You Must Read (John Bunyan) -F. Cook

YouMustReadCoverWith Oliver Cromwell’s death in 1658 and Charles II established on the throne in 1660, such preaching quickly aroused the antagonism of local magistrates and clerics alike. In November 1660 [John] Bunyan was arrested, brought to trial and imprisoned for lay preaching and for refusing to worship at a local parish church. From the age of thirty-two until he was forty-four, he languished in Bedford Jail, rat-infested, crowded, stinking, and cold, having to leave his wife and his four small children without support.

…Yet these very circumstances have given us today the priceless heritage of Bunyan’s writings, enriching and encouraging generations of the Lord’s people. Yet it was not easy….

But in spite of his suffering John Bunyan gives us a key to his endurance – a most vital key for our day:

I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything that can properly be called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyments, and all as dead to me and myself as dead to them.

On its own this would seem a somewhat negative concept, but Bunyan hastily adds his secret of endurance, for instead of these human comforts he was learning ‘to live upon God that is invisible.’ And the reward was great, for as Bunyan discovered through his twelve long years of imprisonment,

He [God] can make those things that in themselves are most fearful and terrible to behold, the most pleasant, delightful and desirable things. He can make a gaol more beautiful than a palace… He can so sweeten our sufferings with the honey of his word… and [make it] so easy by the spreading of his feathers over us that we will not be able to say that in all the world a more comfortable position can be found.

Taken from You Must Read: Books That Have Shaped Our Lives (Banner of Truth, 2015), Chapter 2, “The Works of John Bunyan” by Faith Cook, pp.11-12.

Growing Our Minds to Avoid Spiritual Ruts – J. P. Moreland

love-god-mind-morelandWe often read the Bible, hear the news, listen to a sermon, or talk to friends, yet we don’t get much out of it. One central reason for this may be our lack of knowledge and intellectual growth. The more you know, the more you see and hear because your mind brings more to the task of ‘seeing as’ or ‘seeing that.’ In fact, the more you know about extrabiblical matters, the more you will see in the Bible. Why? Because you will see distinctions in the Bible or connections between Scripture and an issue in another area of life that would not be possible without the concepts and categories placed in the mind’s structure by gaining the relevant knowledge in those extrabiblical areas of thought. Thus, general intellectual development can enrich life and contribute to Bible study and spiritual formation.

There is a closely related reason why intellectual development can enhance spiritual development: The mind forms habits and falls into ruts. One day at a chapel meeting, a missions professor showed a film clip of a foreign culture unfamiliar to most of us. He asked us to write down everything we noticed. He then showed the clip a second time and asked us to repeat the exercise. Everyone in the chapel meeting compared his or her first and second lists and, in every case, they were virtually identical! The professor’s lesson: our minds get into ruts in which we tend to look for things we have already seen  in order to validate our earlier perceptions. We seldom look at things from entirely fresh perspectives!

If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we get into ruts in our thinking and develop habits of thought that can grow stale after a while. This is where renewing the mind comes in. A life of study can give us a constant source of new categories and beliefs that will lead to fresh insights and stave off intellectual boredom. Many people become bored with the Bible precisely because their overall intellectual growth is stagnant. They cannot get new insights from Scripture because they bring the same old categories to Bible study and look to validate their old habits of thought.

Taken from J.P. Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (NavPress, 1997), pp.79-80 (found in chapter 3 “The Mind’s Role in Spiritual Formation” and in a section titled “How a developed mind helps us see”).

Published in: on December 7, 2016 at 6:38 AM  Leave a Comment  

Note to Self: Repent

Start by reading and meditating on 2 Corinthians 7:10.

Dear Self,

You will never be done with repentance – at least, not until death or Christ’s return. While it is something you should be doing frequently, it is not something you just ‘get used to.’ Repentance requires a daily intentionality. And let’s be honest; you will have more to repent of by the end of the day than you can possibly remember. So, where should you start?

…It will be helpful to think of repentance in three parts: revulsion, resolution, and repetition. Revulsion is finding something offensive or distasteful. In this case, it is seeing the heinousness of sin and pulling back from it. Sin, your sin in particular, should make you recoil. …Revulsion will come only when you see the holy, just, and good character of God in contrast to yourself. Until you understand that your sin, all of it, is a self-destructive rebellion against God that betrays your purpose and denies his worthiness, you will not experience revulsion.

Resolution is purposing to walk in righteousness, delighting in God’s law, laying off the old self, and walking in newness of life. Repentance is more than feeling sorry for what you are and have done. It is having the resolve to live for the glory and pleasure of God.

Repetition is the ongoing nature of this work. Without repetition, it is all for nothing, for as long as you continue to sin, you need to repent.If your repentance is not continual, it means, at the very least, that you are simply choosing some sins to deal with, while ignoring others.

…The deepness and consistency of your repenting will have a direct impact on the liveliness of your faith and the brightness of your confidence. This is not because you repent so well, but because in repenting you know the darkness and trouble of your own sin, and the great work of grace in Jesus that overcomes it all.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.30 “Repent” (found in Part Three, “The Gospel and You”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp. 99-100.

Remembering (and Forgetting) God – December “Tabletalk”

tt-dec-2016Yesterday I began digging into the featured articles in the December Tabletalk (daily devotions continue on the gospel of Mark).  This month’s theme is a rare one – “Remembering God” – and judging from what I have read so far, it is another timely subject.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this theme with his article “God Never Forgets Us” (be sure to read it!).

The first main article I also read yesterday: “Forgetting God” by Dr. Benjamin Shaw (professor of Hebrew and OT at Greenville Presbyterian Seminary, SC). He deals with the counter reality in our lives, namely, that we are called so often to remember God because we so easily forget Him.

Today, I give you a portion of his article, urging you to read all of it at the Ligonier link below.

Yesterday in God’s house of prayer and worship we heard the reminder to remember our God. As we start the work week now, let us not forget Him in the ways Shaw mentions. Let the truth that the Lord never forgets us motivate us to remember Him in all we do.

It is easy for us as modern Christians to point the finger at the Israelites and take them to task for the fact that they forgot God. The complaining we see in the wilderness, the cycle of apostasy, judgment, and restoration that we see in Judges, the good king/bad king alternations that we see in 1–2 Kings—these all emphasize the incessant inability of the Israelites to heed Moses’ admonition to “take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut. 6:12). We get tired when we read through Jeremiah and chapter after chapter is devoted to enumerating the sins of Israel and telling of Israel’s coming judgment. We feel that we are superior to Israel, more spiritual, less likely to forget God.

But we, too, get distracted by the demands of our days, by the busyness of our times. We forget that as Moses warned that declining from the commandments of God displays a forgetting of God, the same applies to us. We tend to think that ignoring, or rather, not fully living up to one commandment of God is a small thing. But the result is not simply disobedience. It is the beginning of idolatry, of making a god in our own image, a god we can easily obey. But did Jesus not say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15)? Yet, we find His commandments so easy to ignore. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32), Paul says, but we want to hold on to offenses and resentments. It feels good to bear a grudge. But that is not the way Christ teaches. To bear a grudge, to envy the gifts and graces of others, to covet the possessions of others—these are steps on the way to forgetting God.

Source: Forgetting God by Benjamin Shaw

Contemplating Christmas: Think and Talk of the Love of Our Savior – G. Whitefield

come-jesus-guthrie-2008For this first Sunday in December we post an excerpt from a sermon of George Whitefield (1714-1770) found in the book Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas (ed. Nancy Guthrie; Crossway, 2008).

The book’s title of this sermon is “Contemplating Christmas,” adapted from a sermon titled “The Observation of the Birth of Christ, the Duty of All Christians; or the True Way of Keeping Christmas.”

Here is part of what Whitefield had to say in the beginning of that message:

It was love, mere love; it was free love that brought the Lord Jesus Christ into our world. What, shall we not remember the birth of Jesus? Shall we yearly celebrate the birth of our temporal king [of England], and shall that of the King of kings be quite forgotten? Shall that only, which ought to be had chiefly in remembrance, be quite forgotten? God forbid!

No, my brethren, let us celebrate and keep this festival of our church with joy in our hearts: let the birth of a redeemer, which redeemed us from sin, from wrath, from death, from hell, be always remembered; may this Savior’s ;love never be forgotten! But may we sing forth all his love and glory as long as life shall last here, and through an endless eternity in the world above! May we chant forth the wonders of redeeming love and the riches of free grace, amidst angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, without intermission, forever and ever!

And at the end, he had this to say about contemplating especially the love of Christ:

Let me now conclude, my dear brethren, with  a few words of exhortation, beseeching you to think of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Did Jesus come into the world to save us from death, and shall we spend no part of our time in conversing about our dear Jesus; shall we pay no regard to the birth of him who came to redeem us from the worst of slavery, from that of sin, and the devil; and shall this Jesus not only be born on our account, but likewise die in our stead, and yet shall we be unmindful of him? Shall we spend our time in those things which are offensive to him? Shall we not rather do all we can to promote his glory and act according to his command?

…O be not so ungrateful to him who has been so kind to you! What could the Lord Jesus Christ have done for you more than he has? Then do not abuse his mercy, but let your time be spent in thinking and talking of the love of Jesus, who was incarnate for us, who was born of a woman, and made under the law, to redeem us from the wrath to come (pp.11-15).

Growing in Maturity – Tom Ascol

tt-nov-2016One of the featured articles in this month’s Tabletalk on Christian maturity is written by Dr. Tom Ascol. This third main article on the theme is titled “Growing in Maturity.”

In it, Ascol not only affirms from Scripture that believers must be growing into maturity as they grow older as Christians, but he also treats the means by which we are to do so. These means of the “how” of spiritual growth are not new to us, but they are important enough to be reminded of again.

I give you here his opening paragraph on this and then his section on using the Word of God as our chief means to reach maturity.

The How of Spiritual Maturity

Growth naturally follows birth in one’s spiritual life, just as it does in one’s physical life. That it is normal, however, does not mean that it is automatic. God has provided specific instruments to lead His people to spiritual maturity. The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes this provision:

Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto. (WCF 25.3)

Ordinary means of grace have been provided by God for both the “gathering” (conversion) and “perfecting” (maturing) of His people. The means that God has provided for creating faith in His people are the same means by which He intends for them to grow in faith. When Scripture encourages believers to advance in the Christian life, it never has in mind that we can outgrow our need of these ordinary means. Rather, as we continue to employ these means faithfully, we are empowered to grow deeper and stronger in our relationship with Christ.

The Word

Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Scripture is God’s Word written, and apart from it we cannot have a saving knowledge of God or grow in our relationship with Him. The Apostle Paul says God gave us the Scriptures to profit us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness so “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). To grow in maturity, a Christian must grow in his understanding of and submission to Scripture.

A casual acquaintance with the Bible will not suffice, as Jesus makes clear in the conclusion of His Sermon on the Mount when He contrasts a house built on a rock that withstands the storms with one built on sand that is destroyed by them. The latter represents the person who merely hears the Word of Christ without submissively complying with it. His life lacks stability. The former is like the wise man who not only hears the teachings of Jesus but “does them.” His life will be characterized by a maturity that stands firm through the trials of life.

God has designed His Word to shape us through reading and hearing (Rom. 10:17; Rev. 1:3), through meditation and memorization (Josh. 1:8; Pss. 1:1–3; 119:11), and especially through faithful preaching (2 Tim. 4:1–5).

Source: Growing in Maturity by Tom Ascol

False gods: “The glitter of idols is overcome by the glory of God.”

no-other-godsGood thoughts read today in this weekend’s devotional in the November Tabletalk – “False Gods” by Joe Thorn.

Another reason we are prone to idolatry is because we want to be autonomous, not accountable. To admit that we are the creation of God is to confess that we belong to Him, that He has authority over us. It not only means that He alone should be worshiped, but that we must answer to Him for what we do and who we have become. Idolatry is tempting because, at least in our minds, it frees us from the God who owns us.

Idolatry is not just delusional, it is dangerous. Such false gods will not only fail to serve us and save us, but they will lead us to our condemnation. It is only when we see idols for what they are, in contrast to who the Lord is, that the glitter of idols is overcome by the glory of God.

This is the core reason why we worship idols – because we are not gripped with the glory of God, glory that is seen in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who Himself is the ‘radiance’ of God’s glory (Heb.1:3), whose death brought about our redemption, and whose resurrection secured our life. The beginning of the end of the idolatry in our hearts is found in the supremacy of Jesus Christ (p.58).

Victory in Christ in This Life

beyeholy-brf-2016From the newly published book Be Ye Holy: The Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification (British Reformed Fellowship, 2016) comes these words from the pen of Prof. Herman Hanko (emeritus PRC Seminary) on “The Victorious Christian” (Part 1: Chapter 6):

There are other ways in which God works sanctification in us in such a way that we are victorious over sin.

To confess our sins before God brings forgiveness. That too is victory. When, at Calvary, we confess our sins and seek forgiveness through the blood of Christ, these sins are forgiven, and we know that we are righteous and sinless before the eyes of our Father in heaven. Sin cannot rob us of His love and care. Sin confessed cannot keep us from heaven. Sin washed away in the blood of Christ gives us victory over Satan and his hosts, the world, and our own remaining sin.

Thus the victory of the child of God is found in a good conscience. Our conscience condemns us because it shows us our sins. But Scripture speaks of consciences washed in the blood of Christ (Heb.9:14). With freedom from an accusing conscience, we walk in the joy and hope of our salvation. Free from sin in God’s eyes, we are victorious.

That’s one way victory is evident in the Christian’s life. Hanko gives us another way:

The victory of the Christian is evident too in the fact that, although he falls in his path, he never gives up. He may yield to that temptation again and again, and commit the same sin repeatedly. The temptation to give up and fight no longer is strong. But he never does. Fallen, he rises again. Weary in the battle, he presses forward. Wounded and bleeding, he resolves to pursue his calling with renewed strength. He cannot be defeated, no matter how fierce the battle. He is more than a conqueror! (pp.96-97).

In the UK the book may be obtained from the Covenant PRC Bookshop. In the U.S., it may be purchased at the Reformed Book Outlet (Hudsonville, MI).

Thanksgiving Day 2016

PilgrimThanksgivingFrom my wife and myself we extend to all of our readers a blessed and happy Thanksgiving Day greeting!

May we together give deep thanks to our God for every blessing in Christ our Lord, resting in contentment and joy in all of God’s goodness to us this day and throughout the year, and trusting Him for every need for every day.

Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:

Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:1-5

For our reflection today we post this prayer/meditation from The Valley of Vision titled “Blessings.” I believe you will find it fitting for this Thanksgiving Day.

Thou great Three-One,
Author of all blessings I enjoy, of all I hope for,

Thou hast taught me
that neither the experience of present evils,
nor the remembrances of former sins,
nor the remonstrances of friends,
will or can affect a sinner’s heart,
except thou vouchsafe to reveal thy grace
and quicken the dead in sin
by the effectual working of thy Spirit’s power.

Thou hast shown me
that the sensible effusions of divine love
in the soul are superior to and distinct from bodily health,
and that oft-times spiritual comforts are  at their highest
when physical well-being is at its lowest.

Thou hast given me the ordinance of song as a means of grace;
Fit me to bear my part in that music ever new,
which elect angels and saints made perfect
now sing before thy throne and before the Lamb.

I bless thee for tempering every distress with joy;
too much of the former might weigh me down,
too much of the latter might puff me up;
Thou art wise to give me a taste of both.

I love thee
for giving me clusters of grapes in the wilderness,
and drops of heavenly wine
that set me longing to have my fill.

Apart from thee I quickly die,
bereft of thee I starve,
far from thee I thirst and droop;

But thou art all I need.
Let me continually grasp the promise,
‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’

And this music video from the PR Psalm Choir is also an appropriate song of thanks for our reflection.

Note to Self: Stop Complaining

Start by reading and meditating on Phil.2:14: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.”

Dear Self,

…You complain because you misunderstand (or just miss altogether) the grace you have received and the purposes of God in your life. You misunderstand the grace you have received by not recognizing it and receiving it with gratitude. Life, breath, and all of God’s provisions for your life are acts of his kindness and are truly wonderful, and yet they all seem to disappear when the small inconveniences of life appear.

In most of your complaining you miss the good purposes of God for your life – purposes he has made clear. ‘God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God’ (Rom.8:28 NASB). This truth should remain a constant meditation, particularly in a world filled with frustration, frailty, and failure. Though we are not always aware of the particular ways in which God causes all things to work out for our good, we have this promise, and it should be enough to challenge and conquer our complaining spirit.

…Perhaps the lesson is that you haven’t driven the gospel deep enough into your heart and mind. Otherwise it would bear fruit precisely where you need it. Are you complaining today? Consider the grace of God in all of life, and in the gospel particularly. Be assured of his purpose in all things inconvenient and tragic, and you will find the cure for complaining.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.35 “Stop Complaining” (found in Part Three, “The Gospel and You”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp. 109-110.

You might also benefit from reading (or re-reading) this “note to self” we posted previously, about giving thanks.