Archive for the ‘Voices from the Past’ Category
Posted on November 19th, 2014 by David Burnette
Do you ever feel like your prayers are too flawed to do any good? Sure, God hears us when we cry out to him, but what about prayers that are stained with sin?
For those who struggle to persevere in hope as you pray, which is surely every Christian at one time or another, Puritan pastor Thomas Watson offers encouragement based on Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in John 17. Watson reminds us not to fixate on the imperfection of our prayers, but instead to take comfort in Christ’s intercession for us:
“Christ’s prayer takes away the sins of our prayers. As a child, says Ambrose, that is willing to present his father with a posy, goes into the garden, and there gathers some flowers and some weeds together, but coming to his mother, she picks out the weeds and binds the flowers, and so it is presented to the father: thus when we have put up our prayers, Christ comes, and picks away the weeds, the sin of our prayer, and presents nothing but flowers to His father, which are a sweet-smelling savour.” (1)
Take heart, Christian. You may feel weak and unworthy in prayer, but Jesus is praying for you. And his prayers are always accepted.
— (1) Thomas Watson, All Things for Good, 23.
Posted on August 26th, 2014 by Eric Parker
If people were emotionless, then the world would be motionless. This is the conclusion of pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards during the height of his thinking during the 18th century. He writes,
The Author of the human nature has not only given affections to men, but has made them very much the spring of men’s actions. As the affections do not only necessarily belong to the human nature, but are a very great part of it; so (inasmuch as by regeneration, persons are renewed in the whole man, and sanctified throughout) holy affections do not only necessarily belong to true religion, but are very great part of that. And as true religion is of a practical nature, and God has so constituted the human nature, that the affections are very much the spring of men’s actions, this also shows, that true religion must consist very much in the affections.
Such is man’s nature, that he is very inactive, any otherwise than he is influenced by some affection, either love or hatred, desire, hope, fear or some other. These affections we see to be the springs that set men aging, in all the affairs of life, and engage them in all their pursuits: these are the things that put men forward, and carry them along, in all their worldly business; and especially are men excited and animated by these, in all affairs, wherein they are earnestly engaged, and which they pursue with vigor. We see the world of mankind to be exceedingly busy and active; and the affections of men are the springs of the motion: take away all love and hatred, all hope and fear, all anger, zeal and affectionate desire, and the world would be, in a great measure, motionless and dead; there would be no such thing as activity amongst mankind, or any earnest pursuit whatsoever. ‘Tis affection that engages the covetous man, and him that is greedy of worldly profits, in his pursuits; and it is by the affections, that the ambitious man is put forward in his pursuit of worldly glory; and ’tis the affections also that actuate the voluptuous man, in his pursuit of pleasure and sensual delights: the world continues, from age to age, in a continual commotion and agitation, in a pursuit of these things; but take way all affection , and the spring of all this motion would be gone, and the motion itself would cease. And as in worldly things, worldly affections are very much the spring of men’s motion and action; so in religious matters, the spring of their actions are very much religious affections: he that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.
The question you have to answer is this: what kind of emotion do you want moving the world?
Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections in Readings in Christian Thought, ed. Hugh T. Kerr, 199-200
Posted on July 28th, 2014 by Eric Parker
Have you ever struggled with how much you sin? John Bunyan has some encouraging words about the strange providence of God.
Now I saw that as God had his hand in all the providences and dispensations that overtook his elect, so he had his hand in all the temptations that they had to sin against him, not to spur them to wickedness, but to choose their temptations and troubles for them, and also to leave them for a time to such things only as might not destroy them, but rather humble them, and not put them beyond, but lay them in the way of the renewing of his mercy. Oh, what love, what care what kindness and mercy did I now see mixing itself with the most severe and dreadful of all God’s ways to his people. He would let David, Hezekiah, Solomon, Peter, and others fall, but he would not let them fall into the sin unpardonable, nor into hell for sin. Oh, thought I, these are the men that God had loved; these are the men that God, though he chastises them, keeps in safety by him, and whom he makes to abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to Sinners, 78
Posted on May 29th, 2014 by Eric Parker
It can be so easy sometimes to lose appreciation for the forgiveness provided through the death of Christ on the Cross. This often comes from a lack of understanding for just how difficult it truly is for sinners to be forgiven. John Stott elaborates:
The crucial question we should ask, therefore, is a different one. It is not why God finds it difficult to forgive, but how he finds it possible to do so at all. As Emil Brunner put it, ‘Forgiveness is the very opposite of anything which can be taken for granted. Nothing is less obvious than forgiveness.’ Or, in the words of Carnegie Simpson, ‘forgiveness is to man the plainest of duties; to God it is the profoundest of problems.’
The problem of forgiveness is constituted by the inevitable collision between divine perfection and human rebellion, between God as he is and us as we are. The obstacle to forgiveness is neither our sin alone nor our guilt alone, but the divine reaction in love and wrath toward guilty sinners. For, although indeed ‘God is love,’ yet we have to remember that his love is ‘holy love,’ love which yearns over sinners while at the same time refusing to condone their sin. How, then, could God express his holy love–his love in forgiving sinners without compromising his holiness, and his holiness in judging sinners without frustrating his love? Confronted by human evil, how could God be true to himself as holy love? In Isaiah’s words, how could he be simultaneously ‘a righteous God and a Savior’ (Is 45:21)? For despite the truth that God demonstrated his righteousness by taking action to save his people, the words righteousness and salvation cannot be regarded as simple synonyms. Rather his saving initiative was compatible with, and expressive of, his righteousness. At the cross in holy love God through Christ paid the full penalty of our disobedience himself. He bore the judgment we deserve in order to bring us the forgiveness we do not deserve. On the cross divine mercy and justice were equally expressed and eternally reconciled. God’s holy love was ‘satisfied.’
John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 90-91
Posted on May 7th, 2014 by Eric Parker
C. S. Lewis relates his reluctant conversion:
The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice. In a sense. I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words and (I think) almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay, or shutting something out. Or, if you like, that I was wearing some stiff clothing, like corsets, or even a suit of armor, as if I were a lobster. I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut; I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. Neither choice was presented as a duty; no threat or promise was attached to either, though I knew that to open the door or to take off the corset meant the incalculable. The choice appeared to be momentous but it was also strangely unemotional. I was moved by no desires or fears. In a sense I was not moved by anything. I chose to open, to unbuckle, to loosen the rein. I say, ‘I chose,’ yet it did not really seem possible to do the opposite. On the other hand, I was aware of no motives. You could argue that I was not a free agent, but I am more inclined to think that this came nearer to being a perfectly free act than most that I have ever done. Necessity may not be the opposite of freedom, and perhaps a man is most free when, instead of producing motives, he could only say, ‘I am what I do.’ Then came the repercussion on the imaginative level. I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. The melting was starting in my back–drip-drip and presently trickle-trickle. I rather disliked the feeling….
Really, a young atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side…. For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion….
I was to be allowed to play at philosophy no longer. It might, as I say, still be true that my ‘Spirit’ differed in some way from ‘the God of popular religion.’ My Adversary waived the point. It sank into utter unimportance. He would not argue about it. He only said, ‘I am the Lord'; ‘I am that I am'; ‘I am.’
People who are naturally religious find difficulty in understanding the horror of such a revelation. Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about ‘man’s search for God.’ To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat….
Lewis goes on to talk about how his own philosophical sensibilities, as he perceived them, would never lead him into something uncomfortable. Instead, they would only lead him to act within “reason.”
Doubtless, by definition, God was Reason itself. But would He also be ‘reasonable’ in that other, more comfortable, sense? Not the slightest assurance on that score was offered me. Total surrender, the absolute leap in the dark, were demanded. The reality with which no treaty can be made was upon me. The demand was not even ‘All or nothing.’ I think that stage had been passed, on the bus top when I unbuckled my armor and the snowman started to melt. Now, the demand was simply ‘All.’
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.
C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, pp.123-125 in The Beloved Works of C. S. Lewis
Posted on April 30th, 2014 by Eric Parker
So many people today in Western culture attempt to deny the existence of God. They attempt to side step God to have some sort of spirituality that will help them explain their own realities, but without a God to dictate objectively to them just how to think and feel about those realities. The most tragic aspect to this tendency by our culture is when suffering comes. John Owen made this insightful and piercing observation just under 400 years ago:
Unbelievers have no comfort or spiritual strength. They must bear their own burdens. And how are they able to do that if God presses his hand down on their burdens? Such people give an outward impression of being happy, whereas inwardly they are miserable.
All their determinations and resolutions are but attempts to resist God. They strive to be at peace under that which God has sent to disturb them. God does not afflict those who do not have the Spirit to exercise their patience, but to disturb their peace and security. All their arming themselves with patience and good resolutions is but to keep themselves with patience and good resolutions is but to keep themselves in that false security from which God means to cast them out or else bring them nearer to eternal ruin. This is the best comfort in the time of their trouble.
If they have false assurance of God’s care and promises to them, and in this false assurance they comfort themselves, then their comfort is like the dreams of a hungry man who thinks he is eating and drinking, but when he awakes, he is still hungry and thirsty. So, many will awaken in the last day and see all things clearly. In that day, they will then find that God is their enemy. They will see him laugh at their calamity. They will hear him mocking when their judgment comes on them to the full.
John Owen, Communion with God, 208
Posted on April 24th, 2014 by Eric Parker
The doctrine of creation is essential and foundational to our Christian worldview. So much of reality cannot be explained well apart from what Genesis 1 teaches us about the origin of all things. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, an early second century Church Father, helps us with some of the logic involved in this understanding of creation.
For it is necessary that things that have come into being have received the origin of their being from some great cause; and the origin of all is God, for he himself was not made by anyone, but everything was made by him. And therefore it is proper, first of all, to believe that there is one God, the Father, who has created and fashioned all things, who made that which was not to be, who contains all and is alone uncontainable. Moreover, in this ‘all’ is our world, and in the world, man; thus this world was also created by God.
Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, On the Apostolic Preaching, 42
Posted on April 15th, 2014 by Eric Parker
Have you ever struggled with getting started in prayer each day? D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives this really helpful encouragement:
I have come to learn certain things about private prayer. You cannot pray to order. You can get on your knees to order; but how to pray? I have found nothing more important than to learn how to get oneself into that frame and condition in which one can pray. You have to learn how to start yourself off, and it is just here that this knowledge of yourself is so important. What I have generally found is that to read something which can be characterized in general as devotional is of great value. By devotional I do not mean something sentimental, I mean something with a true element of worship in it. Notice that I do not say that you should start yourself in prayer by always reading the Scriptures; because you can have precisely the same difficulty there. Start by reading something that will warm your spirit. Get rid of a coldness that may have developed in your spirit. You have to learn how to kindle a flame in your spirit, to warm yourself up, to give yourself a start. It is comparable, if you like, to starting a car when it is cold. You have to learn how to use a spiritual choke. I have found it most rewarding to do that, and not to struggle vainly. When one finds oneself in this condition, and that it is difficult to pray, do not struggle in prayer for the time being, but read something that will warm and stimulate you, and you will find that it will put you into a condition in which you will be able to pray more freely.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers, 181-182
Posted on April 9th, 2014 by Eric Parker
As we quickly approach this year’s Secret Church, “The Cross and Everyday Life,” Jonathan Edwards helps us in our attempt to honor God in our jobs, our extended families, our homes, our churches, and our communities. He shares with us a very familiar principal, but one that will affect every realm of our lives if embraced:
A Christian spirit disposes them in many cases to forego and part with their own things for the sake of the things of others. It disposes them to part with their own private temporal interest, and totally and finally to renounce it, for the sake of the honor of God and the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. Such was the spirit of the Apostle Paul. Acts 21:13, ‘I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And they have a spirit to forego and part with their own private interest for the good of their neighbors in many instances; ready to help bear others’ burdens, to part with a less good of their own for the sake of a greater of their neighbors'; and as the case may be, to lay down their lives for the brethren [1 John 3:16]. (Works 8, 259)
Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards on The Good Life, 37
Join us for the Secret Church simulcast on Good Friday, April 18, 2014 (6pm – midnight CT) to learn more about how the cross should affect our everyday lives.
Posted on April 2nd, 2014 by Eric Parker
Bonhoeffer points out that a preacher of the gospel will either be motivated or hindered by fear. The question we must ask is what kind of fear characterizes our everyday lives? Bonhoeffer reflecting on Matthew 10:26-28 writes,
They must not fear men. Men can do them no harm, for the power of men ceases with the death of the body. But they must overcome the fear of death with the fear of God. The danger lies not in the judgement of men, but in the judgement of God, not in the death of the body but in the eternal destruction of body and soul. Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men. All preachers of the gospel will do well to recollect this saying daily.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 218
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