If you are not experiencing enough of God’s grace to overcome sin, the problem may be that you lack hope. Throughout Scripture, assured hope of salvation is inseparably connected with obedience to God’s commands. No one can rightly hope for salvation, but those who obey God. The reverse is also true. No one can keep the commandments, but those who hope for salvation. 1 John 3:2-3 show us the connection between hope and obedience. When Jesus Christ returns, Christians will see Him in all His divine glory, and will be changed into His image (verse 2). The following verse reveals the effect that this blessed hope has on us now: “Everyone that has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself as He is pure” (verse 3). One implication is that overcoming sin right now in this life is connected with the hope of seeing Christ when He returns in glory. If Christians genuinely believe that they will one day see the Lord in all His glory face to face, they will be powerfully motivated to live in a way that is worthy of Him. If you were invited to see a king, you would dress in a way fitting to the royal person’s dignity. In the same way, seeing the risen Lord requires appropriate clothing, in this case robes of righteousness. The assured hope of seeing Christ has a powerfully compelling effect on the Christian. The more you think about the Lord’s return, and actually seeing Him, the more desire you will have to purify your heart and life.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
I will continue now with Thomas Manton’s thoughts on the kind of heart required to experience the promised guidance of God. After a fear of the Lord, Manton says the next qualification is humility or meekness. “He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way” (Psalm 25:9). Humility is not weakness, but a willingness to submit to God, whatever condition He sovereignly appoints in life. This is the person the Lord can teach and direct. When a naturely proud human heart surrenders the idolatry of its own will, and in humility entirely depends on the Lord’s help, then that person will experience clear direction from God. That guidance will give a settled assurance to the heart that all is well, through whatever pathway He leads. God’s direction won’t come in an audible voice, or with some kind of celestial signpost, and it won’t bypass our reasoning processes. The ability to reason, consider and evaluate are divine gifts to be used in decision making. But His direction will be enjoyed by humble hearts with a sincere conviction that whatever providential road we travel, He will be with us.
Friday, February 26, 2010
On Tuesday I shared with you some thoughts on God’s promises to guide and support those who look to Him in submissive faith. Yesterday I acknowledged my increasing debt to the wonderful Puritan teacher, Thomas Manton. Today I want to give you Manton’s comments on the qualifications necessary to see those promises fulfilled. Or, to put it in the words of Psalm 25:12: “Who is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way he should choose.” Manton emphasized that, just as this verse indicates, a “fear of the Lord” is the basic qualification required. Someone who fears God has a greater awe of His word than others have, and is loath to do anything contrary to God’s will. Such a person, in every particular situation, will want to do what is pleasing to the Lord. In a beautiful turn of phrase, Manton wrote that God is able to trust such submissive hearts with great promises, knowing that they won’t abuse that trust for selfish ends. The person who fears God aims at His glory rather than selfish interest, and so is dominated by conscience rather than worldly concerns. Teaching like this, that digs beneath the surface of every subject is thrilling! Like the other Puritan teachers, Manton is never superficial. With carefully nuanced sentences that convey profound thoughts, I find reading him very rewarding and instructive. I’ll continue tomorrow.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
I was looking over all the daily meditations I have written since I started this Blog in late September, 2009. By God’s grace I have not missed a day in those four months. Considering all that I have to deal with because of my health, it is a tribute to God’s merciful kindness. Looking back over what I have written, I am impressed by the fact that just one Puritan teacher, Thomas Manton, has been almost the sole influence during that time. I have been especially blessed by his classic three volume study of Psalm 119, as well as his sermons on the Epistle of James. The great London preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon, really loved Manton’s sermons on Psalm 119. I consider Manton’s books to be the equal of John Owen’s writings, which is saying a lot. There are no Christian writings in the history of the church more edifying and of a greater sustained excellence than those of the Puritans, of which Manton and Owen are stars in the heavens. If you are going to study the things of God, learn from the best. What a mercy it is that we have available to us such an abundance of the best writings and sermons from these godly men!
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The Bible has so much to say about loving the world more than God. We can use the world, but not seek its friendship. The Scripture teaches that those who love the world make themselves enemies of God. We all know many people that we would describe as basically good, generous, likable, and kindhearted, yet who live without any reference to God. They would acknowledge that they have no love for God. Does that make them His enemies? The world measures selfishness by outward excesses. A man is considered to love the world too much only when he sacrifices his family, ruins the careers of others, or destroys his health in the pursuit of it. But the Bible reckons this sin inwardly, by how contrary it is to the nature of God. The Lord’s opposition to those who love the world arises from His own holiness. God is worthy of all of our love. To choose to love things that are infinitely inferior to Him is a terrible sin. So, the perspective of the Bible is very different from that of natural human reason. Our viewpoint on important matters like this must be shaped by God’s word.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
“Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it” (Psalm 37:5). I want to paraphrase Thomas Manton’s thoughts on this verse: The word of God gives us understanding of what He requires of us, that if we submit to Him we may be sure of success, comfort and support. What a singular mercy it is, that God has given us the Scripture, in which we can find counsel on all occasions how to manage our lives wisely. If we did not have this rule of faith and obedience, we would be groping in the dark. God’s word teaches us how to think well, for it reaches into our innermost thoughts. It teaches us to speak well, and to do well in all our actions. To reject God’s counsel is to do ourselves great harm. This is so great an evil, that God punishes it with itself. Oh, what a heavy judgement it is, to be given up to the counsels of your own heart! People need nothing else to utterly ruin their lives, than to follow their own selfish course.
Monday, February 22, 2010
“Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors” (Psalm 119:24). This verse gives us one important reason we should love God’s word. The guidance and counsel found in God’s word is sufficient to meet every need and condition the Christian will ever experience in this life. Our great ambition should be to please the Lord in all that we do, whether by life of by death. We should make it our business to have God’s approval in our every action, because the fruitfulness and success of our actions depend on His blessing. Because of the fallen sinful nature, people cannot govern themselves rightly. Selfish desires dominate all the actions of those who live without reference to God. His counsel and direction are indispensable. The Scriptures are the counsel of God, sent to remedy the miseries of the fall. We need as much motivation to read the Bible as we can get! We need to multiply reasons to read it, and this is one of them. We must delight in it and seek its counsel daily.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
I have one more thought I would like to express on Tiger Woods. Since the 1960s, our culture has done everything it can to overthrow the traditional view of marriage. Movie after movie proclaims that infidelity in marriage is no big thing and that everyone has a right to satisfy their every desire, regardless of who gets hurt along the way. Adultery is no longer seen as a shameful betrayal of a sacred vow but merely inappropriate behavior. Many justify unfaithfulness in marriage completely. An affair with someone new may be needed now and then in order to have a fulfilled life. But despite decades of this indoctrination, people cannot escape the feeling that adultery is still wrong. If people really lived by what many today profess to believe, no condemnation would be attached to Tiger Woods’ actions. But the concept of right and wrong has not been totally lost. The conscience can be abused, ignored and hardened, but it can never be completely silenced. Most people still believe that what Tiger Woods did was wrong. Even those with no knowledge of the law of God will still manifest a moral sense that condemns some actions while approving of others (see Romans 2:14-15).
Friday, February 19, 2010
I watched Tiger Wood’s apology today. I was impressed with the man’s sincerity and willingness to shoulder the total responsibility for his personal failures. That is almost totally lacking in a great many people today. The majority of professional athletes caught in similar circumstances display no conscience about the moral damage they leave in their wake. He said that his core values stem from the Buddhism his mother taught him. The total burden for change rests on himself. From the perspective of a Christian, this is a burden weak human nature simply cannot bear. Something else was also glaringly absent. Mr. Woods expressed the hope that all those people who had supported him and looked up to him as a role model would one day be able to do so again. The word and the concept of “forgiveness” was never used. But of course, forgiveness is a Christian concept. Those who have genuinely experienced this gift from God, and what it does to wash a guilty conscience will wish Mr. Woods will one day find its healing power. I'll have one more thought about Tiger's statement tomorrow.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
What is the greatest blessing God could bestow upon you in this world? Of all the good things he could give you, what should claim your greatest desire? What do you want the most? Psalm 119:17 gives us David’s answer: “Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word.” He asks that God would give him life, but not as an end in itself. He prays for life as a means to a higher end. The greatest blessing God can give us in this life is a heart that is inclined to obey His word. That is what David fervently seeks from the infinite resources of God. He valued such a heart above all things. Having a heart that desires to do the Lord’s will opens the door to a multitude of other blessings. We are not here merely to live, but to serve and glorify God, seeking to please Him in everything we do.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
I think one point from Psalm 119:8 is worthy of special emphasis. The verse reads: “I shall keep Your statutes; do not forsake me utterly.” Both parts of this verse must be kept together. David first expresses his determined resolve to obey God’s commands. This is a necessity for every serious believer. We will not keep God’s commands without this kind of firm purpose. But our obligation to obey cannot be grounded on our own resolve. That is to set human authority above God’s. David continued by asking God not to forsake him. He knew that without the Lord’s power, his resolution to obey would prove fruitless. Every Christian who sincerely tries to obey God’s commands will come to realize that divine power is required. Obedience based on human effort is not Christianity! So, resolve with all your heart to obey God, and depend utterly on Him to enable you to do so. It continual amazes me to see that every verse of Psalm 119, which is a song that expresses truth in poetic form, harmonizes perfectly with the most precise doctrinal statements in the New Testament.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The past two days we have been considering the kind of heart that draws forth God’s promise to strongly support (2 Chronicles 16:9). David prays for such a heart in Psalm 119:80. “May my heart be blameless in Your statutes.” The word that describes the heart as “blameless,” means good, sound, complete, or having integrity. All of Psalm 119 concerns such a heart. The very first verse of this great psalm tells us that God blesses “those whose way is blameless.” A good heart will reveal itself in a life that displays the same virtues. God is always seeking those who have such good hearts, that He may bless them and strongly support them in all that they do. In Psalm 119:8, David sums up his meditation on the necessity and result of obeying God’s law (verses 1-7): “I shall keep Your statutes; do not forsake me utterly.” This expresses his intense resolve to obey God’s law, and his acknowledgement that he cannot do that without God’s grace. David fervently loves God’s word, and yet he is aware of his inability to live in a way that is consistent with what he loves. Not only is grace needed by every Christian to obey, but even the desire and resolve to do so are fruits of grace.
Monday, February 15, 2010
God is actively seeking people like those that Barnabas found in Antioch. Having been saved by the grace of God, they continued to faithfully obey Him with resolute hearts (Acts 11:23). Christians with good hearts obey God, not because they are forced to, but because it it their delight to do so. One of the essential characteristics that God is looking for, a characteristic that makes our hearts good in His eyes, is the habitual desire to obey. This is one of the marks of a heart that pleases God. We should delight to obey Him, because all of His command are for our benefit. Those with good hearts receive God’s word with joy, so that the commands and promises of the Bible are deeply rooted in them, and have a sovereign influence over every part of their lives. The Lord places great value on this quality. He looks all over the world to find people with such hearts in order to do them good (2 Chronicles 16:9).
Sunday, February 14, 2010
St. Valentine’s day makes me think of the finest candy, in beautiful, heart-shaped boxes. 2 Chronicles 16:9 is one of the first promises in the Bible that really grabbed my heart. It reads:
“The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth, that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”
God is looking for those whose who have hearts that are completely devoted to Him, literally: hearts that are blameless. The great promise here is that the Lord will work in a powerful way in and for those who have good hearts towards Him. The Bible has much to say on this subject. In Scripture, a good heart is one that has discovered the reality of God’s grace, and continually seeks to experience more of it. A good heart depends on God for everything; it looks to Him for all that is needed to live in a way that pleases Him. A good heart knows that there is nothing good in it, except what comes from God. In Acts 11:23 we discover what is the essence of a good, sincere heart: “When (Barnabas) had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.” As a result of the mighty working of the Lord in their midst, these people had turned to Him. When Barnabas arrived, he recognised that God’s grace was the cause of this great change. He exhorted them all to let His grace continue its work in their hearts. There in Antioch, in the first century A.D., the Lord had found some people with good hearts, whom He could strongly support. He is still searching in the twenty-first century. I will continue to explore this subject tomorrow.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Psalm 119:105 has a great deal to teach us about how God directs the lives of believers by His word: “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.” There is so much here worthy of our notice; this verse sums up in just a few words the comprehensive manner of God’s direction. The first thing we see is that God’s word is compared to light and a lamp. The sun guides us in the daytime, while a lamp is used in the darkness of night. Daylight and darkness are opposites. From this we learn that the word of God directs in every situation, in every condition. Second, God’s word lights our path. A path leads somewhere; so the word leads us to our goal, which is the enjoyment of God both now and forever. God’s word not only shows us our goal, it also reveals the means by which we can reach that goal. Third, God’s word guides our feet along the path. The Bible is sufficient to direct both the entire course of our lives, and each step along the way. Thomas Manton wrote: “The world is a dark place. Ay; but now, here is a light that shines in a dark place, and that is the Holy Scripture, it shows us our way to heaven, and prevents us from stumbling into hell.”
Friday, February 12, 2010
Here is part of a wonderful Puritan prayer from The Valley of Vision that Maureen and I read together this morning:
O how desirable, how profitable to the Christian life is a spirit of holy watchfulness and godly jealousy over myself, when my soul is afraid of nothing except grieving and offending thee, the blessed God, my Father and friend, whom I then love and long to please, rather than be happy in myself!
Knowing, as I do, that this is the pious temper, worthy of the highest ambition, and closest pursuit of intelligent creatures and holy Christians, may my joy derive from glorifying and delighting thee.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Last night was an especially difficult one for me. I was awake half the night in great pain. These are the times when we discover the real strength of our faith. When all other supports and comforts are gone, and the only thing you have to cling to are the promises of God, genuine faith will still be able to rejoice. If you have faithfully nourished your spiritual life by reading the Bible daily, the Spirit of God will bring to your mind specific promises that apply to your circumstances. But if you have neglected God’s word in the easy times, there will be nothing in your heart to sustain you in times of adversity. The mark of sincere faith is that it doesn’t collapse when tested. God’s word, without anything else, will always be sufficient to keep us from losing heart. One particular verse was especially encouraging to me last night: “If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction.” (Psalm 119:92)
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
When we sincerely and wholeheartedly seek to obey God’s word, one if the greatest benefits is that we are kept from shameful thoughts and actions (Psalm 119:80). Shame is the most painful emotion a human being can experience. We all know that doing something shameful in the eyes of other people can be unbearable. To do what is shameful in God’s eyes is far worse. The only thing that can keep us from shame is a good conscience. A good conscience is a great mercy. Conscience operates as God intended when it informs us what is pleasing to Him, and rises up to warn us concerning impending sin. Fundamental to a properly functioning conscience is the belief that God is our judge. Because He has created each one of us, He has the right to morally govern the world as He sees fit. When people reject this truth, their consciences become hardened. People who continually violate their consciences, lose any shame for sin. They replace proper shame with a deadened conscience. This is a tragic and dreadful condition to be in. When the nerves in our body do not register physical pain, we are in great danger of unknowingly injuring ourselves. Even so, when the conscience no longer feels shame for sin, the consequences are deadly.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
One of the great foundation stones of Christianity is that for the believer, the future is certain. Christians are far more prepared to bear life’s difficulties than others, because they have a certain expectation of life after death. This is a marvelous blessing that unbelievers can never enjoy. Do not take this privilege for granted. Unbelievers suffer untold anxiety, fear, trepidation, and worry over their future destiny; for them, death is “the king of terrors.” 1 Peter 1:13 instructs Christians to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you” when Christ returns to be revealed to all the world as the Lord of lords and King of kings. The assurance that our eternal destiny is secure in Christ is a rock under our feet. Whatever our present difficulties may be, they will trouble us only for a short time. We have a certain hope that cannot fail us. Faith sees heaven at the end of our journey, and this hope will give encouragement and support to the soul every step of the way.
Monday, February 8, 2010
God is “the Father of mercies” (2 Corinthians 1:3). Mercy looks at the miseries of others with a sincere desire to help them. Mercy doesn’t look at what we deserve, but at what we need. God’s mercy goes beyond this; He is not only sympathetic with our sorrows, but He acts in His almighty power to give us relief. It is a great blessing that God deals with repentant sinners in mercy rather than in judgment. We do not deserve His favor and can do nothing to earn it. Let me quote Thomas Manton: “The sense or participation of God’s saving mercies is to believers the life of their lives, the heaven they have upon earth, the joy and comfort of their souls; and the lack of this is a kind of death to them.” Being confident of the Lord’s mercy is the beginning and pledge of our salvation, and the necessary foundation of a genuine relationship with Him. Because He is merciful, we are assured of His love, and that sweetens everything in the life of the Christian. Let us make it one of our highest goals every day to cherish and preserve by faith the sense of God’s merciful love to us.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
The first chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians has a great deal to teach us about the comfort and encouragement He gives to His saints, especially in relation to afflictions. The first thing to notice is that God is referred to as “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.” This tells us that the source of all the comfort and consolation God gives us is His mercy. We never merit it or deserve it. The comfort of God is the strengthening of our hearts when we weakened by doubts, fears, and sorrows. Though all else fails, God’s mercy will always prove to be a fountain of life and strength.
In verse 5 of this chapter we see that as our afflictions increase, so also God makes available to us a greater amount of comfort. What mercy! The Lord reserves the greatest comforts of His Spirit for our times of greatest need. Thomas Manton wrote, “He that lives in a cottage, is happier than he that lives in a palace, if he has (God’s) comfort there.” Paul informed the Corinthians of the great afflictions he was having to endure (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). He wanted them to know that the burden of his sufferings was so heavy that he “despaired even of life.” But even in such desperate straits, God had a good purpose. Our pride and self-dependence are deeply rooted in our nature, and are not easily relinquished. The Lord was working to deliver Paul from this dependence on himself, that he might learn a more profound, more sincere trust in God.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Christians must daily fill their minds and hearts with the word of God. The comprehensive reasons why are all implied or expressed in that wonderful passage in Peter’s first letter: “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Peter 2:2-3). Why do newborn infants desire milk? The first reason is necessity, they simply cannot live without the nourishment it provides. In the same way, the spiritual life of the Christian cannot be sustained without God’s word. Secondly, infants by nature have an appetite for milk, their craving for it cannot be removed. Similarly, the new nature of the Christian has a natural desire and “taste” for the word of God that can be satisfied by nothing else. We must read the Bible and hear it preached, or die. Thirdly, when infants have experienced the vigor and strength that comes from the milk, they want more. Even so, Christians who have “tasted” the goodness of God’s word, will desire to experience its benefits, its “quickening,” every day. I think this also reveals to us why many Christians neglect the Bible, why they have little desire to read Scripture. They have never enjoyed the reviving power of God’s word in their own experience. Or, more accurately, they have never clearly recognized what the word of God has done for them!
Friday, February 5, 2010
If we are in a battle with discouraging and sorrow-filled circumstances, is not the word of God overflowing with promises of divine help and support? If the living God is with us in everything we face, what more do we require? Whatever our trouble might be, almighty God stands by His chosen ones, ready to make all things work for their good. If the word of Christ dwells richly in us (Colossians 3:16), it will keep our hearts encouraged and our faith strong. On this subject, Thomas Manton observed that “We need fear nothing, for whoever troubles us, they are something under God. Whatever is our misery, and whatever befalls us, it is something less than hell, which we have escaped by Christ, and will all be made up in heaven. The first sight of God, and the first glimpse of everlasting glory, will recompense all the sorrows of the present life; and, as soon as we step into heaven, all shall be forgotten.” Until then, we must go to God’s word for the daily reviving of our spiritual vigor and life.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Yesterday, in considering Thomas Manton’s observations on Psalm 119:93, we saw that God’s word is the only source of spiritual comfort and encouragement. Why? Why is the word of God the only means of such vital support? Because the word contains truth, the very purpose of which is to give Christians spiritual strength and encouragement. The Bible is filled with precious promises and considerations that have more power to move our hearts and stir our affections than anything else. The teaching of Scripture is perfectly adapted to accomplish this; nothing needs to be added or removed (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In it God speaks to us with the highest authority, He reasons with us with the most convincing arguments, His warnings are enforced by the danger of eternal condemnation, His promises offer eternal blessedness for both our souls and our bodies. If the word of God cannot work in our hearts, what can? If the authority of the creator of the universe makes no impact on us, what will? In Scripture there is comfort enough for every Christian in any situation. Why go anywhere else?
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Thomas Manton’s three volume collection of sermons on Psalm 119 was highly prized by the great 19th century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I am going to take a few days to focus on Manton’s observations on verse 93 of that wonderful psalm. The verse reads:
“I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me.”
The psalmist says that he will never forget God’s word, because through that word God has revived him. The Lord uses His word to give us new life, reviving our spiritual life and vigor. The King James uses the old term “quickening” for this divine influence. We will never forget God’s word if we have ever experienced its power and blessing. The first thing we learn from this verse is that His word is the means God has appointed to revive our spiritual strength when we need it. Only God’s word can comfort, encourage, and support us in every condition we will ever find ourselves in.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Books by great Christian teachers of the past like Thomas Manton are very inspiring and refreshing. Their perspective is different from ours and they often see things in Scripture that escape us. I recently read something in Manton I had never considered before. He wrote that the Lord might have done us good without ever having given us promises beforehand. He could have gone about the business of redemption without ever revealing anything of it to us. God’s purposes of grace are like a sealed fountain, but His promises are like a fountain broken open. The precious promises in the Bible reveal the Lord’s love to us before they are fulfilled. Love concealed would deprive us of much comfort and encouragement. Faith sees the testimony of God’s love in His promises. They show us what we are to trust God for.
Monday, February 1, 2010
Christians should have a burning passion to be righteous, to be worthy of God in all that they do. Those who have such a longing to be holy will see their great need for God’s grace. They will quickly realize that in themselves they cannot do what God commands. Christians who have no fervent desire to please God will settle down in complacency, and see no great need for the Lord’s grace in their lives. These people are blind to how sinful their nature really is. The desire we should all have to overcome sin is often compared to hunger and thirst in the Bible: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). This attitude of heart is utterly inconsistent with complacency. Jesus promised in the same verse that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness “will be satisfied.” Christians who just coast along never experience this.