Thoughts on the Way Home

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Boundless Fulness of His All-Sufficiency


There is not one room in [Christ's] house the key of which he will withhold from his people. He gives them full liberty to take all that he hath to be their own; he loves them to make free with his treasure, and appropriate as much as they can possibly carry. The boundless fulness of his all-sufficiency is as free to the believer as the air he breathes. Christ hath put the flagon of his love and grace to the believer’s lip, and bidden him drink on forever; for could he drain it, he is welcome to do so, and as he cannot exhaust it, he is bidden to drink abundantly, for it is all his own. What truer proof of fellowship can heaven or earth afford?

“When I stand before the throne

Dressed in beauty not my own;

When I see thee as thou art,

Love thee with unsinning heart;

Then, Lord, shall I fully know—

Not till then—how much I owe.”

-C. H. Spurgeon


The Battle Belongs to the Lord - Kirk Wellum


The Battle Belongs to the Lord

-Kirk Wellum

It is good to remember that God is at work in ways we do not know and could not understand even if we did. When we listen to the news or read newspapers it can sometimes feel as though God has abandoned our world and is no where to be found. But that is never the case. We must not rely on our feelings in this regard because our feelings can be deceptive and incapable of discerning the reality of the situation. Instead we must go back to the scriptures and read again about God's great acts in the past and his promises to intervene in the future and bring the world to the end he has ordained for it. Only then will we find the encouragement we need to go on and the strength to face new challenges. This is one reason why Christians should read the Bible on a daily basis. We need to be reminded of things that we so easily forget as we make our way through this vale of tears.

I have been reminded of these things myself this past week as I have had unexpected opportunities to speak to other Christians about what God is doing in faraway places. In this particular instance, the great truths of the reformation that have stirred and challenged so many ever since, have been given new life in places where they have never taken root before. Personally I find it thrilling to talk to other Christians about what God is doing. And it has been another reminder that we must never write off anyone or any place. God is powerful. He will accomplish his purposes in spite of the opposition. Not one promise will fail. God will do all his holy will. These are so much more than theoretical theological constructs. Herein lies hope and here we find the grace we need to press on when the going is difficult. As Luther wrote in his great hymn "and he (Christ Jesus) must win the battle!" And win it he will, in his own time and in his own way.

News reports remind us that this world is full of trouble. Wars and rumors of war, commodity shortages, corruption among leaders and people alike, natural disasters that seem to sweep over the world in an never ending cascade of ruin. These and many other things like crime and disease and economic inequity and environmental contamination are sometimes downright depressing. Many people deal with the news by turning it off, or denying that it is taking place, or burying themselves in their work or their exercise routines or in their pursuit of material toys and pleasure. But this does not make any of it go away. It only distances us from reality and keeps us from thinking about life from the perspective of God's word. The simple truth is that there is no hope for this world apart from Christ. As long as this age continues there were will be sunshine, rain and seasons. But life as we know it will not go on forever. There is a day of reckoning coming. We must all give an account for our lives. And if we are not safe in Christ, certain doom awaits us.

Consequently, we must hold the things of this life with a loose grip. We must live as those who are dying to this realm of existence. Our hope is not in this life. Our dreams will not be realized here. There is something better to come that should shape our lives each day. Ultimately we are not defeated and we should not be pessimistic. Another song puts it this way: "No weapon that's fashioned against will stand, the battle belongs to the Lord!" In Isaiah 25 the prophet praises the Lord for all that he will do and for the great victory he will win. Let's bring this week to a close and look forward to the Lord's Day as we meditate on God's word.

"Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name. for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago. You have made the city a heap of rubble, the fortified town a ruin, the foreigners stronghold a city no more; it will never be rebuilt."

"Therefore strong peoples will honor you; cities of ruthless nations will revere you. You have been a refuge for the poor. a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall and like the heat of the desert. You silence the uproar of foreigners; as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is stilled."

"On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine--the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the people's disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, 'Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.'"

Isaiah 25:1-9

HT: Redeeming the Time

Our Continual and Absolute Need of Christ - John Fawcett


Our Continual and Absolute Need of Christ

(John Fawcett, "Christ Precious")

"Yes, He is very precious to you who believe!"
1 Peter 2:7

The sense we have of our continual and absolute need of Christ, has a tendency to engage our affections to Him. At our first conversion, when we were turned from darkness to light--we saw ourselves lost--and that none but Christ could save us. We felt the wounds of a guilty conscience--and we knew that He alone could heal them. We trembled before the offended Majesty of God--and we were persuaded that He alone could deliver us from the wrath to come. We saw that there was no remission of sin, no reconciliation with God, no salvation--but through Jesus. Hence He became, at that period--all in all to us.

We still see the absolute necessity of this precious Savior in every respect, so that without Him we can do nothing, as He Himself has told us. We have need of Him . . .
when we are dark--to enlighten us;
when we are dull and lifeless--to quicken us;
when we are weak--to strengthen us;
when we are tempted--to support us;
when we have fallen--to raise and restore us;
when we are disquieted with fears--to encourage us;
when we are full of doubts and perplexity--to comfort us and give us peace;
when we are staggering at the promises through unbelief--to increase our faith.
As none but Christ can do these things for us--He must be precious to our souls. "Yes, He is very precious to you who believe!" 1 Peter 2:7

If Jesus Christ is precious to us--the bent of our souls will be towards Him. We shall choose Him above and beyond every other object, as our most desirable portion, and exceeding great reward.

If anything in this world is chosen by us as our chief good--our hearts will run out in strongest affections towards it. We shall look for our felicity in that object, be it what it may; that object therefore, and not Christ, will be most precious unto us.

If our regard for the Redeemer is supreme, as it ought to be--our whole hearts will go out after Him in the most intense longings, and with the most ardent desires. The heart of a believer is restless, until it obtains--a solid hope and persuasion of Christ's love, a growing conformity to Him, and sincere delight in Him. The soul rests and acquiesces in Him alone, and is not happy without the enjoyment of some tokens of His love. The language of such a one is, "If I have Christ for my friend, and my everlasting portion--I have all. When His face is hidden, and His comforts withdrawn, I seek Him with restless desire, and often cry--O that I knew where I might find Him!"

Reign, blessed Jesus, in my heart--reign supreme, and without a rival. I would sincerely love You above all things in heaven or earth. I see that You are infinitely glorious in Yourself, and worthy of my highest esteem and love. You are the only all-sufficient good--the overflowing spring of grace and blessedness. All things beneath and besides you--are vanity and emptiness. In comparison with you, they are less than nothing. You have drawn my heart towards Yourself, and made me willing to make choice of You, as my Savior, and my Portion. I would renounce all that the world calls good or great--that I may be entirely Yours. Be my everlasting inheritance, and I shall desire nothing that the whole world can bestow. Whom have I in heaven but You? There is nothing on earth that I desire in comparison of You! What can the present world afford--to tempt me to relinquish You? I would therefore bid 'adieu' to the gaudy pomps and empty vanities of life--and give my heart supremely to You. O may all the alluring trifles and vain delights of this world stand aloof from my heart--for I have devoted it to my Redeemer for His habitation. Keep your distance, O captivating delusions, from the gates of my heart, where You alone should dwell. There may You reign alone, over all my desires forever!

HT: Grace Gems


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Those Who Despised You Will Bow Themselves

Isaiah 60:14

The sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you,
And all those who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet;
And they will call you the city of the LORD,
The Zion of the Holy One of Israel.

--- --- ---

The very same people that reject and despise you because of Christ, may be people that God saves for his glory. The Lord can turn even violent opposition into a harvest-field of worshippers. Not only does the Lord say that he can do this, but more importantly that throughout history he will do this, for sure. It's a promise to hold on to. I think this verse gives us a reason to take courage when we are not received well in trying to minister to the lost.

--- --- ---

It makes me think of a testimony from a HeartCry missionary. He shares how that in large city of Siberia where an old KGB prison used to be, that had detained Christians for their faith, was being used by the grace of God as a church building. The account with all the names, pictures, and details can be read in Volume 50, downloadable here. The missionary brother writes:

We began to pray and God worked a miracle. The government official who was responsible for overseeing all the religion activity in the area of Chita offered to us a building that was 47 by 17 yards square and was located in the very center of the city. It was built during the Russian Empire and used as a women’s prison. From 1920 until 1940, it was used by KGB as a prison, and many of our brothers were detained there. After World War II, the building was given to the army and was used as a military prison for soldiers.

I was astonished when I first saw the building. It was surrounded by high fences and watchtowers. It had no roof and was inhabited by drunks, drug addicts, thieves, and other dangerous people. We were very afraid to even approach the place, but we prayed and asked God for courage. At that time, the church had only twenty members - fifteen women, an 82-year-old brother, and four men who were able to work. We did not know what to do because we had no money, but God helped us. The entire summer of 1990 we tore down the walls from the cells and removed the garbage that had piled up over the many years. We did this type of work, because it did not require any materials or money. We worked with our bare hands, but the Lord helped us.

When the winter came, we received some money to do the work, but we could not find any construction materials. In spite of the many setbacks and discouragements, we began to build as the Lord prospered us, and by the end of 1991 we began to hold meetings in our new building. The number of our members doubled almost immediately. God added many young people to the church, and they were very happy to work. Every year, new members were added by the Lord and the work advanced. When I finally left Chita to return to Ukraine, the church had 170 members and the auditorium was almost done. Two months later they had the dedication of the church. In November 2001, I visited Chita and the church had grown to 210 members, with 310 people in a attendance. There is an interesting thing about the man who is now pastoring the church... . In 1987, while he was serving in the army, he was thrown in jail for 24 hours as a punishment for his faith in Christ. The prison building where he was held is the same building where he now pastors the church. We praise God!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Centrality of the Gospel - Timothy Keller

“The gospel shows us that our spiritual problem lies not only in failing to obey God, but also in relying on our obedience to make us fully acceptable to God, ourselves and others.

Every kind of character flaw comes from this natural impulse to be our own savior through our performance and achievement. On the one hand, proud and disdainful personalities come from basing your identity on your performance and thinking you are succeeding. But on the other hand, discouraged and self-loathing personalities also come from basing your identity on your performance and thinking you are failing.

Belief in the gospel is not just the way to enter the kingdom of God; it is the way to address every obstacle and grow in every aspect. The gospel is not just the “ABCs” but the “A-to-Z” of the Christian life.

The gospel is the way that anything is renewed and transformed by Christ — whether a heart, a relationship, a church, or a community. All our problems come from a lack of orientation to the gospel. Put positively, the gospel transforms our hearts, our thinking and our approach to absolutely everything.”

- Timothy Keller, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: Living in Line with the Truth of the Gospel (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2003), 2.

HT: Of First Importance


Friday, June 27, 2008

Blessed Assurance - Sinclair Ferguson


Christ has become the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins. He has been raised and vindicated in the power of an indestructible life as our representative priest. By faith in Him, we are as righteous before the throne of God as He is. For we are justified in His righteousness; His justification before God is ours! And we can no more lose this justification than He can fall from heaven. Thus, our justification does not need to be completed any more than does Christ's! It is complete already, and it is permanent. With this in view, the author [of Hebrews] says that "by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified" (Heb. 10:14).

...When I know that Christ is the one real sacrifice for my sins, that His work on my behalf has been accepted by God, that He is my heavenly Intercessor--then His blood is the antidote to the poison in the voices that echo in my conscience, condemning me for my many failures. Indeed, Christ's shed blood chokes them into silence!

Thus, knowing that Jesus Christ is my Savior delivers me from my anxious fears, and brings me joy and wonderful assurance. I am condemned no more--not even by my own conscience. Jesus is mine. Blessed assurance indeed!

-Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone, 151-2.


12 Sins We Blame on Others - Ben Reaoch


Courtesy of the Desiring God blog:

It started in the Garden. Adam said to God,

The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate. (Genesis 3:12)

The first man, caught in the first sin, turns to blame his wife. And he extends the blame to God as well! He implies that he would have remained innocent if God hadn’t put Eve in the garden with him.

The blame-shifting in the Garden continues today. Our proud hearts send us desperately looking for someone else to point to every time we’re confronted with our own sin. There must be someone else—our spouse, sibling, parent, boss, co-worker, pastor, friend, or God, himself.

We are so desperate to justify ourselves that we become irrational. Here are 12 examples.

1) Anger

I wouldn’t lose my temper if my co-workers were easier to get along with, or if my kids behaved better, or if my spouse were more considerate.

2) Impatience

I would be a very patient person if it weren’t for traffic jams and long lines in the grocery store. If I didn’t have so many things to do, and if the people around me weren’t so slow, I would never become impatient!

3) Lust

I would have a pure mind if there weren’t so many sensual images in our culture.

4) Anxiety

I wouldn’t worry about the future if my life were just a little more secure—if I had more money, and no health problems.

5) Spiritual Apathy

My spiritual life would be so much more vibrant and I would struggle with sin less if my small group were more encouraging, or if Sunday school were more engaging, or if the music in the worship service were more lively, or if the sermons were better.

6) Insubordination

If my parents/bosses/elders were godly leaders, then I would joyfully follow them.

7) A Critical Spirit

It’s not my fault that the people around me are ignorant and inexperienced.

8) Bitterness

If you knew what that person did to me, you would understand my bitterness. How could I forgive something like that?

9) Gluttony

My wife/husband/roommate/friend is a wonderful cook! The things they make are impossible to resist.

10) Gossip

It’s the people around me who start the conversations. There’s no way to avoid hearing what others happen to say. And when others ask me questions, I can’t avoid sharing what I know.

11) Self-Pity

I’ll never be happy, because my marriage/family/job/ministry is so difficult.

12) Selfishness

I would be more generous if we had more money.

Making excuses like this is arrogant and foolish. It’s a proud way of trying to justify our actions and pacify our guilty consciences. And it keeps us from humbling ourselves before God to repent of our sins and seek his forgiveness.

Consider James 1:13-15, which leaves us with no way of escaping our own sin and guilt. We cannot blame God, for he “cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”

Instead, we have to accept the humbling truth that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” This will end the blame game, and it will send us pleading for Christ’s mercy and grace.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Musings - Ephesians 3:8


To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ

What are these "unfathomable riches of Christ" that Paul speaks of?

1) The riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience > Rom. 2:4

2) The riches of His glory > Phil. 4:19; Rom. 9:23; Eph. 3:16

3) The riches of His wisdom and knowledge > Rom. 11:33; Col. 2:3

4) The riches of His grace > Eph. 1:7; 2:7

5) The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints > Eph. 1:18

6) The riches of His indwelling presence > Col. 1:27

In sum, our Savior is rich beyond calculation, and delights to bestow His riches upon His people (John 14:14). We so often live as Spiritual paupers, not because of His stinginess, but because of our lack of "asking, seeking and knocking." The resources to meet any need we have are treasured up in Him. Let us come boldly to His throne of grace, to receive the riches He waits to give us there (Heb. 4:14-16).


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Two Quotes


“It is not faith that saves, but faith in Jesus Christ… It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith. The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of faith or the attitude of faith or in the nature of faith, but in the object of faith.”

- B. B. Warfield

“All is of God; the only thing of my very own which I contribute to my redemption is the sin from which I need to be redeemed.”

- William Temple

Quotes taken from In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson.

HT: Of First Importance


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Joyful House of Prayer

Isa. 56:7
… these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer...

Amidst all the emotions that God causes to swell in us while praying, surely joy is important. It reminds me of what Justin Vold said when he was visiting our church, about how the Christian life should be full of “glorious get-to’s," rather than “horrible have-to’s.” This willingness and eagerness is a part of the difference between true religion and false religion.

Ask yourself… do you have to pray… or do you get to pray? What a joy and privilege to pray and commune with God.

--- --- ---

And on another note, why should prayer bring joy?

Surely one of the biggest reasons is that it restores what we lost in the fall. Think of it. You are communing and even communicating with God, all in the framework of a peaceful state of reconciliation... when you would otherwise be utterly alienated without hope. For notice, the above passage is talking about foreigners. They have no right to be brought to Zion and made to know the God of Israel, the God of all the earth. And we, at one time, like them, were in this state of “having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). We were alienated and estranged from God, and if we would speak truthfully, we have to admit that our lives were not truly joyful. It was sad and sorry. Only a reconciled Christian that talks with their heavenly Father can be truly full of joy. This is in part what we were made for, to walk with God in the garden and talk with him. And this is where real joy comes from, real peace, and rest, and happiness.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sam Storms - A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ


A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ

2 Corinthians 11:3

I want to be a person known for one thing. Although I'm an author, it matters little if people buy my books. Although I'm a speaker, it matters little if they hear what I say. What ultimately matters, what is of preeminent importance, is that I be a person known for "a sincere and pure devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3).

I can't begin to describe the effect these simple words have had on me of late. Perhaps it comes from getting older. The more one sees and experiences in life, the less important much of it becomes. Time has a way of exposing what is superficial and weeding out so much of what I once regarded as essential. Things that used to occupy my time and capture my attention no longer do. What I thought I needed, I'm fine without. What once was sweet has of late turned sour.

This isn't to say I'm not still tempted! God knows, I am. Worse still, the temptation all too often turns to sin. But at least I know that's what it is. At least, by God's grace, I know what I ought to value and pursue, even if far too often I fail to do so. So, like I said, it's come down to this: a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

The apostle Paul had grown deeply concerned, dare I say fearful ("I am afraid," v. 3a), that some of those in the church at Corinth had been led astray from the simplicity and centrality of this sort of passion for Jesus. Unashamed, extravagant affection for the Son of God was being corrupted by a different gospel that proclaimed a different Christ in the power of a different spirit. Thus he wrote:

"I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough" (2 Cor. 11:1-4).

Sincerity and pure devotion, in themselves, are useless if not centered in Christ. People are often described as passionate and zealous, or sincere and single-minded, especially when it comes to religion or spirituality. But it's all for naught if it isn't for Christ! Our society applauds people for being singularly devoted to their "faith" or their "god" or their "cause", whoever or whatever it may be. In fact, the latter doesn't matter much at all. In our pluralistic world, all that counts is commitment. The focus of one's faith is less important than the faith itself. That one is a believer is more important than what one believes. Paul would beg to differ!

Zeal is a colossal waste of energy if its aim is anything other than Christ. Spirituality is a sham if Christ is not its substance. Passion, no matter how intense or well-intended, is a meaningless vapor in the human soul if it is not awakened by the beauty and splendor of Christ and has for its goal the glory and praise of Christ. There simply is no value in religious activity that is not Christological at its core.

Each week, in churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, shrines, and homes around the world, people will worship. They will sing and pray and dance and genuflect. Some will raise their hands, a few will clap, and others will lie prostrate in the dust (or on the carpet). They will read sacred texts and burn candles in symbolic praise. They will proclaim ancient truths and seek for contemporary relevance. But it is all to no avail if Christ Jesus is not central and supreme in their affections. No matter how deeply they believe it or how generously they support it or how clearly they defend it, if "it" isn't Jesus, it is for naught.

What precisely does Paul have in mind when he speaks of a devotion to Christ that is "sincere" and "pure"? At its most basic and foundational level, he's talking about a single-minded and altogether exclusive preoccupation with the person of Christ and a life that pleases him. This must be contrasted with half-hearted, lukewarm, convenient Christianity, the sort that is happy to have Christ on Sunday or when one is in a crisis or a time of need.

Paul is calling for an unswerving commitment to believing the right things about Jesus and doing the right things on his behalf. No duplicity, no divided loyalties, no double-mindedness can be allowed. As it was in the first century, so it is in the twenty-first: cunning and devious paramours seek to turn the allegiance of our hearts away from Jesus and to capture our affections for another.

There is also a moral quality to this devotion, without which its sincerity is of little use. It is a pure devotion, a righteous passion, a holy heart that will not tolerate sin, for which Paul makes his appeal.
Earlier in v. 2, Paul spoke of his desire "to present" the Corinthians as "a pure (hagnos) virgin to Christ." It's no mistake, and not without significance, that now in v. 3 he uses a related term (hagnotes) to describe the only sort of devotion to Christ that counts for both time and eternity.

So again, speaking and singing much of Christ while consciously toying with sin is far removed from the devotion here in view. Have we not seen enough of public figures who tout their religious zeal (often to gain votes) while repeatedly and unrepentantly violating their marital vows? Have we not heard enough of people in the pew whose private lives differ little, if at all, from their atheistic neighbors? Have we not all grown weary of our own hypocrisy, our declarations of love and faith from the same mouth that spews hatred and contempt?

I'll have more to say in a subsequent meditation about Eve and the serpent and Paul's allusion to their encounter in the garden, but for now I only draw your attention to the verb translated "led astray" (v. 3). The word means something along the lines of "to corrupt" or "ruin" and in doing so "to seduce", "deceive", and "lead astray".

Here's how. The enemy, through a variety of means, lies to us. He wants you to believe that the pleasure he promises is more fulfilling than what may be found in a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. He rarely threatens or intimidates. His strategy is to allure and seduce on the strength of what sin can bring you now. If he can deceive you into believing that the way of Christ is hard, with no reward, that it is demanding, with no delight, that painful sacrifices are required with no satisfaction either now or in the age to come, he's won.

This is why the focus of Paul's ministry in Corinth, as in every city, was Jesus. Simply Jesus. The spiritually blinding, breathtaking splendor of the "light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6) alone will avail to trump the enemies lies and empower the soul to pursue and rest satisfied in a "sincere and pure devotion to Christ," and to Christ alone.

Is Christ the ground and source of your joy? Is Christ the object and focus of your faith? Is Christ the aim of your affection and the point of your passion? Or are you just into religion for the ride? For whose sake are you "sincere"? To what end are you "pure"? To whom are you "devoted"?

"Glorious Father, turn our eyes from the tawdry and transient pleasures of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Let us see your Son! Satisfy us with his goodness and grace. May our sincere and pure devotion be centered in him. Amen."

- Sam Storms

HT: Mack T


Bonar on Sanctifying Love


“Terror accomplishes no real obedience
Suspense brings forth no fruit unto holiness.
No gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favour
can subdue one lust,
or correct our crookedness of will.
But the free pardon of the cross uproots sin,
and withers all its branches.
Only the certainty of love,
forgiving love,
can do this.”

- Horatius Bonar, quoted by Milton Vincent in A Gospel Primer for Christians (2008), 89.

HT: Of First Importance


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection - Sinclair Ferguson


Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was one of the most remarkable men of his time—a mathematician, evangelical theologian, economist, ecclesiastical, political, and social reformer all in one. His most famous sermon was published under the unlikely title: “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” In it he expounded an insight of permanent importance for Christian living: you cannot destroy love for the world merely by showing its emptiness. Even if we could do so, that would lead only to despair. The first world–centered love of our hearts can be expelled only by a new love and affection—for God and from God. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot dwell together in the same heart. But the love of the world can be driven out only by the love of the Father. Hence Chalmers’ sermon title.

True Christian living, holy and right living, requires a new affection for the Father as its dynamic. Such new affection is part of what William Cowper called “the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord”—a love for the holy that seems to deal our carnal affections a deadly blow at the beginning of the Christian life. Soon, however, we discover that for all that we have died to sin in Christ, sin has by no means died in us. Sometimes its continued influence surprises us, even appears to overwhelm us in one or other of its manifestations. We discover that our “new affections” for spiritual things must be renewed constantly throughout the whole of our pilgrimage. If we lose the first love we will find ourselves in serious spiritual peril.

Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. Favorites here are activity and learning. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically (we gain the positions once held by those we admired and we measure our spiritual growth in terms of position achieved); we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence; or we become active socially, in moral and political campaigning, and measure growth in terms of involvement. Alternatively, we recognize the intellectual fascination and challenge of the gospel and devote ourselves to understanding it, perhaps for its own sake, perhaps to communicate it to others. We measure our spiritual vitality in terms of understanding, or in terms of the influence it gives us over others. But no position, influence, or evolvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love.

Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for the Father: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is not on my table, or in my neighborhood, but in my heart. Worldliness has still not been expelled.

It is all too possible, in these different ways, to have the form of genuine godliness (how subtle our hearts are!) without its power. Love for the world will not have been expunged, but merely diverted. Only a new love is adequate to expel the old one. Only love for Christ, with all that it implies, can squeeze out the love of this world. Only those who long for Christ’s appearing will be delivered from Demas-like desertion caused by being in love with this world.

How can we recover the new affection for Christ and his kingdom that so powerfully impacted our life-long worldliness, and in which we crucified the flesh with its lusts?

What was it that created that first love in any case? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin. We are not naturally capable of loving God for himself, indeed we hate him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much. We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God himself. This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities—Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God—filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.

The way in which we maintain “the expulsive power of a new affection” is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still “amazing” to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.

Many of us share Cowper’s sad questions: “Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and his word?” Let us remember the height from which we have fallen, repent and return to those first works. It would be sad if the deepest analysis of our Christianity was that it lacked a sense of sin and of grace. That would suggest that we knew little if the expulsive power of a new affection. But there is no right living that last without it.


Sinclair Ferguson is an Alliance Council Member and associate professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.

This article was previously published in Eternity Magazine, December 1987.



How Tedious and Tasteless

For a person that has been awakened, seeing Christ brings joy (Ps. 16:11) and missing him is hard going, very hard going. That's what this hymn is about. Thanks to Mack T. for sending it out.

How tedious and tasteless the hours
When Jesus I no longer see;
Sweet prospects, sweet birds and sweet flowers,
Have all lost their sweetness to me;
The midsummer sun shines but dim,
The fields strive in vain to look gay;
But when I am happy in Him,
December’s as pleasant as May.

His Name yields the richest perfume,
And sweeter than music His voice;
His presence disperses my gloom,
And makes all within me rejoice.
I should, were He always thus nigh,
Have nothing to wish or to fear;
No mortal as happy as I,
My summer would last all the year.

Content with beholding His face,
My all to His pleasure resigned;
No changes of season or place
Would make any change in my mind.
While blessed with a sense of His love,
A palace a toy would appear;
And prisons would palaces prove,
If Jesus would dwell with me there.

Dear Lord, if indeed I am Thine,
If Thou art my sun and my song;
Say, why do I languish and pine?
And why are my winters so long?
O drive these dark clouds from the sky,
Thy soul cheering presence restore;
Or take me to Thee up on high,
Where winter and clouds are no more.

- John Newton

I highlighted the request he makes at the end of his hymn. Drive this away (by your invisible presence), or take me away (to your visible presence).

Spurgeon on "Little Sins"

A dear friend sent the following quote from Spurgeon...

"We will see in nature how easily we may prove this,--that little things lead to greater things. If it be desired to bridge a gulf, it is often the custom to shoot an arrow, and cross it with a line almost as thin as film. That line passes over and and a string is drawn after it, and after that some small rope, and after that a cable, and after that the swinging suspension bridge, that makes a way for thousands. So it is ofttimes with Satan. It is but a thought that he would shoot across the mind.

That thought shall carry a desire; that desire a look; that look a touch; that touch a deed; that deed a habit; and that habit something worse, until the man, from little beginnings, shall be swamped and drowned in iniquity. Little things, we say, lead on to something worse. And thus it has always been. A spark is dropped by some unwary traveler amidst the dry grass of the prairie. It is but a spark; "Is it not a little one?" A child's foot may tread it out; one drop from the rain-cloud may quench it. But ah! what sets the prairie in a blaze? what bids the rolling waves of flame drive before them all the breasts of the field? what is it that consumes the forest, locking it in its fiery arms? what is it that burns down the habitation of man, or robs the reaper of his harvest? It is this solitary spark, --the one spark--that breeder of the flames. So it is with little sins. Keep them back Oh Satan! They be sparks, but the very fire of hell is only a growth from them."

"Little Sins" by C.H. Spurgeon; New Park Street Pulpit Vol. 5, No.248

The "Problem of Evil"


One of the best and most helpful things I have ever read on the so-called "problem of evil" has now been made available online, so I would encourage you to take the time to read "The Problem of Evil" by W.R. Downing. It is full of Scripture and does a good job of defending what I believe to be the Biblical position on the issue.

While it may seem overly philosophical, this is actually an extremely practical issue. When talking to self-professed atheists about the gospel, they will almost always raise the existence of so much evil in the world as a reason why they don't believe in God. It behooves us as followers of the Lord to have a Biblical response, and I think this article will go a long way in providing one.


Who'll Stop the Rain


Here are some amazing pictures of part of the flooding that took place over the last couple of weeks up in Iowa. Having grown up in northeast Iowa, I spent quite a bit of time in several of the hardest-hit cities, like Waterloo/Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids. Seeing these pictures is shocking, to say the least.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Musings - Philippians 1:12 - 21


Musings on Philippians 1:12 - 21

12Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,

13so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else,

14and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.

15Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will;

16the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel;

17the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.

18What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,

19for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,

20according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.

21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Vv. 12-13
If you were one of Paul's companions and someone told you that he was going to be imprisoned for a lengthy period of time, I doubt you would have responded by saying "Great! Now the gospel is going to make even more progress than before!" But, that is exactly what happened. And isn't this a wonderful example of the Lord "causing all things to work together for good" for the sake of his people, and His own glory? His ways truly are "past finding out," as He is able to further the advancement of the gospel by even imprisoning the very one who had done more to advance that gospel than any one of his time.

V. 14
To "speak the word of God" is defined in the following verses as "preaching Christ" (v. 15) and "proclaiming Christ" (vv. 17 & 18). In Paul's mind, to preach the gospel, to "speak the word of God" to someone, was to talk about a Person. Not to just talk about a set of beliefs or abstract principles, but to proclaim the excellencies of a real, living Person: the Lord Jesus Christ. May we never lost sight of that!

V. 16
Paul saw himself as "appointed for the defense of the gospel," as all Christians are who have been commanded to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 3).

V. 18
Paul was able to rejoice because his happiness wasn't bound up with his worldly circumstances, but with the advancement of the kingdom of God. If we are truly "seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness," then even if we are thrown in prison (as Paul was), or people are doing things to cause us distress (as Paul's opponents were doing in v. 17) we can still rejoice. Our need is to "set our minds on things above" and to get our perspectives right and our priorities straight.

V. 19
Paul seems to imply here that one of the ways "the Spirit of Jesus Christ" is supplied to His people is through the prayers of God's children, one for another. Quite a thought.

V. 20
Paul was banking on the promise of Romans 10:11 (originally from Isaiah 28:16) that "whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame." That is a promise worth committing to memory.

Paul's greatest desire was that Christ would be exalted in his body, whether that would occur by living or by dying. Can we say that about ourselves? Can we say "Lord, I don't care if it's by my living or dying, I just want you to be exalted in me"? May the Lord help us in this.

V. 21
Stop everything you are doing and read ML-J's sermon "He and He Alone," which was preached on this verse.


Musings - An Introduction

I'm going to try and begin contributing something new to our blog, things I'll call "Musings" (meaning "reflections" or "contemplations"). Basically, they will work like this: as I read through my daily Scripture portions (though I won't promise that the Musings will be posted every day), I'll attempt to stop and muse over (as illustrated in the above photo) a section or verse that sticks out to me. I will then slap some notes up on the blog which resulted from the muse session (which is kind of like a "jam session," except you "muse" instead of "jam"). I don't intead to provide a commentary, per se, just some very brief thoughts that (hopefully) illuminate the passage, make connections with other passages, bring out things that may not be immediately obvious, raise questions, and so forth.

I have severe adult ADHD, so I have no idea how long this idea will last; but as long as it does, I hope the Musings are edifying to our readers.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Seeing Evil

At times the seeing the evil that is in the world can kind of jar you around. Taking it in and really processing it can be both bad and good. We are supposed to dwell on good things (Phil. 4:8), and not bad things. And yet, I think if we spend a lot of time around the body of Christ, and somehow isolate ourselves from the world, we can start to forget how bad things really are. The bible will shape us and remind us of evil. But seeing it in our present day setting in life and history can also be stirring and create the kind of groaning we should have (Ezk. 9:4).

- - -

Hearing about a group of young men murdering homeless people had this effect on me about a year ago. Apparently they went around finding homeless men to beat to death with baseball bats for no reason at all, other than their own sinful passions.

Seeing a man in Best Buy the other day had this effect on me. He had his daughter (I assume) in the shopping cart. She was crying and he was mad, really mad. His face was full of anger. And he kept saying through clenched teeth "Shut up... ... I said shut up." In the time it took him to pass by the area I was in, he probably said it about 6 or 7 times. She was crying and looking around for help. It really grieved me.

Reading about present circumstances in Uganda a while back really stirred me up too. You can read about it here and here, but I warn you, it is pretty barbarous. The short version is that people there are being horribly murdered, raped, and forced into sexual slavery by a rebel/cult group. It made things more believable and close to home when I watched a video from Action International Ministries where they mention their ministry to women who have come out of this sexual slavery (the video is at the bottom of the page).

The rampant and manifest evil in Uganda is nothing new either. In the 70s there was a man named Idi Amin who under his regime had around 300,000 people within his country murdered and disposed of in the Nile river.

- - -

But, in thinking about all this, and doing a bit of research (hesitantly, but feeling compelled), there was something that I thought was telling as to why many times we need to be jarred into reality on the presence of evil in our world. I'll quote Barbet Schroeder (in broken English), a videographer who did an up close and personal documentary of Idi Amin:

"I always was fascinating trying to understand the nature of evil and how does it work. How somebody evil actually is, and Amin Dada is very interesting because he is somebody extremely charming. He is very funny. And there is an innocence in him that is totally disarming, and there is a life force and an innocence that is extraordinary, and at the same time you know that this is a face of evil ... (at this point the camera queues a picture of Amin's charming smile)."

I have to admit. I watched the documentary. What the man says above is true. I mean, I know better than to think of people as "innocent," but nevertheless Amin was very warm, funny, and happy. If the video wouldn't have started off with a brief scene with a firing squad I would have probably thought I checked out the wrong video from the library. This man's state as a manifest sinner was on the surface deceptive.

But that's just it. Sin is deceptive (Heb. 3:13). Evil and sin are bound up in the heart of every person born in Adam not just the people that stand out as being "really bad." It is all-pervasive.

Here is why I think, in part, sin often flies under the radar. For one thing, there are many good and praiseworthy things still left in the world. And there are traces of the grace and the image of God in humanity (like being warm, smiling, and having a funny side). For another thing, when people get used to living a life of sin, it becomes that much more easy to justify or just flat out ignore. Just like a fish ignoring the water it swims in. We breathe sin in and out as a race (Gen. 6:5). Therefore a man's way begins to "seem right" to him. So sometimes it takes something really awful and horrifying to remind us that sin really is real and has to be explained.

May the Holy Spirit not let our minds be lulled into a blind stupor about the reality of sin and evil that is all around us, and is condemning every person on the face of the earth to judgment.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Piper on Patience and Warfield


John Piper writing on the Desiring God Blog:

It takes supernatural power to be patient. That’s why Paul seems to go over the top in how he prays for our patience:

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. (Colossians 1:11)

But that glorious might makes its way into our attitudes by means of promises that we believe. Like Romans 8:28.

Benjamin B. Warfield was a world-renowned theologian who taught at Princeton Seminary for almost 34 years until his death on February 16, 1921. Many people are aware of his famous books, like The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. But what most people don’t know is that in 1876, at the age of twenty-five, he married Annie Kinkead and took a honeymoon to Germany. During a fierce storm Annie was struck by lightning and permanently paralyzed. After caring for her for thirty-nine years Warfield laid her to rest in 1915. Because of her extraordinary needs, Warfield seldom left his home for more than two hours at a time during all those years of marriage. (Great Leaders of the Christian Church, 344.)

Now here was a shattered dream. I recall saying to my wife the week before we married, “If we have a car accident on our honeymoon, and you are disfigured or paralyzed, I will keep my vows, ‘for better or for worse.’” But for Warfield it actually happened. She was never healed.

Unlike the story of Joseph who suffered but then became vice president of Egypt, there was no kingship in Egypt at the end of Warfield’s story—only the spectacular patience and faithfulness of one man to one woman through thirty-eight years of what was never planned—at least, not planned by man.

But when Warfield came to write his thoughts on Romans 8:28, he said,

The fundamental thought is the universal government of God. All that comes to you is under His controlling hand. The secondary thought is the favour of God to those that love Him. If He governs all, then nothing but good can befall those to whom He would do good.... Though we are too weak to help ourselves and too blind to ask for what we need, and can only groan in unformed longings, He is the author in us of these very longings...and He will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from all that befalls us. (Faith and Life, 204)


Monday, June 09, 2008

Preaching or Giving a Speech?


Courtesy of Kirk Wellum at Redeeming the Time (a site worth bookmarking):

Recently I was reminded that there is a difference between preaching and giving a speech, just, as there is a difference between expounding the Bible and talking about the Bible. And, yet, these things are often confused. A good sermon should not sound like a valedictory address, nor should you be able to close your eyes and think you are listening to a public speaking competition. There is more to good preaching than a carefully crafted beginning and end, an organized middle section and makes a point then gives an illustration or tells a joke to keep the audience from losing interest, and so on, until the time is up.

Preaching, while structured and organized to some degree has something of the moment about it and therefore it is not entirely predictable. In the proclamation of the word of God there is an ebb and flow, an urgency, that comes when the preacher is conscious of the presence of God and the greatness of the message he proclaims. It would be foolish to say that there is no room for full manuscripts in the pulpit for the simple reason that there are many examples of great preachers who have used them. But generally sermons should not sound as if the person is reading from start to finish, nor should they sound as if the preacher is more concerned to remember the words they have memorized, or the clever crafted sentences they have put together, than the actual message of those words.

This kind of talking is too clever by half and it smacks of a verbal performance which is antithetical to what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5: "And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power."

Closely allied with confusing a speech and a sermon is the problem of merely talking about the word instead of actually expounding what the word says. It is sometimes staggering how little biblical content is found in the monologues of those who fancy themselves preachers of the word! Few errors have more devastating consequences because the power of heaven is not found in our words but in God's word. We are complete fools no matter where we graduated from, if we spend our time telling our stories, patting ourselves on the back, working hard to sound learned and clever, instead of laboring to disclose the gospel which is the power of God to salvation.

Sometimes when I hear what is reputed to be "great preaching" by the so-called "experts" I am not surprised that we are in such a mess in Canada! Much of the time such preaching is dull and lifeless and while it may evoke polite (embarrassingly polite) applause, it will never bring people before God the way great preaching should simply because very little of God has been presented to the listeners. We are told to "preach the word" (2 Timothy 2:2), not ourselves, our achievements, our insights, our reading, our writing, etc. May we in our day not just talk about great preaching and the great preachers of the past, but may we ask God to do for us what he did for them--namely, give us a life-transforming vision of himself.


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Piper on Circumcision and Baptism


From a sermon on Colossians 2:8-15. These remarks are specifically dealing with verses 11 and 12:

It's clear there's a link here between baptism and circumcision. But it isn't, I think, what many infant baptizers think it is. Notice what sort of circumcision is spoken of in verse 11: it is precisely a circumcision "without hands." That means Paul is talking about a spiritual counterpart of the Old Testament physical ritual. Then baptism is linked in verse 12 to that spiritual counterpart to the Old Testament circumcision. This is extremely important. Try to get it.

What is the New Testament counterpart or parallel to the Old Testament rite of circumcision? Answer: it is not the New Testament rite of baptism; it is the New Testament spiritual event of the circumcision of Christ cutting away "the [old sinful] body of the flesh." then, baptism is brought in as the external expression of that spiritual reality. That is precisely what the link between verses 11 and 12 says. Christ does a circumcision without hands : that is the New Testament, spiritual fulfillment of Old Testament circumcision. Then verse 12 draws the parallel between that spiritual fulfillment and the external rite of baptism.

Notice what verse 11 stresses about the new work of Christ in circumcising: it is a circumcision "without hands." But water baptism is emphatically a ritual done "with hands." If we simply say that this New Testament ordinance of baptism done with hands corresponds to the Old Testament ritual of circumcision done with hands, then we miss the most important truth: something new is happening in the creation of people of God called the church of Christ. They are being created by a "circumcision without hands" by God. They are being raised from the dead by God. And baptism is a sign of that, not a repetition of the Old Testament sign. There is a new sign of the covenant because the covenant people are being constituted in a new way : by spiritual birth, not physical birth.

And one of the clearest evidences for this is the little phrase "through faith" in verse 12. Watch this carefully. This is what held me back from paedobaptism through years of struggle, until I saw more and more reasons not to join up. Verse 12 links the New Testament spiritual circumcision "without hands" in verse 11 with baptism, and then links baptism with faith:

Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

If baptism were merely a parallel of the Old Testament rite of circumcision it would not have to happen "through faith" since infants did not take on circumcision "through faith." The reason the New Testament ordinance of baptism must be "through faith" is that it represents not the Old Testament external ritual, but the New Testament, internal, spiritual experience of circumcision "without hands."

Those two words : "through faith" : in verse 12 are the decisive, defining explanation of how we were buried with Christ in baptism and how we were raised with him in baptism: it was "through faith." And this is not something infants experience. Faith is a conscious experience of the heart yielding to the work of God. Infants are not capable of this, and therefore infants are not fit subjects of baptism, which is "through faith."


Saturday, June 07, 2008

More to Reconciliation

John Murray brought out some good things about reconciliation from Matt. 5:23:

"What the worshipper is commanded to do is be reconciled to the brother. The command "be reconciled" does not mean "put away your enmity or malice." He is not assumed to entertain any malice. Besides, if that is what he is commanded to do, he would not need to leave the altar to do it. He could not be in a better place than in the sanctuary if what he is required to do is to repent and put away his ill will. What the worshipper is commanded to do is something quite different. He is required to leave the altar, to repair to his offended brother, and then to do something. What is it? It is to remove the ground of estrangement or alienation on the part of the brother. Put things right with the brother so that he will not have any reason for grievance; do what is necessary so that there may be the resumption of harmonious relations. The reconciliation as act consists in the removal of the ground of disharmony; the reconciliation as result is the resumption of relations of harmony, understanding, and peace."

His point was a good one. Basically, just to have no ill feelings in your heart toward someone does not mean you're reconciled. You still need to go to the person and bring about the restored relationship. If your relationship, i.e. normal day to day interaction with them, isn't mended, then no matter how at peace your heart may be, you haven't entered into full reconciliation. He distinguishes between the ground of reconciliation, and the restored relationship of reconciliation.

After that section he goes on to show how this is true especially in our reconciliation to God. I thought though that his example from Matthew 5 about how this works out for brothers in Christ was a good (and needed) point in its own right.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Fly to Jesus! - Octavius Winslow


Fly to Jesus!

(Octavius Winslow, "My Times in God's Hand")

Believer, how precious is your soul to Him . . .
who bore all its sins,
who exhausted all its curse,
who travailed for it in ignominy and suffering, and
who ransomed it with His own most precious blood!

Oh! the unutterable blessings that flow
from a vital union with the Lord Jesus!

All of your cares are His cares.
All of your sorrows are His sorrows.
All of your needs are His supply.
All of your sicknesses are His cure.

Believer, nothing can . . .
separate you from the love of Jesus,
nor sever you from His care,
nor exclude you from His sympathy,
nor banish you from His heaven of
eternal blessedness!

Fly to Jesus in the confidence of a loving Friend.

Reveal to Him your secret sorrow.

Confess to Him your hidden sin.

Acknowledge your backsliding to Him.

Tell Him your needs, your sufferings, your fears.
Tell Him how chilled your affections to Him are.
Tell Him how reserved is your obedience.
Tell Him how imperfect is your service.
Tell Him how you long to . . .
love Him more ardently;
follow Him more closely;
serve Him more devotedly;
and to be more wholly and holily His.

HT: Grace Gems