Tag Archives: Christianity

Grounded encouragement from Horatius Bonar

I am nine pages from finishing God’s Way of Peace: A Book for the Anxious, by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), and found this passage particularly compelling. I believe the book’s title is absolutely appropriate and the book itself encouraging and important for all Christians.

“You have been expecting faith to descend, like an angel from heaven, into your soul, and hope to be lighted up like a new star in your firmament. It is not so. Whilst the Spirit’s work is beyond nature, it is not against nature. He displaces no faculty; he disturbs no mental process; he does violence to no part of our moral framework; he creates no new organ of thought or feeling. His office is to set all to rights within you; so that you never feel so calm, so true, so real, so perfectly natural, so much yourself, – as when he has taken possession of you in every part; and filled your whole man with his heavenly joy. Never do you feel so perfectly free, – less constrained and less mechanical, – in every faculty, as when he has ‘brought every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.’ The heavenly life imparted is liberty, and truth, and peace; it is the removal of bondage, and pain.” Horatius Bonar: God’s Way of Peace: A Book for the Anxious

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Light

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“Light was the first thing called into being in the material creation (Gen. 1:3). Light about our own state is the first work in the new creation.” –J. C. Ryle, The Upper Room, Ch. 7

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No shades of grey in glory or along the way

I have a hurt foot; I saw my doctor, who said it was either one thing or something else; but either way, a remedy that will make it hurt more will eliminate the problem. So much for life with human medicine. And yes, I’ll use the suggested remedy. Beyond the sting, improvement will come.

John Gill (1697 – 1771) has been more uplifting. Last night I began reading his small amphora of vitality, Efficacious Grace. Gill’s persistent emphasis is the fact that the unwrought, gratuitous change God makes in sinners whom He chooses, does not improve them. Grace does nothing at all to improve sinners. No one receives grace to become a new, improved sinner. God’s grace renders sinners new creations: new—not improved—sinners, whose ultimate, greyless future is not improvement, but perfection.

It doesn’t matter how long I’ve apprehended this teaching. Reading Gill at a particular time of somatic discouragement repositioned these things to their rightful forefront where I could see them at a needful time. The fact that they were still with me in the bright light of day could be due to the three-hour tussle with a migraine that survived three doses of two different triptans, before letting me sleep.

Sin isn’t about only our own sin; sin is the consequence of all sin from the onset of the Fall. A hurt foot and a migraine are the consequences of sin: mine and everyone else’s, since the first apple-tasting bash.

We don’t get any better at striving against sin. We can only be delivered from striving and from sin—actually made completely new. And not new again, but new as we never were, and as we will be.

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Now, here is a worthy aspiration:

“I want to go where I shall neither sin myself, nor see others sin any more.”

       –George Whitefield (1714-1770)

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a worthy snippet leading to self-examination

“I saw how God had called out his servants to prayer, and made them wrestle with him, when he designed to show any great mercy on the church.”–David Brainerd, quoted in “The Critical Importance of Revival,” by John Murray, Banner of Truth, Feb. 2014

Wrestle with God: Jacob didn’t simply hand off a laundry list to God that night at Peniel, when he was renamed Israel.

Every true Christian desires revival in the Church; the problem is those who simply would have something more exciting, more things to do. Are they prepared for the upheaval, the backlash, and the reality of a persecuted church? I said “they.” Dare I mean “we?”

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Some godly advice from one who knew God well

“Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the
great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a
conqueror; yea, thou wilt, through the good providence of God, live to see
thy lust dead at thy feet.” —The Works of John Owen, Vol. 6, pg. 79, Banner of Truth ed. 1967

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To war or not to war: a fairly old answer to a fairly old question

“Thus it is that the Gospel, which calls upon us to honor kings, makes us also plead the cause of the people. To a nation it proclaims its duties; and reminds the prince of his subject’s rights. The voice of a Christian like Luther, resounding in the cabinet of a sovereign, might often supply the place of a whole assembly of legislators.” — from History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century by J.H. Merle D’Aubigne (1794– 1872)

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Dare to be a Cornelius, or a eunuch

Philip Bliss wrote a song called “Dare to be a Daniel” around 1873 that had this refrain:

Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known.

It can be a good thing to have a firm purpose and to stand alone, when necessary, to uphold it. But if our purpose only seems good, or feels good, but isn’t truly a good purpose, then really, what’s the point? How can we know whether our purpose is any good or not?

Cornelius was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). The trouble was, Cornelius had no idea who God was. If he had, he wouldn’t have fallen down and worshiped Peter (Acts 10:25). God sent Cornelius an angel who prompted him to fetch Peter, so that Peter could preach the gospel to Cornelius and his household. Having heard Peter’s preaching, Cornelius and his household were converted and baptized.

This was an extraordinary event, the sort of thing that happened in the earliest times of the Christian church. But things are different now. Someone may appear to be — and indeed feel very much as if he is — very devout and God-fearing, but may in fact be completely ignorant of who God is, what He requires of him, and what He has done for him. It’s a fact of the time in which we live that God will not send him an angel to prompt him to go and fetch a preacher. Why not? Because it is no longer necessary. We have the word of God, the Bible, the whole counsel of God, to instruct us; and part of its instruction is that correct understanding of God comes through preaching, the “foolishness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:18; Romans 10:14, Titus 1:3, 1 Corinthians 15:11, Hebrews 10:25, to name a scant few places this is affirmed in the word of God).

All we are given to know about Cornelius and his household is that Peter’s preaching of the truth of the Gospel changed their eternal destiny (Acts 10:44).

An Ethiopian eunuch was reading aloud to himself from the book of Isaiah and Philip heard him and asked him whether he understood what he was reading (Acts 8:30). The Ethiopian eunuch was candid: “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31) Philip preached to the eunuch. The eunuch understood the message, asked to be baptized, and went away rejoicing (Acts 8:35-40). The only thing we know about the eunuch after this is that he attained eternal life. And, whether or not there is any direct connection, a few hundred years later, Augustine came to faith in North Africa and changed the prevailing worldview.

I was thinking about these things reading through Acts this time around, and thinking about all the people I know who think they are perfectly aligned and on track with God’s plan for their lives. A few of them think God whispers in their ear that He loves them; others think He delivers special truths to them in dreams. But they do not mobilize themselves to hear the word of God faithfully preached.

I hope they aren’t waiting around for an angel or a teleported evangelist. I hope they do violence to themselves in the manner that Puritan Thomas Watson teaches, and violently separate themselves from the fear, anxiousness, self-satisfaction, and lassitude that causes them to forsake the assembling together with others, where they would find love, good works, encouragement (Hebrews 10:24, 25), truth, and strengthened faith in the true God, who is the only object worthy of anyone’s faith.

There are very good reasons to forsake public assembly for worship — our flesh is superb at generating all sorts of reasons very easily, Lords day after Lord’s day. And for every reason they can offer, I know someone who has a better reason, but assembles anyway. And those are the people I love for encouraging me to show up, too.

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The grace of violence

I’ve been reading, to my significant profit, Heaven Taken by Storm, by Thomas Watson (1620-1686). The Puritans are often collectively referred to as the physicians of the soul, because their preaching and writing convicted sinners of their sin (“divided bone from marrow”), not reinforcing the self-deceit of their presumed righteousness. The Puritans understood very well that a self-satisfied soul is a very sick soul.

Thomas Watson quite frankly advocates violence, particularly violence against one’s self. Before calling Homeland Security, regard that by violence, he means taking the Kingdom of God by storm (Matthew 11:12); and he also means mortifying — killing, destroying, rendering powerless — the parts of ourselves that constrain our efficacy in prayer and our fruitful use of other means of grace.

Mr. Watson exhorts Christians to two overarching duties, and like all good Puritans, follows these with outlines within outlines within outlines, expositing on how these duties may be undertaken. The two overarching duties are mortification of sin and provocation to duty — all the duties attendant to our sanctification. And these duties require violence against one’s self.

This book is truly a balm for the soul. I’d like to note an alarming observation Thomas Watson makes, perhaps one of the most leveling truths I have ever read. This is Thomas Watson’s observation that the Lord Jesus Christ went more easily to his death on the cross than any of us goes to the throne of grace to petition our merciful, loving God.

Prayer worthy of God’s hearing requires utter self-destruction: the destruction of our entire unbelieving, self-satisfied, distracted self. It takes an act of utter violence toward what would otherwise destroy us.

You can read Heaven Taken by Storm here.

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The baby gospel

My friend Jane and I nearly always greet each other with an axiom of our mutual faith, “It’s a good time to be a Calvinist.” And if it isn’t in our greeting, it inevitably comes up within our conversation. It’s a comprehensive axiom: it avers the sovereignty of God over all things, and His promise that the gates of hell will not prevail. At least not forever.

I see my granddaughter on Skype every week, and I regularly see other babies, either in person or in pictures. And I can tell you that my candid Calvinist response to these babies would not be a hit in non-Calvinist circles. It just would not go over well to say, “Oh, what a cute, adorable, precious, beautiful, perfect little sinner!”

Babies cry and fuss for lots of reasons. Their tummies hurt, they’re tired, they want things, they want to be someplace else, they are hungry, etc. But they really cry because of Adam’s sin, and my sin, and the sin of the world, and yes, because of their own sin. Of course they haven’t consciously done something harmful. They are not sinners because they have sinned; they sin simply because they are sinners.

We can despond over this; it would be natural to find it depressing to contemplate how sin ruins everything. Someone without a belief in the sovereign God of the Bible would find it absurd or unfair. But it is an inevitable fact of creation, and all that we can do about it is to pray for the redemption of our baby sinners. Nor is there any point in praying for their perfection in this life. It’s not going to happen. We pray for their ultimate perfection.

With the One Exception of the Lord Jesus Christ, every single human being ever born has sinned since birth and will continue to sin until death. Comely or not, rich or poor, ambitious or indolent, pleasant or monstrous, the only hope of defeating the consequences of our sin is salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. Sin is a given. It’s the consequences — eternal death or eternal life — that are up for grabs. And it’s God who grabs — God grabs those He will save from the consequences of sin. And that is the very simple gospel that the Calvinist sees in the face of every baby he or she meets.

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