Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Are We Catholics?

Historic Protestantism is different from evangelicalism in its current incarnation. But is historic Protestantism really Catholicism without a Pope and a Mass?

by William Smith

This is a time in the history of the church when to speak the language of historic Protestantism is to sound suspiciously like a Roman Catholic I believe that, if you want to become, be, and continue as a Christian, you should go to church. The reason you should go to church is that Christ has given to the Church the means of grace - the Word (read and preached), the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper), and prayer. These are the instruments the Spirit of God uses to convert, sanctify, and preserve. Because Christ has given these means to the Church, and to its ministers to administer, and since He works through these means for our salvation, we need the Church as much as a baby needs his mother for life and nourishment. This high view of the Church, of the ministry, of the Word and sacraments is historic Protestantism, but it sounds Catholic to many evangelicals today.

Evangelicals believe that one's relationship with God is a much more private, personal, and individual matter, and, therefore, much less related to the church, its ordinances, and its ministers. How did evangelicals come to think in this way? Several factors contribute.

One is the unintended consequences of the Reformation. In pointing out the errors of Roman Catholicism and attacking the corruptions of that system, the Reformers never intended to demean the Church as an institution or to weaken its spiritual authority. In teaching the priesthood of all believers, they never meant to undermine the role of ministers of the Word and sacraments. In getting rid of of the tyranny of the Pope, they never intended to replace it with the tyranny of the individual conscience. However, over the last 500 years, this is just what has happened.

Then there is pietism. Pietism had a healthy concern. That concern was that people not just go through the motions, depending on perfunctory participation in church attendance, sermon hearing, sacrament reception to make and keep one a Christian. Pietism was concerned with the heart. Hence pietism, in the interests of reality, emphasized 'closet religion.' There is nothing wrong with these concerns, but pietism led to elevation of one's private devotional exercises over one's participation in the ordinances of the church. What happened when you were 'alone with God,' not in church, became where the 'rubber meets the road' in religion. The motto might be, 'Go to church if you can, but by all means don't miss your quiet time.'

Revivalism is another contributor to evangelical diminishment of the importance of the church. What are revivals? They are times when God seems to do something extraordinary. Large numbers of unbelievers are awakened to their danger, disturbed, and converted (or at least seem to be); a large number of professing Christians discover that their religion has been merely "nominal" and become 'true' Christians; and a large number of believers are stirred from their spiritual slumber to a new seriousness and vitality. Both Arminians and Calvinists can believe in and seek revivals. The difference is that Arminians believe revivals can be worked up (human activity), while Calvinists believe they must be prayed down (divine intervention). There is no doubt that in history there have been revival events. Over time revivals tended to question reliance on the ordinary means of grace, to doubt the adequacy and genuineness of ordinary Christian experience, to move outside the ordinary church structures to form other organizations, and to diminish the role of ordinary ministers settled in churches in favor of revivalist preachers (who might be ordained or not since it doesn't make any difference).

Historic Protestantism is different from evangelicalism in its current incarnation. But is historic Protestantism really Catholicism without a Pope and a Mass? No. Historic Protestantism differs from Roman Catholicism in that it teaches that the ordinances of preaching and sacraments do not work automatically. They must be accompanied by the work of the Spirit, and the Spirit must work faith in the one who hears the Word or receives the sacraments. There is a freedom and mystery about the Spirit's work. Some who hear do not hear Christ speaking in the preached Word; some who are baptized are not united to Christ; some who take the Lord's Supper are not nourished with the sacrificed body and poured out blood of the Savior. At this critical point (and many others) historic Protestantism separates itself from Roman Catholicism. But historic Protestantism sounds strange to evangelical ears because it believes the means of grace are just that - means whereby, with the blessing of the Holy Spirit, God's grace enters our lives. Hence historic Protestantism says, 'Go to church, because the Church has the means of grace. Use the means, for God has established a bond between the means and the regenerating, converting, sanctifying, preserving work of the Spirit.'

But does the Bible teach what historic Protestantism teaches about the means? Paul tell us in Romans 10:13 that "Œeveryone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" Then his logic becomes relentless: "But how will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?So faith comes from hearing and hearing from the word of Christ" (10: 14-15a, 17). How do people come to faith? It is through hearing the word of Christ in preaching.

The Great Commission is a 'Word and sacrament' commission: 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you' (Matthew 28:19, 20a). The command is to 'make disciples of all the nations.' To do that, we must 'go.' But when we go for the purpose of making disciples, how do we go about making them? We baptize them and we teach them. Jesus' method is an 'ordinary means of grace' method.

What the Church and we Christians need is a confidence in and reliance upon the means of grace. The Church fulfills its mission by faithful administration of the means. Christians become Christians, grow as Christians, and remain Christians by the faithful use of the means of grace. It's not Catholic. It's historic Protestantism, and it's Biblical.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

John Calvin and Anxiety

A careful study of the history of the west reveals certain recurring types of anxiety. After centuries of suppression of the true Gospel, the early 1500s found Europe full of anxiety over guilt and condemnation. Following the collapse of both Rationalism and Romanticism, the present age is riddled with anxiety over the loss of identity and meaning. People simply do not know who they are and why they are here. What John Calvin has to say about anxiety is therefore very relevant to our present crisis.

If anxiety is the agitated state of mind caused by uncertainty, we may safely say that Calvin himself was very prone to it. He gave it much thought and sought to administer comfort and guidance to those of his day who suffered from it. Through studying it, he reached the conclusion that anxiety is universal. From youth to old age, he concludes, "we cannot be otherwise than continuously anxious and disturbed." Not only do we know "by daily experience" the unresolved concerns that "distract our minds", but "those who are extremely anxious wear themselves out and become in a sense their own executioners."

The anxiety symptoms Calvin observed in himself were a tendency "to lose control and eat too greedily." One of his dilemmas was whether to trust God implicitly or take precautions for his own safety. Some contemporary Dutch Christians suffer the same dilemma over house insurance and inoculations. Indeed, he was so sensitive that he checked himself for asserting God's mercy "with so much anxiety as if it were doubtful or obscure."

Calvin was also keenly aware of the grip anxiety held on others. The lives of kings may appear attractive, he notes, but "we do not see what torments harass them within." Indeed, it is anxious dread that makes tyrants fill the earth with blood. All classes are subject to it, he notes: the greedy are anxious because they want more; workers worry about job security; scholars and students grow more anxious as the knowledge they crave recedes further and further from them. People's craze for astrology, fortune-telling, magic and 'new revelations' reveals their anxiety over the future. In this connection, let us not forget Britain's current thirst for 'witchcraft and wizardry.' The ultimate anxiety, however, is the dread of death. It invades even the slightest illnesses, because we are terrified of what they might lead to.

When we ask Calvin about the cause of anxiety, he is in no doubt about the answer. Its secondary cause is the disorder that now pervades the world, but its ultimate cause is sin. All the chaos and confusion we suffer, he asserts, is the fruit of our disobedience to God. This is why we should not promise ourselves "another day, hour or even moment." At this point, Calvin's psychology is superb. Little wonder that we are all anxious, he exclaims, for we are all sinners, we all deserve to die and we shall all be judged. A guilty conscience and anxiety are inseparable. And the sharper our stings of conscience, the more terrified of God we will be. At root, then, anxiety is a spiritual problem, based on our relationship to God.

How can this anxiety be relieved? Not by trying to appease God's wrath by our own works. Such a vain hope will bring nothing but "wretched anxiety all our life."

Neither can church prescriptions, such as the confessional, help us. Dividing our sins into "trunks, branches, twigs and leaves", then weighing them in their "qualities, quantities and circumstances" in the ears of a priest will never relieve us of guilt. Instead, it has the cruel effect of launching us on a sea of sin without either anchor or shore. This is why the poor devotees of Rome are held captive in perpetual anxiety. They lie in a dark abyss of horror and despair from which no church prescription can ever deliver them. Or, to put it another way, they wander blindly in a labyrinth which has no exit. Lost, full of uncertainty about the eternal destiny of their souls and without hope, they are bound to be anxious.

This is man's plight without God. His whole inner life is spent in a spiritual void and he is so constricted by sin without and within that, unless God delivers him, he will never escape. Whatever masks men wear to make them seem happy are nothing but futile bluffs hiding their true condition.

"How then," he asks, "can they who are so burdened escape?" Only by the sheer grace, mercy and love of God, he replies. Because God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, those who believe in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life (John 3.16). Here, says Calvin, "Christ opens up the source of our salvation, and He does so that no doubt may remain; for our minds cannot find calm repose until we arrive at the unmerited love of God." Our whole deliverance rests in Christ's one offering for sin. It "ought to touch us to the heart when we perceive that God comes to seek us. He does not wait till we come to Him, but He shows us that He is ready to receive us although we were his deadly enemies." Therefore we are to "come straight to Jesus Christ." In Him we have a king who "preferred our salvation to His own life." Indeed, "He put our salvation above every other consideration." Because this is God's remedy for sin, the root cause of all our distress, it is also His remedy for anxiety.

Trusting Him for all things in all situations, we find confusion replaced by order. A well-ordered life, regulated by God's Word alone, through Christ alone, by faith alone, for God's glory alone, is the only answer to our anxiety. Ultimately it is our lack of trust in our heavenly Father, the Sovereign God of providence, that produces anxiety.

This well-ordered life is worked out, says Calvin, by observing God's boundaries. We need to keep within the limits He has set for us, not daring to stray outside them if we wish to be kept free from sinful anxiety. Do we observe the differences, he asks, between things revealed and things concealed, between Law and Gospel, shadow and substance, Church and State, faith and unbelief, obedience and rebellion, sincerity and hypocrisy, liberty and license, love and lust, self-control and lack of restraint, reverence for God and unhallowed familiarity with God, moderation and excess, modesty and vanity, use and abuse, just and unjust war, man and woman? We must apply this principle of boundaries with precision to every department of life.

The separations enforced by such boundaries, Calvin insists, are necessary in this dark world of sin, not only to establish us in the faith, but also to make human society stable, cohesive and even tolerable. Wherever these boundaries are trampled on, sin, chaos and their attendant anxieties inevitably follow. Hence Calvin's concern for well-ordered, righteous personal relationships. Inordinate friendship with the ungodly, the least association with idolatry, male effeminacy and female masculinity, will only lead us into a rapid descent into "such confusion that everything is allowed." By contrast, when we live within God's boundaries it will bring both peace and spiritual prosperity.

Such a community was Calvin's ideal for Geneva, and with Geneva, Europe. In it, men would pursue righteousness and shun sin; crime would be punished and goodness rewarded; disorder would be abolished and order established everywhere. Though such an ideal is unattainable here on earth, nevertheless his thoroughly-worked-out blueprint for such a commonwealth, coupled with his own superhuman efforts to achieve it, reveal a man of God driven by anxiety for godliness unrivalled in the history of the Church. How we need such a solution today! Not a Rome-dominated or a Secular Humanist European Federal State, but God-honouring, God-fearing independent nations, such as Switzerland and Britain have been in the past.

One other aspect of Calvin's teaching must not be forgotten. Anxiety, he claimed, is not an unmixed evil. It alerts us to natural dangers. In the spiritual realm, it should drive us to flee to Christ from the wrath to come and warns us against sloth, self-righteousness and pride. Besides, when "worn down with cares", "troubled by grief" and "stricken by terror" we will look to God all the more. Anxiety will also stimulate our diligence in watching and prayer. Watch anxiously and pray fervently, he counsels. Lastly, anxiety over the future will make us patient to wait for God to fulfill His promises and bring us at last into His desired haven.

The conclusion of the whole matter is that anxiety can be overcome by implicit trust. The worst kind of anxiety in the believer, Calvin rightly says, is over his relationship with God. Do I find Him "friendly or hostile"? Does He accept or reject me and my service? In other words: Am I His or am I not? Those who constantly waver between hope and fear, he counsels, should immediately receive God in His Word, Christ in His Gospel, the Holy Spirit in His grace. Then we shall be freed from all sinful anxiety, for while 'fear hath torment,' 'perfect love casteth out fear.'

Calvin's last word on the subject therefore reverts to God's original remedy for sin. "We are continually tormented until God delivers us from misery and anguish by the remedy of His own love towards us." By knowing this love shed abroad in our hearts "we obtain the benefit of a peaceful calmness beyond the reach of fear."

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Good English With Minimal Interpretation: Why Bethlehem Uses the ESV - John Piper

Why I would like to see the English Standard Version become the most common Bible of the English-speaking church, for preaching, teaching, memorizing, and study.

The law of the LORD is perfect,reviving the soul;the testimony of the LORD is sure,making wise the simple;the precepts of the LORD are right,rejoicing the heart;the commandment of the LORD is pure,enlightening the eyes;the fear of the LORD is clean,enduring forever;the rules of the LORD are true,and righteous altogether.More to be desired are they than gold,even much fine gold;sweeter also than honeyand drippings of the honeycomb.Moreover, by them is your servant warned;in keeping them there is great reward.Who can discern his errors?Declare me innocent from hidden faults.Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;let them not have dominion over me!Then I shall be blameless,and innocent of great transgression.Let the words of my mouthand the meditation of my heartbe acceptable in your sight, O LORD,my rock and my redeemer.
--Psalm 19:7-14

I love the Bible the way I love my eyes---not because my eyes are lovely, but because without them I can't see what's lovely. Without the Bible I could not see "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4). Without the Bible I could not know "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8). Without the Bible I would not know that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior. I love the Bible because it gives the wisdom that leads to salvation, and shows me that this salvation is nothing less than seeing and savoring the glory of Christ forever. And then provides for me inexhaustible ways of seeing and knowing and enjoying Christ.

I praise God that we have the Bible in English. What a gift! What a treasure! We cannot begin to estimate what this is worth to Christians and churches, and even to the unbelievers and the cultures of the English-speaking world. Ten thousand benefits flow from the influence of this book that we are not even aware of. And the preaching of this Word in tens of thousands of pulpits across America is more important than every media outlet in the nation.

I would rather have people read any translation of the Bible---no matter how weak---than to read no translation of the Bible. If there could be only one translation in English, I would rather it be my least favorite than that there be none. God uses every version to bless people and save people.

But the issue before the church in the English-speaking world today is not "no translation vs. a weak translation." It is between many precious English Bibles. A Bible does not cease to be precious and powerful because its translators overuse paraphrase and put way too much of their own interpretation into the Bible. That's the way God's Word is! It breaks free from poor translations and poor preaching---for which I am very thankful. But even though the weakest translation is precious, and is used by God to save and strengthen sinful people, better translations would be a great blessing to the church and an honor to Christ.

The King James Version

When I turned 15---on January 11, 1961---my parents gave me a beautiful, leather-bound King James Bible. I loved it. I loved the smell of it and the feel of it, and the dedication inside ("This book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this book," Mother and Daddy), and most of all the message of it for my embattled teenage years. God met me in this book day after day when I was a teenager.

The Revised Standard Version

Three and a half years later as a freshman at Wheaton I remember the very place in the bookstore where I picked up the first Bible I ever bought for myself, a Revised Standard Version. It was close enough to the King James so that I felt at home, but its English was not Elizabethan; it was my English. So I was doubly at home. This became my reading, meditating, memorizing Bible for the next 37 years.

The New American Standard Bible

But I hit a problem in 1980. I became the preaching pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church. What version to use? The RSV was out of print---they weren't making pew Bibles any more. I needed a literal version with all the words and phrases as close to the original as possible. I could not preach from another kind of Bible, because I made my points from the very wording of the Bible, and when the wording vanished into paraphrase I could not make my points with clarity and authority. The most literal modern translation was the NASB, and that is what I chose. So I have preached form the NASB for over 20 years. But I groaned that it was never going to be the common reading, memorizing Bible of the people. It is too awkward and unnatural in the way it flows.

The New International Version

Key question: the NIV appeared in 1978. I read it. Why didn't I use it? The reason I didn't use it is the reason I am here tonight. The NIV is the best-selling modern translation of the Bible. There are about 150 million copies in print. The NIV makes up about 30% of all Bible sales. Among evangelicals the percentage would be far above 30% and is probably the Bible most evangelicals read most often. And the one most pastors use in preaching. Why am I not on board?

Not only am I not on board. I would be happy to see the NIV sail into the sunset if it could be replaced by the ESV as the standard preaching, reading, memorizing Bible of the English-speaking church. I feel so strongly about this that I volunteered to do this tonight before I was asked. There is no coercion here. I feel what I am about to say with a passion built up over 25 years. I have longed that there be something more readable than the NASB and more literal than the NIV. The NIV is a paraphrase with so much unnecessary rewording and so much interpretation that I could not preach from it.

Now let me say again that the NIV is the precious Word of God. Oh, how careful we must be not to belittle the Word of God. And yet we must not put any human translation above criticism. God has used the NIV to bring millions of people to faith in Christ. But at the same time I believe there have been negative effects that could be avoided. My biggest concern has to do with preaching. When a paraphrase becomes the standard preaching, reading, memorizing Bible of the church, preaching is weakened---robust expository exultation in the pulpit is made more difficult. Preaching that gives clear explanations and arguments from the wording of specific Biblical texts tends to be undermined when a Bible paraphrases instead of preserving the original wording on good English. And when that kind of preaching is undermined, the whole level of Christian thinking in the church goes down, and a Bible-saturated worldview is weakened, and the ability of the people---and even the pastors themselves-to root their thoughts and affections in firm Biblical ground diminishes.

The English Standard Version

My aim tonight is to help you be persuaded that exposing millions of people (pastors, teachers, students, laypeople) to the ESV would undo the dominance of the NIV and put in its place a more literal, and yet a beautifully readable, memorizable Bible---the
English Standard Version. And this would be a good thing.

In the following examples of NIV paraphrasing compared to the more literal ESV there are four convictions at stake.

1. A more literal translation respects the original author's way of writing. It is a way of honoring the inspired writers.
2. Translators are fallible and they may mislead the English reader if they use unnecessary paraphrases to bring out one possible meaning and conceal others.
3. A more literal translation gives preachers more confidence that they can preach what the English text says with authority that it reflects what the original Greek or Hebrew text says.
4. A more literal translation which preserves ambiguities that are really there in the original keeps open the possibility of new insight by future Bible readers.

I do not claim that the ESV is without its own level of "paraphrasing." Some will always be necessary. And there will always be disagreements about how much is necessary. I am simply arguing that the ESV is the best balance available of readability and literalness. I hope that it becomes the standard for the church.

Appendix 1: Examples of NIV Paraphrasing Compared to the More Literal ESV (Compiled April 11, 2003)

Romans 1:5

ESV Through [Christ] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith (hupakoen pisteos) for the sake of his name among all the nations.
NIV Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.

Romans 3:20

ESV By works of the law (ex ergon nomou) no human being will be justified in his sight.
NIV No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.

Romans 11:11

ESV Did they stumble in order that they might fall (hina pesosin)? By no means!
NIV Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!

Romans 13:8

ESV Owe no one anything (Medeni meden opheilete), except to love each other.
NIV Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.

Hebrews 6:1

ESV . . . not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works (nekron ergon)
NIV . . . not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death.

James 2:12

ESVSo speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty (nomou eleutherias).
NIVSpeak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom.

1 Peter 1:20

ESV He was foreknown (proegnosmenou) before the foundation of the world.
NIV He was chosen before the creation of the world.

Appendix 2: Two Examples of the Effect on Preaching

John 11:1-6

ESV Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, (oun) when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

NIV Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick." 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

NOTE: It is impossible to make the point from the NIV that Jesus' delay is an expression of love for Mary and Martha and Lazarus, and thus draw out the point that love sometimes does hard things because seeing the glory of God is a more precious gift than being sick or even dead.

Romans 8:35-36

ESV Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (36) )As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed (thanatoumetha) all the day long."
NIVWho shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long."

NOTE: From the NIV translation one could argue from a health, wealth, and prosperity "gospel" that "famine and nakedness" will not happen to God's children (as they seem to in verse 35) because the Old Testament support that Paul quotes in verse 36 only says "we face death," but not that we really "are being killed." So the paraphrase "face death" removes an utterly crucial argument that Paul gave and that the preacher needs to make the true point that true Christians really do get killed and really do face famine and nakedness.

John Piper

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Let there be no mistake about my meaning. I am not examining what it costs to save a Christian's soul. I know well that it costs nothing less than the blood of the Son of God to provide atonement, and to redeem man from hell. The price paid for our redemption was nothing less than the death of Jesus Christ on Calvary. We "are bought with a price." "Christ gave himself a ransom for all" (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Tim. 2:6). But all this is wide of the question. The point I want to consider is another one altogether. It is what a man must be ready to give up if he wishes to be saved. It is the amount of sacrifice a man must submit to if he intends to serve Christ. It is in this sense that I raise the question, "What does it cost?" And I believe firmly that it is a most important one.

I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week, and he has gone as far as thousands around him ever go in religion -- All this is cheap and easy work: it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice. If this is saving Christianity, and will take us to heaven when we die, we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, "Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to heaven!"

But it does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standard of the Bible. There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, a race to be run. Conversion is not putting a man in an armchair and taking him easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory. Hence arises the unspeakable importance of "counting the cost."

Let me try to show precisely and particularly what it costs to be a true Christian. Let us suppose that a man is disposed to take service with Christ, and feels drawn and inclined to follow Him. Let us suppose that some affliction, or some sudden death, or an awakening sermon, has stirred his conscience, and made him feel the value of his soul and desire to be a true Christian. No doubt there is everything to encourage him. His sins may be freely forgiven, however many and great. His heart may be completely changed, however cold and hard. Christ and the Holy Spirit, mercy and grace, are all ready for him. But still he should count the cost. Let us see particularly, one by one, the things that his religion will cost him.

(1) For one thing, it will cost him his self-righteousness. He must cast away all pride and high thoughts, and conceit of his own goodness. He must be content to go to heaven as a poor sinner, saved only by free grace, and owing all to the merit and righteousness of another. He must really feel as well as say the Prayer-book words -- that he has "erred and gone astray like a lost sheep," that he has "left undone the things he ought to have done, and done the things he ought not to have done, and that there is no health in him." He must be willing to give up all trust in his own morality, respectability, praying, Bible reading, church-going, and sacrament-receiving, and to trust in nothing but Jesus Christ.

Now this sounds hard to some. I do not wonder. "Sir," said a godly ploughman to the well-known James Hervey, of Weston Favell, it is, harder to deny proud self than sinful self. But it is absolutely necessary." Let us set down this item first and foremost in our account. To be a true Christian it will cost a man his selfrighteousness.

(2) For another thing, it will cost a man his sins. He must be willing to give up every habit and practice which is wrong in God's sight. He must set his face against it, quarrel with it, break off from it, fight with it, crucify it, and labour to keep it under, whatever the world around him may say or think. He must do this honestly and fairly. There must be no separate truce with any special sin which he loves. He must count all sins as his deadly enemies, and hate every false way. Whether little or great, whether open or secret, all his sins must be thoroughly renounced. They may struggle hard with him every day, and sometimes almost get the mastery over him. But he must never give way to them. He must keep up a perpetual war with his sins. It is written -- "Cast away from you all your transgressions." -- "Break off thy sins and iniquities." -- "Cease to do evil." (Ezek. 18:31; Daniel 4:27; Isa. 1:16).

This also sounds hard. I do not wonder. Our sins are often as dear to us as our children: we love them, hug them, cleave to them, and delight in them. To part with them is as hard as cutting off a right hand, or plucking out a right eye. But it must be done. The parting must come. "Though wickedness be sweet in the sinner's mouth, though he hide it under his tongue; though he spare it, and forsake it not," yet it must be given up, if he wishes to be saved. (Job 20:12, 13.) He and sin must quarrel, if he and God are to be friends. Christ is willing to receive any sinners. But He will not receive them if they will stick to their sins. Let us set down that item second in our account. To be a Christian it will cost a man his sins.

(3) For another thing, it will cost a man his love of ease. He must take pains and trouble, if he means to run a successful race towards heaven. He must daily watch and stand on his guard, like a soldier on enemy's ground. He must take heed to his behaviour every hour of the day, in every company, and in every place, in public as well as in private, among strangers as well as at home. He must be careful over his time, his tongue, his temper, his thoughts, his imagination, his motives, his conduct in every relation of life. He must be diligent about his prayers, his Bible reading, and his use of Sundays, with all their means of grace. In attending to these things he may come far short of perfection; but there is none of them that he can safely neglect. "The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat" (Prov. 13:4).

This also sounds hard. There is nothing we naturally dislike so much as "trouble" about our religion. We hate trouble. We secretly wish we could have a "vicarious" Christianity, and could be good by proxy, and have everything done for us. Anything that requires exertion and labour is entirely against the grain of our hearts. But the soul can have "no gains without pains." Let us set down that item third in our account. To be a Christian it will cost a man his love of ease.

(4) In the last place, it will cost a man the favour of the world. He must be content to be thought ill of by man if he pleases God. He must count it no strange thing to be mocked, ridiculed, slandered, persecuted, and even hated. He must not be surprised to find his opinions and practices in religion despised and held up to scorn. He must submit to be thought by many a fool, an enthusiast, and a fanatic -- to have his words perverted and his actions misrepresented. In fact, he must not marvel if some call him mad. The Master says -- "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also" (John 15:20).

I dare say this also sounds hard. We naturally dislike unjust dealing and false charges, and think it very hard to be accused without cause. We should not be flesh and blood if we did not wish to have the good opinion of our neighbours. It is always unpleasant to be spoken against, and forsaken, and lied about, and to stand alone. But there is no help for it. The cup which our Master drank must be drunk by His disciples. They must be "despised and rejected of men" (Isa. 53:3). Let us set down that item last in our account. To be a Christian it will cost a man the favour of the world.

Such is the account of what it costs to be a true Christian. I grant the list is a heavy one. But where is the item that could be removed? Bold indeed must that man be who would dare to say that we may keep our self-righteousness, our sins, our laziness, and our love of the world, and yet be saved!

I grant it costs much to be a true Christian. But who in his sound senses can doubt that it is worth any cost to have the soul saved? When the ship is in danger of sinking, the crew think nothing of casting overboard the precious cargo. When a limb is mortified, a man will submit to any severe operation, and even to amputation, to save life. Surely a Christian should be willing to give up anything which stands between him and heaven. A religion that costs nothing is worth nothing! A cheap Christianity, without a cross, will prove in the end a useless Christianity, without a crown.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Discontentment - Guy R. Finnie

The injunction we read in Hebrews 13.5, 'Be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee' suggests that there is a tendency towards an attitude of discontentment in the church's life. In every church, in every Christian, in every person there often appears evidence of a spirit of discontentment. Sooner or later, some word is spoken which shows that there is a desire for things to be other than as they are.

This is not surprising. Although God made us for perfection, we are not perfect. And the world which once was 'very good' in God's sight is now 'made subject to vanity, not willingly . . .' [Rom 8.20]. In other words, the whole framework of a fallen creation and of our environment is conducive to discontentment. Life itself bears the tensions of this fundamental disappointment. Furthermore, the Bible, which so marvellously reflects our human distress at every point, is a veritable gallery of discontentment.

But there are two sorts of discontentment. There is a spiritual discontentment and a carnal discontentment.


(a) The results of carnal discontentment. It is no exaggeration to speak of these results as, quite simply, hell on earth. 'From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not . . .' [James 4.1-2]. By what other words could we describe all the misery of which James speaks here? Is this not hell on earth?

Judas Iscariot provides a vivid illustration of this. We see him hanging by the rope which his own frenzied fists had strung [Matt 27.5] and then we see him broken-open in his hideous precipitation into the abyss [Acts 1.18]. The same spirit is exemplified in secular literature. In Shakespeare's play Richard the Third, Richard (that 'injured character' as John Wesley called him) is thrust into prominence in the first two lines. Speaking with bitter sarcasm, he says --

'Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York ...'

This is an exact description of carnal discontentment. It is an icy, freezing blast in the soul. The heart of the carnally discontented man is etiolated and comfortless, as is all his influence. Wherever he goes, his ever-increasing misery goes with him. It is hell on earth.

(b) The origin of carnal discontentment. It originates in self. In James 4.1-2 self is the assertive principle in this agony of wars, fightings and murders. It is 'your lusts that war . . .' Self gives birth to carnal discontentment. This is always the case; there is no exception.

But at this point Satan is so subtle, and we can be so self-deceived. When Mary anointed our Lord's feet with a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, Judas Iscariot openly protested: 'Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?' On the face of it, Judas was making a valid objection. It sounded thoroughly laudable. But John pricked the bubble. 'This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein' [John 12.3-6]. Behind the apparent concern, which, for all we know, Judas himself supposed to be quite genuine, lay the carnal discontentment of a greedy, grasping, self-centred man. Take that protest of his, with all its spoiling of a most moving and beautiful occasion, and measure it. Why, Judas himself is the measure of his protest: it is no larger than the man. It originated within himself.

Imagine what pompous arguments Diotrephes may have employed to manoeuvre himself into a position of power in the church. He probably said of the elders, 'They mean well, but . . .' He probably spoke of 'making an effective witness', or of 'presenting the contemporary relevance of the gospel', or of 'getting alongside youth . . .', or some such. Whatever it was, it was 'a sprat to catch a mackerel!' John said of him ---'he loveth to have the pre-eminence among them' [3 John 9]. He was carnally discontented in any subordinate position. Behind all the unhappiness of which he was the instigator, lay his horrible self-centredness. The measure of this division, the conflict of loyalties, the hindered testimony, the gossip, and the grievous wounds was Diotrephes himself.

c) The reason for carnal discontentment. It is that a man is discontented with himself. Carnal discontentment always reflects upon the man who displays it. Because he is not content within himself, he can find no contentment in any matter. This discontentment is as a hungry pack of wolves prowling through the forest, restlessly searching for satisfaction.

There is a vivid illustration of this principle in Proverbs 30.15: 'The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give . . .' The leach, stuck in the throat of the beast, sucked up its blood, on and on. The Revised Version margin gives the alternative for it as 'The vampire . . .'! This dramatic, chilling reference, is really a description of carnal discontentment. Judas Iscariot had the vampire in his heart: so had Demas, and Diotrephes, and Balaam, and Demetrius. 'Hell and destruction are never full: so the eyes of man are never satisfied ...' [Prov 27.20]. There is a spiritual principle here: The carnally discontented man can never be satisfied.

The fundamental reason for this is hinted at in Hebrews 13.5, 'Be content . . . for he hath said . . .' The all-important word here is the conjunction 'for'. The writer does not call his readers to contentment with 'such things as ye have', and leave it there. He gives a reason why they should be content. He bases his injunction upon something our Lord has said: 'for he hath said . . .' He knew that his readers were open to this argument: it made sense to them. But to the carnally discontented man, it would make no sense at all. Nor, indeed, would any other basis for such an injunction have made sense. The dreadful fact is this: to the carnally discontented man, there is no argument for contentment. Such a man is not content within himself, and that is the end of the matter. The terrible consequences of this are abundantly plain. There is nothing for the carnally discontented heart. There is no 'for' by which to lever such a life from its orbit of restless, unhappy longing. It is of no use to gratify each complaint: there are plenty more to come, and more and more, to all infinity.

It may be taken as a matter which is beyond dispute, that in some respect we are all less than content --- the house, the job, the district, the family, the prospects, the church, and so on. But is it carnal discontentment? What results is it having? Are they very grievous results? And whence does it originate? Does it come from our vanity, our wounded pride, our feeling of self-importance? And why is it so vivid a feature of our lives? Is it because this discontentment is like a raging fire in our souls, burning and burning, but never saying 'it is enough'? If so, then we need to run to Christ quickly. This is an evil power at work in us. He alone can rid us of it, and give us rest.


As before, we can begin at the outside of the matter, and move inwards to its central truth.

a) The results of spiritual discontentment. These results are -- heaven on earth.

My first example of spiritual discontentment is God Himself. 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life' [John 3.16]. Observe the profound discontentment in God's heart, that sinful men should perish! Observe the wonderful measures for our salvation, which were prompted by that grieving, loving discontentment! God has no pleasure, as Ezekiel three times asserts [Ez 18.23, 32; 33.11] in 'the death of the wicked'.

The apostle Paul exemplifies true spiritual discontentment. He said 'I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some' [1 Cor 9.22]. We know the verse so well that we are sometimes blind to the malleable adaptability of the apostle, as he here describes the unceasing, compassionate longing of his heart, for men to be saved. Everywhere he carried this spiritual discontentment with him. It was like a debtor's burden [Rom 1.14]. Every man whom he saw was, as it were, his creditor! Could any less contented way of living be imagined? But he set up this explanation for all the madness, the extremism, the self-interest and exploitation, of which his detractors accused him 'For the love of Christ constraineth us . . .' [2 Cor 5.14]. And it could be engraved in stone, of Paul, as it is engraved of M’Cheyne --- 'Walking close with God, an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity, he ceased not day and night, to labour and watch for souls, and was honoured by his Lord, to draw many wanderers out of darkness, into the path of life'. It is heaven on earth.

b) The origin of spiritual discontentment. It comes from God, and as we move inwards to a better understanding of this matter, it becomes apparent that God alone is the measure of it.

Our Lord displayed a true spiritual discontentment. John tells of how he 'made a scourge of small cords' [John 2.15] and with it hustled out of the temple sheep, oxen, doves, and money changers. It must have caused confusion -- bleating, lowing, flapping; hurrying footfalls, the crack of the scourge, crashing desks, clattering coins, and Christ's voice imperiously calling, 'Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise' [John 2.16]. Obviously Christ was not content. But his disciples captured the whole spirit and prophetic fulfilment of that incident, when they remembered from their Psalter [Ps 69.9], 'The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up' [John 2.17]. It was godly zeal, a divine jealousy for the glory of his Father, which moved our Lord. It came from God.

Again, our Lord displayed a spiritual discontentment when he sighed, 'But I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!' [Luke 12.50]. He referred to his sufferings, his being 'bruised' and 'put to grief' [Isa 53.10]. He knew that this was the only way by which salvation could be procured, and he knew that it was the Father's will. His whole life was narrowed into one, agonizing course. In this sense our Lord was not content. He did not rebel against this 'straitening' --- he yearned for its fulfilment. Our Lord, 'for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame . . .' [Heb 12.2]. This was a spiritual discontentment. It did not set God at defiance. At every point it moved in acquiescence with the Father. It came from him.

(c) The reason for spiritual discontentment. It is contentment with God. This may seem to be a contradiction, but it is not so. It is an invariable law of the Christian life; that the greater our contentment with God, so the greater our spiritual discontentment will be. God, being sufficient within himself, and perfect in all his attributes, was moved with pity for humanity in its wretchedness, and so devised the scheme of our salvation. This divine pity which prompted the giving of his Son for us, is an evidence of God's absolute contentment within himself.

Spiritual discontentment is clearly seen in the Christian’s life. Think of the spiritual discontentment behind Paul's words, 'I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus' [Phil 3.13-14]. The very atmosphere engendered by the words is a restless questing, a straining onward. But why? Paul had already explained his discontentment: 'What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord' [Phil 3.7-8]. You see, the apostle was so content with Christ, that he would always be discontented until he knew more of Christ!

A most poignant illustration of this spiritual discontentment is found in The Song of Songs 3.2, 'I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not'. It is precisely because the Lord 'whom my soul loveth' is so unutterably satisfying, 'the chiefest among ten thousand', that the restless search after him is initiated. The lover is discontented, because she is so content! This is the reason why the Christian may take Ephraim's words for his own, 'What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him . . .' [Hosea 14.8].

This is not an argument for contentment, but for the right sort of discontentment. Paul suggests this, with his own words, '. . . godliness with contentment is great gain'. [1 Tim 6.6]. Contentment by itself is impossible. But with godliness it is possible, and both together are great gain. Yet, what is godliness? Surely, godliness is that reverential awe and love of God which the Christian experiences. It is the hunger for God which burns within him. And that is spiritual discontentment. When a man loves God like that, how can he be greatly agitated about the things which he possesses, whether few or many? To him, everything here is but part of 'a city' which has no continuance [Heb 13.14]. He goes on pilgrimage towards the city which is to come, enraptured with the thought that there, he 'shall see the King in his beauty' [Isa 33.17]. Every thought of that Lord but stirs within him this blessed discontentment. His heart within him cries, 'Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus' [Rev 22.20].

We must therefore ask about our discontentment, is it spiritual discontentment? If so, let us pray that it will increase within us unto the perfect day. If we do not have it we must covet it. It is exceedingly beautiful. It is the most Christlike characteristic of all. And those who are possessed of it, though once they were possessed of carnal discontentment, now know that they have passed out of a Satanic blackness, into God’s 'marvellous light'.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Anger Itself

Not all anger is wrong. Righteous anger is frequently attributed to God Himself (Ps. 7:11). An example of Jesus' anger is recorded in Mark 3:5. And the Christian is warned not to allow righteous anger to become sinful anger by letting the sun go down on his wrath (Eph. 4:26). Every emotion with which God endowed us, including the powerful emotion of anger, is good when rightly aroused and manifested in a biblical way. Thus, the goal is not to eliminate anger - that is impossible to do anyway - but to control both the arousal and the manifestation of the emotion.

There are two basic words for anger in the New Testament, orge and thumos. One refers to the the emotion pent up inside and the other to the emotion let loose. It is the former term that is used here (James 1:20). However, in this place the word may be used generally for all sorts of sinful anger, whether pent up or loosed.

Your anger is wrongly aroused whenever you become angry for the wrong reasons: for example, envy (Gen. 4:3-10), pride (Prov. 16:18, 29:23), or when someone says something that injures your sense of self-worth. And anger is sinfully expressed (even righteously aroused anger) whenever you blow up (Prov. 29:11, 20) or clam up (Eph. 4:26) instead of using the emotion as a force to drive you to a biblical solution to the problem that has arisen (Eph. 4:29). These are background facts found generally in Scripture concerning anger. But now, let us turn to James' words on the subject.

Anger's Effects

Among the many harmful effects of anger is the one that James puts his finger on: It does not "work"; it does not produce "God's righteousness." Indeed, Proverbs 29:22 indicates that one of the effects of such anger is to stir up "strife" and the writer observes that "a wrathful man abounds in wrong."

Churches, homes, and personal relationships have all been ruined by anger. Can you remember a friendship that was broken because of anger? Can you remember a testimony that was lost as the result of a Christian's anger? What about hurts among members of your family that took a long time to heal? Have you ever lost the respect of associates at work because in a time of stress you went to pieces? Yes, such anger works the wickedness of the devil, not the rightousness of God. And if you have experienced the evil effects of someone else's anger (or your own), you will surely want to know how to deal with anger.

Anger than over doctrinal differences. Even in many of those cases where doctrine is surely an issue, the strife and division that accompany the difference are the result of anger, bitterness, and resentment.

It is not the effect of anger on the angry person that James has in view. Too often, in our humanistic, man-centered society is the emphasis found in Christian books. No, James is concerned about the righteousness of God. He wants to promote God's righteousness among men to His glory. But anger promotes the wickedness of the devil. A person's anger, then, may have sorry results for the kingdom of God. That is why James raises the issue.

Anger and the Word

How does James propose to help Christians become teleios through overcoming anger? From James 1:18-22, the main thrust is what the Word of God does in the life of a believer.

As James observes, like every other Christian, you received your new birth through the "Word of truth" (1:18). He is not speaking here of the conception of spiritual life (the life the Spirit gives to believers), but of the moment you became a believing member of God's family. That occurred when you believed the word of truth; that is, the word (or message) of truth about your sin and God's Son as a Saviour from it. Regeneration, thought of as a conception, goes back to God giving life (Eph. 2:1,5). This is described by Ezekiel as replacing the heart of stone (which is cold, dead, lifeless, and resistant to the truth of God) with a heart of flesh (which is warm, living, and receptive to His Word). That prior event is not in view here. The figure of birth here points to the mother delivering her child. It is the point at which she actually gives birth. Conception is the work of the Spirit; birth comes about by believing the truth.

James says that these Jewish Christians were a kind of firstfruits of God's newly-made-over race. That is, they were among the first to whom the Gospel was preached, and the first to believe. Christ, absolutely, is the elder brother in the family, of course. As it was preached, the Word of truth became the mother that gave birth. Now James says that her angry children must listen to their mother. Otherwise, they will disgrace her and bring her work to naught.

Slow Down

What does the Word say about anger? Two things: (1) Be slow to speak (when angry); (2) Be slow to get angry.

Welcoming the Word

So long as you resist God's Word, even by saying such things as, "Oh, I could never overcome my anger," you cannot expect the Spirit to work. The Spirit, whose Word the Scriptures are in a peculiar sense since He inspired them, has determined to work through and by means of the Bible that He produced (2 Tim. 3:15-17), not apart from it. He uses the commands of this Word, welcomed, received with joy as your hope, to remake and remold your life. Don't expect change apart from the Word. Every command of God should encourage you since God commands nothing of His children that obeying His Word, strengthened by His Spirit, they cannot do.

According to James 1:21, you may "put off" those filthy remnants of sin that remain as you meekly put on the Word that is able to save your soul both from sin's penalty and power. Here the sin in view, of course, is sinful anger. The "soul" or "life" is mentioned because anger must be met and defeated in the innermost part of a person. It can be curbed and restrained on the outside, but conquered and replaced only from within. Once more, James is careful to place the emphasis where it belongs - on the transformation of the person from within.

James' terminology, "putting off" and "implanting," equals Paul's "putting off" and "putting on." When God's truth has been implanted so that it takes root in your life, you have begun to live in His new ways. But James syas (vv. 22ff), you must be a doer of the Word, not a hearer only. Anger will be overcome when, and only when, the new ways (its biblical alternatives in any given situation) are "put on" by obedient, God-pleasing doing.

Concretely, Paul puts it this way: "Be angry, but don't sin; don't let the sun set on your angry mood' (Dph. 4:26). That means, don't allow anger to turn into resentment by carrying it over into the next day. That is the "put off." But the "put on" (the biblical practice to be implanted in its place) is to deal with every problem right away, before allowing it to grow into bitterness. All that is plain in Paul's words in Ephesians. The new thing seen in James is that the putting off of filth and the evil remnants of the past life and the "implanting" (or putting on) of the new ways, is only possible for those whose inner idsposition toward the Word is proper. It is possible only for those who "welcome" the Word in teachable meekness.

This was taken from A Thirst For Wholeness by Jay Adams. Satisfy your hunger for spiritual integrity through wisdom from the Book of James.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Sin for Which There Is No Excuse - Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

"So that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful" Romans 1:20, 21.

Now we come to consider the second sin. May the word which I may have to say about it, be blessed to many of my hearers by the power of the Holy Spirit! Have you ever thought of it in this light before - - that men were without excuse because when they knew God they were not thankful?

Unthankfulness is a sin for which there is no excuse if it be attended with knowledge. I fear there are thousands who call themselves Christians, who are not thankful, and yet they never thought themselves very guilty on that account. Yet you see these sinners were without excuse, because they were guilty of a great sin before God, and that sin was unthankfulness. I tremble both for myself and you when I see want of thankfulness thus set in the front rank of sins. How is it that we may be unthankful?

I answer, first, there is in some a want of gratitude for mercies possessed. They receive many blessings without making a note of them or even seeming to know that they have them. Their daily mercies seem to come in always at the back door, where the servants take them in, and never tell their master or mistress that they have arrived. They never receive their mercies at the front door with grateful acknowledgments; but they still continue dumb debtors, daily owing more, but making no attempt at a return. The Lord continues to bless them in things temporal, to keep them in health and strength, aye, and to give them the means of grace and spiritual opportunities. And they live as if these things were so commonplace that they were not worth thanking God for. Many professors are of that kind - - recipients of countless mercies, but destitute of such common thankfulness as even beasts might manifest. From them God hears no song of gratitude, no chirp of praise, though birds would charm the woodlands with their minstrelsy:[1] these are worse than the dumb driven cattle, or the fishes in the brook, which do at least leap up and mean their Maker's praise.

Some show this unthankfulness in another way, for they always dwell most on what they have not got. They have manna, and that is angels' food; but then they have no fish, and this is a ready theme for grumbling. They talk very loudly of "the fish we did eat in Egypt," and lament those ample feasts provided by the muddy Nile. Moreover, they have none of those delightful vegetables - - the leeks, and the garlic, and the onions. They have none of these rank[2] luxuries, and therefore again they murmur and call the manna "light bread." They put this complaint over and over again to Moses, till Moses must have been sick of them and their garlic. They said that they could not get leeks, and cucumbers, and onions, and that they were therefore most hardly done by, and would not much longer put up with it. Thankless rebels! And have I not known some of God's servants say that they enjoy much of the presence of their Lord, but they have no riches; and so they are not among the favored ones. Over their poverty they fetch a deep groan. Some live in the presence of God, so they tell us, and they are full of divine delights, but yet they are greatly afflicted with aches and pains, and all the dolors[3] of rheumatism, and therefore they murmur. I admit that rheumatism is a dreadful pain enough, but at the same time to dwell always on the dark side of things, and to forget our mercies, is a sad instance of ingratitude. We are few of us as thankful as we ought to be; and there are some people who are not thankful at all, for instead of a song concerning their mercies, their life is one long dirge[4] for their miseries. Must we always hear the sackbut?[5] Is the harp never to give forth a joy-note?

Some show their unthankfulness by fretting under their supposed ills. They know from Scripture that even their afflictions are working for their good, yet they do not rejoice in the prospect, or feel any gratitude for the refining process through which the Lord is passing them. Heaven and perfection are left unsung, but the present processes are groaned over without ceasing. Their monotonous note is always this pain, this loss, this burden, this uncomfortable sensation, this persecution from the world, this unkindness from the saints, and so on; all this goes to show that, though they know God, they do not glorify Him as God, neither are they thankful.

We can be guilty of unthankfulness, also, by never testifying to the goodness of God. A great many people come in and out of your houses; do you ever tell them about God's goodness to you? Did you ever take up a single ten minutes with the tale of the Lord's lovingkindness to you? Oh, what backwardness there is to testify to God as God and to all His goodness and love! Our mouths are full of anything rather than the goodness of the Lord. Shame on our wicked lips!

Some fail also in their singing of God's praises. I love to be singing in my heart, if I may not sing with my tongue. Is it not a good thing for you housewives, when you are about the house, to sing over everything? I remember a servant that used to sing at the washtub, and sing in the kitchen; and when someone asked her why she was always singing, she said that if it did not do anything else it kept bad thoughts out of her mind. There is a great deal in that; for bad thoughts are bad tenants, who pay no rent and foul the house. I knew a dear old Methodist preacher, who is now in heaven, who when he came downstairs of a morning was always tooting a bit of a hymn over, and he did the same in the barn and the field. I have passed him in the street and noted his happy melody: indeed he was always singing. He never took much notice of anybody, so as to be afraid of being overheard. Whether people heard him or not did not make much difference to him.

He was singing to the Lord, not to them; and so he wells[6] on singing. I do not think that he had much of a voice or an ear for music, but his soul was made up of praise, and that is better than a musical education. God does not criticize our voice, but He accepts our heart. Oh, to be singing the praises of God every minute of our lives and never ceasing therefrom! Do you not think that many fail in this respect? They are not preparing for heaven, where all is praise; or they would take up the joyful employment at once.

It is plain that many are not thankful to God, for they never praise Him with their substance. Yet when the Jew was thankful, he took care to give a portion to the house of the Lord: before he would eat of his corn, he would send his sheaf to the sanctuary. If we are grateful to God, we shall feel that the first thing to do is to give of our substance an offering of thanksgiving to the Most High. But this does not strike some people, whose religion is so spiritual that they cannot endure to hear of money, and they faint at the sound of a collection. Their thankfulness rises to singing a hymn occasionally, but it never goes as far as giving a button to the cause of God. I am afraid their thankfulness is not worth more than what they pay to express it: that is to say, nothing at all. God deliver us from such a state of heart as that, and may we never, in any of these senses, be found amongst those professors, of whom it is said that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were they thankful.

They knew God, but they glorified Him not as God, neither were they thankful. And the first result of it was that they fell into vain imaginings. If we do not glorify God, the true God, we shall soon be found setting up another god. This vain-imagination business is being done quite as extensively now as in Paul's days. Depart from the inspiration of the Bible, and from the infallibility of the Spirit of God who wrote it, and where will you go? Well, I cannot tell where you will go. One wanders into one vain imagination, and one into another, till the dreamers are on all sides. I expect to see a new doctrine every day of the week now. Our thinkers have introduced an age of inventions, wherein everything is thought of but the truth of God. We do not want these novelties. We are satisfied with the word of God as we find it. But if you do not glorify God as God, and are not thankful to Him for His teaching, then away you go into vain imaginations.

And what next? Well, away goes the mind of man into all sorts of sins. The chapter describes unnatural lusts and horribly fierce passions. Men that are not satisfied and thankful - - men that have no fear of God before their eyes - - it were a shame for us to think, much more to speak, of what they will do. A heart that cannot feed at God's table will riot somewhere. He that is not satisfied with the cup that God has filled will soon be a partaker of the cup of devils. An unthankful spirit is, at bottom, an atheistic spirit. If God were God to us, we should not be unthankful to Him. If God were glorified in our hearts, and we were thankful for everything that He did, we should walk in holiness and live in submission. And if we do not thus behave ourselves, the tendency will be for us to go from bad to worse, and from worse to the very worst. This has been done on a large scale by nations, whose downward course of crime began with want of thankfulness to God. It is done on a smaller scale by individuals, to whom departure from God is the beginning of a vicious career. Get away from God, and where have you gone? If you do not love Him and delight in Him, whither will you stray? May the Lord tether us fast to Himself and even nail us to the cross.

It seems that these people, of whom Paul wrote, fell into all kinds of bitterness, such as envy, murder, deceit, malignity, whispering, backbiting, hating of God. They became spiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, and so forth. Well, if your spirit is not sweetened by the adoration and the love of God, it will grow bitter. If love does not reign, hate will rule. Look at unthankful people. Hear them talk. Nobody's character is safe. There is no neighbor whom they will not slander. There is no Christian man whom they will not misrepresent. The very angels of God would not be safe from suspicion if they lived near to people of that kind. But when you glorify God as God and are thankful for everything - - when you can take up a bit of bread and a cup of cold water, and say with the poor Puritan, "What, all this, and Christ too?" - - then are you happy, and you make others happy. A godly preacher, finding that all that there was for dinner was a potato and a herring, thanked God that He had ransacked sea and land to find food for His children. Such a sweet spirit breeds love to everybody, and makes a man go through the world cheerfully. If you give way to the other order of feeling and do not glorify God, but quarrel with Him and have no thankfulness for His mercies, then you will suck in the spirit of the devil, and you will get into Satan's mind and be of his temper and by-and-by his works you will do. Oh, brothers and sisters, dread unthankfulness! Perhaps you did not think that it was so bad, but it is horrible! God help you to escape from it!

From sermon #1763, delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
1 minstrelsy - the art, occupation, or practice of playing an instrument or singing. 2 rank - strong scented. 3 dolors - physical sufferings; pain; grief. 4 dirge - a song sung at a burial. 5 sackbut - some scholars believe the sackbut was the seven-stringed lyre used in Babylon. Spurgeon associates it with sorrow and grief. 6 wells - pours forth.

True Repentance by J.C. Ryle

Repentance is one of the foundation stones of Christianity. Sixty times, at least, we find repentance spoken of in the New Testament. What was the first doctrine our Lord Jesus Christ preached? He said, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). What did the apostles proclaim when the Lord sent them forth the first time? They "preached that men should repent" (Mark 6:12). What was the charge which Jesus gave His disciples when He left the world? That "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations" (Luke 24:47). What was the concluding appeal of the first sermons which Peter preached? "Repent, and be baptized" (Acts 2:38). "Repent ye, and be converted" (Acts 3:19).

Repentance is a thorough change of man's natural heart upon the subject of sin. We are all born in sin. We naturally love sin. We take to sin, as soon as we can act and think, as the bird takes to flying, and the fish takes to swimming. There never was a child that required schooling or education in order to learn deceitfulness, sensuality, passion, self-will, gluttony, pride, and foolishness. These things are not picked up from bad companions, or gradually learned by a long course of tedious instruction. They spring up of themselves, even when boys and girls are brought up alone. The seeds of them are evidently the natural product of the heart. The aptitude of all children to these things is an unanswerable proof of the corruption and fall of man. Now when this heart of ours is changed by the Holy Ghost, when this natural love of sin is cast out, then takes place that change which the Word of God calls "repentance." The man in whom the change is wrought is said to "repent". He may be called, in one word, a "penitent" man.

(a) True repentance begins with knowledge of sin. The eyes of the penitent man are opened. He sees with dismay and confusion the length and breadth of God's holy law, and the extent, the enormous extent, of his own transgressions. He discovers, to his surprise, that in thinking himself a "good sort of man," and a man with a "good heart," he has been under a huge delusion. He finds out that, in reality, he is wicked, and guilty, and corrupt, and bad in God's sight. His pride breaks down. His high thoughts melt away. He sees that he is neither more nor less than a great sinner. This is the first step in true repentance.

(b) True repentance goes on to work sorrow for sin. The heart of a penitent man is touched with deep remorse because of his past transgressions. He is cut to the heart to think that he should have lived so madly and so wickedly. He mourns over time wasted, over talents misspent, over God dishonored, over his own soul injured. The remembrance of these things is grievous to him. The burden of these things is sometimes almost intolerable. When a man so sorrows, you have the second step in true repentance.

(c) True repentance proceeds, further, to produce in a man confession of sin. The tongue of a penitent man is loosed. He feels he must speak to that God against whom he has sinned. Something within him tells him he must cry to God, and pray to God, and talk to God, about the state of his own soul. He must pour out his heart, and acknowledge his iniquities, at the throne of grace. They are a heavy burden within him, and he can no longer keep silence. He can keep nothing back. He will not hide anything. He goes before God, pleading nothing for himself, and willing to say, "I have sinned against heaven and before Thee: my iniquity is great. God be merciful to me, a sinner!" When a man goes thus to God in confession, you have the third step in true repentance.

(d) True repentance, furthermore, shows itself before the world in a thorough breaking off from sin. This life of a penitent man is altered. The course of his daily conduct is entirely changed. A new King reigns within his heart. He puts off the old man. What God commands he now desires to practice; and what God forbids he now desires to avoid. He strives in all ways to keep clear of sin, to fight with sin, to war with sin, to get the victory over sin. He ceases to do evil. He learns to do well. He breaks off sharply from bad ways and bad companions. He labors, however feebly, to live a new life. When a man does this, you have the fourth step in true repentance.

(e) True repentance, in the last place, shows itself by producing in the heart a settled habit of deep hatred of all sin. The mind of a penitent man becomes a mind habitually holy. He abhors that which is evil, and cleaves to that which is good. He delights in the law of God. He comes short of his own desires not unfrequently. He finds in himself an evil principle warring against the Spirit of God. He finds himself cold when he would be hot, backward when he would be forward, heavy when he would be lively in God's service. He is deeply conscious of his own infirmities. He groans under a sense of indwelling corruption. But still, for all that, the general bias of his heart is towards God, and away from evil. He can say with David, "I esteem all Thy precepts concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way" (Psalm 119:128). When a man can say this, you have the fifth, or crowning step of true repentance.

But now, is the picture of repentance complete? Can I leave the subject here, and go on? I cannot do it. There remains yet one thing behind which ought never to be forgotten. Were I not to mention this one thing, I might make hearts sad that God would not have made sad, and raise seeming barriers between men's souls and heaven.

True repentance, such as I have just described, is never alone in the heart of any man. It always has a companion-a blessed companion. It is always accompanied by lively faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Wherever faith is, there is repentance; wherever repentance is, there is always faith. I do not decide which comes first-whether repentance comes before faith, or faith before repentance. But I am bold to say that the two graces are never found separate, one from the other. Just as you cannot have the sun without light, or ice without cold, or fire without heat, or water without moisture-so long you will never find true faith without true repentance, and you will never find true repentance without lively faith. The two things will always go side by side.

Do you ask me what you ought to do? Go, I tell you, and cry to the Lord Jesus Christ this very day. Go and pour out your heart before Him. Go and tell Him what you are, and tell Him what you desire. Tell Him you are a sinner: He will not be ashamed of you. Tell Him you want to be saved: He will hear you. Tell Him you are a poor weak creature: He will listen to you. Tell Him you do not know what to do or how to repent: He will give you His grace. He will pour out His Spirit upon you. He will hear you. He will grant your prayer. He will save your soul. There is enough in Christ, and to spare, for all the wants of all the world-for all the wants of every heart that is unconverted, unsanctified, unbelieving, impenitent, and unrenewed. "What is your hope?" said a man to a poor Welsh boy, who could not speak much English, and was found dying in an inn one day-"What is your hope about your soul?" What was his reply? He turned to the questioner, and said to him, in broken English, "Jesus Christ is plenty for everybody! Jesus Christ is plenty for everybody!" There was a mine of truth in those words.

"Those in our day who are saying that they preach only Christ are not actually preaching Christ. Unless we preach the full meaning of Christ crucified, we are not really preaching Christ. The message of the cross of Christ cut men to the heart at Pentecost (Acts 2:36). The bumper-sticker gospel would say to these men, "Smile, God loves you." And there are others who would say to these men, "Just believe in the remission of sins in the cross of Christ." Peter, however, told these men to repent (Acts 2:38) - E.W. Johnson

Monday, February 13, 2006

Being Thankful for Pain By W. Tullian Tchividjian

We live in a country that has convinced us that the pursuit of happiness and comfort is our "inalienable right." Therefore, when our comforts, conveniences, and cushions are threatened, we cry "foul." This has seriously affected our understanding of what it means to give thanks and the types of things we are to be thankful for. The greatest people in history have been just as thankful for their pains as they have been for their pleasures. They have given gratitude for their desperations as much as their deliverances; their grief as much as their glory.

The 19th century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, "Health is a gift from God, but sickness is a gift greater still." Throughout his time in this world, Spurgeon suffered with various physical ailments that eventually took his life prematurely. He longed to be well but he recognized the supreme value of being sick and he thanked God for it. It was his pain that caused him to desperately draw near to God. And it was his nearness to God that gave him joy till his final breath. Similarly, David Brainerd was a young missionary to American Indians who died in 1747 at 29 years old from tuberculosis. Toward the end of his struggle, he was on his deathbed coughing up blood and coming in and out of consciousness saying out loud, "Oh for Holiness! Oh, for more of God in my soul! Oh, this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press after God." The Puritans used to say that this life was the gymnasium, the dressing room, for the life to come and if suffering here and now better prepared them for the next world then it was welcomed. To be thankful for our comforts only is to make an idol of this life. "God-sent afflictions", says Maurice Roberts, "have a health-giving effect upon the soul" because they are the medicine used to purge the soul of self-centeredness and this world's vanities. Pain, in other words, sharpens us, matures us, and gives us clear "eye-sight." Pain transforms us like nothing else can. It turns us into "solid" people. Roberts continues, "Those who have been in the crucible have lost more of their scum." All of this should cause us to be deeply thankful.

It has been said that restlessness (pain) is the second best thing because it leads us to the Best Thing (God). For, it is only when we come to the end of ourselves that we come to the beginning of God. And it is only when we come to the beginning of God that we come to the beginning of life. The paradox of Christianity is, in the words of Jesus, that if you want to find your life, you must lose it (Matthew 10:39). In the world's economy, life precedes death; In God's economy, death precedes life. The cross always precedes the crown; desperation always precedes deliverance. The good news, however, the thing that should cause us to be both supremely thankful and hopeful, is this: when we lose one home, we secure another. Thank God!