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(65 posts)

Humble and Holy

On the benefits of awareness of sin: However uncomfortable it makes us feel, it is healthy for us to realize that our every moment is lived before the face of God. Knowing this will rescue us from the folly of thinking that sin can be cultivated unawares. We are all more tempted to sin when we think no one will ever know. Therefore, the knowledge that our every deed is recorded in heaven should preserve us from temptation and stiffen our resolve it live in obedience to God’s law. Knowledge of our sin has other benefits. It helps cultivate a tight humility. The apostle Paul’s spiritual progress was paralleled by an increasing awareness of his sin. In one of his earliest letters, he describes himself as the “the least of all apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9). A little later, he calls himself “the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8). By the end of his ministry, he says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). Our spiritual maturation will likewise progress as we see more clearly the true depth of our sin, the true holiness of God, and the great gulf between us—and thus also see the true greatness of His love for us that moved Him to give His Son to save sinners so infinitely below Him. This is why the humbles Christians are the happiest Christians, and why humble and happy Christians tend to be holy Christians, as well. All of these benefits stem from an awareness of our sin. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 135–136.

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.

Christian, dwell alone!

Monday··2008·07·07 · 2 Comments
Christian, dwell alone! Seek not the society of the world. Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? If you have any sympathies with the world—if it contains attractions for you—if God and the things of God are not enough for you—there is something wrong. Love not the world! Seek not its society. Seek the things above. Beware of the fascinations of company,the spells which gaiety throws over the young. Stand your ground. Be not whirled away into the tossing current of gay society on any pretext whatever. Church of the living God, be separate—dwell alone! That is your security, your strength, your influence. Let the world see that you are not of it; that you do not need it. And you will serve it best by dwelling alone. Not by coldness, sourness, distance; but by love, geniality, gentleness, patience, by all acts of benevolence and words of peace. These are things which are only to be found by “dwelling alone.” —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 83–84.

There Is Obligation

David Wells writes of five realities that are lost when we lose sight of the holiness of God, or as Wells puts it, the “outside God”: There Is a Law, There Is Sin, There Is a Cross, There Is Conquest, and finally, There Is Obligation. God’s holiness calls us to a life of holiness. Yet, Wells writes, according to Barna, “even among [those who claim to be] born-again, fewer than half have any idea what holiness means.” When asked to describe what holiness is, only 7 percent of Americans rooted this in the character of God. Although 72 percent said they had made a commitment to Christ, and 71 percent said their faith was “very important” to them, and 60 percent said they were “deeply spiritual,” only 16 percent said their faith was the highest priority in their lives. Barna’s conclusion was that most American like the security of being able to call themselves “Christian,” but most also resist the biblical responsibilities that go along with that claim. For the great majority, he says, being identified as a Christian is more about image than substance. It is a cultural thing. It is all about creating a pleasing self-image. . . . where this state of affairs is most scandalous is in the churches that imagine themselves on the cutting edge of advancing Christian faith. What many of them are producing are so-called followers of Christ who are in it for their own spiritual comfort but are at sea when it comes to understanding the significance of God’s holiness for their Christian lives. And the reason for that, quite simply, is that many churches, obsessed with their own success, have made Christianity light and easy so that they can market it successfully. What are the consequences, then, of losing sight of the holiness of God, this aspect of the outside God? And, just as important, what are the consequences of seeing the holiness of God? Our situation is not that different from what pertained in much of Israel’s history. The Old Testament people of God were religious, but often their religion made little difference. This, apparently, is what we have in the [professing] born-again sector in America today. The ancient Israelites’ religion was not an impediment to idol worship or to a whole assortment of pagan practices. They had the written law and temple worship. They had the prophets. They had all they needed to please God, but so often they would not listen. They would not reckon with his holy will. They became careless, living as if he were not there . . . The problem was that, again and again, with monotonous repetition, they lost sight of the holiness of God. And they paid the painful consequences for this, again and again. Is this really so different from what we have now in the West? We have Bibles enough for every household in America a couple of times over. We have churches galore . . . All too often we don’t have what the Old Testament people didn’t have. A due and weighty sense of the greatness and holiness of God, a sense that will reach into our lives, wrench them around, lift our vision, fill our hearts, make us courageous for what is right, and over time leave its beautiful residue of Christlike character. . . . So what do we need to do? Quite simply, we need to find the outside God. —David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2008), 131–133.

The Purpose of Theology

Wednesday··2008·10·08 · 13 Comments
As we approach the study of God, we need to consider the purpose for our pursuit of this knowledge. We need to question our motives. J. I. Packer asks, “What is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things?” “[T]heological knowledge for its own sake,” he writes, “is bound to go bad on us.” “Knowledge puffs up. . . . The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor 8:1–2). To be preoccupied with getting Theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it. . . . There can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge; but it is equally true that there can be no spiritual health with it, if it is sought for the wrong purpose and valued by the wrong standard. In this way, doctrinal study really can become a danger to spiritual life, and we today today, no less than the Corinthians of old, need to be on guard here. But, says someone, is it not a fact that a love for God’s revealed truth, and a desire to know as much of it as one can, are natural to every person who has been born again? Look at Psalm 119: “teach me your decrees”; “open my eyes that I may see wonderful things from your law!”; “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”; “give me discernment that I may understand your statutes” (vv. 12, 18, 97, 103, 125). Do not all children of God long, with the psalmist, to know just as much about our heavenly father as we can learn? Is not, indeed, the fact that we have received a love for his truth in this way proof that we have been born again? (See 2 Thess 2:10.) And is it not right that we should satisfy this God-given desire to the full? Yes, of course it is. But if you look back to Psalm 119 again, you will see that the psalmist’s concern to get knowledge about God was not a theoretical but a practical concern. His supreme desire was to know and enjoy God himself, and he valued knowledge about God simply as a means to this end. He wanted to understand God’s truth in order that his heart might respond to it and his life be conformed to it. Observe the emphasis of the opening verses: “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. . . . Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!” (vv. 1–2, 5). The psalmist was interested in truth and orthodoxy, in biblical teaching and theology, not as ends in themselves, but as means to the further ends of life and godliness. His ultimate concern was with knowledge and service of the great God whose truth he sought to understand. And this must be our attitude too, our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our aquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are. As he is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so he must be the end of it. We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God. It was for this purpose that revelation was given, and it is to this use that we must put it. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 22–23.
Knowledge about God is not the same as knowledge of God. We can have a systematic theology of God memorized, and still not grow in our knowledge of God. How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is simple but demanding. It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God. We have some idea, perhaps, what prayer is, but what is meditation? Well may we ask, for meditation is a lost art today, and Christian people suffer grievously from their ignorance of the practice. Meditation is the act of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God. Its purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let his truth make its full and proper inpact on one’s mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace. Its effect is ever to humble us, as we contemplate God’s greatness and glory and our own littleness and sinfulness, and to encourage and reassure us—“comfort” us, in the old, strong, Bible sense of the word—as we contemplate the unreachable riches of divine mercy displayed in the Lord Jesus Christ. . . . And it is as we enter more and more deeply into this experience of being humbled and exalted that our knowledge of God increases, and with it our peace, our strength, and our joy. God help us, then, to put our knowledge of God to this use, that we all may in truth, “know the Lord.” —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 23. This is the biblical—in opposition to popular and mystical—description of meditation: thinking about what God has already said in his word, not waiting for him to say something new especially for you.

Evidence of Knowing God (1)

Drawing from the book of Daniel, J. I. Packer lists four evidences of knowing God. 1. Those who know God have great energy for God. In one of the prophetic chapters of Daniel we read, “the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits” (11:32 KJV). RSV renders thus: “the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” In the context, this statement is introduced by “but” and set in contrast to the activity of the “contemptible person” (v. 21) who sets up “the abomination that causes desolation” and corrupts by smooth and flattering talk those whose loyalties to God’s covenant has failed (vv. 31–32). This shows us that the action taken by those who know God is their reaction to the anti-God trends which they see operating around them. While their God is being defied or disregarded, they cannot rest; they feel they must do something; the dishonor done to God’s name goads them into action. This is exactly what we see happening in the narrative chapters of Daniel, where we are told of the “exploits” of Daniel and his three friends. . . . Daniel in particular appears as one who would not let a situation of that sort slide, but felt bound openly to challenge it. . . . When Darius suspended the practice of prayer for a month, on pain of death, Daniel not merely went on praying three times a day, but did so in front of an open window, so that everyone might see what he was doing (6:10). . . . Such gestures must not be misunderstood. It is not that Daniel . . . was an awkward, cross-grained fellow who luxuriated in rebellion and could only be happy when he was squarely “agin’” the government. It is simply that those who know their God are sensitive to situations in which God’s truth and honor are being directly or tacitly jeopardized, and rather than let the matter go by default will force the issue on men’s attention and seek thereby to compel a change of heart about it’even at personal risk. Yet the invariable fruit of true knowledge is energy to pray for God’s cause—energy, indeed, which can only find an outlet and relief of inner tension when channeled into such prayer—and the more knowledge, the more energy! By this we may test ourselves. Perhaps we are not in a position to make public gestures . . . But we can all pray about the ungodliness and apostasy which we see in everyday life around us. If, however, there is in us little energy for such prayer,and little consequent practice of it, this is a sure sign that as yet we scarcely know our God. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 27–29.

Getting Wisdom

Theologians divide the attributes of God into two categories, communicable and incommunicable. That God created man in his image means that man was given qualities corresponding to the attributes of God. However, not all of God’s attributes were included in this image. Incommunicable attributes are those for which there is no corresponding quality in his image in created man. These attributes were not communicated to Adam. They include aseity (self-existence) and infinitude (unlimited by time or space). Communicable attributes are those that God communicated to man in creation. They are his moral qualities. God’s communicable attributes are the image of God in us. That image, and therefore those attributes, were lost or damaged in the fall. A part of God’s redemptive plan is the renewal of those communicable attributes (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10). Among those communicable attributes is wisdom. It should be clearly seen that fallen man is lacking wisdom. It is equally clear that God wants to give us wisdom. Scripture, particularly the book of Proverbs, exhorts us repeatedly to “get wisdom.” The New Testament also instructs us to seek wisdom (Ephesians 5:15–17; James 1:5). But how can we get wisdom? J. I. Packer offers two prerequisites for receiving this gift. 1. We must learn to reverence God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” . . . Not until we have become humble and teachable, standing in awe of God’s holiness and sovereignty . . . acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts and willing to have our minds turned upside down, can divine wisdom become ours. 2. We must learn to receive God’s Word. wisdom is divinely wrought in those, and those only, who apply themselves to God’s revelation. “Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,” declares the Psalmist; “I have more insight than all my teachers”—why?—“for I meditate on your statutes” (Ps 119:98–99). So Paul admonishes the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . . with all wisdom” (Col 3:16). How are we of the twentieth century to do this? By soaking ourselves in the Scriptures, which, as Paul told Timothy (and he had in mind the Old Testament alone!), “are able to make you wise for salvation” through faith in Christ, and to make us “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:15–17). Again, it is to be feared that many today who profess to be Christ’s never learn wisdom, through failure to attend to God’s written Word. . . . How long is it since you read right through the Bible? Do you spend as much time with the Bible each day as you do even with the newspaper? What fools some of us are!—and we remain fools all our lives, simply because we will not take the trouble to do what has to be done to receive the wisdom which is God’s free gift. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 101–102.

Knowledge of God

George Swinnock on The Excellency of the Knowledge of God: If knowledge be the excellence of a man, and differenceth him from a beast, surely then divine knowledge, or the knowledge of God in Christ, is the excellency of a Christian, and differenceth him from other men. Our awe of, love to, and trust in the divine Majesty, are founded in the right knowledge of him. Creatures, the more they are known, the less they are esteemed; but the more blessed God is known, the more he is prized, desired, and obeyed. Our hatred of sin and contempt of the world proceed from our acquaintance with God. He only hath hateful thoughts of sin, and self-loathing apprehensions because of it, who hath seen the great and glorious, the good and gracious God, whose authority is condemned, whose law is violated, whose name is dishonoured, whose image is defaced, and whose love is abused by it. He only lives above this present evil world, and all the riches and honours and pleasures thereof, who can look beyond it to the infinite God, and those unsearchable riches and weights of glory, and rivers of pleasure that are in and with him. That which was rich and glorious and pleasant to a soul before, hath now no worth, no glory, no pleasure, by reason of that wealth and glory and pleasure which doth so infinitely exceed. When the God of glory appeared to Abraham, he quickly and quietly loft his country and kindred, and followed God, not knowing whither he went. If the God of glory appeared to your souls, you will soon wink upon these withering vanities, broken cisterns, and gilded nothings, and count them all but dung and dross, for the excellency of the knowledge of him in Christ. —George Swinnock, Trading and Thriving in Godliness: The Piety of George Swinnock, ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 21–22.

Made for Worship

George Swinnock on Our Great End: Now the great end to which man is designed by God, is the exercising himself to godliness. God erected the stately fabric of the great world for man, but he wrought the curious piece of the little world [man] for himself. Of all his visible works he did set man apart for his own worship. Man. saith one, is the end of all in a semicircle , intimating that all things in the world were made for man, and man was made for God. . . . The great God, according to his infinite wisdom hath designed all his creatures to some particular ends, and hath imprinted in their natures an appetite and propensity towards that end, as the point and scope of their being. Yea, the very inanimate and irrational creatures are serviceable to those ends and uses in there several places and stations. . . . Surely much more is man, the point in which all those lines meet, designed to some noble end, suitable to the excellence of his being; and what can that be, but to worship the glorious and blessed God, and the exercising himself to godliness? “The Lord made all things for himself.” God made things without life and reason to serve him passively and objectively, by administering occasion to man to admire and adore his Maker; but man was made to worship him acutely and affectionately, as sensible of, and affected with, that divine wisdom, power and goodness which appear in them. As all things are of him as the efficient cause, so all things must necessarily be for him as the final cause. But man is an special manner is predestined and created for this purpose: “Thou art mine; I have created him for my glory; I have formed him, yea, I have made him.” There is both the author and the end of our creation: the author, “I have created him;” the end, “for my glory” . . . . Man is made as a glass, to represent the perfections that are in God. A glass can receive the beams of the sun into it, and reflect them back again to the sun. The excellencies of God appear abundantly in his works; man is made to be the glass where these beams of divine glory should be united and received, and also from him reflected back to God again. —George Swinnock, Trading and Thriving in Godliness: The Piety of George Swinnock, ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 69–70.

What Is Godliness?

Moral living is not Godliness. By itself, morality is nothing but bare legalism. Genuine Godliness goes much deeper. Godliness is a worshipping the true God in heart and life, according to his revealed will. In this description of godliness, I shall observe four facts. . . . First, for the act, godliness is a worship. Worship comprehends all that respect which man oweth and giveth to his Maker. It is that service and honour, that fealty and homage, which the creature oweth and tendereth to the fountain of his being and happiness. It is the tribute which we pay to the King of kings, whereby we acknowledge his sovereignty over us, and our dependence on him. “Give unto the Lord the honour due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” To worship God is to give him the glory which is due him. It is a setting the crown of glory on God’s head. To render him due honour is true holiness; to deny this, is atheism and irreligion. All that inward reverence and respect, and all that outward obedience and service to God, which the word enjoined, is included in this one word worship. . . . Secondly, the object, the true God. All religion without the knowledge of the true god is a mere notion, an airy, empty nothing. Divine worship is one of the chiefest jewels of God’s crown, which he will by no means part with. God alone is the object of the godly man’s worship. . . . God alone is to be worshipped, because he alone is worthy of worship. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power: for thou hast created all things.” To hold anything in opinion, or to have anything in affection for God, which is not God is idolatry. . . . Thirdly, the extent, in heart and life. Godliness is the worshipping God in the inward motions of the heart, and the outward actions of the life; where the spring of the affections is clear, and the stream of the conversation runs clear, there is true godliness. . . . Heart-godliness pleaseth God best, but life-godliness honors him most; the conjunction of both make a complete Christian. In a godly man’s heart, though sin may be left, yet no sin is liked; in his life, though sin may remain, yet no sin reigns. His heart is suitable to God’s nature, and his life is answerable to God’s law, and thence he is fitly denominated a godly man. . . . Fourthly, the rule, according to his revealed will. Every part of divine worship must have a divine precept. . . . The institutions of Christ, not the inventions of men, are the rule of worship. Our work is not to make laws for ourselves or others, but to keep the laws which the great prophet of his church hath taught us; that coin of worship which is current amongst us must be stamped by God himself. We are to be governed as the point in the compass, not by the various winds (the practices of former ages, or the fashions of the present generation, which are mutable and uncertain), but by the constant heavens. Our devotion must be regulated exactly according to the standard of the word. It is idolatry to worship a false god, or the true God in a false manner. —George Swinnock, Trading and Thriving in Godliness: The Piety of George Swinnock, ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 91–93.

Pursuing Godliness Together

On “Godliness in Company,” George Swinnock wrote of the importance of deliberately choosing the right friends, and of directing our friendships toward a mutual pursuit of godliness. I come now to show wherein the power of godliness consisteth, or how a man maketh religion his business in the choice of his companions. First, Be as careful as thou canst, that the persons thou choosest for thy companions be such as fear God. . . . Thou art far from walking after the good Spirit, if thou choosest to converse with open sepulchers, and such as are dead in sins and trespasses. . . . Secondly, If thou wouldst manifest godliness in the choice of thy companions, thy care must be, not only to choose such as are the godly, but also to choose them because they are godly. As godliness must be a ruling quality in them that are chosen, so it must be the ground of thy choice. . . . When God’s grace in them is the only ground of our choice, and God’s image on them the chief loadstone of our love, then we exercise ourselves to godliness in the choice of our companions. . . . Thirdly, In thy choice, have respect to spiritual ends, and accordingly improve it. Attend and intend thy own and thy companions’ soul good in it. Friendship hath a key to the heart which it may use, not only to let itself into its secrets, but also to introduce its own conceptions. He hath a great advantage of persuading another to, and encouraging him, in holiness, who is already entertained as his friend into his heart. Where the person is so acceptable the instruction will be the more welcome. —George Swinnock, Trading and Thriving in Godliness: The Piety of George Swinnock, ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 125–127.

Pursuing Godliness Alone

Yesterday, my two teenage daughters were contending for the use of the car. As those of you who are parents of such creatures know, when teens become licensed to drive, they simultaneously become cripples. “Walk? Ride bike? Inconceivable!” They made all the usual arguments, eventually coming to the “waste of time” argument. This is, I am sure, the only occasion in which stewardship of time ever crosses their minds. I replied that no time need be wasted, that, in addition to the health benefits of perambulation, time alone with one’s thoughts is necessary and profitable. If I was a wise theologian, and four hundred years older, I might have continued as follows: A gracious person is not only conscientious in company, but also when he is alone; his whole life is nothing else but a walking with his God. “When I awake I am still with thee.” He no sooner opened the eyes of his body in the morning, but he was lifting up the eyes of his mind to heaven; when he was alone in his bed, when was in company with his God. As God was still with him, so he was still with God. . . . A saint, therefore, sequestereth himself from the noises and clamor of company, and worldly business, that he might have the more free and intimate converse with his Redeemer. . . . If thou wouldst exercise thyself to godliness when thou art alone, guard thy heart against vain thoughts; this is the first work to be done, without which all that I have to commend to thee will be in vain. It is to no purpose to expect that a glass should be filled with costly wine, when it is filled already with puddle water. . . . If thou wouldst exercise thyself to godliness in solitude, mind solemn and set meditation. . . . Occasional meditations are like loving strangers, that afford us a visit, but are quickly gone. Deliberate meditations are as inhabitants that dwell with us, and are longer helpful to us. . . . Solemn meditation is a serious applying the mind to some a sacred subject till the affections be warmed and quickened, and the resolution heightened and strengthened there by, against what is evil, and for that which is good. . . . If thou wouldst exercise thyself to godliness in solitude, accustom thyself to soliloquies, I mean to conference with thyself. He needs never be idle that hath so much business to do with his own soul. . . . Commune with your own hearts; when ye have none to speak with, talk to yourselves. Ask yourselves for what end ye were made, what lives ye have led, what times ye have lost, what love ye have abused, what wrath ye have deserved. . . . Self-communion will much help to curb your headstrong, ungodly passions. Serious consideration, like the casting up of earth among bees, will allay inordinate affections when they are full of fury, and make such a hideous noise. . . . In solitude, accustom thyself to secret ejaculations and converses with God. Lovers cast many a glace at each other, when they are at a distance, and are deprived of set meetings. A little boat may do us some considerable service, when we have not time to make relay a great vessel, the casting of our eyes and hearts up to heaven, will bring heaven down to us: “My mediations of him shall be sweet.” —George Swinnock, Trading and Thriving in Godliness: The Piety of George Swinnock, ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 129–132.

Lord’s Day 43, 2010

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Christ the Beloved Samuel Davies (1723–1761) Let others let their passions rove Round all the earth, from shore to shore; Since Jesus is my friend and love, My utmost wish can grasp no more. His glories have allured my eye, And into love transformed my heart; To Him my tenderest passions fly; Jesus, nor shall they e’er depart. Upon His friendship I rely, Still of His tender care secure; My wants are all before His eye! Nor can they overcome His pow’r. His presence fills unbounded space; My heavenly friend is always nigh. Full of compassion, rich in grace; Touched with the tenderest sympathy. Faithful and constant is His love, And my ungrateful conduct hides; Safe to the happy world above, The meanest of His friends He guides. Amid the agonies of death, and terrors of the final doom, He saves them from almighty wrath, And leads the helpless pilgrims home. Oh, may an everlasting flame Of love possess my grateful mind! And my last breath adore His name, Who condescends to be my friend! —Worthy Is the Lamb (Soli Deo Gloria, 2004). John 14:21–26 He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. 25 These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” We learn from these verses that keeping Christ’s commandments is the best test of love to Christ. This is a lesson of vast importance and one that needs continually pressing on the attention of Christians. It is not talking about religion, and talking fluently and well too, but steadily doing Christ’s will and walking in Christ’s ways, that is the proof of our being true believers. Good feelings and desires are useless if they are not accompanied by action. They may even become mischievous to the soul, induce hardness of conscience, and do certain harm. Passive impressions which do not lead to action, gradually deaden and paralyze the heart. Living and doing are the only real evidence of grace. Where the Holy Ghost is, there will always be a holy life. A jealous watchfulness over tempers, words, and deeds, a constant endeavor to live by the rule of the Sermon on the Mount, this is the best proof that we love Christ. Of course such maxims as these must not be wrested and misunderstood. We are not to suppose for a moment that “keeping Christ’s commandments” can save us. Our best works are full of imperfection. When we have done all we can, we are feeble and unprofitable servants. “By grace are you saved through faith,—not of works.” (Ep. ii. 8.) But while we hold one class of truths, we must not forget another. Faith in the blood of Christ must always be attended by loving obedience to the will of Christ. What the Master has joined together, the disciple must not put asunder. Do we profess to love Christ? Then let us show it by our lives. The Apostle who said, “You know that I love You!” received the charge, “Feed my lambs.” That meant, “Do something. Be useful: follow my example.” (John xxii. 17.) We learn, secondly, from these verses, that there are special comforts laid up for those who love Christ, and prove it by keeping His words. This, at any rate, seems the general sense of our Lord’s language: “My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” The full meaning of this promise, no doubt, is a deep thing. We have no line to fathom it. It is a thing which no man can understand except he that receives and experiences it. But we need not shrink from believing that eminent holiness brings eminent comfort with it, and that no man has such sensible enjoyment of his religion as the man who, like Enoch and Abraham, walks closely with God. There is more of heaven on earth to be obtained than most Christians are aware of. “The secret of the Lord is with them who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.”—“If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with Me.” (Ps. xxv. 14; Rev. iii. 20.) Promises like these, we may be sure, mean something, and were not written in vain. How is it, people often ask, that so many professing believers have so little happiness in their religion? How is it that so many know little of “joy and peace in believing,” and go mourning and heavy-hearted towards heaven? The answer to these questions is a sorrowful one, but it must be given. Few believers attend as strictly as they should to Christ’s practical sayings and words. There is far too much loose and careless obedience to Christ’s commandments. There is far too much forgetfulness, that while good works cannot justify us they are not to be despised. Let these things sink down into our hearts. If we want to be eminently happy, we must strive to be eminently holy. We learn, lastly, from these verses, that one part of the Holy Ghost’s work is to teach, and to bring things to remembrance. It is written, “The Comforter shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance.” To confine this promise to the eleven Apostles, as some do, seems a narrow and unsatisfactory mode of interpreting Scripture. It appears to reach far beyond the day of Pentecost, and the gift of writing inspired books of God’s Holy Word. It is safer, wiser, and more consistent with the whole tone of our Lord’s last discourse, to regard the promise as the common property of all believers, in every age of the world. Our Lord knows the ignorance and forgetfulness of our nature in spiritual things. He graciously declares that when He leaves the world, His people shall have a teacher and remembrancer. Are we sensible of spiritual ignorance? Do we feel that at best we know in part and see in part? Do we desire to understand more clearly the doctrines of the Gospel? Let us pray daily for the help of the “teaching” Spirit. It is His office to illuminate the soul, to open the eyes of the understanding, and to guide us into all truth. He can make dark places light, and rough places smooth. Do we find our memory of spiritual things defective? Do we complain that though we read and hear, we seem to lose as fast as we gain? Let us pray daily for the help of the Holy Ghost. He can bring things to our remembrance. He can make us remember “old things and new.” He can keep in our minds the whole system of truth and duty, and make us ready for every good word and work. —J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Baker Books, 2007) [Westminster (PB) | Amazon (HC)]. 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");

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!”

The Life of the Justified Is Loving

The third of Horatius Bonar’s characteristics of “the life of the justified”: The life of the justified should be a loving one. It is love that has made him what he is, and shall he not love in return? Shall he not love Him that begat, and him also that is begotten of Him? The deep true spring of love is thus revealed to us by the Lord Himself: ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?’ (Luke vii. 41, 42.) Thus love produces love. The life of one on whom the fullness of the free love of God is ever shining must be a life of love. Suspense, doubt, terror, darkness, must straiten and freeze; but the certainty of free and immediate love dissolves the ice, and kindles the coldest spirit into the warmth of love. ‘We love Him because He first loved us.’ Love to God, love to the brethren, love to the world, spring up within us as the heavenly love flows in. Malevolence, anger, envy, jealously, receive their death-blow. The nails of the cross have gone through all these, and their deadly wound cannot be healed. They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts. Sternness, coldness, distance, depart; and are succeeded by gentleness, mildness, guilelessness, meekness, ardour, long-suffering. The tempers of the old man quit us, we know not how; and in their place comes the ‘charity which suffereth long, and is kind, which envieth not, which vaunteth not itself, which is not puffed up, which doth not behave itself unseemly, which seeketh not her own, which is not easily provoked, which thinketh no evil, which rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, which beareth all things, which believeth all things, which never faileth’ (1 Cor. xiii. 4–8). Gentle and loving and simple should be the life of the justified; meek and lowly should they be, who have been loved with such a love. —Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness; or, How shall Man be Just with God? (London: James Nisbet and Co, 1873), 196–197.

The Cost of Intellectual Laziness

I know a man who, presumably on little more than the strength of leadership skills, rose to a position of leadership in one of our local churches. I say this because, according to his own confession, he was not interested in reading anything more than he had to read. He was content to leave his knowledge at a superficial Sunday school level. He was a businessman (now retired) whose hard work was evident in the success of the business he built and subsequently sold, and in his standard of living. But he was unwilling to put the same effort into intellectual exercise. The tragedy is that intellectual laziness deprives of spiritual knowledge. Swinnock wrote, When did we ever find nature so prodigal of her gifts, as to bestow skill and excellency in any art or science, without industry and diligence. Doth she not force her students to beat their brains, to waste their bodies, to break their sleep, to burn up their strength, before she will permit them to pry into her secrets, to pick the lock of her curious cabinet, and gain any considerable knowledge of her wealth and richness? And can we think the God of nature will give men to know him, as they are known of Him—will bestow on them the unspeakable gift, the pearl of price, the Holy of holies, such things as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither man’s heart conceived, while they lie lazying on the bed of idleness? —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:59—60.

The Desire of the Slothful

‘The desire of the slothful killeth him, because his hands refuse to labour,’ Prov. xxi. 5. He is full of wishing, but far from working. As the cat, he would fain have the fish, but is unwilling to wet his feet; his desires are destitute of suitable endeavours, and therefore rather harm him than help him. Like . . . He thinketh to be hurried in haste to heaven, to be carried as passengers in a ship, asleep in their cabins to their haven, but is all the while in a deceitful dream. . . . He that will be but almost a Christian, must be content to go but almost to heaven. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:61—62.
Wherefore I must entreat thee, reader, to make godliness thy sole design and delight, thy main occupation and recreation. If thou find not the golden veins upon the surface, or just under the skin of the earth, do not throw off thy trade, nor cast away thy tools, but delve and dig lower; thou shalt certainly at length come to the rich treasure. The virtuous man in Greek is denominated from a word, σπουδαιος, that signifieth industrious and diligent. Labour is the way to get and increase virtue, and the more virtuous thou art, the more laborious thou wilt be; frequent use must keep thy spiritual arms from rust. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:83.
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.

Unwilling, Wandering, and Weary

The feet of the harlot abide not within her house, neither will thy affections easily within the house of God; doth not experience tell thee that they love to be gadding, and therefore require a strong and vigilant guard? Parents set their children before them at church, and have their eyes much upon them, because otherwise they will be toying and playing; truly so will thy heart, if thine eye be not on it. Alas, thy heart in duty is like one that looks through an optic glass on some small object, with a palsy hand, it is long before he can discern it, and as soon as he hath found it, so unsteady is his hand that he hath lost it again; therefore it behoves thee to keep it diligently, and to watch it narrowly; there is a bottomless depth of deceit in thine heart—how unwilling is it to a duty! how much wandering in a duty! how soon weary of a duty! ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who knoweth it?’ Jer. xvii. 11. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:91.

That Glorious and Fearful Name

The elders of Israel trembled at the coming of Samuel, 1 Sam. xvi. 9, and shall not we tremble when the great God cometh to us in his ordinances? Every relation in which men stand to God calls for awfulness and dread of him. ‘If I be a father, where is mine honour? if I be your master, where is my fear?’ Mal. i. 6, but especially in the saints’ approaches to him; they must stand in awe of him. When God appeared to Jacob at Bethel, where he saw nothing but visions of love, he crieth out, ‘This is none other but the house of God; how dreadful is this place!’ Gen. xxviii. 17. . . . Therefore, reader, be persuaded to ‘fear that glorious and fearful name, the Lord thy God,’ Deut. xxviii. 58. That name which is the greatest prop of thine affiance,* commandeth thy fear and reverence. When thou nearest, in the fear of God give audience to his word, Acts xiii. 16. Poor peasants must be trembling when this prince is speaking. With meekness receive that word which will damn or save thy soul. Alas! with what fear should a condemned prisoner attend to his king, when every word he speaks is life or death! It becomes the greatest persons to be awful in God’s presence. Constantine the Great, when hearing a sermon, would start out of his chair of state, being ravished with the word, and stand up for a long time; ’and being minded by his courtiers that such a posture was unbecoming his high place, he would not hearken to them. Eglon, though a fat unwieldy man, as soon as Ehud told him that he had a message from God to him, rose up to hear it, Judges iii. 20. Abraham, who had the honour and favour to be God’s friend, yet when God spake to him, fell on his face, Gen. xvii. 3. Moses, though high in the heart of God, yet is humble when he hears from God; he boweth his head towards the earth, and worships, Exod. xxxiv. 8. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:96–97 * The greatest support/ground of your security/assurance.

Every Place an Altar

There is no duty in my observation which hath so many precepts for it, or promises to it, as prayer, and sure I am, there is no duty which giveth more honour to God, or receiveth more honour from God, than prayer. Prayer hath a twofold pre-eminence above all other duties whatsoever, in regard of the universality of its influence, and opportunity for its performance. The universality of its influence. As every sacrifice was to be seasoned with salt, so every undertaking, and every affliction of the creature, must be sanctified with prayer. Nay, as it sheweth the excellency of gold, that it is laid upon silver itself, so it speaketh the excellency of prayer, that not only natural and civil, but even religious and spiritual actions, are overlaid with prayer. We pray not only before we eat or drink our bodily nourishment, but also before we feed on the bread of the word, and the bread in the sacrament; prayer is requisite to make every providence and every ordinance blessed to us. Prayer is needful to make our particular callings successful; prayer is the guard to secure the fort-royal of the heart; prayer is the porter to keep the door of the lips; prayer is the strong hilt which defendeth the hands; prayer perfumes every relation; prayer helps us to profit by every condition; prayer is the chemist that turns all into gold; prayer is the master-workman; if that be out of the way, the whole trade stands still, or goeth backward. What the key is to the watch, that prayer is to religion; it winds it up and sets it a-going. It is before other duties in regard of opportunity for its performance. A Christian cannot always hear, or always read, or always communicate, but he may pray continually. No place, no company can deprive him of this privilege. If he be on the top of a house with Peter, he may pray; if he be in the bottom of the ocean with Jonah, he may pray; if he be walking in the field with Isaac, he may pray when no eye seeth him; if he be waiting at table with Nehemiah, he may pray when no ear heareth him; if he be in the mountains with our Saviour, he may pray; if he be in the prison with Paul, he may pray; wherever he is, prayer will help him to find God out. Every saint is God’s temple; and he that carrieth his temple about him, saith Austin, may go to prayer when he pleaseth. Indeed to a Christian, every house is an house of prayer; every closet a chamber of presence; and every place he comes to an altar, whereon he may offer the sacrifice of prayer. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:106–107

Meditate on thy sins

Confession of sin must be with shame and sorrow; petition for mercy must be with faith and fervency; thanksgiving must be with admiration of God, and delight in God. Now it is meditation of our sins, wants, and miseries, which provides fuel for the fire of these graces to work upon, by which they break out into a heavenly flame. Meditate on thy sins. Thy duty in prayer is to indict, arraign, and condemn and execute those malefactors and transgressors of the royal law, which can never he done till they are apprehended. If thou wilt kill those foxes that spoil the vine, those lusts which hinder thy regenerate part from thriving, thy care must be by meditation to hunt them out of their lurking holes and take them. Thy wounds, which stink and are so unsavoury to God, must by serious consideration be searched and felt before they can be healed. When thou art going to prayer, do as Jehu, when he went to sacrifice to Baal, send out and fetch in all thy false worshippers, those enemies of the true God, that deny his supremacy, and bow the knee to the world or the flesh, and then by a humble penitential confession, and self-judging, cut them off. Who ever bewailed his sins, that did not know their sinfulness? or who ever was ashamed, that did not see his own nakedness? When the Jews came to know that they were the betrayers and murderers of the Lord Jesus, then they were pricked to the heart. Oh do that for thyself which God will do for many others! set thy sins in order before thine eyes, thine original and thine actual, thine omissions and commissions, thy personal and relative, thy secret and public, thy sins about natural, civil, or spiritual actions, thy sins under mercies and against afflictions. Say to thy conscience, as Samuel to Jesse, ‘Are all thy sons here?’ are all thy sins here? If any be wanting to thy knowledge, cause it to be sent for and brought, and sit not down to sacrifice before it come; when this is done, put them all into their own colours, accent them with their several aggravations, consider what light, what love, what motions of God’s Spirit, what convictions of thy own spirit, they were committed against. Above all, meditate on the infinite majesty, purity, and mercy of that God against whom thou hast sinned. Those three attributes duly weighed would, like Moses’ strokes, fetch water out of a rock. Ah couldst thou, that hast heard of this God by the hearing of the ear, but see him with the seeing of the eye, thou wouldst quickly abhor thyself in dust and ashes! How ugly, how loathsome would sin be, couldst thou behold the glory, holiness, and grace of that God whom thereby thou hast offended! Ah, how great an evil must that be which is so opposite and offensive to the greatest good! Think also on the blood of the dearest Jesus, which was let out by thy lusts; and surely when thou beholdest those knives before thee which made those bloody mortal wounds in his blessed body, anger and grief will both strive within thee for the mastery. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:112–113

Lord’s Day 26, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With a long life I will satisfy him And let him see My salvation. —Psalm 91:14–16 He Liveth Long Who Liveth Well Horatius Bonar (1808–1889) He liveth long who liveth well! All other life is short and vain; He liveth longest who can tell Of living most for heavenly gain. He liveth long who liveth well! All else is being flung away; He liveth longest who can tell Of true things truly done each day. Waste not thy being; back to Him, Who freely gave it, freely give, Else is that being but a dream, ’Tis but to be, and not to live. Be wise, and use thy wisdom well; Who wisdom speaks must live it too; He is the wisest who can tell How first he lived, then spoke, the true. Be what thou seemest; live thy creed; Hold up to earth the torch divine; Be what thou prayest to be made; Let the great Master’s steps be thine. Fill up each hour with what will last; Buy up the moments as they go; The life above, when this is past, Is the ripe fruit of life below. Sow truth if thou the true wouldst reap; Who sows the false shall reap the vain; Erect and sound thy conscience keep; From hollow words and deeds refrain. Sow love and taste its fruitage pure; Sow peace, and reap its harvest bright; Sow sunbeams on the rock and moor, And find a harvest-home of light. —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 "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");

Consider thy mercies

Some times and circumstances are hard. God’s promises should be enough to carry us through, but we are weak; we can be overwhelmed, and lose sight of his hand in our lives. When we can’t see God in the present, we can look to the past. Consider thy mercies, meditate on the several particular passages of God’s providence towards thee, from thy birth to this moment; how many dangers thou hast been delivered from, how many journeys thou hast been preserved in, what seasonable succour God hath sometimes sent thee in dangers, what suitable support he hath afforded thee in distress, what counsel he hath given thee in doubts, what comforts he hath vouchsafed thee in sorrows and darkness. Make past mercies, by meditation, present with thee. How many years hast thou lived, and every moment of thy life hast breathed in mercy? Do not forget former favours bestowed on thee or thine. The civet* box, when the civet is gone, still retains its scent; the vessel, when the liquor is gone, hath still a savour of it. So when thy mercies are past and spent, thou shouldst still have the scent and savour of them in thy spirit. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:114 * Perfume

Lord’s Day 28, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. —Titus 2:11–14 Hymn 132. (L. M.) Holiness and grace. Titus ii. 10–13. Isaac Watts (1674–1748) So let our lips and lives express The holy gospel we profess; So let our wurks and virtues shine, To prove the doctrine all divine. Thus shall we best proclaim abroad The honours of our Saviour God; When the salvation reigns within, And grace subdues the power of sin. Our flesh and sense must be denied, Passion and envy, lust and pride; While justice, temp’rance, truth, and love, Our inward piety approve. Religion bears our spirits up, While we expect that blessed hope, The bright appearance of the Lord, And faith stands leaning on his word. —The Psalms & Hymns of Isaac Watts. Hymns and Spiritual Songs. Book I: Collected from the Holy Scriptures (Soli Deo Gloria, 1997). 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");

In a Praying Frame

Pray without ceasing; —1 Thessalonians 5:17 There is no duty enjoined a Christian for his constant trade so much as prayer: ‘Pray always,’ ‘pray continually,’ ‘pray without ceasing,’ ‘pray with perseverance,’ ‘pray evermore.’ But why is all this? would God have his people do nothing else but pray? must they cast by their callings, cast off all care of their children, and shut themselves up into some cell or cloister, and there be always upon their knees at prayer, as the Euchites fancied? No; I shall therefore give a brief description of this praying without ceasing. [1.] Thy soul must be ever in a praying frame. The soldier hath his weapons ready, though not always in fight with his enemy. Thy heart must be ever in tune, and ready upon the least touch to make heavenly music. The church’s lips are compared to a honeycomb, Cant. iv. 11. The honeycomb doth not always drop, but it is always ready to drop. The believer’s spirit is like fire upon the hearth; though it do not blaze, yet it is ready upon any opportunity to be blown up into a flame. [2.] No considerable business must be undertaken without prayer. Thou art God’s servant, and thy duty is to ask his leave in all thou dost: Eph. iv. 6, ‘In all things let your requests be made known to God.’ When thou risest up or liest down, when thou goest out or comest in, prayer must still be with thee. Prayer is the way to prevent evil. The world’s poison may be expelled with this antidote, John xvii. 11. He that converseth with God by prayer dwelleth in heaven, and to such a one the earth is but a small point. Prayer is both a charm to enchant, and a scourge to torment Satan. It engageth Christ in the combat with the devil, and so assureth the soul of conquest. When the saint is fighting, and like to be foiled, either by the world, the flesh, or the wicked one, prayer is the letter which he sendeth post to heaven for fresh supplies of the Spirit, whereby he becometh ‘more than a conqueror.’ Prayer is the way to procure good: he that will not speak must not expect to speed. It sanctifieth our food, raiment, sleep, callings, and all our enjoyments to us. The Christian, like the chemist, extracteth all good things out of this one body of prayer. [3.] He that prayeth constantly hath set times every day for prayer. The morning and evening sacrifice were called the ‘continual sacrifice,’ Num. xxviii. 4. The Christian hath his set meals for his soul every day as well as for his body. With the marigold, he opens himself in the morning for the sweet dews of heaven’s grace and blessing, and he doth at night, (though his occasions hinder him in the day,) like a lover, find some opportunity to converse with his beloved. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:130–131

I Wish That I

If you are like me, your prayers are often desultory exercises, casual, clichéd, presented with an unprepared mind and low expectations. It ought not to be so, but, I must confess, it often is. George Swinnock presents, for our encouragement in prayer, a lengthy list of wishes: I wish that the many and weighty mercies which I, unworthy wretch, enjoy, may be written so firmly in my mind, and presented to me before prayer, in the various and lively colours of their freeness, fulness, and seasonableness; that I may never steal the custom of thanks from my God, which is all he desires, for those rich and full vessels which he sendeth me in every day; but may pay him this impost of praise and glory with all uprightness and alacrity. I wish that . . . I might never leave confession without sorrow for sin; petition, without some sense of the worth of mercies; nor thanksgiving, without some solace and joy in God, the author and fountain of all my happiness. I wish that I may draw nigh to God with a pure conscience; and before I go to desire the lovely portion of his friends, give a bill of divorce to all my lusts, and, at least, banish from the bed of my heart those enemies of his which would not have him to reign over me. I wish that I may never desire mercy at his hands with the least degree of malice in my heart . . . I wish I may resolve beforehand to remember in particular my enemies, to beg of God that he would pardon, sanctity, and save them. . . . I wish that I may be specially careful to look up to the Master of requests, the Lord Jesus Christ: first, for the justification of my person, and then for the acceptation of my prayer; and that I may be so enabled, with the hand of faith, to put on the glorious robes of his perfect righteousness, that neither the nakedness of my person nor performance may appear to my shame. I wish that all the flowers which I present to my God, in the posy of prayer, may be gathered out of his own garden, the Scriptures; I mean, that I may never exceed those bounds which he hath set me for the matter of my prayer, but may use much caution that all those spices, which I make my incense of, may be of his own prescription: and oh that, to this end, his Holy Spirit, who knoweth his mind fully, might draw up all my petitions for me! I wish that my prayers may be ever presented upon the bended knees of my soul, and also, in regard of my body, in the lowest and most submissive posture; ah, how humble should dust and ashes be, when he takes upon him to speak to the most high God! I wish above all that I may never mock the most jealous God in this duty, by speaking parrot-like what I neither mind nor mean . . . I wish that I may so feel my spiritual wants, that . . . I may cry aloud for the bread of life . . . When I am petitioning for pardon and grace, I wish I might beg as earnestly, and beseech God as importunately, as if it were in the power of my prayer to change his mind and procure the blessing; but when I am asking temporals, I would . . . willingly be at my Father’s allowance, and desire no more than what his infinite wisdom seeth needful to bear my charges, till I come to my blessed and everlasting home. . . . I wish that every mercy may come flying to me upon the wings of prayer, and may fly back to God upon the wings of praise . . . that at night prayer may make my bed soft, and lay my pillow easy, that in the day-time prayer may perfume my clothes, sweeten my food, oil the wheels of my particular vocation, keep me company upon all occasions, and gild over all my natural, civil, and religious actions. I wish that, after I have poured out my prayer in the name of Christ, according to the will of God, having sowed my seed, I may expect a crop, looking earnestly for the springing of it up, and believing assuredly that I shall reap in time if I faint not; yea, that though the promise may stick long in the birth, yet it will at last bring forth, when God will give me large interest for my forbearance. Finally, I wish that, though before sorrowful, having opened my mind to God about any suffering, my countenance, like Hannah’s, may be no more sad; that I may never busy myself about God’s work, the success and event of things, nor like an idle, lazy beggar, be careless about my own work, but may in my place, and to my power, be industrious in the use of all those lawful means which his providence affords me for the enjoyment of my desires, that as I did lift up my heart in praying, so I may lift up my hands in working to God, who dwelleth in the heavens. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:138–140

Search, Study, and Listen

George Swinnock on the duty of attending to God’s word: This word, which is of such unspeakable worth, God hath deposited as a special treasure into the hands of the children of men, that they might ‘obey his will, and know the just one.’ And, reader, it is thy duty to search and study this book. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:141 But reading and studying are not the whole of our duty. God has ordained ministers who are no less than his ambassadors. To neglect the preaching of the Word is an offense against God himself. When kings send out their proclamations, either concerning acts of grace, or some law which their subjects ought to obey, they expect that all should take notice of them, and give them the reading and hearing. What an affront dost thou offer to the King of the whole world, if thou turnest thy back upon his word! I must tell thee it is no less than [high treason]; ‘He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me,’ Luke x. 16. Thou mayest think, possibly, that by neglecting to hear, thou dost only contemn the preacher; but believe me, it is a contempt of thy Maker—ministers are God’s ambassadors. Now to deny an ambassador audience, is one of the greatest disrespects which can possibly be offered him, nay, it is an affront to his prince, on whose errand he cometh, and whose person he representeth; and what is the conclusion usually of such bad premises, but a bloody war? —Ibid., 1:141–142 There are consequences for neglecting study and despising preaching. Consider what thou dost, when thou ‘refusest him that speaketh from heaven;’ for if thou shuttest the windows of thine eyes from reading, and the door of thine ears from hearing, God may clap such a padlock of a judiciary curse upon them both, that thou shalt never open thine eyes nor ears, till thou comest, as the rich glutton, to see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, and to hear and bear thy part in those dreadful screechings and howlings which are in hell. —Ibid., 1:142

Let It Dwell with Thee

Swinnock has called attendance to God’s word a duty, and so it is, but it is a duty that ought to come naturally to every child of God. [I]f thou art a child of God, I doubt not but thou delightest to look into thy Father’s will, and weighest every word in it, as knowing that in his testament there is a great charge committed, and a great legacy bequeathed, to thee. It is thy daily companion and counsellor; thou darest not go without thy cordial, being liable every day to faint; nor without thy weapons, being called every hour to fight. The Scriptures are the light by which thou walkest, and the tools with which thou workest. Let me persuade thee to persevere in this gracious practice; take the counsel of the author of it, who is fittest to give laws for thy carriage towards it: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,’ Col. iii. 16. . . . Do not leave thy Bible, as some do, at church, and hear nothing of it all the week long; but bring it home to thy house, let it dwell with thee. Let not the word be ‘as a wayfaring man, to tarry with thee but for a night,’ and so begone; but let it be an inhabitant, one that accompanieth thee to bed and board, and with whom thou conversest continually as thy familiar and intimate friend. Make thine heart, as Jerome saith of Nepotianus, by his assiduous reading and hearing the Scriptures, Bibliothecam Christi, the library of Jesus Christ. I cannot but think that thou hast found the Bible so bountiful a guest, to pay thee so liberally for its board, that thou hast bid it heartily welcome, and wouldst not part with it for the whole world. Agesilaus is commended, saith Xenophon, because he never went to bed, nor rose up, before he had looked into Homer, whom he called his sweetheart. Advise thou with a divine, at least, as often as he did with a profane author. Kings have their counsellors, and great men their remembrancers; let God’s testimonies be ‘the men of thy council,’ Ps. cxix. 24. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:142–143

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

Be Very Watchful

We have heard from Swinnock on the necessity of preparing ourselves to hear the Word, and of being attentive to receive it. We must also be careful, lest, after hearing, we allow it to be lost. I must tell thee that it concerneth thee now to be very watchful, for many birds wait to peck up the corn as soon as the husbandman hath sowed it. Our Saviour telleth us, “He that received seed among thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful,’ Mat. xiii. 32. As highwaymen watch the honest countryman as he cometh from the fair, where he hath sold his cattle and filled his purse, and then set upon him, and rob him, so do the cares of the world dog the honest Christian as he cometh from the word, where he got some spiritual treasure, and then fall upon him to plunder him. Besides, Satan is so subtle that he will be sure to haunt the soul after reading or hearing the word: “When any one heareth the word, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart,’ Mat. xiii. 19. The season, then, is worthy our observation. When the Christian hath made a good meal, then the devil trieth all his wiles and tricks to make him vomit it up again. Servants, when they carry full cups of wine in the midst of unlucky boys, must be wary and watchful, or they will spill it. Some people take physic, and, though it doth them some good at present, yet all is quickly marred by their neglect of those rules which should be observed afterwards. The word, possibly, when thou heardest it, made some work among thy affections. The beauty of Christ’s person was displayed before thine eyes, and thy heart began to fall in love with thy Saviour. The extremity of his passion was described to thee, and thine heart began to loathe the cause thereof, thy sins. Well, now then thy conscience is a little warmed and awakened, and the pores of thy soul opened, shouldest thou go into the cold presently, all would come to nothing. If water be taken from the fire when it is a little warm, it cooleth quickly. He that would have it boil must rather increase the fire. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:162–163 While I am not a Sabbatarian, I think this passage reminds us of the benefit to ourselves—not to mention the effect of glorifying God—that we gain by setting aside the entire day for meditation on the Word. How many sermons heard in the morning are lost and forgotten among the distractions of a busy Lord’s Day afternoon?

Exercise Thyself to Godliness

Ought godliness to be every one’s business? then, reader, let me persuade thee in the fear of God to put this precept into practice—‘Exercise thyself to godliness.’ Let it be the chief trade thou drivest, the principal calling thou followest, to worship the true God in heart and life, according to his revealed will. . . . Let conscience judge between God and thee, whether such a work as this is doth not deserve all thy time and strength, thine utmost care and greatest diligence, and ten thousand times more than thou canst possibly give it. . . . Themistocles seeing two cocks fight, when he was going to a battle, pointed his soldiers to them, and said, ‘Do you see yonder combatants, how valiantly they deal their blows, with what fury they fight! and yet they fight not for their country, nor for their gods, nor for the honour of their ancestors, nor for glory, nor liberty, nor children! What courage then, my brave countrymen, should this put into our hearts, on whose resolution all these depend, and by whose valour they subsist! ‘So I say to thee, reader; dost thou see yonder worldling, how he rideth, runneth, toileth, moileth, sweateth, wasteth his strength, wrongeth his body, makes a very pack-horse of it, and will scarce allow it time to eat or sleep? Dost thou see yonder superstitious person, how zealous he is for the inventions of men, laying his estate, limbs, liberty, and life at the feet of his own idol? How like one upon a fiery steed full of mettle, he rides post out of God’s way, and from God’s word! Nay, dost thou see yonder sinner, what time he spends, what miseries he endures, what wealth he wastes, how hard he labours to gratify his lust? And yet these work not for the blood of Christ, nor for the love of the Father, nor for the graces of the Spirit, nor for freedom from the curse of the law, the slavery of Satan, the torments of hell, nor for their souls, nor for their God, nor for fulness of joy, and the pleasures that are at God’s right hand for evermore. What zeal and fervency should this put into our hearts, dear friends, and what diligence and industry into our hands, when we work and trade for all these! and if we make them our business our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:79–80

At the Lord’s Table (3)

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. —1 Corinthians 11:26–29 The last of three parts of George Swinnock’s A good wish about the Lord’s supper: I wish that however my body be attired, my soul may by faith put on the Lord Jesus Christ at this heavenly feast; that I may not only look up to him, as the cripple to Peter and John, expecting an alms, but may receive him by believing, and so banquet on his blessed body, and bathe my soul in his precious blood, that my spirit may rejoice in God my Saviour, whilst I am assured that though the pain were his, yet the profit is mine; though the wounds were his, yet the balm issuing thence is mine; though the thorns were his, yet the crown is mine; and though the price were his, yet the purchase is mine. Oh let him be mine in possession and claim, and then he will be mine in fruition and comfort, ‘Lord, I believe; help mine unbelief!’ I wish, since love is the greatest thing my Saviour can give me, for God is love, and the greatest thing which I can give my Saviour, that his love to me may be reflected back to him again, that my chiefest love may be as a fountain sealed up to all others, and broached only for him who is altogether lovely, that I may hate father, mother, wife, child, house, and land, out of love to him; that many waters of affliction may not quench this love, but rather like snuffers make this lamp to burn the brighter. Beasts love them who feed them. Wicked men love their friends and benefactors; my very clothes warming me are warmed by me again, and shall not I love him who hath loved me, and washed me in his own blood! . . . When my soul has been thus feasted with marrow and fatness, Lord, let my mouth praise thee with joyful lips. Ah, what am I, and what is my father’s house, that when others eat the bread of violence, and drink the wine of deceit, I should eat the flesh and drink the blood of thine own Son? ‘What is man, that thou art so mindful of him, and the son of man, that thou dost thus visit him?’ I wish that I may shew my thankfulness to my God and dearest Saviour for these benefits—the worth of which men and angels can never conceive—by the love of my heart, the praises of my lips, and the exemplariness of my life. At the sacrament Christ gave his body and blood to me, and I gave my body and soul a living sacrifice to him . . . Shall I pollute that heart which was solemnly devoted to God, and profane that covenant which I have seriously contracted with the most High? . . . Oh let me never start aside from my vow like a deceitful bow! Lord, I have sworn, and will perform, that I will keep, through thy strength, thy righteous judgments. Lastly, I desire that I may not only . . . deny sin at present, but afterwards defy it; that I may not only be faithful to my oath of allegiance, but also fruitful in obedience; that as Elijah walked in the strength of one meal forty days, I may walk in the strength of that banquet, serving my Saviour and my soul all my days. In a word, I wish that I may ever after walk worthy of my birth, having royal, heavenly blood running in my veins; worthy of my breeding, being brought up in the nurture of the Lord, fed at his own table with the bread of heaven, clothed with the robes of his Son’s righteousness; and that my present deportment may be answerable to my future preferment. Oh that I might in all companies, conditions, and seasons, walk worthy of him who hath called me to his kingdom and glory! Amen. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:220–222

Godliness in Eating and Drinking

George Swinnock, typically Puritan, wrote at great length on the godly treatment of holy things. Now he turns his attention to How a Christian may exercise himself to godliness in natural actions, beginning with eating and drinking. As thy duty is to make religion thy business in religious, so also in natural actions. A good scrivener is not only careful how he makes his first and great letters, his flourishes, but also the smallest letters, nay, his very stops and commas. A scribe instructed for the kingdom of heaven, is heedful not only that the weightiest actions of God’s immediate worship, but also that the meaner passages of his life, be conformable to God’s law. A wise builder will make his kitchen as well as his parlour according to rule. A holy person turns his natural actions into spiritual, and whilst he is serving his body he is serving his God. It is said of a Scotch divine, that he did eat, drink, and sleep eternal life. Luther tells, that though he did not always pray and meditate, but did sometimes eat, and sometimes drink, and sometimes sleep, yet all should further his account; the latter as truly, though not so abundantly, as the former. And indeed it is our privilege that natural actions may be adopted into the family of religion, and we may worship God as really at our tables as in his temple. Saints must not, like brute beasts, content themselves with a natural use of the creatures, but use them as chariots to mount them nearer, and cords to bind them closer to God. Piety or holiness to the Lord must be written upon their pots, Zech. xiv. 20. ‘Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,’ 1 Cor. x. 31. Philo observeth that the ancient Jews made their feasts after sacrifice in the temple, that the place might mind them of their duty to be pious at them. It is a memorable expression, ‘And Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God,’ Exod. xviii. 12. In which words we have the greatness of their courtesy, and the graciousness of their carriage. For their courtesy, though Jethro were a stranger, and no Israelite, yet the elders honoured him with their company. And Aaron and all the elders came to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law. But mark the graciousness of their carriage, they came to eat bread with him before God ; that is, In gloriam et honorem Dei, to the honour and glory of God, saith Calvin. They received their sustenance, as in God’s sight, and caused their provision to tend to God’s praise. God takes it ill when we sit down to table and leave him out, Zech. vii. 6, ‘When ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did ye not eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves? ‘He sends us in all our food, we live at his cost; and therefore our eating may well be to his credit who is the master of the feast.—George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:260–261

Godliness in Sleep

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. —1 Corinthians 10:13 It is not only in matters specifically religious that Christians are to be circumspect; hence, Swinnock writes of How a Christian may exercise himself to godliness in natural actions. Today, we consider our sleep habits. Thy sleep, reader, must be moderate; but how much, or how little, thy own prudence, or piety together, must judge. No certain time can be prefixed, though some general rules may be propounded. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:283. Swinnock presents several health-based reasons to avoid excessive sleep, all, I’m sure, sound according to seventeenth century science, but some questionable, at best, in light of modern knowledge (what are “humours”?). The bulk of his warnings, however, are sensible and solidly biblical. Many are the discommodities of immoderate sleep. It wasteth time, a most precious talent, which is committed to us by God, and must be accounted for at the great day. A man asleep can hardly be said to live. Sleep is a kind of death. It injureth the soul, hindering it of time, robbing it of the body’s service, and by blunting its tools, dulling its faculties, that they become unfit for those ends to which they were designed, Prov. xxvi. 13–17. . . . It is an enemy to a man’s estate. Solomon dissuades from sluggishness, from this argument, ‘So shall thy poverty come as one that travaileth, and thy want as an armed man,’ Prov. vi. 11. Wealth will not come without working. They are deceived who think to have the pleasure of slothfulness and the plenty of laboriousness; ‘The diligent hand maketh rich, but slothfulness will clothe a man with rags,’ Prov. x. 4, and xxiii. 21. —Ibid., 283–284. He then turns to the benefits “of moderate sleep.” again, while the general principles are solid, much of the science is archaic. I present it here, unedited, for your edification and entertainment. The ends of sleep must be minded; sleep is given us by God, not for the solution or weakening, but for remission and refreshing of nature, which would be not only wearied, but quite tired out by continual labour. The effects of moderate sleep will speak its ends. Sleep will, if taken seasonably, and not in excess, help digestion, recreate thy mind, repair the spirits, comfort the whole body; it concocteth not only the meats, but also the humours. By the retreating of the heat into the inner parts, the vital faculty is much strengthened, because the heart is abundantly supplied with blood for the breeding of spirits. The ends of sleep will somewhat direct us about the measure. Sleep may be followed till the concoctions in the stomach and liver are finished, which will be discovered upon our awaking ordinarily by a sensible lightness of the body, especially of the head, and the passage down of the meat from the stomach. —Ibid., 285.

Godliness in Recreation

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. —1 Corinthians 10:13 Continuing with Swinnock on How a Christian may exercise himself to godliness in natural actions, we consider How a Christian may exercise himself to godliness, in his recreations and pleasures. To begin with, recreation is not to be despised, but to be received with gratitude, enjoyed, and used as a means toward health and godliness. Thy duty is to exercise thyself to godliness in thy recreations; the Christian in his walking, as well as in his working, must be furthering his eternal weal. Our gardens or places of delights, as well as our houses, must be consecrated ground; David’s cymbal, viol, and timbrel were all useful in and serviceable to the tabernacle; with them he praised God, Ps. cl. Saints’ outward pleasures must be some way or other subservient to their inward purity. It was a witty observation of Bernard on the signification of Isaac, which is laughter or joy, Sacrifice your Isaac, and your Isaac shall live. It is the ram, the rankness and stoutness of your heart which shall die. Reader, sacrifice thy recreations, thy joys, thy delights to God, and they shall all live; it is rankness of them which God desireth should be put to death. That these pleasures are not simply unlawful, is plain; ‘Eat thy bread,’ saith God, ‘with joy, drink thy wine with a merry heart; live joyfully with the wife of thy youth,’ Eccles. ix. 7–9. Epicurism is not at all commanded, but moderate delight in creatures is allowed and commended, ‘He gives all things richly to enjoy.’ To enjoy, not to behold, nor to hoard up; he condemneth those rich cormorants that starve at a full table, and like asses laden with good victuals, feed on thistles, Eccles. vi. 2, 3, ii. 24, and iii. 12. The merciful God is pleased, out of his bounty, not only to allow his creatures what is for necessity, but also what is for delight. Christian, it is more than God requireth of thee to be always pondering and poring on such subjects as make thy heart sad, whereby thou thyself art disadvantaged, banishing that cheerfulness from thee, which is an ornament to Christianity; and others discouraged, supposing that all who walk in heaven’s way, must needs be, as thou art, mopish and melancholy. Piety doth regulate, but not extirpate our pleasures. It is a pruning-knife to cut off the luxuriancy of them, not a weeding-hook, to pluck them up by the roots. If thy body be, as one of the fathers calls it, jumentum animæ, the soul’s beast, then it must be allowed some rest and refreshment, or else it will carry thee but heavily along in thy journey. It is reported of a primitive Christian, that as he was on a time playing with a bird, two or three youths going by saw him, and one of them spake to the other, See how this old man plays like a child with a bird! Which the good old man overhearing, called him to him and asked him, what he did with the bow in his hand, and how he used it. Whereupon the young man bent his bow, shewed him what he did with it, and unbent it again. Why do you unbend it? saith the old man. Because, saith the youth, if my bow should always stand ready bent, it would prove a slug and be unserviceable. Such is the condition of man, saith the old Christian; if his mind were always bent and intent about the best things, the wings of devotion would soon flag, and the arrows of contemplation fly but slowly towards heaven. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1: 288–289. Not all recreation devised by man, of course, is healthy and righteous. But, reader, thou mayest be merry and not mad, enjoy thy pleasures without such poison; thou mayest have thy recreation, and never be beholden either to sin or Satan for them; God alloweth thee choice enough of trees in his garden, though thou dost wholly forbear the forbidden fruit; nay, thou mayest, like a skilful mariner, make use of this side-wind of recreation, to help thee towards the haven of rest.—Ibid., 290. Therefore, enjoy leisure time, but keep it in its place. It is not bad to use recreations, but it is good to be watchful, that we do not abuse them; which that thou mayest not do, I desire thee to enclose this common, which many wander in to their woe, with these three cautions: First, Mind moderation at them; remember thy recreation is not to be thy occupation. . . . Our time here is our pilgrimage, and therefore not to be spent in pleasures. The candle of our lives is set up, not to play, but to work by. . . . A man that builds a house, will not make it very full of windows, for then it would be weak; neither will he make it without any, for then it would be dark. Recreations to our natural, are like windows to our artificial houses; some are convenient, many weaken the building, and strengthen the thief, who hath the more advantage thereby to steal. Fish that leap into the air for their recreation, return quickly to their own element again. Beasts that play up and down in the fields, in a short time return to their food. Recreation is like some pleasant house which we may call at, as we pass on toward our heavenly country, but must not stay, much less dwell there.—Ibid., 291.

The Foundation of Woe

The only way, reader, to find thine own will, is, to lose it in God’s will; those that grumble at his doings, and quarrel at his dealings, do but like a bull in the net, and the silly bird among the limetwigs, by struggling entangle themselves the more. Unsubmissiveness to God’s will is the fountain of all man’s woe; the quiet resignation of our persons and portions to God’s pleasure is the only sleeping pill which can give rest to the soul. Christian, let me ask thee this question, Didst thou give up thyself to Christ for temporal, or for eternal comforts? Didst thou enter upon religion to save thine estate, or thy soul? Oh, why then shouldst thou be so sad, when thine eternal happiness is so safe? For shame, live like a child of God, an heir of heaven; and let the world know, that thy hopes and happiness are in a better world; that though thou art denied those acorns which thy father giveth to his hogs, yet thou hast the children’s bread, and expectest thine inheritance when thou comest to age. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:315–316.

Perfumed by Grace

Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. —Joshua 24:14–15 George Swinnock writes A good wish about the government of a family. The government of my family being a special talent and trust committed to me by the blessed God, and being a business of exceeding concernment, both in regard of its influence upon the whole kingdom, which is raised or ruined by the good or wicked management of families, and in reference to the everlasting estates of the precious souls in it, wherewith I am charged, I wish, in general, that I may never, like a rotten post, endanger the whole building of church and state in any degree by my unfaithfulness in my place, nor be so unmerciful and unnatural as to see that bloody butcher Satan drive my children and servants, like silly sheep, to the shambles of hell, and never stir or strive to rescue them out of his hands. But that my resolution and practice may be according to Joshua’s religious pattern, that whatsoever gods others serve, whether the world or the flesh, yet I and my house may serve the Lord. Oh that I might so walk in the midst of my house with a perfect heart, that grace, like Mary’s box of ointment, may perfume the whole house with its savour, and that in every corner of it . . . there may be some scent of godliness. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:356. Certainly, this is an impossible goal—“that I might so walk in the midst of my house with a perfect heart”—but one to which a true lover of God will gladly aspire, so that “in every corner of it . . . there may be some scent of godliness.”

Life, Vigor, and Comfort

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. In Chapter IV, Owen presents the principle of “the usefulness of mortification,” which is “That the life, vigour, and comfort of our spiritual life depend much on our mortification of sin.” Strength and comfort, and power and peace, in our walking with God, are the things of our desires. Were any of us asked seriously, what it is that troubles us, we must refer it to one of these heads:—either we want strength or power, vigour and life, in our obedience, in our walking with God; or we want peace, comfort, and consolation therein. Whatever it is that may befall a believer that doth not belong to one of these two heads, doth not deserve to be mentioned in the days of our complaints. Now, all these do much depend on a constant course of mortification . . . —John Owen, Of The Mortification of Sin In Believers, The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:21. [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)] That is not to say that our efforts to defeat the flesh are the cause or ground of those blessings. In the ways instituted by God for to give us life, vigour, courage, and consolation, mortification is not one of the immediate causes of it. They are the privileges of our adoption made known to our souls that give us immediately these things. “The Spirit bearing witness with our spirits that we are the children of God,” giving us a new name and a white stone, adoption and justification,—that is, as to the sense and knowledge of them,—are the immediate causes (in the hand of the Spirit) of these things. —Ibid., 21–22. We are not saved by killing our sin, but rather, our salvation, beginning with the transforming miracle of regeneration, enables us to kill sin. But neglecting to do so will rob us of both strength in our walk with God, and our ability to rest peacefully in him.

What Mortification Is Not

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. In Chapter V, Owen offers five examples of what mortification is not, “that we be not mistaken in the foundation.” The third is one to which I think we are all especially subject: judging ourselves by outward appearance, by the absence of spectacular sins, while more subtle sins go undetected. It is quite likely that the sins we take pride in subduing are really not those to which we are naturally drawn. The mortification of sin consists not in the improvement of a quiet, sedate nature. Some men have an advantage by their natural constitution so far as that they are not exposed to such violence of unruly passions and tumultuous affections as many others are. Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration, and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortified men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor doth trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter hath done more to the mortification of the sin than the former. Let not such persons try their mortification by such things as their natural temper gives no life or vigour to. Let them bring themselves to self-denial, unbelief, envy, or some such spiritual sin, and they will have a better view of themselves. —John Owen, Of The Mortification of Sin In Believers, The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:25. [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)]

Think Greatly of His Greatness

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. We cannot have a true sense of our sin without comparing ourselves to God. Any other standard of measure is deceitful. Be much in thoughtfulness of the excellency of the majesty of God and thine infinite, inconceivable distance from him. Many thoughts of it cannot but fill thee with a sense of thine own vileness, which strikes deep at the root of any indwelling sin. When Job comes to a clear discovery of the greatness and the excellency of God, he is filled with self-abhorrence and is pressed to humiliation, Job xiii. 5, 6. And in what state doth the prophet Habakkuk affirm himself to be cast, upon the apprehension of the majesty of God? chap. iii. 16. “With God,” says Job, “is terrible majesty.” Hence were the thoughts of them of old, that when they had seen God they should die. The Scripture abounds in this self-abasing consideration, comparing the men of the earth to “grasshoppers,” to “vanity,” the “dust of the balance,” in respect of God. Be much in thoughts of this nature, to abase the pride of thy heart, and to keep thy soul humble within thee. There is nothing will render thee a greater indisposition to be imposed on by the deceits of sin than such a frame of heart. Think greatly of the greatness of God. —John Owen, Of The Mortification of Sin In Believers, The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:63. [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)]

Peace, God’s Way

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. John Owen writes, “When the heart is disquieted by sin, speak no peace to it until God speak it.” God will not bless “repentance” that does not properly grieve over sin. If we view our sins lightly, as we often do, our repentance can hardly be sincere. Men certainly speak peace to themselves when their so doing is not attended with the greatest detestation imaginable of that sin in reference whereunto they do speak peace to themselves, and abhorrency of themselves for it. When men are wounded by sin, disquieted and perplexed, and knowing that there is no remedy for them but only in the mercies of God, through the blood of Christ, do therefore look to him, and to the promises of the covenant in him, and thereupon quiet their hearts that it shall be well with them, and that God will be exalted, that he may be gracious to them, and yet their souls are not wrought to the greatest detestation of the sin or sins upon the account whereof they are disquieted,—this is to heal themselves, and not to be healed of God. This is but a great and strong wind, that the Lord is nigh unto, but the Lord is not in the wind. When men do truly “look upon Christ whom they have pierced,” without which there is no healing or peace, they will “mourn,” Zech. xii. 10; they will mourn for him, even upon this account, and detest the sin that pierced him. When we go to Christ for healing, faith eyes him peculiarly as one pierced. . . . when [faith] goes for healing and peace, it looks especially on the blood of the covenant, on his sufferings; for “with his stripes we are healed, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him,” Isa. liii. 5. When we look for healing, his stripes are to be eyed,—not in the outward story of them, which is the course of popish devotionists, but in the love, kindness, mystery, and design of the cross; and when we look for peace, his chastisements must be in our eye. Now this, I say, if it be done according to the mind of God, and in the strength of that Spirit which is poured out on believers, it will beget a detestation of that sin or sins for which healing and peace is sought. So Ezek. xvi. 60, 61, “Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant.” And what then? “Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed.” When God comes home to speak peace in a sure covenant of it, it fills the soul with shame for all the ways whereby it hath been alienated from him. —John Owen, Of The Mortification of Sin In Believers, The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:71–73. [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)] God will give peace to the repentant. He wants to do so. But we cannot seek it under false pretenses.

Lord’s Day 5, 2016

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. —Matthew 6:25–33 Desires O Thou That Hearest Prayer,Teach me to pray. I confess that in religious exercises the language of my lips and the feelings of my heart have not always agreed, that I have frequently taken carelessly upon my tongue a name never pronounced above without reverence and humility, that I have often desired things which would have injured me, that I have depreciated some of my chief mercies, that I have erred both on the side of my hopes and also of my fears, that I am unfit to choose for myself, for it is not in me to direct my steps. Let thy Spirit help my infirmities, for I know not what to pray for as I ought. Let him produce in me wise desires by which I may ask right things, then I shall know thou hearest me. May I never be importunate for temporal blessings, but always refer them to thy fatherly goodness, for thou knowest what I need before I ask; May I never think I prosper unless my soul prospers, or that I am rich unless rich toward thee, or that I am wise unless wise unto salvation. May I seek first thy kingdom and its righteousness. May I value things in relation to eternity. May my spiritual welfare be my chief solicitude. May I be poor, afflicted, despised and have thy blessing, rather than be successful in enterprise, or have more than my heart can wish, or be admired by my fellow-men, if thereby these things make me forget thee. May I regard the world as dreams, lies, vanities, vexation of spirit, and desire to depart from it. And may I seek my happiness in thy favour, image, presence, service. —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 one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; He must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. —1 Peter 3:10–12 If you want to love life, if you want to see good days, then refrain your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. The Bible is very much concerned about the evil that comes from our mouth. When Isaiah saw the transcendent majesty of God, he saw himself in stark contrast and pronounced an oracle of doom on himself: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). Isaiah’s first sense of guilt upon seeing the holiness of God concerned what was coming out of his mouth, and he recognized that he was not alone in this corruptive mouthing of deceit. The nation was a people with dirty mouths. With our lips, we are called to bear witness to the truth of God and to speak praise, honor, and glory to Him. Instead, we slander and blaspheme. With our mouths we put the dagger into the back of our friends. James devotes much space in his epistle to this “little member,” saying, “See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” (James 3:5). Paul quotes the Old Testament: There is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit; The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. (Rom. 3:12–14) . . . Satan himself is called the father of lies (John 8:44). There is no truth in him. He makes his living through deception and falsehood. By use of the lie, he does everything he can to undermine the sanctity of the truth of God. When Pilate asked Jesus whether He was a king, Jesus said, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). A Christian is defined by Christ as someone of the truth, and we should guard with our lives the sanctity of that truth. Our yes should be yes, and our no should be no (James 5:12), which simply means that people ought to be able to trust what we say. As we put restraints on our tongues, deceit treads less across our lips. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 109–110.

Lord’s Day 10, 2016

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord More than the watchmen for the morning; Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. —Psalm 130:5–6 Begin with God Horatius Bonar (1808–1889) Begin the day with God! He is thy sun and day; His is the radiance of thy dawn, To him address thy lay. Sing a new song at morn! Join the glad woods and hills; Join the fresh winds and seas and plains, Join the bright flowers and rills. Sing thy first song to God! Not to thy fellow-man; Not to the creatures of his hand, But to the glorious One. Awake, cold lips, and sing! Arise, dull knees, and pray; Lift up, O man, thy heart and eyes; Brush slothfulness away. Look up, beyond these clouds! Thither thy pathway lies; Mount up, away, and linger not, Thy goal is yonder skies. Cast every weight aside! Do battle with each sin; Fight with the faithless world without, The faithless heart within. Take thy first meal with God! He is thy heavenly food; Feed with and on him; he with thee Will feast in brotherhood. Take thy first walk with God! Let him go forth with thee; By stream or sea or mountain-path, Seek still his company. Thy first transaction be With God himself above; So shall thy business prosper well, And all the day be love. —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 "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");

Called to Think

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. —1 Peter 4:1–2 Whenever we talk about spiritual warfare, it seems we always come back to the same thing: immersion in the Word of God. In light of Jesus’ suffering unto death, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin (v. 1). . . . The Apostle Paul enjoined the Ephesians to put on the whole armor of God, and he listed each piece of armor that was worn by soldiers in the ancient world (Eph. 6:13–17). Here Peter uses the same language of preparing for warfare. The reason that Paul called us to put on the armor of God is that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Likewise with Peter, who, just a few verses earlier, wrote that angels and authorities and powers have been made subject to Christ (3:22). The powers and principalities against which we wrestle have been put in subjection to Christ; nevertheless, the war goes on for us, and in order to succeed in the battle of the Christian life, we need to be armed. The armor for warfare that Paul gives includes helmet, breastplate, and shield. For Peter, the principal item of armor is the mind of Christ. We are called to arm ourselves by seeking the mind of Christ. . . . I know no other way to gain the mind of Christ than to immerse ourselves in His Word. Studying the Scriptures is the way by which we learn the mind of Christ, because the Scriptures reveal Christ. We are living in the most anti-intellectual period in the history of the Christian church. The application of the mind to the search for understanding of the things of God is dismissed in some quarters and actually despised in others. Feeling is substituted for thinking. Christians, we are called to think, to seek understanding of the Word of God; there is no other way to get the mind of Christ. . . . We have to search the Scriptures, and this is a serious matter. We simply cannot find the mind of Christ in fifteen minutes a day. We must immerse ourselves in the Word of God if we really want to progress in this battle. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 140–141.

Grace in Knowledge

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. —2 Peter 1:2–4 Peter links the multiplication of grace and peace to the knowledge of God, which is the central thesis of this epistle. As we noted earlier, one of the obvious threats to the early Christian church was brought by the Gnostic heretics, who claimed to have a superior knowledge. These heretics believed that they had a higher knowledge than that conveyed by the Apostles. Over against the heretical view of knowledge, Peter talks about true knowledge, the knowledge that comes from God, which is, perhaps, one of the most important—if not the most important—grace that He disposes upon His people. God gives us knowledge that comes to us from Himself. The one excuse that will never stand before the bar of God’s judgment is that we have not been given enough clear knowledge of God. In fact, it is tragic that we find people with advanced degrees, who, in one sense, have been educated beyond their intelligence. Although they have been exposed to many dimensions of human education, they live their lives as if they were ignorant of the things of God. The fact that God has not kept us in the dark but has been pleased to manifest His being clearly through the things that are made is grace. God did not owe His creatures His self-revelation. He could have made us and walked away and remained in shadow, obscurity, and darkness, giving us no knowledge of Himself. However, He has given us not only knowledge of Himself in creation, which we call “general revelation,” but He has also given us His Word. Our God is not silent. Though we may not see Him, we hear from Him in His Word. I never cease to be amazed at why so few professing Christians have a passion to know God in His Word. . . . We are to be always learning more deeply, more carefully, and hopefully more accurately the things that are contained in this Word. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 211–212.

At the root of all saving Christianity

In the coming year, I’ll make another attempt to restart the blog. I intend to begin by blogging through several works of J. C. Ryle, beginning with what is probably his most-read, Holiness. Here is a taste: He that wishes to attain right views about Christian holiness, must begin by examining the vast and solemn subject of sin. He must dig down very low if he would build high. A mistake here is most mischievous. Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption. . . . The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are ‘words and names’ which convey no meaning to the mind. The first thing, therefore, that God does when He makes anyone a new creature in Christ, is to send light into his heart, and show him that he is a guilty sinner. The material creation in Genesis began with ‘light,’ and so also does the spiritual creation. God ‘shines into our hearts’ by the work of the Holy Ghost, and then spiritual life begins. (2 Cor. 4:6).—Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies, and false doctrines of the present day. If a man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul’s disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies. I believe that one of the chief wants of the Church in the nineteenth century has been, and is, clearer, fuller teaching about sin. . . . I say, then, that ‘sin,’ speaking generally, is, as the Ninth Article of our Church declares, ‘the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that is naturally engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone (quam longissime is the Latin) from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth alway against the spirit; and, therefore, in every person born into the world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.’ Sin, in short, is that vast moral disease which affects the whole human race, of every rank, and class, and name, and nation, and people, and tongue; a disease from which there never was but one born of woman that was free. Need I say that one was Christ Jesus the Lord? —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 1–2. Merry Christmas!

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.

Practical Holiness

What does holiness look like in the life of a believer? J. C. Ryle offers a description. (Much abridged—read the book!) A man may go great lengths, and yet never reach true holiness. It is not knowledge—Balaam had that: nor great profession—Judas Iscariot had that: nor doing many things—Herod had that: nor zeal for certain matters in religion—Jehu had that: nor morality and outward respectability of conduct—the young ruler had that: nor taking pleasure in hearing preachers—the Jews in Ezekiel’s time had that: nor keeping company with godly people—Joab and Gehazi and Demas had that. Yet none of these was holy! These things alone are not holiness. A man may have any one of them, and yet never see the Lord. What then is true practical holiness? It is a hard question to answer. . . . Let me, however, try to draw a picture of holiness, that we may see it clearly before the eyes of our minds. . . . (a) Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find His mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment—hating what He hates—loving what He loves—and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word. . . . (b) A holy man will endeavour to shun every known sin, and to keep every known commandment. He will have a decided bent of mind toward God, a hearty desire to do His will—a greater fear of displeasing Him than of displeasing the world, and a love to all His ways. He will feel . . . what David felt when he said, ‘I esteem all Thy precepts concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way.’ (Psalm 119:128). (c) A holy man will strive to be like our Lord Jesus Christ. He will not only live the life of faith in Him, and draw from Him all his daily peace and strength, but he will also labour to have the mind that was in Him, and to be ‘conformed to His image.’ (Rom. 8:29). . . . He will lay to heart the saying of John, ‘He that saith he abideth in Christ ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked’ (1 John 2:6) . . . (d) A holy man will follow after meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, patience, kind tempers, government of his tongue. He will bear much, forbear much, overlook much, and be slow to talk of standing on his rights. . . . (e) A holy man will follow after temperance and self-denial. He will labour to . . . to restrain his carnal inclinations, lest at any time they break loose. Oh, what a word is that of the Lord Jesus to the Apostles, ‘Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life’ (Luke 21:34) . . . (f) A holy man will follow after charity and brotherly kindness. He will endeavour to observe the golden rule of doing as he would have men do to him, and speaking as he would have men speak to him. . . . ‘He that loveth another,’ says Paul, ‘hath fulfilled the law.’ (Rom. 13:8). . . . (g) A holy man will follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence towards others. He will not stand all the day idle. He will not be content with doing no harm—he will try to do good. . . . (h) A holy man will follow after purity of heart. He will dread all filthiness and uncleanness of spirit, and seek to avoid all things that might draw him into it. He knows his own heart is like tinder, and will diligently keep clear of the sparks of temptation. . . . (i) A holy man will follow after the fear of God. I do not mean the fear of a slave, who only works because he is afraid of punishment, and would be idle if he did not dread discovery. I mean rather the fear of a child, who wishes to live and move as if he was always before his father s face, because he loves him. . . . (j) A holy man will follow after humility. He will desire, in lowliness of mind, to esteem all others better than himself. He will see more evil in his own heart than in any other in the world. . . . (k) A holy man will follow after faithfulness in all the duties and relations in life. He will try, not merely to fill his place as well as others who take no thought for their souls, but even better, because he has higher motives, and more help than they. . . . ‘Whatever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord,’—‘Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.’ (Col. 3:23; Rom. 12:11). . . . (l) Last, but not least, a holy man will follow after spiritual mindedness. He will endeavour to set his affections entirely on things above, and to hold things on earth with a very loose hand. He will not neglect the business of the life that now is; but the first place in his mind and thoughts will be given to the life to come. . .  Such is the outline of holiness which I venture to sketch out. Such is the character which those who are called ‘holy’ follow after. Such are the main features of a holy man. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 48–53.

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.
When considering sanctification and holiness, it is easy to slip into a kind of legalistic moralism that awards merit to our works. In the following paragraph, Ryle puts that error in its place. Can holiness save us? Can holiness put away sin—cover iniquities—make satisfaction for transgressions—pay our debt to God? No: not a whit. God forbid that I should ever say so. Holiness can do none of these things. The brightest saints are all ‘unprofitable servants.’ Our purest works are no better than filthy rags, when tried by the light of God’s holy law. The white robe which Jesus offers, and faith puts on, must be our only righteousness—the name of Christ our only confidence—the Lamb’s book of life our only title to heaven. With all our holiness we are no better than sinners. Our best things are stained and tainted with imperfection. They are all more or less incomplete, wrong in the motive or defective in the performance. By the deeds of the law shall no child of Adam ever be justified. ‘By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:8, 9). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 55. If all that is true, why bother? Why should we care about holiness if it earns us nothing, and will never be good enough, anyway? Ryle replies, Why does the Apostle say, ‘Without it no man shall see the Lord’? Let me set out in order a few reasons. (a) For one thing, we must be holy, because the voice of God in Scripture plainly commands it. The Lord Jesus says to His people, ‘Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 5:20). ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48). Paul tells the Thessalonians, ‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification’ (1 Thess. 4:3). And Peter says, ‘As He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;’ because it is written, ‘Be ye holy, for I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:15, 16). . . . (b) We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world. Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again’ (2 Cor. 5:15). And to the Ephesians, ‘Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it’ (Eph. 5:25, 26). And to Titus, ‘He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works’ (Titus 2:14). In short, to talk of men being saved from the guilt of sin, without being at the same time saved from its dominion in their hearts, is to contradict the witness of all Scripture. Are believers said to be elect!—it is ‘through sanctification of the Spirit.’ Are they predestinated?—it is ‘to be conformed to the image of God’s Son.’ Are they chosen?—it is ‘that they may be holy.’ Are they called?—is it ‘with a holy calling.’ Are they afflicted?—it is that they may be ‘partakers of holiness.’ Jesus is a complete Saviour. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more—He breaks its power (1 Peter 1:2; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; Heb. 12:10). (c) We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . James warns us there is such a thing as a dead faith . . . (James 2:17). True saving faith is a very different kind of thing. True faith will always show itself by its fruits . . . (d) We must be holy, because this is the only proof that we love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. This is a point on which He has spoken most plainly, in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of John. ‘If ye love Me, keep my commandments.’—‘He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me.’—‘If a man love Me he will keep my words.’—‘Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you’ (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:14). . . . (e) We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we are true children of God. . . . The Lord Jesus says, ‘If ye were Abraham’s children ye would do the works of Abraham.’—‘If God were your Father ye would love Me’ (John 8:39, 42). . . . ‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they,’ and they only, ‘are the sons of God’ (Rom. 8:14). . . . ‘Say not,’ says Gurnall, ‘that thou hast royal blood in thy veins, and art born of God, except thou canst prove thy pedigree by daring to be holy.’ (f) We must be holy, because this is the most likely way to do good to others. . . . I believe there is far more harm done by unholy and inconsistent Christians than we are aware of. . . . ‘I cannot see the use of so much religion,’ said an irreligious tradesman not long ago; ‘I observe that some of my customers are always talking about the Gospel, and faith, and election, and the blessed promises, and so forth; and yet these very people think nothing of cheating me of pence and half-pence, when they have an opportunity. Now, if religious persons can do such things, I do not see what good there is in religion.’ . . . (g) We must be holy, because our present comfort depends much upon it. . . . ‘Hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.’—‘Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts’ (1 John 2:3; 3:19). —Ibid., 55–59.

Wretched, but Pressing On

Answering those who would pit Faith Alone against the pursuit of holiness: I must frankly say I wish there was not such an excessive sensitiveness on the subject of holiness as I sometimes perceive in the minds of believers. A man might really think it was a dangerous subject to handle, so cautiously is it touched! Yet surely when we have exalted Christ as ‘the way, the truth, and the life,’ we cannot err in speaking strongly about what should be the character of His people. Well says Rutherford, ‘The way that crieth down duties and sanctification, is not the way of grace. Believing and doing are blood-friends.’ . . .I sometimes fear if Christ were on earth now, there are not a few who would think His preaching legal; and if Paul were writing his Epistles, there are those who would think he had better not write the latter part of most of them as he did. But let us remember that the Lord Jesus did speak the Sermon on the Mount, and that the Epistle to the Ephesians contains six chapters and not four. . . . That great divine, John Owen, the Dean of Christ Church, used to say, more than two hundred years ago, that there were people whose whole religion seemed to consist in going about complaining of their own corruptions, and telling everyone that they could do nothing of themselves. I am afraid that after two centuries the same thing might be said with truth of some of Christ’s professing people in this day. I know there are texts in Scripture which warrant such complaints. I do not object to them when they come from men who walk in the steps of the Apostle Paul, and fight a good fight, as he did, against sin, the devil, and the world. But I never like such complaints when I see ground for suspecting, as I often do, that they are only a cloak to cover spiritual laziness, and an excuse for spiritual sloth. If we say with Paul, ‘O wretched man that I am,’ let us also be able to say with him, ‘I press toward the mark.’ Let us not quote his example in one thing, while we do not follow him in another (Rom. 7:24; Phil. 3:14). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 65—66. We often think things are so much worse today than in past ages, but reading long-dead saints, it often strikes me how alike their complaints are to ours. J. C. Ryle, 140 years ago, says what we might say today, agreeing with John Owen, who said it more than two hundred years earlier.

Would you be holy?

Ryle has covered the what and why of personal holiness. Now he turns to the how. Would you be holy? Would you become a new creature? Then you must begin with Christ. You will do just nothing at all, and make no progress till you feel your sin and weakness, and flee to Him. He is the root and beginning of all holiness, and the way to be holy is to come to Him by faith and be joined to Him. Christ is not wisdom and righteousness only to His people, but sanctification also. Men sometimes try to make themselves holy first of all, and sad work they make of it. They toil and labour, and turn over new leaves, and make many changes; and yet, like the woman with the issue of blood, before she came to Christ, they feel ‘nothing bettered, but rather worse’ (Mark 8:26). They run in vain, and labour in vain; and little wonder, for they are beginning at the wrong end. They are building up a wall of sand; their work runs down as fast as they throw it up. They are baling water out of a leaky vessel: the leak gains on them, not they on the leak. Other foundation of ‘holiness’ can no man lay than that which Paul laid, even Christ Jesus. ‘Without Christ we can do nothing’ (John 15:5). It is a strong but true saying of Traill’s, ‘Wisdom out of Christ is damning folly—righteousness out of Christ is guilt and condemnation—sanctification out of Christ is filth and sin—redemption out of Christ is bondage and slavery.’ Do you want to attain holiness? Do you feel this day a real hearty desire to be holy? Would you be a partaker of the Divine nature? Then go to Christ. Wait for nothing. Wait for nobody. Linger not. Think not to make yourself ready. Go and say to Him, in the words of that beautiful hymn— Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, flee to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace. There is not a brick nor a stone laid in the work of our sanctification till we go to Christ. Holiness is His special gift to His believing people. Holiness is the work He carries on in their hearts, by the Spirit whom He puts within them. He is appointed a ‘Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance’ as well as remission of sins.—‘To as many as receive Him, He gives power to become sons of God’ (Acts 5:31; John 1:12, 13). Holiness comes not of blood—parents cannot give it to their children: nor yet of the will of the flesh—man cannot produce it in himself: nor yet of the will of man—ministers cannot give it you by baptism. Holiness comes from Christ. It is the result of vital union with Him, It is the fruit of being a living branch of the True Vine. Go then to Christ and say, ‘Lord, not only save me from the guilt of sin, but send the Spirit, whom Thou didst promise, and save me from its power. Make me holy. Teach me to do Thy will.’ Would you continue holy? Then abide in Christ. He says Himself, ‘Abide in Me and I in you,—he that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit. (John 15:4, 5). It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell—a full supply for all a believer’s wants. He is the Physician to whom you must daily go, if you would keep well. He is the Manna which you must daily eat, and the Rock of which you must daily drink. His arm is the arm on which you must daily lean, as you come up out of the wilderness of this world. You must not only be rooted, you must also be built up in Him. Paul was a man of God indeed— a holy man—a growing, thriving Christian—and what was the secret of it all? He was one to whom Christ was ‘all in all.’ He was ever ‘looking unto Jesus.’ ‘I can do all things,’ he says, ‘through Christ which strengthened me.’ ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. The life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God.’ Let us go and do likewise (Heb. 12:2; Phil. 9:13; Gal. 2:20). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 67—69.

Whoso liveth by faith

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them. —Hebrews 11:24–28 The great key to godliness is not intelligence, effort, or anything else by which worldly success is attained. The key to godliness is nothing but faith—taking God at his word, and trusting that he can and always will keep his promises. Moses had faith. Faith was the mainspring of his wonderful conduct. Faith made him do as he did, choose what he chose, and refuse what he refused. He did it all because he believed. God set before the eyes of his mind His own will and purpose. God revealed to him that a Saviour was to be born of the stock of Israel, that mighty promises were bound up in these children of Abraham, and yet to be fulfilled, that the time for fulfilling a portion of these promises was at hand; and Moses put credit in this, and believed. And every step in his wonderful career, every action in his journey through life after leaving Pharaoh’s court—his choice of seeming evil, his refusal of seeming good—all, all must be traced up to this fountain; all will be found to rest on this foundation. God had spoken to him, and he had faith in God’s word. He believed that God would keep His promises—that what He had said He would surely do, and what He had covenanted He would surely perform. He believed that with God nothing was impossible. Reason and sense might say that the deliverance of Israel was out of the question: the obstacles were too many, the difficulties too great. But faith told Moses that God was all-sufficient. God had undertaken the work, and it would be done. He believed that God was all wise. Reason and sense might tell him that his line of action was absurd; that he was throwing away useful influence, and destroying all chance of benefiting his people, by breaking with Pharaoh’s daughter. But faith told Moses that if God said ‘Go this way,’ it must be the best. . . . Faith told Moses that all this rank and greatness was of the earth, earthy, a poor, vain, empty thing, frail, fleeting, and passing away; and that there was no true greatness like that of serving God. He was the king, he the true nobleman who belonged to the family of God. It was better to be last in heaven than first in hell. Faith told Moses that worldly pleasures were ‘pleasures of sin.’ They were mingled with sin, they led on to sin, they were ruinous to the soul, and displeasing to God. It would be small comfort to have pleasure while God was against him. Better suffer and obey God, than be at ease and sin. . . . Faith told him that there was a reward in heaven for the believer far richer than the treasures in Egypt, durable riches, where rust could not corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. The crown there would be incorruptible; the weight of glory would be exceeding and eternal;—and faith bade him look away to an unseen heaven if his eyes were dazzled with Egyptian gold. Faith told Moses that affliction and suffering were not real evils.—They were the school of God, in which He trains the children of grace for glory—the medicines which are needful to purify our corrupt wills—the furnace which must burn away our dross—the knife which must cut the ties that bind us to the world. Faith told Moses that the despised Israelites were the chosen people of God. He believed that to them belonged the adoption, and the covenant, and the promises, and the glory; that of them the seed of the woman was one day to be born, who should bruise the serpent’s head; that the special blessing of God was upon them; that they were lovely and beautiful in His eyes—and that it was better to be a doorkeeper among the people of God than to reign in the palaces of wickedness. Faith told Moses that all the reproach and scorn poured out on him was ‘the reproach of Christ’;—that it was honourable to be mocked and despised for Christ’s sake—that whoso persecuted Christ’s people was persecuting Christ Himself—and that the day must come when His enemies would bow before Him and lick the dust. All this, and much more, of which I cannot speak particularly, Moses saw by faith. These were the things he believed, and believing, did what he did. He was persuaded of them, and embraced them—he reckoned them as certainties—he regarded them as substantial verities—he counted them as sure as if he had seen them with his own eyes—he acted on them as realities—and this made him the man that he was. He had faith. He believed. . . . And was he not right? Does he not speak to us, though dead, this very day? The name of Pharaoh’s daughter has perished, or at any rate is extremely doubtful.—The city where Pharaoh reigned is not known.—The treasures in Egypt are gone.—But the name of Moses is known wherever the Bible is read, and is still a standing witness that ‘whoso liveth by faith, happy is he.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 189–192.

Make No Compromise

The call to follow Christ is in no way a call to withdraw from the world. It is never a call to monasticism. It is a call, while we live in the world, to seek and set our minds set on the kingdom of God (Colossians 3:1–2, etc.), wherein our true citizenship lies. I want no reader of this paper to become a hermit, a monk, or a nun: I wish every one to do his real duty in that state of life to which he is called. But I do urge on every professing Christian who wishes to be happy, the immense importance of making no compromise between God and the world. Do not try to drive a hard bargain, as if you wanted to give Christ as little of your heart as possible, and to keep as much as possible of the things of this life. Beware lest you overreach yourself, and end by losing all. Love Christ with all your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. Seek first the kingdom of God, and believe that then all other things shall be added to you. Take heed that you do not prove a copy of the character John Bunyan draws—Mr. Facing-both-ways. For your happiness’ sake, for your usefulness’ sake, for your safety’s sake, for your soul’s sake, beware of the sin of Lot’s wife. Oh, it is a solemn saying of our Lord Jesus, ‘No man having put his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:62). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 231.

I Know Thy Works

To make justification in any way contingent on works would be no less than heresy. But to deny that works have any necessary connection to faith would be a great error, as well. Reading the book of Revelation, J. C. Ryle notes that “in every epistle [to the seven churches] the Lord Jesus says, I know thy works” (2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). This cannot be insignificant. That repeated expression is very striking. It is not for nothing that we read these words seven times over. To one Church the Lord Jesus says, I know thy labour and patience—to another, thy tribulation and poverty—to a third, thy charity, and service, and faith. But to all, He uses the words I now dwell on: ‘I know thy works.’ It is not, ‘I know thy profession—thy desires—thy resolutions—thy wishes,’—but thy works. ‘I know thy works.’ The works of a professing Christian are of great importance. They cannot save your soul. They cannot justify you. They cannot wipe out your sins. They cannot deliver you from the wrath of God. But it does not follow because they cannot save you, that they are of no importance. Take heed and beware of such a notion. The man who thinks so is fearfully deceived. I often think I could willingly die for the doctrine of justification by faith without the deeds of the law. But I must earnestly contend, as a general principle, that a man’s works are the evidence of a man’s religion. If you call yourself a Christian, you must show it in your daily ways and daily behaviour. Call to mind that the faith of Abraham and of Rahab was proved by their works (James 2:21–25). Remember it avails you and me nothing to profess we know God, if in works we deny Him (Titus 1:16). Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘Every tree is known by its own fruit’ (Luke 6:44). But whatever the works of a professing Christian may be, Jesus says, ‘I know them!’ ‘His eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good’ (Prov. 15:3). . . . The darkness is no darkness with Him. All things are open and manifest before Him. He says to every one, ‘I know thy works.’ (a) The Lord Jesus knows the works of all impenitent and unbelieving souls, and will one day punish them. . . . (b) The Lord Jesus knows the works of His own people, and weighs them. ‘By Him actions are weighed’ (1 Sam. 2:3). He knows the why and the wherefore of the deeds of all believers. He sees their motives in every step they take. . . . (c) The Lord Jesus knows the works of all His own people, and will one day reward them. . . . If you love the Lord Jesus and follow Him, you may be sure your work and labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. . . . But it is all very wonderful. I can well understand the righteous in the day of judgment saying, ‘Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered and fed Thee, or thirsty and gave Thee drink? When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed Thee? Or when saw we Thee sick or in prison, and came unto Thee?’ (Matt. 25:37–39). It may well seem incredible and impossible that they can have done anything worth naming in the great day! Yet so it is. Let all believers take the comfort of it. The Lord says, ‘I know thy works.’ It ought to humble you. But it ought not to make you afraid. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 310–311, 313.

Live in This Way

The warning given to the churches in the book of Revelation contain a sober message for us. Let me warn every one who professes to be a believer in the Lord Jesus, not to be content with a little religion. Of all sights in the Church of Christ, I know none more painful to my own eyes than a Christian contented and satisfied with a little grace, a little repentance, a little faith, a little knowledge, a little charity, and a little holiness. I do beseech and entreat every believing soul that reads this tract not to be that kind of man. If you have any desires after usefulness—if you have any wishes to promote your Lord’s glory—if you have any longings after much inward peace—be not content with a little religion. Let us rather seek, every year we live, to make more spiritual progress than we have done—to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus—to grow in humility and self-acquaintance—to grow in spirituality and heavenly-mindedness—to grow in conformity to the image of our Lord. Let us beware of leaving our first love like Ephesus—of becoming lukewarm like Laodicea—of tolerating false practices like Pergamos—of tampering with false doctrine like Thyatira—of becoming half dead, ready to die, like Sardis. Let us rather covet the best gifts. Let us aim at eminent holiness. Let us endeavour to be like Smyrna and Philadelphia. Let us hold fast what we have already, and continually seek to have more. Let us labour to be unmistakable Christians. Let it not be our distinctive character that we are men of science—or men of literary attainments—or men of the world—or men of pleasure, or men of business—but ‘men of God.’ Let us so live that all may see that to us the things of God are the first things, and the glory of God the first aim in our lives—to follow Christ our grand object in time present—to be with Christ our grand desire in time to come. Let us live in this way, and we shall be happy. Let us live in this way, and we shall do good to the world. Let us live in this way, and we shall leave good evidence behind us when we are buried. Let us live in this way, and the Spirit’s word to the Churches will not have been spoken to us in vain. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 318–319.

Rivers of Living Water

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” —John 7:37–38 If you have been born again (John 3), know that God did not save you for yourself. He saved you, ultimately, for himself (Revelation 5:9). He also saved you so that you could be a conduit of his grace to others. I believe our Lord meant us to understand that he who comes to Him by faith shall not only have an abundant supply of everything which he needs for his own soul, but shall also become a source of blessing to the souls of others. The Spirit who dwells in him shall make him a fountain of good to his fellowmen, so that at the last day there shall be found to have flowed from him ‘rivers of living water.’ This is a most important part of our Lord’s promise, and opens up a subject which is seldom realized and grasped by many Christians. But it is one of deep interest, and deserves far more attention than it receives. I believe it to be a truth of God. I believe that just as ‘no man liveth unto himself’ (Rom. 14:7), so also no man is converted only for himself; and that the conversion of one man or woman always leads on, in God’s wonderful providence, to the conversion of others. I do not say for a moment that all believers know it. I think it far more likely that many live and die in the faith, who are not aware that they have done good to any soul. But I believe the resurrection morning and the judgment day, when the secret history of all Christians is revealed, will prove that the full meaning of the promise before us has never failed. I doubt if there will be a believer who will not have been to some one or other a ‘river of living water’—a channel through whom the Spirit has conveyed saving grace. Even the penitent thief, short as his time was after he repented, has been a source of blessing to thousands of souls! . . . Let us all lay hold on this view of our Lord’s promise, and never forget it. Think not for a moment that your own soul is the only soul that will be saved if you come to Christ by faith and follow Him. Think of the blessedness of being a ‘river of living water’ to others. Who can tell that you may not be the means of bringing many others to Christ? Live, and act, and speak, and pray, and work, keeping this continually in view. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 365–367.
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ —Ephesians 3:8 If any New Testament writer had cause to boast, surely it was the Apostle Paul. The great apostle to the gentiles, founder of many churches, and author of thirteen New Testament books is undeniably the greatest theologian the church has ever known (granted, he had the unfair advantage of divine inspiration). Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John brought us the gospel; Paul explained it. We revere Paul as being among the greatest disciples of Christ, and rightly so. But he didn’t see himself that way. Let us notice what St. Paul says of himself. The language he uses is singularly strong. The founder of famous Churches, the writer of fourteen inspired epistles, the man who was ‘not behind the very chiefest apostles,’ ‘in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft,’—the man who ‘spent and was spent’ for souls, and ‘counted all things but loss for Christ,’—the man who could truly say, ‘To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,’—what do we find him saying of himself? He employs an emphatic comparative and superlative. He says, ‘I am less than the least of all saints.’ [KJV] What a poor creature is the least saint! Yet St. Paul says, ‘I am less than that man.’ Such language as this, I suspect, is almost unintelligible to many who profess and call themselves Christians. Ignorant alike of the Bible and their own hearts, they cannot understand what a saint means when he speaks so humbly of himself and his attainments. . . . But we may rest assured that what St. Paul wrote with his pen, he testily felt in his heart. The language of our text does not stand alone. It is even exceeded in other places. To the Philippians he says, ‘I have not attained, nor am I already perfect: I follow after.’ To the Corinthians he says, ‘I am the least of the apostles, which am not meet to be called an apostle.’ To Timothy he says, ‘I am chief of sinners.’ To the Romans he cries, ‘Wretched man that I am I who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ (Phil. 3:12; 1 Cor. 15:9; 1 Tim. 1:15; Rom. 7:24.) The plain truth is that St. Paul saw in his own heart of hearts far more defects and infirmities than he saw in anyone else. The eyes of his understanding were so fully opened by the Holy Spirit of God that he detected a hundred things wrong in himself which the dull eyes of other men never observed at all. In short, possessing great spiritual light, he had great insight into his own natural corruption, and was clothed from head to foot with humility, (1 Peter 5:5.) Now let us clearly understand that humility like St. Paul’s was not a peculiar characteristic of the great apostle of the Gentiles. On the contrary, it is one leading mark of all the most eminent saints of God in every age. The more real grace men have in their hearts, the deeper is their sense of sin. The more light the Holy Ghost pours into their souls, the more do they discern their own infirmities, defilements, and darkness. The dead soul feels and sees nothing; with life comes clear vision, a tender conscience and spiritual sensibility. . . . The great saints, in every era of Church history, from St. Paul down to this day, have always been ‘clothed with humility.’ He that desires to be saved . . . let him know this day that the first steps towards heaven are a deep sense of sin and a lowly estimate of ourselves. Let him cast away that weak and silly tradition that the beginning of religion is to feel ourselves ‘good’ Let him rather grasp that grand Scriptural principle, that we must begin by feeling ‘bad’; and that until we really feel ‘bad’ we know nothing of true goodness or saving Christianity. Happy is he who has learned to draw near to God with the prayer of the publican, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13.) —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 376–378.

More Humility

How humble should we be? More than we are, that’s for sure. Let us all seek more humility, if we know anything of it now. The more we have of it, the more Christlike we shall be. It is written of our blessed Master (though in Him there was no sin) that ‘being in the form of God He thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’ (Phil. 2:6–8). And let us remember the words which precede that passage ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.’ Depend on it, the nearer men draw to heaven, the more humble do they become. In the hour of death, with one foot in the grave, with something of the light of heaven shining down upon them, hundreds of great saints and Church dignitaries . . . have left on record their confession, that never till that hour did they see their sins so clearly and feel so deeply their debt to mercy and grace. Heaven alone, I suppose, will fully teach us how humble we ought to be. Then only, when we stand within the veil, and look back on all the way of life by which we were led, then only shall we completely understand the need and beauty of humility. Strong language like St. Paul’s [“the very least of all saints” (Ephesians 3:8)] will not appear to us too strong in that day. No: indeed! We shall cast our crowns before the throne, and realize what a great divine meant when he said, ‘The anthem in heaven will be, What hath God wrought.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 378–379.

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.

Godly Priorities

But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’” —Luke 14:16–24 First then, I am to prove, that no temporal business, though ever so important, can justify a neglect of true religion. . . . This is true and undefiled religion and for the perfecting of this good work in our hearts, the eternal Son of God came down and shed his precious blood. For this end were we made and sent into the world and by this alone can we become the sons of God. Were we indeed to judge by the common practice of the world, we might think we were sent into it for no other purpose than to care and toil for the uncertain riches of this life. But if we consult the lively oracles, they will inform us that we were born for nobler ends, even to be born again from above, to be restored to the divine likeness by Jesus Christ, our second Adam and thereby be made meet to inherit the kingdom of heaven. And consequently, there is an obligation laid upon all, even the most busy people, to secure this end, it being an undeniable truth that all creatures ought to answer the end for which they were created. . . . In the 14th of St. Luke, the 18th and following verses, our blessed Lord puts forth this parable, ‘A certain man made a great supper and bade many and sent his servant at supper-time, to call them that were bidden. But they all, with one consent, began to make excuse. The one said, I have bought a piece of ground and I must needs go and see it, I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought a yoke of oxen and I must needs go and prove them, I pray thee therefore have me excused. So the servant returned and showed his master all these things.’ And what follows? Did the master accept of their excuses? No, the text tells us the good man was angry and said, ‘that none of those which were bidden, should taste of his supper.’ And what does this parable teach but that the most lawful callings cannot justify our neglect. Nay, that they are no longer lawful when they in any wise interfere with the great concerns of religion. For the marriage supper here spoken of means the gospel. The master of the house is Christ, the servants sent out, are his ministers whose duty it is from time to time to call the people to this marriage-feast or, in other words, to be religious. Now we find those that were bidden were very well and honestly employed. There was no harm in buying or seeing a piece of ground, or in going to prove a yoke of oxen. But here lay their faults: they were doing those things when they were invited to come to the marriage feast. Without doubt, persons may very honestly and commendably be employed in following their respective callings. But yet, if they are engaged so deeply in these, as to hinder their working out their salvation with fear and trembling, they must expect the same sentence with their predecessors in the parable, that none of them shall taste of Christ’s supper. For our particular calling, as of this or that profession must never interfere with our general and precious calling as Christians. Not that Christianity calls us entirely out of the world, the holy scriptures warrant no such doctrine. It is very remarkable that in the book of life we find some almost of all kinds of occupations who notwithstanding served God in their respective generations and shone as so many lights in the world. Thus we hear of a good centurion in the Evangelists and a devout Cornelius in the Acts; a pious lawyer; and some that walked with God even of Nero’s household, in the epistles. And our divine Master himself, in his check to Martha, does not condemn her for minding but for being cumbered or perplexed about many things. No, you may, nay, you must labour out of obedience to God, even for the meat which perisheth. . . . But I come, in the second place, to apply what has been said. I beseech you, by the mercies of God in Christ Jesus, let not your concern for the meat which perisheth be at the expense of that which endureth to everlasting life. For, to repeat our blessed Saviour’s words, ‘What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?’ —George Whitefield, “Worldly Business No Plea for the Neglect of Religion” in Lee Gatiss (Ed.), The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 1:347–348, 350–351.


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