Monday, May 31, 2010

Every Day May Be Our Last Day

"Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1).  Jonathan Edwards delivered another sermon on the Christian’s use of time entitled, Procastination, or the Folly of Depending on Future Time.  The main point of this sermon is that we do not know if we will have another day.  We should be careful to live each day as if it were our last.  The command in Proverbs quoted above is that we should not speak or act as though tomorrow was guaranteed to us.  Time does not belong to us.  We do not know whether God will give us another day, or whether we will have to give an accounting of our lives to Him before another day comes.  To quote Edwards’ own words, “Consider, if you will hearken to this counsel, how much it will tend to your safety and peace in life and death.  It is the way really and truly to be ready for death; yea,to be fit to live or to be fit to die; to be ready for affliction and adversity, and for whatever God in his providence shall bring upon you.  It is the way to be prepared for all changes, and particularly your last change.  It is the way to possess your souls in a serene and undisturbed peace, and to enable you to go on with an immovable fortitude of soul, to meet the most frightful changes, to encounter the most formidable enemies, and to be ready with unshaken confidence to triumph over death.  O how happy are such persons, who have such safety and peace!”  This exerpt comes from  one of the most powerful paragraphs I have ever read.  Time goes by so quickly, and we cannot depend on having another day or hour in this world; but fortunately we can always depend on our Lord, who never changes. 

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Redeeming Precious Time

"Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).  Jonathan Edwards said that time is a thousand times more precious than money.  He carefully explained in his sermon The Preciousness of Time how different kinds of people needed to take the exhortation of Ephesians 5:16 to heart.  Some waste their time in idleness, doing nothing to any good purpose. These people do not place a high value on time.   Then there are those who not only waste their time, but do worse.  They use it in pursuits that bring great harm to themselves and others.  This terrible misuse of God’s gift will increase their eternal misery.  Others use their time only for their own benefit in this life.  Time used in this selfish way will be lost.  Edwards affirmed, “Time was not given for itself, but for that everlasting relation which succeeds it.  They, therefore, whose time is taken up in caring and laboring for the world only; in contriving to lay up for themselves treasures upon earth; they lose their precious time.”  Edwards concluded by exhorting us to carefully consider what he had said.  If we have a right conception of these things, every moment and hour will be far more valuable to us than gold.  God commands us to make the most of our time (Ephesians 5:16); the previous verse (5:15) tells us that wisdom is needed to do that.  Throughout the Bible, wisdom to a large degree involves being aware of time, and being careful how it is used.  The substance of the prayer for wisdom in Psalm 90:12, involves the realization that the days our lives pass by quickly: “So teach us to number our days, that we may 

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Why Time is so Precious

"Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).  In his outstanding sermon The Preciousness of Time, Jonathan Edwards begins by outlining four reasons why Christians should put a very high value on time: 1. Time is precious because our welfare both in this world and in eternity depends our use of it.  Things are valuable to us in proportion to the degree they concern our welfare.  Our deliverance from infinite misery and our attaining infinite good are what is at stake in our use of time.  2. Time is so valuable because it is a scarce commodity.  Edwards wrote, “Time is so short, and the work we have to do is so great, that we have none of it to spare.  The work we have to do to prepare for eternity, must be done in time, or it can never be done.”  3. We are uncertain how long our time will continue.  We do not know if opportunities that we fail to take advantage of will ever come again.  How much more would we prize our time if we knew that we have only a few weeks left.  4. Time cannot be recovered.  This is so sobering.  Once an hour or a day is past, that priceless moment is gone forever.  We possess many things, which if lost, can be obtained again.  Not so with time.  Once it is past, it is gone; no pains, no cost will recover it.  If we do not use time wisely, it is immediately beyond our reach, and never offered to us again.  No amount of wealth can reclaim wasted time.  No amount of regret will buy us a second chance to live a day over again. 

Friday, May 28, 2010

Redeeming the Time

"Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15,16).  How often have you heard someone say, “I was just passing time”?  Or, the expression, “I am just killing time”?  The idea is getting through a period of time that has no value, waiting for something you really want. The verses quoted from Ephesians expresses the preciousness of time in a very unique way.  Verse 16 literally reads “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”  If precious time is not to be wasted, it must be redeemed, that is, a price must be paid.  We are to put a very high value on each hour and each day God has alloted to us; and we must pay a price to buy back our time, so that it is not lost in evil.  Jonathan Edwards delivered one of his greatest sermons on The Preciousness of Time.  The older I get, the more heavily I feel the weight of Edwards’ powerful words.  The sermon he is most remembered for is Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.  I feel his sermon on Time is in every way the equal of its more famous counterpart, and is of greater relevance to the Christian.  Rereading this sermon yearly would be of inestimable benefit to every believer.  In the next few days we will spend a little time with Edwards’ great sermon.  You will never be content with “killing time” again, and you will think twice about how many hours you let television devour.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The End of Sin’s Reign

"Do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts” (Romans 6:12).  Thomas Manton gives us a very sobering overview of the disorder which has invaded all mankind through sin: “Man is composed of a body and a soul.  By God’s wise design, the body was subordinated to the soul, and both soul and body unto God.  But sin has defaced and disturbed the harmony and order of God’s creation.  Man rejected subordination to God, to seek happiness without Him in worldly things.  This disorder also  inclined mankind to prefer seeking the happiness and good of the body above that of the soul.  Reason and conscience are now enslaved to sense and appetite; understanding and will are made bond-slaves to the lusts of the flesh.”  The glory of the Christian religion is that in its unique and glorious gospel of Jesus Christ freedom from this disorder is found!  The true honor and dignity of a person consists in victory over indwelling sin.  Paul wrote that he was in a daily struggle, not merely to keep sin from ruling his body, but to make his body his slave (1 Corinthians 9:27), that grace, not sin, might reign through righteousness (Romans 5:21).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Word Dwelling Richly

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16).  If we want to experience the comfort and encouragement that God’s word is able to empart to us, it must be dwelling in our hearts, ready to be used on any occasion.  The advantage this gives us in the spiritual life is manifold.  First of all, faith requires fuel just as a fire does.  Faith is fueled by the promises of Scripture.  We will not be able to exercise faith if we do not have a store of promises ready to use.  The same is true of prayer.  The influences of the Holy Spirit are intimately connected with the indwelling of Christ’s words.  Promises hold up our hearts in prayer.  When you are alone and no other means of grace is available, the word treasured in the heart will be there to encourage you.  A Christian with a heart filled with truth will be ready to speak to others, and will not be held back by self-consciousness.  The difference this can make in your relationships with others is phenomenal!  Every part of life will find benefit. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Treasuring God’s Word

"I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).  The typical teaching or exhortation that accompanies verses like this one emphasize the importance of memorizing Bible verses.  Memorizing is indeed one vital application of this verse, but the meaning goes deeper than that.  Notice carefully where the word is to be stored up.  It is to dwell not only in the mind, but in the heart.  This implies that truth must not only be memorized, which is a function of the mind, but that it must be loved.  Our hearts must be deeply and passionately affected by God’s word.  And our goal in doing this is not memorization for its own sake.  The Christian is to treasure up Scripture in order to practice it.  Truth is meant to sanctify; it is to stored up to prevent the dominion of sin.  It is a great evil for a believer to be a stranger to the Bible, to be unaquainted with it!  By God’s grace truth should become deeply rooted in our hearts.  If it does, it will give us a very great advantage in the spiritual life.  More on this tomorrow.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Grace Abounding

"Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).  Thomas Brooks’ comments highlighted the encouragement believers should take from this verse: “The Lord looks more upon your graces than he does upon your weaknesses.  The Lord did not cast off Peter for his horrid sins, but rather looked upon him with an eye of love and pity.”  I think the very reason Christ chose Peter, with all of his faults, to be so eminent an apostle was to demonstrate how He can use the weakest instruments to accomplish His will.  Brooks applied this to all believers, “O admirable  love!  O matchless mercy!  Christ looked more upon Peter’s sorrow than his sin, more upon his tears than his oaths.  The Lord will not cast away weak saints for their great unbelief, because there is a little faith in them, or for their hypocrisy because of the little sincerity that is in them.”  A little gold is not thrown away because it is mixed with a great deal of impurities.  Neither will God cast away His dearest ones because of their flaws.  But weak Christians are more apt to look upon their infirmities than on their virtues.  Too often they fail to see the way God’s grace has impacted their lives.  What a mercy it is that our Lord overlooks our many weaknesses, and fixes His eye on our graces.    

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Joy is Our Duty

A strong emphasis on joy being a duty as well as a privilege is charateristic of Puritan teaching.  They all affirmed that joy is an essential part of God’s kingdom, not just icing on the cake.  A Christian life that does not manifest joy is not a true representation of God’s nature.  Romans 14:17 tells us that the kingdom of God is not a matter of observing religious rituals, but is experienced in the righteousness and peace and joy of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13 fills out this picture of what is essential in Christianity: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  We see throughout John 14 that Jesus, when He was about to leave His disciples and return to the Father, took great pains to assure them that He had made provision for their joy.  He promised that the Holy Spirit would come to them specifically as the Comforter.  Christ was so solicitous about this because He knew the essential part joy plays in the life of the individual believer.  Nehemiah 8:10 shows how indispensable it is in the spiritual life: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”  Thomas Manton brilliantly explains the superiority of Christian joy over that of the world: “Certainly joy revives us in well-doing, it renders the functions of body and mind free and vigorous, that we may walk with alacrity and good conscience.  The joy that we impress upon you is not a wantonness by which we cast away care and labor, and give ourselves up to ease and lusts, as those do that make their life nothing but recreation; but such a joy that makes us go about our duties and callings with encouragement.”  True happiness is not found in going on vacation.  Christians experience sweet refreshment when they delight to go about the business God has given them.   

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Great is Thy faithfulness

“The Lord is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words” Psalm 119:57).  To say that God is your portion is to lay claim to God Himself. What inferences can we to draw from the truth concerning the relationship between Almighty God and the sincere Christian?  We can learn a great deal from Lamentations 3:21-25. This passage is a marvelous expression of what it means: “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.  The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, ‘therefore I have hope in Him.’  The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.”  Consider what we see here.  Remembering that God is our portion, the source of everything we need, inspires hope (verses 21 and 24).  What we call to mind, is that God’s merciful love for us never changes (verses 22 and 23).  Here we have the essence of what Scripture means when it says, “God is our portion.”  Knowing that God is good to those who trust Him motivates us to seek Him (verse 25).  We learn here that God’s faithfulness to us not only establishes a solid foundation for our encouragement, but also establishes our duty.  Notice that the psalmist’s response is a firm promise and resolve to obey God’s words (Psalm 119:57).  Thomas Manton states the truth clearly and succinctly, “Those who have chosen God for their portion will manifest it by a fixed resolution and strict care of obedience.”  

Friday, May 21, 2010

With God as Your Portion

The following thoughts, by the Puritan George Swinnock, concern the Christian’s relationship with God, and the effects of that relationship on life.   They are from Voices from the Past, a collection of Puritan devotional readings published in 2009 by Banner of Truth.  Voices is a wonderful introduction to Puritan thought.  I cannot recommend it too highly as a first step into the marvelous depths of Puritan literature.

“God is a sanctifying and enabling portion.  The things of the world cannot advance the soul in the least.  Often, many are worse for their earthly pursuits.  If some had not been so wealthy, they would not have been so wicked.  Many perish in their great prosperity.  That which will elevate the soul must be more excellent than the soul.  Silver is abased by mixing it with lead, but enobled by gold.  O friend, the portions in the world are like candles that are consumed by use, compared to God your eternal portion.  God is yours forever and ever.  O sweet word, ‘forever’!  All the pleasures of creation cannot compare to the fruit of God for a moment.”  The good that we see in creation is intended to draw our hearts to the greater good, to the Creator of all good.  The limited good of created things was not meant to hold our hearts.  If the creation holds our affections, it is being put in the place of God.  This perverts its natural use, which is to set for the invisible glory of the Creator.  The beauty and wonder of the universe is mixed with imperfection; the beauty draws us to God, the imperfection keeps us from worshipping the creation itself. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

God is My Portion Forever

"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

When both our physical bodies and the courage of our hearts fail us, which every Christian will experience at times, God will still be an unfailing source of strength.  That is part of what being our portion means.  God does not promise to always alter or remove the adverse circumstances that are a burden to us.  But He can always be depended on to intervene and tip the balance of the spiritual equation in our favor.  He will always give strength to hearts that look to Him in faith.  The Christian will be enabled by the Holy Spirit to overcome those desires and lusts which dominate the rest of the world.  God not only gives us strength, He gives us Himself.  I think the basic idea this conveys is that whatever the Lord denies us, whatever He brings into our lives, He will always be sufficient to meet our every need.  George Swinnock captures the meaning of this when he says, “ The Christian can be happy under the greatest outward misery.  What weight can sink him who has everlasting arms to support him?  What can sadden him who has infinite bounty and mercy to supply him?  Nothing can make him miserable who has God for his happiness.  O Christian, may you walk so that the world may know you are above their fears, and that all their allurements are below your hopes!” 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Whom have I in Heaven but You?

"Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Psalm 73:25) George Swinnock’s thoughtful comment gives expression to the profound implications of this verse, “A Christian in his saddest condition can enjoy God as his portion.  You, who have chosen the world for your portion, have you not read what a perishing portion it is?  I offer you today a portion worthy of your choicest affection, a portion that, if you accept it, the richest emperor in the world would be a beggar to you.  It is a portion that contains more wealth than heaven and earth.”  If this is true, why do people still choose the world for their portion?  Because they are blind to the glory and true worth of God.  Jesus made the same offer to the woman at the well in Samaria.  It was her ignorance of who Jesus was and what He offered her, that kept her from desiring His gift of “living water” (John 4:10).  Swinnock sums up the permanence of the Christian’s inheritance when he says, “Death parts all other portions from the sons of men, but gives you your full portion.  Then you will know your portion’s true worth.  When fire burns up the world it will not even singe your potion.  You may stand upon the ruins of the world and sing: I have lost nothing.  I have my inheritance, my happiness, and my God still.”        

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

God is Our Portion

"The Lord is my portion”, says my soul (Lamentations 3:24).  In the world, children inherit the property and estate of their parents.  That is their portion.  God Himself is the portion of His children.  Thomas Brooks explained why nothing can satisfy the soul without God, “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.”  The point that Brooks is making is very important.  If a man is in prison, condemned to die within the hour, what value would the news that he has just inherited a very large estate have for him?  No matter how beautiful the estate is, it has no value to the condemned man because it fails to meet a more pressing need.  It would not please him or give him joy, because it does not suit his present condition.  But if someone arrives with news that the condemned man has been granted a pardon, what cause he has to rejoice!  Brooks concluded that, “The highest good is that which is the most suited to do good to the soul.  God is thus the most excellent portion suitable to the soul.”  I have personally found this subject to be very edifying and fascinating.  God willing, it will engage our attention for a few days. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Filled with God’s Spirit

Christians are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).  A small taste of the Spirit is not enough, we are to be filled.  Everyone in the world seeks what will give them happiness.  Many people believe that the self-denial required of Christians involves giving up what makes a person happy.  But giving up sinful behaviors, such as drunkenness, does not result in a loss of happiness.  Exactly the opposite is true.  A person who is filled with the Spirit is characterized by peace, joy, and contentment.  The Scriptural evidence shows this clearly.  Jesus told His disciples that He wanted them to experience His own joy (John 15:11).  He made provision for that by promising to send them the Holy Spirit. In fact, the only way to get this joy is by being filled with the Spirit.  The Christian is enabled by the Holy Spirit to overcome those desires and lusts which dominate the rest of the world.  Without the Spirit’s divine influences, the soul desires nothing higher.  But, for the true believer, seeking God is not only a duty but is also a delight.  Thus, the soul, which was created to delight in God, finds all that it needs in Him. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Walk as children of light, filled with God’s Spirit

In Ephesians chapter 5, Paul describes believers in Jesus Christ as children of light, living in an evil world of darkness.  As such, Christians are responsible to make the best use of their time, which means they will have to swim against a general tide of evil every day (verse 16).  One evil that is always characteristic of the world’s darkness is drunkenness, which usurps and corrupts the basic self control God intended His most intelligent creatures to direct their lives by (verse 18).  In order to use their time to glorify God and preserve their souls from the wrath that comes upon those who practice evil (verse 6), Christians are instructed to “be filled with the Spirit.”  Comparing drunkenness with the filling of the Spirit is intentional.  More than once Scripture highlights the parallels and differences; see Acts 2, for instance.  One very prominent thought is that the individual comes under the control of an external influence.  The result is behavior that transcends the normal.  In the case of alcohol the effects are destructive to self and others.  The Bible calls this “debauchery,” a degree of abuse and harm unknown when the person is sober.  The wonderful opposite is true of being filled with God’s Spirit!  The verses that follow, Ephesians 5:19-6:9, give us the blessed fruit that results from being “drunk” with the Spirit in our every relationship—to God and others.  Those who are filled with the Holy Spirit will be characterized by joy, thanksgiving, and humility.  People overindulge in alcohol in a vain effort to be happy.  What unbelievers vainly seek in drunkennness, believers find in the Spirit.  More on this tomorrow. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Call Upon Me

“Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15).  Here we have a wonderful command.  What makes it so wonderful is the circumstances in which it is to be obeyed!  Our part is to pray to God.  His part is to answer our prayer in saving mercy.  The final result is that the Lord receives the glory that is His due.  In times of trouble, calling upon God is not an option.  Our first reaction to adversity should be fervent prayer.  That implies a recognition of our inability to help ourselves.  We call upon Almighty God because we know our own efforts will prove fruitless.  Psalm 55:22 gives us the same relationship of command to promise in other words: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”  The final result emphasized in this verse is the ultimate blessing enjoyed by the righteous.  In his comments on Psalm 50:15, the Puritan George Swinnock calls our attention to one of its most important points, “There is no duty that has so many promises attached to it, gives more honour to God, or which receives more honor from God.  It is a guard to secure the fort of the heart, a porter to keep the door of the lips, and a shield to protect the hands.  It perfumes every relation and profits every condition.  No one can deprive you of this privilege.  You can pray with Peter on the house top, with Jonah at the bottom of the ocean, with our Saviour on the mountain, or in a prison with Paul.  Every saint is God’s temple and may pray anywhere.”

Friday, May 14, 2010

Contentment and Sincerity

We cannot move on from Philippians 4:11  without mentioning the impact godly contentment has on our sincerity.  In the previous verse, Philippians 4:10, Paul thanks the Philippian Christians for the gifts they had sent to meet his material needs.  The apostle then assures them his motivation in saying this was not a monetary one, “Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content.”   Paul had no hidden agenda, he just wanted to sincerely thank them for being so generous.  He was not hinting that he needed more financial support from them; he was not trying to manipulate them into giving more.  That is so common today!  All kinds of so-called evangelists and preachers promise believers an outpouring of blessing on their lives if they will just give to their ministries.  They manipulate people with guilt in the most shameless ways.  God abominates this kind of hypocrisy, and so does the world.  People who are not content with what they have cannot be trusted.  They consider other people only as means to get what they want.  To genuinely love others, we must be content with God’s provision for our needs. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Learning to be Content

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).  “I have learned”, wrote Paul.  That is very significant.  We do not come by this naturally, it must be learned.  But it cannot be learned in any school or university.  Even Harvard and Cambridge are powerless to impart this to the students that are privileged to attend them.  And the most brilliant students, even those with the intellectual capacity of a genius, have no advantage in learning contentment.  How then did Paul learn this?  The apostle’s words here express the glorious power of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a mature Christian.  I cannot think of anything more important or desirable to learn.  Imagine how the possession of this quality would impact every facet of your daily life!  The Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote with great insight on this verse, “It is not the learning of education, but of holiness.  All the degrees in the world cannot teach it.  Paul did not learn it at Gamaliel’s feet, but from Christ, and through much affliction.  Nature never teaches it.  It is learned with many stripes in the school of Christ.”  Which may be the reason so few Christians are great scholars of this truth.  But what must not be missed here is that God’s grace can carry us through all conditions with our trust and joy in Him intact and functioning.  The Christian filled with grace will not be overly dejected in difficulties, nor unguardedly exuberant in prosperity.  Neither abundance nor lack changes the basic fact that God is the portion, the source of all good, for the trusting believer.    

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

John Bunyan on Prayer

   John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, had a lot to say on the subject of prayer, all of which is worthy of our careful attention.   Bunyan wrote, “Those who pray receive great things for themselves and for those they pray for.  Prayer opens the heart of God and fills the empty soul.  By prayer a Christian can open his heart to God as to a friend, and obtain fresh testimony of God’s friendship to him.  Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart to God through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit for such things as God has promised.”   Bunyan wrote that the greatest benefit of prayer is its effect on the heart of the one who prays, “Praying with affection engages the whole man in a way that must have his prayer heard, and communion and comfort from Christ experienced.  Saints have lost their lives rather than go without this blessing.  The soul that so prays sees an emptyness in all things under heaven; in God alone there is rest and satisfaction of soul.”          

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Towering Redwoods

The great Puritan teachers nourished their churches on sound doctrine.  Over the past fifty years there has been a resurgence of interest in the writings of these great servants of God.  A growing number of Christians have found in their teaching a depth of insight, integrity and commitment too often missing in the pulpit today.  My prayer is that, by directly quoting them more often, I will be able to give you a taste of Puritan teaching.  I hope you will join the ever growing number of those who gratefully feast at their table every day.  To that end, I will let their own words speak for themselves as much as possible.  I will clarify or change words in a direct quotation only if necessary for understanding.  I pray that these daily meditations will convince you that, although over three centuries separate us from the Puritans, their writings are worth whatever extra effort is required to read them.  J. I. Packer’s book A Quest for Godliness, is a very fine introduction to the Puritans and their teaching.  In the introduction, Packer compares England’s Puritans with the giant Redwoods of California, which tower above the rest of the landscape.  Packer asserts that in theology and spirituality the Puritans are a breed of giants, rising above the majority of Christians in most eras.  Comparing the Puritans to the Christians he knows best, contemporary believers in Britain and America, Packer writes that “affluence seems for the past generation to have been making dwarfs and deadheads of us all.  In this situation, the teaching and example of the Puritan giants have much to say to us.”

Monday, May 10, 2010

Seeking God

In Psalm 119:1 those who are blessed are described by their actions as those “who walk in the law of the Lord.”  Psalm 119:2 characterizes the same people by their attitude of heart, as ones “who seek Him with all their heart.”  Everyone seeks to be happy and not miserable.  Psalm 4:6 sums up the cry of the whole world in one question: “Who will show us any good?”  The very nature of desire is seeking that which is good.  The good that can satisfy all of the desires of the human heart can only be found in seeking God.  To experience this good, the glory of God must become our overarching goal.  Thomas Manton stated this truth very succinctly, “Those that would be (desire to be) blessed, must make this their business, sincerely to seek after God.”  To seek the Lord presupposes that we see our need of Him.  The means by which we seek God is faith.  It is worth noting that in the Bible faith is often expressed by a very active term.  Words such as ‘coming,’ ‘seeking,’ ‘running,’ and ‘going’ are commonly used.  These words portray biblical faith as a serious and diligent endeavor of the soul after God.  Christians must seek God by the means that He has appointed for that purpose: reading and hearing the Bible preached, private and public prayer, etc.  Faith breathes life into these activities; without it, they are in vain.  Manton always seems to capture the essential thought in a few well-chosen words: “We do not live merely to live, but for this end we were sent into the world to seek God.”  The dissatisfaction we find in all other things intensifies the desire to pursue happiness in God with all our heart. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Called to Honor God

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).  Thomas Manton’s thoughts on this verse (from Voices From the Past) are so good, that I cannot do better than quote them: “This life is not to be valued but as it yields opportunities to glorify God.  We were not sent into the world to live for ourselves, but for God.  If we could make (create) ourselves, then we could live for ourselves.”  Manton affirms that God has ordained specific good works by which each believer glorifies God (Ephesians 2:10).  Jesus, who said that He glorified the Father by accomplishing the work appointed to Him, is the example we follow.  Manton concludes by saying that “all have their service and work given them for God’s glory.  Every morning we should revive the sense of this upon our hearts.  When a Christian leaves home in the morning, he must remember he is at Christ’s disposal; he is not to do as he pleases, but to be guided by rule, and for God’s glory.”

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Embracing the Truth

“I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me” (Psalm 119:30).  In the previous verse, David asks God to keep him faithful to His law and to protect him from all false ways.  Our choosing the way of truth is an effect of God’s grace.  No one will decide to follow the truth and reject error who has not first experienced the drawing power of God’s grace.  Jesus Himself said that “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44).  The Lord comes to us in mercy and truth.  In His mercy He doesn’t deal with us in the way our sins deserve.  All that He does to draw us to Himself is done in mercy.  He draws us by the truth, by revealing to us the true way to happiness.  The way by which we come to Him is what the gospel reveals.  It is the glorious way of true religion, as opposed to all the false ways of human invention.  When people turn their back on the true God, they are endless in seeking out false gods.  God has permitted many disputes in the world about the way of truth and even different opinions within the church.  I think one reason for this is so that those who do embrace the truth will do so with a strong grip, with a settled conviction after carefully searching the evidence, and with deep affection.  No person can be saved without fully embracing two things: first, that God is the ultimate and final goal of life, and second, that Jesus Christ is the only way of attaining that end.  The first implies that we must subject our sinful wills to His, and the second implies that in ourselves we are helpless to do so. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Voices From the Past

Yesterday’s meditation was taken from a newly published collection of various Puritan writings titled Voices From the Past.  It is published by Banner of Truth, which as far as I am concerned is the most trustworthy of all Christian publishers today.  If a book bears the Banner of Truth label (a Whitefield-like herald of the gospel), you can be assured it is worthy of your time and your money.  The Banner of Truth Trust was established some sixty years ago by Iain Murray and Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Their goal was to republish the best works of the great Puritan teachers of the 17 century.  Over the past fifty years there has been a great resurgence of interest in their writings, and Banner of Truth has been instrumental in this movement.  Voices From the Past uses the traditional format of one devotional reading for each day of the year.  But the quality of the daily readings is exceptional!  Voices is a fine way to be introduced to some of the greatest writers of Christian literature in the history of the Church.  Authors cited include the peerless genius Jonathan Edwards, John Owen (a favorite of mine and countless others), John Flavel, the brilliant Stephen Charnock, Richard Sibbes, William Gurnall, Thomas Lye (a new and delightful discovery for me), the great John Bunyan, Thomas Brooks, Richard Baxter, and many others.  What a feast for the soul!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Give Us Our Daily Bread

Concerning God’s command that believers should ask Him for all that they need, Thomas Manton said, “Contentment is also one of God’s blessings we should ask for when we pray.  Bread provides our need, but our enjoyment of it is also his blessing.  Happiness does not lie in abundance, but in the suitableness of our mind to our estate (Luke 12:15).  There is a twofold war in man: the war between a man and his conscience which breeds trouble of mind, and a war between his affections and his condition which breeds murmuring and envious grumbling.  So, pray for contentment also when you pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’”  Manton says so much in these few sentences.  This brilliant analysis will abundantly repay careful study.  Jesus said that happiness will not be found in possessing an abundance of earthly blessings.  Happiness is the result of our desires being in harmony with what our Lord has seen fit to give us.  Paul wrote that we should be content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:8).  If we are not content with these things, our hearts will be dominated by greed and envy.  Just as God is the only one who can meet our daily needs, even so He is the only one who can enable us to be content with what He provides.  

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


It is amazing to see misguided people, especially extremely ignortant, misguided Americans, continue to claim that the USA was wrong in dropping Fat Man and Little Boy (the first two nuclear weapons) on the innocent civilians of Japan.  Even more distressing is the way these people (you know them, they are the usual suspects) endlessly portray our government as morally equivalent with Hitler’s Nazi Germany.  The historical track-record shows that the United States is the only nation that the rest of the world can trust with super-power status.  What we could have done with our unique nuclear technology in 1945, when no other nation had the bomb and could not have opposed our might, stands as an unmatched example of our international good will.  Never before in the history of our troubled globe was one nation actually in a position to impose its will on others.  The fact that America chose not to do so is the greatest evidence of our benign national character, and our sincere desire that all peoples be free to govern themselves.  What would have happened if Nazi Germany had developed the atomic bomb first?  What about Stalin’s cruel regime in the USSR?  Would they have hesitated for one moment to use the bomb for territorial expension?  The world should be thankful that the nation that succeeded in developing this terrible weapon first did not use it as a means to subjugate others!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Hymns of John Newton

John Newton’s writings were a blessing to many people, including William Wilberforce, who was instrumental in the abolition of slavery in England.  Wilberforce heard Newton preach and enjoyed his personal counsel on many occasions.  William Cowper, who composed God Moves in a Mysterious Way and other notable hymns, lived with Newton and his wife when he suffered from deep depression in 1773.  Cowper and Newton composed hymns together, often to confirm a passage of Scripture that had been selected for a sermon.  Thus Newton’s most influential work was written in December 1772.  He composed his great hymn “Amazing Grace” to accompany a sermon he was to preach on King David’s amazement over God’s promises (1 Chronicles 17:16-17).  Newton wrote 281 hymns, twenty of which are well known.  Many of his hymns remind us that Christians are still poor, weak sinners, utterly dependent on Christ alone.  Comparing the content of Newton’s hymns with recent ones, Iain Murray writes, “A consideration of this penitential note in Newton’s hymnody must lead one to reflect on what is too commonly absent from numbers of the songs substituted for hymns in worship today.  It is not simply that certain words are omitted; the whole ethos is different.  Too often the emphasis is on the worshipper’s devotion, ‘I will praise’; ‘I will exalt’; ‘I will love ‘, etc.”  Murray concludes, “Professing Christian worship that omits humility and self-abasement would have been incomprehensible to Newton.  His best hymns are always striking a note that is the opposite of self-confidence.”  I am convinced that the primary reason contemporary worship songs are so shallow in this regard is the widespread acceptance of modern theories of “self-esteem.”  The psychology of self-esteem considers humble expressions of sorrow over sin as evidence of mental illness.  Mourning over personal moral failure is now regarded as morbidly introspective.  The notion that you should not entertain any negative or self-abasing thoughts about yourself is utterly unbiblical and harmful.  

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lessons from the Life of John Newton

John Newton firmly believed that one of the primary causes of the widespread superficiality he saw in Christianity was a failure to understand the true gravity of man’s sin problem.  I think the same is true of our own time.  Newton continually emphasized that the mature Christian’s sense of personal sin increases over time.  We see this same awareness in the epistles of Paul in the New Testament.  Humility is one distinguishing mark of the true believer.  Assurance of God’s forgiveness is not inconsistent with a growing awareness of how sinful our hearts are.   

Newton was committed to Calvinistic beliefs, what are often referred to as “the doctrines of grace.”  In regard to Calvinism, Newton wrote, “The views I have received of the doctrines of grace are essential to my peace; I could not live comfortably a day, or an hour, without them.”  He considered Calvinism’s emphasis on the Lord’s sovereignty an indispensable part of a biblical understanding of God.  Yet, at the same time he acknowledged that true believers will see things differently, and he affirmed that Christains should bear with one another and not be divisive over this issue.  Concerning Newton’s warnings, Iain Murray wrote: “Some painful alienations between Christians in the eighteenth century would have been prevented had they been more widely heard.”  There is a strong revival of Calvinism occurring at the present moment, and Newton’s example is a good one to emulate. 

Newton was strongly influenced by the books he read.  The writings of Puritan authors like John Owen, Thomas Watson, and Richard Baxter had an enduring effect on him.  He was also familiar with the extraordinary writings of his contemporary, Jonathan Edwards.  Newton’s own books were to influence millions.  The works of the Puritans have been a lifeline for me over the years, and I hope to introduce you to some of them in the future. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Amazing Grace in an Amazing Life

The author of “Amazing Grace,” John Newton, had a truly amazing life.  His biography reads like the script of an action-adventure movie.  Born in London in 1725, John was the son of a sea captain.  Living in the age of sail, he made five voyages with his father, beginning at the age of 11.  Young John was forced into the Royal Navy in 1744 by a “press-gang,” which was a traditional, if inhumane, way of filling out the crews of navy ships.  Life was brutal in the Royal Navy at that time.  Newton soon deserted, was caught, and was flogged.  Later, when he had the opportunity, he joined the crew of a merchant ship.  So it was that John Newton found himself in the slave trade.  He made three voyages as captain of his own slave ship.  John was married in 1750 and his seafaring days ended in 1754.  He lived in Liverpool for the next ten years, and during this time was converted.  Newton was concerned to undo the evil of his past, and he became a minister of the gospel in 1764, at the age of 39.  There is uncertainty as to the exact time of his conversion.  Newton believed that regeneration is instantaneous, but assurance that it has occurred grows gradually over time.  This is a very important lesson which needs to be taken to heart today.  Certainty as to the exact date is not what matters, but progressive evidence of the reality of new life in Christ does.  Personal assurance of salvation is not to be grounded on a specific event in the past, but on present evidence of a changed heart and life.  Not understanding this is the reason there are many people today who profess Christianity and yet live in a way that utterly contradicts what they profess to believe.  The idea of conversion as the decision of a moment is emphasized too much in our day.  The equally necessary truth that the believer must continually pursue the path of holiness has been neglected too long.  There is no greater tragedy than being deceived that you are going to be in heaven, when you are not!  John Piper recently stated that his greatest concern in the church is with those who are deceived in this way.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Christian Biographer and Historian, Iain H. Murray

I will introduce Iain Murray, pastor and author, by saying that I regard his Revival and Revivalism as one of the most important Christian books of the last fifty years.  It tells the story of Christianity in 19th century America with fascinating insight, scrupulous fairness, and the careful detail that reveals painstaking research.  These qualities are the hallmark of all of Murray’s books, including his great biography of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Many regard the Lloyd-Jones biography as Murray’s magnum opus, but I believe Revival and Revivalism is his most important work.  It tops my “must read” list of Christian books because by giving us the history of evangelicalism in the 19th century, it explains why we are where we are today.  Christians could not learn anything more important!


Iain Murray has authored a number of biographies of great servants of God.  I consider Murray to be the finest contemporary Christian biographer.  He is able to weave history with the important lessons to be learned from it better than anyone else.  His books never fail to both inform and edify to a degree rarely seen.  I heartily commend to you everything that has come from his pen.  I recently read again Murray’s brief sketches of the lives of some of the Christians he admires most in his book Heroes.  Anyone who has made it a practice to read biographies will agree with A. W. Tozer that, “Next to the Holy Scriptures, the greatest aid to the life of faith may be Christian biographies.”  The Bible itself is filled with biographies.  And as I wrote, Iain Murray is without peer as a contemporary biographer and historian.  He not only gives us his take on famous Christians, but is to be especially commended for bringing to light the inspiring sagas of many unsung heroes.  In the following days I hope to share some of these  enriching stories and the unforgettable people I have come across in my recent forays into Murray’s golden pages.