give yourself and your strength to this most sweet study.”
Monday, August 9, 2010
J. I. Packer wrote that the Puritans can be a valuable guide to us concerning the content of the gospel. The Puritans understood that knowledge of God is fundamental to a sound conversion. “This is important,” wrote Packer, “in that it challenges our modern idea that preaching ‘gospel sermons’ means just harping on a few great truths—
guilt, and atonement, and forgiveness—set virtually in a theological vacuum. The Puritan view was that preaching ‘gospel sermons’ means teaching the whole Christian system of truth—the character of God, the plan of salvation. Preach less and the gospel will not be properly grasped.” The Puritans held that knowledge of sin and salvation presupposes some knowledge of the creation; no one can understand what sin is until they have learned what God is. The Puritans would tell us that we need to lay the same foundation as Paul did at Athens. To the Puritans, a vital part of the gospel message was convincing people of their sin, and opening their eyes to see sin in relation to God. That means giving them an understanding that He will be their judge. They held that the index of the soiundness of a person’s faith in Christ is the genuineness of the self-despair from which it springs. They give us much to consider.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
J. I. Packer contends that we can learn a great deal from the Puritan viewpoint of preaching of the gospel. Just as the Puritan view of the Christian life differs substantially from that of our day, so does their view of how a person becomes a Christian. The Puritan approach to evangelism was controlled by the knowledge that fallen, sinful people cannot turn to God or exercise faith by their own strength. Here is the crucial difference; much of evangelism today is carried on in the belief that every sinner has the ability to trust God anytime they choose to do so. Of paramount importance is securing the sinner’s “decision” by any means. Puritan preaching was grounded on the conviction that conversion is a gracious sovereign work of divine power. The implications of this are tremendous. Foremost is the belief that the methods of modern evangelism, such as psychological pressure to make a decision, have a natural tendency to produce a crop of false converts. The Puritans would seek simply to be faithful in proclaiming the gospel, leaving it to God’s Spirit to draw men to faith. They would never accept the idea that preaching to modern hearers about law and sin is no longer valid or useful. They understood that no one will see their need of the Savior if they do not know about God’s law and judgment. There is so much more to say on this subject.
Friday, August 6, 2010
“Your lovingkindness is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). I just had to break in on our look at what we can learn from the Puritans to share with you the thoughts I had while reading Thomas Manton this morning. The favor of God is the greatest blessing. A person may be weary of life itself, but never of the love of God! Many have complained of life as a burden, and wished for the day of death; but none complain of the love of God. A Christian values happiness by God’s friendship, not by worldly prosperity. Misery to the child of God is His absence. Manton wrote: “A sense of God’s love in Christ is the sweetest thing that ever we felt, and is able to sweeten the bitterest cup that ever believer drank of.”
Thursday, August 5, 2010
The second area of Puritan life we can learn much from is the quality of their spiritual experience, and that means their experience with God’s word. J. I. Packer wrote: “In the Puritans’ communion with God, as Jesus Christ was central, so Holy Scripture was supreme. Puritan meditation on Scripture was modeled on the Puritan sermon; in meditation the Puritan would seek to search and challenge his heart, stir his affections to hate sin and love righteousness and encourage himself with God’s promises, just as Puritan preachers would do from the pulpit.” The Puritans had an unsurpassed reverence for the Bible, and they conscientiously tried to apply all that they read. Many passages of Scripture, eminently so in the Psalms, describe the Christian’s love for and delight in God’s word. Puritan literature echoes this emphasis and rings with a profound joy over God’s word. They found the disciplined self-examination required by that word to be a source of spiritual strength and joy. Much of Christianity in our day has been so influenced by psychology that such self-examination is regarded as harmful introspection. The Puritans were true to scripture and balanced in their approach to this. At all costs, we must recapture the fervent love for God’s word that characterized the Puritans! In this love, they are the gold standard.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
J. I. Packer, in his book on the Puritan vision of the Christian life, A Quest for Godliness, argues that we today can learn a great deal from the Puritans. Packer writes about the lasting value of their teaching: “The authority is still felt, and the mature wisdom still remains breathtaking, as all modern Puritan-readers soon discover for themselves. Through the legacy of this literature the Puritans can help us today towards the maturity that they knew, and that we need.” Dr. Packer then outlines several specific ways they can do this. First, the Puritans saw all of life in relation to God. Every part of life was integrated in the single purpose of glorifying Him. The Puritans saw no distinction between sacred and secular; all creation was sacred, and all activities needed to be sanctified, that is, done for the God’s glory. They viewed time as very precious and planned their lives with care. “We today,” contends Packer, “who tend to live unplanned lives at random in a series of non-communicating compartments and who hence feel swamped and distracted most of the time, could learn much from the Puritans at this point.” I can say that I have been impressed virtually every day with the wisdom that I meet with in the pages of Puritan books, and can testify with Dr. Packer that often their understanding is indeed nothing short of breathtaking! Life is too short not to learn from the best.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I will mention one final way in which the Puritans had a profound influence in shaping J. I. Packer’s life. Packer wrote: “The Puritans made me aware that all theology is also spirituality, in the sense that it has an influence, good or bad, positive or negative, on our relationship with God. If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if the doctrines a Christian professes to believe do not encourage the commitment of faith, they reinforce unbelief.” The Puritans were masters at putting every doctrine to its proper use. In the hands of the Puritans, theology is always teaching for Christian living. It is never detached from the reality of daily life. Packer eloquently acknowledges the debt he owes the Puritans: “By writing as they do, no less than what they do, these authors fill their books with God for me, making me want him more as they bring him closer.” I wholeheartedly concur!
Monday, August 2, 2010
Another way J. I. Packer’s view of Christianity was shaped by Puritan thought has to do with the shortness of this life. This is certainly emphasized often in Scripture, and it was the subject of many sermons by Jonathan Edwards. Packer wrote: “The Puritans have taught me to see and feel the transitoriness of this life, to think of it, with all its richness, as the school where we are prepared for heaven, and to regard readiness to die as the first step in learning to live. The Puritans lived in a world in which more than half the adult population died young and more than half the children born died in infancy. They would have been lost had they not kept their eyes on heaven. The Puritans’ awareness that we are just one step from eternity gave them a deep seriousness, calm yet passionate, with regard to the business of living that Christians in today’s opulent, earthbound Western world rarely manage to match. Few of us, I think, live daily on the edge of eternity in the conscious way that the Puritans did.”
Sunday, August 1, 2010
The third way the Puritans had a decisive effect on J. I. Packer was through Richard Baxter. Concerning Baxter’s influence on him, Packer wrote: “He convinced me that regular discursive meditation, in which you ‘imitate the most powerful preacher you ever heard’ in applying spiritual truth to yourself, as well as turning the truth into praise, is a vital discipline for spiritual health. This was the unanimous Puritan view, and it is now mine too.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones also emphasized the benefits that come from “preaching to our own souls.” We see examples of this all throughout the Psalms. David often questioned and exhorted his own soul, carrying on dialogues with himself such as found in Psalm 42:5: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.”
The fourth way Packer was influenced by the Puritans was also through Richard Baxter’s writings. His book The Reformed Pastor shaped Packer’s vision of “the ordained minister’s pastoral office.” He wrote that the words of Baxter’s book, “work their way into your heart and conscience, and will not be dislodged. My sense of being called to preach the gospel, teach the Bible, and shepherd souls was learned through my study of Baxter’s own ministry and his Reformed Pastor.”
Saturday, July 31, 2010
The second way the Puritans shaped J. I. Packer’s spiritual experience was through the study of John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Owen enabled Packer to fully embrace the sovereign initiative of God in redemption. Packer wrote of this: “Owen, under God, enabled me to see how consistent and unambiguous is the biblical witness to the sovereignty and particularity of Christ’s redeeming love. The theological implications of ‘he loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20), ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (Ephesians 5:25), and many other passages came clear to me. I have found since that I could have learned the same lesson from Spurgeon’s sermons; but it was Owen who taught it to me, and it has marked my Christianity ever since, as decisively as did the kindred realization, that biblical religion is God-centered, not man-centered. To get the love of Christ in focus changes one’s whole existence.” Packer holds all of the doctrines that collectively are known as Calvinism, and it was through the Puritans that his convictions became clear and stable. Packer has written that Owen’s arguments are persuasive, and that no one has ever refuted them. Until they are successfully refuted, Calvinism will never be refuted. I can also affirm that it was Owen’s Death of Death that answered all of the lingering questions I had on this subject.
Friday, July 30, 2010
George Whitefield wrote about the Puritans: “Though dead, by their writings they yet speak; a peculiar unction attends them to this very hour.” That quote appeared in 1767. J. I. Packer felt that same unction in the 20th Century, and multitudes would testify that the unique power of Puritan preaching can still be experienced today. Packer has written that the Puritans shaped his spiritual life in at least seven ways. The first way was probably the most important. At a crucial time just after his conversion, John Owen helped him to a realistic, biblical understanding of the continuing presence of sin in a believer’s life. It was Owen’s three great treatises on sin and temptation—On the Motification of Sin, On Temptation, and On Indwelling Sin in Believers—that delivered Packer from the harmful error of perfectionism. Packer acknowledged that he had been introduced to a form of perfectionist teaching that almost drove him to despair. He wrote: “Without Owen I might well have gone off my head or got bogged down in mystical fanaticism, and certainly my view of the Christian life would not be what it is today.” Owen’s writings are regarded by many as the best ever written on the subject of indwelling sin. Today there are a number of popular books that claim to represent the biblical teaching, but will only lead to confusion. By contrast, all of the Puritan literature on this subject will solidly ground a Christian in life-sustaining biblical truth.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
J. I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness is a fine introduction into the life and thought of the 17th Century English Puritans. This was one of the books that was instrumental in leading me to, what is for my money, the best Christian literature ever to bless the Church. I want to share the reasons Packer has devoted himself to a life-long study of the Puritans and the benefits he believes reading their sermons and writings has to offer Christianity today. I will close today with George Whitefield’s assessment of Puritan preaching: “Ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross, the Spirit of Christ and of glory then rests upon them. It was this, no doubt, that made the Puritans such burning and shining lights. When driven from their respective churches to preach in barns and fields, in highways and hedges, they in an especial manner wrote and preached as men having authority. Though dead, by their writings they yet speak; a peculiar unction attends them to this very hour.”
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
“O how I love Your law” (Psalm 119:97). “I am afraid of Your judgments” (Psalm 119:120). In the Bible we learn that all of our emotions have been given to us to serve God in various ways. The older term “affections” includes our feelings and our capacity to love and choose. In his great treatise The Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards wrote that the heart of biblical religion is in godly affections, that is, loving and serving God with every capacity He has endowed us with. The Puritans knew this subject was of supreme importance, and dealt with it accordingly. Thomas Manton’s wise comments have much to teach us: “In this psalm, you find the man of God under diverse passions; sometimes of joy, sometimes of sorrow, sometimes of hope and courage, and sometimes of fear. As there is a time for all things in this world, there are several conditions and duties that we run through, and we have affections planted in us that suit every condition. Religion does not nullify, but sanctify, our affections. They are implanted in us by God, of great use to grace when rightly stirred and ordered.” Manton’s point here is supremely important for Christians to understand! God does not want to ride roughshod over our emotions, but to sanctify them for His holy purposes. Every ability of our souls and our bodies are given to us to fully serve and enjoy Him!
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
“My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). The Puritan David Clarkson has some very helpful thoughts on the subject of faith, that are summarized by this verse: “It is our privilege to live by faith. Living by faith is not a single act, but something habitual and permanent. Faith is a constant dependence upon God, as he is made known in his attributes. The divine attributes are the grounds of our faith. Faith believes them and claims them. Study the attributes of God. Labor to know them distinctly and effectually. The more we know the more we trust. Be much in the thoughts of God: frequently, delightfully and consistently. These bring a divine influence unto the soul, and leave deep impressions of God.” Two of the finest recent books on this vital subject are Trusting God by Jerry Bridges and Knowing God by J. I. Packer. Bridges’ book has helped countless Christians to grow in faith by learning about God. Packer’s book is a modern classic. I have read it several times and have never failed to benefit from it. Both books focus on the attributes of God and how they sustain faith. I cannot recommend them too highly.
Monday, July 26, 2010
“I hate those who are double-minded, but I love Your law.” The double-minded do not trust God, and therefore their thoughts are vain. One of the things I love most about the Puritans is that they consistently get down to important principles. They never remain on the surface. Here we have a good example of that. From this verse, Thomas Manton contends: “There are in men two great influencing affections, love and hatred; one enables us to choose and pursue things, the other to reject and flee things. The great work of grace is to fix these affections upon proper objects." This verse teaches us to bestow our love on God’s law and to hate whatever is contrary to it. If someone professes to Love God, but does not hate evil, their profession is not sincere. The one produces the other. The great work of grace in our hearts is to enable us to love God and to hate evil. That is a brilliant insight, one worthy of careful consideration.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
The Bible describes the response of the sinner to the gospel in various ways, such as “receiving Christ”, “believing in Him,” etc. Each description brings out a different aspect of conversion. Hebrews 6:18 describes those who lay hold of the hope of the gospel as those “who have fled for refuge”. Fleeing implies the presence of some danger that must be avoided. A refuge is needed to protect us from harm. The overall thought is that no one will respond to the gospel until they see the great danger they are in. To see their need of the Savior, they must first see their sin and guilt before God. Many people today contend that in evangelism, we must avoid the subject of sin, so that we don’t offend people. We should emphasize the love of God and all the blessings that flow from the gospel. Any mention of the justice and wrath of God will only provoke people. Nothing could be more erroneous! People today must be confronted with the reality and consequences of their sin, the same as in every other time. The gospel message has never changed, and neither has our desperate need of it.
Friday, July 23, 2010
“From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104). We can learn something very important from this verse. Christians often think that their feelings are beyond their control. But this verse teaches us how we can direct our emotions and affections. David says here that the understanding he learned from God’s word produced in him a hatred of evil. Hate is a very strong emotion. Filling our hearts and minds with God’s word will direct this strong affection in right ways; it will produce a hatred of evil. So we see that we are not helpless victims of the whims of our feelings. This is one reason daily reading Scripture is so vital.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I have missed the last three days because we had no electricity during that time. A powerful storm ripped through Ames Saturday night, bringing down many trees and branches, causing a great deal of damage around town. Many of the things I have been writing about were put to the test in our lives. God willing, I will resume tomorrow.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
“I have remembered Your judgments from of old, O Lord, and comfort myself” (Psalm 119:52). We will find much encouragement by remembering how God has worked in the lives of people in the past. Yesterday we considered how thinking on these things strengthens faith. I read Thomas Manton’s thoughts on this verse, and one of his statements was particularly enlightening. In fact, I consider it one of the most insightful comments I have read. In the sermons and writings of the Puritans you come across profound nuggets of wisdom like this page after page. Here is what Manton said: “By these judgments of old, you see the exact correspondence between his word and works; where his voice is heard, but his hand not seen, his word is coldly entertained; but by his providence he establishes the authority of his law.” That statement is worthy of the most careful study. That is brilliant! Consider the implications. Reading the Bible without ever seeing the hand of God working in your life, and the lives of others, will avail us little. We must not only know Scripture, we must behold God’s power working in our lives in harmony with His word. I suspect this is one of the main reasons children from Christian homes, in which the Bible was read daily, often reject Christianity. Children need to see reality in their parents’ profession of faith.
Friday, July 16, 2010
“I have remembered Your judgments from of old, O Lord, and comfort myself” (Psalm 119:52). David encouraged himself by remembering how God had worked in the lives of people, both the righteous and the unrighteous, in the past. God’s providences in blessing His people and in condemning the wicked, all in conformity to the promises and warnings in His word, can give us great comfort and encouragement. David concluded from God’s judgments, that though the wicked flourish now, they shall perish; and though the godly be afflicted now, they shall be rewarded. Thinking on these things strengthens our faith, increases our love for God, and confirms our hope. Those who behold such providences will see that godliness and holiness do bring advantage and benefit in this world. They will have infallible evidence that the world is not governed by chance, but by an almighty, all-wise, and just God.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
“Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works” (Psalm 119:27). Again and again in this psalm and in others, David asks God for knowledge and understanding. This teaches us that a sound and saving knowledge of the truths of God’s word is such a blessing, that we can never ask for too much, or do so too often. The understanding that David pleads for is that which gives us sound judgment and right desires; it leads us to experience the power and comfort that Scripture offers us. The effect of saving knowledge is that it brings the soul under the liberating power of truth. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Knowledge must come before the saving influences. All grace, from first to last, comes in by the understanding. “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2). If we had more knowledge of God and His ways, we should reverence and trust Him more. In 2 Timothy 1:12, Paul wrote that his faith in God was grounded on his knowledge of Him: “I know whom I have believed.” Thomas Manton declared, “To be taught the mind of God is a greater act of friendship than if God should give a person all the treasures of the world.”
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23). David Clarkson says things about this promise, and others like it, that I think we all need to hear: “This is the great privilege of those whom Christ loves; nothing shall befall them, but what shall prove good for them. They may conclude, in whatever condition they are in, it is best for them, and if it had not been so, they would never have been brought into it; and whenever it shall cease to be so, they shall be removed out of it. This is the sweetest privilege, yet the most difficult to believe at all times, since there is often great opposition to it by our sense and reason.” I’m sure glad he said that. It is indeed very difficult to believe. Yet all of Scripture calls us to believe things equally amazing. If we do not believe such promises, we are casting doubt on God’s character; which soon leads us to question everything in the Bible. If it were good for us to have no afflictions, the love of Christ would instantly abolish them. If possessing all of the kingdoms of the world were good for us, they would be ours. Christ’s love will not deny us anything that is good (Psalm 84:11).
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
“I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32). Matthew Mead applied these words of our Lord to Christians: “Believers have comfort to live upon that the world knows nothing about. We have the comfort of God’s promises. And what do you think is best, to live upon earthly pleasures, or upon the promises of God? The earthly are deceitful, but the promises are sure and faithful. The earthly feed but sense, but the promises fill the soul. He that lives upon the promises, lives by faith, and the life of faith is the only safe and true life in the world. As the weak ivy secures itself by twisting about the great oak, so we are secure by cleaving to the great God. The life of sense is full of disappointments like a deceitful brook. To live on the promises of God is the only quiet life.”
Monday, July 12, 2010
“For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Psalm 33:9). The following thoughts from the Puritan David Clarkson are among the most powerful I have ever read, on any subject. Concerning God’s faithfulness to perform His promises, Clarkson wrote: “God’s saying, is doing. His promises are one with his performance of them. He is just as willing to perform as promise. There is no distance between his saying and doing, as among men. This consideration removes at once the chief discouragement of faith. Is it not this that weakens our confidence in God’s promises? Do we not view the fulfillment of God’s promises as uncertain and difficult? The root of all certainty is God’s will. If he is willing to promise, he is willing to perform. The whole glorious essence of God is engaged for the performance of every promise. He would cease to be God if he failed to perform any promise. For he ceases to be God when he ceases to be most perfect. If he does not perform his promises it is either that he will not, or cannot. He would lack either in power or in wisdom. The glory of his being is concerned. Men can be men, though unfaithful, but God cannot be God; he cannot deny himself.”
Sunday, July 11, 2010
“Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). I have read or heard various explanations about how just one sin, or a small sin, makes us guilty before God. Jonathan Edwards addressed this subject often in his sermons and various writings. His basic thought was that even one sin merits eternal condemnation because of the majesty of the one sinned against. Thomas Case wrote that we deceive ourselves if we think that small sins can do no great harm. His explanation of this is another wonderful example of the unmatched spiritual brilliance that shines throughout the works of the Puritans. I had never thought about small sins in the way Case did. I think it was his radical God-centeredness that enabled him to view this subject from a unique perspective. He wrote “The least sin yet has the nature of sin in it, as the least drop of poison is poison. A small sin shows a greater contempt of God since we dishonour him for an insignificant thing (as we count it), and venture his displeasure for a little sensual satisfaction.” What a joy it is to read books that display such clarity and understanding. Thank you, Lord!
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Why do the things of this world fail to satisfy the soul? Last Thursday we looked at Thomas Watson’s brilliant answer to that question. He said, “Earthly things are transitory and not adapted to the soul.” As a result, no amount of the world’s pleasures and riches can make people happy. All of the Puritans affirmed the same thing. By their very nature, the things of this world lack what the soul needs. Another Puritan, Thomas Brooks, put it very well: “ Our God is a suitable portion. No object is as suitable to the heart as he is. He is a portion that is exactly suited to the condition of the soul in its desires, needs, wants, longings and prayers. All the soul needs is found in God. There is light to enlighten the soul, wisdom to counsel the soul, power to support the soul, mercy to pardon the soul, and fullness to fill the soul. Health is not more suitable to a sick man, bread to a hungry man, and pardon to a condemned man, than this portion is to all the needs of man. No earthly portion can suite an immortal soul. Nothing can satisfy the soul without God.” The highest good is that which is the most suited to do good to the soul. I have been continually quoting from some of my favorite Puritans to give you a taste of their teaching. I hope this will stir up in you a desire for more.