March 31, 2010

Some things cannot be improved upon!

I am aware it is sometimes said that times have altered since the apostles' days, that the state of the world is different from what it then was. But is not human nature in all its essential elements the same? Is it not the same in its moral aspect, impotency, and necessities? Does it not as much need, and as much depend upon, the gospel scheme now, as it did then? Is not the gospel as exquisitely and fully adapted to its miserable condition now as it was then? Can sin be pardoned in any other way than through the atonement of Christ; or the sinner be justified by any other means than faith in the Lord our Righteousness; or the depraved heart be renewed and sanctified by any other agency than that of the Holy Spirit

The moral epidemic of our nature is always and everywhere the same, in whatever various degrees of virulence it may exist, and the remedial system of salvation by grace, through faith, is God's own and unalterable specific for the disease, in every age of time, in every country of the world, and in every state of society. Men may call in other physicians than Christ, and try other methods of cure, as they have done; but they will all fail, and leave the miserable patient hopeless and helpless, as regards any other means of health than that which the cross of Christ present.

It should never be forgotten that the time when the apostles discharged their ministry was only just after the Augustan era of the ancient world. Poetry had recently bestowed on the lettered world the works of Virgil and Horace. The light of philosophy, though waning, still shed its luster over Greece. The arts still exhibited their most splendid creations, though they had ceased to advance. It was at such a time, and amidst such scenes, the gospel began its course.

The voices of the apostles were listened to by sages who had basked in the sunshine of Athenian wisdom, and were reverberated in startling echo from temples and statues that had been shaken by the thunders of Cicero and Demosthenes; yet they conceded nothing to the demands of philosophy, but held forth the cross as the only object they felt they had a right to exhibit. They never once entertained the degrading notion that they must accommodate themselves to the philosophy or the taste of the age in which they lived, and the places where they ministered.

Whether the apostle addressed himself to the philosophers on Mars Hill, or to the barbarians on the island of Melita; whether he reasoned with the Jews in their synagogues, or with the Greeks in the school of Tyrannus, he had but one theme, and that was Christ, and him crucified. And what right, or what reason have we for deviating from this high and imperative example? Be it so, that we live in a literary, philosophic, and scientific age, what then? Is it an age that has outlived the need of the gospel for its salvation; or for the salvation of which any thing else can suffice but the gospel? The supposition that something else than pure Christianity, as the theme of our pulpit ministrations, is requisite for such a period as this, or that it must be presented in philosophic guise, appears to me a most perilous sentiment, as being a disparagement to the gospel itself, a daring assumption of wisdom superior to God's, and containing the germ of infidelity.

--John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (1847)

An Old-Fashioned Christianity

The Heidelberg is largely a commentary on the Apostle's Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer and the book deals with man's guilt, God's grace, and believers' gratitude. The result is a clear-headed, warm-hearted exploration of the faith, simple enough for young believers and deep enough for mature believers. As DeYoung writes, "The gospel summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism is glorious, it's Christ gracious, it's comfort rich, it's Spirit strong, it's God Sovereign, and it's truth timeless."

In The Good News We Almost Forgot Kevin DeYoung explores the Heidelberg Catechism and writes 52 brief chapters on what it has shown him."

Regardless of your denominational background, I encourage every believer to read this book. Your soul will be warmed by the elegantly and logically laid out doctrine that matters most: We are great sinners and Christ is a greater Savior!

March 28, 2010

Seduced by the Lust for Mastery

I would encourage everyone; but, especially all pastors and teachers, to read the chapter by D.A. Carson from The Trials of Theology. It is available online as a "pdf" file. The following are a few excerpts. You will find a link to the pdf at the end of this post.

"...within biblical studies there are few who study the Bible; rather, one writes a learned tome on one facet of pentateuchal criticism, on the theology of Haggai, on cognate Seminitc idioms; one facet of the synoptic problem, on the use of the Old testament in Hebrews, on the significance of pistis Christous, "the faith of Christ', in current debates on the new perspective on Paul. As the old adage puts it, we learn more and more about less. and less."

"Scanning this brief list of domains that generate trails for those engaged in biblical studies--whether 'trials' in the sense of difficulties, or 'trials' in the sense of temptations--I am struck by how interrelated they are. And as an antidote, one recalls the words of Calvin:

I have always been exceedingly delighted with the words of Chrysostom, 'The foundation of our philosophy is humility;' and still more of those of Augustine, 'As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answer, Delivery; What is the second? Delivery: What is the third? Delivery; so, if you ask me in regard to the precepts of the Christian Religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.'

Such humility will teach us the inestimable privilege accorded to those of us who are free to devote many hours each week in studying God's gracious self-disclosure in holy Scripture, learning to think God's thoughts after him, working carefully and patiently through words breathed out by God Himself (however mediated through highly diverse human writers) that we many better know the Word incarnate. The more we revel in the sheer joy of this privilege, the less we will succumb to the trials of biblical studies, and the more will we sing the new song of those who have been redeemed by the Lamb; the less will we be seduced by the lust for mastery, and the more will we delight in Him who is Master of all."

"...the mark of true growth in the study of Scripture is not so much that we become masters of the text as that we are mastered by the text.

March 26, 2010

Do You Thirst?

"After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst."John 19:28.

It was most fitting that every word of our Lord upon the cross should be gathered up and preserved. As not a bone of him shall be broken, so not a word shall be lost. The Holy Spirit took special care that each of the sacred utterances should be fittingly recorded. There were, as you know, seven of those last words, and seven is the number of perfection and fulness; the number which blends the three of the infinite God with the four of complete creation. Our Lord in his death-cries, as in all else, was perfection itself. There is a fulness of meaning in each utterance which no man shall be able fully to bring forth, and when combined they make up a vast deep of thought, which no human line can fathom. Here, as everywhere else, we are constrained to say of our Lord, "Never man spake like this man."

Amid all the anguish of his spirit his last words prove him to have remained fully self-possessed, true to his forgiving nature, true to his kingly office, true to his filial relationship, true to his God, true to his love of the written word, true to his glorious work, and true to his faith in his Father.As these seven sayings were so faithfully recorded, we do not wonder that they have frequently been the subject of devout meditation. Fathers and confessors, preachers and divines have delighted to dwell upon every syllable of these matchless cries. These solemn sentences have shone like the seven golden candlesticks or the seven stars of the Apocalypse, and have lighted multitudes of men to him who spake them.

Thoughtful men have drawn a wealth of meaning from them, and in so doing have arranged them into different groups, and placed them under several heads. I cannot give you more than a mere taste of this rich subject, but I have been most struck with two ways of regarding our Lord's last words. First, they teach and confirm many of the doctrines of our holy faith. "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" is the first. Here is the forgiveness of sin—free forgiveness in answer to the Saviour's plea. "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." Here is the safety of the believer in the hour of his departure, and his instant admission into the presence of his Lord. It is a blow at the fable of purgatory which strikes it to the heart. "Women, behold thy son!"

This very plainly sets forth the true and proper humanity of Christ, who to the end recognised his human relationship to Mary, of whom he was born. Yet his language teaches us not to worship her, for he calls her "woman," but to honor him in whom his direst agony thought of her needs and griefs, as he also thinks of all his people, for these are his mother and sister and brother. "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" is the fourth cry, and it illustrates the penalty endured by our Substitute when he bore our sins, and so was forsaken of his God. The sharpness of that sentence no exposition can fully disclose to us: it is keen as the very edge and point of the sword which pierced his heart. "I thirst" is the fifth cry, and its utterance teaches us the truth of Scripture, for all things were accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, and therefore our Lord said, "I thirst."

This is a kind of sweet whereof if a man hath much he must have more, and when he hath more he is under a still greater necessity to receive more, and so on, his appetite for ever growing by that which it feeds upon, till he is filled with all the fulness of God. "I thirst,"—ay, this is my soul's word with her Lord. Borrowed from his lips it well suiteth my mouth.

"I thirst, but not as once I did,

The vain delights of earth to share;
Thy wounds, Emmanuel, all forbid
That I should seek my pleasures there.
Dear fountain of delight unknown!
No longer sink below the brim;
But overflow, and pour me down
A living and life-giving stream."

Jesus thirsted, then let us thirst in this dry and thirsty land where no water is. Even as the hart panteth after the water brooks, our souls would thirst after thee, O God.Beloved, let us thirst for the souls of our fellow-men. I have already told you that such was our Lord's mystical desire; let it be ours also. Brother, thirst to have your children save. Brother, thirst I pray you to have your workpeople saved. Sister, thirst for the salvation of your class, thirst for the redemption of your family, thirst for the conversion of your husband.

We ought all to have a longing for conversions. It is so with each one of you? If not, bestir yourselves at once. Fix your hearts upon some unsaved one, and thirst until he is saved. It is the way whereby many shall be brought to Christ, when this blessed soul-thirst of true Christian charity shall be upon those who are themselves saved. Remember how Paul said, "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." He would have sacrificed himself to save his countrymen, so heartily did he desire their eternal welfare. Let this mind be in you also.

C.H. Spurgeon - Sermon Excerpts

March 24, 2010

Small, worldly, culturally contaminated, self-centered, Christ-ignoring, God-neglecting, romance-intoxicated, unbiblical views of marriage.

It is not about us! So many are miserable in marriage; primarily because they have created their own misery. Their disappointments are a result of a warped view and unbiblical expectations about marriage.

"The world cannot know what marriage is without learning it from God. The natural man does not have the capacities to see or receive or feel the wonder of what God has designed for marriage to be."

I pray that God will strengthen and protect us from the world's silly notions about marriage and that we might be used by God to help set many free from "small, worldly, culturally contaminated, self-centered, Christ-ignoring, God-neglecting, romance-intoxicated, unbiblical views of marriage."

Text in quotes taken from a sermon preached by John Piper

March 20, 2010

Can You See Yourself Somewhere in this List?

We often think ourselves just fine and hold our heads up high because we are not fornicating, cussing, watching "R" rated movies, or getting drunk on Friday nights. I say to you that if we are guilty of any of the "ism's" outlined below; we have either 1) never rightly understood the "transformed" life and are living a counterfeit Christianity; or, 2) We have rightly understood the gospel; but have replaced it with one of our own making. In either case, we are guilty of misrepresenting the Lord--a far greater sin then we allow ourselves to imagine.

"...there are outside-the-church idols and there are inside-the-church idols. It’s the idols inside the church that ought to concern Christians most. It’s easier for Christians to identify worldly idols such as money, power, selfish ambition, sex, and so on. It’s the idols inside the church that we have a harder time identifying.

In his book "How People Change", Paull Trip identifies seven counterfeit gospels—-”religious” ways we try and “justify” or “save” ourselves apart from the gospel of grace. I found these unbelievably helpful. Can you see yourself in one (or two, or three) of these?

Formalism. “I participate in the regular meetings and ministries of the church, so I feel like my life is under control. I’m always in church, but it really has little impact on my heart or on how I live. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who do not have the same commitment as I do.”

Legalism. “I live by the rules—rules I create for myself and rules I create for others. I feel good if I can keep my own rules, and I become arrogant and full of contempt when others don’t meet the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated.”

Mysticism. “I am engaged in the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when I feel close to him, and I often struggle with discouragement when I don’t feel that way. I may change churches often, too, looking for one that will give me what I’m looking for.”

Activism. “I recognize the missional nature of Christianity and am passionately involved in fixing this broken world. But at the end of the day, my life is more of a defense of what’s right than a joyful pursuit of Christ.”

Biblicism. “I know my Bible inside and out, but I do not let it master me. I have reduced the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology, so I am intolerant and critical of those with lesser knowledge.”

Therapism. “I talk a lot about the hurting people in our congregation, and how Christ is the only answer for their hurt. Yet even without realizing it, I have made Christ more Therapist than Savior. I view hurt as a greater problem than sin—and I subtly shift my greatest need from my moral failure to my unmet needs.”

Social-ism. “The deep fellowship and friendships I find at church have become their own idol. The body of Christ has replaced Christ himself, and the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships.”

The Truth is Timeless

One plague of our age is the widespread dislike to what men are pleased to call dogmatic theology. In the place of it, the idol of the day is a kind of jellyfish Christianity – a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or sinew, – without any distinct teaching about the atonement or the work of the Spirit, or justification, or the way of peace with God – a vague, foggy, misty Christianity, of which the only watchwords seem to be, ‘You must be…liberal and kind. You must condemn no man’s doctrinal views. You must consider everybody is right and nobody is wrong’. And this creedless kind of religion, we are told, is to give us peace of conscience! And not to be satisfied with it in a sorrowful, dying world, is a proof that you are very narrow-minded! Satisfied, indeed!

Such a religion might possibly do for unfallen angels! But to tell sinful, dying men and women, with the blood of our father Adam in our veins, to be satisfied with it, is an insult to common sense and a mockery of our distress. We need something far better than this. We need the blood of Christ.

J.C. Ryle

March 19, 2010

A Puritan, A Pastoral Intern, A Homeless Man, and Our Great God

A True Story--One that clearly illustrates how God's providence works in our lives. You will be encouraged:

Earlier this week I arrived in Crystal City to meet friends for dinner. I turned up early so that I might snatch a few minutes to finish the last three pages of a book I was reading and benefiting from immensely - John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence. I sat down at an empty table outside on the terrace and began to open the book. No sooner had I begun to turn the pages than a man riding a bike stopped right in front of me. Interrupting my reading he asked rather forcefully, ‘What is that book?’ I grasped my belongings thinking that this was some kind of ruse to distract me so that he might steal my stuff. I could tell that he had been drinking, but my suspicions quickly dissipated when he proceeded to sit down next to me and again ask in his somewhat brazen manner, ‘What is that book about?’ I began to explain. The book was written by a nonconformist preacher of the seventeenth century ... but I soon realized that I would need to give a simpler explanation. I told him that this preacher, John Flavel, wrote many helpful things about suffering and the providence of God. My keen listener then asked me to tell him more about what was in the book. I opened the book and began to read some of the sentences I had previously highlighted.

I kid you not ... the man hung on my every word. The antiquated, seventeenth-century, Puritan style of writing didn’t seem to get in the way of my eager enquirer or put him off in the slightest. At times he even repeated parts of Flavel’s sentences and as he did so it seemed that the words were having a sobering effect upon him. Now and then he interjected and asked me to repeat something I had just read, but to do so more slowly than before. Occasionally, and with a hint of frustration, he would blurt out, ‘Now what does that mean?’ It was as if Flavel was reading his heart like a book. My new-found friend opened up and confessed that he was a believer in Christ but that his faith was weak. He said that he was tired and ready to end his life. He admitted he was struggling with unbelief amidst many afflictions. I think he was homeless and without family at hand, and he had clearly turned to drink. I couldn’t really tell the extent of his problems. But the strange thing was this: he wasn’t sitting next to me because he wanted to befriend me. No, from the beginning he had a preoccupation with the book in my hand. The following excerpt from Flavel brought evident relief to his soul:

No stroke of calamity upon the people of God can separate them from the love of Christ. Who shall separate them from the love of Christ? (Rom 8:35). Shall tribulation? There was a time when Job could call nothing in this world his own but trouble. He could not say my estate, my honour, my health, my children, for all these were gone; yet then he could say; my redeemer! (Job 19:25) Well then, there is no cause to sink while interest in Christ remains sure to us. All your calamities will have an end shortly. The longest day of the saints’ troubles has an end; and then no more troubles forever. The troubles of the wicked will be to eternity, but you shall suffer but a while (1 Pet. 5:10). If a thousand troubles are appointed for you, they will come to one at last, and after that no more. Yea, and though light afflictions are but for a moment, yet they work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor 4:17). Let that support your heart under all sufferings.

By this time the friends I had come to meet arrived and I signaled the need to go. We both marvelled at the mysterious providence of God! I offered him the book as a gift. He broke down in tears. He told me that he had planned to run away to Florida, but now decided against it.

Two days later I shared the story with a friend. He suggested that I read the remaining three pages of Flavel’s book. Honestly, it hadn’t even crossed my mind to do so before! So I borrowed the book from my roommate. The last section exhorts its readers to write down their experiences of providence in special seasons for the benefit of others. And that’s just what I did!

A MYSTERIOUS PROVIDENCE by Ryan Kaupas P.S. Ryan Kaupas is a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington DC, where he has served as a pastoral intern.

March 18, 2010

Ever Wonder?

Do you ever wonder what "church" was like before the Bible was canonized? Do you ever wonder how Christian's lived? What was "preached" on the Lord's Day? Were you aware that the early Church fathers read the letters from Paul and many other letters to the flock under their care? It is a wonderful study to find and read the letters written to the church before the bible was "published". It is these letters that the church sorted through in determining which would be part of the "canon" of scripture. Christians prior to that time in history, heard all of these letters. Here is a sampling of just one. But first a little history:

Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch, the place where the followers of Jesus were called Christians for the first time (Acts 11:26; Eusebius Eccl. Hist. 3.22.36 and Origen, Hom. 6 In Luc). The Letter which he wrote to Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, plus six other letters which he wrote shortly before his martyrdom around 115AD, witness to apostolic Christianity as understood and lived only a decade or two after the writing of John’s Gospel.

Here is an excerpt from that letter:


Having obtained good proof that thy mind is fixed in God as upon an immovable rock, I loudly glorify [His name] that I have been thought worthy [to behold] thy blameless face, which may I ever enjoy in God! I entreat thee, by the grace with which thou art clothed, to press forward in thy course, and to exhort all that they may be saved. Maintain thy position with all care, both in the flesh and spirit. Have a regard to preserve unity, than which nothing is better. Bear with all, even as the Lord does with thee. Support all in love, as also thou doest. Give thyself to prayer without ceasing. Implore additional understanding to what thou already hast. Be watchful, possessing a sleepless spirit. Speak to every man separately, as God enables thee. Bear the infirmities of all, as being a perfect athlete [in the Christian life]: where the labour is great, the gain is all the more.


If thou lovest the good disciples, no thanks are due to thee on that account; but rather seek by meekness to subdue the more troublesome. Every kind of wound is not healed with the same plaster. Mitigate violent attacks [of disease] by gentle applications. Be in all things "wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove." For this purpose thou art composed of both flesh and spirit, that thou mayest deal tenderly with those [evils] that present themselves visibly before thee. And as respects those that are not seen, pray that [God] would reveal them unto thee, in order that thou mayest be wanting in nothing, but mayest abound in every gift. The times call for thee, as pilots do for the winds, and as on tossed with tempest seeks for the haven, so that both thou [and those under thy care] may attain to God. Be sober as an athlete of God: the prize set before thee is immortality and eternal life, of which thou art also persuaded. In all things may my soul be for thing, and my bonds also, which thou hast loved.


Let not those who seem worthy of credit, but teach strange doctrines, fill thee with apprehension. Stand firm, as does an anvil which is beaten. It is the part of a noble athlete to be wounded, and yet to conquer. And especially, we ought to bear all things for the sake of God, that He also may bear with us. Be ever becoming more zealous than what thou art. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes; impalpable and impassible, yet who became passible on our account; and who in every kind of way suffered for our sakes.

March 15, 2010

And so we preach on!

Oh, that our hearts would understand that the progress of true religion depends not on human might or power—but on the Lord's Spirit! Oh, that many of them would learn to lean less on ministers, and to pray more for the Holy Spirit! Oh, that all would learn to expect less from schools, and tracts, and ecclesiastical machinery; and, while using all means diligently, would seek more earnestly for the outpouring of the Spirit!

There is hope in the Gospel for any man, so long as he lives. There is infinite willingness in Christ to pardon sin. There is infinite power in the Holy Spirit to change hearts. There are many diseases of the body which are incurable. The cleverest doctors cannot heal them. But, thank God! there are no incurable diseases of soul. All manner and quantity of sins can be washed away by Christ! The hardest and most wicked of hearts can be changed.

Reader, I say again, while there is life—there is hope. The oldest, the vilest, the worst of sinners may be saved. Only let him come to Christ, confess his sin, and cry to Him for pardon—only let him cast his soul on Christ, and he shall be cured. The Holy Spirit shall be sent down on his heart, according to Christ's promise, and he shall be changed by His Almighty power, into a new creature.

I never despair of anyone becoming a decided Christian, whatever he may have been in days gone by. I know how great the change is from death to life; I know the mountains of division which seem to stand between some men and heaven; I know the hardness, the prejudices, the desperate sinfulness of the natural heart. But I remember that God the Father made the glorious world out of nothing. I remember that the voice of the Lord Jesus could reach Lazarus when, four days dead, and recall him even from the grave. I remember the amazing victories the Spirit of God has won in every nation under heaven. I remember all this—and feel that I never need despair.

Yes! those very people who now seem most utterly dead in sins, may yet be raised to a new being, and walk before God in newness of life. Why should it not be so? the Holy Spirit is a mighty, merciful, and loving Spirit. He turns away from no man, because of his vileness. He passes by no one, because his sins are black and scarlet. There was nothing in the Corinthians that He should come down and quicken them. Paul reports of them, that they were "fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners." "Such," he says, "were some of you!" Yet even them, the Spirit made alive. "You are washed," he writes, "you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

There was nothing in the Colossians that He should visit their hearts. Paul tells us that they walked in "sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry." Yet these also, the Spirit quickened. He made them "put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him" (Col. 3:5-10).
There was nothing in Mary Magdalene that the Spirit should make her soul alive. Once she had been possessed with seven devils; time was, if report is true, that she had been a woman proverbial for vileness and iniquity—yet even her, the Spirit made a new creature, separated her from her sins, brought her to Christ, made her last at the cross, and first at the tomb! Never, never will the Spirit turn away from a soul, because of its corruption. He never has done so—He never will. It is His glory that He has purified the minds of the most impure, and made them temples for His own abode. He may yet take the worst of those who read this tract—and make him a vessel of grace.

Why indeed should it not be so? The Spirit is an Almighty Spirit. He can change the stony heart into a heart of flesh! He can break the strongest bad habits like wax before the fire! He can make the most difficult things seem easy, and the mightiest objections melt away like snow in spring! He can cut the bars of brass, and throw the gates of prejudice wide open! He can fill up every valley, and make every rough place smooth! He has done it often—and He can do it again,
The Spirit can take a Jew—the bitterest enemy of Christianity, the fiercest persecutor of true believers, the strongest stickler for Pharisaical notions, the most prejudiced opposer of Gospel doctrine—and turn that man into an earnest preacher of the very faith he once destroyed.

He has done it already. He did it with the Apostle Paul. The Spirit can take a Roman Catholic monk, brought up in the midst of Romish superstition, trained from his infancy to believe false doctrine, and obey the Pope, steeped to the eyes in error—and make that man the clearest upholders of justification by faith the world ever saw! He has done so already. He did it with Martin Luther.

The Spirit can take an English tinker, without learning, patronage, or money—a man at one time notorious for blasphemy and swearing—and make that man write a pious book, which shall stand unrivaled and unequaled in its way, by any since the time of the Apostles. He has done so already—He did it with John Bunyan, the author of "Pilgrim's Progress."

The Spirit can take a sailor, drenched in worldliness and sin—a profligate captain of a slave ship, and make that man a most successful minister of the Gospel; a writer of letters which are a store-house of experimental religion; and of hymns which are known and sung wherever English is spoken. He has done it already. He did it with John Newton. All this the Spirit has done, and much more, of which I cannot speak particularly.

The arm of the Spirit is not shortened! His power is not decayed! He is like the Lord Jesus—the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is still doing wonders, and will do to the very end. I shall not be surprised to hear, even in this life, that the hardest man I know has become softened, and the proudest has taken his place at the feet of Jesus as a weaned child. I shall not be surprised to meet many on the right hand in the day of judgment, whom I shall leave, when I die, traveling in the broad way. I never despair, because I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We ministers might well despair, when we look at our own performances. We are often sick of ourselves. We might well despair when we look at some who belong to our congregations; they seem as hard and insensible as the nether mill-stone! But we remember the Holy Spirit, and what He has done. We remember the Holy Spirit, and consider that He has not changed. He can come down like fire and melt the hardest hearts; He can convert the worst man or woman among our hearers, and mold their whole character into a new shape. And so we preach on. We hope, because of the Holy Spirit.

Oh, that our hearts would understand that the progress of true religion depends not on human might or power—but on the Lord's Spirit! Oh, that many of them would learn to lean less on ministers, and to pray more for the Holy Spirit! Oh, that all would learn to expect less from schools, and tracts, and ecclesiastical machinery; and, while using all means diligently, would seek more earnestly for the outpouring of the Spirit!

Reader, do you feel the slightest drawing towards God? Do you feel the smallest concern about your immortal soul? Does your conscience tell you this day that you have not yet felt the Spirit's power, and do you want to know what to do? Listen, and I will tell you. For one thing, you must go at once to the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer, and beseech Him to have mercy on you, and send you the Spirit. You must go direct to that open fountain of living waters, the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall receive the Holy Spirit (John 7:39). Begin at once to pray for the Holy Spirit. To not think that you are shut up and cut off from hope—the Holy Spirit is promised to those who ask Him. His very name is the Spirit of Promise, and the Spirit of Life. Give Him no rest, until He comes down and makes you a new heart. Cry mightily unto the Lord—say unto Him, "Bless me, even me also! Quicken me, and make me alive!"

I dare not, for my part, send anxious souls to anyone but Christ. I cannot hold with those who tell men to pray for the Holy Spirit in the first place, in order that they may go to Christ in the second place. I see no warrant of Scripture for saying so. I only see that if men feel they are needy, perishing sinners, they ought to apply, first and foremost, straight and direct to Jesus Christ. I see that He himself says, "If any man thirsts—let him come unto Me and drink" (John vii. 37). I know that it is written, "He has received gifts for men, yes for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them" (Ps.67:18). I know it is His special office to baptize with the Holy Spirit, and that "in Him all fullness dwells." I dare not pretend to be more systematic than the Bible. I believe that Christ is the meeting place between God and the soul. So my first advice to anyone who wants the Spirit, must always be, "go to Jesus, and tell your wants to Him."

For another thing, if you have not yet felt the converting power of the Spirit, you must be diligent in attending those means of grace through which the Spirit works. You must regularly hear that Word which is His sword; you must habitually attend those assemblies where His presence is promised. You must, in short, be found in the way cf the Spirit—if you want the Spirit to do you good. Blind Bartimaeus would never have received sight had he sat lazily at home, and not come forth to sit by the wayside. Zaccheus might never have seen Jesus, and become a child of God, if he had not ran before and climbed up into the sycamore tree. The Spirit is a loving and good Spirit. But he who despises means of grace, resists the Holy Spirit.

Reader, remember these two things. I firmly believe that no man ever acted honestly and perseveringly on these two pieces of advice, who did not, sooner or later, have the Spirit, and find by experience that He is "mighty to save!"

J.C. Ryle

March 13, 2010

Nothing is ever good enough!

We are currently reading through Exodus and are reminded, at every turn, how no matter what God does for His people; they continue to whine and complain. Many will think to themselves, "O' I am nothing like those Israelites. If I had been there, I would not be among the whiners." Perhaps there are a few where this may be true of them. However, for the majority of mankind, nothing is ever good enough. In fact, most seem to think that they deserve to be happy; they deserve to live without hardship, toil and suffering. Why is this?

Are we conditioned to believe this by our parents, friends, culture, media, and the like? That is certainly a part of it. For example; when someone gets promoted; when someone announces an upcoming wedding; when someone shares how they came into a financial gain; the too common expression, even out of the mouths of professing Christians, is, "I am so happy for you--you deserve it".

The truth is--we "deserve" nothing. All good that comes to us is an act of mercy and grace at the hands of God. When one truly embraces this reality, one has a difficult time complaining and whining about anything.

Let us, as Christians, stop thinking like; and, mimicking the world's responses and reactions. Let us watch our language; Let us examine what we say and why we say it. Many times we do not really mean what we say, we are simply mindless to the subtle errors and influences of the culture and our upbringing. Let us stop and think about our own language. Are we promoting a man-centered or a Christ-centered way of thinking inside ourselves and others? It matters, you know. We have a great deal of influence on one another and we tend to repeat what we hear.

So, when someone tells you that they got promoted, or they bought a new car, or they are getting married; let us make sure that we are not using the world's silly sayings and phrases like, "I am so happy for you--you deserve it". Using those terms; actually breeds discontentment and causes others to think that contentment comes from good fortune. True contentment does not depend upon any of those things!

"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." Philippians 4:11

Contentment is the being satisfied with the sovereign dispensations of God's providence. It is the opposite of murmuring, which is the spirit of rebellion--the clay saying to the Potter, "Why have You made me thus?" Instead of complaining at his lot--a contented man is thankful that his condition and circumstances are no worse than they are.

Discontent! Was there ever a time when there was so much discontent and restlessness in the world, as there is today? We very much doubt it. Despite our boasted progress, the vast increase of wealth, the time and money expended daily in pleasure--discontent is everywhere! No class is exempt. Everything is in a state of flux, and almost everybody is dissatisfied. Many even among God's own people are affected with the evil spirit of this age.

Contentment! Is such a thing realizable, or is it nothing more than a beautiful ideal, a mere dream of the poet? Is it attainable on earth, or is it restricted to the inhabitants of heaven? If feasible here and now--may it be retained--or are a few brief moments or hours of contentment the most that we may expect in this life?

The force of Paul's statement will be better appreciated, if his condition and circumstances at the time he made it, are kept in mind. When the apostle wrote the words, he was not luxuriating in a special suite in the Emperor's palace--but was in prison "in chains". The contentment which Paul enjoyed, was not the result of congenial and comfortable surroundings. Most people suppose that contentment is impossible, unless one can have the desires of the carnal heart gratified.

A prison is the last place to which they would go--if they were seeking a contented man. This much, then, is clear--contentment comes from within not without; it must be sought from God, not in creature comforts.

Now, there is a vast difference between precept and practice, between the ideal and the realization. But in the case of Paul, contentment was an actual experience! It was something he had learned in the school of Christian experience."Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said--Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5

A.W. Pink

March 12, 2010

We are all too much like David

"Count yourself richer—that day you discover a new fault in yourself; not richer because it is there—but richer because it is no longer a hidden fault! And if you have not found all your faults, pray to have them revealed to you, even if the revelation must come in a way that hurts your pride!" Ruskin

"The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way." Psalm 139:23, 24

It takes courage to pray this prayer, "Search me, O God, and know my heart!" Not all men can do it. Many people fear to look into their own heart. If by some divine revealing, we were made to see ourselves as we are—all the evil that is in us, our face would blanch into deathly paleness. It takes courage to ask God to search one's inner life—and show one one's sins.

It takes honesty, too, to pray this prayer. The poet meant that every wrong thing found in his heart, under the clear light of God's Spirit, he would cast out. Some people do not want to find their own sins—because they do not want to give them up. They do not wish to discover their secret faults, because they love them and desire to keep them. We cannot pray this prayer—if we are not ready and willing and eager to have Christ save us from whatever evil way, whatever sinful habit, feeling, disposition, or temper—we may discover in ourselves. It takes honesty, therefore, and sincerity, to pray God to search us.

The writer asks God to search him. He does not say he will search himself. An ancient maxim was, "Know yourself." But no man can really know himself, in the depths of his being—unless God holds the lamp to shine in the darkness. God is light. Christ is the world's only light. None but God can truly search us—and show us to ourselves. The poet invites divine searching.

Neither does he ask his neighbors to search his ways and thoughts. Men are willing enough, ofttimes, to judge their fellow men, to find and expose their faults, to proclaim their sins. It is easier to confess other people's sins—than one's own. The Pharisee was quite free in searching the publican and declaring his wrongdoings, though he saw no faults and sins in himself!

The poet might have found men who would be willing to search him and try him and point out his blemishes and his wicked ways. But this, he did not ask. Men's judgments are imperfect. Sometimes they are uncharitable, even unjust. There are lives that go down under men's condemnation, whom love would have saved. At the best, men are only ignorant or partial judges. They cannot see our motives—and ofttimes they condemn as evil—that which is noble and beautiful, and approved as right and praiseworthy, that which before God is unworthy and sinful. It is not enough for us to ask men to search us and try us, to say to a friend, "Tell me of my faults and blemishes, that I may put them away."

Dr. Stalker tells the story of a young composer whose work was being performed in a great music hall. A throng was listening and applauding. But the young man seemed to be indifferent to all these tokens of approval. All the while his eye was fixed on one man who sat at the center of the hall. This was his old master, and the musician cared more for his opinion—than for that of the thousands of other listeners; and was thrilled more by his faintest look or gesture of approval, than by all the thunderous cheers of the throng.

It matters very little to us what men may say—either in praise or in blame—of our conduct, or our deeds. But there is One who sits at the center of all things, who is perfect in wisdom, love, and righteousness, and whose judgments are unerring. We should want always to know what He thinks of our acts, words, dispositions, and thoughts. Though all the world applauds what we do, if on His face there is no pleasure, if we see there the shadow of disapprobation, what a mockery is men's applause! On the other hand, if the world sneers, condemns, and blames; if men have for us only scorn, reproach, and persecution; and if, meanwhile, turning our eyes toward the heavenly throne, we see in the divine face—the smile of pleasure and approval, what need we care for either the favors or the frowns of men? It is to God we should turn—for the searching of our lives. No other judgment will avail.

It is better and safer always, to fall into the hands of God, than into the hands of men. God is kindlier and juster than men. Nobody understands you—as God does. Nobody knows your infirmities and has such patience with them—as God has. He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust. He understands our weakness. He knows human life—this blessed Lord of ours—by actual human experience. He knows all the elements that enter into human struggle, and, therefore, is fitted for sympathy. We never need be afraid to open our heart to Him, for He will never be unjust with us. We never need be afraid to ask Him to search us, for if we truly want to give up our sins when we discover them—we shall find Him most merciful and gracious.

It will be worth our while to think seriously of the things in us—that only God can see. There are sins which are hidden from ourselves, of which our conscience is not aware—our unknown errors.

The evil in us which lies too deep to be discovered. There is a SELF in us, which even we ourselves do not see. There are depths of our being, into which our own eyes cannot pierce. Even our own knowledge of ourselves, is not final. You may say that you know of no sins, errors, or faults in yourself, and you may be sincere; still this is not evidence that you are sinless.

In one of his epistles Paul says, "I know nothing against myself." He was not living in the practice of any sin, so far as he knew. He did no wrong thing willingly and knowingly. He cherished no secret sin. Every fault he discovered, he put away. He knew nothing against himself. But he added, "Yet am I not hereby justified; but he who judges me is the Lord." The bar of conscience in our own breast, is not the final court. It is not enough to have the approval of our own heart. There are errors and evils in the holiest life on earth—which only God's eye can detect. We must ask God to search us, if we would be made clean. God knows all our past. We do not. There is much that we have forgotten. The memory of many of our deeds has faded out. But God has forgotten nothing. Our forgetting our sins—does not blot them out. The evil things we do not remember, are there yet.

We cannot see our own faults—even as our neighbors can see them. There is wisdom in the wish that we might see ourselves, as others see us—for it would free us from many a blunder and foolish notion. We are prejudiced in our own favor. We are disposed to be charitable toward our own shortcomings. We make all sorts of allowances for our own faults. We are wonderfully patient with our own weaknesses. We are blind to our own blemishes. We look at our good qualities through magnifying glasses; and at our faults and errors with lenses reversed—making them appear very small. We see only the best of ourselves. If you were to meet yourself on the street some morning—that is, the person God sees you to be—you would probably not recognize yourself!

We remember the little story that the prophet Nathan told King David, about a rich man's injustice toward a poor man, and how David's anger flamed up. "This man must die!" cried the king. He did not recognize himself—in the man he so despised, until Nathan quietly said, "You are the man!"

We are all too much like David.

If the true chronicle of your life were written in a book, in the form of a story, and you were to read the chapters over—you probably would not identify the story as your own! We do not know our real self. We do not imagine there is so much about us that is morally ugly and foul, that is positively wicked. But God searches and knows the innermost and hidden things of our heart!

God sees into the future and knows where the subtle tendencies of our life are leading us. We do many things which to our own eyes, appear innocent and harmless—but which have in them a hidden evil tendency which some day will come to ripeness. We indulge ourselves in many things which may not appear sinful—but which leave on our soul a touch of blight, a soiling of purity. We permit ourselves to grow into a hundred little habits, in which we see no danger—but which meanwhile are weaving their fine gossamer threads into a net for our souls, or twisting their invisible filaments into a rope which some day will bind us hand and foot! We spare ourselves little self-denials, thinking there is no reason why we should make them, not aware that we are neglecting God-given duties, and refusing to take up crosses laid at our feet by the Master, thus failing in complete faithfulness. We form friendships which become very dear to us—but which insidiously harm us, weakening our life's purpose or drawing us away from God.

The peril in all these things, lies not so much in the mere acts or indulgences of the hour—as in the things to which they will lead. We have no eyes to see the hidden danger in these "no harms" in our life—but God detects the peril, and sees what the end will be.

A popular writer tells the story of a dream which a man had. He had left his English home and was in India. He had done many things which would have pained his mother's heart, if she had known of them. One night he dreamed that he saw a drunken man enter his room. As the moonlight fell on the man's face, making every feature visible, a terror more terrible than mortal had ever known before seized upon the dreamer. He saw that the face was his own—but marked and scarred with the furrows of disease and much evil-doing—white, drawn, and grown old. It was a glimpse of what he was coming to, if he did not quickly change his wrong course.

There is another kind of hidden faults. There are things in many of us, no doubt, which we regard among our strong points, certainly fair and commendable traits or qualities—which in God's eye are sore blemishes! Good and evil in certain qualities, lie not far apart. It is easy for devotion to principle—a good thing; to take the form of obstinacy—a very unlovely thing. It is not hard for zeal for orthodoxy, to pass into intolerance and bigotry. Self-respect, consciousness of ability, easily degenerate into prideful self-conceit. Gentleness readily becomes weakness.

A man may be giving his life, in the larger sense, to the work of Christ, doing great things for the church—while in his own home, with those nearest to him, he is living like a beast! We see this kind of fault cropping out in our neighbor's character and life, and we say, "What a pity so fine a character is so marred!" Yes, and our neighbour looks at us, and says, "What a pity that with so many excellences, he has these blemishes and faults!" Sin is deceitful.

The substance of all this is, that besides the evil which others see in us, and which we see in ourselves; all of us have undiscovered errors and faults—which only God can see!

We ought never to shrink from learning our faults. He is a coward who does. Moreover, he is making a fearful mistake, who blinds himself to the faults in his own heart and life. He is refusing to see a danger which by and by, may work his ruin! Every true man should be glad always to learn of any hidden fault he has.

Ruskin says, "Count yourself richer—that day you discover a new fault in yourself; not richer because it is there—but richer because it is no longer a hidden fault! And if you have not found all your faults, pray to have them revealed to you, even if the revelation must come in a way that hurts your pride!"

Secret, undiscovered faults—are more perilous than discovered faults. Open sins are enemies in the field, undisguised, recognized as enemies. Hidden faults are enemies concealed, traitors in our camp, passing for friends! No godly, true, and brave man will permit a discovered sin or fault—to stay in his life. He will fight it to the death. But his undiscovered sin or fault, lurks and nests in his heart while he knows it not, and breeds its evil in his very soul! Before he is aware of its presence—it may eat out the very heart of his life—and poison the springs of his being!

A fire broke out in a large storage building in the morning—but it had been smouldering all night, and, undiscovered, eating its way among the bales, so that when discovered the whole interior was a mass of fire, and there was only the shell of the building left. Just so, hidden faults destroy lives, and none but God knows the destruction that is going on—until the fatal ruin is wrought. We ought to pray God continually, to search us, and save us from undiscovered sins.

Hidden faults in us—will hinder our spiritual growth. They also make us unfit for God's work. When Canova, the sculptor, was about to begin his statue of Napoleon, his keen eye saw a tiny reddish tinge in the upper part of the splendid block of marble out of which he was to hew the statue. The stone had been brought at great expense from Paris. Common eyes saw no flaw in the stone—but the sculptor saw it, and the stone was rejected.

May it not be so ofttimes, with lives which face great opportunities? God's eye detects in them some undiscovered flaw, or fault, some tiny tinge of marring color. God desires truth in the inward parts. The life must be pure and white throughout. He who cherishes a secret sin—is balking God's purpose in himself. God cannot use him for the noble task or service. Because of the secret sin—he is rejected.

Are we ready to make the prayer for divine searching? Are we willing to have God search us—and find every secret, hidden sin in us? Are we willing for Him to go down into our heart, among our thoughts and affections and desires, and find and reveal to us every way of wickedness He discovers? Then are we willing to give up, tear out, and cast away forever from us, everything that God finds that is not holy?

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way!"

Looking One's Soul in the Face
J. R. Miller, 1912

March 9, 2010

A Divine and Supernatural Light

"This knowledge will wean from the world, and raise the inclination to heavenly things. It will turn the heart to God as the fountain of good, and to choose him for the only portion. This light, and this only, will bring the soul to a saving close with Christ. It conforms the heart to the gospel, mortifies its enmity and opposition against the scheme of salvation therein revealed: it causes the heart to embrace the joyful tidings, and entirely to adhere to, and acquiesce in the revelation of Christ as our Saviour: it causes the whole soul to accord and symphonize with it, admitting it with entire credit and respect cleaving to it with full inclination and affection; and it effectually disposes the soul to give up itself entirely to Christ."

Edwards both biblically and rationally lays out the case that the spiritual knowledge and illumination needed to understand the gospel and to internalize the excellencies of divine truth, is imparted directly by God alone. This knowledge is given immediately by God and not obtained through natural means that operate by their own power. While God often makes use of natural means, yet the medium is not what causes the effect. God may teach us many things through nature and reason, and even use the words of Scripture to convey a doctrine or proposition, but only God can illumine them in such a way wherein we see their beauty and excellency. Those who are unregenerate have no capacity to love what is spiritual and are not partly but wholly dependent on God to translate them from darkness to light. Edwards does an excellent job explaining how spiritual light is actually given.

It is not every affecting view that men have of the things of religion that is this spiritual and divine light. Men by mere principles of nature are capable of being affected with things that have a special relation to religion as well as other things. A person by mere nature, for instance, may be liable to be affected with the story of Jesus Christ, and the sufferings he underwent, as well as by any other tragical story: he may be the more affected with it from the interest he conceives mankind to have in it: yea, he may be affected with it without believing it; as well as a man may be affected with what he reads in a romance, or sees acted in a stage play. He may be affected with a lively and eloquent description of many pleasant things that attend the state of the blessed in heaven, as well as his imagination be entertained by a romantic description of the pleasantness of fairy land, or the like. And that common belief of the truth of the things of religion, that persons may have from education or otherwise, may help forward their affection. We read in Scripture of many that were greatly affected with things of a religious nature, who yet are there represented as wholly graceless, and many of them very ill men. A person therefore may have affecting views of the things of religion, and yet be very destitute of spiritual light. Flesh and blood may be the author of this: one man may give another an affecting view of divine things with but common assistance: but God alone can give a spiritual discovery of them.

The mind having a sensibleness of the excellency of divine objects, dwells upon them with delight; and the powers of the soul are more awakened and enlivened to employ themselves in the contemplation of them, and exert themselves more fully and much more to the purpose. The beauty and sweetness of the objects draws on the faculties, and draws forth their exercises: so that reason itself is under far greater advantages for its proper and free exercises, and to attain its proper end, free of darkness and delusion.

A true sense of the divine excellency of the things of God's word doth more directly and immediately convince of the truth of them; and that because the excellency of these things is so superlative. There is a beauty in them that is so divine and godlike, that is greatly and evidently distinguishing of them from things merely human, or that men are the inventors and authors of; a glory that is so high and great, that when clearly seen, commands assent to their divinity and reality. When there is an actual and lively discovery of this beauty and excellency, it will not allow of any such thought as that it is a human work, or the fruit of men's invention. This evidence that they that are spiritually enlightened have of the truth of the things of religion, is a kind of intuitive and immediate evidence. They believe the doctrines of God's word to be divine, because they see divinity in them; i.e., they see a divine, and transcendent, and most evidently distinguishing glory in them; such a glory as, if clearly seen, does not leave room to doubt of their being of God, and not of men.

Such a conviction of the truth of religion as this, arising, these ways, from a sense of the divine excellency of them, is that true spiritual conviction that there is in saving faith. And this original of it, is that by which it is most essentially distinguished from that common assent, which unregenerate men are capable of.

He concludes:

All may hence be exhorted earnestly to seek this spiritual light. To influence and move to it, the following things may be considered.

1. This is the most excellent and divine wisdom that any creature is capable of. It is more excellent than any human learning; it is far more excellent than all the knowledge of the greatest philosophers or statesmen. Yea, the least glimpse of the glory of God in the face of Christ doth more exalt and ennoble the soul, than all the knowledge of those that have the greatest speculative understanding in divinity without grace. This knowledge has the most noble object that is or can be, viz., the divine glory or excellency of God and Christ. The knowledge of these objects is that wherein consists the most excellent knowledge of the angels, yea, of God himself.

2. This knowledge is that which is above all others sweet and joyful. Men have a great deal of pleasure in human knowledge, in studies of natural things; but this is nothing to that joy which arises from this divine light shining into the soul. This light gives a view of those things that are immensely the most exquisitely beautiful, and capable of delighting the eye of the understanding. This spiritual light is the dawning of the light of glory in the heart. There is nothing so powerful as this to support persons in affliction, and to give the mind peace and brightness in this stormy and dark world.

3. This light is such as effectually influences the inclination, and changes the nature of the soul. It assimilates the nature to the divine nature, and changes the soul into an image of the same glory that is beheld. 2 Cor. 3:18, "But we all with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." This knowledge will wean from the world, and raise the inclination to heavenly things. It will turn the heart to God as the fountain of good, and to choose him for the only portion. This light, and this only, will bring the soul to a saving close with Christ. It conforms the heart to the gospel, mortifies its enmity and opposition against the scheme of salvation therein revealed: it causes the heart to embrace the joyful tidings, and entirely to adhere to, and acquiesce in the revelation of Christ as our Saviour: it causes the whole soul to accord and symphonize with it, admitting it with entire credit and respect cleaving to it with full inclination and affection; and it effectually disposes the soul to give up itself entirely to Christ.

4. This light, and this only, has its fruit in a universal holiness of life. No merely notional or speculative understanding of the doctrines of religion will ever bring to this. But this light, as it reaches the bottom of the heart, and changes the nature, so it will effectually dispose to a universal obedience. It shows God's worthiness to be obeyed and served. It draws forth the heart in a sincere love to God, which is the only principle of a true, gracious, and universal obedience; and it convinces of the reality of those glorious rewards that God has promised to them that obey him.

Excerpts from: A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to be Both Scriptural and Rational Doctrine - A Sermon by Jonathan Edwards

March 5, 2010

Why should mere man choreograph your emotions?

Dear people, life is short and life is precious. Don’t waste it on superficial things. Grow deep. Get ready to die well. Give yourself unreservedly to what matters. Fling away sham. Be real with God and real with man. Cherish the eternal in everything. Take hold of life which is life indeed. Turn off the television. Turn off the radio. Why should mere man choreograph your emotions?

O, for more deep individuals and fewer herd people! Go deep with God. Be alone. Come forth like humble steel. There is no other way to die well. Nothing is more lonely than dying. If your life is not deep in Christ alone, death will be a terrible thing. Get ready. And in getting ready you will be the deep aroma of God in a tragically superficial world.

John Piper

March 4, 2010

To be a Christian

Without the gospel everything is useless and vain; without the gospel we are not Christians; without the gospel all riches is poverty, all wisdom folly before God; strength is weakness, and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made children of God, brothers of Jesus Christ, fellow townsmen with the saints, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom the poor are made rich, the weak strong, the fools wise, the sinner justified, the desolate comforted, the doubting sure, and slaves free. It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.

It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labor lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal. In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.

If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation [life] is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things. And we are comforted in tribulation, joyful in sorrow, glorying under vituperation [verbal abuse], abounding in poverty, warmed in our nakedness, patient amongst evils, living in death.

This is what we should seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.

John Calvin's preface for Pierre Robert Oliv├ętan’s French translation of the New Testament in 1534.

March 3, 2010

The Saints at "Soaring Oaks" will be Blessed!

This is exciting News! Sacramento is hosting this year's Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. In fact, this is the last year it will be held in Sacramento. Two of the speakers at the conference are D.A. Carson and Philip Ryken.

Well, that's great news; but that's not the exciting news. The exciting news is that they will both be preaching at Soaring Oaks Presbyterian Church on Sunday, March 7th and there is no registration fee. No that's really exciting news.

Soaring Oaks is a small church and to have these two men preaching there is truly a blessing from God. We are looking forward to this with great anticipation and much prayer.

March 2, 2010

"...the grandest and most important theme of all"


Recently, in a local church newsletter, a pastor asks, and answers, the most important question concerning the church, "What is the Gospel?" This should be the heart cry of every Pastor. He begins the article with several provocative questions, i.e., "Have too many churches assumed that their congregations understand the Gospel, and therefore have failed to clearly and regularly proclaim the Gospel to their people? Have too many churches become sidetracked with lesser themes, while ignoring the grandest and most important theme of all? " His message echos that of so many great men of God who have gone before. As the late J.C. Ryle stated:

“You may spoil the gospel by substitution. You have only to withdraw from the eyes of the sinner the grand object which the Bible proposes to faith--Jesus Christ--and to substitute another object in His place… and the mischief is done.

“You may spoil the gospel by addition. You have only to add to Christ, the grand object of faith, some other objects as equally worthy of honor, and the mischief is done.

“You may spoil the gospel by disproportion. You have only to attach an exaggerated importance to the secondary things of Christianity, and a diminished importance to the first things, and the mischief is done.

“Lastly, but not least, you may completely spoil the gospel by confused and contradictory directions… Confused and disorderly statements about Christianity are almost as bad as no statement at all. Religion of this sort is not evangelical."

Let us now hear the powerfully important words of this local Pastor:

Why deal with a question like this in a publication mailed primarily to Christians? Don’t our readers already know what the Gospel is? I hope so. I’m sure many do, but evidence continues to mount that many Christians do not. It is not only those who are irreligious or members of false cults or non-Christian religions, or even those entrenched in apostate denominations. Increasingly, those who identify themselves as “born-again” Christians reveal an appalling ignorance regarding the Gospel. Have too many churches assumed that their congregations understand the Gospel, and therefore have failed to clearly and regularly proclaim the Gospel to their people? Have too many churches become sidetracked with lesser themes, while ignoring the grandest and most important theme of all?

THE GOSPEL IS GOOD NEWS. Nearly everyone knows that the word “gospel” means “good news.” And good news it is, when properly understood! But the message of the Gospel is not all good news. It contains a significant measure of bad news, and if people do not understand the bad news, they will never comprehend the good news. In an effort to be always cheerful, positive, and breezy, many evangelicals have attempted to present the Gospel only in terms of good news, ignoring crucial elements of sin and eternal condemnation. Aspects of the Gospel such as the absolute holiness of God and His burning wrath toward sinners are commonly omitted in the interests of not sounding negative. In so doing, the true message of the Gospel is badly skewed.

WHAT THE GOSPEL IS NOT. Yes, the Gospel is good news. But that doesn’t mean that everything that sounds like good news is the Gospel. The message of food for the hungry is not the Gospel. It is good news to those who need food, but the Gospel it is not. Provision of medicine for the diseased is not the Gospel, nor homes for orphans, nor justice for the oppressed. These are all good projects for people of good will, but we must not confuse these, nor any other good deeds with the message of salvation for sinners. When we, in our enthusiasm for good causes, represent them as if they are the Gospel, and portray them as the church’s primary commission from her Lord and Master, we do great harm to the souls of men by confusing lesser issues with the most important mission of the Church, the proclamation of the Gospel to needy sinners. Nor is the Gospel the message that Christ can improve your self-esteem, your physical health, and your financial welfare. While it is true that Christ is able to do all this and more, if and when He chooses, none of this is the Gospel. And to assure people that Christ always promises these things, when we have no Biblical warrant to say so, is a cruel hoax, evidently intended to deceive those who are more interested in temporal than eternal salvation.

A CURRENT ILLUSTRATION. For many years, our church faithfully and enthusiastically supported our local Right to Life activities. We are solidly pro-life and anti-abortion. But we became increasingly uneasy as more and more of these rallies confused the message of “choose life” with the Gospel. Some participants seem to believe that the message of life, as opposed to abortion, is the Gospel. It is not. It is extremely important that Christians not confuse this important issue. True, the Gospel is a message of life, but it is not the message of “give human life a chance,” but that Christ’s vicarious death on the cross brings eternal life to sinners who trust in Him alone for salvation. Big difference! I’ve received rally materials in the mail inviting Christians to come and take a united stand for the Gospel. Yet I know that some in both leadership and attendance do not believe the Gospel. What Gospel do they represent? What do they think the Gospel is? How could we continue to support such public confusion! We are thankful for every citizen who exercises his political freedom to protest the scourge of abortion. We desire to stand for life, but how can we join in public desecration of the Gospel? If these rallies were strictly civic, not religious, we could happily join our fellow citizens to peaceably assemble and protest the politics of abortion. But when the impression is given that this is a united Christian witness to the Gospel, we must reluctantly step aside. Our absence must signal our disagreement with such misrepresentations. Love for Christ and the souls of men demands serious efforts to clarify, not muddy the Gospel. The Gospel is not the message of Pro-life. The Gospel is the message of Eternal Life by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

WHAT IS THE GOSPEL? It is the message that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. It is the solemn truth that we have all sinned grievously, and fall under the just condemnation of a Holy God. It is the amazing message that God gave His own beloved Son to earn the righteousness required of us, dying the agonizing death of the cross, and absorbing unto himself the wrath of God deserved by us. It is the promise that whoever turns from his sins and trusts in Christ alone will be declared righteous in the sight of God, and granted eternal life as an adopted son of God. It is the glad tidings that hell-deserving sinners can be justly forgiven by the vicarious sacrifice of Christ in their place, and that whoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life.

That, in a nutshell, is the Gospel. That is good news to those who understand their condition as condemned sinners with no hope of salvation apart from Christ. The Gospel is good news for sinners who fully recognize their sinful condition and are desperate to be cleansed from their sins. Minimizing man’s sinfulness is a great hindrance to the Gospel. If I can find a sinner, I can tell him some incredibly good news. However, for self-righteous people, there is no good news to offer because Jesus has no good news to offer. He said, “I came not to call the righteous (that is, the self-righteous, those who think they are sufficiently righteous in themselves), but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). Confusing the Gospel with humanitarian projects tends to make people self-righteousness, not repentant. That is no way to help people understand their need for the life-imparting Gospel of Christ.

G.N. Barkman
Pastor of Beacon Baptist Church
Burlington, North Carolina