As I was riding my bicycle this morning, I thought about all of the beautiful houses in the neighborhood that had been built since the 1960s. America has experienced sixty years of unbroken prosperity, such as the world has never seen. Americans have come to believe that prosperity is their birthright, that they are entitled to it as a matter of course. The great wealth of this country is the result of several centuries of hard work by people who believed in the “Protestant Work Ethic.” Previous generations labored long and hard, in the belief that God would prosper their honest toil. That work ethic has now been lost. It has been replaced by a generation of Americans who believe they are entitled to prosperity, regardless of how they live. The work ethic that was the foundation of our nation’s wealth is a thing of the past, and the present genearation is squandering the moral and economic legacy it inherited. The truly sad thing is that our nation no longer has the moral strength to make the hard choices that could reverse this decline.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
In Psalm 119 we find certain statements repeated again and again. This repetition indicates the importance of those statements. Verse 162 is one of many that express David’s great joy over God’s word and how highly he valued it. I have mentioned this subject often because it is so important. Let me quote a few of Thomas Manton’s comments on this subject: “This joy, which is the mark of a sound believer, is delighting to know, believe, and obey God’s word.” “Those who are most observant of God’s will, and careful to follow it, have the greatest contentment in their souls.” Manton maintains that the encouragement and comfort that result from being employed in performing God’s commands, are a continual feast to the Christian. Compared to this, all other pleasures are nothing. It is a sweet thing know God’s word and be brought under the power of it. The reason God’s word can do this, affirms Manton, is that “the godly find glad tidings in the word, suitable to their soul’s necessities. Here is enough to content them. The word of God affords such comforts, such matter of rejoicing, as cannot be paralleled. Oh! what inestimable treasure do we find in the word of God!” True Christians have tasted God’s love in the doctrines and promises of the gospel. This sweetness gives the believer such assurance, that no arguments can stand against it.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
From God’s word we learn what a treasure truth is, and what a high value we should put upon it. It teaches us that apart from true biblical religion there is no salvation. Thomas Manton had given us one of the most conclusive proofs of this. He argued that no other teaching or religion can provide salvation because there is no true holiness in anything but biblical Christianity. Hebrews 12:14 teaches that without holiness no one will see the Lord. Only the truth revealed in Scripture can make us holy. Manton maintained that those who are ignorant of biblical truth cannot have a good heart. Those who reject the gospel’s saving truth will not find salvation anywhere else. When people ignore or reject God’s word, they dam up the fountain of holiness. God works holiness in us in only one way. I think this is a very powerful line of argument. People may outwardly live a moral life, but only faith in the saving truth of the gospel can give them a clean heart. The gospel will be given its true value only when it is seen as uniquely necessary for our eternal welfare.
Friday, August 27, 2010
In John 17:17 Jesus asked the Father to “Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth.” What is called “truth” in Romans 1:18 is “that which is known about God” in the next verse. Therefore, what God’s word reveals about Him is what sanctifies the Christian. To be sanctified is to be set apart from sin for God. Knowledge of God does this. This is the knowledge that is necessary to salvation. God’s word alone provides us this knowledge. We really know the truth of His word and are able to communicate it effectively to others, only when it sanctifies us. We must experience the transforming power of truth to know it. Thomas Manton’s thoughts on this are very helpful: “God’s way of working is by light; in giving us this saving knowledge, He begins with the understanding. He deals with us as rational creatures. Therefore He not only teaches, but draws and sancifies the heart by enlightening the mind. As the rising sun dispels darkness, saving light dispels ignorance and lusts. This is the way spiritual life begins. If our minds are enlightened, our hearts will embrace the ways of God.” I will continues with this tomorrow.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
God knows the best way to answer our prayers, and He also knows the best time to answer them. If our Lord delays to answer us, it is for a good reason. Why does He delay at times? The Puritan Richard Sibbes gave a thoughtful answer to that question: “There are several reasons why the Lord delays to help us. (1.) That our faith and dependence on him might be better tested. Christ refused to answer the Canaanite woman’s plea for help. She had come to Christ because her daughter was possessed by a demon. The Lord put her off that he might display her faith to us forever (Matthew 15:28). (2.) Sometimes he delays in order to humble us. ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (James 4:6). Until we are nothing in our own eyes, God delays to help us. The Lord took away Paul’s hope of life (2 Corinthians 1:9), that he might know the only place to find help and comfort in all his extremities. (3.) God delays and puts off our requests to enhance the value of the gift. We highly prize that which costs us dear. God delays his gifts that we may know their true price.”
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Many times I have talked with Christians over the place of our emotions in our spiritual lives. Often I have heard someone describe the spiritual struggles of a Christian this way, “They are just going on their emotions. Their feelings rule them, not God’s word.” They are encouraged to “obey the Bible, no matter how you feel.” We must obey the Lord even though our fallen nature is resistant. The fallen nature will always be there. But new desires will be there too. If nourished and strengthened these desires will transform us. Christians who never develop a fervent passion for God’s word will never consistently read it. Christian obedience is not about ignoring our affections, it is a matter of seeing our desires changed! That is the heart of Christian spirituality. So often in the Psalms David expresses his great love for God’s word! The first and greatest commandment is to love God. The Bible tells us that the beginning of wisdom is to fear God. Love and fear are affections. As Jonathan Edwards wrote, religious affections are the heart of our relationship with God. One popular Evangelical author acknowledges that we must read our Bibles, even though we all know we would rather watch a movie. I know no such thing! I will go along with David, who often said that God’s word was his delight.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Strong affections cannot be hidden. Whatever desires are prominent in our hearts, either good or evil, they will be revealed by the effects they produce. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). If we have genuine and fervent longings for spiritual things, we will earnestly seek them and labor to get them. To have strong desires for the things of God we must value them highly. We cannot care deeply for something or someone if have no knowledge of them. The way to increase our affections for spiritual things is to increase our knowledge of them. God has given us that knowledge in His word for that very purpose. We are all acquainted with the passion people display over various things in the world. If we valued spiritual things in proportion to their true value, our desire for those things would dwarf our desire for anything the world can offer us. Growing as a Christian involves the gradual transformation of our passions—away from the world and toward Christ.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Of all the affections God has endowed us with, desires are the most earnest and vigorous. Thomas Manton said of them, “Desire does all that is done in the world; for it lifts up the soul to action, that we may possess the things we desire. I desire it, and therefore I labor for it. Therefore the main thing that God craves from us is our desires.” “My son, give me your heart” Proverbs 23:26. Of all desires, those which draw our hearts to love and seek God and spiritual things should have the greatest influence in our lives; we should carefully nourish them. The most noble objects for our desires will be found in God’s word. Our affections need to be guided to right objects, and restrained from harmful ones. The importance of this for our spiritual lives cannot be overstated. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” Proverbs 4:23. We speak and act out of what fills our hearts.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
“I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments” Psalm 119:131. This verse expresses in a picturesque way David’s great affection for God’s word. The soul’s passionate desire for God’s word is like the body’s thirst for water. He longed for all of the encouragement and blessings that come from the knowledge of God. God has endowed us with various affections so that we can know Him, serve Him, and enjoy Him. He has given us the ability to love, fear, and admire HIm, along with other affections that make it possible for us to experience a full and satisfying relationship with Him. Thomas Manton’s explanation of the purpose of our affections is brilliant: The soul never works better than in the strength of some eminent affection. In all things that we take in hand, we do so weakly. while we have a listless will; but when the force of a strong affection is upon us, the soul is carried along strongly; for affections are the forcible and vigorous motions of the will. Were it not for affections, our nature would be sluggish and idle. The stronger our affections, the better we act.” The more we love something, the harder we will work for it. The purpose of biblical religion is to set our affections on the right objects. The first and greatest commandment is that we love God with all our heart, and soul, and strength. The foundation of our faith is setting our affections on God. The capacity to love enables us to cling to Him passionately. God’s grace works in our hearts to make that a reality. More of Manton’s thoughts on this tomorrow
Friday, August 20, 2010
“I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13. This verse expresses what the glorious power of the Holy Spirit can do in a strong Christian. It is a pattern for all Christians. Paul says that he is able to do all that God requires of him because God gives him strength. The apostle has been given the power to be content in every circumstance. This is one of the great things that makes Christianity unique. Biblical religion is not a matter of words only, but of power. It makes a person able to do God’s will. What Paul has learned is revealed by what he can now do, by his new ability. If this is what the Holy Spirit can teach us, if this is what He can give us, we should evaluate our profession of faith by this. Are we learning to display the fruits of the Spirit in every situation? Are we able to handle every condition we face in life in a way that glorifies God? God’s grace is able to carry believers above everything. Every genuine Christian will display a degree of freedom from the world’s influences, and will be learning to live more and more in the power of the Holy Spirit. What can you do “through Him who strengthens” you?
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
“I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13.
The “all things” referred to here by Paul is being content in all conditions, whether in abundance or in adversity. Christians will readily acknowledge their need of God’s grace to be cheerful and content in affliction. But we must realize that divine aid is also necessary in abundance; in fact it is equally necessary in every condition a Christian will face in life. Prosperity presents us with different temptations than suffering does, but we are equally in need of grace in both. Paul says that this is something that must be learned. Every Christian needs God’s help to handle abundance in a righteous way, just as much as His grace is needed in suffering. The wonder of the Christian religion is that God’s grace is available to us and is sufficient to meet our every need! What a fabulous blessing it is, in all the uncertainties of the world, to have a certain rule to go by, which carries us above the every uncertainty! Only Christians have this. A Christian is not at the mercy of the world; our contentment is not dependent on anything in the world.
Monday, August 16, 2010
“Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them” (Psalm 119:129). Why are some Christians very sluggish when it comes to reading the Bible, while others have a burning desire to fill their minds with its truth? The usual reason (excuse) given for neglecting Scripture is a lack of time. But the actual reason is that they do not see anything wonderful or special in Scripture. Christians will fervently desire to read, obey, and interact with God’s word only if they see it as something wonderful. We must view God’s word as something filled with wonders, with things that are above the ordinary. We must be convinced that the effects of regularly nourishing our faith on God’s word will be worth every moment dedicated to this sacred study.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23). In His love, God gives us nothing but what is good. We cannot deny that some things He sovereignly brings into our lives appear anything but good to us; but we also cannot deny that the Bible promises exactly that to believers. The great privilege of those whom Christ loves is that nothing shall befall them, but what shall prove good for them. The Puritan David Clarkson said this concerning God’s loving providence over the lives of His people: “They may conclude, in whatever condition they are in, it is best for them, and if it had not been so, they would never have been brought into it; and whenever it shall cease to be so, they shall be removed out it.” Now that is quite a statement! Yet in various ways, by promises and commands, God’s word justifies that conclusion. Clarkson continued, “This is the sweetest privilege, yet the most difficult to believe at all times, since there is great opposition to it by our sense and reason.” His concluding remark just took my breath away! “Take a survey of heaven and earth, and all things therein,” Clarkson said, “and whatever on sure grounds appears good, ask for it confidently from Christ, for his love will not deny it.”
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Thank you all for your prayers. Heavy rain predicted for our area passed to the south of Ames, narrowly averting continued flooding. I just read a wonderful sermon by John Flavel on the glory of Christ and the immense encouragement believers can receive by dwelling on His glory. Flavel said, “The study of Jesus Christ is the most noble subject that ever a soul spent itself upon. Studying Christ stamps a heavenly glory upon the contemplating soul. How little do we know of Christ, in comparison with what we might have known! O how much time is spent in other studies and worldly employments; but how little in the search and study of Jesus Christ! O then, give yourself and your strength to this most sweet study.”
Monday, August 9, 2010
J. I. Packer wrote that the Puritans can be a valuable guide to us concerning the content of the gospel. The Puritans understood that knowledge of God is fundamental to a sound conversion. “This is important,” wrote Packer, “in that it challenges our modern idea that preaching ‘gospel sermons’ means just harping on a few great truths—
guilt, and atonement, and forgiveness—set virtually in a theological vacuum. The Puritan view was that preaching ‘gospel sermons’ means teaching the whole Christian system of truth—the character of God, the plan of salvation. Preach less and the gospel will not be properly grasped.” The Puritans held that knowledge of sin and salvation presupposes some knowledge of the creation; no one can understand what sin is until they have learned what God is. The Puritans would tell us that we need to lay the same foundation as Paul did at Athens. To the Puritans, a vital part of the gospel message was convincing people of their sin, and opening their eyes to see sin in relation to God. That means giving them an understanding that He will be their judge. They held that the index of the soiundness of a person’s faith in Christ is the genuineness of the self-despair from which it springs. They give us much to consider.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
J. I. Packer contends that we can learn a great deal from the Puritan viewpoint of preaching of the gospel. Just as the Puritan view of the Christian life differs substantially from that of our day, so does their view of how a person becomes a Christian. The Puritan approach to evangelism was controlled by the knowledge that fallen, sinful people cannot turn to God or exercise faith by their own strength. Here is the crucial difference; much of evangelism today is carried on in the belief that every sinner has the ability to trust God anytime they choose to do so. Of paramount importance is securing the sinner’s “decision” by any means. Puritan preaching was grounded on the conviction that conversion is a gracious sovereign work of divine power. The implications of this are tremendous. Foremost is the belief that the methods of modern evangelism, such as psychological pressure to make a decision, have a natural tendency to produce a crop of false converts. The Puritans would seek simply to be faithful in proclaiming the gospel, leaving it to God’s Spirit to draw men to faith. They would never accept the idea that preaching to modern hearers about law and sin is no longer valid or useful. They understood that no one will see their need of the Savior if they do not know about God’s law and judgment. There is so much more to say on this subject.
Friday, August 6, 2010
“Your lovingkindness is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). I just had to break in on our look at what we can learn from the Puritans to share with you the thoughts I had while reading Thomas Manton this morning. The favor of God is the greatest blessing. A person may be weary of life itself, but never of the love of God! Many have complained of life as a burden, and wished for the day of death; but none complain of the love of God. A Christian values happiness by God’s friendship, not by worldly prosperity. Misery to the child of God is His absence. Manton wrote: “A sense of God’s love in Christ is the sweetest thing that ever we felt, and is able to sweeten the bitterest cup that ever believer drank of.”
Thursday, August 5, 2010
The second area of Puritan life we can learn much from is the quality of their spiritual experience, and that means their experience with God’s word. J. I. Packer wrote: “In the Puritans’ communion with God, as Jesus Christ was central, so Holy Scripture was supreme. Puritan meditation on Scripture was modeled on the Puritan sermon; in meditation the Puritan would seek to search and challenge his heart, stir his affections to hate sin and love righteousness and encourage himself with God’s promises, just as Puritan preachers would do from the pulpit.” The Puritans had an unsurpassed reverence for the Bible, and they conscientiously tried to apply all that they read. Many passages of Scripture, eminently so in the Psalms, describe the Christian’s love for and delight in God’s word. Puritan literature echoes this emphasis and rings with a profound joy over God’s word. They found the disciplined self-examination required by that word to be a source of spiritual strength and joy. Much of Christianity in our day has been so influenced by psychology that such self-examination is regarded as harmful introspection. The Puritans were true to scripture and balanced in their approach to this. At all costs, we must recapture the fervent love for God’s word that characterized the Puritans! In this love, they are the gold standard.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
J. I. Packer, in his book on the Puritan vision of the Christian life, A Quest for Godliness, argues that we today can learn a great deal from the Puritans. Packer writes about the lasting value of their teaching: “The authority is still felt, and the mature wisdom still remains breathtaking, as all modern Puritan-readers soon discover for themselves. Through the legacy of this literature the Puritans can help us today towards the maturity that they knew, and that we need.” Dr. Packer then outlines several specific ways they can do this. First, the Puritans saw all of life in relation to God. Every part of life was integrated in the single purpose of glorifying Him. The Puritans saw no distinction between sacred and secular; all creation was sacred, and all activities needed to be sanctified, that is, done for the God’s glory. They viewed time as very precious and planned their lives with care. “We today,” contends Packer, “who tend to live unplanned lives at random in a series of non-communicating compartments and who hence feel swamped and distracted most of the time, could learn much from the Puritans at this point.” I can say that I have been impressed virtually every day with the wisdom that I meet with in the pages of Puritan books, and can testify with Dr. Packer that often their understanding is indeed nothing short of breathtaking! Life is too short not to learn from the best.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I will mention one final way in which the Puritans had a profound influence in shaping J. I. Packer’s life. Packer wrote: “The Puritans made me aware that all theology is also spirituality, in the sense that it has an influence, good or bad, positive or negative, on our relationship with God. If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if the doctrines a Christian professes to believe do not encourage the commitment of faith, they reinforce unbelief.” The Puritans were masters at putting every doctrine to its proper use. In the hands of the Puritans, theology is always teaching for Christian living. It is never detached from the reality of daily life. Packer eloquently acknowledges the debt he owes the Puritans: “By writing as they do, no less than what they do, these authors fill their books with God for me, making me want him more as they bring him closer.” I wholeheartedly concur!
Monday, August 2, 2010
Another way J. I. Packer’s view of Christianity was shaped by Puritan thought has to do with the shortness of this life. This is certainly emphasized often in Scripture, and it was the subject of many sermons by Jonathan Edwards. Packer wrote: “The Puritans have taught me to see and feel the transitoriness of this life, to think of it, with all its richness, as the school where we are prepared for heaven, and to regard readiness to die as the first step in learning to live. The Puritans lived in a world in which more than half the adult population died young and more than half the children born died in infancy. They would have been lost had they not kept their eyes on heaven. The Puritans’ awareness that we are just one step from eternity gave them a deep seriousness, calm yet passionate, with regard to the business of living that Christians in today’s opulent, earthbound Western world rarely manage to match. Few of us, I think, live daily on the edge of eternity in the conscious way that the Puritans did.”
Sunday, August 1, 2010
The third way the Puritans had a decisive effect on J. I. Packer was through Richard Baxter. Concerning Baxter’s influence on him, Packer wrote: “He convinced me that regular discursive meditation, in which you ‘imitate the most powerful preacher you ever heard’ in applying spiritual truth to yourself, as well as turning the truth into praise, is a vital discipline for spiritual health. This was the unanimous Puritan view, and it is now mine too.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones also emphasized the benefits that come from “preaching to our own souls.” We see examples of this all throughout the Psalms. David often questioned and exhorted his own soul, carrying on dialogues with himself such as found in Psalm 42:5: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.”
The fourth way Packer was influenced by the Puritans was also through Richard Baxter’s writings. His book The Reformed Pastor shaped Packer’s vision of “the ordained minister’s pastoral office.” He wrote that the words of Baxter’s book, “work their way into your heart and conscience, and will not be dislodged. My sense of being called to preach the gospel, teach the Bible, and shepherd souls was learned through my study of Baxter’s own ministry and his Reformed Pastor.”