Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment - Jeremiah Burroughs

(Please note this change to the Puritan Reading Challenge schedule.)

After reading the biographical outline of Jeremiah Burroughs' life contained in Meet the Puritans by Beeke and Pederson, I came away with the following impressions:

1) God sometimes calls his servants home early in life. Jeremiah Burroughs only lived from 1600-1646, but his impact is still being felt today.

2) Blessed are the peacemakers. On his study door was written: Opinionum varietas et opinantium unitas non sunt hasustata ("variety of opinion and unity of opinion are not incompatible"). Burroughs, while in the midst of some of the most contentious issues in the life of the English church, attempted to be a peacemaker and a conciliator. These were not mere words to him, but rather a rule to live by.

3) Life wasn't easy for these guys. As we have also seen in the lives of Sibbes, Flavel, and Watson, the English Puritans suffered many hurts and insults for their desire to remain true to their God and to their consciences. His refusal to compromise his principles led to him fleeing to the Netherlands for two years.

Today we have much more than these 17th Century Puritans. In fact, it would be difficult for them to begin to imagine the comforts, privileges, and wealth that we possess today. Yet, will we discover during April's reading that Contentment comes harder for us than for them?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Godly Man's Picture - Conclusion

When we note that the complete title of the Thomas Watson book that we have been reading this month is The Godly Man's Picture Drawn with a Scripture Pencil, or, Some Characteristic Marks of a Man who is Going to Heaven, we get some clue as to what Watson wants to accomplish. He wants us to note the "characteristic marks" of God's people.

Page after page he describes these characteristics, drawing heavily from Scripture. Page after page the reader is challenged, at least this one was, when we see that we do not measure up to the mark in demonstrating all of these characteristics, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). Page after page we find cause to pray and to confess.

Watson must have known, to some degree, that this would be the effect upon his readers. I am so, so thankful that he does not conclude his book before telling us, just as Richard Sibbes did in our January reading, that "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoking flax he will not quench." (Isaiah 42:3, Matt. 12;20) I am so thankful that Watson reminds us that our journey is not complete, our sanctification, while sure, is not yet perfected, and that we are mysteriously joined to Christ our Savior in such a way that no one can snatch us out of His hand.

The benefit in reading a book such as this is found in the fact that we can use it to show us in which ways God has already begun a work in us, as well as discovering those areas in which He still desires to change us. One should read a work like this, mark out those areas of deficiency, and then periodically review in the future to see the work of God in His continuing to sanctify us.

We can say, with the Apostle Paul, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1) In Christ Jesus, trusting Him to do His work in us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Godly Man's Picture - Correct Thinking

Fanaticism and Rationality

Too often we worry about what other people will think of us. We lament, "what if they think that I am some kind of fanatic?"

And thus I have shown the marks and characteristics of a godly man. If a person thus described is reputed to be a fanatic, then Abraham and Moses and David and Paul were fanatics, which I think none but atheists will dare to affirm! (pg. 188)

Who cares what "they" think? Being a "fanatic" for God is the true rational course:

'Now are ye light of the Lord' (Eph. 5:8). Will not anyone be willing to exchange a dark prison for a king's palace? Will he not exchange his brass for gold? You who become godly change for the better; you change your pride for humility, your uncleanness for holiness. You change a lust that will damn you for a Christ who will save you. If men were not besotted, if their fall had not knocked their brains out, they would see that it is the most rational thing in the world to become godly. (pg. 201)

If the world had any brains, it would seek after God. We who have been given a new heart, a new mind, and spiritual understanding, should dedicate ourselves to His glory. To do otherwise would be foolish and irrational.

Each of us are fanatical about something or other. Wouldn't it be most profitable to be a fan of our Creator?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Godly Man's Picture - The Law

Is the Law important for the Christian today?

A godly man strives to walk according to the full breadth and latitude of God's law. Every command had the same stamp of divine authority on it, and he who is godly will obey one commande as well as another: Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect to all thy commandments' (Psa. 119:6). A godly man goes through all the body of religion as the sun through all the signs of the Zodiac. Whoever is to play a ten-stringed instrument must strike every string or he will spoil the music. The ten commandments may be compared to a ten-stringed instrument. We must obey every commandment, strike every string, or we cannot make any sweet music in religion. True obedience is filial. It is fitting that the child should obey the parent in all just and sober commands. God's laws are like the curtains of the tabernacle which were looped together. They are like a chain of gold where all the links are coupled. A conscientious man will not willingly break one link of this chain. If one command is violated, the whole chain in broken: 'whosoever shall keep the whole law, yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all' (Jas. 2:10). A voluntary breach of one of God's laws involves a man in the guilt and exposes him to the curse of the whole law. True obedience is entire and uniform. A good heart, like the needle, points the way in which the lodestone draws.
(pg. 166-167)

"Law to the Proud, Grace to the Humble"

Godly Man's Picture - Distractions

Have you ever sat down to read God's Word, proceeded to move your eyes down the page, and a few minutes later discovered that you haven't comprehended a thing? Well, I have.

Have you ever engaged in prayer, only to discover that your mind wanders all over the place and never gets around to talking with God? Well, I have.

I guess that I am not alone:

Question: But may a godly man have roving thoughts in duty?

Answer: Yes. Sad experience proves it. The thoughts will be dancing up and down in prayer. The saints are called stars and many times in duty they are wandering stars. The heart is like quicksilver which will not settle. It is hard to tie two good thoughts together. We cannot lock our hearts so close but that distracting thoughts, like wind, will get in. Jerome complains about himself. 'Sometimes,' he says, 'when I am doing God's service, I am walking in the galleries or casting up accounts.'
But these wandering thoughts in the godly are not allowed: 'I hate vain thoughts' (Psa. 119:113). They come like unwelcome guests who are no sooner spied than they are turned out. ( pg. 162)

One has to wonder how our media saturated culture exacerbates this situation. If it was a problem in the pre-electronic age, how much worse must it be today? Despite the distractions and the intrusions, we need to "be still and know that He is God."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

While The Valley of Vision contains some wonderful prayers, we are occasionally fortunate enough to discover contemporary examples.

John Leonard has written an example of the way that we ought to pray.

One short excerpt to intrigue you enough to click on the link:

Move my heart like you moved the apostle Paul’s, that as he laid out your plan of redemption for the church in Ephesus he was caught up in blessing and glorifying you, so much so that he could not take a breath for almost an entire chapter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Announcement - Change to the Puritan Reading Challenge

Please see Timmy Brister's announcement concerning a change to the Puritan Reading Challenge.

We will do August in April, and April in August.

Godly Mans Picture - Loving the Saints

Do we really love fellow believers? Watson mentions that there was a tendency for strife and dissension in the English church of his day. Are things any better, here and now? Hardly.

Instead of more programs, and more "novel" approaches to evangelism, it appears that we need more love:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35, ESV)

Does the world know that we are Jesus' disciples?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Godly Man's Picture - Thanksgiving

We are rightly thankful when we can have our hearts more enlarged for spiritual than for temporal mercies: ‘Blessed be God, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings’ (Eph. 1:3). A godly man blesses God more for a fruitful heart than a full crop. He is more thankful for Christ than for a kingdom. Socrates was wont to say that he loved the king’s smile more than his gold. A pious heart is more thankful for a smile of God’s face than he would be for the gold of the Indies . (pg. 133))

As I prepare this post I am listening to the podcast of “The Way of the Master Radio” from last week’s tour of Europe . Just as I was typing this, I heard Todd Friel quoting from his “favorite Puritan, Tom Watson”. He articulated the first three sentences from the section I have selected below:

If you wish to be thankful, get a heart deeply humbled with the sense of your own vileness. A broken heart is the best pipe (Todd said "instrument") to sound forth God’s praise. He who studies his sins wonders that he has anything and that God should shine on such a dunghill: ‘Who was before a blasphemer and a persecutor, but I obtained mercy’ (I Tim. 1:13). How thankful Paul was! How he trumpeted forth free grace! A proud man will never be thankful. He looks on all his mercies as either of his own procuring or deserving. If he has an estate, this he has got by his wits and industry, not considering that scripture, ‘Thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth’ (Deut. 8:18). Pride stops the current of gratitude. O Christian, think of your unworthiness; see yourself the least of saints and the chief of sinners, and then you will be thankful. (pg. 138)

Thanksgiving had better not just be a date on our calendars.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Godly Man's Picture - Patience

Some "patience pellets":

Why should we not wait patiently for God? We are servants; it becomes servants to be in a waiting posture. We wait for everything else; we wait for the fire till it burns; we wait for the seed till it grows (Jas. 5:7). Why cannot we wait for God? God has waited for us (Isa. 30:18). Did he not wait for our repentance? How often did he come year after year before he found fruit? Did God wait for us, and cannot we wait for him? A godly man is content to wait God's leisure; though the vision is delayed, he will wait for it (Hab. 2:3). (pg. 119)

Patience is not: Discontent, which is a sullen, dogged mood. When a man is not angry at his sins, but at his condition, this is different from patience. Discontent is the daughter of pride. (pg. 120)

A godly man subscribes to God's wisdom and submits to his will. He says not only, 'Good is the word of the Lord' (Isa 39:8), but 'Good is the rod of the Lord'. (pg. 120)

God sometimes lays various afflictions on the saints: 'he multiplieth my wounds' (Job 9:17). As we have various ways of sinning, so the Lord has various ways of afflicting. Some he deprives of their estates; others he chains to a sick bed; others he confines to a prison. God has various arrows in his quiver which he shoots. (pg. 124)

Question: How shall I get my heart tuned to a patient mood?
Answer: Get faith; all our impatience proceeds from unbelief. Faith is the breeder of patience. When a storm of passion begins to arise, faith says to the heart, as Christ did to the sea, 'Peace, be still', and there is at once a calm. (pg. 127)

Talk among yourselves.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Piper on Humility

John Piper posted a clear and succinct post on 6 Aspects of Humility yesterday at the Desiring God blog.

I found Number 5 to be very challenging: Humility knows it is fallible, and so considers criticism and learns from it; but also knows that God has made provision for human conviction and that he calls us to persuade others.

And then, today, he follows up with this:

At the very moment when in the pulpit we are extolling the glories of Christ, we can in reality be seeking our own glory, and when we are exhorting the congregation to praise God, and are even ostensibly leading them in praise, we can be secretly hoping that they will spare a bit of praise for us. (found, here, quoting John Stott).


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Camels and Needle Eyes

From NBC News:

Jesus wants you to drive a Bentley convertible.

And while you are at it, divorce your wife so that she can start her own ministry.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Godly Man's Picture - Who do we serve?

This one doesn't need any comment:

The godly man strives to approve himself to God in
everything: 'We labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him' (2 Cor. 5:9). It is better to have God approve than the world applaud. Those who run in the Olympic race strove to have the approval of the judge and umpire of the race. There is a time coming shortly, when a smile from God's face will be infinitely better than all the applause of men. How sweet that word will be, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant' (Matt. 25:21). A godly man is ambitious of God's testimonial letters. The hypocrite desires the praise of men. Saul was for the approval of the people (I Sam 15:30). A godly man approves his heart to God, who is both the spectator and the judge. (pg. 97)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

While we are talking about humility...

,,,I recognize that it has been some time since I last posted a selection from The Valley of Vision.


My Father,
When thou art angry towards me for my wrongs
I try to pacify thee by abstaining from future sin;
But teach me
that I cannot satisfy thy law,
That this effort is resting in my righteousness,
that only Christ’s righteousness ready made,
already finished, is fit for that purpose;
that thy chastening me for my sin is not
that I should try to reform, but only
that I may be more humbled, afflicted and
separated from sin, by being reconciled,
and made righteous in Christ by faith;
that a sense of my sufficiency and ability in him
is one means of my being immovable;
that I can never be so by resting on my own faith,
but by trusting in thee as my only support,
by faith;
that if I cast away my faith I cast away thee,
for by faith I apprehend thee,
and as thou art very precious,
so is my faith very precious to me;
that I fall short of the purity thou requirest,
because in thinking I am holy I do not
seek holiness,
or, believing I am impotent, I do no more.
Humble me for not being as holy as I should be,
or as holy as I might be through Christ,
for thou art all, and to possess thee is to possess all.
But to make the creature something
is to make it stand between thee and me,
so that I do not walk humbly and holily.
Lord, forgive me for this.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Godly Man's Picture - True Humility

A man may be humbled and not humble. A sinner may be humbled by affliction. His condition is low but not his disposition. A godly man is not only humbled but humble. His heart is as low as his condition. (pg. 77)

This bears heeding. Many a time our circumstances have resulted in our being humbled, but if we regain pride once our condition improves then we know that we are not humble, but were only humbled for a time by our situation. It may be, even during the time of humiliation, that our pride was as great as at any time.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:10 ESV)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, (1 Peter 5:6)

Are we truly humble, or only humbled?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Why Are They All Smiling?

Guess My Crime

Godly Man's Picture - Holy Spirit Comfort

God's Spirit has a COMFORTING virtue. Sadness may arise in a gracious heart (Psalm 43:5). As the heaven, though it is a bright and lucid body, still has interposed clouds, this sadness is caused usually through the malice of Satan, who, if he cannot destroy us, will disturb us. But God's Spirit within us, sweetly cheers and revives. He is called the parakletos, "the Comforter" (John 14:16). These comforts are real and infallible. Hence it is called "the seal of the Spirit" (Eph. 1:13). When a deed is sealed, it is firm and unquestionable. So when a Christian has the seal of the Spirit, his comforts are confirmed. Every godly man has these revivings of the Spirit in some degree; he has the seeds and beginnings of joy, though the flower is not fully ripe and blown. (pg. 71)

παράκλητος, the Comforter, the one who comes alongside to carry our burdens.

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; (John 14:16 KJV)

I personally don't know how unbelievers trudge through this world without the sustaining assistance of the Holy Spirit. The burdens, challenges, disappointments, hurts, and pains (the interposed clouds) of life are difficult to face even with our Comforter at hand, how dismally depressing it would be to face them without His constant care and presence.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Godly Man's Picture - Our View of Sin

As I have stated previously, it would be near to impossible to follow all of the "pellets" that Watson delivers with his "scattergun" approach in this book. However, it is important that we dig out some of the most important points. What follows is a short statement on why our sin should drive us to disgust and weeping:

The sin of a justified person is very odious...because he acts contrary to his own principles. He sins not only against the rule, but against his principles, against his knowledge, vows, prayers, hopes, experiences. He knows how dear sin will cost him, yet he adventures upon the forbidden fruit. ( pg. 57)

The Apostle Paul felt this way (Romans Chapter Seven), and so should we. Our sin should be "odious" to us, not only because it is unlawful, but due to the fact that it violates all that we are.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Godly Man's Picture - Baseball Thoughts

My wife and I just returned from a quick trip to Arizona. We left Albuquerque after church on Sunday afternoon, and returned yesterday in order to lead a Wednesday evening Bible study.

Since our son lives in Sierra Vista we take an opportunity each year to visit him during Baseball Spring Training. This year, due to the fact that he had accumulated a huge number of bonus points as a result of his work, we stayed in a Marriot suite in Tucson. We had a very enjoyable day on Monday at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, and then drove up to Mesa on Tuesday to attend a Brewers vs. Cubs game at HoHoKam Park. My son is a rabid Cubs fan*, but he watched his team lose in the 10th inning at their home park. Even though we had to drive back home yesterday, he attended the Cubs vs. Diamondbacks game at Tucson Electric Park, and saw his beloved Cubs lose to my D-Backs. I guess that the "rebuilding century" might not be over yet.

Even though we were traveling and busy I made it a point to keep up with my devotional reading, including Thomas Watson's The Godly Man's Picture. As I noted previously, this is going to be a difficult book to blog. This is not due to the fact that there is nothing to note, but rather that Watson's "shotgun" approach sends you scurrying after the pellets that he shoots all over the landscape. There is also a feeling that you are only getting the "Cliff's Notes" version of what Watson was thinking, since the book is structured in outline form. I have a feeling that what we have in our hands are basically his sermon notes, and that he filled in many sections orally for his audience.

Yet, amongst the "pellets" some of them are more valuable than ordinary lead. For example: It is more honour to serve God than to have kings serve us. (pg. 41) This one is a golden BB, and jumped out of the page at me. It reminds us just how backward the world is compared to the Kingdom of Heaven. While men strive to be served, and to be served by a "better class" of servants, the Christian is to serve God, and to recognize that this is a great privilege. How honored we are to come into His presence and offer our praise and service to Him.

Do we seek service from men or service to God? The latter has more honor.

(*You try to raise your children right, but then WGN comes along and corrupts them.)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Godly Man's Picture - Introduction

After reading only a couple of pages it is apparent that Thomas Watson's The Godly Man's Picture is going to be a completely different book from the first two volumes of the Puritan Reading Challenge. Whereas Richard Sibbes' The Bruised Reed concentrated on one verse of Scripture, Isaiah 42:3, and John Flavel's The Mystery of Providence concentrated on one topic, God's Providence, Watson takes on the broad category of the characteristics of a Christian.

In other words, while Sibbes and Flavel each use a "rifle", zeroing in on a small target, Watson wields a "shotgun" and is all over the place. After reading the first two chapters it became clear that this month's reading and blogging is going to be of an entirely different nature. I don't anticipate blogging by chapter, but will reserve the right to throw up a comment whenever I come across something that needs to be noted or having a comment that I wish to make.

Here is the first item:

1. Godliness is a real thing
It is not a fantasy, but a fact. Godliness is not the feverish fantasy of a sick brain; a Christian is no enthusiast, one whose religion is all made up of theory. Godliness has truth for its foundation; it is called "the way of truth" (Psa. 119:30). Godliness is a ray and beam that shines from God. If God is true, then godliness is true.
(pg. 12)

I have also consulted the section on Thomas Watson in Beeke and Pederson's Meet the Puritans. I was interested to discover that Thomas Watson's experience was very similar to that of John Flavel. The two men were contemporaries, with Watson born eight years earlier and dying five years prior than Flavel. Both men lost children to death, but Watson was only married once. Both men suffered under the Act of Uniformity in 1662, and both men continued to preach in unconventional venues as a result. Most importantly, both men continue to minister to this day as a result of their writings. While the nature of Watson's book is different from that of Flavel I anticipate that it will also prove to be a blessing to us as we read it together this month.