How Do We Renew Our First Love and Drive Out Worldliness? – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonToday I read chapter 49 in Sinclair Ferguson’s collection of essays on the Christian life titled In Christ Alone. This forty-ninth chapter has the heading “Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection”, and in it Ferguson takes off from the famous but forgotten (probably by several generations now) sermon of Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.”

The question Ferguson faces and answers is the one I have placed in the heading to this post. Every Christian faces the reality in his life that he is not as inflamed by the gospel as he once was, resulting in a fresh wave of worldliness in one’s life. So how do we overcome this and renew our first love?

Ferguson’s counsel on this point is wise and simple. I pray that it also helps give you guidance in what is a frustrating reality in our lives as God’s children.

How can we recover the new affection for Christ and His kingdom that once so powerfully impacted our lifelong worldliness and caused us to crucify ‘the flesh with its passions and desires’ (Gal.5:24)?

What was it that created that first love? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin.

We are not naturally capable of loving God for Himself; indeed, we hate Him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much (Luke 7:47). We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God Himself (Rom.5:2, 2, 11). This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities – Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God – filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable, that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.

The way in which we maintain ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’ is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still ‘amaz- ing’ – when we return to Christ and the cross where God’s love for us was demonstrated to us (Rom.5:8) – does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.

Many of us share Cowper’s sad questions:

Where is the blessedness I knew,
when first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?

Let us remember the height from which we have fallen, repent, and return to those first things (Rev.2:5). Kindle ed.

Fighting Temptation (2) – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonThis is a follow up to the previous post, in which S.Ferguson concludes his look at temptation. I repeat here the context of his analysis.

In the forty-sixth chapter of his book In Christ Alone, Sinclair Ferguson treats the subject of temptation, plainly and powerfully, under the title “An Anatomy of Temptation.” The content speaks specifically to men (although women face the same evils and often in the same ways), as Ferguson deals with two parallel passages: David’s fall into sin recorded in 2 Sam.11:2ff. and the “anatomy of temptation” described in James 1:14-15.

I found his entire treatment soul-searching and faith-building, as he warns us about the power of sin within and without. Here is what he says about the fourth stage of temptation:

Stage 4:Temptation unresisted leads to death.

The death of David’s son illustrates the final fruit of sin. Its wages are death (Rom.6:23) – death as the destruction of blessing, death as separation from God, death as decay, loss, and darkness. If only David had asked, ‘Where will these desires lead me?’ But when our desires bring their objects near, vision is obscured. We forget Scripture’s sobering warnings that we reap what we sow, that the mind set on the flesh is death, that only those who put to death the misdeeds of the flesh can live (Gal.6:7-8; Rom.8:6,13).

Fourth Antidote: Always ask where an action will lead you, and what its final destination will be, before you become volitionally or affectionally drawn into it. Live always for the future, and in such a way that you will not be ashamed at Christ’s coming.

Yes, we fail [painfully true!]. But here is a word of encouragement from one who likewise failed: ‘Brothers… if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:10-11, NIV).

What things? [At this point Ferguson takes us back to vss.3-8 of 2 Peter 1, which we would do well to read and pray over.]

And he concludes:

Here is the apostolic medicine for sickly souls – prescribed by one who fell grievously ill but was raised up!

Praise be to the amazing mercy and grace of God! May we weigh these things well, fellow brothers in the Lord, and heed the only wisdom there is – Christ’s.

Luther on the Christian Life: Prayer and the Word – C.Trueman

Luther on Chr Life -TruemanTaken from the new Crossway book written by Carl R.Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom, part of the series “Theologians on the Christian Life”, published by Crossway (Wheaton, IL), 2015.

In this section from which we quote, Trueman is treating Luther’s treatise on prayer (the one prompted by a letter from his barber, Peter Beskendorf), and here he ties together prayer and Scripture:

Throughout the treatise, Scripture is the bedrock on which Luther sees the life of prayer as being built. He speaks of the Decalogue as ‘a school text, song book, penitential book, and prayer book,’ and recommends that the Christian alternate meditation on the commandments with reflection upon a psalm or another chapter of Scripture day by day. For Luther, it is not the desire for reading Scripture that fuels prayer; it is reading Scripture that fuels the desire for prayer. That the Christian may not feel like praying is one of the Devil’s tricks played on weak and sinful flesh; the answer is the discipline of reading and meditation, both corporate and individual.

At this point Trueman draws on a familiar analogy:

One might draw an analogy with marital love: the husband is commanded by God’s Word to love his wife. That command is independent of how the husband feels at any given moment. He is to act in a loving way toward her, and as he does so, his love for her will itself deepen and grow. So it is to be with prayer: reading Scripture shapes people in such a way that their prayer life will deepen and grow as a result.

From there, Trueman makes a summary of Luther’s view of the Christian life based on these simple principles of practicing prayer and Scripture reading:

What is perhaps most noteworthy in all this, of course, is the routine nature of the practice of the Christian life. Nothing Luther proposes is in itself particularly exciting or novel. We live in an age mesmerized both by technique and by the extraordinary. Modern evangelicalism, particularly in America, has been shaped by the kind of revivalism pioneered by Charles Finney in the nineteenth century. Find the right techniques and one will achieve the desired spiritual results; and typically those techniques involve something unusual or impressive. For Luther, this would all have been alien and obnoxious; the Word is powerful in and of itself; and the ways in which the Word works are ordinary and routine. Liturgies with a catechetical structure, a focus on the Word read and the Word preached, and a constant ,meditation upon that Word – those were the major elements of personal spiritual growth and discipleship (122).

Have we also made the Christian life complicated by trying too many new means and methods? Then let Luther’s view of the Christian walk bring us back to God’s simple way.

“Opposition to Him (Jesus) will inevitably touch us.” – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonTaken from chapter 44 of Sinclair Ferguson’s work In Christ Alone (Reformation Trust, Kindle ed.). The chapter is about growing through persecution and suffering, and is titled “Growing Strong in the War Zone.” In it Ferguson references Peter’s first epistle, with its clear reminder to believers that to be a Christian means to suffer for Christ’s sake.

Suffering, he [Peter] underlined, is a basic element in the structure of the Christian life (1 Peter 4:12).

Faith is tested and proved genuine through trials ( 1 Peter 1:6-7). Like gold refined in a furnace, trials can cleanse and purify the Christian. The persecution that is intended to destroy you actually has the opposite effect – it makes you rely more on Christ and draws you to live closer to Him. The person who suffers in the flesh for Christ is the person who rejects the enticements of sin (1 Peter 4:1-2). When you have faced up to the cost of discipleship – socially, materially, even physically –  a new decisiveness enters into your lifestyle.

Suffering also provides the theater in which Christians demonstrate – by the radically different way they respond to opposition – that they belong to a counterculture or, better, to a Jesus culture. They submit to government, not for its own sake but the Lord’s ( 1 Peter 2:13). They submit even to harsh taskmasters because they want to follow in the steps of Christ, who left an example ( 1 Peter 2:18-21).

…Peter’s bottom line is this: don’t be surprised by suffering (1 Peter 4:12).

But how can twenty-first-century Christians in the Western world be un-surprised in times of suffering? We can do so only by being delivered from a faulty understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus was crucified by this world. To become a Christian by definition means to follow a cross-bearing Savior and Lord. It means to be identified with Him in such a way that opposition to Him will inevitably touch us.

Paul said that he bore on his body the marks of Jesus (Gal.6:17). So perhaps we should ask [These lines are taken from a poem written by Amy Carmichael.]:

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
Leaned Me against the tree to die, and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

Are you are marked man or woman?

Sunday Worship Thoughts: Rejoice with Trembling

The following quotation is part of this weekend’s devotional as found in Tabletalk, which I find appropriate for our worship today. It is based on Psalm 2:11 – “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”

…It is important to remember that the Bible does not in reality offer us a ‘normal’ experience of God We never get used to the majesty of the Being who has called us into existence, that is, and called us to Himself. Psalm 2:11 is one biblical text that makes this very plain…. Life lived unto God is not the equivalent of spiritual elevator music. It is the equivalent of a roaring symphony, an exhilarating performance of holiness.

It is only when we ‘rejoice with trembling’ that we fully grasp who the God of Scripture is. He is the one who has made us and who has brought us to Himself in fulfillment of His covenant promises. Because of this, He lifts our burdens. But our consciousness of His love never leads us to forget the magnitude of His perfections. We are always delighted to be His, but also aware that He is a great and terrible God.

Our modern minds resist this kind of double-sided testimony. We would rather focus on one concept, not two. But Scripture pictures God as a resplendent king. He roars over His creation, claiming it all (see Isa.45). As Christians who have fellowship with Him through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are subjects of the most powerful sovereign imaginable. We are able, by the kindness of His grace, to enter His court, and to dine at His table, and to see Him smile at us with love. But we never forget whose kingdom this is; we never lose sight of how majestic is the King. We always rejoice to be with Him; we always tremble before Him, for He is holy (Dr. Owen Strachan, p.51).

Thoughts on Contentment – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonA few weeks back I read a chapter in Sinclair Ferguson’s book In Christ Alone on the grace of contentment (“Contentment: Five Easy Steps?”), prompted by his friend’s reference to 1 Tim.6:6 in the face of manifold trials in his life. Going back to reflect on that chapter tonight leads me to post a few of Ferguson’s profitable thoughts put down on paper.

May they help put us in a right frame of mind as we end this week.

Such contentment is never the result of the momentary decision of the will. It cannot be produced merely by having a well-ordered and thought-through-time-and-life-management plan calculated to guard us against unexpected twists of divine providence. No, true contentment means embracing the Lord’s will in every aspect of His providence simply because it is His providence. It involves what we are in our very being, not just what we do and can accomplish.

…Thus, we cannot ‘do’ contentment. It is taught by God. We need to be schooled in it. It is part of the process of being transformed through the renewing of our minds (Rom.12:1-2). It is commanded of us, but, paradoxically, it is created in us, not done by us. It is not the product of a series of actions, but of a renewed and transformed character. It involves the growth of a good tree that produces good fruit.

This seems to be a difficult principle for Christians today to grasp. …It is painful to pride to discover that the Christian life is not rooted in what we can do, but in what we need done to us.

…Christian contentment means that my satisfaction is independent of my circumstances. When Paul speaks about his own contentment in Philippians 4:11, he uses a term commonplace among the ancient Greek philosophical schools of the Stoics and Cynics. In their vocabulary, contentment meant self-sufficiency, in the sense of independence from changing circumstances.

But for Paul, contentment was rooted not in self-sufficiency but in Christ’s sufficiency (Phil.4:13). Paul said that he could do all things – both being based and abounding – in Christ.

Don’t skip over that last phrase. This kind of contentment is the fruit of an ongoing, intimate, deeply developed relationship with Him (Kindle ed.).

The Weight of Shame: April “Tabletalk” – Burk Parsons

The Weight of Shame by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-April 2015On this first Monday of April we are able to introduce a new issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ fine devotional magazine. The April issue has a simple and rare theme: “Shame.”

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this issue with the above-linked article. He has an excellent summary of the place shame has in the Christian’s life and how the gospel of the cross answers to our need. Here is the opening part of his introduction:

Shame—we all feel it, or at least we should. We are all sinful, and our sin brings shame. Although shame has all but disappeared from our culture’s vocabulary and is largely ignored by many in the church, it exists nonetheless and must be recognized and reckoned with.

If we are honest with ourselves, and more importantly, honest with God, we cannot help but admit that we feel shame as a result of our sin. Whether we sin in private or in public—and whether we perhaps even pretend not to have it—shame is undeniably real. We feel shame because God in His grace created all human beings with the capacity to feel shame as a consequence of their sin. John Calvin wrote, “Only those who have learned well to be earnestly dissatisfied with themselves, and to be confounded with shame at their wretchedness truly understand the Christian gospel.” If we have never truly felt the shame of our sin, we have never truly repented of our sin. For it is only when we recognize what wretches we are that we are able to sing “Amazing Grace” and know what a sweet sound it truly is.

There are five other featured articles on this theme, and they are laid out this way:

  • “Why We Feel Shame” – Jeremy Pierre
  • “What Shame Does” – James Coffield
  • “Our Shameless World” – Andrew D. Davis
  • “Tackling Shame” – W.Duncan Rankin
  • “Comfort My People” – Michael Lawrence

You may also wish to check out the interview feature in this issue – it is with Rosaria Butterfield, well-known converted lesbian and now a Reformed Presbyterian pastor’s wife. Her’s is quite an amazing story and testimony to the grace of God in Christ. I plan to reference this later, but you may read the interview here: “An Unlikely Convert.”

For now, here is also an excerpt from the first featured article – the one linked in the list above, by Dr. Jeremy Pierre – also a good read!

Now wait a second. Did I just say that shame is healthy? Yes, but note this very carefully: shame is a healthy part, but not a healthy end of the Christian experience. Shame is not the final conclusion we make about ourselves. It is a painful awareness that keeps us from resting contentedly in our fallen state. It drives us to seek defense from the accusations, a refuge from the threat of judgment, some shred of grace from a merciful Judge.

And only by being pushed will we find that there’s more than a shred of grace. There are reams of it. Reams of white linen to clothe naked people.

This is the Christian gospel, one that Christians proclaim to themselves over and over as they live under the daily burden of being reminded of the remaining darkness within. In this way, God reverses Satan’s use of shame. Satan wants our shame to drive us away from God and into the bushes. God wants our shame to drive us to Himself for clothing.

An Easter Gospel Question: Why Weepest Thou?

John 20-16For our thankful, joyous – and humble – Easter reflection on this Resurrection Sunday, well may we consider this exposition of John 20:11-17 by Rev. George Lubbers (1909-2001). He takes his theme from the risen Savior’s own words to weeping Mary on that first Easter morning, “Woman, why weepest thou?” It may be found here on the PRC website, where you will also find a link to its original source.

Though this Easter gospel question was directed to Mary Magdalene, it is relevant for all of us as we often sit weeping in our weakness of faith (or plain unbelief). Looking at our resurrected Lord this day, no matter what our circumstances may be, indeed why are we weeping?! Unless, of course, they are tears of joy and hope.

Here is the opening part of Rev.Lubbers meditation; find the rest at the link above.

Weeping Mary!

Standing at the open mouth of the grave of her Lord, Who had taken captivity captive! She weeps here at the open grave from whence, at this very moment, no doubt, the other Galilean women were hastening to the disciples and brethren, with fear and great joy, to tell the glad gospel story of the resurrection of Jesus, the crucified one!

How utterly incongruous! How this marvelous fact of the glorious resurrection, which shall turn all our sorrows into eternal and abiding joys, is hid from the weeping eyes of Mary!

The mighty angel of the Lord had suddenly descended from heaven not long prior to this time; he had rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb, and had sat upon it; he had proclaimed the Word of peace to the woman, telling them: Fear not ye, for I know that ye seek Jesus, the crucified one. He is not here but is risen, come see the place where the Lord has lain.

And Jesus Himself had appeared to the hastening women on the way, telling them to go and tell the glad tidings to His brethren….

But Mary was standing without at the tomb weeping at such a time as this.

It is the time when all the prisoners are set free, death rejoice in victorious hope, and when all the when they who dwell in the valley of the shadow of angels of God worship Jesus, the first begotten from the dead, saying: Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing. Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of angels lift up their glad voices and chant and sing in joyful lays at this very moment. Is it the moment, that believing Abraham, and all the patriarchs with and after him, saw afar, and….rejoiced!

It is the time to which we, as the New Testament saints from Gentile lands, look back and see and confess that we have born anew unto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Because of this glad day of all days we gather on each first day of the week and sing a new song, saying unto our Lord and King: Worthy art Thou Lord Jesus, Thou faithful Witness, Thou firstborn of the dead, and Thou ruler of the kings of the earth to receive the Kingdom of David, our father, forever!

But Mary was standing at the tomb weeping.

At such a time as this….

Woman, why weepest thou?

Guiding Principle of Productivity (and All of Life!): LOVE

Whats Best Next -PermanLast night I was able to finish chapter six of Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014), finding once more profitable thoughts for the way in which we as Christians are called to do our work and be productive.

In this chapter titled “Put Others’ First: Love as the Guiding Principle for All of Life,” Perman takes us to the fundamental motive that must guide us as we seek to do our best work in the best way. Not surprisingly, that motive is love (which he says chiefly shows itself in generosity). Not surprising, because as believers we know from the Word of God that this is indeed the chief virtue we have and must manifest as God’s children (1 Cor.13; Gal.5:22; 1 Tim.1:5, etc.). And because this is the heart of the commandments of God, which are the guiding standard for our lives (Matt.22:36-40). And, of course (as Perman also points out), because this is what God has shown us in His Son – His amazing, sovereign, saving love (John 3:16; 1 Jn.4:7-11).

For today I post from two sections of this chapter, and in the light of my previous post in which I was critical of Perman for neglecting the God-centered focus of the Christian life and of our work, you will understand why I do so. First this:

Hence, the overarching principle of the Christian life is that we are here to serve, to the glory of God. We are to be in this world not for what we can get out of it but for what we can give. According to the Bible, a truly productive life is lived in service of others. Being productive is not about seeking personal peace and affluence because God made us for greater goals. Jonathan Edwards nails this:

There is another that has made you, and preserves you, and provides for you, and on whom you are dependent: and He has made you for himself, and for the good of your fellow-creatures, and not only for yourself. He has placed before you higher and nobler ends than self, even the welfare of your fellow-men, and of society, and the interests of his kingdom; and for these you ought to labour and live, not only in time, but for eternity.

This is foundational to the entire Christian life: We are not out own (1 Cor.6:19). We did not create ourselves, and we did not redeem ourselves. We doubly belong to God. And God has not made us merely to seek our own good. He created us for something far greater: to seek the good of others, and of society, and his kingdom. The true Christian lives for these ends, not his own comfort and welfare (87).

(more…)

Dwelling on Christ Crucified – “Christ is All”

Gal6-14From the “collection of Puritan prayers and devotions” titled The Valley of Vision (see information at the end) comes this edifying prayer-devotional for us as we contemplate the death of our Lord this week in a special way, in view of Good Friday.

The title of this devotional is “Christ is All.” May it be our theme not only this week, but each day of our lives as we live “under the cross” of our Lord.

O Lover to the uttermost,
May I read the meltings of Thy heart to me
in the manger of Thy birth,
in the garden of Thy agony,
in the cross of Thy suffering,
in the tomb of Thy resurrection,
in the heaven of Thy intercession.

Bold in this thought I defy my adversary,
tread down his temptations,
resist his schemings,
renounce the world,
am valiant for truth.

Deepen in me a sense of my holy relationship to Thee,
as spiritual bridegroom,
as Jehovah’s fellow,
as sinners’ friend.

I think of Thy glory and my vileness,
Thy majesty and my meanness,
Thy beauty and my deformity,
Thy purity and my filth,
Thy righteouness and my iniquity.

Thou has loved me everlastingly, unchangeably,
may I love Thee as I am loved;
Thou hast given Thyself for me,
may I give myself to Thee.
Thou hast died for me,
may I live to Thee
in every moment of time,
in every movement of my mind,
in every pulse of my heart.

May I never dally with the world and its allurements,
but walk by Thy side,
listen to Thy voice,
be clothed with Thy grace,
and adorned with Thy righteousness.

Arthur Bennett, ed. Valley of Vision (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 18.

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