George Herbert: “The Agony”

28 03 2013

Much to dwell on, particularly this time of year.  The final paragraph is a fine thing to keep in head and heart come Thursday evening.

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of the seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through ev’ry vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach, then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.





Richard Baxter on Suffering and Death

19 03 2013

Lord, it belongs not to my care
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And this Thy grace must give.

If life be long, I will be glad,
That I may long obey;
If short, yet why should I be sad
To welcome endless day?

Christ leads me through no darker rooms
Than He went through before;
He that unto God’s kingdom comes
Must enter by this door.

Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet
Thy blessèd face to see;
For if Thy work on earth be sweet
What will Thy glory be!

Then I shall end my sad complaints
And weary sinful days,
And join with the triumphant saints
That sing my Savior’s praise.

My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
But ’tis enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with Him.

 





Spurgeon: the suffering of Christ and the honor of God

20 12 2011

“And they gave Him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but He received it not. ” – Mark 15:23

A golden truth is couched in the fact that the Saviour put the myrrhed wine-cup from His lips. On the heights of heaven the Son of God stood of old, and as He looked down upon our globe He measured the long descent to the utmost depths of human misery; He cast up the total of all the agonies which expiation would require, and abated not a jot. He solemnly determined that to offer a sufficient atoning sacrifice He must go the whole way, from the highest to the lowest, from the throne of highest glory to the cross of deepest woe. This myrrhed cup, with its soporific influence, would have stayed Him within a little of the utmost limit of misery, therefore He refused it. He would not stop short of all He had undertaken to suffer for His people. Ah, how many of us have pined after reliefs to our grief which would have been injurious to us! Reader, did you never pray for a discharge from hard service or suffering with a petulant and wilful eagerness? Providence has taken from you the desire of your eyes with a stroke. Say, Christian, if it had been said, “If you so desire it, that loved one of yours shall live, but God will be dishonoured,” could you have put away the temptation, and said, “Thy will be done”? Oh, it is sweet to be able to say, “My Lord, if for other reasons I need not suffer, yet if I can honour Thee more by suffering, and if the loss of my earthly all will bring Thee glory, then so let it be. I refuse the comfort, if it comes in the way of Thine honour.” O that we thus walked more in the footsteps of our Lord, cheerfully enduring trial for His sake, promptly and willingly putting away the thought of self and comfort when it would interfere with our finishing the work which He has given us to do. Great grace is needed, but great grace is provided.

Spurgeon’s Devotional Aug 18th p.m.





Charles Spurgeon: The Christian and fear

20 12 2011
Christian, you ought not to dread the arrival of evil tidings; because if you are distressed by them, what do you more than other men ? Other men have not your God to fly to; they have never proved His faithfulness as you have done, and it is no wonder if they are bowed down with alarm and cowed with fear: but you profess to be of another spirit; you have been begotten again unto a lively hope, and your heart lives in heaven and not on earthly things; now, if you are seen to be distracted as other men, what is the value of that grace which you profess to have received? Where is the dignity of that new nature which you claim to possess?

Again, if you should be filled with alarm, as others are, you would, doubtless, be led into the sins so common to others under trying circumstances. The ungodly, when they are overtaken by evil tidings, rebel against God; they murmur, and think that God deals hardly with them. Will you fall into that same sin? Will you provoke the Lord as they do? Moreover, unconverted men often run to wrong means in order to escape from difficulties, and you will be sure to do the same if your mind yields to the present pressure. Trust in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.

Your wisest course is to do as Moses did at the Red Sea, “Stand still and see the salvation of God.” For if you give way to fear when you hear of evil tidings, you will be unable to meet the trouble with that calm composure which nerves for duty, and sustains under adversity. How can you glorify God if you play the coward? Saints have often sung God’s high praises in the fires, but will your doubting and desponding, as if you had none to help you, magnify the Most High? Then take courage, and relying in sure confidence upon the faithfulness of your covenant God, “let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Christian, you ought not to dread the arrival of evil tidings; because if you are distressedby them, what do you more than other men ? Other men have not your God to fly to;they have never proved His faithfulness as you have done, and it is no wonder if theyare bowed down with alarm and cowed with fear: but you profess to be of another spirit;you have been begotten again unto a lively hope, and your heart lives in heaven andnot on earthly things; now, if you are seen to be distracted as other men, what is thevalue of that grace which you profess to have received? Where is the dignity of thatnew nature which you claim to possess?

Again, if you should be filled with alarm, as others are, you would, doubtless, be ledinto the sins so common to others under trying circumstances. The ungodly, when theyare overtaken by evil tidings, rebel against God; they murmur, and think that God dealshardly with them.

Will you fall into that same sin? Will you provoke the Lord as they do?  Moreover, unconverted men often run to wrong means in order to escape fromdifficulties, and you will be sure to do the same if your mind yields to the presentpressure. Trust in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him. Your wisest course is to do as Moses did at the Red Sea, “Stand still and see thesalvation of God.” For if you give way to fear when you hear of evil tidings, you willbe unable to meet the trouble with that calm composure which nerves for duty, and sustains under adversity. How can you glorify God if you play the coward? Saints have often sung God’s high praises in the fires, but will your doubting and desponding, as if you had none to help you, magnify the Most High? Then take courage, and relying sure confidence upon the faithfulness of your covenant God, “let not your heart betroubled, neither let it be afraid.”

From Spurgeon’s daily devotional Morning and Evening Sept 15. a.m.





Timely Advice from John Bunyan

20 12 2011

Below are the final exhortations from John Bunyan’s excellent book on praying in the Spirit.  I have excerpted them and placed them below.  Where I thought his vocabulary or structure was difficult I placed an explanation of his remarks in parenthesis next to the exhortation.  I found these timely and tremendously beneficial

  1. Believe that as sure as you are in the way of God, you must meet with temptations.
  2. The first day therefore that you enter into Christ’s congregation, look for them.
  3. When they do come, beg of God to carry you through them.
  4. Be jealous of your own heart, that it deceive you not in your evidences of heaven, nor in your walking with God in this world (that is, be aware that your convictions can be deceptive.  Not all who believe they are in Christ actually are)
  5. Take heed of the flatteries of false brothers.
  6. Keep in the life and power of the truth.
  7. Look most at things which are not seen (your thoughts, desires, motivations etc).
  8. Take heed of little sins.
  9. Keep the promise (of the Gospel) warm upon your heart.
  10. Renew your acts of faith in the blood of Christ (Keep on repenting and believing the Good News EVERY DAY)
  11. Consider the work of your generation (by generation, Bunyan here means your peers in Christ.  See how Christ is using them.  Observe, consider, pray, etc.)
  12. Count to run with the foremost therein.  Grace be with thee (See how Christ is using your peers.  Aim to “run with” those who are serving him most powerfully.  As this is not a work of the flesh but of the Spirit, Bunyan pleads that the Grace of God be upon us to run with those “foremost” in Christ.)




Rob Sturdy: “Jesus will win.” Explaining death to a 3 year old…

20 12 2011

Over the past year or so my son and I have read through the Jesus Storybook Bible multiple times.  He always enjoys the reading and is engaged, but it continually amazes me just how caught up he gets in the four stories in the book that deal with the Lord’s Supper, the trial of Jesus, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.  Rarely can we begin the Lord’s Supper and not have to read all four stories.  No matter how much I want to wind down the evening, I find it really hard to refuse reading the Bible to my little boy, especially those wonderful and crucial sections of the Gospel.

This past time reading through was different however.  His excitement was still there, but this time he began to ask questions and the one question that he was most interested in I felt totally ill prepared for.

“Daddy, what’s death?”

My mind went racing.  I had no idea how to answer this.  I walked through several generic answers before I was reminded of a metaphor used for death in the Scriptures.  When speaking of death, the Apostle Paul says that death is an enemy that must be destroyed by our hero Jesus (1 Cor 15.26).  The metaphor of death as an enemy works well with my little boy’s mind.  Right now everything is good guys vs. bad guys, superheros vs. villains.  Happy that the scriptures discussed death in these simple terms that my son could understand I replied:

“Well buddy, death is an enemy.”

“An enemy?” he asked.

“Yup.  A bad guy.”

What happened next was quite intriguing and I thank God for the conversation.

“But I’m strong,” said David, and he flexed his muscles and scowled his face like the cartoon superheroes he watches.

“Death is stronger,” I replied.

“But I’m really fast,” he replied, without near as much certainty.

“Death is faster.”  And while I was talking to David about death it began to dawn on me that one day this enemy would come for David and I felt the same pain that any parent feels when something makes them consider this.  Though my typical reaction would be to force this thought as far away as possible, I resisted the urge and pressed on.  ” One day buddy, death is going to come for you and he’ll win.  He’ll always be stronger than you.  He’ll always be faster and one day he will come for you.”

“Oh,” he said.

But we didn’t leave things there and thanks be to God neither does he!

“But David,” I said, “Jesus is stronger than death.  Jesus is faster than death.  One day, when death comes for you, Jesus will be there and he’ll win.  Even though you could never beat death, Jesus can and he’ll be there for you when you need him.”

“Jesus will win?” he asked.

“Yeah buddy, he always does.”  Then we thanked God that Jesus would beat this bad guy, I kissed David on the cheek, gave him three bear hugs, and off he went to sleep.





Martin Luther: God’s grace in forsaking us

20 12 2011

Luther is commenting here on the fear of Abram in Gen 15.1.  Notice Luther’s description of God withdrawing himself and what it is meant to accomplish.  First, when God withdraws himself it is because of His grace, not in spite of.  After all, grace is “truly immovalbe and unchangeable.”  But rather, God will from time to time withdraw himself to humble his people and protect them from grievous sins and at the proper time restore their spirits with a word of comfort.  The pastoral applications of this are immense. Here are some questions to help you tease this out for yourself.  What role does spiritual depression play in formation?  When I feel God’s absence, could there be a good and loving reason behind his absence?  How does being humbled by God help us to rely on his promises and love Him more? 

It is no small comfort, however, to know that grace has not been taken away but is truly immovable and unchangeable, although the awareness and experience of grace is taken away for a time, and dread and fear rush in, discouraging and troubling the spirit.  The man becomes impatient, concludes that he cannot bear the wrath of God, and simply makes a devil out of God.

Christ experienced this trial in the garden (Matt 26.41), where nature was wrestling with the spirit, and the spirit indeed was willing but the flesh was weak, terrified, fearful, and troubled.  No one is truly sorrowful unless God forsakes him, just as, conversely, no one can be sorrowful when God is present.  Therefore sorrow is an indication that God has departed from us and has forsaken us for a time…

When on the other hand, as is written in the Book of Wisdom (3.7), God shines into our hearts with rays of mercy, then it is impossible for our hearts not to be glad, even though we, like Stephen, are being dragged to torture and death.

Therefore it is profitable to consider these examples, namely, that the saints who are bold in the Holy Spirit are bolder than Satan himself.  On the other hand, when they are in the clutches of trial, they tremble so much that they are afraid even of a rustling leaf.  We are reminded of our weakness in order that no matter how great the gifts are that we possess, we may not exalt ourselves but may remain humble and fear God.  From those who do not do this He turns His face away, and trouble and perplexity follow.

I want to preface these remarks to this chapter, in which we learn about what Ps. 4.3 says: “know that God has dealt marvelously with the godly,” that is, that He keeps those who are His occupied in various ways, lest they become heretics, be presumptuous with regard to their gifts, and be puffed up over against those who do not have these gifts.  For those who do this are very close to destruction.

Therefore those who are chosen as teachers of the churches to rule over others should offer special prayers that they be preserved from this affliction as from the greatest and most dangerous evil.

Other sins- such as wrathfulness, impatience, and drunkenness- naturally bring shame because of their foulness.  Those who indulge in them know that they have sinned.  Consequently, they blush.  But vainglory and trust in one’s own wisdom or righteousness is a sin of such a kind that it is not recognized as sin.  Instead, men thank God for it, as the Pharisee does in the Gospel (Luke 18.9-14); they rejoice in it as in an extraordinary gift of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore it is an utterly incurable devilish evil.

From this God preserves saintly Abraham by subjecting the glorious conqueror to such an affliction that it is necessary to comfort him with a divine word…

Luther, Comentary on Genesis vol. II (LW vol. 3 pg 8-9)





Ignatius: On Dying for Christ

19 12 2011

I remember exactly where I was the first time I read this.  I was stunned.  This is a very spiritually edifying piece from Ignatius.  He had been taken captive by the Romans to be put to death for his faith.  He had learned of a rescue attempt to be staged by the church in Rome.  But as you can see from the letter, he was eager to “die and be with Christ.”  What do I expect people to get from this letter?  A vision of a man who finally realized there is nothing more precious than Christ.  It is because of this realization that a man who followed Christ his whole life can say  ”Now I begin to become a disciple.”

I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to any one. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments   i.e., by the teeth of the wild beasts. I may be found a sacrifice [to God]. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free,   “Free,” probably from human infirmity. while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him. And now, being a prisoner, I learn not to desire anything worldly or vain.

From Syria even unto Rome I fight with beasts,  where the word is also used figuratively.both by land and sea, both by night and day, being bound to ten leopards, I mean a band of soldiers, who, even when they receive benefits,  Probably the soldiers received gifts from the Christians, to treat Ignatius with kindness. show themselves all the worse. But I am the more instructed by their injuries [to act as a disciple of Christ]; “yet am I not thereby justified”. May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray that they may be found eager to rush upon me, which also I will entice to devour me speedily, and not deal with me as with some, whom, out of fear, they have not touched. But if they be unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me [in this] I know what is for my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple, and have no desire after anything visible or invisible, that I may attain to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let breakings, tearings, and separations of bones; let cutting off of members; let bruising to pieces of the whole body; and let the very torment of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ.

Ignatius, Letter to the Romans





Spurgeon Part II: How Do We Battle Spiritual Depression?

19 12 2011

Last week I put out a post on a particularly striking sermon of Charles Spurgeon called “Songs in the Night.” I found the sermon not only spiritually edifying but also tremendously practical. Below is a brief attempt to summarize Spurgeon’s thoughts on battling spiritual depression.

Spurgeon says in times of “night”, which he here uses as a metaphor for spiritual depression, we may “sing” about three things to cheer our hearts. “Either we sing about the yesterday that is over, or else about the night itself, or else about the morrow that is to come.”

In times of spiritual depression we may first sing about the “yesterday that is over.” By this Spurgeon means that we take the time to remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past in order that we may gain comfort in our present difficulties.  He writes:

“Christian, perhaps the best song thou canst sing, to cheer thee in the night, is the song of yester-morn. Remember, it was not always night with thee: night is a new thing to thee. Once thou hadst a glad heart, a buoyant spirit; once thine eye was full of fire; once thy foot was light; once thou couldst sing for very joy and ecstacy of heart. Well, then, remember that God, who made thee sing yesterday, has not left thee in the night. He is not a daylight God, who can not know his children in darkness; but he loves thee now as much as ever: though he has left thee a little, it is to prove thee, to make thee trust him better, and serve him more.”

So what kind of things did Spurgeon have in mind when he encourages us to remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past?  We can remember the electing love of God (Eph 1.4), which is a faithfulness to us which began before the foundations of the world.  We can remember his mighty act of redemption in Jesus Christ.  We can remember his giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  But we can also remember when we were first called to Christ.  We can remember times of particularly intense fellowship with him.  We can remember when he has delivered us from evil, temptation or strife.  If for one reason or another we cannot think of God’s faithfulness to us in the past, Spurgeon encourages us to think of God’s faithfulness to others most often applied to the great protagonists in the scriptures.  Spurgeon’s exhortation to remember when we were first called to Christ is particularly moving.  He writes:

What! man, canst thou not sing a little of that blessed hour when Jesus met thee; when, a blind slave, thou wast sporting with death, and he saw thee, and said: “Come, poor slave, come with me?” Canst thou not sing of that rapturous moment when he snapped thy fetters, dashed thy chains to the earth, and said: “I am the Breaker; I came to break thy chains, and set thee free?” What though thou art ever so gloomy now, canst thou forget that happy morning, when in the house God thy voice was loud, almost as a seraph’s voice, in praise? For thou couldst sing: “I am forgiven! I am forgiven:”

“A monument of grace, A sinner saved by blood.”  Go back, man; sing of that moment, and then thou wilt have a song in the night.

We might also sing of “the night itself”.  This is the shortest section of the sermon and perhaps the most brutal in its honesty.  Whatever “night” you and I are enduring, Spurgeon reassures us that things are not as bad as they could be, nor are they as badas we deserve.  Psalm 103 vs 10 reads “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor repaid us for our iniquities.”  The application of this verse is the crux of Spurgeon’s argument in this section.  To make it very simple and very clear, no matter what you are currently suffering through it is not hell.  When describing a particularly trying event people will occasionally say “it was hell.”  But of course it wasn’t.  Hell is a place of unimaginable torment.  Spurgeon’s point here is that you are not in hell, even though you deserve to be.  So take some comfort and derive some joy from the fact that God has indeed had mercy upon you through Jesus Christ.

Finally, Spurgeon says we can sing a song in the night by singing about the day to come.  I was speaking with a man recently who suffers from depression.  He said to me, “at least I know I will one day be happy in heaven.”  This is true!  He will one day be happy in heaven, and he can derive some joy from that now by resting in that hope and allowing some of that future joy to break into his present life.  Perhaps the most ready analogy is that of a pregnancy.  When a family is expecting a child, the day they long for and wait for is the day when their baby is born.  But in the meantime, the imminent birth of that child breaks into their present day lives.  They put together a crib, they paint a nursery, they buy diapers and blankets, they select the perfect teddy bear.  The expectation they have of the future gives them joy and motivates behavior in the present.  So too can our joy and expectation of a future with Jesus in heaven break into our lives now, shaping and affecting us.