December 31, 2009

Christopher Love - Beheaded at the age of 33

Love was arrested on May 14, 1652, by Oliver Cromwell’s forces for alleged involvement with the Presbyterians of Scotland who were raising money for the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. Love denied the charge, but he was tried and convicted of treason for what has become known as “Love’s plot.” Love’s wife and numerous friends, including several prominent ministers in London, interceded on his behalf, but to no avail. Ardent republican Independents were determined to destroy him. Love was beheaded on Tower Hill, London, on August 22, 1651, at the age of thirtythree.

In a moving address from the scaffold, Love answered the charges made against him and urged citizens of London to heed and love their godly ministers. Sheriff Tichburn granted him permission to pray. He prayed:

Most Glorious and eternal Majesty, Thou art righteous and holy in all Thou dost to the sons of men, though Thou hast suffered men to condemn Thy servant, Thy servant will not condemn Thee. He justifies Thee though Thou cuttest him off in the midst of his days and in the midst of his ministry, blessing Thy glorious name, that though he be taken away from the land of the living, yet he is not blotted out of the Book of the Living.... O Thou blessed God, whom Thy creature hath served, who hath made Thee his hope and his confidence from his youth, forsake him not now while he is drawing near to Thee. Now he is in the valley of the shadow of death; Lord, be Thou life to him. Smile Thou upon him while men frown upon him. Lord, Thou hast settled this persuasion in his heart that as soon as ever the blow is given to divide his head from his body he shall be united to his Head in heaven. Blessed be God that Thy servant dies in these hopes.

We entreat Thee, O Lord, think upon Thy poor churches. O that England might live in Thy sight! And O that London might be a faithful city to Thee! That righteousness might be among them, that peace and plenty might be within her walls and prosperity within their habitations. Lord, heal the breaches of these nations; make England and Scotland as one staff in the Lord’s hand, that Ephraim may not envy Judah, nor Judah vex Ephraim, but that both may fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines. O that men of the Protestant religion, engaged in the same cause and covenant, might not delight to spill each other’s blood, but might engage against the common adversaries of our religion and liberty! God, show mercy to all that fear Thee. The Lord think upon our covenant-keeping brethren of the Kingdom of Scotland; keep them faithful to Thee, and let not them that have invaded them overspread their whole land. Prevent the shedding of more Christian blood if it seems good in Thine eyes.

After the public prayer, Love thanked the sheriff, and said, “I go from a block to the bosom of my Savior.” Love called for the executioner and tipped him to encourage a beheading with one blow. He fell on his knees and said, “I lie down with a world of comfort as if I were to lie down in my bed. My bed is but a short sleep, and this death is a long sleep where I shall rest in Abraham’s bosom and in the embraces of the Lord Jesus.” His last words, just before he put his head on theblock, were, “Blessed be God for Jesus Christ.”

A Farewell Letter to his wife:

My most gracious Beloved,

I am now going from a prison to a palace: I have finished my work, and am now going to receive my wages. I am going to heaven, where are two of my children, and leaving you on earth, where there are three of my babes. These two above, need not my care; but the three below need thine. It comforts me to think, two of my children are in the bosom of Abraham, and three of them will be in the arms and care of such a tender and godly mother. I know you are a woman of sorrowful spirit, yet be comforted, though you sorrows be great for you husband going out of the world, yet your pains shall be the less in bringing your child into the world; you shall be a joyful mother, though you be a sad widow; God hath many mercies in store for you; the prayer of a dying husband for you, will not be lost. To my shame I speak it, I never prayed for you at liberty, as I have done in prison. I can write much, but I have few practical counsels to leave with you, viz.,

1. Keep under a sound, orthodox, soul searching ministry. Oh! There are many deceivers gone out into the world, but Christ’s sheep know His voice, and a stranger they will not follow. Attend any minister that teacheth the way of God in truth; and follow Solomon’s advice, Proverbs 19:27.

2. Bring up your children in the knowledge and admonition of the Lord. The mother ought to be a teacher in the father’s absence, Proverbs 31:1, “The words that his mother taught him…” And Timothy was instructed by his grandmother, 1 Timothy 1:5.


3. Pray in your family daily, that yours may be in the number of the families who call upon God.

4. Labor for a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God, is of great price, 1 Peter 3:4.

5. Pour not on the comforts you want, but upon the mercies you have. Look rather at God’s ending in afflicting, than to the measure and degree of your affliction.


6. Labor to clear up your evidence for heaven when God takes from you the comfort of earth, so that as your sufferings do abound, your consolation in Christ may abound much more, 2 Corinthians 1:5. Though it be good to maintain a holy jealously of heart, yet it is still ill of you to cherish fears and doubts touching the truth of your graces. If ever I had confidence touching the grace of another, I have confidence of grace in you; as Peter said of Silvanus, I am persuaded that this is the grace of God wherein ye stand, 1 Peter 5:12.


7. O, my dear soul wherefore dost thou doubt, who heart has been laid upright, whose walking has been holy, &c. I could venture my soul this day in they soul’s stead, such a confidence I have in you.

8. When you find your heart secure, presumptuous and proud, then pour upon corruption more than grace: then look upon your grace without infirmities.

9. Study the covenant of grace, and merits of Christ, and be troubled if you can; you are interested in such a covenant that accepts purposes for performances, desires for deeds, sincerity for perfection, the righteousness of another, viz., that of Jesus Christ, as it were your own alone. Oh! My love! Rest thou in the love of God, the bosom of Christ.

10. Swallow up your will in the will of God. It is a bitter cup we are to drink, but it is the cup of our Father which has been put into our hands. When Paul was to suffer at Jerusalem, the Christians said, “The will of the Lord be done!” Oh! Say ye so, when I go to the Tower-Hill, “The will of the Lord be done!”

11. Rejoice in my joy. To mourn for me inordinately argues, that you either envy or suspect my happiness. The joy of the Lord is my strength; Oh! Let it be yours also! Dear wife, farewell: I will call thee wife no more: I shall see thy face no more: yet I am not much troubled, for now I am going to meet the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus, to whom I shall be eternally married.
12. Refuse not to marry, when God offers you a fair opportunity; but be sure you marry in the Lord; and one of a good disposition, that he may not grieve you, but give you a comfortable livelihood in the world.


Farewell dear love, and again I say farewell. The Lord Jesus be with your spirit, the Maker of heaven and earth be a husband to you; and the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ be a father to your children – so prays your dying,

Your most affectionate friend till death,
Christopher Love
The day of my glorification.
From the Tower of London, August 22, 1651

December 30, 2009

John Piper?

As I continue in my reading of a treatise on "self-denial", I can't help thinking, "This sounds like John Piper" and yet it was written almost 400 years ago by a "stuffy old Puritan". The truth is the truth and will always sound the same. As Piper himself states, "I am not an innovator. In fact, I am very content with the simple role of blowing the boredom out of people's brains with long-forgotten, old-fashioned, faithful blasts of biblical truth."

"In internal actions, in desires of grace and salvation, our end must not be self. Our motions are then regular, when they are conformed to God, when we have the same end and aim as God hath. Now whatsoever God doth, both within and without, in creation and grace, it is for himself: Prov. 16.4, 'The Lord hath made all things for himself.'

Well then, we should seek grace and glory with the same aim that God gives it: Eph. 1.6, 'He hath accepted us in the Beloved, to the praise of the glory of his grace;' that is God's aim, that grace may be glorified in thy salvation, and in thy acceptance of Jesus Christ. I desire my salvation, but I should not rest there; but this should be my utmost aim, that God may be glorified in my salvation. Some make a question whether or no we may look to the reward; but those that make it, seem to mistake heaven, and they have a carnal notion of the reward of the gospel, and dream of the heaven of the alcaron, and not the heaven of the gospel.

What is the heaven of the gospel, but to enjoy God for ever, in the way of a blessed and daily communion? Now can any man be so irrational to conceive I should not aim at the inheritance of the saints in light, as well as at the vision and fruition of God? This must needs be a high act of grace, to seek my own happiness in the highest way of communion with God. They mistake the nature of the covenant, or the way with which God would deal with men, for God hath invested his precept with a promise, and men would seem wiser than God. We may use the Spirit's motives without sin, as the saints have done.

It was a foolish modesty in Ahaz, when God 'bade him ask,' and 'he would not ask a sign,' Isa. 7.10-12; so it is a foolish modesty, when men will not act their faith upon the reward and the blessed recompenses. Christ used this way: Heb. 12.2, It is said, 'for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, and despised the shame,' etc. And truly all creatures, as they are now made, must needs take this course, look to the glory, that they may discharge the duty and endure the cross.

No created agent can rest merely in the beauty and goodness of his own action. It is it folly to say that virtue is a reward to itself, if you speak of eternal reward; it is God's covenant way. We are not only to regard duty, but the encouragement of duty. But then the reward must not be the chief cause, but the encouragement; the ultimate reason must be the glory of God. When we make the reward the ultimate end of all we desire, this is to respect self above God; the glory of God must be the mainspring of all our desires and hopes.

To look after happiness is an innocent aim of nature, but to glorify God is the aim of grace. Now only to aim at happiness is the mere motion of nature, and of our own will; but it is our duty to have a further aim at the glory of God. By the law of our creation we were bound to aim at the glory of God, though our happiness were not subordinate to it, for 'God made all things for himself.'"

Thomas Manton

December 29, 2009

On Self-Seeking

Our great aim should be to enjoy God; that is the happiness to which we are poised and inclined by the bent of nature. An immortal soul was made for an eternal good; nothing beneath God will satisfy it; and the heaven that we expect is nothing else but the filling up the soul with God.

There is a great controversy in the world between God and self while we are here; but now in heaven the quarrel is taken up, and we and God are united in the nearest and closest way of union and communion, that we may enjoy him forever. Now when we rest in any low enjoyment, and are satisfied with it without God, that is self-seeking; in effect it is self-destroying, self-losing. But the scripture speaks according to our aim and intention; we intend to seek ourselves, though in effect, we do but lose ourselves.

Of this the scripture speaks - 'All seek their own, and not that which is Jesus Christ's.' In effect, neither their own, nor Christ's, but the carnal and corrupt heart of a man counts nothing our own things, but the concernments of the flesh. Of this kind of self-seeking they are guilty that do God's work, but not with God's end; not to enjoy him, but to enjoy the world; they make a mere merchandise of obedience; if they have worldly gain, they are satisfied; for other things they will give God a bill of discharge: Mat. 6.12, 'They have their reward.' They will acquit and release God of all the grant and promise that he hath made of heaven to them in the covenant of grace, if God will give them a patent to enjoy as much of the world as they can, which argues a sordid and base spirit: Rom. 16.18, 'They are such as serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.'

The apostle speaks of false teachers, that did not make God their end, but were wholly bent upon their secular profit; that reprove not for, but soothe men up in, their sin. In their preaching there is no salt, and in their private visits there is a great deal of worldly compliance, and all because they have set up another God, such a base thing as the belly, instead of Christ.

Thomas Manton 1620-1677

"While he was minister at Covent Garden, he was invited to preach before the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen, and the Companies of the city, upon some public occasion, at St Paul's. The doctor chose some difficult subject, in which he had opportunity of displaying his judgment and learning, and appearing to the best advantage. He was heard with the admiration and applause of the more intelligent part of the audience; and was invited to dine with my Lord Mayor, and received public thanks for his performance.

But upon his return in the evening to Covent Garden, a poor man following him, gently plucked him by the sleeve of his gown, and asked him if he were the gentleman who had preached that day before my Lord Mayor. He replied, he was. 'Sir,' says he, 'I came with earnest desires after the word of God, and hopes of getting some good to my soul, but I was greatly disappointed; for I could not understand a great deal of what you said; you were quite above me.' The doctor replied, with tears in his eyes, 'Friend, if I did not give you a sermon, you have given me one; and, by the grace of God, I will never play the fool to preach before my Lord Mayor in such a manner again.'

December 28, 2009

I Think.....

I think that we (the church) should give the world back their holiday.

After studying early church history and the history of "Christmas" in both the church and the world, I have to ask myself, "how can an honest Christian want to be part of any of this man-made and man-centered holiday?".

There is nothing wrong with celebrating the incarnation; but, to mix that celebration with this holiday is more than just compromising, it is hypocrisy. I think we kid ourselves when we think that we can avoid mixing our affections for Christ with our affections for all the other things that this holiday offers; and, that would include family. I think, if we are honest with ourselves, we like the things about Christmas that feed the flesh and we really do not want to give those things up, so we justify it. We love the "feeling" we get; we love the gifts under the tree; we love the idea of family being all together; we love the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Nothing at all wrong with that; but, we are dividing our affections between those things and Christ--probably with Christ taking second or third place on the list, whether we admit it or not.

You want to test my theory? Ask any professing Christian, "How was your Christmas?" and see what they talk about.

NOTE: Please do not comment unless you have done your homework. I don't mean reading websites and other men's points of view. I mean, legitimate, somewhat reliable, historical truths. Unless and until you are familiar with the earliest "church calendars" (prior to 300 a.d.) and have read the historians accounts (who actually lived during each phase of history) and are familiar with how Santa Claus got pushed to the front, etc., I am not interested in how you "feel" about it.

If we want to celebrate the incarnation of our Lord and Savior, can we please pick a different day. I am under no delusions that this will happen during my lifetime, if ever; but, I did feel this was worth expressing outloud.

December 27, 2009

The Lesson of the Imperishable Life!

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." 2 Corinthians 4:16

"For our perishable earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die!" 1 Corinthians 15:53

The lesson of the imperishable life, has a special application to those who suffer from sickness or from any bodily affliction. It will help us to endure physical sufferings quietly and unmurmuringly, if we will remember that it is only the outward man that can be touched and affected by these experiences, and that the inward man may not only be kept unharmed, but may be growing all the while in beauty and strength, being spiritually renewed through pain and suffering.

A poor shoemaker in his dreary little shop in a great city, one day noticed that there was one little place in his dark room, from which he could get a view of green fields, blue skies and faraway hills. He wisely set up his bench at that point, so that at any moment he could lift his eyes from his dull work--and have a glimpse of the great, beautiful world outside. Just so, from the darkest sick-room, and from the midst of the keenest sufferings, there is always a point from which we can see the face of Christ and have a glimpse of the glory of heaven.

If only we will find this place and get this vision--it will make it easy to endure even the greatest suffering."For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down--when we die and leave these bodies--we will have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God Himself and not by human hands.

We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long for the day when we will put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing." 2 Corinthians 5:1-2

Sickness is discouraging and is hard to bear. But we should remember that the doing of the will of God is always the noblest, holiest thing we can do any hour--however hard it may be for us. If we are called to suffer--let us suffer patiently and sweetly. Under all our sharp trials--let us keep the peace of God in our hearts. The outward man may indeed decay--but the inward man will be renewed day by day.

J.R. Miller 1908

December 26, 2009

"Rather Pleased with Our Theory"

We are all somewhat guilty of this, are we not? What a danger it is to 1) not be aware of it; and, 2) not heed this warning when we approach the Word of God:

There can be no doubt at all that the commonest cause [of misinterpreting the Bible] is our tendency to approach the Bible with a theory. We go to our Bibles with this theory, and everything we read is controlled by it ... There is a sense in which it is true to say that you can prove anything you like from the Bible. That is how heresies have arisen. The heretics were never dishonest men; they were mistaken men ... they have been some of the most sincere men that the Church has ever known. What was the matter with them? Their trouble was this; they evolved a theory and they were rather pleased with it; then they went back with this theory to the Bible, and they seemed to find it everywhere ... There is nothing so dangerous as to come to the Bible with a theory, with preconceived ideas, with some pet idea of our own ...

Now this particular danger tends chiefly to manifest itself in the matter of the relationship between law and grace ... Some so emphasize the law as to turn the gospel of Jesus Christ with its glorious liberty into nothing but a collection of moral maxims. It is all law to them and there is no grace left. They so talk of the Christian life as something that we have to do in order to make ourselves Christian, that it becomes pure legalism and there is really no grace in it. But let us remember also that it is equally possible so to over-emphasize grace at the expense of law as, again, to have something which is not the gospel of the New Testament.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

December 23, 2009

"Let's Be Sure to Get The Christmas Story Right."

So, where does the Christmas story begin? In the Gospel of John we read: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." [John 1:1-3]

The prologue to John's Gospel points to creation and to Christ, the divine Logos, as the agent of creation. Yet, with language drawn directly from Genesis, John begins his gospel "in the beginning."

In other words, the Christmas story begins before the creation of the world. As we celebrate Christmas and contemplate the Christmas story, we must be very careful not to begin the story in Bethlehem, or even in Nazareth, where Mary was confronted by Gabriel with the message that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

We must not even begin with Moses and the prophets, and with the expectation of the coming Son of Man, the promised Suffering Servant, and the heralded Davidic Messiah. We must begin before the world was created and before humanity was formed, much less fallen.

Why is this so important? Put simply, if we get the Christmas story wrong, we get the Gospel wrong. Told carelessly, the Christmas story sounds like God's "Plan B." In other words, we can make the Christmas story sound like God turning to a new plan, rather than fulfilling all that he had promised. We must be very careful to tell the Christmas story in such a way that we make the gospel clear.

Christmas is not God's second plan. Before he created the world, God determined to save sinners through the blood of his own Son. The grand narrative of the Bible points to this essential truth -- God determined to bring glory to himself through the salvation of a people redeemed and purchased by his own Son, the Christ. Bethlehem and Calvary were essential parts of God's plan from the beginning, before the cosmos was brought into being as the Son obeyed the will of the Father in creation.

The Christmas story does not begin in Bethlehem, but we appropriately look to Bethlehem as the scene of the most decisive event in human history -- the incarnation of the Son of God. Even as we turn our attention to Bethlehem, we must remember that the story of our salvation does not begin there. That story begins in the eternal purpose of God.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." That is where the Christmas story begins, and John takes us right to the essence of what happened in Bethlehem: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." [John 1:14]

Let's be sure to get the Christmas story right, start to finish.

Excerpt from Al Mohler's Blog

December 19, 2009

True Fellowship

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends--if you do what I command. . . . I have called you friends." John 15:13-15

The central fact in every true Christian life, is a personal friendship with Jesus. Men were called to follow Him, to leave all and cleave to Him, to believe on Him, to trust Him, to love Him, to obey Him; and the result was the transformation of their lives into His own beauty!

That which alone makes one a Christian, is being a friend of Jesus. Friendship transforms--we become like those with whom we live in close, intimate relations. Life flows into life, heart and heart are knit together, spirits blend, and the two friends become one. We have but little to give to Christ; yet it is a comfort to know that our friendship really is precious to Him, and gives Him joy--poor and meager though its best may be. But He has infinite blessings to give to us.

The friendship of Jesus includes all other blessings for time and for eternity! If Christ is our friend, all of life is made rich and beautiful to us. "I have called you friends." When King Cyrus gave Artabazus, one of his courtiers, a 'gold cup'; he gave Chrysanthus, his favorite, only a 'kiss'. And Artabazus said to Cyrus, "The gold cup you gave me, was not so precious as the kiss you gave Chrysanthus." No good man's money is ever worth as much as his love.

Certainly the greatest honor of this earth, greater than rank or station or wealth--is the friendship of Jesus Christ. The stories of the friendships of Jesus when He was on the earth, need cause no one to sigh, "I wish that I had lived in those days, when Jesus lived among men--that I might have been His friend too--feeling the warmth of His love, my life enriched by contact with His, and my spirit quickened by His love and grace!" The friendships of Jesus, whose stories we read in the New Testament, are only patterns of friendships into which we may now enter--if we are ready to consecrate our life to Him in faithfulness and love.

(J. R. Miller, "The Friendships of Jesus" 1897)

December 18, 2009

Does a person get fat because they eat chocolate cake?

I am so tired of reading articles written by learned Christian men who constantly and consistently communicate a message of avoidance as the key to biblical Christian living. To communicate a message that teaches Christians that we are to wrap ourselves and everyone else in cotton and put blinders on, in order to live a victorious Christian life, will produce soft, vulnerable, immature, weak Christians. We are to be transformed into the mind of Christ. We are to be made able to stand in the midst of the world, wearing His armor; not hiding or avoiding the battle.

The problem is in our "wanter", not in the things that are all around us and will always be around us as long as we are living in this world. Do you understand the difference?

A person does not get fat because they eat chocolate cake. A person gets fat because they want to eat chocolate cake as often as they can. It is the appetite for it, not the cake itself that makes one fat. The answer in not found in avoiding chocolate cake. Certainly, that may work for awhile; but, as soon as you enter a room full of chocolate cake you will stuff your little face.

However, a person whose appetite has been changed will find that they can be in a room surrounded by chocolate cake and have no appetite for it.

That is victory! Let us be so full of the Word of God; the knowledge God; the love of and for God; His truths; His Spirit; His Wisdom; His beauty; that through these things He changes our inner appetite and we can stand in the midst of things that entice the world and find that God has transformed us so that we have no appetite for them and they have no power over us.

That is the power and reality of true Christianity!

"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. "

December 17, 2009

Not everything is "Neat and Tidy"

Interesting post by D.A. Carson on marriage and wedding ceremonies. I am certain many local pastors would disagree with some of Carson's counsel. As I was reading this post, I reflected upon the woman at the well and wondered: If she was genuinely converted because of her encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, what happened after her conversion in terms of the man she was "with"? I wondered what our Lord would have counseled her to do regarding her current relationship. Let us recall that she had had five previous husbands, and the man she now had was not her husband. Some pastors (including John Piper) would tell her to leave the man she was with and would also tell her that she could never marry again without it being a sin. He certainly would not conduct the marriage ceremony.

Here is Carson's Counsel to a Young Church Planter regarding a difficult situation:

The following post was first an email to a young church planter seeking counsel. He is planting a church in a rough area. Not a few of those who are getting converted have been living together, sometimes with children, sometimes for years, without getting married. His question, then, is what should be said to these couples where one of the pair gets converted, and the other, so far, does not. Should the advice be to get married? Or is that encouraging people to be unequally yoked?
***
The question you’re facing is really about what marriage is, according to the Bible. At various times, I’ve faced the same questions you are now facing. The following are some guidelines. Some of these depend directly on what the Bible says, and some belong in the domain of prudential wisdom that is itself shaped by the Bible.


(1) In the Bible, marriage is more than sexual union between a man and a woman, but it is not less. It also includes public commitment to each other in some public, legal, and culturally acknowledged way that sets this pair apart as husband and wife. In the nomadic culture of Abraham’s day, a part of the ceremony was for the groom to take his bride “into his mother’s tent” (so Isaac) — that was the equivalent of the wedding night. Under the law of Moses, if A and B sleep together, and if it is clearly not rape, the law does not say, “Oh, well, I guess that makes them married.” No, the dowry must still be paid (that was part of the public declaration of marriage under that culture), the two families are involved, etc. So today, if A & B have been living together in sexual intimacy for some time, but without benefit of public attestation (whether in a church or before, say, a justice of the peace), they are not really “married” in the full sense of that term (the sexual union is there, but not the public mutual commitment according to the laws of our day); but equally, if A & B take vows of marriage and then don’t sleep together, this is not fully “marriage” either.

(2) The right thing to do, in both cases, is usually (I can think of one or two difficult exceptions!) to finalize the other part. It is not to try to undo what has already been done! One cannot “undo” this sustained sexual, common-law, union. Thus to demand that a couple tear themselves apart after they’ve been living together for, say, five years, with perhaps a child or two, simply won’t do. What needs to be urged upon them is that they get “married” legally — i.e., publicly, according to the cultural standards of the state.

(3) But, someone asks, suppose that B has become a Christian, and A is still an unbeliever: isn’t going ahead with (the legal part of) marriage in danger of making them unequally yoked together?

In response:

(a) If A and B were fully married (i.e., legally, and in sexual consummation) when they were both unbelievers, and then one of them became a Christian, we would not say that this means they should break up. In fact, in 1 Cor. 7 Paul explicitly tells the Christian partner in such cases not to leave. Indeed, the Christian spouse is to be exemplary in conduct and grace, in the hope of winning over his or her family. The prohibition of being unequally yoked together, when applied to marriage, envisages two people who are not married in any sense. But if one person in a marriage of two pagans becomes a Christian, Paul never applies the “don’t be unequally yoked” command to break up a marriage that is already in place. In fact, as we see in 1 Cor. 7, quite the reverse.

(b) So what’s the difference if A & B are simply living together, but not legally married? The difference, of course, is that they are not fully married as the Bible sees marriage; but they have well and truly started the process! They cannot undo what has been done. To pretend otherwise is foolish. The way ahead is to encourage the completion of the process, not the undoing of what cannot be undone.

(4) In most cases, the unbelieving partner will go along with this plan, if the matter is approached graciously, wisely, humbly. If not, then a new set of questions arises that is not addressed in your email.

(5) You may remember that in my first point, above, I included the options “whether in a church or before, say, a justice of the peace.” When A and B are both Christians, it is normal, in this country, for them to get married in a church, and then we speak of a Christian wedding. But it is important to see that, strictly speaking, marriage (despite the Roman Catholic Church), is not a sacrament to be reserved for Christians. It is a creation ordinance — that is, it is part of the plan of creation itself, something that God has ordained for man/woman pairs everywhere, not something that flows out of the life of the church and that belongs only to Christians.

In France, for example, all marriages must be performed before a civil authority. I see no objection to that; in fact, I think it is a good thing (even if it arose in France for bad reasons), for it clarifies issues. In France, where A and B are Christians, they will get married before the local civil authority, and then have a separate ceremony within the congregation — a ceremony that has no culturally-defined legal standing, but becomes an opportunity to remember how the gift of God that we call marriage is elevated and transformed when put within the framework of the gospel. We learn, for instance, of its typological connection with Christ and the church; we learn that apostasy and adultery have similar roots and condemnations; we learn that God himself dares to speak of the marriage supper of the Lamb; we are reminded of God’s wise provision of marriage, of the place and importance of children reared in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and so on.

In America (and most Anglo-Saxon countries), when a marriage takes place within a congregation (and usually in a church building), the minister officiating is acting partly as a minister of the gospel and partly as a licensed official of the state. That is why it is not legal for anyone who chooses to do so to officiate: there must be some sort of legal standing. Fair enough; I can live with that. But my point in the case you are talking about must not be hung up on whether the legal marriage ceremony takes place in a church building under the jurisdiction of a minister, or under the jurisdiction of a justice of the peace. It will be clear by now that I do not think the minister is sinning if he legally joins A and B together, where they have been living together for some time and where one of the two has now become a Christian. But equally, if the unbeliever in this case is willing to get married, but not within the context of the church, fine — encourage them to get married, and be sure you attend the ceremony and applaud them. There does not have to be a minister in order to be “done” properly. We have no interest in preserving the vestiges of medieval Catholic theology of marriage.

(6) Earlier I mentioned a couple of exceptions. Let me take up only one. Suppose A and B are 19 and 18 years of age respectively. Suppose they have both been sleeping around for some time. Suppose B now becomes a Christian. Is she (or he) now morally obligated to marry the last person she (or he) has been with? I doubt it. What is required is the kind of deep repentance that turns from such sin and pledges celibate living until genuine marriage. Obviously you could then conjure up hard cases where you are uncertain if what you are facing is one of these exceptions or not. If the principles are clear, a great deal of prudential wisdom may nevertheless be required in the application of the principles.

I hope these reflections help. If you need to follow up with me, please do not hesitate to do so.

Warmly,
Don

December 12, 2009

When did you last marvel at the wind?

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” –Isaiah 29:13-14

Years ago a pastor convinced me that one of the most tragic consequences of the fall of mankind into sin is that we cease to wonder. Things that at one time would amaze and astound us can become ordinary.

When, for example, is the last time you were amazed at telephone technology? To think that you can simply press several buttons on a little hand-held device and talk live to a person across the country is actually quite amazing. Or consider e-mail. Like you, I fire out countless e-mails in a week rarely being astounded that my words can reach a person anywhere in the world at the speed of click. This should amaze me. And think about air travel. Isn’t it a wonder that we can board a massive metal container in Los Angeles in the morning and arrive in New York City in time for lunch? But millions of passengers each year ascend and descend with no sense of wonder at all. The technological advances over the last hundred years or so boggle the mind. We should wonder at computers, smart phones, iPods, home theaters and video games. But, sadly, we tend to take these things for granted.

And it’s not just technology we perceive as ordinary. When did you last marvel at the wind? Or the way trees change color in autumn? Or how clouds carry and dump water? Or how grass grows and flowers bloom? Or childbirth? Or old age? Amazing.

This tendency to no longer wonder — to cease to marvel at these incredible aspects of life — reaches its most grotesque form when we cease to wonder at the Gospel.

At Christmas time this is a particular danger. We may become rote or mechanical in our celebration of the season: baby in a manger, three wise men, joy to the world, etc. We go through the motions of our traditions and may in the process actually miss the wonder of it all.
Paradoxically, the church’s tradition of Advent can actually be an antidote to this sinful slip into monotony. For Advent reminds us that we were made for God — to marvel at Him, to be astounded by Him, to wonder at the glory of a God that would condescend to reconcile sinners to Himself. But O how sin has a way of choking the life out of our capacity for wonder! We ought to hate sin for the way it binds us to the mundane.


The lighting of the Advent candles the four Sundays leading up to Christmas reminds us of the Incarnation of Christ, the arrival of the Light of life into this sin-darkened world. Advent recounts for us the astounding promises of God to redeem His people and the fact that all the promises of God are “Yes” in Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20). Advent holds together the marvel of the nativity and the shocking truth of the Atonement. Charles Wesley captured the wonder of this when in 1739 he wrote,

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me?
who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

There is wonder upon wonder in the Christmas story. It is during this season that we proclaim with the church of ages past this most marvelous truth: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). When this reality becomes merely ordinary we miss the heart of Christmas.

In the busyness of the season we must force ourselves to slow down and consider the wonder of the Incarnation, including: our Lord’s miraculous birth, his humble beginnings and earthly ministry culminating in the Cross. We do this to the end that we marvel again at the God who comes to us in the Gospel.

Gospel Coalition Blog - Author Unknown

December 11, 2009

Paul's Definition of a Christian

"No Confidence in the Flesh” a Biblical Reflection by John Hendryx

In chapter 3 of The Epistle to the Philippians Paul gives us one of the best definitions of a Christian available in the Bible. He also contrasts this with the marks of false teachers. Paul begins the chapter by contrasting the wondrous gift of grace against the hopeless pit of sin. He warns the Philippians against false teachers; those, he says, who have confidence in themselves. That is, anyone who adds conditions for salvation, in addition to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul likens to Gentile dogs, those who fail to recognize that salvation is wholly of Jesus. But then in stark contrast to false teaching, Paul defines what a Christian looks like:

"For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh"

He calls true Christians “the real circumcision”, i.e. the true covenant people of God. Then he gives three characteristics of Christians in verse 3. He says true Christians are those who:

1) Worship in the Spirit of God

2) Glory in Christ
3) And put no confidence in the flesh

(1) The first mark of a Christian is that they are those who worship in the Spirit. They are the true circumcision, Paul says. They do not worship in the flesh. The “flesh” here is not referring to our physical bodies, for there is nothing inherently wrong with physicality. God created all matter and our bodies and declared them "good". What Paul is contrasting is human effort or trust in ancestry – trusting in it for our redemption. Worship in the Spirit of God also means that the source of our life and walk in Christ is the Holy Spirit who unites us to Jesus Christ. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.” (John 6:63) Gal 5:25 likewise says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Thus both our conversion and our sanctification can be attributed to the work of Christ, applied by the Spirit.

(2) Christians are also defined as those who “glory in Christ” --- those who have no hope save in Christ Jesus alone. The mark of a Christian here, Paul says, is that they glory in Christ, that is, our weight rests on Him, not anything else. To glory in someone means one will have affection, desire and be driven by that someone. Christ is the one they will cherish above all. No doubt this is a constant struggle even for a regnerate Christian. In fact the more mature we become the more we recognize this.There is a constant heavy pull in the world and our flesh to glory in ourselves or in something else, but the Spirit who lives in us preserves by working in us to will according to His good purpose. We think we can find or justify ourselves in something that is less worthy than the real thing and so we disbelieve God’s promises. But the Holy Spirit uses such instances to discipline us as children to draw us nearer to Himself.

(3) Lastly a true Christian is one who has “no confidence in the flesh”. This means they have utterly dispaired of themselves ... are spiritual bankrupt. When the Holy Spirit does a work of grace in someone, He convicts them of their sin. Not just sins, but convicts of the fact that they are sinners by nature and can do nothing to save themselves. There is no pride in physical decent or in natural abilities. This means one who is brought to faith, repents of both their good works and their evil works. Both are equally worthless to God. False teaching glories in something other than in Christ alone, always pointing to something that we can do; a resumé we can bring before God to curry His favor, not realizing that He has already adopted us as sons.

Not unlike the older brother in the Prodigal son who glories that he has worked for his father all his life, not realizing that God does not first ask us to meet conditions to obtain his love. Those who have confidence in the flesh also tend to believe in Christ PLUS this or that. That Christ saved them, but they must maintain their justification before God.

Glorying in Christ is the antithesis of glorying in the flesh. Pharisees boast before God of what they have done for him. The Christian is one who has empty hands every day and can only thank God for His mercy. He thus relies solely on the righteousness of Christ. It is the new Covenant in Christ’s blood which “reminds God” not to treat us as our sins justly deserve.

True Christians flee to Christ as their only hope. A mark of maturity is that we no longer are constantly worrying about our own spirituality but rather our focus is on Christ and His accomplishments. Those who are glorying the flesh will exhaust themselves because they are contstantly looking to their own resources. The cross is where we find sanctification. Christians flee to Christ as their only hope casting aside all self-confidence and autonomy.

Paul calls everything other than Christ “rubbish”.

Are we trusting in rubbish or in Christ?

A.W. Pink, I believe captures the point in a sentence: “Just as the sinner's despair of any hope from himself is the first prerequisite of a sound conversion, so the loss of all confidence in himself is the first essential in the believer's growth in grace.”

November 29, 2009

As Christmas Day Approaches

On Sunday morning, December 24, 1871, entitled, "Joy Born at Bethlehem," Spurgeon began his sermon with these words:

"We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas.

First, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be sung in Latin or in English; and secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Savior's birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred.

It was not till the middle of the third century that any part of the church celebrated the nativity of our Lord; and it was not till very long after the Western church had set the example, that the Eastern adopted it.

Probably the fact is that the "holy" days were arranged to fit in with the heathen festivals. We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year, of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Savior was born, it is the twenty-fifth of December.

Nevertheless since, the current of men's thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction.

Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men's superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of His dear Son."

November 24, 2009

Two Dangerous Extremes

In a sermon based on Genesis 5:24 (‘And Enoch walked with God’) Whitefield, in seeking to explain how the child of God receives guidance, wrote the following:

‘In order to walk closely with God, his children must not only watch the motions of God’s providence without them, but the motions also of his blessed Spirit in their hearts.
‘As many as are the sons of God, are led by the Spirit of God’ (Romans 8:14), and give up themselves to be guided by the Holy Ghost, as a little child gives its hand to be led by a nurse or parent.


‘It is no doubt in this sense that we are to be converted, and become like little children. And though it is the quintessence of enthusiasm, to pretend to be guided by the Spirit without the written word; yet it is every Christian’s bounden duty to be guided by the Spirit in conjunction with the written word of God.

Led by the Spirit and guided by the Word‘Watch, therefore, I pray you, O believers, the motions of God’s blessed Spirit in your souls, and always try the suggestions or impressions that you may at any time feel, by the unerring rule of God’s most holy word: and if they are not found to be agreeable to that, reject them as diabolical and delusive.

By observing this caution, you will steer a middle course between the two dangerous extremes many of this generation are in danger of running into; I mean, enthusiasm on the one hand, and…downright infidelity on the other.’

George Whitefield, Walking with God, quoted by Iain Murray in Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth, p.248. The whole sermon is available here

November 19, 2009

Is your Anger Ugly?

"Years ago I was one of five thousand people listening to a panel discussion at a Christian conference. An editor of a conservative political-theological magazine was expressing his frustration with many of the political left-wingers, and doing so in an unnecessarily sarcastic and condescending way. When he finished, John Piper (another speaker on the panel) turned to him, and with utmost seriousness and precision, he said, “For a long time I have appreciated your ministry. You are an astute observer of our culture. I read your magazine every month. It’s always insightful. But there’s one thing missing from your ministry.”

The editor looked at Dr. Piper and asked what it was.

“Tears,” Piper replied.

The world so often senses our anger—but do they ever sense our grief? They think we’re angry simply because we’re not getting our way, but I’m afraid they don’t feel our sorrow over sin’s negative, dehumanizing effects. We fail to communicate our anger in a way that says, “You were made for so much more than this.” They assume our anger is only because we’re not getting what we want. No wonder they tune us out."

Tullian Tchividjian

November 17, 2009

A Whore's Forehead


Choice excerpts from Thomas Brooks
"THE PRIVY KEY OF HEAVEN"
(A Discourse of Closet Prayer, published during the awful plague of London in 1665)

"You have a whore's forehead, you refuse to be ashamed!" Jeremiah 3:3

"Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all! They do not even know how to blush!" Jeremiah 6:15


They had sinned away shame, instead of being ashamed ofsin. Continuance in sin had quite banished all sense of sin and all shame for sin; so that they would not allow nature to draw her veil of blushing before their great abominations. How applicable these scriptures are to the present time, I will leave the prudent reader to judge.

But what does the prophet do, now that they were as bold in sin, and as shameless as so many harlots; now that they were grown up to that height of sin and wickedness; now that they were above all shame and blushing; now that they were grown so proud, so hardened, so obstinate, so rebellious, so bent on self-destruction—that no mercies could melt them or allure them, nor any threatenings or judgments could in any way terrify them or stop them?

The prophet goes into a corner, he retires into the most secret places, and there he weeps bitterly; there he weeps as if he were resolved to drown himself in his own tears. "I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears." Jeremiah 13:17In the times wherein we live, hell seems to be broken loose, and men turned into incarnate devils! Soul-damning wickednesses walk up and down the streets with a whore's forehead, without the least check or restraint.

Ah...what pride, luxury, lasciviousness, licentiousness, wantonness, drunkenness, cruelties, injustice, oppressions, fornications, adulteries, falsehoods, hypocrisies, atheisms, horrid blasphemies, and hellish impieties—are now to be found rampant in the midst of you!

...How are the Scriptures rejected, God derided, and wickedness tolerated! And what is the voice of all these crying abominations—but every Christian to his closet—every Christian to his closet—and there weep, with weeping Jeremiah, bitterly—for all these great abominations whereby God is dishonored openly.

Oh weep in secret for their sins—who openly glory in their sins, which should be their greatest shame. Oh blush in secret for those who are past all blushing for their sins; for who knows, but that the whole land may fare the better for the sakes of a few, whoare mourners in secret?

November 16, 2009

The Sweet Kisses


Choice excerpts from Thomas Brooks
"THE PRIVY KEY OF HEAVEN"
(A Discourse of Closet Prayer, published during the awful plague of London in 1665)

When a Christian is in a wilderness, which is a very solitary place, then God delights to speak friendly and comfortably to him: Hosea 2:14, "Behold, I willallure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak friendly or comfortably to her," or as the Hebrew has it, "I will speak to her heart." "When I have her alone," says God, "in a solitary wilderness, I will speak such things to her heart, as shall exceedingly cheer her, and comfort her, and even make her heart leap and dance within her."

Certainly the soul usually enjoys most communion with God in secret. A husband imparts his mind most freely and fully to his wife when she is alone; and so does Christ to the believing soul.

Oh . . . the secret kisses, the secret embraces, the secret visits, the secret whispers, the secret cheerings, the secret sealings, the secret discoveries,which God gives to His people when in secret prayer.

November 15, 2009

All other ground is sinking sand...

I woke up this morning to be greeted by an email update from monergism.com which contained a most excellent article on the doctrines of grace by a man named Mark Webb. The article concludes with the following paragraphs:

Face it: Most folks out there on the street REALLY don't think they are going to Hell, however much they may joke or make light of it. Ninety-nine out of a hundred (An understatement if there ever was one!) don't lie asleep at night in agony of soul fearing that they are about to drop into Hell. And they have a REASON why they are sure such a thing will not happen to them, no matter how faulty and false that reason might be. One man may have a MORAL reason: He's not a bad fellow, he's a good husband and father, he pays his taxes, or, as a rancher in Wyoming once told me, "I've never been arrested!" Another man may have a RELIGIOUS reason: He's been baptized, he goes to church, he prays, reads his Bible, and, in general, does what good religious folks do. Make no mistake about it, they ALL have a reason. Further, they TRUST in that reason—they have "faith"—they've banked the hope of their soul upon that reason. It's NOT that they've no faith, it's rather that their faith rests upon the wrong foundation.

These doctrines confront such a person with a very simple question: Is the reason that you believe you're going to miss Hell and make Heaven based upon something YOU'VE done, or something GOD'S done? Is your hope based upon something you've done FOR Him, or upon a work of grace that He's done IN you? Which is it, dear reader, in your case? Can you truly say, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' Blood and Righteousness"? All other ground is indeed "sinking sand". It will not support you in the day of judgment! If your hope is faulty, why not turn from it right now and flee to Christ?

There He sits in the Heavens, at His Father's Right Hand, with all power in Heaven and earth in His Hands—power to SAVE you, and power to DAMN you! He is the Mighty Judge, holding the destinies of all men in His Hand—but He is also the Mighty Savior, able and willing to save sinners who disavow all other hopes and flee to Him for refuge from the wrath to come. What's to prevent you from casting yourself right now upon His mercy?

Are you too sinful? No problem—He CAME to save sinners and promises to receive them! Are you too helpless? No problem—He saves by His power, not yours! Are you too filthy and vile to appear before Him? No problem—He grants to all who come naked to Him for dress the spotless robe of His own Righteousness! Do you have nothing with which to purchase this blessing? No problem—To those who come to Him with an empty, outstretched hand, trusting only in His promises and His work performed for sinners at the cross, He grants life and blessing as a free gift!

Now what's to prevent you from doing so? Election? Predestination? Hardly! You'll not receive any sympathy in the day of judgment by pleading "election" as the reason you didn't come to Christ! Friend, ALL men are invited to come to Christ! God's eternal decrees do not BAR you from approaching Christ's throne! No, if you do not come, it's not "election" that's the problem, but something else. It's your old sinful, Satanic heart of pride that just cannot bring itself to abandon yourself and your own supposed works of righteousness as your hope before God. If you cannot stand before God in Heaven singing "I did it MY way", you would just as soon not go there! But the song of saints in Heaven is NOT "Worthy am I", but "Worthy is the LAMB"! No other song is known, desired, or allowed there! Why not turn from your false hopes, humble yourself before God, admitting what you are and the game you've been playing, and turn to Christ? Give up on yourself, no matter how self-abasing that might be, and look to Christ and Christ alone.

Yes, there is a faith in Christ that SAVES the soul, praise God—but there is also a faith in ourselves that DAMNS! Which is it, dear reader, in your case?

For the complete article click HERE.

November 14, 2009

Cold, Sad, Mournful, Depressing Calvinism is not Calvinism at All!

This is an excerpt from an address given by Lloyd-Jones on the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Williams (a Welsh Calvinistic Methodist). I encourage all to read the full address. The link is posted at the end of this excerpt.

My argument is, that cold, sad, mournful, depressing Calvinism is not Calvinism at all. It is a caricature; something has gone wrong somewhere. It is mere intellectualism and philosophy. Calvinism leads to feeling, to passion, to warmth, to praise, to thanksgiving. Look at Paul, the greatest of them all. We should not talk about 'Calvinism'; it is Paul's teaching. He tells us that he wept. He preached with tears. Do you?

When did we last weep over these matters? When did we last shed tears? When have we shown the feeling and the passion that he shows? Paul could not control himself, he got carried away. Look at his mighty climaxes; look at the way in which he rises to the heavens and is 'lost in wonder, tore, and praise'. Of course, the pedantic scholars criticize him for his anacolutha. He starts a sentence and never finishes it. He starts saving a thing and then gets carried off, and forgets to come back to it. Thank God! It is the truth which he saw that led to these grand climaxes of his; and it is bound to do so.

If we understand the things we claim to believe we are bound to end in the same way. 'Who shall separate us from the love of God?' And the answer is, 'I am persuaded'- and in the language of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists it is much better and stronger- 'I am certain'. It is sure, it is certain, 'that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord'. Or listen to him again at the end of Romans 11, 'O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.'

How often have you had that 'O' in your preaching - you Calvinists ? Calvinism leads to this 'O'! - this feeling, this passion. You are moved to the depths of your being, and you are filled with joy, and wonder, and amazement. 'O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!' -and so on.

Or take the same thing at the end of Ephesians 3. These are men dominated by a sense of the glory of God, and who are concerned about His praise.

In other words, am arguing that the first Christians were the most typical Calvinistic Methodists of all? I am just describing them to you. Not only the great apostles - Paul and others - but the people, the ordinary people - joy and rejoicing, praising God and thanking Him always 'from house to house' as they ate their bread together. Peter can say of them: 'Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now' ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.' That is 1st-century Christianity! it is also the very essence of Calvinistic Methodism. It leads to praise and thanksgiving and reioicing. It always leads to something like this:

We praise, we worship thee, 0 God.
Thy sovereign power we sound abroad:
All nations bow before Thy throne,
And Thee the Eternal Father own.
Loud alleluias to Thy Name

Angels and seraphim proclaim:
The heavens and all the powers on high
With rapture constantly do cry -
'0 holy, holy, holy, Lord!
Thou God of hosts, by all adored;
Earth and the heavens are full of Thee,
Thy light, Thy power, Thy majesty

Apostles join the glorious throng
And swell the loud immortal song;
Prophets enraptured hear the sound
And spread the alleluia round.

Victorious martyrs join their lays
And shout the omnipotence of grace,
While all thy church through all the earth
Acknowledge and extol Thy worth.

Glory to Thee, 0 God most high?
Father, we praise Thy majesty,
The Son, the Spirit, we adore,
One Godhead, blest for evermore.
* * *
Glory be to God the Father,
Glory be to God the Son,
Glory be to God the Spirit,
Great Jehovah Three in One,

Glory, glory- [that was the great shout of the Calvinistic Methodists]
While eternal ages run.

Click HERE for the entire address.

November 12, 2009

Are You a "Seeker"?

As we were reading Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections tonight, the term "seeking God" came up and I realized that so many of us understand that term in a negative sense, as in "seeker-friendly" churches. I have heard people who do not profess to be Christian describe themselves as "seekers" even while they are visiting a Christian church.

Understandably, a true believer living in our generation, would be hesitant to refer to himself as a "seeker" for the reasons expressed above. However, we are to seek after God--we are to be seekers of God. Not in the way that someone who does not know him claims to be seeking; but in this way: As one who knows Him and desires to see and find Him everywhere and in everything. Everywhere we look--in all of His creation. In everything we think, say and do and in every interaction with others. To seek and find Him present.

Here is the text from the portion of our reading tonight:

Hence there is an end to many persons' earnestness in seeking, after they have once obtained that which they call their conversion; or at least, after they have had those high affections, that make them fully confident of it. Before while they looked upon themselves as in a state of nature, they were engaged in seeking after God and Christ, and cried earnestly for grace, and strove in the use of means: but now they act as though they thought their work was done; they live upon their first work, or some high experiences that are past; and there is an end to their crying, and striving after God and grace.

Whereas the holy principles that actuate a true saint, have a far more powerful influence to stir him up to earnestness in seeking God and holiness, than servile fear. Hence seeking God is spoken of as one of the distinguishing characters of the saints, and those that seek God is one of the names by which the godly are called in Scripture: Psal. 24:6, "This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob!" Psal. 69:6, "Let not those that seek thee, be confounded for my sake." Ver. 32, "The humble shall see this and be glad: and your heart shall live that seek God." And 70:4, "Let all these that seek thee, rejoice, and be glad in thee: and let such as love thy salvation, say continually, The Lord be magnified."

And the Scriptures everywhere represent the seeking, striving, and labour of a Christian, as being chiefly after his conversion, and his conversion as being but the beginning of his as work. And almost all that is said in the New Testament, of men's watching, giving earnest heed to themselves, running the race that is set before them, striving, and agonizing, wrestling not with flesh and blood, but principalities and powers, fighting, putting on the whole armour of God, and standing, having done all to stand, pressing forward, reaching forth, continuing instant in prayer, crying to God day and night; I say, almost all that is said in the New Testament of these things, is spoken of, and directed to the saints.

Where these things are applied to sinners' seeking conversion once, they are spoken of the saints' prosecution of the great business of their high calling ten times. But many in these days have got into a strange antiscriptural way, of having all their striving and wrestling over before they are converted; and so having an easy time of it afterwards, to sit down and enjoy their sloth and indolence; as those that now have a supply of their wants, and are become rich and full. But when the Lord "fills the hungry with good things, these rich are like to be sent away empty," Luke 1:53.

"Hypocrites long for discoveries more for the present comfort of the discovery, and the high manifestation of God's love in it, than for any sanctifying influence of it. But neither a longing after great discoveries, or after great tastes of the love of God, nor longing to be in heaven nor longing to die, are in any measure so distinguishing marks of true saints, as longing after a more holy heart, and living a more holy life."


But doubtless there are some hypocrites, that have only false affections, who will think they are able to stand this trial; and will readily say, that they desire not to rest satisfied with past attainments, but to be pressing forward, they do desire more, they long after God and Christ, and desire more holiness, and do seek it.

But the truth is, their desires are not properly the desires of appetite after holiness, for its own sake, or for the moral excellency and holy sweetness that is in it; but only for by-ends. They long after clearer discoveries, that they may be better satisfied about the state of their souls; or because in great discoveries self is gratified, in being made so much of by God, and so exalted above others; they long to taste the love of God (as they call it) more than to have more love to God. Or, it may be, they have a kind of forced, fancied, or made longings; because they think they must long for more grace, otherwise it will be a dark sign upon them.

But such things as these are far different from the natural, and as it were necessary appetite and thirsting of the new man, after God and holiness. There is an inward burning desire that a saint has after holiness, as natural to the new creature, as vital heat is to the body. There is a holy breathing and panting after the Spirit of God, to increase holiness, as natural to a holy nature, as breathing is to a living body. And holiness or sanctification is more directly the object of it, than any manifestation of God's love and favour. This is the meat and drink that is the object of the spiritual appetite: John 4:34, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." Where we read in Scripture of the desires, longings, and thirstings of the saints, righteousness and God's laws are much more frequently mentioned as the object of them, than anything else.

The saints desire the sincere milk of the word, not so much to testify God's love to them, as that they may grow thereby in holiness. I have shown before, that holiness is that good which is the immediate object of a spiritual taste. But undoubtedly the same sweetness that is the chief object of a spiritual taste, is also the chief object of a spiritual appetite. Grace is the godly man's treasure: Isa. 32:6, "The fear of the Lord is his treasure." Godliness is the gain that he is covetous and greedy of. 1 Tim. 6:6.

Hypocrites long for discoveries more for the present comfort of the discovery, and the high manifestation of God's love in it, than for any sanctifying influence of it. But neither a longing after great discoveries, or after great tastes of the love of God, nor longing to be in heaven nor longing to die, are in any measure so distinguishing marks of true saints, as longing after a more holy heart, and living a more holy life.

Jonathan Edwards - Religious Affections

November 11, 2009

John Flavel

John Flavel (or Flavell) was born in 1628 in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. He was the son of Richard Flavel, a minister who died of the plague in 1665 while in prison for nonconformity. John Flavel was educated by his father in the ways of religion, then “plied his studies hard” as a commoner at University College, Oxford. In 1650, he was ordained by the presbytery at Salisbury. He settled in Diptford, where he honed his numerous gifts.

He married Joan Randall, a godly woman, who died while giving birth to their first child in 1655. The baby died as well. After a year of mourning, Flavel married Elizabeth Stapell and was again blessed with a close, God-fearing marriage, as well as children.

In 1656, Flavel accepted a call to be minister in the thriving seaport of Dartmouth. He earned a smaller income there, but his work was more profitable; many were converted. One of his parishioners wrote of Flavel, “I could say much, though not enough of the excellency of his preaching; of his seasonable, suitable, and spiritual matter; of his plain expositions of Scripture; his talking method, his genuine and natural deductions, his convincing arguments, his clear and powerful demonstrations, his heart-searching applications, and his comfortable supports to those that were afflicted in conscience. In short, that person must have a very soft head, or a very hard heart, or both, that could sit under his ministry unaffected” (Erasmus Middleton, Evangelical Biography, 4:50-51).

Flavel was ejected from the pulpit in 1662 for nonconformity, but he continued to meet secretly with his parishioners in conventicles. On occasion, he would preach for them in the woods, especially on days of fasting and humiliation. Once he even disguised himself as a woman on horseback in order to reach a secret meeting place where he preached and administered baptism. At another time, when pursued by authorities, he plunged his horse into the sea and managed to escape arrest by swimming through a rocky area to reach Slapton Sands.

In 1665, when the Five Mile Act went into effect, Flavel moved to Slapton, which was beyond the five-mile limit of legal disturbance. There he ministered to many people in his congregation. At times, he would preach secretly in the woods to larger numbers of people, sometimes as late as midnight. Once, soldiers rushed in and dispersed the congregation. Several of the fugitives were apprehended and fined, but the remainder brought Flavel to another wooded area where he continued his sermon.

Flavel preached from other unique pulpits, such as Salstone Rock, an island in the Salcombe Estuary that is submerged at high tide. In that refuge, the congregation would “linger in devout assembly till the rising tide drove them to their boats.”

In 1672, King Charles II issued the Declaration of Indulgence, giving Nonconformists freedom to worship. Flavel returned to Dartmouth, licensed as a Congregationalist. When the indulgence was canceled the following year, Flavel once more resorted to preaching secretly in private homes, secluded neighborhoods, or remote forests. Flavel’s second wife died during this time and he married Ann Downe, a minister’s daughter. They were happily married for eleven years, and had two sons.

In the late 1670s and early 1680s, Flavel carried on his ministry mainly by writing. He published at least nine books in this period. In the summer of 1682, he was forced to seek safety in London, where he joined the congregation of his friend, William Jenkyn, known today for his commentary on Jude. In 1684, soldiers interrupted a prayer service Flavel was conducting with Jenkyn. Flavel narrowly escaped arrest. During his stay in London, Flavel’s third wife died. He married Dorothy, a widowed daughter of George Jefferies, minister of Kingsbridge; she survived him.

In 1685, Flavel returned to Dartmouth, where his ministry was confined to his home. He preached every Sunday and on many weekday evenings to people who crowded into his home. That same year he was burned in effigy by a mob, but he pressed on, praying for his beloved Dartmouth, “O that there were not a prayerless family in this town!” In 1687, King James II issued another indulgence for Nonconformists that allowed Flavel to preach publicly once again. This freedom was later augmented with the coming of William of Orange and the Glorious Revolution in 1688.

Flavel’s congregation built a large church upon his return to the pulpit. His last four years of public preaching, which began with his sermons on Revelation 3:20, “Behold I stand at the door and knock,” were greatly blessed. Yet he was aging rapidly. Speaking for himself and his colleagues, he wrote, “We have long borne the burden and heat of the day; we are veteran soldiers almost worn out.” While visiting Exeter to preach on June 6, 1691, Flavel suffered a massive stroke and died that same evening at the age of sixty-three. His final words were, “I know that it will be well with me.

Flavel was humble, godly, and learned. He spent much time in study and prayer. One of his children wrote, “He was always full and copious in prayer, seemed constantly to exceed himself, and rarely made use twice of the same expressions.”

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Flavel’s preaching was blessed by the Spirit. Robert Murray M‘Cheyne tells about an American immigrant, Luke Short, who remembered listening to Flavel preach in England when he was fifteen years old. The text was, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha.” Eighty-five years after hearing Flavel preach on the horror of dying under God’s curse, the Spirit of God effectually converted him at the age of one hundred as he meditated on that sermon!

Flavel’s power as a preacher came out of his depth of spiritual experience. He spent many hours in meditation and self-examination. As Middleton writes, “He [Flavel] attained to a well-grounded assurance, the ravishing comforts of which were many times shed abroad in his soul; this made him a powerful and successful preacher, as one who spoke from his own heart to those of others. He preached what he felt, and what he had handled, what he had seen and tasted of the word of life and they felt it also”

While meditating on heaven on one occasion, Flavel was so overcome with heavenly joy that he lost sight of this world. Stopping his horse by a spring, he viewed death as the most amiable face he had ever seen, except that of Christ’s, who made it so. When he finally arrived at an inn, the innkeeper said to him, “Sir, what is the matter with you? You look like a dead man.” “Friend,” Flavel replied, “I was never better in my life.”

Years later, Flavel said that he understood more of heaven from that experience than from all the books he had ever read and all the sermons he had ever heard on the subject.

Just so you are aware...

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican announced Tuesday (November 10, 2009) it was making it easier for Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism – a surprise move designed to entice traditionalists opposed to women priests, openly gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions.

The decision, reached in secret by a small cadre of Vatican officials, was sure to add to the problems of the 77-million-strong Anglican Communion as it seeks to deal with deep doctrinal divisions that threaten a permanent schism among its faithful.

The change means conservative Anglicans from around the world will be able to join the Catholic Church while retaining aspects of their Anglican liturgy and identity, including married priests. Until now, disaffected Anglicans had joined the church primarily on a case by case basis.

"The unity of the church does not require a uniformity that ignores cultural diversity, as the history of Christianity shows," said Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in announcing the decision.

The spiritual leader of the global Anglican church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, was not consulted about the change and was informed only hours before the announcement. He nevertheless tried to downplay the significance and said it wasn't a Vatican commentary on Anglican problems.

"It has no negative impact on the relations of the communion as a whole to the Roman Catholic Church as a whole," he said in London.

The decision could undermine decades of talks between the Vatican and Anglican leaders over how they could possibly reunite. Although Levada insisted such discussions remain a priority, the Vatican move could be taken as a signal that the ultimate goal of ecumenical talks is to convert Anglicans to Catholicism.

Still, the decision confirmed Pope Benedict XVI's design of creating a unified, tradition-minded Catholic Church – a goal he outlined at the start of his pontificate and has been steadily implementing ever since.

Read the rest HERE.

November 7, 2009

WHAT, WHO and WHY we love.

Every man loves the mercies of God, but the saint loves the God of the mercies.

The above is a pregnant statement found within a chapter of John Flavel's work on the providence of God. Stop and think about it. Ponder it in your mind. Let it cause you to examine your heart. For those who may be reading this blog who are unfamiliar with certain terms of the Christian faith, the word "saint" simply refers to all who have been "born-again"; all whom the Spirit of God has regenerated and reconciled to God through the atoning work of Jesus Christ by grace alone through faith alone. "Saint" does not refer to someone who "acts" like a saint. We are all saints who are in Christ. It is an inward reality that only God can see, not an outward manifestation of holiness.

With that in mind, read the above statement again. If you fancy yourself a genuine Christian, one who will be found acceptable to God at the judgement, ask yourself if you love the benefits of Christianity (mercy, forgiveness, escape from eternal punishment, peace of mind, etc) or the Christ of Christianity. I fear many join the ranks for the benefits and not for the benefactor.

Flavel continues:

Whenever the promises of God and the events which are promised meet each other, they are joyfully embraced by believing people. Remembering past providences will be a continual source of praise and thanksgiving, which is the employment of the angels in heaven, and the most enjoyable part of being on earth. It is not so much the blessings that providence gives us, but the goodness and kindness of God in giving them that occupies a grateful person in praise. (Ps.63:3)

To give life, and to preserve it, are precious acts of providence; but the grace that causes God to do all this is far better than the acts themselves. The careful observation of providence will make Jesus Christ more and more precious to your souls.

Through Christ, God's mercies flow to us, and all praise returns to God from us. All things are ours,because we are His.(1st Cor.3:21-23) All the blessings we have in this life, as well as all spiritual and eternal mercies, have been bought for us by the blood of Christ. By His death, Christ restores to us everything sin has robbed us of. "With Christ" God freely gives us all things; salvation itself, and all things necessary to bring us there (Rom.8:32)

Whatever good we receive from the hand of providence, we must say, comes by the death of Christ. Because we are united with Christ, everything we receive from providence is made a blessing to us.

When we are in Christ, we have more than we lost through the fall of Adam. Whoever is the means of doing you any good, the Lord Jesus Christ gives the command for it to be done. Do not live your life in such a hurry that you have no time to sit and think of these things. Consider in your heart these wonderful discoveries of God in His Providences.

November 6, 2009

O' How highly we think of our own importance.

Just yesterday I was reading an article about a new book by Michael Horton and the article started out by stating:

"What, exactly, is “Christless Christianity”? First of all, it is not a claim that all the churches in America are Christless. It’s certainly not a claim that we have reached a point where Christ is no longer being preached. Rather, it’s motivated by a concern that there’s this creeping fog of what sociologist Christian Smith called “moralistic-therapeutic-deism.” This has turned God into a tool we can use rather than the object of our faith and worship. I’m concerned that the gospel is being taken for granted, that Christ is a sort of life coach, but not the Savior. With the general shallowing within the culture, there is a shallowing of Christian faith and practice. We don’t really know what we believe and why we believe it.

Then just last night we were reading from a book by John Flavel on the Providence of God and came to the section copied below. Ponder these things.

"...I cannot but make a pause, and desire you with me to stand in holy amazement and wonder at the dealings of God with such poor worms as we are. Surely God deals familiarly with me; His condescensions to His own clay are astonishing.

All that I shall note at present about it shall be under these three heads, in which I find the matter of my present meditations summed up by the Psalmist: ‘Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him, or the son of man that thou makest account of him!’ (144. 3).

In this Scripture you have represented the immense and transcendent greatness of God, who is infinitely above us and all our thoughts. ‘Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea’ (Job 11. 7-9). ‘The heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him’ (2 Chron. 2. 6). He is glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders’ (Exod. 15. 11).

When the Scripture speaks of Him comparatively, see how it expresses His greatness: ‘Behold, the nations are as the drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beats thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are accounted to him less than nothing, and vanity (Isa. 40. 15-17).

When the holiest men have addressed Him, see with what humility and deep adoration they have spoken of Him and to Him! ‘Who is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts’ (Isa. 6. 5). Nay, what respects the very angels of heaven have of that glorious Majesty: ‘Each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory’ (verses 2 and 3).

Secondly, you have the baseness, vileness and utter unworthiness of man, yea, the holiest and best of men, before God: ‘Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity’ (Ps. 39. 5).

‘Every man,’ take where you will; and every man ‘in his best state,’ or ‘standing in his freshest glory,’ is not only ‘vanity,’ but ‘altogether vanity,’ literally ‘every man is very vanity.’ For do but consider the best of men in their extraction. ‘By nature the children of wrath even as others’ (Eph. 2. 3). The blood that runs in our veins is as much tainted as theirs in hell.

Consider them in their constitution and natural disposition, and it is no better, yea, in many there is worse disposition than in reprobates. And though grace depose sin in them from the throne, yet, O what offensive and God-provoking corruptions daily break out of the best hearts.

Consider them in their outward condition, and they are inferior, for the most part, to others. ‘I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes’ (Matt. 11. 25; cf. 1 Cor. 1. 26-28).

And now let us consider and marvel that ever this great and blessed God should be so much concerned, as you have heard He is in all His providences, about such vile, despicable worms as we are! He does not need us, but is perfectly blessed and happy in Himself without us. We can add nothing to Him: ‘Can a man be profitable unto God?’ (Job 22. 2).

No, the holiest of men add nothing to Him; yet, see how great account He makes of us. For does not His eternal electing love show the dear account He made of us (Eph. 1. 4, 5)? How ancient, how free, and how astonishing is this act of grace! This is that design which all providences are in pursuit of, and will not rest till they have executed.

Does not the gift of His only Son out of His bosom show this, that God makes great account of this vile thing, man? Never was man so magnified before. If David could say: ‘When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained; what is man?’ (Ps. 8. 3, 4), how much more may we say, ‘When we consider Thy Son, that lay in Thy bosom, His infinite excellence and unspeakable dearness to Thee, Lord, what is man, that such a Christ should be delivered to death for him! for him, and not for fallen angels (Heb. 2. 16), for him when in a state of enmity with God (Rom. 5. 8).

Does not the assiduity of His providential care for us show His esteem of us? ‘Lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day’ (Isa. 27. 3). ‘He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous’ (Job. 36. 7), no, not a moment all their days; for if He did, a thousand mischiefs in that moment would rush in upon them and ruin them.

Does not the tenderness of His providence show His esteem of us? ‘As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you’ (Isa. 66. 13). He comforts His own by refreshing providences, as an indulgent mother her tender child. ‘As birds flying’ (Isa. 31. 5), viz., to their nests when their young are in danger, so He defends His. No parental tenderness in the creature can shadow forth the tender affection of the Creator.

Does not the variety of the fruits of His providence show it? Our mercies are ‘new every morning’ (cf. Ps. 40. 5; Lam. 3. 23). It is a fountain from which do stream forth spiritual and temporal, ordinary and extraordinary, public and personal mercies, mercies without number.

Does not the ministry of angels in the providential kingdom show it? ‘Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?’ (Heb. 1. 14).


Does not the providence of which this day calls us to celebrate the memory, show the great regard God has for His people? O if not so, why were we not given up ‘as a prey to their teeth?’ ‘If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,’ then wicked men, compared to fire, water, wild beasts, ‘had swallowed us up quick’ (Ps. 124).

John Flavel