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The Earthquake in Japan: How Short is Our Interim of Grace

March 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Amos 3, in verses 4 – 6, puts forth three sets of “before” and “after” events.  The first one shows the “before” — when it is time to avert disaster.  The second phrase shows the “after” when the event has passed and the opportunity missed:

Before:  ​​​​​​​​Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey?    — No, the lion keeps quiet until he finds his prey.
After:   Does a young lion cry out from his den, if he has taken nothing? — By now the lion has caught the prey

Before:  ​​​​​​​​​Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth, when there is no trap for it?
After:  Does a snare spring up from the ground, when it has taken nothing?

And more clearly in verse 6,
Before:  Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid?
After: Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?

The personal application is clear.  As S. Lewis Johnson observed in this Amos message, sometimes in our lives we have opportunities to do certain things.  Then come seasons in our lives of lost opportunities, for the things we wish we had done.  In between, we live in this interim of grace, before judgment has fallen.

Early Sunday morning as I began my Bible reading time, the sun was shining so brightly, and what it represented came to me so clearly: this is still the day of grace, the time to seek the Lord.  As the song goes, “His mercies are new every morning,” and “great is Thy faithfulness.”

It was hard to believe, looking at the sun shining so brightly and calmly here, that calamity had struck another part of the world — so remote, and surely things here continue the same as always (the common thought that such things can never happen here).

But that terrible earthquake is surely just as much a reminder of our sovereign God and His mighty power, so terrible to behold.  For many thousands of people in Japan, their day of grace has ended, their time of opportunity gone.  This earthquake also is a reminder of the dreadful judgment certain to come to the whole world, that this interim of grace has an end — when the grace of God finally ends and wrath comes to the lost instead.  We presume on God’s grace if we continue to think things will just go on as always.

It seems also that we are getting a preview of things to come, as described in Luke 21:25-26:  the nations distressed, in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves.

The Means of Grace

October 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I just recently learned the phrase “means of grace,” as a Christian expression that goes back at least several hundred years in Christian history.  A recent BibChr post highlighted both terms in its reference to another blogger who considered whether private devotions were more of a “spiritual discipline” instead of “means of grace.”  As Dan Phillips and others observed, it’s really a “both / and” rather than one aspect (public worship) being more important or “higher level” than the other.

I had recently come across the words in a few places, such as J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, but through the above blog and related conversation I became aware of the “definition” status of the phrase.  From reading on the subject since, I tend to agree that the older term, “means of grace,” is to be preferred over the modern, more limited idea of “spiritual disciplines.”  As with other new “key terms” I come across, I also googled the phrase in the transcripts of several Christian preachers, and found it used by J.C. Ryle, C.H. Spurgeon, S. Lewis Johnson, and John MacArthur.

Here is a good definition from J.C. Ryle (Holiness, chapter 2: Sanctification):

Sanctification depends greatly on a diligent use of scriptural means. The “means of grace” are such as Bible reading, private prayer, and regularly worshiping God in Church, wherein one hears the Word taught and participates in the Lord’s Supper. . .  They are appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace to the soul and strengthens the work which He has begun in the inward man.

Other general definitions on the web agree, that the “means of grace” are the “means” by which God gives us grace in our daily lives:  Bible reading, prayers, devotions, listening to sermons, and public worship including participation in the Lord’s Supper.

As for the “private versus public” issue, I would agree that both are needed.  In my own experience, the private Bible reading, study, blog writing-extension, and reading and listening to good sermons has been more helpful than “mere” corporate worship.  Certainly, though, in the years when my personal time with God was more limited, to a cursory, once-a-year reading through the Bible, the twice a week church service had little effect on my overall life.  I certainly did not grow in the knowledge and grace of God during those years, but more easily lapsed into the daily cares of the world during the week.  I cannot do anything about my current corporate worship situation — obviously God has His purposes in keeping me here — but continue to greatly benefit from the wisdom (and very practical advice) of great saints such as Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle.  Even this week, I learned from Spurgeon  (#147, The Sound in the Mulberry Trees) the importance of not doing anything to impede a weaker brother:  do not verbally criticize a sermon, as the person who hears the criticism may well have been moved by something he found good in that sermon.  Say, rather, that “Well, it was not the sermon for me.”

Another great Internet resource on the topic of “Means of Grace” is  Bob DeWaay’s  article, “Means of Grace: God’s Provision for Our Salvation and Sanctification.”  Along with a discussion of the public and private means of grace is the following gem of insight concerning communion:

what should be true whenever we receive communion. 1) We receive it in faith, trusting not in the act of taking communion, but in the finished work of Christ. 2) We do so in remembrance of the Lord, thus being linked with all of the redeemed who have done likewise since the Last Supper, sharing a common hope. 3) We receive communion as a proclamation of the gospel hope, publicly declaring the reason for our hope. 4) When we receive communion we are longing for the Lord’s return to physically share that fourth cup with us. 5) When we receive communion we are expressing our hope in the future kingdom of God in which all true people of faith are reunited with their Lord and recline in table fellowship together.

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Increase our Faith

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Over a year ago I briefly mentioned this topic, with a quote from Spurgeon’s “The Necessity of Increased Faith.”

The local pastor recently discussed an amazing story from his dear friend — the man’s daughter miraculously healed of Lyme’s disease (truly something to praise God for, something beyond all we can understand) — and in marveling at the amazing power of God, declared a hope for God to “increase our faith.”  The meaning he apparently attached was the general wish, hope, and nice thought, that God will continue to amaze us by showing the great things He can do in people’s lives and situations, such as this recent testimony of God’s healing.  It was a nice thought, but passive, lacking in depth and understanding as to how God accomplishes the increase in our faith.

It is an easy thing to say “Lord, increase our faith,” but through my own experience I realize that greater faith comes with diligence on our part. (James 4:8, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.)  During my early years of Christian faith, I only understood the basic gospel message, salvation in Christ and having my sins forgiven.  Yet like most young, immature believers, I did not mature or increase in faith so long as I stayed in the same basic situation — singles group teaching and more socially-focused weekly study groups, and only casual Bible reading.  The lack of discipline and diligence in such a life led too often to emotional moments of despair and self-pity, doubting God while focusing more on self’s desires.  Increase of faith never just happens as we continue idly in a routine situation with lack of effort on our part.  Only since taking on more effort, listening to and reading good sermons and spending more time in God’s word, have I noticed true spiritual growth and increasing faith.  As with any growing believer, now I face far greater trials of faith than in those early years; yet the times of doubt and despair — though they still come — do not last nearly as long, and the way out comes to mind more readily: recalling specific Bible passages that answer to a particular personal difficulty and uncertainty; relating specific Bible situations to my own; understanding God’s Divine Purpose of the Ages.  Greater faith reflects on greater understanding, to take God at His word, fully trusting in what He promises concerning our glorious future and the great things yet to come.

Well said Spurgeon, concerning the increase of faith — in its extent, of what it will receive:

Usually, when we commence the Christian life, faith does not grasp much—it only believes a few elementary Doctrines. I find that many young converts have not gone much farther than believing that Jesus Christ died for sinners. By-and-by they get a little advanced and believe Election. But there is very little beyond that they receive—and it is not until many years that they believe the entire Gospel. Some of you, my Hearers, and a great many that are not my hearers are miserable little cramped souls—you have learned a cast-iron creed and you will never move out of it. A certain somebody drew up five or six doctrines and said, “There are the doctrines of the Bible,” and you believe these. But you do not want to have your faith increased—for you do not believe a great deal more that is in the Bible.

…I think, as we grow, we shall have our belief increased. Not only are there a few cardinal Doctrines that will be enough to steer our ship by, north, south, east, or west, but we shall begin to learn something about the north-west and north-east and that which lies between the four points! Many people, when they hear something a little contrary to what they have usually heard, say at once, “That is not sound.” But who made you a judge of what is sound?

So true that is.  (Spurgeon then went on to give a specific example of increasing faith — his then new understanding concerning the Millennial Kingdom.)  Thus, when the local pastor prays that God would increase our faith, it comes across as very shallow and insincere.  For he who casually says “increase our faith” doesn’t really want it — since he picks and chooses which parts of the Bible to believe, even declaring that those who want to “divide” in fellowship over differences in eschatology are being divisive about things as unimportant as food and drink.

A few more quotes concerning the connection between increase of faith and our understanding of the scriptures:
John MacArthur:   if you never get anything else, get this, your faith, your trust is based on your view of God. If you’ve got a little God, you’re not gonna trust Him. So if you want more faith, you get into the Bible. Find out what kind of a God you have, and that’ll increase your faith.

J.C. Ryle especially states the case concerning diligence and growing faith:

All that believers have is undoubtedly of grace. Their repentance, faith, and holiness, are all the gift of God. But the degree to which a believer attains in grace, is ever set before us as closely connected with his own diligence in the use of means, and his own faithfulness in living fully up to the light and knowledge which he possesses. Indolence and laziness are always discouraged in God’s word. Labor and pains in hearing, reading, and prayer, are always represented as bringing their own reward. “The soul of the diligent shall be made fat.” (Prov. 13:4.) “An idle soul shall suffer hunger.” (Prov. 19:15.)

Attention to this great principle is the main secret of spiritual prosperity. The man who makes rapid progress in spiritual attainments–who grows visibly in grace, and knowledge, and strength, and usefulness–will always be found to be a diligent man. He leaves no stone unturned to promote his soul’s well-doing. He is diligent over his Bible, diligent in his private devotions, diligent as a hearer of sermons, diligent in his attendance at the Lord’s table. And he reaps according as he sows. Just as the muscles of the body are strengthened by regular exercise, so are the graces of the soul increased by diligence in using them.

Do we wish to grow in grace? Do we desire to have stronger faith, brighter hope, and clearer knowledge? Beyond doubt we do, if we are true Christians. Then let us live fully up to our light, and improve every opportunity. Let us never forget our Lord’s words in this passage. “With what measure we use;” to our souls, “it shall be measured to us again.” The more we do for our souls, the more shall we find God does for them.