Category Archives: Christian Living

A Whale-Sized Lesson for Preachers

JonahThere now came a lull in [Father Mapple’s] look, as he silently turned over the leaves of the Book once more; and, at last, standing motionless, with closed eyes, for the moment, seemed communing with God and himself.

But again he leaned over towards the people, and bowing his head lowly, with an aspect of the deepest yet manliest humility, he spake these words:

“Shipmates, God has laid but one hand upon you; both his hands press upon me. I have read ye by what murky light may be mine the lesson that Jonah teaches to all sinners; and therefore to ye, and still more to me, for I am a greater sinner than ye. And now how gladly would I come down from this mast-head and sit on the hatches there where you sit, and listen as you listen, while some one of you reads me that other and more awful lesson which Jonah teaches to me, as a pilot of the living God. How being an anointed pilot-prophet, or speaker of true things and bidden by the Lord to sound those unwelcome truths in the ears of a wicked Nineveh, Jonah, appalled at the hostility he should raise, fled from his mission, and sought to escape his duty and his God by taking ship at Joppa. But God is everywhere; Tarshish he never reached. As we have seen, God came upon him in the whale, and swallowed him down to living gulfs of doom, and with swift slantings tore him along ‘into the midst of the seas,’ where the eddying depths sucked him ten thousand fathoms down, and ‘the weeds were wrapped about his head,’ and all the watery world of woe bowled over him. Yet even then beyond the reach of any plummet- ‘out of the belly of hell’- when the whale grounded upon the ocean’s utmost bones, even then, God heard the engulphed, repenting prophet when he cried. Then God spake unto the fish; and from the shuddering cold and blackness of the sea, the whale came breeching up towards the warm and pleasant sun, and all the delights of air and earth; and ‘vomited out Jonah upon the dry land;’ when the word of the Lord came a second time; and Jonah, bruised and beaten- his ears, like two sea-shells, still multitudinously murmuring of the ocean- Jonah did the Almighty’s bidding. And what was that, shipmates? To preach the Truth to the face of Falsehood! That was it!

This, shipmates, this is that other lesson; and woe to that pilot of the living God who slights it. Woe to him whom this world charms from Gospel duty! Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appal! Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness! Woe to him who, in this world, courts not dishonor! Woe to him who would not be true, even though to be false were salvation! Yea, woe to him who as the great Pilot Paul has it, while preaching to others is himself a castaway!

He drooped and fell away from himself for a moment; then lifting his face to them again, showed a deep joy in his eyes, as he cried out with a heavenly enthusiasm,- “But oh! shipmates! on the starboard hand of every woe, there is a sure delight; and higher the top of that delight, than the bottom of the woe is deep. Is not the main-truck higher than the kelson is low? Delight is to him- a far, far upward, and inward delight- who against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, ever stands forth his own inexorable self. Delight is to him whose strong arms yet support him, when the ship of this base treacherous world has gone down beneath him. Delight is to him, who gives no quarter in the truth, and kills, burns, and destroys all sin though he pluck it out from under the robes of Senators and Judges. Delight,- top-gallant delight is to him, who acknowledges no law or lord, but the Lord his God, and is only a patriot to heaven. Delight is to him, whom all the waves of the billows of the seas of the boisterous mob can never shake from this sure Keel of the Ages. And eternal delight and deliciousness will be his, who coming to lay him down, can say with his final breath- O Father!- chiefly known to me by Thy rod- mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world’s, or mine own. Yet this is nothing: I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?”

He said no more, but slowly waving a benediction, covered his face with his hands, and so remained kneeling, till all the people had departed, and he was left alone in the place.

Herman Melville (1819-91), Moby Dick, Chapter IX, “The Sermon.”

Photo: Jim LePage 

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The Lord’s Supper: As Sure As You Taste, Touch, and See

Lords Supper

75. Q. How does the Lord’s Supper signify and seal to you that you share in Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross and in all His gifts?

A. In this way: Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat of this broken bread and drink of this cup in remembrance of Him. With this command He gave these promises:[1]

First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely was His body offered for me and His blood poured out for me on the cross.

Second, as surely as I receive from the hand of the minister and taste with my mouth the bread and the cup of the Lord as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood, so surely does He Himself nourish and refresh my soul to everlasting life with His crucified body and shed blood.

[1] Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19, 20; I Cor. 11:23-25.

Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

*Referenced in sermon by Kevin DeYoung, “Bread and Wine” from Act the Miracle: God’s Word and Ours in the mystery of Sanctification, the Desiring God 2012 National Conference.

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The Psalms: An Anatomy of All the Parts of the Soul

I have been accustomed to call this book (Psalms), I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.  Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.  The other parts of Scripture contain the commandments which God enjoined his servants to announce to us.  But here the prophets themselves, seeing they are exhibited to us as speaking to God, and laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections, call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of himself in particular, in order that none of the many infirmities to which we abound, may remain concealed.  It is certainly a rare and singular advantage, when all lurking places are discovered, and the heart is brought into the light, purged from that most baneful infection, hypocrisy.  In short, as calling upon God is one of the principal means of securing our safety, and as a better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise cannot be found elsewhere than in the Psalms, it follows, that in proportion to the proficiency which a man shall have attained in understanding them, will be his knowledge of the most important part of celestial doctrine.  Genuine and earnest prayer proceeds first from a sense of need, and next, from faith in the promises of God.  it is by perusing these inspired compositions, that men will be most effectually awakened to a sense of their maladies, and, at the same time, instructed in seeking remedies for their cure.  In a word, whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God, is taught us in this book.  And not only are the promises of God presented to us in it, but oftentimes there is exhibited to us one standing, as it were, amidst the invitations of God on the one hand, and the impediments of the flesh on the other, girding and preparing himself for prayer: thus teaching us, if at any time we are agitated with a variety of doubts, to resist and fight against them, until the soul, freed and disentangled from all these impediments, rise up to God; and not only so, but even when in the midst of doubts, fears, and apprehensions, let us put forth our efforts in prayer, until we experience some consolation which may calm and bring contentment to our minds.  Although distrust may shut the gate against our prayers, yet we must not allow ourselves to give way, whenever our hearts waver or are agitated with inquietude, but must persevere until faith finally come forth victorious from these conflicts. In many places we may perceive the exercise of the servants of God in prayer so fluctuating, that they are almost overwhelmed by the alternate hope of success and apprehension of failure, and gain the prize only by strenuous exertions. We see on the one hand, the flesh manifesting its infirmity; and on the other, faith putting forth its power; and if it is not so valiant and courageous as might be desired, it is at least prepared to fight until by degrees it acquire perfect strength. But as those things which serve to teach us the true method of praying aright will be found scattered through the whole of this Commentary, I will not now stop to treat of topics which it will be necessary afterwards to repeat, nor detain my readers from proceeding to the work itself. Only it appeared to me to be requisite to show in passing, that this book makes known to us this privilege, which is desirable above all others — that not only is there opened up to us familiar access to God, but also that we have permission and freedom granted us to lay open before him our infirmities which we would be ashamed to confess before men.

John Calvin (1509-64), The Author’s Preface, Joshua. Psalms 1-35, xxxvi-xxxvii

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Christ’s Advocacy Leads to Humility

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As we should make use of this doctrine (Christ as our Advocate before the Father) to strengthen faith and prayer, so we should make use of it to keep us humble; for the more offices Christ executeth for us with the Father, the greater sign that we are bad; and the more we see our badness, the more humble should we be. Christ gave for us the price of blood; but that is not all; Christ as a Captain has conquered death and the grave for us, but that is not all: Christ as a Priest intercedes for us in heaven; but that is not all. Sin is still in us, and with us, and mixes itself with whatever we do, whether what we do be religious or civil; for not only our prayers and our sermons, our hearings and preaching, and so; but our houses, our shops, our trades, and our beds, are all polluted with sin. Nor doth the devil, our night and day adversary, forbear to tell our bad deeds to our Father, urging that we might for ever be disinherited for this. But what should we now do, if we had not an Advocate; yea, if we had not one who would plead in forma pauperis; yea, if we had not one that could prevail, and that would faithfully execute that office for us? Why, we must die. But since we are rescued by him, let us, as to ourselves, lay our hand upon our mouth, and be silent, and say, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.” And, I say again, since the Lord Jesus is fain to run through so many offices for us before he can bring us to glory, oh! how low, how little, how vile and base in our own eyes should we be.

It is a shame for a Christian to think highly of himself, since Christ is fain to do so much for him, and he again not at all able to make him amends; but some, whose riches consist in nothing but scabs and lice, will yet have lofty looks. But are not they much to blame who sit lifting up of lofty eyes in the house, and yet know not how to turn their hand to do anything so, but that another, their betters, must come and mend their work? I say, is it not more [fitting] that those that are such, should look and speak, and act as such that declare their sense of their unhandiness, and their shame, and the like, for their unprofitableness? Yea, is it not [fitting] that to every one they should confess what sorry ones they are? I am sure it should be thus with Christians, and God is angry when it is otherwise. Nor doth it become these helpless ones to lift up themselves on high. Let Christ’s advocateship therefore teach us to be humble.

John Bunyan (1628-88), The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, 1.197

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Christ: The Most Precious Remedy

old-medicine-bottlesWhat is the most precious remedy against the wiles of the devil and sin?

Seriously to consider, That even those very sins that Satan paints, and puts new names and colors upon, cost the best blood, the noblest blood, the life-blood, the heart-blood of the Lord Jesus. That Christ should come from the eternal bosom of his Father to a region of sorrow and death; that God should be manifested in the flesh, the Creator made a creature; that he who was clothed with glory should be wrapped with rags of flesh; he who filled heaven and earth with his glory should be cradled in a manger; that the almighty God should flee from weak man—the God of Israel into Egypt; that the God of the law should be subject to the law, the God of the circumcision circumcised, the God who made the heavens working at Joseph’s homely trade; that he who binds the devils in chains should be tempted; that he, whose is the world, and the fullness thereof, should hunger and thirst; that the God of strength should be weary, the Judge of all flesh condemned, the God of life put to death; that he who is one with his Father should cry out of misery, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46); that he who had the keys of hell and death at his belt should lie imprisoned in the sepulcher of another, having in his lifetime nowhere to lay his head, nor after death to lay his body; that that HEAD, before which the angels do cast down their crowns, should be crowned with thorns, and those EYES, purer than the sun, put out by the darkness of death; those EARS, which hear nothing but hallelujahs of saints and angels, to hear the blasphemies of the multitude; that FACE, which was fairer than the sons of men, to be spit on by those beastly wretched Jews; that MOUTH and TONGUE, which spoke as never man spoke, accused for blasphemy; those HANDS, which freely swayed the scepter of heaven, nailed to the cross; those FEET, “like unto fine brass,” nailed to the cross for man’s sins; each sense pained with a spear and nails; his SMELL, with stinking odor, being crucified on Golgotha, the place of skulls; his TASTE, with vinegar and gall; his HEARING, with reproaches, and SIGHT of his mother and disciples bemoaning him; his SOUL, comfortless and forsaken; and all this for those very sins that Satan paints and puts fine colors upon! Oh! how should the consideration of this stir up the soul against sin, and work the soul to fly from it, and to use all holy means whereby sin may be subdued and destroyed!

Thomas Brooks (1608-80), The Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices20.

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The Expulsive Power of a New Affection

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. – 1 John 2:15

The love of the world cannot be expunged by a mere demonstration of the world’s worthlessness. But may it not be supplanted by the love of that which is more worthy than itself? The heart cannot be prevailed upon to part with the world, by a simple act of resignation. But may not the heart be prevailed upon to admit into its preference another, who shall subordinate the world, and bring it down from its wonted ascendancy? If the throne which is placed there must have an occupier, and the tyrant that now reigns has occupied it wrongfully, he may not leave a bosom which would rather detain him than be left in desolation. But may he not give way to the lawful sovereign, appearing with every charm that can secure His willing admittance, and taking unto himself His great power to subdue the moral nature of man, and to reign over it? In a word, if the way to disengage the heart from the positive love of one great and ascendant object, is to fasten it in positive love to another, then it is not by exposing the worthlessness of the former, but by addressing to the mental eye the worth and excellence of the latter, that all old things are to be done away and all things are to become new. To obliterate all our present affections by simply expunging them, and so as to leave the seat of them unoccupied, would be to destroy the old character, and to substitute no new character in its place. But when they take their departure upon the ingress of other visitors; when they resign their sway to the power and the predominance of new affections; when, abandoning the heart to solitude, they merely give place to a successor who turns it into as busy a residence of desire and interest and expectation as before – there is nothing in all this to thwart or to overbear any of the laws of our sentient nature – and we see how, in fullest accordance with the mechanism of the heart, a great moral revolution may be made to take place upon it.

heartThis, we trust, will explain the operation of that charm which accompanies the effectual preaching of the gospel. The love of God and the love of the world, are two affections, not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity – and that so irreconcilable, that they cannot dwell together in the same bosom. We have already affirmed how impossible it were for the heart, by any innate elasticity of its own, to cast the world away from it; and thus reduce itself to a wilderness. The heart is not so constituted; and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one. Nothing can exceed the magnitude of the required change in a man’s character – when bidden as he is in the New Testament, to love not the world; no, nor any of the things that are in the world for this so comprehends all that is dear to him in existence, as to be equivalent to a command of self-annihilation.

But the same revelation which dictates so mighty an obedience, places within our reach as mighty an instrument of obedience. It brings for admittance to the very door of our heart, an affection which once seated upon its throne, will either subordinate every previous inmate, or bid it away. Beside the world, it places before the eye of the mind Him who made the world and with this peculiarity, which is all its own – that in the Gospel do we so behold God, as that we may love God. It is there, and there only, where God stands revealed as an object of confidence to sinners and where our desire after Him is not chilled into apathy, by that barrier of human guilt which intercepts every approach that is not made to Him through the appointed Mediator. It is the bringing in of this better hope, whereby we draw nigh unto God – and to live without hope, is to live without God; and if the heart be without God, then world will then have all the ascendancy. It is God apprehended by the believer as God in Christ, who alone can dispost it from this ascendancy. It is when He stands dismantled of the terrors which belong to Him as an offended lawgiver and when we are enabled by faith, which is His own gift, to see His glory in the face of Jesus Christ, and to hear His beseeching voice, as it protests good will to men, and entreats the return of all who will to a full pardon and a gracious acceptance_it is then, that a love paramount to the love of the world, and at length expulsive of it, first arises in the regenerated bosom. It is when released from the spirit of bondage with which love cannot dwell, and when admitted into the number of God’s children through the faith that is in Christ Jesus, the spirit of adoption is poured upon us – it is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires, in the only way in which deliverance is possible. And that faith which is revealed to us from heaven, as indispensable to a sinner’s justification in the sight of God, is also the instrument of the greatest of all moral and spiritual achievements on a nature dead to the influence, and beyond the reach of every other application….

The object of the Gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience, and to purify his heart; and it is of importance to observe, that what mars the one of these objects, mars the other also. The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one; and by the love of what is good, to expel the love of what is evil.
Thus it is, that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying is the Gospel; and the more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more will it be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is one of the secrets of the Christian life, that the more a man holds of God as a pensioner, the greater is the payment of service that he renders back again. On the tenure of “Do this and live,” a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence from the intercourse between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator, is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness, instead of God’s glory; and with all the conformities which he labours to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy ever can be. It is only when, as in the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance – or, that he can repose in Him, as one friend reposes in another – or, that any liberal and generous understanding can be established betwixt them – the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good – the other finding that the truest gladness of his heart lies in the impulse of a gratitude, by which it is awakened to the charms of a new moral existence.

Salvation by grace – salvation by free grace – salvation not of works, but according to the mercy of God – salvation on such a footing is not more indispensable to the deliverance of our persons from the hand of justice, than it is to the deliverance of our hearts from the chill and the weight of ungodliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel, and we raise a topic of distrust between man and God. We take away from the power of the Gospel to melt and to conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity which so many dread as the germ of antinomianism, is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it. Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which, in proportion as we impair the freeness, we are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness. To do any work in the best manner, we should make use of the fittest tools for it.

Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.

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A Lot More Dying to Do: A Birthday Reflection

birthday-candles33

Yesterday was my 33rd birthday.

In most ways, the day was no different than any before.  If it was not for calendar dates, I would know no difference.  But there it was, November 25th and therefore another birthday come by the gracious hand of God.

I have never been one to think much of my age.  It’s just another number in many respects.  A course that all must follow granted and paved by the Author, Giver, and Sustainer of Life.

Since God called me to Himself in His Son by His Spirit through His Word a little over ten years ago I have lived with an ever present urgency toward life.  Tomorrow is a gift not a promise.  This urgency, at times for better and at others for worse, has encouraged my longing for the wisdom of age and experience separated from the life and time needed to cultivate such gifts.  A temptation for all – particularly Christians.

As I reflected on my birthday, I was humbled by what came to mind.  Throughout the day, God’s gifts in my life were constantly brought before me: His salvation, constant provision, care, and grace, my loving and compassionate wife, three beautiful daughters, a supportive and loving family and friends, the body of Christ to which we have been joined, and so many other expressions of grace.

But more than that, my mind was fixed on Christ’s death (bear with me for I am not attempting to be super-spiritual).  Tradition (not dogma) has been that Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, was 33 years of age when he was crucified.  This is the age I now bear.  Many, in light of the fleeting nature of life marred by the curse of sin, say to themselves and others as they grow older that they have a lot more living to do.  Therefore they set out to amass for themselves those things which they feel are lacking in enjoying a “fulfilled life.”  Yet, as I considered my life in relation to Christ’s death on my behalf I realized that it was not more living to my self that was needed but rather I have a lot more dying to do.

You see, this is why Christ came – that in dying he would give us life and in dying we would live.  In Luke 9, following Peter’s great, God-given confession of Jesus as “The Christ of God,” Jesus announces the plan to bring life through death and the way in which we might enjoy such life.  Luke records Jesus’s words:

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (v 22-25)

There it is.  Death for life and life for death.  Christ’s substitutionary and sacrificial death purchased my life, freedom, and eternity.  But my experience and enjoyment of the life he died to give is directly impacted by the life, or better yet, the death I live.

It is not more living for my self, my desires, my ambitions, my dreams, and my happiness that I need but the perpetual putting to death of these for the greater joy of living for Him, his desires, his will, and his people.  This is life.  It is the life that every person in Christ is called to enjoy not just to do.  This is life more abundant found only in and through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, as I reflect on my life I still see too much of me: pride, lust, idolatry, foolishness, self-righteousness, and much those entail.  What I long for, by God’s gracious sanctifying work of the Spirit, is to see more of Christ in and through me.  Alongside God’s purpose in salvation to be praised for His glorious grace is His purpose to present us holy and blameless before Him (Eph. 1:3f).  While this will be brought to fulfillment in Christ’ return (1 John 3:1-3; Phil. 1:6), my desire and His intention is that I be, here and now until I take my last breath, conformed into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29-30).  This conformation (or transformation, as used elsewhere) comes through death – a dying to self and a living unto Christ (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 4:7-18; cf. Luke 9:23-25 above).

As I look back upon my life, I am thankful and humbled by God’s immeasurable goodness to an unworthy soul.  John Newton said it well, “I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be in another world. But still, I am not what I once used to be! By the grace of God, I am what I am!”  Praise God!

So, as I look forward to what lies ahead, I wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) but not only in His return but the appearing of His glory even now in and through my life as I fix my gaze upon Him and am transformed (2 Cor. 3:18).

I am 33 but, by God’s grace, I have a lot more dying to do.

Soil Deo Gloria

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