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(76 posts)

I’ve Got to Do Better!

Monday··2007·02·12 · 2 Comments
I have spent the majority of my life so far thinking that a good sermon was one that was hard-hitting and left me with the feeling that I’ve got to do better. Then I would go out and try really hard to do better, succeeding to some degree, but failing over all. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I came to see the folly of the kind of moralistic preaching that I had thought was so good. Don’t take me wrong. I do not believe that the purpose of the Law is merely to bludgeon me on the head and send me, helpless, to the cross, as some say. I believe the Law actually represents God’s will for my behavior. (This simple statement should not be taken as a complete expression of my opinion on the subject; but I don’t want to go into that now.) But if all a sermon, or our witness, accomplishes is to convict us of our sin and send us away trying harder, all it has done is make us more dependent on ourselves, more self-righteous, and more doomed to fail. And I can testify to years of my life when that was exactly my condition, when my religion was all about me and how well I was doing in getting myself sanctified’and I failed, over and over, because the solution was always in myself and my better efforts. Sin must be addressed. When a text is preached that deals with sin, it ought to result in conviction for any listening child of God. But what then? Our response ought not to be, I’ve got to try harder, but I need to draw closer to my Savior. I need to cling to his Word. I need to stay close to Jesus, where no sin can dwell. That is where the conviction of sin should lead. If it doesn’t, the result will only be a better legalist. The cure for my sin is not my righteousness, but Christ’s righteousness.

“Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.”

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. —Romans 5:3–5 Knowing that tribulation worketh patience (5:3). He who has faith indeed has all the excellent things (which are mentioned in the text), but in a hidden way. Through tribulation they are tried and purified to the highest degree. Whatever (virtues) tribulation finds in us, it develops more fully. If anyone is carnal, weak, blind, wicked, irascible, haughty, and so forth, tribulation will make him more carnal, weak, blind, wicked and irritable. On the other hand, if one is spiritual, strong, wise, pious, gentle and humble, he will become more spiritual, wise, pious, gentle, and humble, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 4:1: “Thou hast enlarged me when in was in distress.” Those speak foolishly who ascribe their anger or their impatience to such as offend them or to tribulation. Tribulation does not make people impatient, but proves that they are impatient. So everyone may learn from tribulation how his heart is constituted. Those are ignorant, childish and indeed hypocritical who outwardly venerate the relics of the holy Cross, yet flee and detest tribulation and affliction. Holy Scripture calls tribulation the cross of Christ in a special sense, as in Mathew 10:38: “He that taketh his not cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” Let everyone be sure that he is not Christian but a Turk and an enemy of Christ who refuses to bear this cross; for here the Apostle speaks of all (believers) when he says: “We glory in tribulations.” And in Acts 14:22 we read: “We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God.” “Must” does not mean that tribulation comes by chance, or that it is a matter of choice for us, of that we may take it or leave it. In many Scripture passages our Lord is called a “Savior” and a “Helper in need,” and this means that all who do not desire to endure tribulation, rob him of his titles and names of honor. To such people our Lord will never become a Savior, because they do not admit that they are under condemnation. To them God is never mighty, wise and gracious, because they do not desire to honor Him as creatures that are weak, foolish and subject to punishment. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 74–75.

True Holiness

and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. —Romans 6:18–19 Yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness (6:19). The Apostle when here speaking of holiness has in mind the chastity of the body, in particular, that purity which comes from the Spirit of faith, who sanctifies us both inwardly and outwardly. Otherwise it would be a pagan chastity and not holy chastity, or (true) holiness, since the soul remains defiled. First the soul must become pure through faith, so that the sanctified mind purifies also the body for God’s sake. Of this our Lord speaks in Matthew 23:26: “Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 90.

Be Transformed

Tuesday··2007·10·02 · 5 Comments
I am not a preacher, but I have occasionally played one when asked to fill in. Of the few times I have done so, there is really only one that I can look back on with any satisfaction that I did right with that responsibility. On that occasion, I chose Romans 12:1–2 for my text. Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Since then, I have always been interested in seeing how real expositors handle that text. I am always gratified to find that I didn’t botch it completely, and in fact agreed almost entirely with those who know far better than I. However, I am also severely humbled to see how much I missed. Luther heaps more shame upon me: Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind (12:2). In this way the Apostle describes (Christian) progress; for he addresses those who already are Christians. The Christian life does not mean to stand still, but to move from that which is good to that which is better. St. Bernard (of Clairvaux) rightly says: “As soon as you do not desire to become better, then you have ceased to be good.” It does not help a tree to have green leaves and flowers if it does not bear fruit besides its flowers. For this reason—(for not bearing fruit)—many (nominal Christians) perish in their flowering. Man (the Christian) is always in the condition of nakedness, always in the state of becoming, always in the state of potentiality, always in the condition of activity. He is always a sinner, but also always repentant and so always righteous. We are in part sinners, and in part righteous. No one is so good as that he could not become better; no one is so evil, as that he could not become worse. This (fact) the Apostle expresses very nicely by saying “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” He adds “By the renewing of your mind” to stress that renewal of the mind, which takes place from day to day and progresses farther and farther, according to the words, II Corinthians 4:16: “The inward man is renewed day by day”; of Colossians 3:10: “Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind” or “Put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1954), 151–152. What a rich passage this is! Maybe I’ll live long enough to thoroughly appreciate it. I have long said that being a Christian is not a matter of doing, but of being. I think I’ll have to replace being with becoming.

Calvin on Suffering Affliction

What if we were to cling to the idea—so firmly planted in our heads that we seem to have been born with it—that if we suffer affliction in the world we can never really be blessed? If that were the case, which of us would not run a mile from the Lord Jesus Christ or willingly consent to be his disciple, even supposing we accepted his teaching and hailed him as God’s Son who calls us to himself? In that case we might well say, ‘Yes, but surely he knows our weakness and frailty? Why should he not put up with us as we are?’ Each one of us would take our shoulder from the wheel if we truly held the idea—deeply rooted, as I said—that blessedness is only for those who are comfortable and at ease. That is why our Lord preached as he does here to his disciples, demonstrating that our happiness and blessedness do not come from the world’s applause, or from the enjoyment of wealth, honors, gratification and pleasure. On the contrary, we may be utterly oppressed, in tears and weeping, persecuted and to all appearances ruined: none of that affects our standing or diminishes our happiness. Why? Because we have in view the ultimate outcome. That is what Christ would have us remember, so as to correct the false ideas we feed upon and which so muddle our thinking that we cannot accept his yoke. He reminds us that we must look further ahead and consider the outcome of our afflictions, our tears in the persecutions we suffer and the insults we bear. When once we see how God turns all of that to good and to our salvation, we may conclude that blessing will assuredly be ours, however contrary such things to our nature. —John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes (Banner of Truth, 2006), 20.

“Born Again”

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. —John 3:3 The term born again has become popular. Surveys show that the majority of Americans consider themselves to be born again, by which they mean that they have had some spiritual experience. But for many, there has been no real change in their lives. When it comes to issues such as sexual sin, their conduct in marriage, their use of time and money, and their life ambitions, a great many so-called “born-again” people are no different than non-Christians. This is a problem because, according to the Bible, if we have not been changed, we have not been born again, regardless of any spiritual experiences we think we have had. To be born again, Paul said, is to be “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). If our witness of the gospel is to be true and accurate, then we must present people with this reality. . . . Sinclair Ferguson tells of a young man who came to church and eventually was converted. He told an elder: “I can’t believe how much this church has changed within the last few weeks. The hymns are so lively now. The worship is so wonderfully meaningful. Why, even the preacher is better!” have you experienced something like that? Spurgeon asks, “Do you feel [that] . . . now you love God, now you seek to please him, now spiritual realities are realities to you, now the blood of Jesus is your only trust, now you desire to be made holy, even as God is holy? If there is such new life as that in you, however feeble it may be, though it is only like the life of a new-born child, you are born again, and you may rejoice in that blessed fact. Jesus’ teaching that the new birth is revealed in its effects not only challenges us to examine ourselves for such evidences, it encourages us in our weakness and gives us hope about what the future holds for us. The Holy Spirit’s work does not end with the new birth—having made us alive, He goes on to bring us more and more to life, working in us the life of God and molding our character into Christlikeness. The new birth is the beginning of a lifelong process of spiritual animation and growth, and is the pledge of glorious things yet to come. How wonderful that Christians are no longer what we once were, but how wonderful it also is that we someday will become what we are not yet. Paul says, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 66, 67.

The Purpose-Driven Life

In order to live the Purpose-Driven Life®, we must (according to the example of a certain Purpose-Driven® author) search several Bible translations to find the one that suits us best. So here you go: your purpose in six different translations. Take your pick, and go to it. 2 Corinthians 5:9 Wycliffe: And therfor we stryuen, whether absent, whether present, to plese hym. Geneva: Wherefore also we couet, that both dwelling at home, and remouing from home, we may be acceptable to him. KJV: Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. NKJV: Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. NASB: Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. ESV: So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Lord’s Day 26, 2008

I reioyced, when they sayd to me, We wil go into the house of the Lord. (Psalme 122:1) Petitionary Hymns Poem VII. In Sickness Augustus Toplady (1740–1778) Jesus, since I with thee am one, Confirm my soul in thee, And still continue to tread down The man of sin in me. Let not the subtle foe prevail In this my feeble hour, Frustrate all the hopes of hell Redeem from Satan’s pow’r. Arm me, O Lord, from head to foot, With righteousness divine; My soul in Jesus firmly root, And seal the Saviour mine. Proportion’d to my pains below, O let my joys increase, And mercy to my spirit flow In healing streams of peace. In life and death be thou my God, And I am more than safe: Chastis’d by thy paternal rod, Support me with thy staff. Lay on me, Saviour, what thou wilt, But give me strength to bear: Thy gracious hand this cross hath dealt, Which cannot be severe. As gold refin’d may I come out, In sorrow’s furnace try’d; Preserved from faithfulness and doubt, And fully purify’d. When, overwhelm’d with sore distress, Out of the pit I cry, On Jesus suffering in my place Help me to fix mine eye. When marr’d with tears, and blood, and sweat, The glorious sufferer lay, And in my stead sustain’d the heat And burden of the day. The pangs which my weak nature knows Are swallow’d up in thine: How numberless thy pondrous woes! How few, how light are mine! O might I learn of thee to bear Temptation, pain and loss! Give me a heart inur’d to prayer, And fitted to the cross. Make me, O Lord, thy patient son; Thy language mine shall be: “Father, thy gracious will be done, I take the cup from thee.” While thus my soul is fixt on him Once fasten’d to the wood, Safe shall I pass through Jordan’s stream, And reach the realms of God. And when my soul mounts up to keep With thee the marriage feast, I shall not die, but fall asleep On my Redeemer’s breast. —The Complete Works of Augustus Toplady (London: J. Chidley, 1837). Psalme 95 (Geneva Bible) 1 Come, let vs reioyce vnto the Lord: let vs sing aloude vnto the rocke of our saluation. 2 Let vs come before his face with praise: let vs sing loude vnto him with Psalmes. 3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King aboue all gods. 4 In whose hande are the deepe places of the earth, and the heightes of the mountaines are his: 5 To whome the Sea belongeth: for hee made it, and his handes formed the dry land. 6 Come, let vs worship and fall downe, and kneele before the Lord our maker. 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheepe of his hande: to day, if ye will heare his voyce, 8 Harden not your heart, as in Meribah, and as in the day of Massah in the wildernesse. 9 Where your fathers tempted me, proued me, though they had seene my worke. 10 Fourtie yeeres haue I contended with this generation, and said, They are a people that erre in heart, for they haue not knowen my wayes. 11 Wherefore I sware in my wrath, saying, Surely they shall not enter into my rest. Grace be with you, and Peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Holiness and Peace

It is evident that in proportion to our holiness will be the abundance of our peace. Not that we are to draw our peace from our holiness. That cannot be. Personal holiness can never be the foundation of our peace. But still in may be perfectly true that as our holiness increases our peace will deepen and grow more intense. The light of the body does not come from the eye, though it comes through the eye. It comes from the sun. The eye merely admits it. But if the eye be dim there will be less light admitted; and just as the eye becomes clearer more light will be let in. Yet still it is true that the light does not come from the eye but from the sun. So with holiness. In proportion as the soul becomes holy, in that proportion does it admit new peace, and in that proportion is it in a fitter condition for enjoying peace. A healthy body enjoys the beauties of the bright scenes of earth, more than a pained or sickly one, and just as it is healthy, so has it a capacity for the enjoyment of these things. Even so with the soul and holiness. While we utterly disclaim the Christ-dishonouring thought, that our holiness is the foundation of our peace, or forms any qualification on account of which peace is conferred upon us, it is yet true that just as we become holier men, we shall be the more abundantly filled with the peace of God that passeth all understanding. —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 55–56.

“God told me”

Sinclair Ferguson laments the desire of many for direct revelation from God: Why, then, should Christians today—by contrast with their fathers—be so thirsty to experience immediate personal revelation from God (“God told me . . .”) when His desire for us is the ongoing work of the Spirit opening up our understanding through mediated revelation of the New Testament? There seem to be three reasons: 1. It may appear to be more exciting, more obviously supernatural, to have direct revelation rather than Bible revelation. It seems to many people to be more “spiritual,” more “divine,” more “personal.” 2. To many people, it feels much more convincing to be able to say, “God told me . . .” than to say, “The Bible tells me. . . .” 3. Direct revelation makes it unnecessary to engage in painstaking Bible study and careful consideration of Christian doctrine in order to know the will of God. By comparison with immediate revelation, Bible study seems—to be frank—boring. Although rarely said, underlying all of this is a sinister thought: the Bible is not very clear. By contrast, it is assumed that direct revelation cannot possibly be misunderstood. —Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), 107. While I agree that all three of Ferguson’s reasons are correct, I think the third is the most common, and perhaps the one that leads to rationalizing (I know, an odd word in this context) the first two. I believe most Christians are just too lazy to do the hard work of Bible study. The less apathetic among them fall back on the entirely sentimental reasons one and two. All this is very sad, because those people are going to learn absolutely nothing from God, because God is not going to speak to them. Yes, my subjectively-guided friend, you read that right. If you claim that God has spoken to you, I don’t believe you. I don’t think you are lying (unless you say it on TBN; then I’m quite convinced you’re making it up); I just think you are deluded, mistaking the voices in your head for the Holy Spirit. Conversely, if you are willing to buckle down and “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), you will “[increase] in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:46–52), and be “[sanctified] in the truth” (John 17:17–19).

Lord’s Day 35, 2008

I reioyced, when they sayd to me, We wil go into the house of the Lord. (Psalme 122:1) AssuranceAlmighty God,I am loved with everlasting love, clothed in eternal righteousness, my peace flowing like a river, my comforts many and large, my joy and triumph unutterable, my soul lively with a knowledge of salvation, my sense of justification unclouded. I have scarce anything to pray for; Jesus smiles upon my soul as a ray of heaven and my supplications are swallowed up in praise. How sweet is the glorious doctrine of election when based upon thy Word and wrought inwardly within the soul! I bless thee that thou wilt keep the sinner thou hast loved, and hast engaged that he will not forsake thee, else I would never get to heaven. I wrong the grace in my heart if I deny my new nature and my eternal life. If Jesus were not my righteousness and redemption, I would sink into nethermost hell by my misdoings, shortcomings, unbelief, unlove; If Jesus were not by the the power of his spirit my sanctification, there is no sin I should not commit. O when shall I have his mind! when shall I be conformed to his image? All the good things of life are less than nothing when compared with his love, and with one glimpse of thy electing favor. All the treasures of a million worlds could not make me richer, happier, more contented, for his unsearchable riches are mine. One moment of communion with him, one view of his grace, is ineffable, inestimable. But O God, I could not long after thy presence if I did not know the sweetness of it; and such I could not know except by the Spirit in my heart, nor love thee at all unless thou didst elect me, call me, adopt me, save me. I bless thee for the covenant of grace.—The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, editor (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002). Psalme 129 (Geneva Bible) A song of degrees. 1 They haue often times afflicted me from my youth (may Israel nowe say) 2 They haue often times afflicted me from my youth: but they could not preuaile against me. 3 The plowers plowed vpon my backe, and made long furrowes. 4 But the righteous Lord hath cut the cordes of the wicked. 5 They that hate Zion, shalbe all ashamed and turned backward. 6 They shalbe as the grasse on the house tops, which withereth afore it commeth forth. 7 Whereof the mower filleth not his hand, neither the glainer his lap: 8 Neither they, which go by, say, The blessing of the Lord be vpon you, or, We blesse you in the Name of the Lord. Grace be with you, and Peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
I want to know God. I want to know his nature and his thoughts. It is this desire that drives me to read his Word and books about him by writers who know his Word far better than I. What could possibly be more wonderful, as wonderful, or even remotely wonderful compared to the knowledge of the eternal, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God who is the source of all things, the epitome of holiness, righteousness, and justice? The answer is obvious: nothing compares. The greatest creations of the human imagination fade into utter insignificance in the glorious light of the ineffable perfections of almighty God. Why is it, then, that reading God’s Word becomes, at times, a chore to be done rather than a pleasure to be savored? I’m sure I can’t answer that question exhaustively, but I think I know at least part of the answer, and probably the greatest, most insidious part. Many would put the blame on Satan. Of course, the prince of darkness does not want me exposed to the light. Of course he wants to deceive me, and will do all he can to keep me from God and his Word. But I cannot shift the blame, not even to the father of lies. If God had destroyed Satan immediately after he deceived Adam, my worst enemy would still be right here with me. That enemy is me. I want to know God, I say again. I want to know him in all his glory. Yet there is a part of me that most definitely does not want to know him: my flesh. My flesh assiduously avoids all knowledge of God. Why? Because knowledge makes demands. My flesh does not like demands. Oh, it likes to make demands. It makes demands on people, on things, on circumstances, and even on God, but it hates demands made on me. What demands does the knowledge of God make? Knowledge of his holiness demands that I be holy. Knowledge of his sovereign lordship, of his ownership of all creation, including me, demands that I submit to his commands. Knowledge of his love demands that I love him and all that he loves. The knowledge of God does more than make demands. Just as a light shining into a dark corner reveals the dirt left unseen in the darkness, the light of God’s holiness exposes the filth in my heart. It discloses my unholiness, my intractability, my unloving selfishness. The knowledge of God leads to knowledge of self-knowledge I would rather ignore. So now, in addition to knowledge of God, I have knowledge of self. This is not a pleasant combination. Knowledge of God brings demands. Knowledge of self, of who I really am, crushes any hope that I can meet those demands. This brings with it yet another demand—that I be humble. But I am not humble. I am proud and independent. If I was humble, the logical thing to do at this point would be to acknowledge my helplessness, rest on God’s promises, and pray for grace. But very often, my reaction is anything but humble. Rather than praying, I resolve to do better. I will try harder. Can you believe it? I retreat to my own self-sufficiency! The very self-sufficiency that has already been destroyed! And that is exactly where I would be left, if not for the gracious, electing work of God; if not for the sacrificial redeeming work of Christ; if not for the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. God takes a man who is unholy, unrighteous, unloving, whose knowledge of myself causes me to cringe from the knowledge of God, and gently, lovingly, draws me back into a place where I can say, with all my heart, I want to know God.

When You Encounter Various Trials

Monday··2008·11·10 · 1 Comments
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. —James 1:2–4 Life is hard. Working for a living is hard. Marriage is hard. Raising children is hard. Sometimes, just getting up in the morning is hard. Are you thankful? You should be. I don’t mean you should not grieve and mourn over serous calamities, or even cry out to God for deliverance. I mean, can you recognize God’s hand at work, stripping away your independence, self-sufficiency, and pride, strengthening your faith, and trusting him to work all things together for your good, thank him and be joyful? These are hard questions for me. I think I have experienced my share (what is my share, exactly?) of trials, and I think I can honestly say that I have learned to be content and thankful for lessons learned and for the providence of God in those situations. I do pretty well, I think. But wait; what did James write? “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you look back on various trials, and see how God has worked through them . . .” No, he wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials . . .” When, not after. This is a hard pill to swallow, and I’m afraid I haven’t quite choked it down yet. Here is where I’d like to have a nice, inspirational, devotional book-like conclusion, but I’m afraid I haven’t got one. It’s only the grace of God that brings me around to see in hindsight what I’m too selfish or stupid to see at the moment. Needle-point that and hang it on the wall.

Spiritual Sight

Once we have been born again and have come to understand Christ as our highest good, when we have learned that our greatest joy is in “seeing and savoring the beauty and value of God,” we still have a problem. As long as we are in the flesh, we will have poor eyesight. “For now we see in a mirror dimly . . .” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We cannot see God clearly, and so cannot enjoy him fully. The ability to see spiritual beauty is not unwavering. There are ups and downs in our fellowship with Christ. There are times of beclouded vision, especially if sin gets the upper had in our lives for a season. “Blessed are the poor in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). Yes, and this in not an all-or-nothing reality. There are degrees of purity and degrees of seeing. Only when we are perfected in the age to come will our seeing be totally unclouded. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). This is why Paul prayed the way he did for the believers of Ephesus. “[May God] give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what in the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Eph, 1:17–19). Notice Paul’s distinction between the eyes of the head and the eyes of the heart. There is a heart-seeing, not just a head-seeing. There is a spiritual seeing and a physical seeing. And what he longs for us to see spiritually is “the hope to Which [God] has called” us, “the riches of his glorious inheritance,” and “the immeasurable greatness of his power.” In other words, what he wants us to see is the spiritual reality and value of these things, not just raw facts that unbelievers can read and repeat. That is not the point of spiritual seeing. Spiritual seeing is seeing spiritual things for what they really are—that is, seeing them as beautiful and valuable as they really are. —John Piper, God Is the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), 55–56.
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 1 John 3:2–3 Do you want to be Christ-like? Then look at him, and look at him some more. Focus on him; fill your mind with him. Meditate on his Word. Think of all he is, and all you are promised through him. Because it is by seeing him that we become like him.
Sometimes I feel that, at my age, I should not struggle so much in my spiritual walk. I try really hard, but I know I should be doing better. Someone is no doubt thinking, “Man, you don’t get it. You should know better . . .” I get it. I do know better. But sometimes I think those thoughts anyway. That’s why I can never read words like these often enough: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit . . . Ephesians 6:10–18 Notice, it’s “the strength of his might.” It’s “the armor of God.” Meditate on that as you begin another week.

The Fruit of the Filling

Most of what we read these days on the filling of the Spirit is just flat wrong. This post is intended as an antidote. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Tangent: The filling of the Spirit, which is an on-going process throughout every Christian’s life, should not be confused with baptism of the Spirit, which is a one-time event that happens to every believer at the moment of regeneration. (See John MacArthur, The Baptism of the Holy Spirit.) Notice the word fruit in verse 22. It does not say that the fruits of the Spirit are, but that the fruit . . . is. The list that follows is not of fruits of the Spirit, but various manifestations of that singular fruit. These are the characteristics that flow from being filled with the Spirit. These manifestations are, it is vital to note, not works. This is not a list of things to do, as if we could produce spiritual fruit through fleshly effort. The Geneva Bible notes state succinctly: Therefore, they are not the fruits of free will, but so far forth as our will is made free by grace.1 Matthew Henry wrote: And here we may observe that as sin is called the work of the flesh, because the flesh, or corrupt nature, is the principle that moves and excites men to it, so grace is said to be the fruit of the Spirit, because it wholly proceeds from the Spirit, as the fruit does from the root . . .2 And John Gill: Not of nature or man’s free will, as corrupted by sin, for no good fruit springs from thence; but either of the internal principle of grace, called the Spirit, ver. 17. or rather of the Holy Spirit . . ; the graces of which are called fruit, and not works, as the actions of the flesh are; because they are owing to divine influence efficacy, and bounty, as the fruits of the earth are, to which the allusion is; and not to a man’s self, to the power and principles of nature; and because they arise from a seed, either the incorruptible seed of internal grace, which seminally contains all graces in it, or the blessed Spirit, who is the seed that remains in believers; and because they are in the exercise of them acceptable unto God through Christ, and are grateful and delightful to Christ himself, being his pleasant fruits; which as they come from him, as the author of them, they are exercised on him as the object of them, under the influence of the Spirit . . .3 Finally, John MacArthur: Contrasted with the deeds of the flesh is the fruit of the Spirit. Deeds of the flesh are done by a person’s own efforts, whether he is saved or unsaved. The fruit of the Spirit, on the other hand, is produced by God’s own Spirit and only in the lives of those who belong to Him through faith in Jesus Christ.4 The fruit of the Spirit is a list, then, of indications that one belongs to Christ and has therefore “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” It is a standard of measure to which we can refer when examining ourselves in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” The question this passage asks us is, Are we filled with the Spirit? The filling of the Spirit is something we need continuously. D. L. Moody, when asked why this is, reportedly replied, “Because I leak.” Whether that exchange actually occurred, or is apocryphal, it certainly is true. What are we to do? We can’t fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit. Contrary to the beliefs of many, there is no one we can go to for an “anointing,” no one who can zap us with the Spirit. Consider these two parallel passages: Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. 18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Can you see the parallel? Ephesians: Colossians:be filled with the SpiritLet the word of Christ richly dwell within you speaking to one another in psalms . . . teaching and admonishing one another with psalms . . . giving thankswith thankfulness . . . giving thanks be subject to one another Wives, be subject to your husbands in the fear of Christ as is fitting in the Lord We can see that the results of being filled with the Spirit are precisely the same as those of letting “the word of Christ richly dwell within” us. The Holy Spirit fills us as we devote ourselves to “the word of Christ.” On this parallel, John MacArthur writes, The result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same as the result of letting the Word dwell in one’s life richly. Therefore, the two are the same spiritual reality viewed from two sides. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by His Word. To have the Word dwelling richly is to be controlled by His Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is the author and power of the word, the expressions are interchangeable.5 This truth is seen also in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer (John 17), when he prayed that the Father would “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (verse 17). So, coming back to Galatians 5, we can conclude that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the fruit of letting the Word of Christ, which is the Holy Spirit’s voice, richly dwell within us. 1 1599 Geneva Bible, (Tolle Lege Press, 2006) 2 Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. 6 (Hendrickson, 2006), 545. 3 Exposition of the Old & New Testaments: Vol. 9 (Baptist Standard Bearer, 2006), 49. 4 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Moody, 1987), 163. 5 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians & Philemon (Moody, 1992), 159.

Hymns of My Youth: Love Divine

Today’s hymn is the second in the “Opening and Morning” section of the Concordia. This one has everything: Christ-centered praise and petition, biblical gospel theology, eschatological longing, all to the glory of Jesus, our Savior and Lord. 38 Love Divine, All Love Excelling Love divine, all loves excelling, Joy of heav’n to earth come down! Fix in us thy humble dwelling; All thy faithful mercies crown. Jesus, Thou art all compassion, Pure unbounded love Thou art; Visit us with Thy salvation; Enter every trembling heart. Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit, Into ev’ry troubled breast! Let us all in Thee inherit, Let us find Thy promised rest. Take away the love of sinning, Alpha and Omega be; End of faith, as its beginning, Set our hearts at liberty. Come, Almighty to deliver, Let us all Thy life receive; Graciously return and never, Never more Thy temples leave! Thee we would be always blessing, Serve Thee as Thy hosts above, Pray and praise Thee without ceasing, Glory in Thy perfect love. Finish, then, Thy new creation, Pure and spotless let us be; Let us see Thy great salvation, Perfectly restored in Thee, Changed from glory into glory, Till in heav’n we take our place, Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise. —The Concordia Hymnal (Augsburg Publishing House, 1960). The Concordia tune is Beecher. It is apparently also sung to Hyfrydol, but I must object in the strongest terms. Try listening without thinking Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners and see if I’m not right. Beecher Hyferdol Just for fun, here’s an interesting arrangement to Pachelbel’s Canon in D.

Hymns of My Youth: Dearest Jesus, Draw Thou Near Me

Another hymn from the “Opening and Morning” section: 39 Dearest Jesus, Draw Thou Near Me Dearest Jesus, draw Thou near me, Let Thy Spirit dwell with mine; Open now my ear to hear Thee, Take my heart and seal it Thine; Keep me, lead me on my way, Thee to follow and obey, E’er to do Thy will and fear Thee, And rejoice to know and hear Thee. Underneath Thy wings abiding, In Thy Church, O Savior dear, Let me dwell, in Thee confiding, Hold me in Thy faith and fear; Take away from me each thought That with wickedness is fraught, Tempting me to disobey Thee, Root it out, O Lord, I pray Thee. Thou, earth’s greatest joy and gladness, And salvation, full and free, Let Thy presence cheer my sadness, And prepare my soul for Thee! In the hour when I depart, Touch my spirit, lips and heart, With Thy Word assure, uphold me Till the heav’nly gates enfold me. —The Concordia Hymnal (Augsburg Publishing House, 1960). I’m afraid the best I can do for an accompaniment is the Cyberhymnal MIDI. You might recognize the tune, Werde Munter by Johann Schop, as the basis for Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

Why You Must Read

Yes, we had a nice Independence Day; thanks for asking. It ended a little late, though. Thanks to the cooperative efforts of the geniuses* who cooked up Daylight Savings Time and the even greater geniuses* who decided our county should be on Central Time, the sun didn’t set until 10:46 PM. Then came the fireworks. Morning came at the usual time. I’m tired. I normally fall asleep reading. Last night, I picked up my book and fell asleep before I could even open it. What would Al Mohler say?† I’ve already posted these videos on Facebook, Twitter, Google, and now I’m posting them here for those who come via RSS, Kindle, etc. That’s how important reading, and exhorting you to read, is to me. I’m always discouraged to hear Christians, and even many in positions of leadership, say they don’t like to read. This is entirely unacceptable. It is as Mohler said: Reading is not an end in itself. Growth into godliness is the end. Being conformed to the image of Christ, that’s going to happen by Scripture, by the teaching and preaching of the Word of God, and it’s going to happen by reading. And so reading is not the thing; it’s not the end in itself; it is the way God has chosen to help his people grow, and it’s been that way from the beginning. The Jews were dependent upon the scrolls. Paul says to Timothy, “Bring the books and parchments—in a hurry.” And it’s just important we realize we’re not going to grow if we’re not reading and studying, and that means sitting in the chair and getting it done, but honestly, it’s appetitive. The more you do it, the more you love it. * Idiots † Go ahead, say it: “Clever segue, David!”

Hymns of My Youth II: The Old rugged Cross

In a way, this is a quintessential evangelical gospel song, with it’s emphasis on how I feel and what I’ll do. On the other hand, it does present a broad picture of what Christ accomplished on the cross: pardon, sanctification, and finally, glorification. The Old rugged Cross On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, The emblem of suff’ring and shame; And I love that old cross where the dearest and best For a world of lost sinners was slain. Refrain So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, Till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, And exchange it some day for a crown. O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, Has a wondrous attraction for me; For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above To bear it to dark Calvary. Refrain In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, A wondrous beauty I see, For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, To pardon and sanctify me. Refrain To the old rugged cross I will ever be true; Its shame and reproach gladly bear; Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away, Where His glory forever I’ll share. Refrain —Great Hymns of the Faith (Zondervan, 1968).

Hymns of My Youth III: Love Divine

We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. —1 John 4:16–17 45 Love Divine, All Loves Excelling Love divine, all loves excelling, Joy of heaven to earth come down; Fix in us thy humble dwelling; All thy faithful mercies crown! Jesus, Thou art all compassion, Pure unbounded love Thou art; Visit us with Thy salvation; Enter every trembling heart. Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit, Into every troubled breast! Let us all in Thee inherit; Let us find that second rest. Take away our bent to sinning; Alpha and Omega be; End of faith, as its Beginning, Set our hearts at liberty. Come, Almighty to deliver, Let us all Thy life receive; Suddenly return and never, Never more Thy temples leave. Thee we would be always blessing, Serve Thee as Thy hosts above, Pray and praise Thee without ceasing, Glory in Thy perfect love. Finish, then, Thy new creation; Pure and spotless let us be. Let us see Thy great salvation Perfectly restored in Thee; Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place, Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise. —Favorite Hymns of Praise (Tabernacle Publishing Company, 1967).

He Who Loves Me

While good works play no part in justification, nor—I would argue, contra Iain Murray and many other fine theologians—do they have any causal relationship to sanctification, they are a necessary ground for assurance of salvation. Those who conclude that because works and obedience have no place in the believers justification, therefore they need have no place in assurance, are . . . in serious error. Christ teaches emphatically that the assuring work of the Spirit and the comfort of his presence is related to obedience: ‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me. and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him’ (John 14:21). J. C. Ryle is commenting on this same truth when he writes: ‘I bless God that our salvation in no wise depends on our own works . . . But I would never have any believer forget that our sense of salvation depends much on our manner of living. Inconsistency will dim our eyes and bring clouds between us and the sun.’ —Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth, 2005), 181.

Why Don’t I Feel New?

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. —1 Corinthians 5:17 At the moment of regeneration, we are united with Christ, baptized by and filled with the Holy Spirit. There is no “second blessing,” no “haves” and “have-nots.” “The old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Every believer is “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” But let’s be honest. Even for the most committed Christian, it doesn’t always seem like “the new has come.” We don’t always feel like a “new creation.” Usually we are more keenly aware of the sin that oozes from within us than we are of the rivers of living water Christ spoke of. Although we “have the first-fruits of the Spirit, [we] groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). And we groan this way all our lives. Remember that it was a mature apostle, not a fragile new Christian, who cried out in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” . . . As believers we are new creatures—reborn souls—vested with everything necessary for life and godliness, but we cannot appreciate fully the newness of our position in Christ because of the persisting presence of sin in us. Like Paul, we “delight in the law of God, in [our] inner being” (Romans 7:22). Only the principle of eternal life in us can explain such love for the law of God. But at the same time, the flesh constricts and fetters us, like tightly bound grave clothes on someone just up out of the grave. This flesh principle is at war against the principle of new life in Christ. So we feel like captives to the law of sin in our own members (v. 23). How can this be? After all, Paul earlier wrote in this very epistle that our bondage to sin is broken. We are supposed to “have been set free from sin” (6:22). How is it that just one scant chapter later, he says we are “captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (7:23)? But being captive is not quite the same thing as being enslaved. As unredeemed sinners, we were full-time slaves of sin—willing servants, in fact. As Christians who are not yet glorified, we are “captives,” unwilling prisoners of an already-defeated enemy. Although sin can buffet and abuse us, it does not own us, and it cannot ultimately destroy us. Sin’s authority and dominion are broken. It “lies close at hand” in the believer’s life (7:21), but it is no longer our master. Our real allegiance is now the principle of righteousness (v. 22). It is in this sense that “the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Even though we still fall into old patterns of sinful thinking and behavior, those things no longer define who we are. Sin is now an anomaly and an intruder, not the sum and substance of our character. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 132, 133–134.

Glorification versus Purgatory

If sanctification was our final transformation before eternity, we would surely be in need of some kind of purgatory before entering heaven, because sanctification in this life is incomplete. MacArthur writes, [T]he holiness our sanctification produces could never be sufficient to fit us for heaven by itself. In heaven we will be perfectly Christlike. Sanctification is the earthly process of growth by which we press toward that goal; glorification is the instantaneous completion of it. God graciously, summarily glorifies us and admits us into his presence. . . . there is no waiting period, no soul sleep, and no purgatory. Misunderstanding on this point runs deep. No less a scholar than C. S. Lewis wrote, Our souls demand purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy”? Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.” “It may hurt, you know.”—“Even so, sir.” Lewis was no theologian. He was prone (like too many Anglicans) to water down the clarity of biblical truth with Roman Catholic tradition. But this is surely one of his most glaring and baffling errors. It is as if he were totally oblivious to the biblical promise of glorification. Once more: Nothing in Scripture even hints at the notion of purgatory, and nothing indicates that our glorification will in any way be drawn out or painful. On the contrary, as we have seen repeatedly from Scripture, the moment a believer dies, his soul is instantly glorified and he enters God’s presence. To depart this world is to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23). And upon seeing Christ, we become like him. It is a graceful, peaceful, painless, instantaneous transition. Paul says to be absent from the body is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 136–137.

The Life of the Justified Is Wisdom & Truth

The ninth of Horatius Bonar’s characteristics of “the life of the justified”: The life of the justified is the life of wisdom and truth. He has become ‘wise in Christ’; nay, ‘Christ has been made unto him wisdom’ as well as righteousness. It is thus that he has become ‘wise unto salvation,’ and he feels that he must hold fast the truth that saves. To trifle with that truth, to tamper with error, would be to deny the cross. He by whom he is justified is Himself the truth, and every man who receives that truth becomes a witness for it. By the truth he is saved; by the truth he is made free; by the truth he is made clean; by the truth he is sanctified; and therefore it is precious to him, every jot and tittle. Each fragment broken off is so much lost to his spiritual well-being; and each new discovery made in the rich field of truth is so much eternal gain. He has bought the truth, and he will not sell it. It is his life; it is his heritage; it is his kingdom. He counts all truth precious, and all error hateful. He dreads the unbelief that is undermining the foundations of truth, and turning its spacious palaces into the chaos of human speculations. He calls no truth obsolete or out of date; for he knows that the truths on which he rests for eternity are the oldest of old, and yet the surest of sure. To introduce doubt as to the one sacrifice on which he builds, is to shake the cross of Calvary. To lay another foundation than that already laid, is to destroy his one hope. To take the sacrificial element out of the blood, is to make peace with God impossible, because unrighteous. To substitute the church for Christ, or the priest for the herald of pardon, or the rite for the precious blood, or the sacrament for the living Christ upon the throne, or the teachings of the church for the enlightenment of the Holy Ghost,—this is to turn light into darkness, and then to call that darkness light. Thus taught by that Spirit who has led him to the cross, the justified man knows how to discern truth from error. He has the unction from the Holy One, and knows all things (1 John ii. 20); he has the anointing which is truth, and is no lie (1 John ii. 27); and he can try the spirits, whether they are of God (1 John iv. 1). Want of sensitiveness to the difference between truth and error is one of the evil features of modern Protestantism. Sounding words, well-executed pictures, pretentious logic, carry away multitudes. The distinction between Gospel and no Gospel is very decided and very momentous; yet many will come away from a sermon in which the free gospel has been overlaid, not sensible of the want, and praising the preacher. The conversions of recent years have not the depth of other days. Consciences are half-awakened and half-pacified; the wound is slightly laid open, and slightly healed. Hence the want of spiritual discernment as to truth and error. The conscience is not sensitive, else it would at once refuse and resent any statement, however well argued or painted, which encroached in the slightest degree upon the free gospel of God’s love in Christ; which interposed any obstacle between the sinner and the cross; or which merely declaimed about the cross, without telling us especially how it saves and how it purifies. We need sensitive but not morbid consciences to keep us steadfast in the faith, to preserve our spiritual eyesight unimpaired, remembering the apostle’s words, ‘He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins’ (2 Pet. i. 9). Censoriousness is one thing, and spiritual discernment is quite another. To avoid the first we do not need to give up the second: though the ‘liberality’ of modern times would recommend us to be charitable to error, and not very tenacious of any Bible truth, seeing that nothing in an age of culture can be received but that which has been pronounced credible by philosophy or science, and which the ‘verifying faculty’ has adjudged to be true! —Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness; or, How shall Man be Just with God? (London: James Nisbet and Co, 1873), 204–207.

Hymns of My Youth III: Channels Only

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. —2 Corinthians 5:20 398 Channels Only How I praise Thee, precious Savior, That Thy love laid hold of me; Thou hast saved and cleansed and filled me That I might Thy channel be. Refrain: Channels only, blessèd Master, But with all Thy wondrous pow’r Flowing thro’ us, Thou canst use us Ev’ry day and ev’ry hour. Emptied that Thou shouldest fill me, A clean vessel in Thy hand; With no pow’r but as Thou givest Graciously with each command. Refrain Witnessing Thy pow’r to save me, Setting free from self and sin; Thou who boughtest to possess me, In Thy fullness, Lord, come in. Refrain Jesus, fill now with Thy Spirit Hearts that full surrender know; That the streams of living water From our inner man may flow. Refrain —Favorite Hymns of Praise (Tabernacle Publishing Company, 1967).

In Failure or Success

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. —Philippians 1:6 In our inevitable failure, God has a purpose. In our success, he gets the credit. In both, he is faithful. An awareness of God’s present grace—His grace for the journey as well as for its beginning and end—should elevate our hopes for daily joy. This is what’s so great about the perseverance of the saints: the certainty believers have at all times that God is graciously working for our salvation. Perhaps, for instance, a grace-centered believer falls into a sin. Instead of being undone by inward doubts and questions regarding his or her salvation, the believer should ask how God is using this failure for his or her sanctification. I might ask, is God revealing my overconfidence in the flesh and my need to rely more closely on His Word? Is God preparing me for a future challenge, so that I will not fail then? Is God humbling me or showing me a particular vulnerability? The answer is probably somewhere along these lines. But what a liberating difference it makes to view life in terms of God’s certain success instead of in terms of our inevitable failure! The doctrine of God’s preserving grace may be even more important in the event of our success and spiritual achievement. Instead of glorying in ourselves, to which we all are prone—“Look what I have done!”—we glory in God’s faithfulness and might. We celebrate what God is doing in us and draw nearer to Him instead of puffing up with self-reliance that can only draw us away from the spring of God’s flowing grace. In either case—failure or success—possessing a firm confidence in God’s preserving grace makes all the difference now. Are you a believer in Christ? Then realize that this is a work of grace begun in you by God. What He has begun, He is certain to bring to completion and perfection! —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 95–96.

Lord’s Day 2, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. —Philippians 1:6 New Beginning Incomprehensible, Great, and Glorious God, I adore thee and abase myself. I approach thee mindful that I am less than nothing, a creature worse than nothing. My thoughts are not screened from thy gaze. My secret sins blaze in the light of thy countenance. Enable me to remember that blood which cleanseth all sin, to believe in that grace which subdues all iniquities, to resign myself to that agency which can deliver me from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Thou hast begun a good work in me and canst alone continue and complete it. Give me an increasing conviction of my tendency to err, and of my exposure to sin. Help me to feel more of the purifying, softening influence of religion, its compassion, love, pity, courtesy, and employ me as thy instrument in blessing others. Give me to distinguish between the mere form of godliness and its power, between life and a name to live, between guile and truth, between hypocrisy and a religion that will bear thy eye. If I am not right, set me right, keep me right; And may I at last come to thy house in peace. —The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, editor (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

It’s Who He Is

You see a dog, a puppy. He barks, he wags his tail, and you think nothing of it, because that is what dogs do. Those actions are essential to the nature of dogginess. You don’t think, “Oh, that poor dog, laboring under legalistic expectations.” On the contrary, without these manifestations of natural dog behavior, you would think there was something wrong. The dog grows and, depending on his type, you see him point pheasants, retrieve ducks, etc. Again, unless you are some sort of animal rights lunatic, you recognize these as perfectly natural canine activities, and observe that the dog actually enjoys performing his duty. The dog grows old, the joints stiffen, energy flags, and a rug by the fire becomes his usual office. The master has a new pup in training. Still, when the shotgun comes off the rack, the old dog is on his feet, ready to go, not only because his training compels him, but because that is who he is. Left behind, he whimpers at the door. His one desire is to be with his master. As you may have guessed, I am describing, by way of analogy, the life of a Christian, for whom God’s command is not a burden, but a delight. His service, while not always easy, is not an imposition, but the natural way of life. Only one more element is needed to complete the analogy: The dog I’ve described was born a cat.

The Spirit’s True Work

The incredible irony is that those who talk the most about the Holy Spirit generally deny His true work. They attribute all kinds of human silliness to Him while ignoring the genuine purpose and power of His ministry: freeing sinners from death, giving them everlasting life, regenerating their hearts, transforming their nature, empowering them for spiritual victory, confirming their place in the family of God, interceding for them according to the will of God, sealing them securely for their eternal glory, and promising to raise them to immortality in the future. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) xvi.

Sanctification: Synergistic, or Monergistic?

Salvation is monergistic. There is nothing anyone can do to save or contribute to the saving of themselves. On this, biblical theologians all agree.* The natural man is dead in sin, and cannot raise himself. He cannot exercise any kind of faith, because he has none. He cannot acquire saving faith, because he cannot understand the word through which that faith is given (Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 2:14). He must, in theological terms, be regenerated, or, in biblical terms, be born again (John 3:3), and that is only accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 3:7–8). Salvation is monergistic, because it must be monergistic. At the same time, there are the gospel commands. We are commanded to believe. We are commanded to repent. We are commanded to follow Jesus, and in doing so, to take up crosses (Matthew 16:14; cf. Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). Unless we do these things, we will not be saved. We also know that perseverance is required (James 1:12). Volumes have been written in the desire to reconcile the demands of God and the responsibility of man with the clear witness of Scripture to the total inability of man and the sovereign, saving grace of God. In spite of that difficulty, monergism is maintained. We maintain that regeneration is a miracle, that justification is by grace alone, through faith—the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8)—alone, and that our perseverance is assured (John 6:40–44) by God. Meanwhile, one portion of our salvation is plucked from the center and declared synergistic. I speak, of course, of sanctification. That opinion is held by no less than R. C. Sproul, who said, “Regeneration is monergistic, God’s work alone. Sanctification, the process by which we are made holy, is synergistic, God’s work with us.” During the recent 2014 Shepherds’ Conference, my most esteemed teacher, John MacArthur, and a panel of distinguished guests all agreed. It should be noted that they were responding to the antinomian views of Tullian Tchividjian and others, who seem to be espousing a Keswick-like “let go and let God” philosophy, but nevertheless, the statement was unambiguous: “sanctification is synergistic.” And the substance of everything they said was correct. I couldn’t disagree with a single word, but it was as though they were saying “2+3=7.” Yes, I agree with their definition of 2, and yes, of 3 also, but the conclusion was wrong. Yes, we are commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and if we do not, our sanctification simply will not happen, but how is that different from the fact that if we do not believe and repent, we will not be justified? In spite of those clear commands, we recognize the texts that just as clearly declare regeneration monergistic. Why can’t we acknowledge the command in Philippians 2:12, “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” while recognizing that as we do, “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (verse 13)? We don’t have to deny monergistic sanctification to avoid antinomianism or quietism any more than we have to deny monergistic regeneration to avoid the errors of hyper-Calvinism. It seems to me a “can’t see the forest for the trees” problem. Those who call sanctification synergistic need to step back and see who is really doing the work. Several years ago, while still very much an Arminian, I was discussing Calvinism versus Arminianism with a quasi-Arminian Pastor. He explained that the difference was that Arminians were looking at salvation from man’s point of view, while Calvinists looked from God’s point of view. He seemed to think that, as people dealing with people, we should be taking the former view, which has a certain pragmatic appeal, but is flat wrong. It seems to me that those monergists—or, perhaps I should say, semi-monergists, who believe in synergistic sanctification are making the same error. Or maybe I should trade soli Deo gloria for maxime gloria Deo (most of the glory to God). * I know, many theologians disagree, but I don’t consider them, however distinguished, to be very biblical. They may be fine Christians, but no one who fails to understand this most fundamental and reasonably perspicuous truth deserves any kind of theologically-related degree.
Believers are commanded to be ‘holy men,’ Exod. xxii. ult. In the original it is men of holiness; and ‘ye shall be men of holiness unto me’—that is, all over holy. As Christ is called ‘a man of sorrows,’ because his whole man, body and soul, was steeped in tears, and his whole time, from the womb to the tomb, was spent in sorrows and sufferings, full of tribulations; and as Antichrist is called a ‘man of sin’ because he is, as Beza observes well, merum scelus—mere sin, nothing but sin, Isa. liii. 3; 2 Thes. ii. 3; so the children of God should be men of holiness, mere holiness, made up of holiness, nothing but holiness. Every part of them should be holy, and every deed done by them should be holy. Holiness in their hearts should, as the lungs in the body, be in continual motion; and holiness in their life must run through all their works, as the woof through the whole web. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:84–85.

The Sword of the Spirit

John MacArthur on the relationship between being Scripture-saturated and Spirit-filled: The Bible is the Holy Spirit’s book; He inspired it and He empowers it. It is the primary instrument He uses to convict the world of sin (John 16:8–11; Acts 2:37); to point sinners to the Savior (John 5:39; 1 John 5:6); and to conform believers into the image of their Lord (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Peter 2:2). Accordingly, the Scriptures are described as “the sword of the Spirit.” For believers, that sword is a Spirit-empowered means of defense against temptation (Eph. 6:17); for unbelievers, it is an implement of precision used by the Holy Spirit to pierce hearts of unbelief (Heb. 4:12). A comparison of Ephesians 5:18 with Colossians 3:16 demonstrates that the command to “be filled with the Spirit” is parallel to the command to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” since they both produce the same results (cf. Eph. 5:18–6:9; Col. 3:16–4:1). As one commentator explains, “It is not possible for God’s Word to dwell in believers unless they are filled with the Spirit; and conversely, Christians can’t be filled with the Spirit without the Word of Christ dwelling in them.” Being Spirit-filled starts with being Scripture-saturated; as believers submit themselves to the Word of Christ, they simultaneously come under the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who illuminates their hearts so that as they grow in their knowledge of the Lord Jesus, their love for the Savior deepens accordingly (cf. 1 Cor. 2:12–16). —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 67. This theme is handled more fully here: The Fruit of the Filling.

Education in Sanctification

Three excellent articles on sanctification by Mike Riccardi: Sanctification: The Christian’s Pursuit of God-Given Holiness The Means of Sanctification Beholding Glory: The Dynamics of Sanctification I agree whole-heartedly with Riccardi on all but one point. He says that sanctification should not be called monergistic or synergistic (which is definitely an improvement over the opinions of others—some of whom I greatly admire—that it is synergistic). While his view is worth considering, I still maintain that sanctification is monergistic.

Spirit Filled

John MacArthur writes, “As those who claim to have the primary, if not exclusive, right to the title ‘Spirit-filled Christians,’ charismatics invariably define being filled with the Spirit in terms of ecstatic experiences.” Babbling gibberish, falling down, rolling or crawling on the floor, hysterical laughter, animal noises, drunken behavior, or, at least, being overcome with emotion, are all (according to charismatics) signs of being filled with the Spirit. Scripture describes the fruit of the Spirit somewhat differently. After commanding believers to be filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18, Paul continues in the subsequent verses by giving specific examples of what that looks like. Those who are Spirit-filled are characterized by joyful singing in worship (5:19), hearts full of thanksgiving (5:20), and selflessness toward others (5:21). If they are married, their marriage honors God (5:22–33); if they have children, their parenting patiently unfolds the gospel (6:1–4); if they work for an earthly master, they work hard for the Lord’s honor (6:5–8); and if they have people working for them, they treat their subordinates with benevolence and fairness (6:9). That is what it looks like to be a Spirit-filled Christian. His influence in our lives makes us rightly related to God and to others. In Colossians 3:16–4:1, a parallel passage to Ephesians 5:18–6:9, Paul explains that if believers “let the word of Christ dwell in [them] richly,” they will likewise respond by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. They will do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, “giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Wives will be submissive to their husbands; and husbands, in turn, will love their wives. Children will obey their parents, and parents will not exasperate their children. Servants will work diligently for their masters, and masters will respond by treating their workers with fairness. A comparison of Colossians 3:16 with Ephesians 5:18 demonstrates the inseparable relationship between the two passages—since the fruit produced in each case is the same. Thus, we can see that obeying the command to be filled with the Spirit does not involve emotional hype or mystical encounters. It comes from reading, meditating on, and submitting to the Word of Christ, allowing the Scriptures to permeate our hearts and minds. Said another way, we are filled with the Holy Spirit when we are filled with the Word, which He inspired and empowers. As we align our thinking with biblical teaching, applying its truth to our daily lives, we come increasingly under the Spirit’s control. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 205–206.

The Real Ministry of the Holy Spirit

Rather than being hopelessly distracted by charismatic counterfeits, believers need to rediscover the real ministry of the Holy Spirit, which is to activate His power in us through His Word, so that we can truly conquer sin for the glory of Christ, the blessing of His church, and the benefit of the lost. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 212.

Lord’s Day 27, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. —Romans 8:28 Peril Sovereign Commander of the universe, I am sadly harassed by doubts, fears, unbelief, in a felt spiritual darkness. My heart is full of evil surmisings and disquietude, and I cannot act faith at all. My heavenly Pilot has disappeared, and I have lost my hold on the Rock of Ages; I sink in deep mire beneath storms and waves, in horror and distress unutterable. Help me, O Lord, to throw myself absolutely and wholly on thee, for better, for worse, without comfort, and all but hopeless. Give me peace of soul, confidence, enlargement of mind, morning joy that comes after night heaviness; Water my soul richly with divine blessings; Grant that I may welcome thy humbling in private so that I might enjoy thee in public; Give me a mountain top as high as the valley is low. Thy grace can melt the worst sinner, and I am as vile as he; Yet thou hast made me a monument of mercy, a trophy of redeeming power; In my distress let me not forget this. All-wise God, Thy never-failing providence orders every event, sweetens every fear, reveals evil’s presence lurking in seeming good, brings real good out of seeming evil, makes unsatisfactory what I set my heart upon, to show me what a short-sighted creature I am, and to teach me to live by faith upon thy blessed self. Out of my sorrow and night give me the name Naphtali— “satisfied with favour’— help me to love thee as thy child, and to walk worthy of my heavenly pedigree. —The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, editor (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

The Necessity of the Word

Before going to worship on the Lord’s Day, we ought to prepare our minds to receive the Word. Toward that end, George Swinnock suggests three things to consider: “Before thou goest to hear, labour to affect thine heart with the necessity, excellency, and efficacy of the word.” On the first: Consider its necessity. Mary minded ‘the one thing necessary;’ indeed she gave the word her heart, but the way to it was this, she gave it her ear; she ‘sat at Christ’s feet and heard his word.’ . . . Urge thy soul with this: The word which I am going to hear, in regard of the ordination of God, is absolutely necessary to my spiritual and eternal good. I am dead, and it is the word that must enliven me; I am blind, and it is the word that must enlighten me. It is absolutely necessary that I know my sins and misery; now the word must do this, and is therefore called a glass, James i. It is absolutely necessary that I know my Saviour, and the way of my recovery: now the word must do this, and is therefore called faith and life, John vi., Rom. Iii. It is necessary to open mine eyes to see Christ, to open my heart to receive Christ, and that heaven hereafter may open to my poor soul. My soul is sinful, and it is the word that must sanctify it; my soul is sick, it is the word that must heal it; my soul is hungry, and it is the word must feed it, or I shall starve; my soul is thirsty, and it is the word that must satisfy it, or I shall die for thirst. Whatsoever conditions of misery I am in, it is the word that must give suitable exhortations to support me; whatsoever relations of life I stand in, it is the word that must give suitable exhortations to direct me; whatsoever service I am called to, whether of doing or suffering, it is the word which must relieve me with suitable supply. Oh, what concernment is this word to my well-being in this and the other world! I must be sanctified, or I can never be saved; I must turn to God, or burn in hell; and the word must do this for me, or it will never be done. Good Lord, how should I hear! —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:149–150

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: What a Wonderful Savior!

What a Wonderful Savior! We have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world. John 4:42 Christ has for sin atonement made— What a wonderful Savior! We are redeemed, the price is paid— What a wonderful Savior! Refrain What a wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Jesus! What a wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Lord! I praise Him for the cleansing blood— What a wonderful Savior! That reconciled my soul to God— What a wonderful Savior! Refrain: He cleansed my heart from all its sin— What a wonderful Savior! And now He reigns and rules therein— What a wonderful Savior! Refrain: He gives me overcoming pow’r— What a wonderful Savior! And triumph in each trying hour— What a wonderful Savior! Refrain: —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music). It’s difficult to find good audio/video for some of these hymns and gospel songs. I almost gave up on this one. This is the best I could do.

The Principle Efficient Cause

Tim Challies is currently guiding his readers through John Owen's The Mortification of Sin. I've decided to follow along. You might want to, also. At the bottom of the excerpt farther down this page, you will find links to several ways to do that. for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. —Romans 8:13 Sin is no small problem, even for believers. The Apostle Paul, certainly a giant among Christians, and probably the chief theologian of the church, wrote of his own struggle against “sin which dwells in me” (Romans 7:14–25). Sin is an enemy that must be put to death. This is clear: either our sin must be put to death, or we ourselves will die. But how, or more importantly, by what power? As Owen writes, it is by the same power that gives us life that enables us to “[put] to death the deeds of the body.” The principal efficient cause of the performance of this duty, is the Spirit; . . . ‘if by the Spirit.’ The Spirit here is the Spirit mentioned, ver. 11. the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God, that ‘dwells in us,’ ver. 9. That ‘quickens us,’ ver. 11. . . . the ‘Spirit of adoption,’ ver. 15. the Spirit ‘that maketh intercession for us,’ ver. 26. All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless, it must be done by the Spirit. Men, as the apostle? intimates, Rom. ix. 30–32. may attempt this work on other principles, by means and advantages administered on other accounts, as they always have done, and do; but, saith he, this is the work of the Spirit, by him alone is it to be wrought, and by no other power is it to be brought about. Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a selfrighteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world. —John Owen, Of The Mortification of Sin In Believers, The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:7. [Also: Overcoming Sin and Temptation with updated language, paperback or Kindle; free PDFs of The Works of John Owen (Mortification of Sin is found in volume 6)]

Ye Shall Live

Tim Challies is currently guiding his readers through John Owen's The Mortification of Sin. I've decided to follow along. You might want to, also. At the bottom of the excerpt farther down this page, you will find links to several ways to do that. for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. —Romans 8:13 Just as failure to kill sin is not without consequences, faithfulness in doing so is not without rewards, in this life, as well as the next. The promise unto this duty is life: “Ye shall live.” The life promised is opposed to the death threatened in the clause foregoing, “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die;” which the same apostle expresseth, “Ye shall of the flesh reap corruption,” Gal. vi. 8, or destruction from God. Now, perhaps the word may not only intend eternal life, but also the spiritual life in Christ, which here we have; not as to the essence and being of it, which is already enjoyed by believers, but as to the joy, comfort, and vigour of it: as the apostle says in another case, “Now I live, if ye stand fast,” 1 Thess. iii. 8;—“Now my life will do me good; I shall have joy and comfort with my life;”—“Ye shall live, lead a good, vigorous, comfortable, spiritual life whilst you are here, and obtain eternal life hereafter.” —John Owen, Of The Mortification of Sin In Believers, The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:8–9. [Also: Overcoming Sin and Temptation with updated language, paperback or Kindle; free PDFs of The Works of John Owen (Mortification of Sin is found in volume 6)]

The Corruption of Indwelling Sin

Tim Challies is currently guiding his readers through John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin. I’ve decided to follow along. You might want to, also. At the bottom of the excerpt farther down this page, you will find links to several ways to do that. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. —Colossians 3:5 Today, I draw your attention to just one sentence: Who can say that he had ever any thing to do with God or for God, that indwelling sin had not a hand in the corrupting of what he did? —John Owen, Of The Mortification of Sin In Believers, The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:11. [Also: Overcoming Sin and Temptation with updated language, paperback or Kindle; free PDFs of The Works of John Owen (Mortification of Sin is found in volume 6)] So complete is the corruption of our flesh that everything we do is, to some degree, tainted with sin. This was Paul's lament in Romans 7, causing him to cry, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” I, also, am a “wretched man,” and so are you. As long as we are in this flesh, we will battle to kill sin. But, as Paul did not ultimately despair, neither should we, because as “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit,” so also is “the Spirit against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17). And those who are baptized into Christ—that is, every believer—have been given a new nature, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, enabling us to crucify “the flesh with its passions and desires” (v. 24).

Slight Thoughts of Sin

Tim Challies is currently guiding his readers through John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin. I’ve decided to follow along. You might want to, also. At the bottom of the excerpt farther down this page, you will find links to several ways to do that. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. —Colossians 3:5 On the one who is not steadily employed in the mortification of his sin: Let him pretend what he will, he hath slight thoughts of sin; at least, of sins of daily infirmity. The root of an unmortified course is the digestion of sin without bitterness in the heart. When a man hath confirmed his imagination to such an apprehension of grace and mercy as to be able, without bitterness, to swallow and digest daily sins, that man is at the very brink of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Neither is there a greater evidence of a false and rotten heart in the world than to drive such a trade. To use the blood of Christ, which is given to cleanse us, 1 John i. 7, Tit. ii. 14; the exaltation of Christ, which is to give us repentance, Acts v. 31; the doctrine of grace, which teaches us to deny all ungodliness, Tit. ii 11, 12, to countenance sin, is a rebellion that in the issue will break the bones. At this door have gone out from us most of the professors that have apostatized in the days wherein we live. For a while they were most of them under convictions; these kept them unto duties, and brought them to profession; so they “escaped the pollutions that are in the world, through the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 2 Pet. ii. 20: but having got an acquaintance with the doctrine of the gospel, and being weary of duty, for which they had no principle, they began to countenance themselves in manifold neglects from the doctrine of grace. Now, when once this evil had laid hold of them, they speedily tumbled into perdition. —John Owen, Of The Mortification of Sin In Believers, The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:11. [Also: Overcoming Sin and Temptation with updated language, paperback or Kindle; free PDFs of The Works of John Owen (Mortification of Sin is found in volume 6)]

None to Mortify Corruption

Tim Challies is currently guiding his readers through John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin. I’ve decided to follow along. You might want to, also. At the bottom of the excerpt farther down this page, you will find links to several ways to do that. So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. —Philippians 2:12 13 Why men fail in their attempts to subdue sin: they attack the sin, rather than the corruption from which sin germinates. In a word, they have sundry means to mortify the natural man, as to the natural life here we lead; none to mortify lust or corruption. This is the general mistake of men ignorant of the gospel about this thing; and it lies at the bottom of very much of that superstition and will-worship that hath been brought into the world. What horrible self-macerations were practised by some of the ancient authors of monastical devotion! what violence did they offer to nature! what extremity of sufferings did they put themselves upon! Search their ways and principles to the bottom, and you will find that it had no other root but this mistake, namely, that attempting rigid mortification, they fell upon the natural man instead of the corrupt old man,—upon the body wherein we live instead of the body of death. Neither will the natural Popery that is in others do it. Men are galled with the guilt of a sin that hath prevailed over them; they instantly promise to themselves and God that they will do so no more; they watch over themselves, and pray for a season, until this heat waxes cold, and the sense of sin is worn off: and so mortification goes also, and sin returns to its former dominion. . . . Spiritually sick men cannot sweat out their distemper with working. —John Owen, Of The Mortification of Sin In Believers, The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:18. [Also: Overcoming Sin and Temptation with updated language, paperback or Kindle; free PDFs of The Works of John Owen (Mortification of Sin is found in volume 6)] Failure also comes from attacking sin as though it is our own work. Mortification of sin is the work of the Holy Spirit. We have all our mortification from the gift of Christ, and all the gifts of Christ are communicated to us and given us by the Spirit of Christ: “Without Christ we can do nothing,” John xv. 5. All communications of supplies and relief, in the beginnings, increasings, actings of any grace whatever, from him, are by the Spirit, by whom he alone works in and upon believers. From him we have our mortification: “He is exalted and made a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto us,” Acts v. 31; and of our repentance our mortification is no small portion. How doth he do it? Having “received the promise of the Holy Ghost,” he sends him abroad for that end, Acts ii. 33. You know the manifold promises he made of sending the Spirit, as Tertullian speaks, “Vicariam navare operam,” to do the works that he had to accomplish in us. —Ibid., 19. How is this accomplished? In part, By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh, and the fruits thereof and principles of them. So the apostle opposes the fruits of the flesh and of the Spirit: “The fruits of the flesh,” says he, “are so and so,” Gal. v. 19–21; “but,” says he, “the fruits of the Spirit are quite contrary, quite of another sort,” verses 22, 23. Yea; but what if these are in us and do abound, may not the other abound also? No, says he, verse 24, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” But how? Why, verse 25, “By living in the Spirit and walking after the Spirit;”—that is, by the abounding of these graces of the Spirit in us, and walking according to them. For, saith the apostle, “These are contrary one to another,” verse 17; so that they cannot both be in the same subject, in any intense or high degree. This “renewing of us by the Holy Ghost,” as it is called, Tit. iii. 5, is one great way of mortification; he causes us to grow, thrive, flourish, and abound in those graces which are contrary, opposite, and destructive to all the fruits of the flesh, and to the quiet or thriving of indwelling sin itself. —Ibid. But, if the mortification of sin is wholly the work of the Spirit, why are we commanded to do it? First, because God works not only in miraculous ways (e.g., regeneration), but through natural means. In doing so, he is no less the sole and sovereign agent of our sanctification. It is no otherwise the work of the Spirit but as all graces and good works which are in us are his. He “works in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure,” Phil. ii. 13; he works “all our works in us,” Isa. xxvi. 12,—“the work of faith with power,” 2 Thess. i. 11, Col. ii. 12; he causes us to pray, and is a “Spirit of supplication,” Rom. viii. 26, Zech. xii. 10; and yet we are exhorted, and are to be exhorted, to all these. —Ibid., 20. Furthermore, He doth not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience. The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself. —Ibid.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Love Divine

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 1 John 4:9 Love divine, all loves excelling, Joy of heav’n, to earth come down. Fix in us thy humble dwelling, All thy faithful mercies crown. Jesus, Thou art all compassion, Pure unbounded love Thou art; Visit us with Thy salvation, Enter every trembling heart. Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit Into ev’ry troubled breast! Let us all in Thee inherit, Let us find Thy promised rest. Take away our bent to sinning, Alpha and Omega be; End of faith, as its beginning, Set our hearts at liberty. Come, almighty to deliver, Let us all Thy life receive; Suddenly return, and never, Nevermore Thy temples leave. Thee we would be always blessing, Serve Thee as Thy hosts above, Pray and praise Thee without ceasing, Glory in Thy perfect love. Finish then Thy new creation, Pure and spotless let us be; Let us see Thy great salvation Perfectly restored in Thee: Changed from glory into glory, Till in heav’n we take our place, Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise! —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music). This video starts out rough, but it’s worth the wait.

If I Do Not Wash You

Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean . . . —John 13:8–10 As visitors came with dirty feet from walking dirty roads in open sandals, it was customary for their feet to be washed upon arrival. This was a job for a servant—certainly not for the head of the house or any other distinguished person. Therefore, it was only natural for Peter to object when Jesus knelt to perform this most menial service. But Jesus was not really interested in Peter's feet. He was preparing a teaching moment. “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Typical of the apostles at this stage in their education, Peter didn't get it. “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Lord, not my feet only. When Peter heard that he was ruined, if he did not accept the cleansing which was offered to him by Christ, this necessity proved, at length, to be a sufficient instructor to tame him. He therefore lays aside opposition and yields, but wishes to be entirely washed, and, indeed, acknowledges that, for his own part, he is altogether covered with pollution, and, therefore, that it is doing nothing, if he be only washed in one part. But here too he goes wrong through thoughtlessness, in treating, as a thing of no value, the benefit which he had already received; for he speaks as if he had not yet obtained any pardon of sins, or any sanctification by the Holy Spirit. On this account, Christ justly reproves him, for he recalls to his recollection what he had formerly bestowed on him; at the same time, reminding all his disciples in the person of one man, that, while they remembered the grace which they had received, they should consider what they still needed for the future. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:58–59. What Peter didn't understand was that “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5) is a once-and-for-all miracle that never needs repeating. Sanctification, on the other hand, is a day-by-day process whereby we are cleansed of the pollution of the world and the flesh. We are washed, but we still need washing.

Continuing Grace

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. —John 15:2 The work of salvation does not end with regeneration, justification, and adoption. Without the continuing work of God in our lives, we surely would die. And every branch that beareth, fruit he pruneth. By these words, he shows that believers need incessant culture that they may be prevented from degenerating; and that they produce nothing good, unless God continually apply his hand; for it will not be enough to have been once made partakers of adoption, if God do not continue the work of his grace in us. He speaks of pruning or cleansing, because our flesh abounds in superfluities and destructive vices, and is too fertile in producing them, and because they grow and multiply without end, if we are not cleansed or pruned by the hand of God. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:108.

It Concerns Us to Walk So

. . . Hallowed be your name. —Matthew 6:9 When we pray, “Hallowed be your name,” we are praying for our sanctification. We pray that God will conform us, as he has promised, “to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29), that he may be glorified in us. There is holiness required, that we may not be a disgrace to God and a dishonour to him. The Lord saith, Ezek. xx. 9, ‘That his name should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they (his people) were.’ The sin of God’s people doth stain the honour of God, and profane his name. When men profess much to be a people near God, and live carnally and loosely, they dishonour God exceedingly by their conversation. Men judge by what is visible and sensible, and so they think of God by his servants and worshippers; as the heathens did of Christ in Salvian’s time,—If he was a holy Christ, certainly Christians would live more temperately, justly, and soberly. They are apt to think of God by his worshippers, and by the people that profess themselves so near and dear to him; therefore it concerns us to walk so, that our lives may honour him: Mat. v. 16, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’ As the loins of the poor (saith Job) blessed him, Job xxxi. 20, namely, as they were fed and clothed by his bounty; so our lives may glorify God. David saith, Ps. cxix. 7, ‘Then shall I praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I have learned thy righteous judgment.’ There is no way to praise God entirely and sincerely until we have learned both to know and do his will. Real praise is the praise God looks after. Otherwise we do but serve Christ as the devil served him, who would carry him upon the top of the mountain, but it was with an intent to bid him throw himself down again. So we seem to exalt God much in our talk and profession; yea, but we throw him down, when we pollute him and deny him in our conversation. Our lives are the scandal of religion, and a pollution and blot to the name of God. So that with respect to ourselves, you see what need we have to go to God, that he will give us grace that we may please him and glorify his name. —Thomas Manton, An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, The Works of Thomas Manton (Banner of Truth, 1993), 1:78–79.

If You Abide

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. —John 15:7 The Lord promises that he will do whatever we ask, and there is no “except for this or that” added. ”Whatever” really means whatever. This does not, however, mean that there is no limit to God will do. Of course there is. But the limiting factor is not found in the promise, but in the recipients of the promise. The promise is given to a particular kind of people, who will have a particular kind of desire, stemming from a particular source. If you abide in me. Believers often feel that they are starved, and are very far from that rich fatness which is necessary for yielding abundant fruit. For this reason it is expressly added, whatever those who are in Christ may need, there is a remedy provided for their poverty, as soon as they ask it from God. This is a very useful admonition; for the Lord often suffers us to hunger, in order to train us to earnestness in prayer. But if we fly to him, we shall never want what we ask, but, out of his inexhaustible abundance, he will supply us with every thing that we need, (1 Cor. i. 5.) If my words abide in you. He means that we take root in him by faith; for as soon as we have departed from the doctrine of the Gospel, we seek Christ separately from himself. When he promises that he will grant whatever we wish, he does not give us leave to form wishes according to our own fancy. God would do what was ill fitted to promote our welfare, if he were so indulgent and so ready to yield to us; for we know well that men often indulge in foolish and extravagant desires. But here he limits the wishes of his people to the rule of praying in a right manner, and that rule subjects, to the good pleasure of God, all our affections. This is confirmed by the connection in which the words stand; for he means that his people will or desire not riches, or honours, or any thing of that nature, which the flesh foolishly desires, but the vital sap of the Holy Spirit, Which enables them to bear fruit. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:111.

Lord’s Day 46, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. —James 1:17 The Infinite and the Finite Thou Great I Am, Fill my mind with elevation and grandeur at the thought of a Being with whom one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, A mighty God, who, amidst the lapse of worlds, and the revolutions of empires, feels no variableness, but is glorious in immortality. May I rejoice that, while men die, the Lord lives; that, while all creatures are broken reeds, empty cisterns, fading flowers, withering grass, he is the Rock of Ages, the Fountain of living waters. Turn my heart from vanity, from dissatisfactions, from uncertainties of the present state, to an eternal interest in Christ. Let me remember that life is short and unforeseen, and is only an opportunity for usefulness; Give me a holy avarice to redeem the time, to awake at every call to charity and piety, so that I may feed the hungry, clothe the naked, instruct the ignorant, reclaim the vicious, forgive the offender, diffuse the gospel, show neighbourly love to all. Let me live a life of self-distrust, dependence on thyself, mortification, crucifixion, prayer. —The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, editor (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

When Were You Saved?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. —1 Peter 1:3–5 Many Christians point to a date on which they were saved. Others couldn’t name a date, but have believed the gospel and know they have a living faith in Christ and are saved. In truth, if you are alive and reading this, you are not yet saved—not finally, that is. Yet, if you have received genuine saving faith in Christ, you can be sure that you have an inheritance in heaven, because God has promised to finish what he has begun (Philippians 1:6). As R. C. Sproul explains, [T]he Bible uses the verb to save in every tense of the Greek language. There is a sense in which we were saved from the foundation of the world. We were being saved, we are saved, and we are being saved, but ultimately we shall be saved when we enter into the fullness of the inheritance that is being reserved. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 32.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: The Old Rugged Cross

The Old rugged CrossBeing found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:8 On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, The emblem of suff’ring and shame; And I love that old cross where the dearest and best For a world of lost sinners was slain. Refrain So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, Till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, And exchange it some day for a crown. O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, Has a wondrous attraction for me; For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above To bear it to dark Calvary. Refrain In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, A wondrous beauty I see; For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, To pardon and sanctify me. Refrain To the old rugged cross I will ever be true, Its shame and reproach gladly bear; Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away, Where His glory forever I’ll share. Refrain —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music).

Lord’s Day 11, 2016

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not fasten its grip on me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil. —Psalm 101:3–4 Faith and the World O Lord,The world is artful to entrap, approaches in fascinating guise, extends many a gilded bait, presents many a charming face. Let my faith scan every painted bauble, and escape every bewitching snare in a victory that overcomes all things. In my duties give me firmness, energy, zeal, devotion to thy cause, courage in thy name, love as a working grace, and all commensurate with my trust. Let faith stride forth in giant power, and love respond with energy in every act. I often mourn the absence of my beloved Lord whose smile makes earth a paradise, whose voice is sweetest music, whose presence gives all graces strength. But by unbelief I often keep him outside my door. Let faith give entrance that he may abide with me for ever. Thy Word is full of promises, flowers of sweet fragrance, fruit of refreshing flavour when culled by faith. May I be made rich in its riches, be strong in its power, be happy in its joy, abide in its sweetness, feast on its preciousness, draw vigour from its manna. Lord, increase my faith. —The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, editor (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

A Transformed Life

The Christian life is a transformed life. The final paragraph of this excerpt describes that transformation perfectly. Hebrews 12:14 haunts me when I meet people who claim to be Christians but whose lives do not agree: “Sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Second Timothy 2:19 says that the Lord knows them that are His. And who are they? Those that name the name of Christ and depart from iniquity. Titus 1:16 says, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deeds.” Profession means nothing without obedience, without righteousness, without holiness, without departing from iniquity. Once, I actually heard a pastor preach, “Isn’t it wonderful that you can come to Jesus Christ and you don’t have to change anything on the inside or the outside?” . . . Of course we can come to Jesus just as we are, but if we come away from conversion just as we were, how can we call it conversion? Second Corinthians 5:17 sums it up well: “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Being righteous does not mean that we never sin. First John 1:9 says Christians are constantly confessing their sin. That certainly indicates that we do sin. But it is sin that we deal with sooner or later. We confess it, we turn from it, we repent of it, we despise it. We do not love it. “If any one loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). James puts it this way, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” There will be a whole new approach to life. We will have sin, yes, but when sin appears we will hate it as Paul did in Romans 7. We will hunger and thirst for that which is right. We will seek to obey; we will seek to love our brother and hate the evil system of the world. That’s the way it is, if true salvation exists. You cannot prove that you are a Christian by waltzing down the same old path. Having made a decision, having walked an aisle, having gone into an inquiry room, or having read through a little book was never the biblical criterion for salvation. . . . if a person does not come to Jesus Christ shattered to the very depths of his being and mourning over his sinfulness, with a hunger and thirst after righteousness more than anything else, there is a possibility that that person is not a Christian. —John MacArthur, Kingdom Living: Here and Now (Moody, 1980), 10–12 (emphasis added).

“He who lacks these qualities”

We must never believe that we are saved by any good works. We are saved by the work of Christ alone, applied to us through faith. At the same time, an obedient life is a necessary result of genuine saving faith (James 2:17). Therefore, while Christ alone is the ground of assurance, our sole source of hope and object of trust, we can have no assurance if our faith is not demonstrated in our lives (2 Corinthians 5:17). Assurance is a gift of God, not enjoyed by a disobedient believer. Read what Peter says. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, Christian love (2 Peter 1:5–7). What is the purpose of such a virtuous life, such true spiritual character? For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or shortsighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:8–10). The point is not that we are gaining salvation or even keeping salvation. Those great realities are bound up eternally with the sovereignty of God. Peter’s point is that we may enjoy the sense of assurance, confidence, security that should accompany our entrance into the kingdom. —John MacArthur, Kingdom Living: Here and Now (Moody, 1980), 10–13.

Lord’s Day 16, 2016

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. —Colossians 3:1–4 Vanity of the World Samuel Stennett (1727–1795) In vain the giddy world inquires, Forgetful of their God, “Who will supply our vast desire, “Or show us any good?” Through the wide circuit of the earth Their eager wishes rove, In chase of honor, wealth, and mirth, The phantoms of their love. But oft these shadowy joys elude Their most intense pursuit; Or if they seize the fancied good, There’s poison in the fruit. Lord, from this world call off my love, Set my affections right; Bid me aspire to joys above, And walk no more by sight. O let the glories of Thy face Upon my bosom shine; Assured of Thy forgiving grace, My joys will be divine. —Worthy Is the Lamb (Soli Deo Gloria, 2004). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

The Extent of Sin

Concerning the Extent of this vast moral disease of man called sin, let us beware that we make no mistake. The only safe ground is that which is laid for us in Scripture. ‘Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart’ is by nature ‘evil, and that continually.’—‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’ (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9). Sin is a disease which pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds. The understanding, the affections, the reasoning powers, the will, are all more or less infected. Even the conscience is so blinded that it cannot be depended on as a sure guide, and is as likely to lead men wrong as right, unless it is enlightened by the Holy Ghost. In short, ‘from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness’ about us (Isa. 1:6). The disease may be veiled under a thin covering of courtesy, politeness, good manners, and outward decorum; but it lies deep down in the constitution. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 4–5. Ryle is not writing here to explain or defend of the doctrine of Total Depravity, but this paragraph does provide a good description of that doctrine—that is, that “total” does not refer to the depth human depravity, but to it’s extent. Fallen humanity is not as wicked as could be, but sin “pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds.” As dirty hands pollute everything they touch, so all our thoughts and actions are to some degree tainted by sin. Ryle further writes, I am convinced that the greatest proof of the extent and power of sin is the pertinacity with which it cleaves to man even after he is converted and has become the subject of the Holy Ghost’s operations. To use the language of the Ninth Article, ‘this infection of nature doth remain—yea, even in them that are regenerate.’ So deeply planted are the roots of human corruption, that even after we are born again, renewed, ‘washed, sanctified, justified.’ and made living members of Christ, these roots remain alive in the bottom of our hearts, and, like the leprosy in the walls of the house, we never get rid of them until the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved. Sin, no doubt, in the believer’s heart, has no longer dominion. It is checked, controlled, mortified, and crucified by the expulsive power of the new principle of grace. The life of a believer is a life of victory, and not of failure. But the very struggles which go on within his bosom, the fight that he finds it needful to fight daily, the watchful jealousy which he is obliged to exercise over his inner man, the contest between the flesh and the spirit, the inward ‘groanings’ which no one knows but he who has experienced them—all, all testify to the same great truth, all show the enormous power and vitality of sin. Mighty indeed must that foe be who even when crucified is still alive! Happy is that believer who understands it, and while he rejoices in Christ Jesus has no confidence in the flesh; and while he says, ‘Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory.’ never forgets to watch and pray lest he fall into temptation! —Ibid., 7.

Chosen to Be Holy

Ryle lists twelve propositions for the purpose of defining the nature of sanctification. Among them, “Sanctification . . . is the only sure mark of God’s election.” The names and number of the elect are a secret thing, no doubt, which God has wisely kept in His own power, and not revealed to man. It is not given to us in this world to study the pages of the book of life, and see if our names are there. But if there is one thing clearly and plainly laid down about election, it is this—that elect men and women may be known and distinguished by holy lives. It is expressly written that they are ‘elect through sanctification—chosen unto salvation through sanctification—predestinated to be conformed to the image of God’s Son—and chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world that they should be holy.’—Hence, when St. Paul saw the working ‘faith’ and labouring ‘love’ and patient ‘hope’ of the Thessalonian believers, he says, ‘I know your election of God.’ (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Thess. 2:13; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; 1 Thess. 1:3, 4). He that boasts of being one of God’s elect, while he is wilfully and habitually living in sin, is only deceiving himself, and talking wicked blasphemy. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 25–26.

Sanctification: A Process

There are three elements of sanctification: past (positional), in which believers have been entirely set apart (sanctified); present (progressive), in which believers grow in grace toward greater holiness; future (perfect), in which believers will be entirely perfected. The first takes place at the moment of conversion through regeneration, the second is a life-long process, and the third will take place through glorification. Present (progressive) sanctification is the subject of Holiness. Ryle writes, Sanctification, again, is a thing which admits of growth and degrees. A man may climb from one step to another in holiness, and be far more sanctified at one period of his life than another. More pardoned and more justified than he is when he first believes, he cannot be, though he may feel it more. More sanctified he certainly may be, because every grace in his new character may be strengthened, enlarged, and deepened. This is the evident meaning of our Lord’s last prayer for His disciples, when He used the words, ‘Sanctify them’; and of St. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians, ‘The very God of peace sanctify you.’ (John 17:17; 1 Thess. 4:3). In both cases the expression plainly implies the possibility of increased sanctification; while such an expression as ‘justify them’ is never once in Scripture applied to a believer, because he cannot be more justified than he is. I can find no warrant in Scripture for the doctrine of ‘imputed sanctification.’ It is a doctrine which seems to me to confuse things that differ, and to lead to very evil consequences. Not least, it is a doctrine which is flatly contradicted by the experience of all the most eminent Christians. If there is any point on which God’s holiest saints agree it is this: that they see more, and know more, and feel more, and do more, and repent more, and believe more, as they get on in spiritual life, and in proportion to the closeness of their walk with God. In short, they ‘grow in grace,’ as St. Peter exhorts believers to do; and ‘abound more and more,’ according to the words of St. Paul. (2 Pet. 3:18; 1 Thess. 4:1). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 27–28

Means of Sanctification

Sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit, but not without means. Without the use of those means, we cannot expect to grow in grace. Sanctification, again, is a thing which depends greatly on a diligent use of Scriptural means. When I speak of ‘means,’ I have in view Bible-reading, private prayer, regular attendance on public worship, regular hearing of God’s Word, and regular reception of the Lord’s Supper. I lay it down as a simple matter of fact, that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress in sanctification. . . . They are appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace to the soul, and strengthens the work which He has begun in the inward man. Let men call this legal doctrine if they please, but I will never shrink from declaring my belief that there are no ‘spiritual gains without pains.’ I should as soon expect a farmer to prosper in business who contented himself with sowing his fields and never looking at them till harvest, as expect a believer to attain much holiness who was not diligent about his Bible-reading, his prayers, and the use of his Sundays. Our God is a God who works by means, and He will never bless the soul of that man who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without them. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 28–29.

Press Towards It

Ryle’s description of holiness creates some high expectations. Lest we become discouraged, he adds, I do not say for a moment that holiness shuts out the presence of indwelling sin. No: far from it. It is the greatest misery of a holy man that he carries about with him a ‘body of death;’—that often when he would do good ‘evil is present with him’; that the old man is clogging all his movements, and, as it were, trying to draw him back at every step he takes. (Rom. 7:21). But it is the excellence of a holy man that he is not at peace with indwelling sin, as others are. He hates it, mourns over it, and longs to be free from its company. The work of sanctification within him is like the wall of Jerusalem—the building goes forward ‘even in troublous times.’ (Dan. 9:25). Neither do I say that holiness comes to ripeness and perfection all at once, or that these graces I have touched on must be found in full bloom and vigour before you can call a man holy. No: far from it. Sanctification is always a progressive work. Some men’s graces are in the blade, some in the ear, and some are like full corn in the ear. All must have a beginning. We must never despise ‘the day of small things.’ And sanctification in the very best is an imperfect work. The history of the brightest saints that ever lived will contain many a ‘but.’ and ‘howbeit,’ and ‘notwithstanding,’ before you reach the end. The gold will never be without some dross—the light will never shine without some clouds, until we reach the heavenly Jerusalem. The sun himself has spots upon his face. The holiest men have many a blemish and defect when weighed in the balance of the sanctuary. Their life is a continual warfare with sin, the world, and the devil; and sometimes you will see them not overcoming, but overcome. The flesh is ever lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and ‘in many things they offend all.’ (Gal. 5:17; James 3:2). But still, for all this, I am sure that to have such a character as I have faintly drawn, is the heart’s desire and prayer of all true Christians. They press towards it, if they do not reach it. They may not attain to it, but they always aim at it. It is what they strive and labour to be, if it is not what they are. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 53–54.

Grow in Grace

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. —2 Peter 3:18 Ryle explains what growth in grace is, and what it is not: When I speak of ‘growth in grace,’ I do not for a moment mean that a believer’s interest in Christ can grow. I do not mean that he can grow in safety, acceptance with God, or security. I do not mean that he can ever be more justified, more pardoned, more forgiven, more at peace with God, than he is the first moment that he believes. I hold firmly that the justification of a believer is a finished, perfect, and complete work; and that the weakest saint, though he may not know and feel it, is as completely justified as the strongest. I hold firmly that our election, calling, and standing in Christ admit of no degrees, increase, or diminution. If any one dreams that by ‘growth in grace’ I mean growth in. justification he is utterly wide of the mark, and utterly mistaken about the whole point I am considering. I would go to the stake, God helping me, for the glorious truth, that in the matter of justification before God every believer is ‘complete in Christ’ (Col. 2:10). Nothing can be added to his justification from the moment he believes, and nothing taken away. When I speak of ‘growth in grace’ I only mean increase in the degree, size, strength, vigour, and power of the graces which the Holy Spirit plants in a believer’s heart. I hold that every one of those graces admits of growth, progress, and increase. I hold that repentance, faith, hope, love, humility, zeal, courage, and the like, may be little or great, strong or weak, vigorous or feeble, and may vary greatly in the same man at different periods of his life. When I speak of a man ‘growing in grace,’ I mean simply this—that his sense of sin is becoming deeper, his faith stronger, his hope brighter, his love more extensive, his spiritual-mindedness more marked. He feels more of the power of godliness in his own heart. He manifests more of it in his life. He is going on from strength to strength, from faith to faith, and from grace to grace. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 115–116.

Marks of Growth

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. —2 Peter 3:18 How can one know if he is is growing in grace? Ryle offers six marks of a growing Christian: (a) One mark of ‘growth in grace’ is increased humility. The man whose soul is ‘growing,’ feels his own sinfulness and unworthiness more every year. He is ready to say with Job, ‘I am vile,’—and with Abraham, I am ‘dust and ashes,’—and with Jacob, ‘I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies,—and with David, ‘I am a worm,’—and with Isaiah, ‘I am a man of unclean lips,’—and with Peter, ‘I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Job 40:4; Gen. 18:27; 32:10; Ps. 22:6; Isa. 6:5; Luke 5:8). . . . The further he journeys in the way to heaven, the more he understands what St. Paul means when he says, ‘I am not already perfect,’—‘I am not meet to be called an Apostle,’—‘I am less than the least of all saints,’—‘I am chief of sinners’ (Phil. 3:12; 1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:8; 1 Tim. 1:15). . . . Would anyone know whether he is growing in grace? Be sure that you look within for increased humility. (b) Another mark of ‘growth in grace’ is increased faith and love towards our Lord Jesus Christ. The man whose soul is ‘growing,’ finds more in Christ to rest upon every year, and rejoices more that he has such a Saviour. . . . In short, he discovers a suitableness in Christ to the wants of his soul, of which the half was once not known to him. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increased knowledge of Christ. (c) Another mark of ‘growth in grace’ is increased holiness of life and conversation. The man whose soul is ‘growing’ gets more dominion over sin, the world, and the devil every year. . . . he thirsts and longs to have a will more entirely in unison with God’s will. . . . Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increased holiness. (d) Another mark of ‘growth in grace’ is increased spirituality of taste and mind. The man whose soul is ‘growing’ takes more interest in spiritual things every year. He does not neglect his duty in the world. He discharges faithfully, diligently, and conscientiously every relation of life, whether at home or abroad. But the things he loves best are spiritual things. . . . Spiritual companions, spiritual occupations, spiritual conversation, appear of ever-increasing value to him. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increasing spirituality of taste. (e) Another mark of ‘growth in grace’ is increase of charity. The man whose soul is ‘growing’ is more full of love every year—of love to all men, but especially of love towards the brethren. . . . Would any one know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increasing charity. (f) One more mark of ‘growth in grace’ is increased zeal and diligence in trying to do good to souls. The man who is really ‘growing’ will take greater interest in the salvation of sinners every year. . . . Would any one know whether he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increased concern about the salvation of souls. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 120–123.

Means of Grace

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. —2 Peter 3:18 Ryle wants us to know that this growth in grace does not happen as we sit passively waiting. If we are to grow spiritually, there can be no “Let go and let God” mentality. God is pleased to use means, which he has ordained and provided, to accomplish his ends. Let me ask the special attention of my readers while I try to set forth in order the means of growth. Cast away for ever the vain thought that if a believer does not grow in grace it is not his fault. Settle it in your mind that a believer, a man quickened by the Spirit, is not a mere dead creature, but a being or mighty capacities and responsibilities. Let the words of Solomon sink down into your heart: ‘The soul of the diligent shall be made fat’ (Prov. 13:4). (a) One thing essential to growth in grace is diligence in the use of private means of grace. . . . I include under this head private prayer, private reading of the Scriptures, and private meditation and self-examination. The man who does not take pains about these three things must never expect to grow. . . . Here is the whole reason why many professing Christians never seem to get on. They are careless and slovenly about their private prayers. They read their Bibles but little, and with very little heartiness of spirit. They give themselves no time for self-inquiry and quiet thought about the state of their souls. . . . Private religion must receive our first attention, if we wish our souls to grow. (b) Another thing which is essential to growth in grace is .carefulness in the use of public means of grace. By these I understand such means as a man has within his reach as a member of Christ’s visible Church. Under this head I include the ordinances of regular Sunday worship, the uniting with God’s people in common prayer and praise, the preaching of the Word, and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I firmly believe that the manner in which these public means of grace are used has much to say to the prosperity of a believer’s soul. It is easy to use them in a cold and heartless way. . . . Let us strive to use the old prayers, and sing the old hymns, and kneel at the old communion-rail, and hear the old truths preached, with as much freshness and appetite as in the year we first believed. It is a sign of bad health when a person loses relish for his food; and it is a sign of spiritual decline when we lose our appetite for means of grace. . . . (c) Another thing essential to growth in grace is watchfulness over our conduct in the little matters of everyday life. Our tempers, our tongues, the discharge of our several relations of life, our employ ment of time—each and all must be vigilantly attended to if we wish our souls to prosper. Life is made up of days, and days of hours, and the little things of every hour are never so little as to be beneath the care of a Christian. When a tree begins to decay at root or heart, the mischief is first seen at the extreme end of the little branches. ‘He that despiseth little things,’ says an uninspired writer, ‘shall fall by little and little.’ . . . (d) Another thing which is essential to growth in grace is caution about the company we keep and the friendships we form. Nothing perhaps affects a man’s character more than the company he keeps. . . . It is hard enough to serve Christ under any circumstances in such a world as this. ‘Evil communications corrupt good manners.’ ‘The friendship of the world is enmity with God’ (1 Cor. 15:33; James 4:4). Let us seek friends that will stir us up about our prayers, our Bible-reading, and our employment of time—about our souls, our salvation, and a world to come. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 124–127.

Preach Hell, for Heaven’s Sake

It seems comforting to deny the reality of hell. Eliminating the threat of God’s eternal judgment takes a great load off the mind. But biblical doctrines go hand-in-hand. Removing the threat of hell also removes the hope of heaven. The comforting ideas which the Scripture gives us of heaven are at an end, if we once deny the reality or eternity of hell. Is there no future separate abode for those who die wicked and ungodly? Are all men, after death, to be mingled together in one confused multitude? Why then, heaven will be no heaven at all! It is utterly impossible for two to dwell happily together except they be agreed.—Is there to be a time when the term of hell and punishment will be over? Are the wicked after ages of misery to be admitted into heaven? Why then, the need of the sanctification of the Spirit is cast aside and despised! I read that men can be sanctified and made meet for heaven on earth: I read nothing of any sanctification in hell. Away with such baseless and unscriptural theories! The eternity of hell is as clearly affirmed in the Bible as the eternity of heaven. Once allow that hell is not eternal, and you may as well say that God and heaven are not eternal. The same Greek word which is used in the expression, ‘everlasting punishment,’ is the word that Is used by the Lord Jesus in the expression, ‘life eternal,’ and by St. Paul in the expression, ‘everlasting God’ (Matt. 25:46; Rom. 16:26). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 235–236. Furthermore, denying hell is not the loving act it may seem to be. Where is the charity of keeping back any portion of God’s truth? He is the kindest friend who tells me the whole extent of my danger. Where is the use of hiding the future from the impenitent and the ungodly? Surely it is like helping the devil, if we do not tell them plainly that ‘the soul that sinneth shall surely die.’ Who knows but the wretched carelessness of many baptized persons arises from this, that they have never been told plainly of hell? Who can tell but thousands might be converted, if ministers would urge them more faithfully to flee from the wrath to come? Verily, I fear we are many of us guilty in this matter: there is a morbid tenderness amongst us which is not the tenderness of Christ. We have spoken of mercy, but not of judgment; we have preached many sermons about heaven, but few about hell: we have been carried away by the wretched fear of being thought ‘low, vulgar and fanatical.’ We have forgotten that He who judgeth us is the Lord, and that the man who teaches the same doctrine that Christ taught cannot be wrong. —Ibid., 236–237. Finally, we must believe and profess the doctrines of Scripture, even the unpleasant ones, for own spiritual health. If you would ever be a healthy Scriptural Christian, I entreat you to give hell a place in your theology. Establish it in your mind as a fixed principle, that God is a God of judgment, as well as of mercy; and that the same everlasting counsels which laid the foundation of the bliss of heaven, have also laid the foundation of the misery of hell. Keep in full view of your mind that all who die unpardoned and unrenewed, are utterly unfit for the presence of God and must be lost for ever. They are not capable of enjoying heaven: they could not be happy there. They must go to their own place: and that place is hell.—Oh, it is a great thing in these days of unbelief to believe the whole Bible! —Ibid., 237.

The Fire that Burns the Dross

A lesson from J. C. Ryle for those deceived by preachers of the prosperity gospel: It is good to understand that Christ’s service never did secure a man from all the ills that flesh is heir to, and never will. If you are a believer, you must reackon on having your share of sickness and pain, of sorrow and tears, of losses and crosses, of deaths and bereavements, of partings and separations, of vexations and disappointments, so long as you are in the body. Christ never undertakes that you shall get to heaven without these. He has undertaken that all who come to Him shall have all things pertaining to life and godliness; but He has never undertaken that He will make them prosperous, or rich, or healthy, and that death and sorrow shall never come to their family. I have the privilege of being one of Christ’s ambassadors. In His name I can offer eternal life to any man, woman, or child who is willing to have it. In His name I do offer pardon, peace, grace, glory, to any son or daughter of Adam . . . But I dare not offer that person worldly prosperity as a part and parcel of the Gospel. I dare not offer him long life, an increased income, and freedom from pain. I dare not promise the man who takes up the cross and follows Christ, that in the following he shall never meet with a storm. I know well that many do not like these terms. They would prefer having Christ and good health—Christ and plenty of money—Christ and no deaths in their family—Christ and no wearing cares—Christ and a perpetual morning without clouds. But they do not like Christ and the cross—Christ and tribulation—Christ and the conflict—Christ and the howling wind—Christ and the storm. . . . How should you know who are true Christians, if following Christ was the way to be free from trouble? How should we discern the wheat from the chaff, if it were not for the winnowing of trial? How should we know whether men served Christ for His own sake or from selfish motives, if His service brought health and wealth with it as a matter of course? The winds of winter soon show us which of the trees are evergreen and which are not. The storms of affliction and care are useful in the same way. They discover whose faith is real, and whose is nothing but profession and form. How would the great work of sanctification go on in a man if he had no trial? Trouble is often the only fire which will burn away the dross that clings to our hearts. Trouble is the pruning-knife which the great Husbandman employs in order to make us fruitful in good works. The harvest of the Lord’s field is seldom ripened by sunshine only. It must go through its days of wind, and rain, and storm. If you desire to serve Christ and be saved, I entreat you to take the Lord on His own terms. Make up your mind to meet with your share of crosses and sorrows, and then you will not be surprised. For want of understanding this, many seem to run well for a season, and then turn back in disgust, and are cast away. If you profess to be a child of God, leave to the Lord Jesus to sanctify you in His own way. Rest satisfied that He never makes any mistakes. Be sure that He does all things well. The winds may howl around you, and the waters swell. But fear not, ‘He is leading you by the right way, that He may bring you to a city of habitation’ (Psalm 107:7). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 263–265.

Six Marks of Regeneration

It is very unfashionable these days—not only in the world, but also within the church—to engage in anything resembling judgment. It is particularly unpopular to form opinions of the spiritual state of others. Doubting the profession of anyone who claims to be a Christian is simply not kosher. Yet we are given instructions such as “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14), which we can hardly obey without—[gasp!]—judging. Far more importantly, we must judge ourselves (2 Corinthians 6:5). To that end, J. C. Ryle offers “six great marks of regeneration,” laid down in Scripture. (1) First of all, St John says, ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin’, and again, ‘Whosoever is born of God sinneth not’ (1 John 3:9; 5:18). A regenerate man does not commit sin as a habit. He no longer sins with his heart and will, and whole inclination, as an unregenerate man does. There was probably a time when he did not think whether his actions were sinful or not, and never felt grieved after doing evil. There was no quarrel between him and sin;—they were friends. Now he hates sin, flees from it, fights against it, counts it his greatest plague, groans under the burden of its presence, mourns when he falls under its influence, and longs to be delivered from it altogether. . . . (2) Secondly, St John says, ‘whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God’ (1 John 5:1). A regenerate man believes that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour by whom his soul can be pardoned and justified, that He is the Divine Person appointed and anointed by God the Father for this very purpose, and that beside him there is No Saviour at all. In himself he sees nothing but unworthiness, but in Christ he sees ground for the fullest confidence, and trusting in him he believes that his sins are all forgiven, and his iniquities all put away. He believes that for the sake of Christ’s finished work and death upon the cross he is reckoned righteous in God’s sight, and may look forward to death and judgment without alarm. He may have his fears and doubts. . . . [But] he would say he found a preciousness in Christ, a suitableness to his own soul in Christ, that he found nowhere else, and that he must cling to Him. (3) Thirdly, St John says, ‘Everyone that doeth righteousness is born of [God]’ (1 John 2:29). The regenerate man is a holy man. He endeavours to live according to God’s will, to do the things that please God, to avoid the things that God hates. His aim and desire is to love God with heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and to love his neighbour as himself. . . . No doubt he is not perfect. None will tell you that sooner than himself. He groans under the burden of indwelling corruption cleaving to him. He finds an evil principle within him constantly warring against grace, and trying to draw him away from God. But he does not consent to it, though he cannot prevent its presence. In spite of all short-comings, the average bent and bias of his way is holy,—his doings holy,—his tastes holy,—and his habits holy. . . . (4) Fourthly, St John says, ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren’ (1 John 3:14). A regenerate man has a special love for all true disciples of Christ. Like his Father in heaven, he loves all men with a great general love, but he has a special love for them who are of one mind with himself. Like his Lord and Saviour, he loves the worst of sinners, and could weep over them; but he has a peculiar love for those who are believers. . . . They are Jesus Christ’s people: they are His Father’s sons and daughters. Then he cannot help loving them. (5) Fifthly, St John says, ‘Whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world.’ (1 John 5:4). A regenerate man does not make the world’s opinion his rule, of right and wrong. He does not mind going against the stream of the world’s ways, notions, and customs. ‘What will men say?’ is no longer a turning point with him. He overcomes the love of the world. . . . He overcomes the fear of the world. He is content to do many things which all around him think unnecessary, to say the least. They blame him: it does not move him. They ridicule him: he does not give way. He loves the praise of God more than the praise of man. . . . (6) Sixthly, St John says, ‘He that is begotten of God keepeth himself’ (1 John 5:18). A regenerate man is very careful of his own soul. He endeavours not only to keep clear of sin, but also to keep clear of everything which may lead to it. He is careful about the company he keeps. He feels that evil communications corrupt the heart, and that evil is far more catching than good, just as disease is more infectious than health. . . . He finds by experience that his soul is ever among enemies, and he studies to be a watchful, humble, prayerful man. . . . I know there is a vast difference in the depth and distinctness of these marks among those who are ‘regenerate’. In some people they are faint, dim, feeble, and hardly to be discerned. Yon almost need a microscope to make them out. In others they are bold, sharp, clear, plain, and unmistakable, so that he who runs may read them. Some of these marks are more visible in some people, and others are more visible in others. It seldom happens that all are equally manifest in one and the same soul. All this I am quite ready to allow. But still, after every allowance, here we find boldly painted the six marks of being born of God. . . . Now what shall we say to these things? What they can say who hold that Regeneration is only an admission to outward Church privileges, I am sure I do not know. For myself, I say boldly, I can only come to one conclusion. That conclusion is, that those persons only are ‘regenerate’ who have these six marks about them, and that all men and women who have not these marks are not ‘regenerate’, are not born again. And I firmly believe that this is the conclusion to which the Apostle wished us to come. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 138–144.

To Be Conformed

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. —Romans 8:29 The purpose of election is not merely initial justification. It encompasses the whole of redemption, including continual growth in holiness. From heaven’s perspective, the ultimate end of election, the ultimate purpose behind God’s grace poured out on us, is the eternal glorification of the Son. But to understand God’s individual purpose in electing His people for salvation, we need to consider Romans 8:29: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” Two things stand out among the many points that could be addressed in that verse. First, we were predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s own Son. God’s elective purpose is not merely about the beginning of our salvation—He predestined us to the absolute perfection we will (by His grace) enjoy at the end of the process. Paul didn’t say, “He predestined them to be justified,” but, “He also predestined them to become conformed to the image of His Son.” When will that happen? It’s happening now, if you are a believer, even if the progress seems so slow as to be imperceptible. And it will be brought to instantaneous completion “when He appears” (1 John 3:2). That is a reference to the second coming, when the bodies of the saints are resurrected and glorified. Thus redemption will be complete. The verse goes on to say, “we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” That’s what Romans 8:19 refers to as “the revealing of the sons of God.” And Christ then becomes the chief One among many who are made like Him. As much as glorified humanity can be like incarnate deity, we’ll be like Christ, and He will not be ashamed to call us brothers. Paul said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). What’s the prize of the upward call? Christlikeness. If someone is saved in order to be like Christ in glory, then his goal here is as much as possible—by the power of the Spirit—to be like Him now. That’s the goal all believers must press toward. We will be made like Christ, conformed to the image of the Son, and He will be the chief one among us all. This is the elective purpose of God. And no one’s going to fall through the cracks. His perfect plan will come to pass, without fail. —John MacArthur, None Other (Reformation Trust, 2017), 21–22.

Sanctified to God by Christ

For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. —John 17: 19 There are two uses of the word “sanctify” in Scripture, described in theological terms as positional sanctification (“the separation or sanctification of the person to God by Christ”) and progressive sanctification (by the Spirit, “by which we are inwardly made holy”). Smeaton defines both, and explains which is meant in this text. With respect to the word sanctify as applied to the disciples of Christ, it is necessary to keep before our minds a distinction which is not always observed, and which, in popular theological language, is too much disregarded. There is a sanctification of the Spirit by which we are inwardly made holy; and there is, as contradistinguished from the former, the separation or sanctification of the person to God by Christ. It is in the latter sense that the word “sanctify” occurs here; and this unquestionably lays the foundation for the other, which is more subjective, and follows in the order of nature after it. The question to be clearly settled in connection with this passage is, Whether are we to regard the sanctification here mentioned as the moral and spiritual renovation effected in us by the Spirit, and therefore the same with what is elsewhere called “the sanctification of the Spirit” (2 Thess. ii. 13), or, to interpret it as a direct fruit of the atonement? Is it objective or subjective? Is it a part of the Spirit’s work, or an immediate fruit of Christ’s sacrifice? It must be specially observed, that in this clause the Lord does not allude to the sanctification of Christians in the moral sense, or in the sense of inward renovation, but according to the acceptation of the word in the old Mosaic worship, and according to its import in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. xiii. 12, ix. 13). It would be a wide departure, indeed, from the true meaning of our Lord’s words, if we should interpret this clause of the inward renewing by the Spirit. The word sanctify, as it occurs in the Old Testament ritual, has primary reference to those appointed rites used for consecrating the whole people, or any individual, to belong to the theocracy in due form. This was a standing won and retained chiefly by sacrifice. And the apostle to the Hebrews explains that, in like manner, the sanctification of Christians, or the dedication of them to belong to the true people of God, and to share in their services and worship, was effected by the sacrifice of Christ. To apprehend the precise meaning of the word “sanctify,” it will be necessary to trace its usage in the ancient ritual of Israel. The two words frequently occurring in the old worship, sanctify and purify, are so closely allied in sense, that some regard them as synonymous. But a slight shade of distinction between the two may be discerned as follows. It is assumed that ever-recurring defilements, of a ceremonial kind, called for sacrifices of expiation; and the word “purify” referred to those rites and sacrifices which removed the stains which excluded the worshipper from the privilege of approach to the sanctuary of God, and from fellowship with His people. The defilement which he contracted excluded him from access. But when this same Israelite was purified by sacrifice, he was readmitted to the full participation of the privilege. He was then sanctified or holy. Thus the latter is the consequence of the former. We may affirm, then, that the two words, “purify” and “sanctify,” in this reference to the old worship, are very closely allied; so much so, that the one involves the other. This will throw light upon the use of these two expressions in the New Testament (Eph. v. 25, 26; Heb. ii. 11; Tit. ii. 14). All these passages represent a man defiled by sin and excluded from God, but readmitted to access and fellowship, and so pronounced holy, as soon as the blood of sacrifice is applied to him. That is the meaning of the word “sanctify” in this verse. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 250–252.

Denigrating Grace

To be under grace and out from under the condemnation of law means that “sin shall not have dominion over you” (Rom. 6:14). It does not mean Christians no longer need to resist the coercive power of sin. It means grace equips them with the strength and the will to resist temptation. “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). On the positive side, grace teaches us that “we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Having a right standing before God because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, it is only fitting that we should seek to honor that perfect righteousness and seek (by God’s grace) to conform ourselves to it. How could grace teach otherwise? “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:1–2). For Paul, the idea that someone who had been redeemed from judgment and transformed by God’s grace could blithely or willfully continue in sin was absolutely unthinkable. In other words, grace does not deliver us from hell without also delivering us from our bondage to sin. Those who teach otherwise don’t exalt the principle of grace; they denigrate it. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 125–126.

Lord’s Day 31, 2018

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. —Hebrews 12:7–11 The Master’s Touch. In the still air the music lies unheard; In the rough marble beauty hides unseen; To wake the music and the beauty, needs The master’s touch, the sculptor’s chisel keen. Great Master, touch us with thy skilful hand, Let not the music that is in us die; Great Sculptor, hew and polish us; nor let, Hidden and lost, thy form within us lie. Spare not the stroke; do with us as thou wilt; Let there be nought unfinished, broken, marr’d; Complete thy purpose, that we may become Thy perfect image, O our God and Lord. —Horatius Bonar, Hymns of Faith and Hope, Second Series (James Nisbet & Co., 1878). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about #LordsDay from:thethirstytheo !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

An Habitual Bent

Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. —Genesis 5:24 [W]alking with God consists especially in the fixed habitual bent of the will for God, in an habitual dependence upon his power and promise, in an habitual voluntary dedication of our all to his glory, in an habitual eyeing of his precept in all we do and in an habitual complacence in his pleasure in all we suffer. . . . walking with God implies our making progress or advances in the divine life. Walking, in the very first idea of the word, seems to suppose a progressive motion. A person that walks, though he move slowly, yet he goes forward and does not continue in one place. And so it is with those that walk with God. They go on, as the Psalmist says, ‘from strength to strength’ [Psalm 84:7] or, in the language of the Apostle Paul, ‘they pass from glory to glory, even by the Spirit of the Lord’ [2 Corinthians 3:18]. Indeed, in one sense, the divine life admits of neither increase nor decrease. When a soul is born of God, to all intents and purposes he is a child of God. And though he should live to the age of Methuselah, yet he would then be only a child of God after all. But in another sense, the divine life admits of decays and additions. Hence it is, that we find the people of God charged with backslidings and losing their first love. And hence it is that we hear of babes, young men and fathers in Christ [1 John 2:13]. And upon this account it is that the Apostle exhorts Timothy, ‘to let his progress be made known to all men.’ And what is here required of Timothy in particular, by St. Peter is enjoined on all Christians in general. ‘But grow in grace (says he) and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ For the new creature increases in spiritual stature. And though a person can but be a new creature, yet there are some that are more conformed to the divine image than others and will after death be admitted to a greater degree of blessedness. For want of observing this distinction, even some gracious souls, that have better hearts than heads (as well as men of corrupt minds, reprobates concerning the faith) have unawares run into downright Antinomian principles, denying all growth of grace in a believer, or any marks of grace to be laid down in the scriptures of truth. From such principles and more especially from practices naturally consequent on such principles, may the Lord of all lords deliver us! —George Whitefield, “Walking with God” in Lee Gatiss (Ed.), The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 1:69–70.

Walking in the Word

Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. —Genesis 5:24 [B]elievers keep up and maintain their walk with God by reading of his holy word. ‘Search the scriptures’ says our blessed Lord, ‘for these are they that testify of me.’ And the royal Psalmist tells us that God’s word was ‘a light unto his feet and a lantern unto his paths.’ And he makes it one property of a good man, ‘that his delight is in the law of the Lord and that he exercises himself therein day and night.’ ‘Give thyself to reading’ (says Paul to Timothy). ‘And this book of the law (says God to Joshua) shall not go out of thy mouth.’ For whatsoever was written aforetime was written for our learning. And the word of God is profitable for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness and every way sufficient to make every true child of God thoroughly furnished unto every good work. If we once get above our Bibles and cease making the written word of God our sole rule both as to faith and practice, we shall soon lie open to all manner of delusion and be in great danger of making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. Our blessed Lord, though he had the Spirit of God without measure, yet always was governed by and fought the devil with, ‘It is written.’ This the Apostle calls the ‘sword of the Spirit.’ We may say of it, as David said of Goliath’s sword, ‘None like this.’ The scriptures are called the lively oracles of God, not only because they are generally made use of to beget in us a new life but also to keep up and increase it in the soul. The Apostle Peter, in his second epistle, prefers it even to seeing Christ transfigured upon the Mount. For after he had said, 2 Peter 1:18. ‘This voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount,’ he adds, ‘We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in your hearts,’ that is, till we shake off these bodies and see Jesus face to face. Till then we must see and converse with him through the glass of his word. We must make his testimonies our counsellors and daily, with Mary, sit at Jesus’ feet, by faith hearing his word. We shall then by happy experience find that they are spirit and life, meat indeed and drink indeed, to our souls. —George Whitefield, “Walking with God” in Lee Gatiss (Ed.), The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 1:70–71.

Justified, Sanctified, Holy

In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, “The Lord our righteousness.” —Jeremiah 18:1–6 Can you then, with believing Thomas cry out, ‘My Lord and my God.’ Is Christ your sanctification, as well as your outward righteousness? For the word righteousness, in the text, not only implies Christ’s personal righteousness imputed to us but also holiness wrought in us. These two, God has joined together. He never did, he never does, he never will put them asunder. If you are justified by the blood, you are also sanctified by the Spirit of our Lord. —George Whitefield, “The Lord Our Righteousness” in Lee Gatiss (Ed.), The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 1:275.

The Fountain of Holiness

Commenting on 1 Corinthians 1:2, Calvin makes three observations on the position and condition of those who have been saved: All who have been born again (John 3) are sanctified, that is, separated from the world and joined to Christ. This sanctification is evidenced “by holiness of life.” This sanctification is accomplished by the election and calling of God, and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, and also by Christ, not by our own efforts. Sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. He makes mention of the blessings with which God had adorned them, as if by way of upbraiding them, at least in the event of their showing no gratitude in return. For what could be more base than to reject an Apostle through whose instrumentality they had been set apart as God’s peculiar portion. Meanwhile, by these two epithets, he points out what sort of persons ought to be reckoned among the true members of the Church, and who they are that belong of right to her communion. For if you do not by holiness of life show yourself to be a Christian, you may indeed be in the Church, and pass undetected, but of it you cannot be. Hence all must be sanctified in Christ who would be reckoned among the people of God. Now the term sanctification denotes separation. This takes place in us when we are regenerated by the Spirit to newness of life, that we may serve God and not the world. For while by nature we are unholy, the Spirit consecrates us to God. As, however, this is effected when we are engrafted into the body of Christ, apart from whom there is nothing but pollution, and as it is also by Christ, and not from any other source that the Spirit is conferred, it is with good reason that he says that we are sanctified in Christ, inasmuch as it is by Him that we cleave to God, and in Him become new creatures. What immediately follows—called to be saints—I understand to mean: As ye have been called unto holiness. It may, however, be taken in two senses. Either we may understand Paul to say, that the ground of sanctification is the call of God, inasmuch as God has chosen them; meaning, that this depends on his grace, not on the excellence of men; or we may understand him to mean, that, it accords with our profession that we be holy, this being the design of the doctrine of the gospel. The former interpretation appears to suit better with the context, but it is of no great consequence in which way you understand it, as there is an entire agreement between the two following positions—that our holiness flows from the fountain of divine election, and that it is the end of our calling. We must, therefore, carefully maintain, that it is not through our own efforts that we are holy, but by the call of God, because He alone sanctifies those who were by nature unclean. And certainly it appears to me probable, that, when Paul has pointed out as it were with his finger the fountain of holiness thrown wide open, he mounts up a step higher, to the good pleasure of God, in which also Christ’s mission to us originated. As, however, we are called by the gospel to harmlessness of life (Phil. ii. 15,) it is necessary that this be accomplished in us in reality, in order that our calling may be effectual. It will, however, be objected, that, there were not many such among the Corinthians. I answer, that the weak are not excluded from this number; for here God only begins his work in us, and by little and little carries it forward gradually and by successive steps. I answer farther, that Paul designedly looks rather to the grace of God in them than to their own defects, that he may put them to shame for their negligence, if they do not act a suitable part. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:52–53.


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