Thoughts on Psalm 130

Affliction and guilt can bring men very low indeed but, in the worst of depths, sinners must not abandon themselves to despair.  They should pray, with great earnestness, to the One who, alone, can rescue them.  They must acknowledge that they cannot stand before God on their own merits.  They must look to God as the God who forgives sin through Christ.  They must rest their hope entirely in Him.  What about you?  Do you think you can stand before God on your own?  He knows all your sins.  Do you fear your sins are too great?  God’s salvation is abundant.  Do you think your sins are too many or you have sinned too long?  God will save His people from all their guilt.

The great means by which God saves the guilty sinner is the redemption in Christ Jesus.  Christ paid the ransom to satisfy God’s justice.  Sinners need not suffer for their sins because Christ suffered and died in the place of sinners (1 Corinthians 15.3).  Faith focuses its hope and desire upon Jesus Christ.  He is the only Mediator between God and men, for He gave Himself as “a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2.5-6).  Do you trust in Christ, alone, for salvation from sin?  If so, then how has your faith evidenced itself in a childlike fear of the Lord?

From: Family Worship Bible Guide, Joel R. Beeke, general editor (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Press, 2016), pp. 434-435.  Entry for Psalm 130.

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C. S. Lewis at 17

You ask me my religious views: you know, I think, that I believe in no religion.  There is absolutely no proof for any of them and, from a philosophical standpoint, Christianity is not even the best.  All religions – that is, all mythologies, to give them their proper name – are merely man’s own invention – Christ as much as Loki.  Primitive man found himself surrounded by all sorts of terrible things he didn’t understand – thunder, pestilence, snakes, etc. – what [would be] more natural than to suppose that these were animated by evil spirits trying to torture him.  These he kept off by cringing to them, singing songs and making sacrifices, etc.  Gradually, from being mere nature-spirits, these supposed beings were elevated into more elaborate ideas, such as the old gods.  And, when man became more refined, he pretended that these spirits were good as well as powerful.

Thus, religion – that is to say, mythology – grew up.  Often, too, great men were regarded as gods after their deaths – such as Heracles or Odin.  Thus, after the death of a Hebrew philosopher, Yeshua (whose name we have corrupted into Jesus), he became regarded as a god, a cult sprang up which was, afterwards, connected with the ancient Hebrew Jahweh-worship, and so Christianity came into being – one mythology, among many, but the one that we happened to have been brought up in. . . – Letter: C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (October 12, 1916)

From: Letters of C. S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper and W. H. Lewis; 2nd edition (New York: Harper One, 1988), p. 59.  The first edition was published in 1966.

Doctrine and Life

The two most important things in our holy religion are the life of faith and the walk of faith.  He who shall rightly understand these is not far from being a master in experiential theology, for they are vital points to a Christian.  You will never find true faith unattended by true godliness.  On the other hand, you will never discover a truly holy life which has not, for its root, a living faith upon the righteousness of Christ.

Woe to those who seek after the one without the other!  There are some who cultivate faith and forget holiness.  These may be very high in orthodoxy, but they shall be very deep in condemnation, for they hold the truth in unrighteousness.  And there are others who have strained after holiness of life but have denied the faith, like the Pharisees of old, of whom the Master said they were “white-washed sepulchres.”

We must have faith, for this is the foundation.  We must have holiness of life, for this is the superstructure.  Of what service is the mere foundation of a building to a man in the day of tempest?  Can he hide himself therein?  He wants a house to cover him, as well as a foundation for that house.  Even so, we need the superstructure of spiritual life if we would have comfort in the day of doubt.  But seek not a holy life without faith, for that would be to erect a house which can afford no permanent shelter because it has no foundation on a rock.  Let faith and life be put together and, like the two abutments of an arch, they will make our piety enduring.  Like light and heat streaming from the same sun, they are, alike, full of blessing.  Like the two pillars of the temple, they are for glory and for beauty.

There are two streams from the fountain of grace, two lamps lit with holy fire, two olive trees watered by heavenly care.  O Lord, give us, this day, life within, and it will reveal itself without, to Your glory. – Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) – a meditation on Galatians 5.25.

“All Things are Ours”

Who cares for Caesar when he is dead?  But what more efficacious than Christ when He died?  He was most practical when He seemed to do nothing.  In patience, He reigned and triumphed.  He subjected the greatest enemies to Himself – Satan, and death, and the wrath of God, and all.

In the same manner, all things are ours, the worst things that befall God’s children – death, afflictions, and persecutions.  There is a kingdom of patience set up in them.  The Spirit of God subdues all base fears in us, and a child of God never more triumphs than in his greatest troubles. – Richard Sibbes (1577-1635)

Devout Meditations (3)

Multitudes who saw and heard Him were unmoved and unconvinced by all the wonders of His love.  Though He spoke as never man spoke and went about doing good, He was slighted, opposed, and hated, even to the death.  And those who know the heart of man and believe that the carnal mind is enmity against God will allow it highly probable that, upon a supposition He should appear again the same circumstance of humiliation and to use the same authoritative freedom in vindicating the commands of God from the vain figments, traditions, and customs of men, He would meet with little better treatment, even in those countries which are called by His name, than He did from the proud, self-righteous, unbelieving Jews.  We may warrantably suppose there were many more lepers, blind, etc., in the places where He resorted than those who came to Him to be healed.

John Newton (1725-1807), from Twenty Sermons Preached at Olney, in Buckinghamshire (from sermon #10, “Of Coming to Christ” [Matthew 11.28]).  The twenty sermons were published in 1767.

Matthew Henry (27)

Here is a self-abasing acknowledgement of the righteousness of God in all the judgments that were brought upon them – and it is evermore the way of true penitents thus to justify God, that He may be clear when He judges and the sinner may bear all the blame. . .He acknowledges that it was sin that plunged them in all these troubles.  Israel is disbursed through all the countries about and so weakened, impoverished, and exposed.  God’s hand has driven them hither and thither – some near, where they are known and, therefore, the more ashamed, others afar off, where they are not known and, therefore, the more abandoned, and it is because of their trespass that they have trespassed (verse 7).  They mingled themselves with the nations that they might be debauched by them, and now God mingles them with the nations that they might be stripped by them. – Matthew Henry (1662-1714), commenting on Daniel 9.4-19.

Law and Grace in Job

That Job was put on trial was not stated to himself, for it was not the truth he needed to hear.  But, now that he has successfully borne the test, he needs to know the end of his infliction, not so far as Satan was concerned, but its end for himself.  He needs to know that it was sent with a gracious design and that it enclosed a real benefit.  It was necessary that he should understand this in order that he might be thoroughly released out of the tempter’s snare and might receive the full profit that was in store for him.

Elihu’s doctrine of suffering is not hampered by the rigid and inflexible rule of exact retributive justice maintained by the friends nor does it conflict, as that did, with the general facts of providence or with the consciousness of Job.  Job’s arguments and protests against the friends do not lie against it.  It is a view, in fact, against which he has no disposition either to argue or to protest.  It is not only consistent with, but gives a satisfactory account of the inequalities of the human condition.

The unbending rule of strict justice would have required a uniform and precise correspondence of men’s fortunes with their characters.  It admitted to no deviation.  There might, indeed, be temporary delays.  The divine retribution might be, for a while, postponed, but it must never fail to be, ultimately and palpably, meted out to all in the true proportion of their merits and demerits.

But a gracious purpose is, from its very nature, free.  It can be bound by no rule but the disposition and will of Him who exercises it.  The only limitation upon a providence so conducted is God’s good pleasure, and none can prescribe, in advance, where He shall send joy or where He shall send sorrow.  He may, by His goodness, lead men to repentance.  He may employ chastisement to wean them from the love of this world or to turn their hearts from sin.  The method employed in each particular instance depends solely upon His sovereign will.  This admits all the free variety found in the actual experience of men while, at the same time, it neither divorces the world from God nor represents His dealings as capricious and arbitrary.  He, without whom not a sparrow falls, numbers the hairs of our heads, directs all that concerns us, appoints all our lot.  He governs in all the affairs of men and He does so in a manner worthy of Himself.

There is a method in all that occurs, and a purpose and a divine intelligence.  Providence is harmonized with the infinite rectitude and the universal moral government.  It becomes, in fact, the expression, the visible manifestation of God’s holiness as well as of His grace, for it is directed with the view of reclaiming men from sin and training them in holiness and virtue.  It is not graduated by any formal mechanical rule of correspondence with men’s deserts, but it is wisely adapted, nevertheless, to their multiform needs by Him whose resources are endless and whose understanding is without a bound.

This doctrine, likewise, supplies the hitherto undiscovered key to the enigma of Job’s sufferings.  No reflection is cast upon his integrity or the genuineness of his piety.  His afflictions are neither an indication of the Lord’s displeasure nor of His wanton hostility.  A gracious God is, by this severity of discipline, purging away the dross which still adhered to His faithful servant and refining the gold to a higher measure of purity.

From: The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded by William Henry Green, pp. 132-133.  William Henry Green (1825-1900) taught at Princeton Theological Seminary for many years.  His wise and valuable volume on Job was published in 1874.

On “The Pilgrim’s Progress”

Mr. Southey, who has no love for the Calvinists, admits that, if Calvinism had never worn a blacker appearance than in Bunyan’s works, it would never have become a term of reproach.  In fact, those works of Bunyan with which we are acquainted are, by no means, more Calvinistic than the articles and homilies of the Church of England.  The moderation of his opinions on the subject of predestination gave offence to some zealous persons.  We have seen an absurd allegory, the heroine of which is named Hephzibah, written by some raving supralapsarian preacher who was dissatisfied with the mild theology of The Pilgrim’s Progress.  In this foolish book, if we recollect rightly, the Interpreter is called the Enlightener and the House Beautiful is Castle Strength.  Mr. Southey tells us that the Catholics had, also, their Pilgrim’s Progress, without a Giant Pope, in which the Interpreter is the Director and the House Beautiful [is] Grace’s Hall.  It is, surely, a remarkable proof of the power of Bunyan’s genius that two religious parties, both of which regarded his opinions as heterodox, should have had recourse to him for assistance.

There are, we think, some characters and scenes in The Pilgrim’s Progress which can be fully comprehended and enjoyed only by persons familiar with the history of the times through which Bunyan lived.  The character of Mr. Great-Heart, the guide, is an example.  His fighting is, of course, allegorical, but the allegory is not strictly preserved.  He delivers a sermon on imputed righteousness to his companions and, soon after, he gives battle to Giant Grim, who had taken upon him to back the lions.  He expounds the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah to the household and guests of Gaius and then he sallies out to attack Slay-Good, who was of the nature of flesh-eaters, in his den.  These are inconsistencies, but they are inconsistencies which add, we think, to the interest of the narrative.  We have not the least doubt that Bunyan had in view some stout old Great-Heart of Naseby and Worcester, who prayed with his men before he drilled them, who knew the spiritual estate of every dragoon in his troops and who, with the praises of God in his mouth and a two-edged sword in his hand, had turned to fight*, on many fields of battle, the swearing, drunken bravos of Rupert and Lunsford. – Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), from his review article, “John Bunyan,” originally published in the Edinburgh Review in December, 1831.

*The printed text reads “flight,” but that is surely a typographical error, considering the context of the sentence.

From: Critical and Historical Essays by Thomas Babington Macaulay; 2 volumes; edited by A. J. Grieve; Everyman’s Library (London: Dent/New York: Dutton, 1907), 2:408-409.

Fashioned by God

The avowal of the [psalmist] that he had been created by the hand of God greatly contributed to inspire him with the hope of obtaining the favor which he supplicates.  As we are the creatures and the workmanship of God, and as He has not only bestowed upon us vital motion in common with the lower animals, but has, in addition thereto, given us the light of understanding and reason – this encourages us to pray that He would direct us to the obedience of His law.  And yet, the [psalmist] does not call upon God as if He were under any obligation to him but, knowing that God never forsakes the work which He has begun, he simply asks for new grace, by which God may carry on to perfection what He has commenced.  We have need of the assistance of the law, since all that is sound in our understanding is corrupted so that we cannot perceive what is right unless we are taught from some other source.  But our blindness and stupidity are still more strikingly manifest from the fact that teaching will avail us nothing until our souls are renewed by divine grace.  What I have previously said must be borne in mind that, whenever the [psalmist] prays for understanding being imparted to him in order to his learning the divine commandments, he condemns both himself and all mankind as in a state of blindness for which the only remedy is the illumination of the Holy Spirit. – John Calvin (1509-1564), commenting on Psalm 119.73.