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Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge: Christian Living, ‘A Life of Character’

February 24, 2017 1 comment

jrmiller-lifeofcharacterContinuing in the Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge, I now find that I’m well ahead of the schedule for the 13 books, so I may very well add a few more along the way – not to the 26 book level, but adding and reading more books from the remaining categories from the light reader and avid reader lists.  I’ve come across a new, free e-book this month, to add to the “light reader” category of a book published in 2017:  Sam Waldron’s “The Lord’s Day:  Its Presuppositions, Proofs, Precedents, and Practice,” 138 pages and available free from the Chapel Library  in several formats including PDF and Kindle.

For the Christian Living selection, I enjoyed reading J.R. Miller’s A Life of Character.  I first learned of this author from the daily Grace Gems devotional email, which sometimes features short devotional thoughts from Miller, who wrote in the late 19th century.  The Grace Gems site features the online text of several of his books; in their list of authors and brief summaries, J.R. Miller is listed as the best for this topic, Christian living.  ‘A Life of Character’ is an easy, straightforward read, not too long but covering many different topics with great devotional thoughts.

The overall topic reminds me of similar treatment in Jeremiah Burroughs’ Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, which I read at the end of 2016. Like Burroughs, this book includes the use of many metaphors, such as how our life should be like a song or a musical instrument.  Here I remembered an old poem, set to music years ago by Wayne Watson in the song Touch of the Master’s Hand.  Throughout, the reading is simple but to the point and often convicting.  Christian living, personal holiness, is so much easier to read about, but as noted in Burroughs’ work, takes a lifetime of practice.

Here are a few selections from Miller’s work:

We need the patience of Christ also, in our mingling with others, in our business associations and contacts, in our social relations, and in all our dealings with our neighbors. Not all people are congenial and patient to us. Some want their own way. Some are unreasonable. Some fail to treat us right. Possibly in some cases—the fault may be ours, at least in part. Others may sometimes think of us—as we do of them. However this may be, the patience of Christ may teach us to bear with even the most unreasonable people, sweetly and lovingly. He was patient with everyone, and we are to be like Him. If we are impatient with anyone, we fail to be true to the interest of our Master, whom we are always to represent.

and

We forget that heaven is not far off yonder—but begins right here in our everyday lives, if it is ever to begin at all for us! Isn’t that what the prayer means, “May Your will be done on earth—as it is in heaven”? “On earth,” that is—in our shops, and our drudgery, and care; in our times of temptation and sorrow. It is not a prayer to be taken away out of this world into ‘heaven’, to begin there the doing of God’s will; it is a prayer that right here and now on earth—we may learn to live—as they do in heaven.”

also

We cannot make the people about us so loving and sweet—that we shall never have anything to irritate or annoy us. The quietness must be within us. Nothing but the peace of God in the heart—can give it. Yet we can have this peace—if we will simply and always do God’s will—and then trust Him. A quiet heart—will give a quiet life!

1689 Confession Study: Motives for Holiness (Progressive Sanctification)

December 7, 2015 4 comments

Continuing in the 1689 Confession series, the messages on chapter 13 (Sanctification) include a look at the source of sanctification (this message).  Yes, in an objective and general sense, we can all say that our sanctification comes from the Lord, it is He who works in us and continues the work of grace in our hearts and lives, and preserves and keeps us. The subjective side, though, includes our own personal experience and specific biblical motives for our continuing to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, in the synergistic aspect of sanctification.

Here are ten motives for holiness – as noted in the lecture, this list is not exhaustive (not in this list, for example: desire to keep one’s good name, seen in Joseph’s experience with Potiphar’s wife, one of several motives that Joseph had) , but ten major motives for the subjective aspect of sanctification.

The desire …

  1. To express love and thanksgiving to God. (1 John 5:3)
  2. To proclaim the excellencies of God. (1 Peter 2:9; our holy lives)
  3. To maintain a clear conscience before God and man. (Reference Acts 24:16, Romans 13, 1 Peter 3:16)
  4. To be more useful to God. (2 Tim. 2:20-21)
  5. To see unbelievers come to faith in Christ. (1 Peter 3:1-2, 3:15)
  6. To avoid God’s displeasure and discipline in our lives. We’re not always “up there” and so in love with God. (1 Cor. 11:29-32; the case of Ananias and Saphira, struck down for their lie)
  7. To seek greater, heavenly reward. (1 Cor. 3, 2 Cor. 5:9-10)
  8. To have a closer walk with God.
  9. To do what God commands simply because His commands are right, we delight in doing what’s right (as the psalmist delighted in God’s laws).
  10. To have peace and joy in our lives.

Some of these motives may be “higher” and more “spiritual” than others, but we should never discard the “lower” motives. In answer to those who would disdain the motive of being “more useful to God” by saying that we should always be thinking great thoughts and always be “up there” just wanting God’s glory—the reality of our Christian experience (reference Romans 7) is that we’re not always feeling such high thoughts of just wanting to praise and proclaim the greatness of God. The one who says that “I just want to glory in Christ and God can use me or not use me, it’s all about Him,” is really not being more spiritual—but rather being a hyper-Calvinist. Sometimes in our lives, only the “lower” motives will work, those times when God puts us in such conditions. As the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged”; so motive #6 above certainly is biblical and has its place, that we strive for holiness so as to avoid God’s chastening, such as some of the Corinthians had experienced.

A similar point is made regarding motive #7, to seek greater reward. Our salvation is not by works, yet God’s word plainly teaches that believers will have rewards for their level of faithfulness and their works done as believers. In Matthew 5:19 Jesus contrasts those who will be called “least in the kingdom of heaven” versus those who will be called “great in the kingdom of heaven.” Christ also told us to lay up treasure in heaven, not on earth, and Paul contrasts those who build on the foundation with gold, silver or precious stones, versus those who build with straw. Some will enter into glory “as by fire,” with their lives–yet all their works burned up.  We don’t know what those rewards will be in the specifics, but again, this is a motive for holiness.  Our understanding here is a “both/and” regarding salvation and rewards.

[As a sidenote here, I note an inconsistency regarding understanding and applying the ‘both/and’ concept to various doctrines. The amillennialist rejects the teaching of premillennialism on the basis that “spiritual is more important than literal, therefore only the spiritual part is true,” not seeing the “both/and” aspect of premillennialism. Yet the same person who rejects this doctrine at least understands and gets some teaching right (better than those who are more consistent yet consistently come to the wrong conclusion on most doctrines), though not seeing their inconsistent handling of various biblical doctrines.]

In our continued walk with God, we should certainly aim for greater holiness and sanctification, including through the greater motives. Yet any motive to refrain from sin and to improve in our walk with God, anything that keeps us from sin, is something good.

Horatius Bonar: God’s Way of Peace and Way of Holiness

October 16, 2014 3 comments

In my studies of the classic premillennialists, I continue to read the covenantal premillennial authors, including their many works on other doctrinal topics. Lately I have been reading several of Horatius Bonar’s books, available online as well as in audio book format (available through sermon audio). Bonar’s “God’s Way of Peace” and “God’s Way of Holiness” are interesting, fairly easy to read and in a conversational, question and answer style, with evangelistic zeal to seekers interested in the Christian faith.

God’s Way of Peace addresses salvation and justification, and here Bonar addresses more subtle errors of thought, such as focusing on the “thought” of our salvation and faith rather than the faith itself; and the error that we must love God purely for who He is rather than the “lower” selfish motive of what He has done for us.

It is not wrong to love God for what He has done for us. Not to do so, would be the very baseness of ingratitude. To love God purely for what He is, is by some spoken of as the highest kind of love, into which enters no element of self. It is not so. For in that case, you are actuated by the pleasure of loving; and this pleasure of loving an infinitely lovable and glorious Being, of necessity introduces self. Besides, to say that we are to love God solely for what He is, and not for what he Has done, is to make ingratitude an essential element of pure love. David’s love showed itself in not forgetting God’s benefits. But this ‘pure love’ soars beyond David’s and finds it a duty to be unthankful, lest perchance some selfish element mingle itself with its superhuman, super-angelic purity.

Here I also see a response to an attitude that Bonar’s contemporary, Charles Spurgeon, also noted (see this previous post): the idea that our coming to God requires some level of “fitness,” some level of repentance and feeling.

I find that the apostles shut up their hearers to immediate faith and repentance, bringing them face to face with the great object of faith, and commanding them in the name of the living God to believe, just as Jesus commanded the man with the withered arm to stretch out his hand. … The Lord did not give him any directions as to a preliminary work, or preparatory efforts, and struggles, and using of means. These are man’s attempts to bridge over the great gulf by human appliances; man’s ways of evading the awful question of his own utter impotence; man’s unscriptural devices for sliding out of inability into ability, out of unbelief into faith; man’s plan for helping God to save him; man’s self-made ladder for climbing up a little way out of the horrible pit, in the hope that God will so commiserate his earnest struggles as to do all the rest that is needed. Now God has commanded all men everywhere to repent; but he has nowhere given us any directions for obtaining repentance. God has commanded sinners to believe, but has not prescribed for them any preparatory steps or process by means of which he may be induced to give them something which he is not from the first most willing to do.

God’s Way of Holiness  looks at sanctification, including emphasis on studying God’s word and recognizing the difference between morality and the way to Christ:

 Is it the case that the sinner cannot be trusted with the gospel? In one sense this is true. He cannot be trusted with anything. He abuses everything. He turns everything to bad account. He makes everything the minister of sin. But if he cannot be trusted with the gospel, can he be trusted with the Law’? If he cannot be trusted with grace, can he be trusted with righteousness? He cannot be trusted with an immediate pardon; can he be trusted with a tardy one? He cannot be trusted with faith; can he be trusted with doubt? He cannot be trusted with peace; can he be trusted with gloom and trouble? He cannot be trusted with assurance; can he be trusted with suspense, and will uncertainty do for him what certainty cannot? That which he can, after all, best be trusted with, is the gospel. He has abused it, he may abuse it, but he is less likely to abuse it than anything else.

Bonar’s view is Reformed/Covenantal regarding the Moral Law, emphasizing the unity of the law in the Old and New Testament, and the difference between love and law, complete with many quotes from Calvin, Luther and others. Here Bonar appears to be addressing some type of antinomianism (it’s not clear exactly from where this teaching was coming), yet showing again the timelessness of Christian truth and that in every age the issues of sanctification, grace, and law must be explained.

 We do not undervalue love because we say a man is not justified by love, but by faith. We do not discourage prayer, because we preach that a man is not justified by prayer, but by faith. When we say that believing is not working, but a ceasing from work, we do not mean that the believing man is not to work; but that he is not to work for pardon, but to take it freely; and that he is to believe before he works, for works done before believing are not pleasing to God.

 

These are the commandments of the Holy Ghost, and they are law just as truly as that which was proclaimed in Horeb amid fire and darkness. And the true question with us (as we have seen) is not whether we are to obey this law or that law, but any law at all. If obedience to apostolic law be not legalism, then neither is obedience to the moral law; and if our oneness with Christ exempts or disjoins us from the moral law, it exempts and disjoins us from all law whatsoever, for everything in the shape of law, or precept, or commandment, contained in Scripture, is from the one Spirit of God, whether in the book of Exodus or the epistle to the Romans. …

 

Of angels this is said to be the highest felicity, that ‘they do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word’ (Psa 103:20); just as of those from whom the Lord has removed transgression as far as the east is from the west, it is said that ‘they remember His commandments to do them’ (Psa 103:12,18). But if this theory of the total disjunction of the law from believers be true, then angels must be in bondage, and they also to whom Paul refers as specimens of the blessed men whose transgressions are forgiven by the imputation of “righteousness without works” (Rom 4:6).

Orthopraxy and Orthodoxy: Practical Christian Living AND Doctrinal Worldview Instruction

April 24, 2013 6 comments

For today, a follow-up to the Jerry Bridges conference post, concerning what is taught in the local church:  the balance between sanctification / practical Christian living, and discipleship & instruction in the Christian worldview.  As noted in the previous post, Bridges emphasizes holiness and sanctification — which is fine so far as it goes, provided we keep a balance that includes strong doctrinal teaching.

As an example:  in the Saturday night message Jerry Bridges favorably presented the story of a pastor who had been asked when he was going to do a sermon about homosexuality.  The preacher’s response was that he had no plans to do so, since he didn’t have any homosexuals in his audience, at his local church, and so homosexuality wasn’t a relevant topic for that congregation.

Yet as I’ve learned in the last few years — from listening to the preaching of John MacArthur, S. Lewis Johnson, Dan Phillips and others — a local church should also be instructing the people regarding biblical and real-life issues and a proper Christian worldview. A disciple is simply a student, so true disciples are learning not just orthopraxy, how to walk and grow in their personal sanctification, but orthodoxy.   After all, none of the individuals attending that local church may be homosexual, but in our increasingly anti-Christian society it is increasingly likely that the people in the local church may have at least some contact with others who are either homosexual or who advocate homosexuality.  Ironically, the morning brunch Q&A at that same conference included several questions from people about this very topic, including how to respond to others who favorably discuss homosexuality.

The discipleship part of a local church involves equipping the saints to understand the issues, to really understand the biblical response to said issue and not be led astray by the clever arguments put forth in the secular media.  This is also why John MacArthur occasionally delivers very good messages regarding the Christian and voting in political elections, and why preachers do, at least some of the time, teach concerning the issues of the day.

Even in S. Lewis Johnson’s day 20+ years ago, when the homosexual agenda in society was not nearly so advanced as today, he addressed the topic in this message, noting the purpose of such a message:

The reason I want to do this is because many of us, I’m sure, are not acquainted with some of the sophisticated arguments that have been advanced, by some thinking people even, to support the idea that homosexuality is a legitimate style of life.  We’ll talk more about the details of it, but it is possible to defend this in way that would be confusing for the general evangelical, and difficult to counter so far as many of us are concerned, because we haven’t even bothered to discover the reasons why homosexuality is presented as something like a third sex by the homosexual populous.

As I am now listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 Corinthians series (1994), I especially see how a preacher can directly teach about current social issues and our worldview, in an actual expository verse-by-verse Bible book series.  Now in 1 Corinthians 6, it is interesting to hear SLJ address social issues still with us: our litigious society of lawsuit-happy people; homosexuality; and the 1990s ecumenism of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement – and all in one message expositing 1 Corinthians 6:1-11.

Jerry Bridges Conference (April 2013): Sanctification and ‘True Heavenly Mindedness’

April 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Author Jerry Bridges was the guest speaker at a church in the Memphis, TN area, for a conference this last weekend (April 12-14, 2013).  I haven’t read that much from Bridges, usually preferring the style and depth of Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, and of course my favorite preacher SLJ, but have appreciated his conference messages at this church over the last several years. All his conference messages at this church – 2004, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013 – are available at: www . gracemessenger.com/index.php?id=777.  The conference theme this time was “True Heavenly Mindedness,” from Colossians 3, with emphasis on practical Christian living / sanctification.

From a then-free offer on Amazon Kindle, I’ve read some of Jerry Bridges’ recent book, The Transforming Power of the Gospel: an easy reading style similar to his other books and his talks, in which he mentions his early experience with two extreme forms of sanctification: moral rules to follow, followed by the Deeper Life Keswick movement (“Let Go, Let God”). In 1960 he came to understand true sanctification, that which is active, not passive.  We cannot ‘just let Jesus live His life through me.’ No, we are responsible. At the same time, we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to both do His own work and enable us through His power to do the work we must do. Later chapters include  definitions of sin and repentance, and what spiritual transformation is.

A proper understanding of sanctification includes study of Colossians 3, and the conference messages deal with that chapter as well as Ephesians 4.  Another resource on this very topic, Jesse Johnson’s recent Cripplegate post critiquing another variation of the “Let Go, Let God” idea,  likewise notes the importance of Colossians 3, the part that another writer (Tullian Tchividjian) had completely skipped over:  I was asking myself, “ok, so what is he going to do with Col 3:17-4:6? I mean there is more to Colossians than the first half. What’s going to happen when he gets to the places where Paul tells us to be sanctified by actually fighting sin?” And wouldn’t you know it: other than explaining why those passages are powerless to sanctify you, he doesn’t deal with them. You really do need to look at his Scripture index to believe me: he deals with almost every single verse in Colossians, except the ones that have imperatives in them.  Jerry Bridges approaches the imperative passages in Colossians head-on, in several messages about “true heavenly mindedness” and practical Christian living.

I have only one point of difference from Jerry Bridges: his emphasis on sanctification and Christian living tends to neglect the proper balance between practical Christian living, and instruction in doctrinal/worldview issues.  Then again, this is the difference between a theologian or scholar, and a layperson Christian author who excels in what he does: well-written books for the mainstream Christian audience, especially about holiness and sanctification.

The Bible’s Four Types of Sanctification: Getting our Vocabulary Right

September 6, 2012 7 comments

I recently met up with a group of people, and their pastor/teacher, who have a non-standard definition of the overall concept of sanctification – or perhaps a very limited definition.  After hearing for so long, within broader evangelicalism, about the different aspects of sanctification, and particularly about progressive sanctification, the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, I was surprised to read the following (from one in this group):  “If we are in Christ and He is in us, then we have rested – completely ceased from any and all working and striving for justification and for sanctification. There is no more work to be done.”

On the surface, it appeared as what could be advocating perfection, with the use of the term sanctification in the same phrase as justification.  Or at the very least, that the person has the terms and their meanings confused.  In follow-up conversation, that individual cited Hebrews 10:10, which is one of the passages that describe the completed (positional) part of sanctification:  “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  It turned out that what most Reformed evangelicals refer to as “progressive sanctification” means, to this group, “mortification,” with no understanding of the multiple tenses or types of sanctification.  Also, their focus is on whether or not sanctification is “a work” to which we contribute versus something all of God (monergistic: their view): an unusual approach to the topic.  Usually (in my experience) the topic of sanctification comes up, not as a question of “a work” or not, but in the general understanding of spiritual growth and an ongoing process, “progressive sanctification,” within which it is understood that God is the one who continues the  work within us.  (Phil. 1:6)

From further research into what I was really looking for, comes the following helpful summary, from S. Lewis Johnson’s “Basic Bible Doctrine” series, message 27:

  • Preparatory sanctification:  the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to the cross. (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2)
  • Positional sanctification: a process or a procedure takes place by which a believer, the moment that he believes, becomes in the sight of God holy.  That is why believers in the New Testament are called saints. (1 Corinthians 1:2)
  • Progressive sanctification:  something that goes on daily constantly in the Christian life.  It may have degrees; The Bible does speak about two degrees: about infants and about adults. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
  • Prospective sanctification:  the complete agreement of our position and our practice, and that will take place at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thess. 5:23-24; Romans 8:29)

This experience also shows how important it is that like-minded Christians understand and use the same vocabulary.  When the majority of Christians speak of sanctification in one way (understanding the concepts of positional versus progressive sanctification), and one group (that really does believe basically the same about this) uses the same words to mean different ideas – the positional sanctification and emphasis on “sanctification” already accomplished and done by the Lord, and calling the common term “progressive sanctification” by some other name – it does hinder communication, so that the terms have to be clearly defined before meaningful discussion can occur.

The Lordship Controversy: Specials from the S. Lewis Johnson Miscellaneous Files

March 17, 2011 4 comments

In my recent exercise sessions, I’ve been listening to an assortment of topical messages from S. Lewis Johnson.  Interesting topics have included reviews of John MacArthur’s book Charismatic Chaos, another concerning MacArthur and the Lordship controversy, as well as John Stott, George Muller, and Israel and the PLO Peace Treaty.

The “Lordship Controversy” message was recorded in 1989, soon after the publication of MacArthur’s book, “The Gospel According to Jesus” and as an accompaniment to an article that S. Lewis Johnson had published in Christianity Today magazine (September 1989).  Amongst all the rhetoric over the years on both sides (and I have concurred with the MacArthur view, as best as I understand it), SLJ presented the proper perspective:  that we really need to understand the definitions and terminology that the different people are using.  Zane Hodge didn’t clearly define what he meant.  Ryrie apparently stated some things in an unclear way so that he was misunderstood, but elsewhere Ryrie stated his belief as one that is more accurate.  MacArthur for the most part is right, but in his book he showed some inconsistency — in some places saying that the believer first coming to Christ must give Him total 100% commitment/Lordship, but then backing off in other places and saying, well not 100%.

The matter really involves understanding the difference between justification and sanctification, and MacArthur’s book (as he himself has said) came out of his own frustration at seeing the easy-believism methods and techniques used to bring people to the Lord, but then not proving to be true conversions.  Interestingly, S. Lewis Johnson picked up on this as the likely thing that prompted MacArthur to write the book (the general feelings of pastors, teaching a lot and disappointed with the results), even though at that time he was unfamiliar with the details that MacArthur would mention in later interviews.  I recall, for instance, MacArthur telling about the times he met strangers (such as on airplanes), who asked him basic questions about how to be saved — and he would right then and there give a gospel presentation and guide them into making a confession of faith.  But then when he followed up with those people, the conversions proved to be incomplete and false.

The confusion between justification and sanctification, though, is an age-old one — and again I refer back to J.C. Ryle’s classic work, Holiness, as a good source for understanding the difference between these two doctrines.  See also my previous blog on the introduction to his book for more background concerning that book and the “Holiness” Keswick movement of the late 19th century.

Our Conversion: For the Conversion of Others

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

In my recent Sunday morning sermon reading, came some rather unusual remarks from Spurgeon.  This was at the beginning of Volume 4, #169 (“What Have I Done?”), delivered at the year-end of 1857 as he reflected back on Christian service by believers during the past year.  The words sound very much like something an Arminian evangelist would say, and taken by themselves apart from Spurgeon’s other writings, should indeed be troubling.  A brief excerpt:

I will, however, ask a pointed question—are there not many Christians now present who cannot remember that they have been the means of the salvation of one soul during this year? Come, now. Think—have you any reason to believe that directly or indirectly you have been made the means this year of the salvation of a soul? I will go further—there are some of you who are old Christians and I will ask you this question—have you any reason to believe that ever since you were converted you have ever been the means of the salvation of a soul? . . . And yet there are some of you here who have been spiritually barren and have never brought one convert to Christ! You have not one star in your crown of glory and must wear a starless crown in Heaven!

Perhaps one point in properly understanding the above, is his wording “directly or indirectly.”  For at the surface, at least, these words suggest that we should all be actively talking to others about Jesus — and 20th century terms such as “street evangelism” come to mind.  In contrast to this idea, though, I think of the oft-quoted saying from St. Francis of Assissi:  “Preach the gospel daily.  Use words if necessary.”

But soon after considering Spurgeon’s “What Have I Done?” sermon, I read the following great passage from J.C. Ryle, in Holiness chapter 17.  Here is a better explanation concerning our role as Christians, converted not only for ourselves but to lead to the conversion of others:

I believe that just as ‘no man lives unto himself’ (Rom. 14:7), so also no man is converted only for himself and that the conversion of one man or woman always leads on, in God’s wonderful providence, to the conversion of others. I do not say for a moment that all believers know it. I think it far more likely that many live and die in the faith, who are not aware that they have done good to any soul. But I believe the resurrection morning and the judgment day, when the secret history of all Christians is revealed, will prove that the full meaning of the promise before us has never failed. I doubt if there will be a believer who will not have been to someone or other a ‘river of living water,’ a channel through whom the Spirit has conveyed saving grace. Even the penitent thief, short as his time was after he repented, has been a source of blessing to thousands of souls!

a. Some believers are rivers of living water while they live. Their words, their conversation, their preaching, their teaching, are all means by which the water of life has flowed into the hearts of their fellow men.  …

b. Some believers are rivers of living water when they die. Their courage in facing the king of terrors, their boldness in the most painful sufferings, their unswerving faithfulness to Christ’s truth even at the stake, their manifest peace on the edge of the grave—all this has set thousands thinking, and led hundreds to repent and believe. Such, for example, were the primitive martyrs, whom the Roman Emperors persecuted. Such were John Huss and Jerome of Prague. Such were Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Hooper and the noble army of Marian martyrs. The work that they did at their deaths, like Samson, was far greater then the work done in their lives.

c. Some believers are rivers of living water long after they die. They do good by their books and writings in every part of the world, long after the hands which held the pen are mouldering in the dust. Such men were Bunyan and Baxter and Owen and George Herbert and Robert MCCHEYNE. These blessed servants of God do more good probably by their books at this moment than they did by their tongues when they were alive. Being dead they yet speak (Heb. 11:4).

d. Finally, there are some believers who are rivers of living water by the beauty of their daily conduct and behavior. There are many quiet, gentle, consistent Christians, who make no show and no noise in the world, and yet insensibly exercise a deep influence for good on all around them. They ‘win without the Word’ (1 Peter 3:1). Their love, their kindness, their sweet temper, their patience, their unselfishness, tell silently on a wide circle, and sow seeds of thought and self–inquiry in many minds.

The last category is certainly the ideal that the St. Francis quote above upholds, and one we can all aspire to.

In category A I think of the “celebrity preachers,” especially those who have influenced many others by their great teaching and preaching, such as John MacArthur, as well as lesser but still prominent names of good preachers whose audio sermons are regularly updated to the Internet, and/or whose online writings encourage many.

By the very nature of things, most of us will not fit in categories B or C.  Perhaps some of us will yet be “rivers of living water” as martyrs in yet unknown persecutions, but the Lord alone knows that matter.

In reading item C and the list of names, I thought of J.C. Ryle himself, another great saint to add to the list of those who continue to guide believers today — “being dead they yet speak.”

As one plenty guilty of Spurgeon’s words above, having never directly shared the gospel with unbelievers (well, except within the format of “Evangelism Explosion” one year in my early Christian days), I yet take comfort in J.C. Ryle’s observation that it is “far more likely that many live and die in the faith, who are not aware that they have done good to any soul” but that even the dying thief on the cross, by his testimony, has brought comfort to many.  It is enough to trust in the Lord and hold steadfast to Him throughout the daily trials, doing even little things in service each day — even the simple blog format as a way to share my insights and encourage others.

Backsliding, versus Sanctification: Quotes from S. Lewis Johnson and J.C. Ryle

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

S. Lewis Johnson:  Backsliding

From a message on Isaiah 55, the following thought from S. Lewis Johnson:  who will backslide

the one thing above everything else that has impressed itself upon me with regard to backsliding is this: the man who does not continue in the word of our Lord is the man who would backslide — in almost every case (with some exceptions, where Christians are overtaken in some sin that seems to be a sin of an immediate character).  In most of the cases, it is because men have not continued in the word of God.  They have not been students of the Bible.  I don’t mean just devotionally reading it at the breakfast table.  I mean to do some real study of the word of God.

If people will not study the word of God, they are going to need spiritual medicine.  They are going to need a spiritual physician, and I think that through the years the thing that has impressed me in the church is that those Christians who are the least problem to the elders are the Christians who are growing in the knowledge of the Bible.  If you could just get a group of Christians in a church together in which everyone was daily growing in the knowledge of the word of God, the elders could set it out and twiddle their thumbs because it would be a healthy, happy, growing, fruitful body of Christians.  This is so fundamental because the word is powerful and God sees that it accomplishes His purposes.  It is when we neglect the Bible that we begin to drift, becoming indifferent, lose our love, become overtaken and entangled in sin.

How true it is — we need to continue in the word of God, the daily manna to grow in the knowledge of God’s word.  I can see the backsliding effects in other professed believers who give minimal attention to the Bible, with their hearts occupied with the cares of this world.  I can see it in my own past, the years of mere casual Bible reading but no growth in Bible knowledge.  The neglect of the Bible brings out indifference and loss of our first love.  How tragic it is too, to see in loved ones an attitude of indifference to God’s word: the post-modern attitude that only certain parts of the Bible are important (soteriology) and all the rest is up for interpretation and it’s arrogant to say that we know for sure what God’s word means (and therefore why bother to study God’s word?)

Here I turn to words of great comfort and counsel, from J.C. Ryle’s Holiness (chapter 12, The Ruler of the Waves), for my own trial of living with a backslidden person:

How should you know who are true Christians, if following Christ was the way to be free from trouble? How should we discern the wheat from the chaff, if it were not for the winnowing of trial? How should we know whether men served Christ for His own sake or from selfish motives, if His service brought health and wealth with it as a matter of course? The winds of winter soon show us which of the trees are evergreen and which are not. The storms of affliction and care are useful in the same way. They discover whose faith is real and whose is nothing but profession and form.

How would the great work of sanctification go on in a man if he had no trial? Trouble is often the only fire which will burn away the dross that clings to our hearts. Trouble is the pruning–knife which the great Husbandman employs in order to make us fruitful in good works. The harvest of the Lord’s field is seldom ripened by sunshine only. It must go through its days of wind and rain and storm.

If you desire to serve Christ and be saved, I entreat you to take the Lord on His own terms. Make up your mind to meet with your share of crosses and sorrows, and then you will not be surprised. For want of understanding this, many seem to run well for a season, and then turn back in disgust, and are cast away.

If you profess to be a child of God, leave to the Lord Jesus to sanctify you in His own way. Rest satisfied that He never makes any mistakes. Be sure that He does all things well. The winds may howl around you, and waters swell. But fear not, “He is leading you by the right way, that He may bring you to a city of habitation” (Ps. 107:7).

J.C. Ryle’s Holiness: Six Marks of Growth in Grace, Five Means of Growth

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Chapter six in J.C. Ryle’s Holiness has a lot to say on the subject of Christian growth, noting that the Christian’s graces admit of growth, progress and increase.  It should be obvious to all that a newly-converted person does not have as strong a faith, hope, knowledge, or holiness as an old-established believer.  Yet we all have room for improvement:

We can never have too much humility, too much faith in Christ, too much holiness, too much spirituality of mind, too much charity, too much zeal in doing good to others. Then let us be continually forgetting the things behind, and reaching forth unto the things before (Phil. 3:13). The best of Christians in these matters is infinitely below the perfect pattern of his Lord. Whatever the world may please to say, we may be sure there is no danger of any of us becoming “too good.”

Ryle follows an outline that includes six marks of religious growth, and five “means of growth.”

The six marks of growth in grace:

1.  Increased humility.

2.  Increased faith and love towards our Lord Jesus Christ.

The man whose soul is growing finds more in Christ to rest upon every year and rejoices more that he has such a Savior. No doubt he saw much in Him when first he believed. His faith laid hold on the atonement of Christ and gave him hope. But as he grows in grace, he sees a thousand things in Christ of which at first he never dreamed. His love and power, His heart and His intentions, His offices as Substitute, Intercessor, Priest, Advocate, Physician, Shepherd and Friend, unfold themselves to a growing soul in an unspeakable manner. In short, he discovers a suitableness in Christ to the wants of his soul, of which the half was once not known to him.

3.  increased holiness of life and conversation.
4.  increased spirituality of taste and mind.

The ways and fashions and amusements and recreations of the world have a continually decreasing place in his heart. He does not condemn them as downright sinful, nor say that those who have anything to do with them are going to hell. He only feels that they have a constantly diminishing hold on his own affections and gradually seem smaller and more trifling in his eyes. Spiritual companions, spiritual occupations, spiritual conversation appear of ever–increasing value to him.

5.  increase of charity.

His love will show itself actively in a growing disposition to do kindnesses, to take trouble for others, to be good–natured to everybody, to be generous, sympathizing, thoughtful, tender–hearted and considerate. It will show itself passively in a growing disposition to be meek and patient towards all men, to put up with provocation and not stand upon rights, to bear and forbear much rather than quarrel. A growing soul will try to put the best construction on other people’s conduct and to believe all things and hope all things, even to the end. There is no surer mark of backsliding and falling off in grace than an increasing disposition to find fault, pick holes and see weak points in others.

6.  increased zeal and diligence in trying to do good to souls.

The five means of growth:
1.  the use of private means of grace:  private prayer, private reading of the Scriptures, private meditation and self-examination
2.  the use of public means of grace
3.  watchfulness over our conduct in the little matters of everyday life:  Our tempers, our tongues, the discharge of our several relations of life, our employment of time
4.  caution about the company we keep and the friendships we form:  Let us seek friends who will stir us up about our prayers, our Bible reading, and our employment of time, about our souls, our salvation, and a world to come.
5.  regular and habitual communion with the Lord Jesus

This chapter also makes the following important observations regarding growth in grace:

  • it is one secret of usefulness to others
  • it is a duty upon each believer to not quench the Spirit:   Neglect of growth robs him of privileges, grieves the Spirit and makes the chariot wheels of his soul move heavily. Whose fault is it, I should like to know, if a believer does not grow in grace? The fault, I am sure, cannot be laid on God. He delights to give more grace; He “has pleasure in the prosperity of His servants” (James 4:6; Ps. 35:27).
  • it is bound up with the use of means, within the reach of all believers; growing souls are those that use these means

Another great observation from J.C. Ryle, concerning growth in grace and our communion with God:

We must not be content with a general orthodox knowledge that Christ is the Mediator between God and man, and that justification is by faith and not by works, and that we put our trust in Christ. We must go further than this. We must seek to have personal intimacy with the Lord Jesus and to deal with Him as a man deals with a loving friend. We must realize what it is to turn to Him first in every need, to talk to Him about every difficulty, to consult Him about every step, to spread before Him all our sorrows, to get Him to share in all our joys, to do all as in His sight, and to go through every day leaning on and looking to Him. This is the way that Paul lived “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” “To me to live is Christ” (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21). . . . But it is the man who lives in this way, who keeps up constant communion with Christ—this is the man, I say emphatically, whose soul will grow.

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