Some Sense From the Nineteenth Century

Today I want to give you an extended quotation from Christ Is All in “Profiles in Reformed Spirituality”.  It is an examination of the piety of Horatius Bonar.  Here quoting from an article entitled “Do You Go to the Prayer Meeting?” in Kelso Tracts Bonar writes,

 

“Reader, is there a prayer-meeting in your neighbourhood?  If there is, do you attend it?  If you do not, have you good reasons for staying away?  Perhaps there is one just by your door, or at least within a few minutes’ walk of your dwelling.  Do you go to it?  I have known people to walk many miles every week to a prayer-meeting.  The do not grudge the distance.  The way seemed short and pleasant.  No wonder.  They were in earnest about their souls!  And if you neglect or despise such meetings, it is to be feared that you are altogether unconcerned about eternity and the kingdom to come.  If you are thirsty for the water of life, you would be glad of such opportunities of drawing it out of the wells of salvation.

                I ask then again, do you attend the prayer-meeting?  If not, what are your reasons?  If they are good reasons, you need not be ashamed of them either before God or man, and they will serve you before the judgment seat of Christ.  If they are not, the sooner you give them up the better.  Very soon the last sermon will be done, the last Sabbath will close, the last prayer-meeting will be over, the last message of salvation delivered, the last warning sounded, and the last invitation given!  Then, what bitter regret and agonizing remorse!  What will you think of your excuses then?  Oh, you will give the wealth of worlds for another prayer-meeting, another day of hope.  No more making light of such precious opportunities, nor scoffing at those who prized them!  The follies and vanities of earth are all over then; and invisible realities are seen to be all in all.

                Will the memories of your days and scenes of pleasure or sin be soothing to your soul when they have passed away like a vision of the night?  Will the remembered hours of carnal levity, the idle word, the thoughtless jest, the gay smiles of companionship, the halls of gaiety, or the haunts of sin ( all of which you once preferred to the prayer-meeting), will these breathe comfort to your dying soul, or bear you up when giving in your account before the judge of all?   Laughter will then be exchanged for burning tears; nights of harmless merriment for ages of endless woe.  Oh, waste not then the  precious hour – one precious moment!  Thy eternity may hang upon it!  It may soon be too late to think of prayer.  Up, sleeper, up!  Turn, sinner, turn!  They days are but an handbreadth; flee! Oh, flee from the wrath to come.” (Christ Is All, The Piety of Horatius Bonar, Michael A. G. Haykin & Darrin R. Brooker, Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2007)

                It takes a Nineteenth Century man to call us back to a secure place of refuge.  The Lord has been laying on my heart a burden for increasing prayerfulness in my life.  This is the way forward in discipleship for God’s people.

Jesus’ Eyes

“Jesus looked at him and loved him.  “One thing you lack,” He said.  “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Mark 10:21

                An exploration of the words of Mark’s Gospel can give us a deep insight into the characteristics of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Michael Haykin, in a recent blog entry, at the Andrew Fuller Centre website, on the subject of C.H. Spurgeon’s success and spirituality, gave a description of many of the intangible factors that led to his success, including a description of the great Baptist Preacher’s voice as described by his biographer Mike Nicholls as, “one of the great speaking voices of his age, musical and combining compass, flexibility and power.” [C.H. Spurgeon: The Pastor Evangelist (Didcot, Oxfordshire: Baptist Historical Society, 1992).  The intangible of Spurgeon’s voice enhanced his success, but it was not the main reason for it.  Spurgeon attributed his success as a preacher to the grace of God.  It is there that true success is found.

Mark uses vivid language in order to introduce us to the real Jesus.  Mark tells us of Jesus’ gaze in the story of the rich young ruler.  Mark literally writes the Jesus looked upon the young man intently and loved Him.  The eyes of Jesus become the focus of the story.  He looks intently at the young man, He looked around intently at His disciples as the rich young man was leaving, and finally He again looked intently at His disciples when they expressed surprise at His teaching about wealth and the Kingdom of God.  Mark is telling us here that there was something penetrating in the gaze of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It literally cut deep into the hearts and souls of those that Jesus encountered.  We have all encountered people whose eyes were extremely expressive.  One glance from them was enough to stop us in our tracks.  It was once said of the Evangelist Billy Graham that his gaze was penetrating.  When he looked out at a Congregation and told us what his Bible said there was something arresting in the encounter.  I am certain that Mark is telling us that the Lord Jesus Christ’s eyes were even more powerful.

The gaze of Jesus connected with His loving approach gave a deep authority to His teaching.  He told the rich young man the truth.  As Jesus gazed upon him, loving Him deeply, He told him the truth about himself.  The Gospels tell us that Jesus knew people, in a personal and powerful way.  Jesus would speak with people in a way that forced them to confront their personal issues.  Those things which were in reality hindering people from really coming to the Lord for salvation would be brought up in very powerful ways in these conversations.  In this case it was the hold that this young man’s possessions had upon Him that was at issue.   With the woman at the well in John 4 it was her string of relationships.  In John 3 Nicodemus was shown that He must be born again.  Jesus always seems to deal with the truth of us.  His love for us required no less of Him.

What about you?  What issue is the Lord Jesus Christ confronting in your life?  I have come to the conclusion that the Lord never wastes time.  His gaze always cuts through our evasions, bringing us to that point where we see clearly the thing that separates us from the eternal life He purchased for us on the cross.  His call is for us to surrender, to repent and to give ourselves unconditionally to Him.  Will you do this today?

Jesus the Evangelist

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 11:28-30

                At the heart of Matthew’s Gospel is this beautiful passage which points us to only real solution to our problem as human beings.  Matthew records for us the invitation of the Lord Jesus Christ to us.  His invitation meets us in the depths of our weariness and need.  If we honestly examine our world we quickly come to the conclusion that we are desperately needy.  We hear each day about wars, rumours of wars, violence, crime, dishonesty, broken marriages, the exploitation of others, and the constant need to be on guard against the dishonesty of others.  Who has not seen the constant barrage of deceptive advertizing which has come to us through the internet?

As a world we are desperately needy.  We find ourselves thinking at times that if only the behaviour of others could be brought under control then all of the world’s problems could be solved.  This is where a second honest look is required.  This time we must look at ourselves.  When we do look at ourselves we discover that the problem is not just with other people.  It is with us as well.  We are desperately wicked, unable to be understood even by ourselves.  We have tried to reform ourselves but we constantly find ourselves failing.  We need help.

What is the solution?  We have grown weary trying to keep ourselves in line.  We have tried to live better lives.  Our yearly resolutions demonstrate this fact.  Like the resolutions our attempts at reformation often result in failure.  It is here that the Lord Jesus Christ brings us the only solution that will ever really be able to deal with our problem.  This is the gospel solution.  The Lord Jesus invites us to come to Him for rest in our weariness.  He is the solution.  The reason for this illustration is owing to the reason He came among us.  He came to bear our sin in His own body upon the cross so that we might live in His resurrection life.

In John 6:35 we read these words of the Lord Jesus Christ regarding the invitation He gives to us, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never go thirsty.”  In this verse John uses present participles to translate what Jesus says about coming to Jesus and believing in Him.  These participles refer to the actions of coming to Jesus and believing in Him as continual action in the present.  We are constantly coming to Him, and constantly believing in Him.  We did not just come and believe in Him at some point in the past.  It is a continual relationship of coming and believing in Him.  We are not coming to Him as an idea, or the head of a religious movement.  We are coming and believing in a person.  This person is God who took on human flesh in order to redeem us from sin through His cross.  When we come to Him and believe we enter into a relationship of faith in which we find ourselves resting in Him for all of eternity.  We find Him completely sufficient for our every need.

William Hendrickson in his New Testament Commentary on Matthew’s Gospel (page 504) gives us a hint about what Matthew is recording for us when he quotes from the Syriac (Peshitta) New Testament, “Come to me….and I will rest you…..for I am restful…..and you shall find rest for yourselves.”  The rest is in Him, and in Him alone.  We receive it when we come to Him.  All of life’s burdens are meant to teach us this one crucial thing.  This is that we need Him.  We must come to Him if we are to receive the rest that we so desperately need.  This is the evangelistic invitation that the Lord Jesus Christ gives to us.

The question for us is this.  Will we come to Jesus?  Will we receive the rest that He promises us?  The answer that we give to this question will determine our eternal home.

A Thought From Jonathan Edwards

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of Sonship.  And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His Glory.”

                                                                                                                        Romans 8:15-17

“”To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Rev. 2:17). I suspect that this passage refers to the same mark of the Spirit, the same blessed token of special favor, that in other places in Scripture is called the seal of the Spirit.
The confusion about this comes from the fact that people have misunderstood the meaning of the word “witness.” They assume that it is a sort of internal verbal suggestion, rather than an ongoing work of the Spirit within our hearts. They think that God speaks to us mentally, conveying in some sort of secret voice the message that we are His children. In the New Testament, however, the term “witness” often has a deeper meaning than merely a declaration or an assertion that a thing is true. We think of “witness” in these terms, but the New Testament sees it to mean the actual proof of something, the living demonstration of the truth, rather than a mere statement of the truth.” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, Barbour Publishing, pp. 117-118)

Jonathan Edwards has many helpful things to say to us about the Christian life.  It would be hard to choose one of his books as being his best.  Each one advances our understanding of the Christian life.  This is most clearly seen in the work that Edwards does exploring the nature of revival.  I would urge every Christian to spend the time learning from Edwards.  My favorite book written by Edwards is The Religious Affections because it leads us into a deep understanding of what genuine Christian experience is all about.  One morning as I was reading the section where Edwards explores the sealing of the Spirit I came across the gem that is quoted above.  Here we are brought to understand what the witness must be.  Edwards points out that we can never base our assurance of salvation on anything which is subjective.  We can be so easily deceived by our inner feelings.  The assurance of salvation must be the witness of the reality of God’s Holy Spirit is doing within us to conform us to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It must be concrete and real.  It is the development of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, a committed walking with Christ in a world that is hostile to all that we stand for.  It is shown in our loving our enemies. We see it when we, in love, lay our lives down in service to people that don’t care for us simply because that is what our Lord did for us.  “For God demonstrates His love for us in this that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  Edwards tells us that as we begin to experience this reality in our lives, then we have unmistakable evidence that the Lord has saved us.

This is a far different standard than that which we often appeal to today.  I have a feeling however that the days may be coming when we will need that real, deeper assurance that Edwards describes. It is the only thing that will see us through when life gets really difficult, as sooner or later it does for all of us. comes from the fact that people have misunderstood the meaning of the word “witness.” They assume that it is a sort of internal verbal suggestion, rather than an ongoing work of the Spirit within our hearts. They think that God speaks to us mentally, conveying in some sort of secret voice the message that we are His children. In the New Testament, however, the term “witness” often has a deeper meaning than merely a declaration or an assertion that a thing is true. We think of “witness” in these terms, but the New Testament sees it to mean the actual proof of something, the living demontration of the truth, rather than a mere statement of the truth.” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, pp. 117-118)

Gospel Repentance

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  See what this Godly sorrow has produced in you:  what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.  At every point you proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

                                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 7:10-11

                At the heart of the Apostle Paul’s defence of his ministry to the Corinthians he shares these thoughts in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 in which he describes for us the reality of Gospel repentance.  These are such important verses that every Christian should commit them to memory, bringing them to mind constantly so that we can truly begin to live the time of experienced Christian faith that the Bible calls us to.  What Paul does here is to contrast Godly sorrow which leads to a real repentance and abundant life through Jesus Christ with a worldly sorrow that leads to a false, fleshly repentance that only continues us on the downward spiral to death.

What are the characteristics of each?  This calls for self-examination as we explore each one briefly today.

1)      Godly sorrow is the creation of the Holy Spirit as He convicts us of our rebelliousness towards God.  We constantly want our own way.  We want to solve our problems ourselves, so that our pride can be satisfied with what we have made ourselves to be.  God’s Spirit confronts this attitude of heart, and exposes its bankruptcy.  Such sorrow is always centred upon God.  We come to know that there is a fundamental brokenness in our lives which comes from our estrangement in life.  At this point we understand the wickedness of our sin.  It has separated us from the only source of real life.  As a consequence we find ourselves unable to know God in any real sense.  We may know all about Him.  But we do not know Him.  Here Godly sorrow leads us to the only real help available to us.  This is the grace of God in Christ.  God, in His great love for us, has done everything necessary to make us alive in Christ.  We are humbled because we have come to know that we can never solve the problem of us, on our own, in our own flesh.  The only solution is found in God’s grace.

2)      Worldly sorrow on the other hand is the creation of our own flesh.  It is self-centred instead of Christ-centred.  It is characterised by sorrow over the consequences of our rebellion against God.  How often have we found ourselves only beginning to feel concern over sin when we discover that we might get caught in it?  We want to escape its consequences, but not necessarily from sin itself.  When caught in our sin, worldly sorrow leads to a false repentance which leads us to try to reform our lives in our own flesh.  The best we can hope for here is that our behaviour will improve, but we are still left dead in our sin.  The consequence is that we are made to become increasingly self-righteous with no saving knowledge of Christ.

John Miller in Repentance and 29th century Man explores this theme with the following encouraging words.

“If conviction of sin is demanded as though this were the goal of things, if human unrighteousness is exposed apart from faith in Christ, then men will be left in a state of penance, and they will return to pre-Reformation misery, with salvation made entirely unstable because it is founded on what man does to recover himself.

                Sinners in such a state have no way of knowing whether God loves them and will receive them into His heart.  Psychologically and morally, all is left dark and shoreless.  When sin is exposed apart from the promises of God, reality for the man outside of the Lord becomes increasingly inverted and twisted.  The aching conscience cannot possibly find relief in this way.

                In other words, repentance can only be genuine and lasting when the evildoer sees that God’s mercy is available to him.  Put grace in an unreachable realm and you simply deepen the convicted sinner’s despair and opposition to God.  But John’s Gospel banners forth the absolutely finished character of Jesus’ work (John 4:34, 17:4, 19:30).  There is enough love, and more, accessible to any sinner who wants it.  One drop of Jesus’ blood will, as it were, atone for the worst of man’s sins.  How then can we fail to respond when we are assured that cleansing love flows in superabundance from Calvary?”  (John Miller, Repentance and 20th Century Man (Fort Washington, Pa.; Christian Literature Crusade, 1980) p. 80)

Biblical People

                “And He said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.”  So I opened my mouth, and He gave me the scroll to eat.  Then He said to me, “Son of man, eat the scroll I am giving to you and fill your stomach with it.”  So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ezekiel 3:1-3

                One of the great blessings of following a Bible reading plan such as the McCheyne plan, or any other plan that takes you through the whole Scripture on a regular basis, is that, over time, it gives you an increasing clarity on just what the Bible teaches.  This is especially true if you take the time to brood over the Scriptures.  That is Packer and Nystrom’s word from “Praying”, and it is used to describe the process of prayerful meditation upon the Word of God which leads to the application of God’s truth into our lives.  It is that process that I believe Ezekiel is being called to into the symbolic setting of his vision in Ezekiel chapter three.  He is told at least four times in these verses to eat the scroll.  He obeyed and discovered that God’s Word, even when bringing us a difficult message is always sweet.  It is the Word that brings us eternal life.  It is to be ingested, that is it is to become part of us.

Years ago I read a tribute of john Bunyan written by Charles Haddon Spurgeon which reflected upon the reality of what was at the heart of Bunyan’s life.  To paraphrase Spurgeon he stated that Bunyan was a thoroughly Biblical man.  His whole nature was infused with the Scriptures.  If you where to prick Bunyan with a pin he would bleed Bible because his blood was in fact bibline.  What a wonderful tribute to that godly preacher and author.  We need to acknowledge however that that was not a natural state for Bunyan.  He was a thoroughly Biblical man because he had taken the time to meditate prayerfully upon the rich truth of the Scripture.  He ingested it, and it changed him.  It could be argued that this was the result of certain events which were imposed upon Bunyan, as he was imprisoned for much of his life and ministry.  In the providence of God he was put in an environment where he could not be distracted from the prayerful meditation on God’s Word and the application of it to his life.   For us there are many distractions, but if we are to incorporate God’s Word into our lives we must make the commitment to meditate upon it.

Ezekiel is to ingest God’s Word, and then speak it prophetically to the people of Israel.  This is to be his life.  The people who hear, and who read him will not be responding to Ezekiel, choosing to like or dislike his message.  They will be encountering God.  They will be dealing with the God who is speaking to them.  The author of the book of Hebrews puts this in powerful terms as he writes to us about the God who has spoken to us in His Son.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.”

                                                                                                                                                                Hebrews 1:1-2

                “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sins deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.  As has just been said; “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.””

                                                                                                                                                                Hebrews 3:12-15

                We are called to hear Him as He speaks to us in His Word.  With the Spirit’s help we come to obey the truth we find in God’s Word.  Therefore the word that we have heard in the Bible is God’s Word.  It must become part of us as we meditate upon it, prayerfully coming to understand and apply it to ourselves.  In this way we become Christ-centred people.

An Act of God

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

                                                                                                                                John 3:3

I have been reflecting over the past few days about birthdays.  Every year we each have a birthday and we are reminded of the day when we came into this world.  We are also reminded that we are each one year closer to the day on which we will stand before the Living God to give an account of our lives.  For each one of us birth was something that happened which was out of our control.  In no way were we in control of any aspect of it.  In reality the same can be said for our birth from above into the life of Christ.  When I re-examine my born again experience what I discover is that it was entirely an act of God.  I might think that I exerted some control over it.  When I look at its reality however what I discover is that the decisions that I made were the consequence of things that God was doing in me.  His gracious work in me was the motivation for all of the decisions which I then made.

To examine my testimony reveals that I came to Christ at an East Toronto Youth event in the early 1970s.  I had no plan on committing myself to Christ when I went to the retreat.  In fact I felt that I was already a believer at that time.  As the retreat concluded something happened that shook me out of my unbelief.  This was that I suddenly became aware that I was not in fact a believer.  Then I had a powerful experience of the love of God.  I knew then and there that God loved me.  It was very much like John Wesley’s description of his conversion where he described himself as having his heart strangely warmed as he was given a powerful sense that he was loved by God and that his sins were forgiven.  That was my experience.  Everything else fell into place at that point.  Long established behaviours were changed as I found myself being conformed to the image of Christ.  I now knew that I was a believer.  I wanted to read the Bible.  In fact I felt that I had to read the Bible.  Choices to involve myself in Christian fellowship seemed to be made for me.  I became involved as the Lord led me.

In much of this I thought at the time that I was making decisions to involve myself in these things.  Hindsight tells me that the Lord was changing me and opening up opportunities for me.  Even the choice I made to become a minister was made for me.  The Lord’s leading, and the choices that He led me to make all seemed to be under His control.

Jesus tells us in John 3:3 that we must be born again.  Another translation of this phrase is born from above.  It is the work of God’s Spirit, under His control and it is that one thing that makes us into real Christians.  It is God’s work in us.  We cannot control it, or create it.  All we can to in regard to it is to receive God’s gift when He gives it to us.  Jesus presents this to Nicodemus as a statement of fact that is designed to bring him to faith.  The Word of God presents this same fact to each one of us.  “We must be born again.”  Are you?  All of eternity depends upon your answer to that one question.

He Was In The World

                “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him,   the world did not recognise Him.  He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.  Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  The word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 1:10-14

                At times I am asked, as I was recently in an email, how we can live a holy life while living in this sinful world.  This is a vital question for us to ask.  So often people find themselves drifting through life, without really examining how they live.  We push down those questions and moral struggles which we face because we are engaged in the struggle to just survive.  There are times when we find ourselves facing that insistent inner discomfort which tells us that all is not right with our world.  What are we to do in response?

In order to adequately deal with this question we need to first of all answer the number one question of life which is, are we a Christian?  Have you been born again?  As the Apostle John introduces his Gospel this is the first thing that he confronts us with.  In fact it seems that this question of being born again is central to all that John writes in his Gospel.  Have you been born again?  What does John mean by this?  Why is it so important to him?

John, in chapter three of his Gospel tells us that we must be born from above, or again.  He confronts us with this as he reports on a conversation that Nicodemus had with the LORD Jesus Christ.  In explaining His meaning Jesus tells Nicodemus that to be born again is to be born spiritually.  It is a work of the Holy Spirit making us alive spiritually.  Technically we will call this to be regenerated.  Historically Christians like John Wesley called it the New Birth.  John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel that this is the work of God given to those who receive the LORD Jesus Christ by believing on His Name.  This text leads us to that precious work of God where His only begotten Son came and dwelt among us revealing His glory in the cross of Calvary.  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once stated that we cannot adequately deal with the issues we face in life until we answer the primary issue, are we a Christian?  It is to this point that John brings us in his Gospel.

Behind what John is writing here is a rich vein of Old Testament Prophetic teaching which speaks to us about the necessity of God changing our nature so that we will live holy lives.  We cannot live a holy life in our own flesh, no matter how hard we try to do so.  Ezekiel 18:30-32 speaks about this to us.

“Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent!  Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.  Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.  Why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent and live!”

                Earlier Ezekiel tells us in chapter 11:19-20 that this work is in fact the work of God, graciously accomplished within us when he writes.

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people and I will be their God.”

                Here Ezekiel points us to the Covenant which God has made with His people.  Jeremiah, in chapter 31:31-34 echoes these thoughts telling us that God is going to give His people a New Covenant written by the Spirit on their hearts, and causing them to walk in His ways.  I believe that this is what Jesus describes in John’s Gospel.

To be born of God is to be given this new heart which is responsive, and obedient to God’s purposes as revealed in His Word.  We delight ourselves in His Word.  It is a work of God in us.  It is vital that we are born again if we are ever to live a holy life in this sinful world.

Once we are saved then we are called to actively live out our life of obedience to His Word by faith in His power to work in us.  There are a number of scriptures we could appeal to here, (Romans 13:11-14, Philippians 2:12-13, 3:12-14).  I will only quote one here in conclusion.

“And do this understanding the present time.  The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because your salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the LORD Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13:11-14)

Trusting the Lord

“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian Churches.  Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.  And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.”

                                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 8:1-5

                The Word of God often astounds me with the richness of its teaching.  A few years ago while meditating  upon 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 for a series of messages focused upon our stewardship of the resources that God has entrusted to us, I found myself becoming increasingly convicted by the logical argument that the Apostle Paul advances as he encourages the Corinthians to follow the example of the Macedonian Churches in giving to an offering being collected for impoverished saints in Judea.  Paul uses the argument here to illustrate his point regarding our living Christ-centred lives.  In essence he confronts his readers with a description of what our lives will look like when we give ourselves to the Lord without reservation.  This is the fruit that comes from genuine repentance, and it is sorely needed in our 21st century world.

The question Paul confronts us with here is, “Do I trust the Lord without reservation?”  The Macedonians obviously did.  They firmly believed, and applied to themselves, the principle that the Lord would take care of them if they “sought first His Kingdom and Righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33)  That this is easy for us to speak about but much more difficult to live out is demonstrated by an extensive quotation by Scott J. Hafemann in The NIV Application Commentary on 2 Corinthians of teaching by William Law in A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2000, pages 352 – 353)

“Every exhortation in Scripture to be wise and reasonable, satisfying only such wants as God would have satisfied; every exhortation to be spiritual and heavenly, pressing after a glorious change of our nature; every exhortation to love our neighbour as ourselves, to love all mankind as God loved them, is a command to be strictly religious in the use of money.“(ch. vi, 53)

Like Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:9, Law’s call was to apply the cross to our money.

                “The Christian’s great conquest over the world is all contained in the mystery of Christ upon the cross.  It was there and from thence that He taught all Christians how they were to come out of and conquer the world, and what they were to do in order to be His disciples.  And all the doctrines, sacraments, and institutions of the Gospel are only so many explications of the meaning, and applications of the benefit of this great mystery.

                And the state of Christianity implieth nothing else but an entire, absolute conformity to that spirit which Christ showed in the mysterious sacrifice of Himself upon the cross.” (ch. xvii, 196)

                Further, like Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:6-7, Law say that conformity to Christ in giving was not an option or merely good advice, but the necessary outworking of what it meant to be Christian itself.

                “Every man, therefore, is only so far a Christian as he partakes of this spirit of Christ. 

                …The necessity of this conformity to all that Christ did and suffered upon our account is very plain from the whole tenor of Scripture.

                If “we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him.”…

                It was for this reason that the Holy Jesus said of His disciples, and in them of all true believers, “They are not of this world, as I am not of this world.”  Because all true believers conforming to the sufferings, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ live no longer after the spirit and temper of this world, but their life is hid with Christ in God.” (ch. xvii, 196-198)”

To this we can only add Amen!!

A Glorious Interruption

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we obey His commands and do what pleases Him.  And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us.  Those who obey His commands live in Him and He in them.  And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.”

                                                                                                                                                                1 John 3:21-24

                “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

                                                                                                                                                                John 15:7-8

                A number of years ago at the Hope Centre Bible Study an innocent question led to a fruitful discussion on Christian discipleship.  We, in the Church, are called to be disciples, not to a program, or of an institution, but of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In the great commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel we are called to “Go into all the world and make disciples.”  That calling comes with the promise of the personal promise of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one to whom has been given the limitless power of the Son of the living God.  He will go with us as we obey the calling He has given us.

The issue that we wrestled with at the Bible Study was how this becomes a reality among us.  Isn’t it interesting how often it is the interruption which takes us away from our prepared study which leads to the most fruitful of discussions?  The Lord always knows what He is doing with us.  It seems that John, in his Gospel as well as in his first letter, leads us to an answer to this question.  It is through abiding in Him and having His words abiding in us.  In this great spiritual transaction we find real life from Him.  This life is characterized by love for one another, answered prayer, and real fruitfulness in Christian living.  Abiding in Him requires faith, (to quote Geoff Thomas Forsaking All I Trust Him) and an obedience to His commands which are surely to be found in the Word of God.  Such spiritual abiding requires the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

With all of this truth given by the Apostle John we are brought to recognise a precious truth.  This is that such abiding is a spiritual matter.  It is something which God does in us, which we must seek from God Himself.  We must ask Him for it.  In asking we must turn from our own schemes and plans and fleshly efforts in order to receive the free gift He has purchased for us in the cross of Hi Son.  It is always to be Christ centred and therefore it must be focused upon the cross of Christ.  Therefore it requires that we begin seeking it by repenting, turning from our own way to Him.  There is no other way to fruitfulness.  The result is however that it makes us into real disciples of Jesus who then bear fruit by taking the Gospel of His life into our needy world.