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Steadfast Love and Truth/Faithfulness – Meditation from Spurgeon

October 23, 2020 Leave a comment

I often find that my weekly reads of Charles Spurgeon sermons are a great treat, for the richness of thought, and a great benefit to the Lord’s Day experience.  Some of his sermons have more meaning and impact than others, and often some of his examples and historical references are dated, and require additional online search regarding some terms and historical references.  One sermon I read this summer, for instance, included several descriptions of a then-current events that reminded me of a piece of “encyclopedia” trivia I’d come across in the past, that Charles Dickens had died in 1870 — and a google search indeed confirmed what I’d suspected; Spurgeon’s sermon had been delivered on the very day that a prominent speaker had especially honored the late Charles Dickens, June 19, 1870.   A recent sermon I’ve read, sermon 956, from October 1870 mentioned a Saxon king who refused baptism to go the way of his pagan ancestors, and “impudent as to foretell the future with all the brass of a Sidrophel, a Lilly, or a Dr. Dec.,” all references and terms that were presumbly understood by his audience, but not commonly known to us today except by online search of the terms Sidrophel and Lilly.

Yet the main points, aside from these dated references, are timeless truths of Scripture and the reality of God, His works and attributes and person.  Sermon #956, “Think Well and Do Well,” is an exposition of Psalm 26:3 — “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness” — and a great example of Christian meditation, to consider God’s steadfast love and faithfulness/ truth.  As usual, Spurgeon brings out many different aspects of the text, in the two parts, a simple outline:  the mind occupied with a fruitful subject; secondly, the life ordered by a right rule; and thirdly, the link which connects the two.  Interestingly, this also ties in with a current local church teaching on the Christian mindset, which has also referenced these two points, as the root of the Christian life:  hesed (Hebrew for Steadfast Love) and emet (Hebrew for faithfulness/truth).  As pointed out in that series, the terms are found together in the Old Testament quite frequently, and so Psalm 26:3 is one of many such examples.   

Spurgeon starts with the mind, which should be occupied with spiritual nutriment — otherwise, like the body, the mind will feed upon itself:

Observe that when the mind does not receive holy matters to feed upon, as a rule it preys upon itself. Like certain of our bodily organs which if not supplied with nutritive matter, will soon begin to devour their own tissues, and then all sorts of aches, pains, and ultimately diseases will set in — the mind, when it eats into itself, forms doubts, fears, suspicions, complaints; and nine out of 10 of the doubts and fears of God’s people come from two things—walking at a distance from God, and lack of spiritual nutriment for the soul. … 

If you, believer, do not meditate upon some scriptural subject, your minds will probably turn to vanity or to some evil within yourselves, and you will not long think of the corruption within without becoming the subjects of a despondency which will turn you into Mistress Despondencies or Mr. Feebleminds; whereas by musing on the promises of the Holy Spirit you would grow into good soldiers and happy pilgrims. 

Continuing in this meditation, Spurgeon also considered duty, in connection with thinking upon God’s loving-kindness, the past and future blessings of God’s loving-kindness (back to eternity past and eternity future), and the “wondrous library” we can combine — from the book of revelation (God’s word in scripture), the ‘book of providence,’ and ‘the book of your inward experience.’  God’s loving-kindness is indeed the root and core of our life, both in the inward meditation and outward walking in truth.  Another great quote here links God’s love to doctrinal knowledge and what motivates us (in truth) to further doctrinal study:

Everlasting love, love without beginning towards unworthy worms! Well now, what comes of it? Why, naturally, the moment the heart gets into the enjoyment of it, it cries, “I will walk in God’s truth! This great doctrine leads me to receive other great doctrines. I am not afraid, now, of doctrinal knowledge; if it is so that God has loved me before the world began, and has blessed me with all spiritual blessings accordingly as He chose me in Christ Jesus, then I am not afraid to consider the doctrine of the covenant of grace, the doctrine of His foreknowledge, and of His predestination, and all the other doctrines that spring therefrom! The brightness of this one gem has attracted me to enter into the mines of divine thought, and I will seek from now on to be conversant with the deep things of God.” Many would be much sounder in doctrine if they meditated more upon the eternity of divine loving-kindness.

After considering these and so many other aspects of God’s loving-kindness and faithfulness, Spurgeon brings it back to the daily experience — the remedy for times when we feel dull and weary.  Yes, the Holy Spirit is the quickener, who first gives life and continues that life, but Spurgeon well summarizes the means for us to use:

Brothers and sisters, depend upon it that you shall find each of you when you get dull and flagging in the practical part of your religion, that the proper way to revive it is to think more than you have done upon the loving-kindness of God.  …

What is the best way to quicken one’s self when you have got to be just a mere inanimate mass, and cannot awaken yourself into life? Of course, the Holy Spirit is the quickener, but what means shall we use? “Why,” says one, “turn over your sins and begin to think of them.” Well, I have known some become more dead than they were before through that, and the little life they had seemed to go out of them as they saw their transgressions! I believe there is no reflection that has as much, under God the Holy Spirit, of quickening power in it as a remembrance of the loving-kindness of the Lord!

and this final quote:

I have said unto my soul, “You are dull and heavy today, my soul, but Jesus did not love you because of your brightness and liveliness; you have, at any rate, a desire not to be so dull. Who gave you that? Was not it His grace that made you hate yourself for being so dull and stupid? And He loves you just the same.”

Biblical Meditation, and God our Solid Rock and Ground

April 1, 2016 3 comments

Earlier this year in the 1689 Confession study I looked at the topic of Christian meditation (as related to chapter 13 of the confession, Sanctification)—and a recommended Puritan work on the topic, Thomas Watson’s “A Christian on the Mount,”  available from Gracegems here.

For a modern-day summary of biblical meditation, present-day author Michael P.V. Barrett, in the book I’m reading through, observes:

The word meditate has the idea of being consumed or preoccupied with something.  The blessed man just cannot get the law out of his mind.  .. Whereas worldly meditation seeks to empty the mind of everything, biblical meditation seeks to fill the mind with the word of God.  According to that biblical definition, there is precious little meditation in the average Christian’s life.  … Devotions sadly consist of little more than a few verses before leaving home at the beginning of a busy day or a few verses before going to bed after a busy day.  There is just so much to do, and we feel guilty if we are not busy doing. … Very simply, meditating is thinking, and here is the proverbial rub.  Thinking takes time; thinking is work.  But thinking time is not wasted time.

Watson (as always) has some great quotes about what meditation is:

The memory is the chest or cupboard to lock up a truth, meditation is the palate to feed on it. The memory is like the ark in which the manna was laid up, meditation is like Israel’s eating of manna.

And, for one meditation topic (what he called the category of Occasional, sudden occasions):

When you look up to the heavens, and see them richly embroidered with light, you may raise this meditation. If the footstool is so glorious, what is the throne where God himself sits! When you see the skies bespangled with stars, think, what is Christ The Bright Morning Star!  Monica, Augustine’s mother, standing one day, and seeing the sun shine, raised this meditation, ‘Oh! if the sun is so bright, what is the light of God’s presence?’

The “deliberate meditations” (Watson’s term) — in terms of finding a regular time each day for meditation/devotionals; and, per Hodgins’ (1689 series) suggestion, of finding a specific text or idea to meditate on and stay on that one idea throughout the day – haven’t worked out so well for me lately – the busy-ness of daily life does often get in the way, as Barrett observed.  Yet I have found certain ideas to frequently think upon in recent days: to be content with life’s situation and trusting in God’s providence, recognizing God as the First Cause of everything.

For nearly a month now, since returning from a week-long cruise, I continue to feel what is sometimes called “sea legs,” the sense of still being on a boat, the ground unsteady and moving.  Per material available online, this is the Mal De Debarquement syndrome, which affects some people for months and sometimes even years.  It often starts immediately after a cruise or other motion experience; per the description at this website I’m at the 3-4 severity level (thankfully, sometimes down to the 1-2 level).  In the midst of this ongoing feeling of movement, what often comes to mind are scriptures about God as our solid Rock, our solid ground, and the great events that will come to pass on this earth at Christ’s Return (reference Hebrews 12:26-29 about the removal of things that are shaken; also 2 Peter 3:10-13).

Even the sense of standing on solid ground on this planet, as we go about our daily life, can be taken away.  Regardless of what the brain and/or inner ear recognizes about our sense of balance and the world around us, this world and this creation is temporary and passing, and our hope and trust must be in God, the only solid ground, the One who will shake this world and remove everything that can be shaken (“things that have been made”), as we look forward to the coming Kingdom, that which cannot be shaken, and all the promises, our great inheritance and blessed hope.

 

John 1: “Come and you shall see”

August 21, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m enjoying S. Lewis Johnson’s series through the gospel of John, the most in-depth teaching I’ve seen on a familiar gospel.  Already I’ve learned several interesting things in the details of some of these narrative texts.  For this post, a look at Jesus’ first meeting with the disciples in John 1:

Andrew and the other disciple call him Rabbi and ask Jesus where He is staying.  Their response here to his question, “What are you seeking?” is a good response, of those indicating their attachment to this man as their Rabbi/teacher.  Jesus’ next sentence, “Come and you will see,” (John 1:39) is a phrase well-known within Rabbinic literature, a Rabbi’s way of introducing something new.  So the conversation has Jewish meaning not so obvious in a casual English reading.  “Come and see” continues throughout this section, again with the idea of learning something new.

I had learned before, from a John MacArthur lesson, that sitting under a fig tree was something done by Jewish students; under the fig tree was considered a place for meditation upon God’s word.  Here in SLJ’s lesson, it was also fun to listen to SLJ’s comments about the fig tree he had planted in his yard, and his hopes to someday be able to sit under that fig tree:

That’s why I planted a fig tree last spring.  It’s this high right now.  It’s not so big at the moment and I can hardly get under it, but you’re going to be amazed at the spiritual revelation that will come from me when that thing grows high enough for me to sit under it and get some spiritual meditation, spiritual truth.

Yet I hadn’t noticed, in the conversation with Nathanael in John 1, that Nathanael had likely been meditating specifically on the Genesis 28 text, in which Jacob, fleeing from his brother Esau, fell asleep and had the vision of the angels ascending and descending on the ladder.  Yet this is the background in Jesus’ greeting to Nathanael, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (or “no deceit” ESV).  That greeting could also be phrased “in whom there is no Jacob,” since the word Jacob had that meaning of guile and deceit.  Thus Jesus,  in His first words to Nathanael, immediately referenced what Nathanael was thinking about – the life of Jacob, one who was full of guile and deceit.

Jesus’ last words in John 1, about the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of Man, is a well-known point with reference to Jacob’s dream, and the change Jesus makes here: that He is the ladder upon which the angels of God ascend and descend; He is the great mediator.  This sentence again confirms the specific text that Nathanael had been reading and thinking about.

The Problem With “Spiritual Disciplines”

March 21, 2011 1 comment

Several months ago I briefly looked at the terms “means of grace” and “spiritual disciplines,” mainly to understand the definition of the expression “means of grace.”  Now for a follow-up and more detailed look at the trendy idea of “spiritual disciplines” and what it’s really about.
A friend recently sent a link to a “Bible meditation” plan, asking what I thought of it.  The plan referenced “spiritual disciplines” and suggested specific ways to meditate on God’s word, including “relax your body” and “use your imagination to picture the truth when appropriate.”  (I explained what I thought of this, and the friend noted that I had confirmed the doubts she had about it.)
Bob DeWaay’s “Critical Issues Commentary” has been helpful for further research, as with these two articles:

The proponents of “spiritual disciplines,” such as Don Whitney, go beyond what the Bible itself defines.  Bob DeWaay said it well, that the “Means of grace are defined by the Bible and attached to God’s promises.  If we come to God in faith according to the means He has defined, He has promised to graciously meet us.”

However, the “spiritual disciplines” add many specific things to “do” in a subtle type of works-religion:

To summarize the directives in the chapters of Whitney’s book: spend more time reading the Bible, memorize more scripture, have a Bible reading plan, obey the Bible more, apply the Bible more, pray more, do more evangelism, make more plans for evangelism, serve more, use your gifts more, work harder at serving, use more time for spiritual things and less for wasteful things like entertainment, give more, fast often and regularly, spend time daily in silence and solitude, learn to hear the inward voice of God and then obey that inward voice, keep a journal, discipline yourself to write in a journal daily, study more, persevere more, and so forth. In fact, one could summarize, “think of whatever appears to be spiritual and godly and then do more and try harder.”

Many of these things are harmless in themselves, but with the teaching of “spiritual disciplines” they have become associated with the idea of becoming holy through disciplining oneself, as though by doing these things we could become more spiritual, more like Jesus.  For instance, “keeping a journal” is based on an idea only loosely connected to scripture, that since David penned the Psalms (inspired writings), our journal-keeping of thoughts and feelings is on the same level.  But back to the definition of “means of grace,” such a “blessing” for keeping a journal is not something that God promises — and inevitably sets us up for disappointment when such measures fail to give that extra blessing.

Bob DeWaay’s remarks about keeping a journal reminded me of something I remember reading years ago from C.S. Lewis, that keeping a journal was something he quit doing after becoming a Christian:  journal keeping was too self-focused, a very selfish activity that detracts from making us useful for God.  If by journal keeping we mean, keep notes about new things we discover in God’s word, fine — and I do that in fair measure, notes from certain Bible verses I read, or notes from various sermon series with commentary opinions.  But the “spiritual discipline” of journal keeping is the very thing C.S. Lewis also rejected, as too much self-centeredness.

But back to the idea of the grace that God gives to us as we partake of His means:  can I actually observe the blessings/benefits I receive from the “means of grace?”  Being honest with myself, I must admit, frequently I’m unaware of such — the process is gradual, and too often even when I engage in regular activity such as Bible reading, my mind is easily distracted or otherwise dulled and not as attentive as it should be.  Yet God has even told us that the reading of His word is a “blessing”  (Revelation 1:3), and that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”  (2 Timothy 3:16).  Often enough, I find at least daily encouragement to continue living the Christian life — as in recent readings in Hebrews, Psalm 119, and other parts of God’s word.