Wednesday, January 30, 2008
This is a great plan, but it doesn't address what to do on February 29th. This is not unique, even long established plans like the M'Cheyne Bible Reading Plan fail to address this situation.
Fortunately for me, February 29th falls on a Friday this year, which is my normal day off from my secular job. As a result, I can devote that day to the Lord's glory as a "Day of Jubilee". The current plan (subject to change) is to engage in the following readings:
The entire Gospel of John.
Psalms 22, 23, and 24. (The trilogy of Suffering Servant, Good Shepherd, and Glorious King.)
As you can see, this plan is fully Christocentric. It is my prayer that Christ be at the center of my life, not only on February 29th, but each and every day.
What is your plan for this extra day?
Monday, January 28, 2008
Knowing that a great number of divorces occur due to selfishness ("I need a new partner", "She doesn't satisfy me anymore", etc.), isn't it ironic that one of the results is abandonment and loss.
We truly reap what we sow.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
We might think that the answer is apparent, but I am not so sure. If we spend any time discussing "The Moment of Truth", it will probably be for reasons other than it's merit. I think that we can see human depravity at its very worse in this show.
First, let me confess that I saw 15-20 minutes of that show. I think that I will see if Fox can't give me that 15-20 minutes of my life back. For those who haven't experienced the torment, let me fill you in on the premise of this show. Contestants are strapped to a lie detector, and then answer a series of increasingly embarrassing questions in order to win money. If the lie detector indicates deceit they go home empty handed. Colleagues and loved ones are on the platform during this exercise in order to add to the pressure and shame.
From what I saw, the contestant struggled with the questions, wondering just how far he could go without tripping off the lie detector. This was for the princely sum of $10,000, not exactly "big money". I saw that the board went all the way to $500,000, but based on the nature of the 10 grand questions I can only wonder if the only appropriate question for that level is "Would you sell your soul to the Devil for a 1/2 million dollars?'.
Yet, whether that question is ever reached, it appears that this is exactly what is happening. Am I willing to expose myself to ridicule and shame for filthy lucre? Just how far can I go before I am caught in my deceit? Am I willing to sacrifice my friends, my loved ones, and my reputation for a quick buck?
If this show lasts more than a couple of episodes it will be a sad indicator as to how low we can go in the name of entertainment.
Yes, we might discuss "The Moment of Truth" in eternity to come, but only as a way of recognizing the deceitful nature of our fallen hearts and the great redemption found in Christ Jesus.
Let me see if I can tie mine into his list.
1. Timmy tells us that he is still best friend with the first person he met in school. I am jealous. As an Army brat, my education took place in a multitude of schools. You don't stay in one place long enough to make friends, let alone best friends. I was born in Canada (and have dual US/Canadian citizenship due to the fact that my mother was a British subject at the time of my birth), and lived in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, England, and Texas before finishing Junior High.
2. Even though I dated quite often in High School, I don't remember any of these relationships being more than casual acquaintances. I guess that my first real girlfriend was, and is, my bride of almost 30 years, Barbara. We have two children and four grandchildren.
3. MC Hammer in the 6th grade? No way. MC Hammer was only 5 years old when I was in the 6th grade. I would guess that the first song I can remember memorizing was the Beatles: "She loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah." Yeah, really.
4. 1983? I was serving in the US Army in the Republic of Korea that year. Most of it was a blur. I think that the only trophy I won that year was the "avoided frostbite" award.
5. Being left handed, and changing schools numerous times in the early grades (see #1 above), I have always had terrible handwriting. The first elective that I took in High School was typing, and I have been timed in the past at 90 wpm with perfect copy. Typing class was probably the best thing that has ever happened to me educationally.
6. I may not plan blogposts in the shower at 4:00 AM, but I do solve most of my work related problems in that place and at that hour. I had an epiphany this past Thursday morning that completely changed the direction for that workday.
7. I cannot remember the first book that I read, but I cannot remember a time when I could not read. I have been a voracious reader all of my life, and feel strange when I read things like "58% of Americans never read another book after High School".
What is the most important thing to know about me? I am a filthy rotten sinner who deserves death and hell, yet I have been transformed by Christ Jesus into His kingdom. To Him alone belongs the glory, now and forever. Amen.
Oh, since I am relatively new to this "blogging" thing, I am only going to tag one person, my brother-in-law the Lost Fart.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Looking forward to February we will be reading John Flavel's The Mystery of Providence. Since I have finished January's reading, and since February's book is 221 pages packed into 29 days, I wanted to get a jump start in learning about Flavel (1628-1691). My main source is Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson. After reading about the trials and tribulations of this Godly man I wonder why it is that we see less courage and determination in our leaders today.
As a non-conformist, Flavel was forced out of his pulpit, but continued to preach in homes, in forests, and even on low tide rocks. All of this was done at risk of arrest and imprisonment. At the same time he lost three wives and at least one child to death. His final words this side of glory, even after a life of suffering, were "I know that it will be well with me".
How many of our peers today abandon the ministry for much less in the way of affliction and trouble? The average pastoral tenure, at least in Southern Baptist churches, grows shorter and shorter. Somebody gets their feelings hurt, and "poof" the pastor is either off to greener pastures or out of the ministry all together.
Maybe, just maybe, what we need today is for the preaching of the Gospel to be outlawed similar to what happened in 17th century England. Gone in a flash would be those who preach the "prosperity gospel" or those who distort God's Word for other insincere motives. Those who remain, even if banished to forest glades or deserted coves, would exhibit the faith and faithfulness of John Flavel and his colleagues.
Maybe, just maybe.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Before we conclude this book, let me publicly thank Timmy Brister for putting The Puritan Reading Challenge together. It is my prayer that this project will not only benefit and bless those of us participating but will also be of benefit to the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Please read, re-read, and meditate on these words from "the heavenly Dr. Sibbes":
OUR VICTORY IN CHRIST IS CERTAIN
In conclusion and as a general application to ourselves of all that has been said, we see the conflicting, but yet sure and hopeful, state of God's people. The victory lies not with us, but with Christ, who has taken on him both to conquer for us and to conquer in us. The victory lies neither in our own strength to get it, nor in our enemies' strength to defeat it. If it lay with us, we might justly fear. But Christ will maintain his own government in us and take our part against our corruptions. They are his enemies as well as ours. Let us therefore be `strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might' (Eph. 6:10). Let us not look so much at who our enemies are as at who our judge and captain is, nor at what they threaten, but at what he promises. We have more for us than against us. What coward would not fight when he is sure of victory? None is here overcome but he that will not fight. Therefore, when any base fainting seizes on us, let us lay the blame where it ought to be laid.
Discouragement rising from unbelief and the ill report brought upon the good land by the spies moved God to swear in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest. Let us take heed that a spirit of faint heartedness, rising from the seeming difficulty and disgrace involved in God's good ways, does not provoke God to keep us out of heaven. We see here what we may look for from heaven. O beloved, it is a comfortable thing to conceive of Christ aright, to know what love, mercy and strength we have laid up for us in the breast of Christ. A good opinion of the physician, we say, is half the cure. Let us make use of this mercy and power of his every day in our daily combats: `Lord Jesus, thou hast promised not to quench the smoking flax, nor to break the bruised reed. Cherish thy grace in me; leave me not to myself; the glory shall be thine.' Let us not allow Satan to transform Christ to us, to make him other than he is to those that are his. Christ will not leave us till he has made us like himself, all glorious within and without, and presented us blameless before his Father (Jude 24).
What a comfort this is in our conflicts with our unruly hearts, that it shall not always be thus! Let us strive a little while, and we shall be happy for ever. Let us think when we are troubled with our sins that Christ has this in charge from his Father, that he shall not `quench the smoking flax' until he has subdued all. This puts a shield into our hands to beat back `all the fiery darts of the wicked' (Eph. 6:16). Satan will object, `You are a great sinner.' We may answer, `Christ is a strong Saviour.' But he will object, `You have no faith, no love.' `Yes, a spark of faith and love.' `But Christ will not regard that.' `Yes, he will not quench the smoking flax: `But this is so little and weak that it will vanish and come to naught." Nay, but Christ will cherish it, until he has brought judgment to victory.' And this much we have already for our comfort, that, even when we first believed, we overcame God himself, as it were, by believing the pardon of all our sins, notwithstanding the guilt of our own consciences and his absolute justice. Now, having been prevailers with God, what shall stand against us if we can learn to make use of our faith?
Oh, what a confusion is this to Satan, that he should labour to blow out a poor spark and yet should not be able to quench it; that a grain of mustard seed should be stronger than the gates of hell; that it should be able to remove mountains of oppositions and temptations cast up by Satan and our rebellious hearts between God and us. Abimelech could not endure that it should be said, `A woman slew him' (Judg. 9:54); and it must needs be a torment to Satan that a weak child, a woman, a decrepit old man should, by a spirit of faith, put him to flight.
TREASURE THE LEAST DEGREE OF GRACE
Since there is such comfort where there is a little truth of grace, that it will be so victorious, let us often try what God has wrought in us, search our good as well as our ill, and be thankful to God for the least measure of grace, more than for any outward thing. It will be of more use and comfort than all this world which passes away and comes to nothing. Yea, let us be thankful for that promised and assured victory which we may rely on without presumption, as Paul does: `But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Cor. 15:57). See a flame in a spark, a tree in a seed. See great things in little beginnings. Look not so much to the beginning as to the perfection, and so we shall be, in some degree, joyful in ourselves, and thankful to Christ.
Neither must we reason from a denial of a great measure of grace to a denial of any at all in us, for faith and grace do not consist in an indivisible amount, so that he who has not such and such a measure has none at all. But, as there is a great difference between a spark and a flame, so there is a great difference between the least measure of grace and the greatest; and he who has the least measure is within the compass of God's eternal favor. Though he is not a shining light, yet he is a smoking wick, which Christ's tender care will not allow him to quench.
ENCOURAGEMENT TO COME TO CHRIST
And let all that has been spoken allure those that are not yet in a state of grace to come under Christ's sweet and victorious government, for, though we shall have much opposition, yet, if we strive, he will help us. If we fail, he will cherish us. If we are guided by him, we shall overcome. If we overcome, we are sure to be crowned. As for the present state of the church, we see now how forlorn it is, yet let us comfort ourselves that Christ's cause shall prevail. Christ will rule, till his enemies become his footstool (Psa. 110:1), not only to trample upon, but to help him up to mount higher in glory. Babylon shall fall, `for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her' (Rev. 18:8). Christ's judgment, not only in his children, but also against his enemies, shall be victorious, for he is `King of kings and Lord of lords' (Rev. 19:16). God will not always suffer antichrist and his supporters to revel and swagger in the church as they do.
CHRIST IS THE HOPE OF THE CHURCH
If we look to the present state of the church of Christ, it is as Daniel in the midst of lions, as a lily amongst thorns, as a ship not only tossed but almost covered with waves. It is so low that the enemies think they have buried Christ, with respect to his gospel, in the grave, and there they think to keep him from rising. But as Christ rose in his person, so he will roll away all stones and rise again in his church. How little support has the church and cause of Christ at this day! How strong a conspiracy is against it! The spirit of antichrist is now lifted up and marches furiously. Things seem to hang on a small and invisible thread. But our comfort is that Christ lives and reigns, and stands on Mount Zion in defense of those who stand for him (Rev. 14:1); and when states and kingdoms shall dash one against another Christ will have care of his own children and cause, seeing there is nothing else in the world that he much esteems. At this very time the delivery of his church and the ruin of his enemies are in progress. We see nothing in motion till Christ has done his work, and then we shall see that the Lord reigns.
Christ and his church, when they are at the lowest, are nearest rising. His enemies, at the highest, are nearest their downfall. The Jews are not yet come in under Christ's banner; but God who has persuaded Japheth to come into the tents of Shem (Gen. 9:27) will persuade Shem to come into the tents of Japheth. The `fullness of the Gentiles' has not yet come in (Rom. 11:25), but Christ, who has the uttermost parts of the earth given to him for his possession (Psa. 2:8), will gather all the sheep his Father has given him into one fold, that there may be one sheepfold and one shepherd (John 10:16). The faithful Jews rejoiced to think of the calling of the Gentiles and why should we not rejoice to think of the calling of the Jews?
The gospel's course has hitherto been as that of the sun, from east to west, and so in God's time it may proceed yet further west. No creature can hinder the course of the sun, nor stop the influence of heaven, nor hinder the blowing of the wind, much less hinder the prevailing power of divine truth, until Christ has brought all under one head, and then he will present all to his Father: `These are those thou hast given to me; these are those that have taken me for their Lord and King, that have suffered with me. My will is that they may be where I am and reign with me: And then he will deliver up the kingdom, even to his Father, and put down all other rule, and authority, and power (1 Cor. 15:24).
FAITH WILL PREVAIL
Let us then bring our hearts to holy resolutions, and set ourselves upon that which is good, and against that which is ill, in ourselves or others, according to our callings, with this encouragement, that Christ's grace and power will go along with us. What would have become of that great work of reformation of religion in the latter spring of the gospel if men had not been armed with invincible courage to overcome all hindrances, with this faith, that the cause was Christ's, and that he would not fail to help his own cause? Luther ingenuously confessed that he often acted inconsiderately and moved by various passions. But when he acknowledged this, God did not condemn him for his errors, but, the cause being God's, and his aims being holy, to promote the truth, and being a mighty man in prayer, and strong in faith, God by him kindled that fire which all the world shall never be able to quench. According to our faith, so is our encouragement to all duties, therefore let us strengthen faith, so that it may strengthen all other graces. The very belief that faith shall be victorious is a means to make it so indeed. Believe it, therefore, that, though it is often as smoking flax, yet it shall prevail. If it prevails with God himself in trials, shall it not prevail over all other opposition? Let us wait a while, `stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD' (Exod. 14:13).The Lord reveal himself more and more to us in the face of his Son Jesus Christ and magnify the power of his grace in cherishing those beginnings of grace in the midst of our corruptions, and sanctify the consideration of our own infirmities to humble us, and of his tender mercy to encourage us. And may he persuade us that, since he has taken us into the covenant of grace, he will not cast us off for those corruptions which, as they grieve his Spirit, so they make us vile in our own eyes. And because Satan labors to obscure the glory of his mercy and hinder our comfort by discouragements, the Lord add this to the rest of his mercies, that, since he is so gracious to those that yield to his government, we may make the right use of this grace, and not lose any portion of comfort that is laid up for us in Christ. And may he grant that the prevailing power of his Spirit in us should be an evidence of the truth of grace begun, and a pledge of final victory, at that time when he will be all in all, in all his, for all eternity. Amen.
I am thankful that I have never said to anyone "Trust Christ and life will be a bed of roses". Not only has it not been true in my life, it has never been true for any saint, and it isn't promised in Scripture. Conflict and opposition do not decrease during our spiritual journey, but often they increase in both occasion and intensity. In this chapter, Sibbes tells us that we will experience victory, but first we must pass through conflict, often from within. It takes much trouble to bring Christ into the heart, and to set up a tribunal for him to judge there. There is an army of lusts in mutiny against him. The utmost strength of most men's endeavors and abilities is directed to keeping Christ from ruling in the soul. The flesh still labors to maintain its own government, and therefore it cries down the credit of whatever crosses it, such as God's blessed ordinances, and highly prizes anything, though never so dead and empty, if it allows the liberty of the flesh. (pg. 118-119)
In fact, opposition may be seen as a sign of spiritual strength instead of weakness. It is therefore no sign of a good condition to find all quiet, with no opposition; for can we think that corruption, which is the older element in us, and Satan, the strong man who has many holds over us, will yield possession quietly? No, there is not so much as a thought of goodness discovered by him, but he joins with corruption to kill it in the birth. (pg. 120)
So, we fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and none of them will give up easily, but all of them will be defeated in the end. Our victory in Christ is certain!
Sibbes conclusion to the book, pages 122-128, needs to be often before our eyes. As a result, I will conclude this series of posts on this book in my next post by presenting that material in its entirety. Please read and re-read it as food for your soul.
Tim Challies posted a blog entry this morning about the state of the church, and my first response (as recorded in the comments to that blog) was a memory of this morning's reading from chapter 15 of The Bruised Reed.
Christ, whom God has chosen to set forth the chief glory of his excellencies, is now veiled in relation to his body the church, but he will come before long to be glorious in his saints (2 Thess. 1:10), and not lose the clear manifestation of any of his attributes. He will declare to all the world what he is, and then there shall be no glory but that of Christ and his spouse. Those that are as smoking flax now shall then shine as the sun in the firmament (Matt. 13:43), and their judgment shall be brought forth as the noonday (Psa. 37:6). (pg. 110)
We may bemoan the state of the modern church, but Sibbes reminds us that Christ will be victorious in His church, and will manifest His glory in His bride. His victory is eminent and will be public. There will be none ignorant of it even if they choose to live in ignorance and denial at present. Truth and piety may be trampled upon for a time, but as the two witnesses (Rev. 11:11), after they were slain, rose again, and stood upon their feet, so whatever is of God shall at length stand upon its own foundation. There shall be a resurrection, not only of bodies but of reputations. Can we think that he that threw the angels out of heaven will suffer dust and worms' meat to run a contrary course, and to continue always so? No, as truly as Christ is `King of kings and Lord of lords' (Rev. 19:16), so will he dash all those pieces of earth which rise up against him, `as a potter's vessel' (Psa. 2:9). (pg. 111)
Possibly one of the reasons for the (apparent) sorry state of the modern church is the fact that she has lost sight of the fact that victory is Christ's alone. Too often we strive according to our strength and plans and think that we are doing Him a service in our disobedience. ...it is Christ that must do the work, by (1) removing, or (2) weakening, or (3) suspending opposite hindrances; and (4) by advancing the power of his grace in us, to a further degree than we had before we fell. Therefore when we have fallen, and by falls have been bruised, let us go to Christ immediately to bind us up again. (pg. 113-114)
How often do we rebel against the fact that we have no strength in ourselves? And this should be particularly observed because naturally we aspire to a kind of divinity, in setting about actions in the strength of our own abilities; whereas Christ says, `Without me ye', the apostles, who were in a state of grace, `can do nothing' (John 15:5). He does not say, you can do a little, but nothing. Of ourselves, how easily are we overcome! How weak we are to resist! (pg. 114)
Do we sometimes feel all alone in our weakness? The manner of Christ's bringing forth judgment to victory is by letting us see a necessity of dependence on him. Hence proceed those spiritual desertions in which he often leaves us to ourselves, in regard to both grace and comfort, that we may know the spring head of these to be outside ourselves. (pg. 115) He leaves us to ourselves until in frustration or despair we see our need for Him.
Yet, in our weakness He has power. Great power, exceeding power, working and mighty power, the power of the resurrection. ...God's people feel a powerful work of the Spirit, not only revealing to us our misery and deliverance through Christ, but emptying us of ourselves, as being redeemed from ourselves, and infusing new life into us, and afterwards strengthening us and quickening us when we droop and hang the wing, never leaving us till the conquest is perfect. (pg. 117)
We are weak, He is strong. We may experience defeat, He is always victorious. Let us rejoice that he never leaves us until the conquest, over us, over the world, over the devil, is complete and perfect.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Am I drawing nearer to God, or am I drawing away from Him?
Sibbes makes a similar argument as that of William Carey. Carey had been told that if God wanted the heathen saved it would happen without Carey's help. Carey's response was his Enquiry, coupled with his going in response to the Gospel call. Sibbes ensures us that Christ will be victorious, but he also enlightens us to the fact that this victory will take place as Christ equips us for the battle and sets us in the front lines.
As Christ works in us we must maintain a sound judgment concerning our state and progress. Sibbes lay out a series of principles for us to follow:
- Am I growing in knowledge? Does God's Word enthrall me, and do I seek to know Him better?
- Is love towards Christ growing within me? Do I love the One who is the lover of my soul?
- Do I seek only godly advice and counsel? Do I know that God jealously guards us and wants us to have no part with the wicked?
- Do I watch that the means that I use are ones that honor Him? (A lesson to the pragmatic church of our day!) Do I strive to be obedient to Him and trust His wisdom over all of the schemes that are contrary to His Word?
- Am I exercising the grace within me? Am I actively involved in growing in grace?
- Am I focused on Christ? Am I united and bound to Him?
- Am I engaged in honest examination of my spiritual state? It is far too easy for us to lie to ourselves and think more highly of ourselves than we ought.
At the end of the day, where do we stand? Do we really want to be a part of the victory of Christ or do we falter in our commitment? He will reign, He will be victorious, but have we tied our lives to His victory? Do we see in Him the only solution for all of our troubles and recognize Him as the only source of our joy? He will use us in His struggle, but only in conjunction with our whole-hearted commitment to His cause. There is no place for half-measures.
Everything else will fail. Only Christ will be victorious. Where have we placed our trust?
Between Two Worlds: This Is Abortion
Can a nation that does this 1.3 million times each year hope to escape God's judgment?
Sunday, January 20, 2008
He would certainly see that overt racism as characterized by the following section of his Letter from Birmingham Jail is no longer acceptable to many Americans. In 1963 he wrote:
We have waited .for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God- given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six- year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
Yet, at the same time I believe that he would strive against the covert racism that still pervades our society. Most people today don't voice the racial slurs and insults, but there are still too many who think these things, and worse yet act on them. Dr. King's dream is not yet realized. We have yet to "live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal'." Worse yet, this is not only an American problem, it is still, to some extent, and to our shame, a problem in our churches.
Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday and tomorrow is the Martin Luther King holiday. Both exist because of the assaults against the dignity of life that characterize our society. Both days should cause Christians to examine our hearts and confess our sins of devaluing the worth of people whether by neglect, greed, hatred, anger, racism, or selfishness.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
There was for them no disjunction between sacred and secular; all creation, so far as they were concerned, was sacred, and all activities, of whatever kind, must be sanctified, that is, done to the glory of God. So, in their heavenly minded ardor the Puritans became men and women of order, matter-of-fact and down-to-earth, prayerful, purposeful, practical. Seeing life whole, they integrated contemplation with action, worship with work, labor with rest, love of God with love of neighbor and of self, personal with social identity, and the wide spectrum of relational responsibilities with each other, in a thoroughly conscientious and thought-out way. (pg. xii)
I wonder if it is 21st Century laziness that leads us to divorce sacred from secular, so that we are largely unwilling to expend the effort to attempt any level of integration between the two. We "turn on" a form of spirituality at church and in Christian circles, and then turn it off during the balance of our lives. Possibly in addition to being lazy we are also fearful that "ordinary folks" will think that we are out-of-touch with reality if we try to mesh spirituality with the mundane, if we try to redeem recreation, if we consider that the "secular" actually belongs to the Creator.
What would result if more of us would emulate the Puritans in their integrated life styles?
Friday, January 18, 2008
Why? Because Jesus Christ is victorious!
Sibbes spends the first couple of pages of this chapter reiterating the basis for our victory in Christ. Some of these may not be familiar to the casual student of Scripture, and include:
1. Christ has conquered all and is over all.
2. We encounter many enemies, and the 'bigger they are the harder they fall".
3. The Spirit of truth and the truth of the Spirit both abide forever.
4. Because we have the promise we have the possession of the victory.
5. Christ is a King who has a kingdom that will never end.
6. Christ's purpose is to destroy the works of the devil, both for us and in us.
We can rejoice in all of these, but we often wonder why we do not yet possess the victory which we have been promised. Sibbes devotes the next section of this chapter answering the following objection: If this is so, why is it thus with the church of God, and with many a gracious Christian? The victory seems to be with the enemy. (pg. 94) Why does it appear that the devil, the flesh, and the world have overpowering influence in our lives?
The following arguments may be difficult to understand, but all show the complex nature of God's providence.
First, Christ suffered, and as His servants we are also called to suffer.
Second, victory comes by degrees, bit by bit, event by event. Not at once but in process.
Third, what appears to be a defeat often leads to a greater victory.
Fourth, sometimes going back is needful for going forward. Seeds lie dormant (and "rot") prior to sprouting.
In the end, we see His strength perfected in our weakness. Even in the midst of our difficulties we know that He is with us as we find him at work in us in the following ways:
1. We experience Christ's ways.
2. Our religious reason exceeds our natural reason.
3. We are true enough to Him that our hopes and fears do not sway us from Him.
4. His truth is more precious than our own lives.
5. Even when granted liberty to choose other governance we choose His reign over us.
6. We see order and not chaos in our lives.
7. We choose Christ over either earthly loss or gain.
8. We find ourselves practicing duties pleasing to Christ.
Does this all come at once? No:
To make this clearer, and help us in our trial, we must know that there are three degrees of victory: first, when we resist though we are foiled; second, when grace gets the better, though with conflict; and third, when all corruption is perfectly subdued. When we have strength only to resist, we may know Christ's government in us will be victorious, because what is said of the devil is true of all our spiritual enemies, `Resist the devil, and he will flee from you' (James 4:7); because `Greater is he that is in you', who takes the part of his own grace, `than he that is in the world' (1 John 4:4). And if we may hope for victory from bare resistance, what may we not hope for when the Spirit has gained the upper hand? (pg. 99-100)
Grace SHALL reign, Christ IS victorious.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
On Timmy Brister's Puritan Reading Challenge page you will see the following information:
RHB is offering a special discounted price for an excellent Puritan resource, Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson. The book retails for $35.00, and on their website it sells for $25.00. But RHB is now offering a special price of only $20.00. To get this great deal, you must order either via phone or email, letting them know that you heard about the 2008 Puritan Reading Special for Meet the Puritans for only $20.00. The number to call and place your order is (616) 977-0599, or you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. These specials are a fantastic way for you to get you copies of Puritan literature at the most affordable price anywhere, and I am grateful to the good people at RHB for joining in this exciting project.
This is one phenomenal book. I have only skimmed through it briefly, but it contains a wealth of information on the Puritans and their works. For $20.00 plus $3.50 postage it is a huge bargain. Even though I chose media mail over UPS I had the book in about a week. Additionally, RHB does a wonderful job packaging their books. Westminster and Monergism do a great job, but RHB goes "old school" with lots of wrapping paper and packing tape. They do a "Ft. Knox" version of book packaging, and your book will arrive in pristine condition.
Thanks to Timmy and the good folks at RHB for putting this deal together. This book will serve as a valuable reference work for years to come.
Help me to approach thee
with becoming conception of thy nature,
relations and designs.
Thou inhabitest eternity, and
my life is nothing before thee;
Thou dwellest in the highest heaven and
this cannot contain thee;
I live in a house of clay.
Thy power is almighty;
I am crushed before the moth.
Thy understanding is infinite;
I know nothing as I ought to know.
Thou canst not behold evil;
I am vile.
In my ignorance, weakness, fears, depressions,
may thy Spirit help my infirmities
with supplies of wisdom, strength and comfort.
Let me faithfully study my character,
be willing to bring it to light,
observe myself in my trials,
judge the reality and degree of my grace,
consider how I have been ensnared or overcome.
Grant that I may never trust my heart,
depend upon any past experiences,
magnify any present resolutions,
but be strong in the grace of Jesus:
that I may know how to obtain relief
from a guilty conscience
without feeling reconciled to my imperfections.
Sustain me under my trials
and improve them to me;
give me grace to rest in thee,
and assure me of deliverance.
May I always combine thy majesty
with thy mercy,
and connect thy goodness
with thy greatness.
Then shall my heart always rejoice
in praise to thee.
These are words that we need to remember daily. Posted on the wall in front of my desk (where I can read it every workday) is this small prayer as a reminder:
I know not what difficulties, or trials, or temptations, may be before me this day. Prepare me whether for duty or for conflict. Knowing the treachery of the heart, I desire this morning, and each morning, to receive fresh supplies of your grace.
May we be ever mindful of the treachery of our hearts and depend upon Christ, and Christ alone, for the grace that we need daily.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
JUDGMENT AND WISDOM
As all things are dung in comparison with Christ (Phil. 3:8), so they are to Paul, a sanctified man. (pg. 84) Can I truly say this? Do I consider that ALL things are dung in comparison to Christ, or do I withhold some of that judgment when I think of myself? God forbid that I should see one shred of worth in myself apart from Christ.
As one day in the courts of God is better than a thousand elsewhere (Psa. 84:10), so it is to David, a man of a reformed judgment. (pg. 84) Is my focus on heaven above, or is it on the "dung" below? Do my actions indicate that "this world is not my home, I'm just a travellin' through"?
Am I wise enough to judge myself rightly? Am I judging against the correct standard? Truth is truth, and error, error, and that which is unlawful is unlawful, whether men think so or not. God has put an eternal difference between light and darkness, good and ill, which no creature's conceit can alter; and therefore no man's judgment is the measure of things further than it agrees to truth stamped upon things themselves by God. (pg. 84)
THE NEED FOR HEAVENLY LIGHT
If I fail the questions that I have posed above it is due to the fact that I have not availed myself of the light that Christ provides. What sin-darkened, depraved son of Adam ever sought the light except that Christ first sought to illumine him? The eye must first be single, and then the whole body and frame of our conduct will be light (Matt. 6:22); otherwise both we and our course of life are nothing but darkness. The whole conduct of a Christian is nothing else but knowledge reduced to will, affection and practice. (pg. 86)
WHERE CHRIST'S GOVERNMENT IS SET UP
Christ sets up his throne in the very heart and alters its direction, so making his subjects good, together with teaching them to be good. Other princes can make good laws, but they cannot write them in their people's hearts (Jer. 31:33). This is Christ's prerogative: he infuses into his subjects his own Spirit. Upon him there does not only rest the spirit of wisdom and understanding, but likewise the spirit of the fear of the Lord (Isa. 11:2). (pg. 88) Dearest Lord Jesus Christ, be not only the Savior of my soul but also King over my life. Place your precepts upon my heart and rule over me from the inside out. Remove my flippant and low views of your holiness and replace them with the "fear of the Lord".
HOW CHRIST GOVERNS US
Judgment should have a throne in the heart of every Christian. Not that judgment alone will work a change. There must be grace to alter the bent and sway of the will before it will yield to be wrought upon by the understanding. But God has so joined these together that whenever he savingly shines on the understanding he gives a soft and pliable heart. For without a work upon the heart by the Spirit of God it will follow its own inclination to that which it loves, whatever the judgment shall say to the contrary. (pg. 88-89) Do I have a soft pliable heart, inclined toward Him, or is it still cold, flinty, and dead; inclined to wickedness? His judgment coupled with His grace works to bring His rule to fruition within our lives, but only after His work of regeneration is active in us.
THE EFFECTS OF THIS IN PRACTICE
When the judgment of Christ is set up in our judgments, and thence, by the Spirit of Christ, brought into our hearts, then it is in its proper place and throne. Until then, truth does us no good, but helps to condemn us. The life of a Christian is a regular life, and he that walks by the rule (Gal. 6:16) of the new creature, peace shall be upon him. He that despises God's way and loves to live at large, seeking all liberty to the flesh, shall die (Prov. 19:16). And it is made good by Paul, `If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die' (Rom. 8:13). (pg. 89-90) If I have learned anything in the past 35 years, if is that "in my flesh dwells no good thing" (Rom. 7:18), and that the Spirit of Christ must reign over me. As a result, I need desperately for Him to rule over me. Then, and only then, will peace be upon me. All else is strife and confusion.
Christ as a new conqueror changes the fundamental laws of old Adam and establishes a government of his own. (pg. 90) Christ Jesus, conquer my life, kill off the old Adam, and establish your government in and over me.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
CHRIST'S JUDGMENT ESTABLISHED IN US
As I read the first pages of this chapter I could not help but remember the "throne" illustration contained in Campus Crusade's Four Spiritual Laws. (Yes, I know that there will be those who think that this is a deficient Gospel presentation, but God's Holy Spirit used one of these little booklets on the evening of July 24, 1972 to bring conviction, regeneration, repentance, and faith to this pathetic sinner's life.) Under the rule, or judgment, of Christ a life is ordered and governed, and is no longer characterized by chaos. As Sibbes describes "judgment" he is describing the ordering of a life in conformance with the will of God. By this judgment set up in us, good is discerned, allowed, and performed; sin is judged, condemned, and executed. Our spirit, being under the Spirit of Christ, is governed by him, and, so far as it is governed by Christ, it governs us graciously. (pg. 77)
As I continued to read I experienced a memory of my first pastor, a wise man now with the Lord. Bro. Douglas would say 'When you are a Christian, you can do anything that you want to just so long as Christ has changed your "want tos'." From Sibbes: So, in spiritual life, it is most necessary that the Spirit should alter the taste of the soul so that it might savor the things of the Spirit so deeply that all other things should be out of relish. (pg. 78)
On top of this, we see that Christ is victorious, He will prevail, He will bring about His kingdom, He will be glorified in us and in His church.
CHRIST'S MILDNESS AND HIS GOVERNMENT
While not explicit in this chapter, we see in Christ's mildness an answer to those who make the objection that predestination forces us into relationship with Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth. His love, gentleness, and mildness in dealing with us serve to woo us to Him. He is the lover of our souls, He draws us to Himself in such a way that we run to Him.
PARDON LEADS TO OBEDIENCE
Who may claim Christ's mercy? Only those who are obedient. Do we "count it a greater happiness to be under his government than to enjoy any liberty of the flesh"? (pg. 80)
JUSTIFICATION LEADS TO SANCTIFICATION
I thank God that while I am not yet what I should be I am no longer what I once was. We are saved to be holy, set apart, and growing in sanctification. Do we sometimes fail? And when we feel ourselves cold in affection and duty, the best way is to warm ourselves at this fire of his love and mercy in giving himself for us. (pg. 81) Sibbes would agree with John Owen, who says:
I take not men from mortification, but put them upon conversion. He that shall call a man from mending a hole in the wall of his house, to quench a fire that is consuming the whole building, is not his enemy. Poor soul! It is not your sore finger but your hectic fever that you are to apply yourself to the consideration of. You set yourself against a particular sin and do not consider that you are nothing but sin. (John Owen, On the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Chapter 7)
Sibbes says "We must be new creatures" (pg. 81) and "First we are made partakers of the divine nature, and then we are easily induced and led by Christ's Spirit to spiritual duties." (pg. 82) Trying to mend the holes in our lives when they are burning down is fruitless. We need conversion, we need a new heart, we need the new birth. Then we can proceed on the path of sanctification, but not before.
Monday, January 14, 2008
This is the longest chapter we have encountered to date, as Sibbes lists nine ways that we can quench the Spirit and deny Christ. They are:
False despair of Christ's mercy -Do I consider myself to be too bad to merit Christ?
False hope of Christ's mercy -Do I wish to continue on the path to hell, thinking that Christ will overlook my rebellion?
Resisting Christ's mercy -Do I continually throw water on the sparks that Christ desires to plant in me?
Presuming on Christ's mercy - Sibbes says it best: If we are negligent in the exercise of grace received and the use of the means prescribed, suffering our spirits to be oppressed with many and various cares of this life, and take not heed of the discouragements of the times, for this kind of neglect God in his wise care suffers us often to fall into a worse condition in our feelings than those that were never so much enlightened. (pg. 70)
Seeking another source of mercy - Sibbes again: What need do we have to knock at any other door? Can any be more tender over us than Christ? (pg. 72)
Mistreating the heirs of mercy -Do I think that I can love Christ and at the same time mistreat His bride?
Strife among the heirs of mercy - Do I consider my pride and standing to be of greater importance than harmony within the Body?
Taking advantage of the bruised -Do I lay heavy burdens in the name of religion?
Despising the simple means of mercy - Am I ashamed of the simplicity of the Gospel?
Take care not to quench the Spirit.
Pyromaniacs: I'm Fallen, and I Can't Get Up!
This goes along perfectly with the selection from my morning reading in the Psalms:
Psalm 14 (ESV)
The Fool Says, There Is No God
To the choirmaster. Of David.
1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread
and do not call upon the Lord?
5 There they are in great terror,
for God is with the generation of the righteous.
6 You would shame the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is his refuge.
7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
The Broken Heart
No day of my life has passed that has not
proved me guilty in thy sight,
Prayers have been uttered from a
Praise has been often praiseless sound;
My best services are filthy rags.
Blessed Jesus, let me find a covert in thy appeasing
Though my sins rise to heaven thy merits soar
Though unrighteousness weighs me down to hell,
thy righteousness exalts me to thy throne.
All things in me call for my rejection,
All things in thee plead my acceptance.
I appeal from the throne of perfect justice
to thy throne of boundless grace.
Grant me to hear thy voice assuring me;
that by thy stripes I am healed,
That thou wast bruised for my iniquities,
that thou hast been made sin for me
that I might be righteous in thee,
that my grievous sins, my manifold sins,
are all forgiven,
buried in the ocean of thy concealing blood.
I am guilty, but pardoned,
lost, but saved,
wandering, but found,
sinning, but cleansed.
Give me perpetual broken-heartedness,
Keep me always clinging to thy cross,
Flood me every moment with descending grace,
Open to me the springs of divine knowledge,
sparkling like crystal,
flowing clear and unsullied
through my wilderness of life.
Never, no never, believe the father of lies. His accusations are severe, yet grounded in half-truths and distortions. Instead:
Let us therefore abhor all suspicious thoughts, as either cast in or cherished by that damned spirit who, as he labored to divide between the Father and the Son by jealousies, by saying, `If thou be the Son of God' (Matt. 4:6), so his daily study is to divide between the Son and us by breeding false opinions in us of Christ, as if there were not such tender love in him to such as we are. It was Satan's art from the beginning to discredit God with man, by calling God's love into question with our first father Adam. His success then makes him ready at that weapon still. (pg. 63)
And when we doubt that we are Christ's?
`This would be good comfort,' (That the Father has given us to Christ, and Christ gives us back again to the Father) says one, `if I were but as smoking flax.'
It is well that this objection pinches on yourself, and not on Christ. It is well that you give him the honor of his mercy towards others, though not to yourself. Yet do not wrong the work of his Spirit in your heart. Satan, as he slanders Christ to us, so he slanders us to ourselves. If you are not so much as smoking flax, then why do you not renounce your interest in Christ, and disclaim the covenant of grace? This you dare not do. Why do you not give yourself up wholly to other pleasures? This your spirit will not allow you to do. Where do these restless groanings and complaints come from? Lay your present state alongside the office of Christ to such, and do not despise the consolation of the Almighty nor refuse your own mercy. Cast yourself into the arms of Christ, and if you perish, perish there. If you do not, you are sure to perish. If mercy is to be found anywhere, it is there.
In this appears Christ's care to you, that he has given you a heart in some degree sensitive. He might have given you up to hardness, security and profaneness of heart, of all spiritual judgments the greatest. He who died for his enemies, will he refuse those, the desire of whose soul is towards him? He who, by his messengers, desires us to be reconciled, will he put us off when we earnestly seek it at his hand? No, doubtless, when he goes before us by kindling holy desires in us, he is ready to meet us in his own ways. When the prodigal set himself to return to his father, his father did not wait for him, but met him in the way. When he prepares the heart to seek, he causes his ear to hear (Psa. 10:17). He cannot find in his heart to hide himself long from us. If God should bring us into such a dark condition as that we should see no light from himself or the creature, then let us remember what he says by the prophet Isaiah, `Who is among you . . . that walketh in darkness, and hath no light?' no light of comfort, no light of God's countenance `let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God' (Isa. 50:10). We can never be in such a condition that there will be just cause of utter despair. Therefore let us do as mariners do, cast anchor in the dark. Christ knows how to pity us in this case. Look what comfort he felt from his Father when he was broken (Isa. 53:5). This is what we shall feel from himself in our bruising. (pg. 64-65)We may suffer, and we may feel forsaken, but this is the plan of the Father to allow us to feel some of what Christ has undertaken on our behalf. In Christ are all Authority and Strength and Wisdom and Willingness to maintain us and comfort us even when the adversary accuses us and seeks to destroy us.
Never, no never, believe the father of lies.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
As to duties, am I to do my duty even when I have doubt? In a word, yes. I may be reluctant to do my duty but, as Sibbes describes, performing what God has laid before me allows Him to strengthen me in the doing. Additionally, as he points out: Obedience is most direct when there a nothing else to sweeten the action. Although the sacrifice is imperfect, yet the obedience with which it is offered is accepted. (pg. 54)
What are the sources of our discouragements? Certainly not from either the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit. In contrast, each member of the Godhead encourages and strengthens His dear children. Discouragements come from us, or from Satan (pg. 57).
I am not sure that we use the word "scruples' today in the same way that Sibbes does beginning on page 57 where he says: Among other causes of discouragement, some are much vexed with scruples, even against the best duties; partly by disease of body, helped by Satan's malice in casting dust in their eyes in their way to heaven; and partly from some remainder of ignorance, which, like darkness, breeds fears- ignorance especially of this merciful disposition in Christ, the persuasion of which would easily banish false fears. To my eye, he is describing fears that we have concerning our weaknesses. To support this contention, he says later in the same paragraph: The end of Christ's coming was to free us from all such groundless fears. He then lists these:
1. Weaknesses do not break covenant with God.
2. Weaknesses do not debar us from mercy; rather they incline God to us the more (Psa. 78:39).
3. If Christ should not be merciful to our weaknesses, he should not have a people to serve him.
To end this chapter, Sibbes the pastor reminds us that before one can be troubled by "sins of infirmity" he must be in the faith. If you tell a thief or a vagrant that he is out of the way, he pays no heed, because his aim is not to walk in any particular way, except as it suits his purpose. (pg. 59) Are you troubled about your "sins of infirmity"? To Sibbes this would be seen as a sign that one is in Christ:
1. Wherever sins of infirmity are in a person, there must be the life of grace begun. There can be no weakness where there is no life. (pg. 59)
At the same time:
2. There must be a sincere and general bent to the best things.
3. There must be a right judgment, allowing of the best ways, or else the heart is rotten.
4. There must be a conjugal love to Christ, so that there are no terms on which they will change their Lord and husband, and yield themselves absolutely over to be ruled by their own lusts, or the lusts of others.
In other words, there is no place for presumption nor complacency.
Sibbes ends the chapter with these words of instruction and encouragement:
Therefore, if there be any bruised reed, let him not make an exception of himself, when Christ does not make an exception of him. `Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden' (Matt. 11:28). Why should we not make use of so gracious a disposition? We are only poor for this reason, that we do not know our riches in Christ. In time of temptation, believe Christ rather than the devil. Believe truth from truth itself. Hearken not to a liar, an enemy and a murderer. (pg. 61)
I may be bruised, I may be but a smoldering wick, but I am not to despair.
Friday, January 11, 2008
First, while he pointed to the Scriptural requirement that only men serve as pastors, he did not stop there. He also noted that a call to the pastorate is never an individual call, but one that involves the local church. One needs a church before they can be a pastor, and a church that is seeking God's will is the context in which any individual operates. A church operating in this way will also make sure that it does not call an immature or otherwise disqualified candidate as pastor. A person seeking God's will, coupled with a local body of believers seeking God's will, is sure to avoid much difficulty.
Secondly, I appreciate Tim's tone. He recognizes that the question that he was asked is one that many women have agonized over. He does not dismiss them offhandedly but gently points to the truth. I have noticed this in Tim other places as well, to include a short discussion conducted between us yesterday. Tim shows great charity and grace in his answers, which is a rare treat today.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
The fourth of these "temptations" is the one that hit home with me. Sibbes speaks of the fact that our revulsion against personal sins is the result of growth, and not necessarily a sign of lack of regeneration. He lays out the case that the more we come to know the perfection of God the greater our awareness of our sins and imperfections. I know that this is certainly true in my life. At age 16, as a new believer, I knew that I was a sinner but felt that I was doing a good job if I kept from killing, illicit sex, or bank robbery. At that time, sin was a violation of the 'Big Ten", and was a very naive view of the depravity and deceitfulness of my heart. Now, many years later, I see that every thought that is not captive to Christ and every moment that is not dedicated to His glory is a sign of rebellion. I know that I am closer to Christ and more mature in my faith but I have a heightened awareness of my sin and my need for the Savior. We are not to mistake that awareness for spiritual sickness.
The second part of the chapter encourages us to be about our Master's business and not allow our infirmities to hinder our usefulness. We are to serve out of our weakness and perform our duty. Sibbes reminds us that the saints of Scripture had feet of clay, and were men similar to us. None of them were perfect, far from it, but they performed mighty works in His service.
Our faith may be weak, and our flame may be shrouded by smoke, but we need to allow Him to fan our flame into usefulness for His kingdom. Once again: More flame, less smoke.
(Thomas Watson, "The Doctrine of Repentance")
"Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked
deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins
and detestable practices!" Ezekiel 36:31
A true penitent is a sin-loather. If a man loathes that
which makes his stomach sick, much more will he loathe
that which makes his soul sick! It is greater to loathe
sin—than to leave it. The nauseating and loathing of
sin, argues a detestation of it.
Christ is never loved—until sin is loathed.
Heaven is never longed for—until sin is loathed.
When the soul sees its filthiness, he cries out, "Lord,
when shall I be freed from this body of death! When
shall I put off these filthy garments of sin—and be
arrayed in the robe of Your perfect righteousness!
Let all my self-love be turned into self-loathing!"
We are never more precious in God's eyes—than
when we are lepers in our own eyes!
The more bitterness we taste in sin—
the more sweetness we shall taste in Christ!
(If you are not receiving a daily Grace Gem in your mailbox, check out Grace Gems.)
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
This chapter, "Marks of the Smoking Flax", gives Sibbes' description of how we can tell, even if the fire is more smoke than flame, that we are actually in Christ. It is best that we recount by simply extracting and listing his ten marks of that Godly fire:
First, if there be any holy fire in us, it is kindled from heaven by the Father of lights, who `commanded the light to shine out of darkness' (2 Cor. 4: 6).
Secondly, the least divine light has heat with it in some measure. Light in the understanding produces heat of love in the affections.
Thirdly, where this heavenly light is kindled, it directs in the right way.
Fourthly, where this fire is, it will sever things of diverse natures, and show a difference between such things as gold and dross.
Fifthly, so far as a man is spiritual, so far is light delightful to him.
Sixthly, fire, where it is present, is in some degree active. So the least measure of grace works, as springing from the Spirit of God, who, from his operations, is compared to fire. Even in sins, when there seems nothing active but corruption, there is a contrary principle, which breaks the force of sin, so that it is not boundlessly sinful, as in those that are carnal (Rom. 7:13).
Seventhly, fire makes metals pliable and malleable. So grace, where it is given, makes the heart pliable and ready to receive all good impressions. Obstinate spirits show that they are not so much as smoking flax.
Eighthly, fire, as much as it can, sets everything on fire. So grace labors to produce a gracious impression in others, and make as many good as it can. Grace also makes a gracious use even of natural and civil things, and spiritualizes them.
Ninthly, sparks by nature fly upwards. So the Spirit of grace carries the soul heaven ward and sets before us holy and heavenly aims.
Tenthly, fire, if it has any matter to feed on, enlarges itself and mounts higher and higher, and, the higher it rises, the purer is the flame. So where true grace is, it grows in measure and purity. Smoking flax will grow to a flame; and, as it increases, so it discards what is contrary to itself and refines itself more and more. Ignis, quo magis lucet, eo minus fumat (As fire gives more light, it gives less smoke).
In conclusion, as I stated in an earlier post, my prayer for this week is: More flame, less smoke.
And here likewise there needs a caveat. Mercy does not rob us of our right judgment, so as to take stinking fire brands for smoking flax. None will claim mercy more of others than those who deserve due severity. This example does not countenance lukewarmness, nor too much indulgence to those that need quickening. Cold diseases must have hot remedies. It made for the just commendation of the church of Ephesus that it could not bear them which were evil (Rev. 2:2). We should so bear with others as to manifest also a dislike of evil. Our Saviour Christ would not forbear sharp reproof where he saw dangerous infirmities in his most beloved disciples. It brings under a curse to do the work of the Lord deceitfully (Jer. 48:10), even where it is a work of just severity, as when it is sheathing the sword in the bowels of the enemy. And those whom we suffer to be betrayed by their worst enemies, their sins, will have just cause to curse us one day.
It is hard to preserve just bounds of mercy and severity without a spirit above our own, by which we ought to desire to be led in all things. That wisdom which dwells with prudence (Prov. 8:12) will guide us in these particulars, without which virtue is not virtue, truth not truth. The rule and the case must be laid together; for if there be not a keen insight, seeming likeness in conditions will give rise to errors in our opinions of them. Those fiery, tempestuous and destructive spirits in popery that seek to promote their religion by cruelty show that they are strangers to that wisdom which is from above, which makes men gentle, peaceable and ready to show that mercy which they themselves have felt. It is a way of prevailing agreeable both to Christ and to man's nature to prevail by some forbearance and moderation.
And yet often we see a false spirit in those that call for moderation. Their doing so is but to carry their own projects with the greater strength; and if they prevail they will hardly show that moderation to others which they now call for from others. And there is a proud kind of moderation likewise, when men will take upon them to censure both parties, as if they were wiser than both, although, if the spirit be right, an onlooker may see more than those that are in conflict. (pages 29-30)May I be "gentle, peaceable and ready to show that mercy which" I have experienced from the mind of Christ.
( I recomend Tim Challies' new book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, please follow the blog tour for more information.)
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
If we could sum this chapter up in a single phrase, it would be: Those who are mature must deal patiently with those who are weak.
Yet, Sibbes is careful to distinquish between those who are weak due to their immaturity in the faith and those who are weak due to hard hearted hypocricy. The former require patience and loving correction, the latter require the rod of correction. In all of this the goal is redemption and the edification of the church.
One paragraph bears repeating:
It would be a good contest amongst Christians, one to labour to give no offence, and the other to labour to take none. The best men are severe to themselves, tender over others. Yet people should not tire and wear out the patience of others: nor should the weaker so far demand moderation from others as to rely upon their indulgence and so to rest in their own infirmities, with danger to their own souls and scandal to the church. (page 23)
On this date, January 8, in 1956, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Nate Saint gave their lives to bring the Gospel to the Huaorani people of Ecudor. While we may question why their lives were cut short at the beginning of their ministry, we trust in God's providence in performing His glorious will.
What am I willing to endure or experience to share the Gospel with the lost?
Monday, January 7, 2008
This chapter takes a bit of thought for the modern mind (and for post-moderns as well). In our day and age, when we want flame we strike a match, flick a switch, or turn a knob. In Sibbes' day, as during the entire Biblical period, things were a bit more complicated. To obtain a flame you might need to strike flint against steel, directing the sparks into some type of tinder, possibly a piece of flax. The tinder would begin to smolder, but was still unusable until you had gently fanned it into flame.
The fact that we don't see this process daily might keep us from seeing the significance of the "smoking flax" (KJV) or "smoldering" or "faintly burning wick" (ESV) in Matthew 12:20 and Isaiah 42:3. We may be smoky wicks of flax, putting off more smoke than useable flame at present, but He will bring about the fire.
In this chapter Sibbes give several Biblical examples of how the fire was kindled in the lives of God's precious children. At the same time he shows that traces of smoke remain, due to our deficiencies.
Christ has begun a work in us, and it might now appear to be but a wisp of smoke, and not a full blown flame. We can trust that He will gently fan that spark into a raging fire for His glory.
My prayer for the week? More flame, less smoke.
Friday, January 4, 2008
OK folks, start praying that oil doesn't reach $150 per barrel, that violence be abated, and that your 401K will not suffer in 2009 or 2010. In fact, start praying now that gas will once again sell for 39 cents a gallon, that all violent men and terrorists will start to sing Kum-Ba-Yah, and that the Dow will shoot through 25,000.
What a crock. We see here nothing more than another false prophet. Not according to my standards, but according to God's:
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.' And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?'— when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. - Deuteronomy 18:20-22, ESV
I have carried this little volume around with me this past week, reading it while waiting for a haircut, standing in lines, etc. Fortunately, the volume has a small glossary in the back for those of us not living in the 17th Century (does anyone reading know what conclamatum est* means without looking it up?). I finished it today, but I will re-read and re-read it in the future. It truly is "a small casket stored with many jewels". (pg. ix)
How soon will some few years pass away, and then when the day is ended, and this life's lease expired, what have men of the world's glory, but dreams and thoughts? O happy soul for evermore, who can rightly compare this life with that long-lasting life to come, and can balance the weighty glory of the one with the light golden vanity of the other.
(*conclamatum est - a declaration that a death has taken place; hence, beyond all hope.)
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Not bruised so as to injure us, but bruised so as to lead us to forsake our sin and cling to our Savior. Bruising that may be as painful as any invasive medical procedure, but that which is needed for our healing. Bruising not only at the hands of the Lord, but bruising from our own hands as we humble ourselves under His mighty hand.
The plague of sin which inflicts us requires severe remedies, leading to bruising and pain but resulting in our healing. Yet in the midst of the pain and the suffering we can "come boldly to the throne of grace" (Heb 4:16) and joyfully receive His peace and presence.
I have sinned times without number,
and been guilty of pride and unbelief,
of failure to find thy mind in thy Word,
of neglect to seek thee in my daily life.
My transgessions and short-comings
present me with a list of accusations,
But I bless thee that they will not stand against me,
for all have been laid on Christ;
Go on to subdue my corruptions,
and grant me grace to live above them.
Let not the passions of the flesh nor lustings
of the mind bring my spirit into subjection,
but do thou rule over me in liberty and power.
I thank thee that many of my prayers have been refused-
I have asked amiss and do not have,
I have prayed from lusts and been rejected,
I have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness.
Go on with thy patient work,
answering 'no' to my wrongful prayers,
and fitting me to accept it.
Purge me from every false desire,
every base aspiration,
everything contrary to thy rule.
I thank thee for thy wisdom and thy love,
for all the acts of discipline to which I am subject,
for sometimes putting me into the furnace
to refine my gold and remove my dross.
No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin.
If thou shouldst give me choice to live
in pleasure and keep my sins,
or to have them burnt away with trial,
give me sanctified affliction.
Deliver me from every evil habit,
every accretion of former sins,
everything that dims the brightness
of thy grace in me,
everything that prevents me taking delight
Then I shall bless thee, God of Jeshurun,
for helping me to be upright.
(Valley of Vision, page 138)
This is a dangerous prayer. Let me repeat that so that it sinks in: "This is a DANGEROUS prayer."
How many of us thank God for placing us in the furnace of affliction in order to have our dross burned off and our gold refined? How many of us seek "sanctified affliction"?
What a contrast to the prosperity preachers who tell you that this year is your year of jubilee and that God is only interested in pouring blessing into your corrupt shell. May we pray dangerously this year, and seek His will even at the expense of our comfort. May we receive a resounding 'NO' from God when we pray amiss.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
(Spoilers follow, don't continue reading if you intend to see this movie.)
The plot of Atonement revolves around an accusation that 13 year old Briony Tallis makes against Robbie, her older sister's boyfriend. Based upon her misinterpretation of the interaction between Robbie and Cecelia, Briony claims to be an eyewitness to a rape committed by Robbie. Robbie is jailed, but is able to later leave prison to serve in the Army. Briony, knowing that she unjustly bore false witness against Robbie, then embarks on a campaign to "atone" for her sin, first by serving as a nurse in WW2, and later in her writing. However, it is only at the end of the movie that we discover that Briony's written account of these events is sheer fantasy, and has no "happy ending". Both Cecilia and Robbie died during WW2 and never enjoyed the reunion and love that Briony imagined in her "atoning" work of fiction.
Great acting, stunning scenery, and a compelling story. But, is there a concept of "atonement" that we can recognize? No, none whatsoever. Briony, due to her jealousy, youthful infatuation, and fanciful imagination ruins two live irrevocably, three if you count hers as well. We find that her attempts to rectify the situation are half hearted, if that. In the end we discover that she can't even be honest with herself.
Yet, you get the feeling that our culture would say that Briony's attempt at "atonement" must be given some credence. After all, didn't she suffer as a result? Didn't she sacrifice her future as a response to the futures that she destroyed? Shouldn't she get credit for her good intentions? Sorry, no cigar.
If anything, "Atonement" demonstrates that "all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6b, ESV). In the end, Briony is not "at one" with Cecelia, nor with Robbie, and certainly not with herself. Worst of all, she is not "at one" with a Holy God. Once again we see the need, the absolutely critical need, for a perfect sacrifice to placate the wrath of God due us for our sin and rebellion. No self-righteous act of sacrifice can ever atone for our crimes against our perfect Creator. Only the sacrifice of the perfect Son of God can ever serve to cleanse of from our sin. Only Jesus on the cross could ever bring salvation and bring us back into "oneness" with God.
"Atonement"? No, but the movie may serve as a springboard to discuss these important issues.
January begins with Richard Sibbes' The Bruised Reed from 1630. Richard Sibbes, 1577-1635, was known as "the heavenly Doctor Sibbes" as a result of the quality of his preaching. Isaak Walton wrote of him: "Of this blest man, let just praise be given: heaven was in him before he was in heaven" (Introduction, page viii).
Chapter One shows us that Sibbes' had a grasp of a great yet merciful God. I include two extracts from the chapter that speak for themselves. As I read them this morning I rejoiced that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) Richard Sibbes was, and is, a humble servant of his Creator.
What a support to our faith is this, that God the Father, the party offended by our sins, is so well pleased with the work of redemption! And what a comfort is this, that, seeing God's love rests on Christ, as well pleased in him, we may gather that he is well pleased with us, if we be in Christ! For his love rests in a whole Christ, in Christ mystical, as well as Christ natural, because he loves him and us with one love. Let us, therefore, embrace Christ, and in him God's love, and build our faith safely on such a Saviour that is furnished with so high a commission." (page 2)
"...bruising is required before conversion that so the Spirit may make way for himself into the heart by levelling all proud, high thoughts, and that we may understand ourselves to be what indeed we are by nature. We love to wander from ourselves and to be strangers at home, till God bruises us by one cross or other, and then we 'begin to think', and come home to ourselves with the prodigal (Luke 15:17). It is a very hard thing to bring a dull and an evasive heart to cry with feeling for mercy. Our hearts, like criminals, until they be beaten from all evasions, never cry for the mercy of the Judge. (page 4)
Yet, as Sibbes shows us on page 1, the promise from God is that he will not break that bruised reed (Isaiah 42:1-3) a promise confirmed in Christ (Matthew 18:18-20). Our bruising is for our benefit, something that we need to be constantly reminded of in times of trial and suffering.