“One thing I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). The thought is the same as that in Matthew 6:33. If we desire and seek this one thing above all else, all the rest that we need will follow. Our desires, more than anything else, reveal what we really are. I have found this emphasized in many of the sermons and writings of the Puritans. They understood that our desires are what characterize us because they cannot be counterfeited. Actions can easily be counterfeited. Therefore, we must honestly examine the desires of our hearts. They will reveal our true spiritual condition. David tells us that he had this desire for God because he saw the Lord’s beauty and glory. We must use all the means ordained by God to enjoy communion with Him and nourish righteous desires. Proverbs 4:23 tells us how vital this is: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.” David continues in Psalm 27:5 with the great benefit of experiencing God’s presence with him: “He will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.”
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
John Flavel wrote concerning God’s providence: “There is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you; what signal manifestations and outbreakings of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard indeed.” Flavel realized the profound source of encouragement the knowledge of providence can be: “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. It would not be worth living in a world devoid of God and providence.”
Monday, June 28, 2010
Providence is the performance of God’s gracious purposes and promises to His people. “You, O Lord, have made me glad by what You have done. I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands” (Psalm 92:4). One thing we learn from this verse is that our hearts may be refreshed and encouraged by God’s works as well as by His words. Every instructed Christian will readily acknowledge that God’s word is a source of great joy to us. We are to rejoice in what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and we are to thoughtfully study them. This is a God-ordained means of great delight. It was something of a new idea to me when I read in John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence, that meditating on what God does will give believers as much pleasure as meditating on what He says. Flavel wrote: “By means of the daily observation of God’s providences you may maintain sweet and conscious communion with God day by day. And what is there desirable in this world in comparison with that! Your hearts may be as sweetly refreshed by the works of God’s hands as by the words of His mouth.” Psalm 104 considers and celebrates the works of God’s providence. Verse 34 of that psalm expresses the effects: “Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; as for me, I shall be glad in the Lord.”
Sunday, June 27, 2010
The Bible exhorts Christians to reflect on and consider the providence of God in their lives and the lives of others. As the sovereign Governor of His universe, God directs everything to fulfill His gracious purposes for His people. John Flavel, in The Mystery of Providence, focuses our attention on the benefits that come with careful scrutiny of God’s providence: “O that we were but acquainted with this heavenly spiritual exercise, how sweet it would make our lives, how light it would make our burdens! Ah, sirs, you live estranged from the pleasure of the Christian life, while you live in the ignorance or neglect of this duty. O fill your hearts with the thoughts of Him and His ways.” Flavel makes some staggering claims here, that if true, would make us fools to ignore. He says we will never know the full pleasure biblical religion offers us if we neglect this. He tells us that regular reflection on God’s providence will make our burdens light. That’s for me! But are Flavel’s statements supportable? Is he exaggerating just to get our attention? I have found that all of the other great Puritans back him unreservedly. And of far greater importance, God’s word resounds with such claims as Flavel makes here!
Saturday, June 26, 2010
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:6). We cannot do anything in the Christian life without God’s grace. Because grace is all important, any verse that tells us how we can get it merits our greatest attention. From this verse we learn that God opposes those without humility. The opposite of this is God actively working on our behalf. God blesses the humble. Unless we are humble, we will never experience God’s power in our lives. Thomas Brooks relates humility to our afflictions and God’s glory: “The humble soul endeavors more how to glorify God in afflictions, than how to get out of them. Daniel, the apostles, and all the others of whom the world was not worthy were such. They were not seeking to get out of their afflictions but were concerned for the glory of God. They were willing to be anything and bear anything that God might be glorified. They made it their business to glorify God in great adversity. The humble soul says: ‘Lord, keep down my sins, and keep up my heart to honour you in all my troubles.’” In contrast, the proud person, who is utterly self-centered, will do anything to be free from hardship. Nothing will satisfy the proud person’s inflated lusts. But with Christ in the heart, the humble are content with very little.
Friday, June 25, 2010
“Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:9). The Christian can live in a manner worthy of God only by His grace. Grace is God’s power working in a believing heart to give all that is required to fulfill His will. The first thing that grace does is change the desires of the heart. The life of grace in a Christian is seen in a radical change of desires. True believers will display a desire to willingly obey God’s commands. They will love those means God’s has ordained for Christians to experience the reality of His grace—reading the Bible and hearing it preached, prayer, and the edifying fellowship of likeminded believers. Grace is indispensable in the spiritual life, and therefore it is precious to rightly instructed Christians. They value it above everything in this world and seek it ceaselessly. Whatever else humble saints pray for, God would have them daily seek His strength at the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
Thursday, June 24, 2010
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). I was reviewing an entry I made about a month ago on this verse. I find that in the pressures of life, I need to be reminded regularly of the great truth expressed in it. So I will remind you as well. The fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives includes “peace” of heart and mind (Galatians 5:23). This great quality of peace reveals itself in our lives as contentment. To be satisfied at heart, regardless of circumstances, is a work only the Holy Spirit can produce. It expresses God’s glorious power in the heart of a strong and growing believer. What could be more wonderful than to consistently experience God-given contentment? I want this to be a reality in my heart more and more, as I am sure you do. It must be learned, and it will only be learned as the Christian responds to adversity as the Bible teaches, by God’s grace. To be discontented and discouraged is most contrary to the high calling of the Christian. We glorify God when we proclaim to the world by our lives that He is sufficient to meet our every need, in every condition. The contented Christian is a marvel to the world.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). It is very encouraging to read that God is the “Father of mercies,” which means He is the source of all mercy. Likewise, it is most blessed to read that all comfort comes from Him. Richard Sibbes points out that before God is the “Father” of all mercies and blessings to us, He is the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This emphasizes the all-important fact that God can show us mercy only because of Christ. Outside of Christ there is only justice for guilty sinners. Every single encouragement and blessing and mercy we ever experience in life is ours only because we have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. We owe everything to Him, and the proper response is expressed by Paul in verse 3: “Blessed be the God and Father.” We bless God by praising and thanking Him; He blesses us by abundantly giving us all that we need.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). Richard Sibbes, one of the finest of the Puritan teachers, gave a series of sermons on the first chapter of 2 Corinthians that comprise an entire 500 page book. The Puritans had tremendous respect for the written word of God, and as a result were always very thorough in their teaching. They considered every verse infinitely precious. And I consider every page of Sibbes’ sermons on 2 Corinthians 1 to be of great value. That chapter is one of the most encouraging in all of Paul’s letters. But, in order to enjoy the comfort this passage of God’s word has for us, we must have two things. More accurately, God does two things. First, from His written word He gives us the ground or basis of our comfort, which is expressed in the promises of Scripture. Second, by His Holy Spirit in us, He prepares and fits our hearts to receive and embrace these promises. Emphasizing either one of these, to the limitation or exclusion of the other has been the source of many problems in the history of the Church. If truth is not kept in its proper biblical balance, very harmful errors in understanding will result. There are so many wonderful things to see in this chapter. I am presently reading the Sibbes’ sermons, and by God’s grace, I hope to point out some of its highlights as I go along.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Sunday, June 20, 2010
“We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Every Christian will at one time or another be able to echo Paul’s words here. Why does God bring us into such overwhelming troubles, into circumstances that appear hopeless? Because we are so desperately dependent on the things of this world, and are so prone to trust in ourselves. Unless God drives us from these things, we will never know what it is to live by faith in Him. Only when all other props and comforts are pulled away do we learn to depend on Him alone. That in a nutshell is the way God trains us to live by faith. When all natural and ordinary means fail, we must look to God, His power is seen in our weakness. We experience His grace most fully, and are most assured of His presence, in adversity. Every hard providence is an opportunity to experience God’s power in our lives.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Friday, June 18, 2010
Thursday, June 17, 2010
I hope giving you a taste of the writings and sermons of the Puritans will stimulate a passion in you for what they have to teach us. They combine unswerving fidelity to Scripture with profound depth of insight. They are strongest in the very areas we are weakest. In the last fifty years there has been a great revival of interest in the Puritans. I thank God continually for leading me to their priceless legacy—their great books! J. I. Packer has written an excellent introduction to the Puritans, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. Packer likens the Puritans to the giant redwoods of California. In comparing them with modern Christians, Packer rightly contends that “affluence seems for the past generation to have been making dwarfs of us all.” So, what made the Puritans what they were—spiritual giants? Packer gets to the heart of the matter when he attributes their spiritual stature to a radical God-centeredness. In all of life, in thought and deed, the Puritans lived for God’s glory. In this, we have much to learn from them. They had a supreme reverence for God and His word. Packer wrote his tribute to the Puritans because their lives and teaching had been such an important influence in his own growth as a Christian. He hoped that a new generation of believers would find the study of the Puritans exciting—yes, exciting!—as forty years of discovering wonderful treasures in their writings had been to him!
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
“Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). I found Richard Sibbes’ thoughts on this verse compelling, and an exciting challenge to faith: “God’s providence extends to the smallest things, to the sparrow and to the hairs of our heads. He governs every particular passage in our lives. This should teach us to look up to heaven for permission, power and perseverance in all the affairs of life. We should not do anything in which we cannot expect God’s guidance. We must be able to trust him for a blessing upon all that we do. If we could live by faith as we should, we would not worry about anything. God often allows his children to come to great extremities and desperate circumstances, even to the jaws of death itself. When it comes to pass that all natural and ordinary means fail, we must look to a more durable and constant help—God’s own good will and power. God is never nearer than in our extremities. He allows these to test us that he might exercise his grace in us.” Sibbes’ insight here displays spiritual genius. There is so much we can learn from Puritans of the caliber of Richard Sibbes!
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Scripture teaches that if our trust in God is strong and stable, it can bring us peace in every circumstance. God gives us grace for this purpose. Whatever trouble we may find ourselves in, the comfort and help we need will always be found in God! The Bible does not exclude any condition in its assurances of divine aid. Now such extravagant statements may seem utterly unrealistic. But they are in the Bible, and they are meant to be taken seriously. Isn’t this a blessing worthy of any effort or sacrifice to obtain? Think of what is being promised to the believer here! I love what Richard Sibbes said on this subject: “When you find yourself in a troubled state, there is always something in God for your comfort. If we are in trouble, there is an appropriate comfort given. Are we sick? He is our health. Are we weak? He is our strength. Are we dead? He is our life. It is not possible to be in any state, no matter how miserable, but there is something in God to comfort us. There is something in God for every malady; so then trust in God. This is the way to quiet our souls.”
Monday, June 14, 2010
“Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant” (Psalm 119:76). The promised blessing that is asked of God in this verse is comfort. How does God’s steadfast love bring us comfort? Thomas Manton’s answer to that question can hardly be improved upon: “The highest and chief object of our comfort is the Lord himself. Though everything else fail, this should satisfy us; though we have little health, no friends, no outward supports, to rejoice in; yet you have God, whose favour is life, and who is the fountain of happiness, and the center of the soul’s rest.” To experience this divine encouragement to the fullest, we must be careful about what we make the object of our comfort. In Luke 12:15 we have an explicit statement by our Lord that it is not abundance of possessions that makes a person happy. The nature of biblical comfort is a delightful sense of God’s love and favor, which so strengthens the heart, that the believer is kept from being overwhelmed by doubts, fears, and sorrows. This is a blessing only God can give. Only the Holy Spirit can fill our hearts with assurance of God’s love (Romans 5:5). Like the psalmist, we must ask God for it.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
“Whom have I in heaven but you? and there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26). Martyn Lloyd-Jones held that verses 25 and 26 may well describe the normal spiritual experience. They express the worship and adoration that rises spontaneously upon the contemplation of God’s glory. We see here the goal of salvation. Lloyd-Jones opened my eyes to a deeper understanding of these verses. He said that the whole purpose of redemption was to enable us to speak like the psalmist. That is brilliant! We must come to the realization that no one can help us but God. Despite all of our failure, God will still be a source of strength to us. This psalm tells us that the greatest blessing of all is knowing God and living each moment in His presence. Can we say that we have seen through the facade of the things of this life, so that we desire God above all? The first commandment is to love God with our whole heart. To love God we must first have knowledge of Him. In the words of Lloyd-Jones, “The first thing, the most important thing in life, is that we so know God that we love Him with the whole of our being. To be satisfied with anything short of that, or with anything less than that is to misunderstand the whole end and object and purpose of Christian salvation.”
Saturday, June 12, 2010
“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). In this psalm, David is telling us how he faces the future. We can learn a great deal from the life of David. Here he tells us one of the things that kept him going in the midst of great trouble. Whatever comes into his life, he “shall not be shaken.” David is prepared for whatever happens because he had “set the Lord always before him.” This is a determination to live life in the conscious presence of God. This is the supreme object of David’s life. His unshakable conviction that God was always with him was the result of a process of reasoning. This is how to be prepared for whatever may occur. Martyn Lloyd-Jones inspired these thoughts and tomorrow’s as well. I consider Lloyd-Jones the greatest preacher of the 20th century. I have read many of his books, almost all of which came from sermons, and they have never failed to inspire and edify.
Friday, June 11, 2010
“Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165). This is one of my favorite verses, which I go back to again and again. I have mentioned it several times in the past, and probably will have cause to do so in the future. Thomas Manton devoted two sermons to this verse in his three volume study of Psalm 119. He never fails to stimulate my thinking and my desire to experience as fully as possible the great reality given expression in this verse. Manton carefully delineates the ingredients that are necessary for peace of heart. First, the Christian has peace by justification, which reconciles God to the forgiven sinner and makes Him a friend. Second, peace comes by sanctification, as the daily life of the believer is increasingly conformed to God’s law. Peace also arises from contentment with God’s will, when our affections and desires are calmed and rightly ordered, and set upon worthy and noble objects. One prominent effect of this satisfaction is that we are no longer troubled at the loss of outward things.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
“But as for me, the nearness of God is my good” (Psalm 73:28). Believing that God is always present with you will make a world of difference in your life. Richard Sibbes is another great Puritan who addressed this subject with discernment: “Carnal reasoning will tell you that God does not see or govern, but has left the earth. The Holy Spirit teaches us to see that God is our best friend, and that he will never forsake us. God fills the whole earth and heaven with his presence. He is always present in power and providence by his Spirit in supporting, comforting, and strengthening the hearts of his children. God alone can fill every corner of the soul of man. God is a fountain that will never run dry. There is not a minute of time in all of our life but we must either be near to God or we will be undone.” Scripture assures us that God is near to all that call upon Him. Therefore, the wise Christian will labor to be near Him by prayer and praise. We must grow in our understanding and fill our thoughts with Him. The joy of daily communion with God can transform prayer from a duty into a delight.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
“Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? “ declares the Lord, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24). Stephen Charnock, in his masterly study The Existence and Attributes of God, eloquently addresses the subject of God’s omnipresence. Here is a taste: “God knows all that is done in the most secret caverns of the heart. No place is deprived of his presence. He is not measured by time nor limited by space. There is no space, not the least, where God is not wholly present. We profess to believe this, but many live as if he were not present. Men commit sin in the presence of God, which they would be ashamed to do before the eyes of men. What does this really say, but that God is not present with us. If we did sincerely believe that we live every moment under God’s eyes, what attitude might we have?” One striking example of this is Moses, who rejected all of the luxuries of the greatest kingdom of his day. Hebrews 11:27 tells us how he was able to do this: “he endured as seeing Him who is not seen.”
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
“If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord” (Romans 14:8). The ambition of a sincere Christian will increasingly be to advance the name of God. This goal will become more central to our very existence as our knowledge of God grows. The chief design of the apostle Paul, whether he lived or died, was always to exalt Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:20). He never let this noble purpose get out of focus. A godly person will think it hardly worth while to live if God is not honored thereby. Thomas Watson spoke eloquently on this theme, “Consider how his name is dishonored in the world. It will be a great comfort to us when we come to die if we have hallowed God’s name in our life. At the hour of death, all your earthly comforts will vanish, and thinking of riches or pleasures you have enjoyed will not give you one ounce of comfort. Ah, but to have a conscience witnessing that you have hallowed God’s name, what a sweet peace and satisfaction this will give! How sweet will death be when they who have spent their lives honouring God, shall receive their reward! If we bring honour to his name, he will honour us. He will esteem us as the cream and flower of creation.”
Monday, June 7, 2010
Looking back upon almost forty years of enjoying a saving relationship with Christ and enduring a very painful chronic illness, I can see more clearly now the sovereign hand of God directing so many things throughout those years. The effects of my illness limited my physical activities, and consequently gave me a lot of precious time in which to read. I knew that I needed continual spiritual encouragement to counter the disheartening effects of living with almost constant pain. I devoured Christian books from authors of differing points of view. Over time, I began to realize that the books which afforded me the greatest encouragement were all from authors who emphasized the sovereignty of God over all of life. I didn’t know why these particular books were so encouraging. I just knew that I had to read them. Whenever I would teach on the things I was learning, people in my church would tell me how encouraging the sermon was. I cherished the volumes that made God real to me in the midst of my affliction. Gradually, I came to understand the reasons why these particular books spoke so powerfully to my heart, and why others did not. In His wonderful mercy, from the very beginning of my Christian pilgrimage, the Lord had directed my attention to the writings of the English Puritans of the 17th century. These teachers, and others like them—Charles Hodge, A.W. Pink, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Jonathan Edwards, B. B. Warfield, Charles. H. Spurgeon—all placed a strong emphasis on God’s sovereignty. Basically, they were all very God-centered. That is what made them so encouraging to read. The emphasis in their sermons and writings did not end with me and all the things I needed to do as a Christian, but with the grace and mercy of a loving God, available to meet my every need. What a world of difference that makes!
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Thomas Watson’s explanation of what it means that the Lord is our God can hardly be improved upon: “What is implied in God being our God? It is comprehensive of all good things. He is our strong tower, our fountain of living water, and our salvation. It implies the sweetest of relations. He is our Father who tenderly cares for us, and never dies. God says ‘You are mine’, and the soul answers; ‘Lord, I am yours; all I have is yours!’ Consider the misery of those without God as their Father.” Watson goes on to describe how sinners get by in life while their health and wealth lasts. But when every worldly crutch is gone, their hearts sink into a hopeless state. Watson concludes by returning to the joys of the godly, “What a privilege to have God as our God! What a happy condition when nothing can hurt you! In his wisdom, he is ours to teach us, his power shall support us, and his mercy shall save us. God is an infinite ocean of blessedness, and there is enough strength in him to fill us. The world gives trouble in peace, but God gives peace in trouble.”
Saturday, June 5, 2010
There is one more very important lesson we can learn from the subject of yesterday’s meditation. I think Richard Sibbes’ analysis of discouragement, and how the sorrow we experience in afflictions can be either a curse or a blessing, is simply brilliant! Of course, spiritual brilliance in the handling of Scripture is par for the course with Puritans of Sibbes’ caliber. The writings and sermons of the Puritans are as good as it gets! Now, back to Sibbes’ particular brilliant point for today. In Psalm 43, David is expressing the discouragement and sorrow he is experiencing in his afflictions. Every believer goes through the same feelings at various times. Any properly instructed Christian will agree with Sibbes when he says that being too discouraged in afflictions is sinful. But how much is too much? How can a Christian know when the amount of sorrow turns from a normal human reaction to a sinful one? Sibbes’ reply to this question reveals the spiritual genius that marks so many Puritan teachers: “The soul is cast down too much when our sorrow does not bring us to God, but away from God.” That is it exactly. The person who blames God for the affliction will drift away from the Lord in bitterness and unbelief. Hebrews 3:12 warns us about “an evil, unbelieving heart” that falls away from God. But those who look to God for comfort in their sorrow will find Him an ever present source of help in troubles.