Regarding Psalm 8

There is much in the scenery of a nocturnal sky to lift the soul to pious contemplation.  That moon and these stars, what are they?  They are detached from the world and they lift us above it.  We feel withdrawn from the earth and rise in lofty abstraction from this little theater of human passions and human anxieties.  The mind abandons itself to reverie and is transferred, in the ecstasy of its thought, to distant and unexplored regions.  It sees nature in the simplicity of her great elements and it sees the God of nature invested with the high attributes of wisdom and majesty. – Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), quoted by Charles Spurgeon in his The Treasury of David.

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God Acts Differently Than People

I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.  (Hosea 11.9)

The Lord thus makes known His sparing mercies. . .It may be that you are now under heavy displeasure, and everything threatens His speedy doom [upon you].  Let the text hold you up from despair.  The Lord now invites you to consider your ways and confess your sins.  If He had been a man, He would long ago have cut you off.  If He were now to act after the manner of men, it would be a word and a blow, and then there would be an end of you.  But, it is not so, for “as high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are His ways above your ways.”

You rightly judge that He is angry, but He keeps not His anger forever.  If you turn from sin to Jesus, God will turn from wrath.  Because God is God and not man, there is still forgiveness for you, even though you may be steeped up to your throat in iniquity.  You have a God to deal with and not a hard man nor even a merely just man.  No human being could have patience with you.  You would have wearied out an angel as you have wearied your sorrowing father, but God is longsuffering.  Come and try Him at once.  Confess, believe, and turn from your evil way, and you shall be saved. – Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) from The Checkbook of Faith, devotion for February 16.

A Cure for the Lack of Assurance of Salvation

Perhaps it is not so true elsewhere, but one of the great problems, historically, among Christian people in Scotland has been lack of assurance.  Perhaps, today, we might be forgiven for thinking that there is not enough lack of assurance!  Be that as it may, lack of assurance causes all kinds of harmful side effects in our Christian lives.

How would Paul deal with that?  I think our native instinct would be to respond to it by talking about the doctrine of assurance.  But the apostle Paul would, probably, have done that in only one case out of a hundred because he recognized that the problem – a lack of assurance and joy in the Christian life – is not necessarily caused by a flaw in our doctrine of assurance or our doctrine of joy.  Rather, lack of assurance is almost always caused by an inadequate understanding of the free justification we have received in Christ and of the final standing before God that free justification guarantees to believers.

So, Paul would not go to someone suffering from a lack of assurance and hand them a book about assurance.  That might be an almost fatal mistake!  He would preach the gospel to them: preach the freeness and the fullness of justification in Jesus.

From: Some Pastors and Teachers: Reflecting a Biblical Vision of What Every Minister is Called to Be by Sinclair B. Ferguson (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2017), p. 694.  Emphasis mine.

Matthew Henry (49) (10)

Heaven is the inheritance, the happiness of which is a sufficient portion for a soul.  It is conveyed in the way of an inheritance, being the gift of a Father to His children.  All the blessings that we have in hand are but small if compared with the inheritance.  What is laid out upon an heir in his minority is nothing to what is reserved for him when he comes to age.  Christians are said to have obtained this inheritance as they have a present right to it, and even actual possession of it, in Christ, their head and representative. – Matthew Henry (1662-1714), commenting on Ephesians 1.3-14.

Discussing Faith

Faith, said the Puritans, begins in the mind, with belief of the truth of the gospel message.  It results from spiritual illumination.  In illumination, the Spirit both enlightens the mind, making it capable of receiving spiritual things, and impresses on the mind the objective reality of those things of which the Word of God bears witness.  The knowledge of spiritual realities thus given is as immediate and direct in its way as is the knowledge of material things which we gain by sense, and it brings with it a quality of immediate conviction analogous to that which sense-perception brings.  Scripture refers to the process in terms borrowed from the senses – seeing, hearing, tasting (John 6.40; Ephesians 4.21; Hebrews 6.5) – and tells us that it yields full assurance of understanding (Colossians 2.2).  This spiritual appreciation of spiritual things is mediated to man, as a thinking being, by reasoned exposition of Scripture and rational reflection upon it.  Man cannot come to know any spiritual object except through the use of his mind, but spiritual knowledge goes beyond reason.  It is not a mere logical or imaginative construction nor is its certainty the derived certainty of an inference drawn from more certain premises.  Its certainty springs from an immediate awareness of, and contact with, the thing known.  It is not a notional, swimming knowledge, second-hand and unstable.  It is real and solid knowledge, the product of a direct cognisance, by spiritual sense, of the things known.  The divine operation whereby it is given is what John Calvin and his successors called the testimonium internum Spiritus Sancti – the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.  Paul refers to it in 1 Corinthians 2.4 as the “demonstration of the Spirit.”

. . . . .

Faith is, of course, more than mental enlightenment.  It extends from the head to the heart, and expresses itself in what Richard Baxter (1615-1691) calls a “practical trust” in God through Christ.  Man turns from self-reliance and sin to rest his soul on Christ and the promises.  Hereby he both expresses and establishes the habit of faith in his soul, and faith, once established, asserts itself as the dynamic of a new life.  It begets hope.  It works by love.  It steels itself to patience.  It lays itself out in well-doing.  It causes joy and peace to arise naturally and spontaneously in the heart.  “Faith is the master-wheel.  It sets all the other graces running” (Thomas Watson [c. 1620-1686]).  “Faith is the spring in the watch that sets all the golden wheels of love, joy, comfort, and peace a-going” (Thomas Brooks [1608-1680]).  Faith is, thus, regarded as containing a measure of assurance within itself from the outset.  The believer hopes, loves, serves, and rejoices because he believes that God has had mercy on him.

From: A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life by J. I. Packer (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), pp. 180, 181.

On the Writing, or Re-Writing, of History

There is truth in the saying that history is re-written by each generation.  Of course, few historians would claim to have entirely re-written history – and those who have made the claim have usually been less than successful in convincing others of the validity of their conclusions.  The task of re-writing or, more precisely, of re-interpreting history typically assumes the advances of the past, attempts to build on them and, either through an increased precision or through the attainment of a different vantage point, moves on not to a new history but to a new perspective on a history already fairly well known.  Recognition that the writing of history always involves a process of re-interpretation builds humility among historians.  The young recruits of today are the old war horses of tomorrow.  The latest re-appraisal soon becomes grist for the mill of re-evaluation.  Once the historiographical task has been relativized and deprived of its finality, it nonetheless remains the case that the re-examination of sources with a view to a greater precision in detail and with an altered sense of the legitimate context of investigation brings a certain kind of forward movement in study: if we never attain to finality, we can at least state, with relative certainty, that faulty or partial older perspectives have been set aside.

From: The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition by Richard A. Muller; Oxford Studies in Historical Theology series (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. vii.

On Service to God

It is useless to attempt to serve God with a divided heart (verse 13).  The truth here propounded by our Lord appears, at first sight, too obvious to admit of being disputed.  And yet, the very attempt which is here declared to be useless is constantly being made by many in the matter of their souls.  Thousands on every side are continually trying to do the thing which Christ pronounces impossible.  They are endeavoring to be friends of the world and friends of God at the same time.  Their consciences are so far enlightened that they feel they must have some religion.  But their affections are so chained down to earthly things that they never come up to the mark of being true Christians.  And, hence, they live in a state of constant discomfort.  They have too much religion to be happy in the world and too much of the world in their hearts to be happy in religion.  In short, they waste their time in laboring to do that which cannot be done.  They are striving to serve God and mammon.

He who desires to be a happy Christian will do well to ponder our Lord’s sayings in this [passage].  There is, perhaps, no point on which the experience of all God’s saints is more uniform than this, that decision is the secret of comfort in Christian service.  It is the half-hearted Christian who brings up the evil report of the good land.  The more thoroughly we give ourselves to Christ, the more sensibly we shall feel within the peace of God that passes all understanding (Philippians 4.7).  The more entirely we live, not to ourselves, but to Him who died for us, the more powerfully shall we realize what it is to have joy and peace in believing.  If it is worthwhile to serve Christ at all, let us serve Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Life – eternal life – after all is the matter at stake no less than happiness.  If we cannot make up our minds to give everything for Christ’s sake, we must not expect Christ to own us at the last day.  He will have all our hearts or none.  Friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4.4).  The end of undecided and half-hearted Christians is to be cast out forever. – J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), commenting on Luke 16.13-18.

On Getting Older

Why should the aged be more peevish and morose than others?  If they are pious, there can be no good reason for it, but it is not difficult to account for the fact.  In the decline of life, a gradual change takes place in our physical system, by which the mind is considerably affected and, often, positive disease is added to the natural change.  The nervous system is debilitated and shattered and, in consequence, the spirits are apt to sink or to become irregular.  To these may be added the afflictions and disappointments which most experience in the course of a long life, by which the temper is apt to be soured.  And, when men, by reason of the decay of mind and body, become disqualified for the same active services which they were long accustomed to perform and these fall into the hands of juniors whom they knew when children, it is very natural to feel as if the world was turning round – as if everything were going wrong.

Old men have always been wont to laud times long past, when they were young, and to censure all the innovations which have come in since.  Sometimes, also, the aged experience a neglect from the young and even a want of respect from their own children, which is exceedingly mortifying and tends much to foster that acerbity of temper so frequently found in the aged.

But, although these and other similar things may be truly pleaded in extenuation of the fault under consideration, yet they do, by no means, amount to an apology which exculpates us from blame.  And that old age is not necessarily accompanied by these unamiable traits of character is proved by many happy examples.  Some aged persons exhibit a uniform cheerfulness and serenity of mind, and the remarkable fact has been recorded in regard to a few that a naturally irritable temper has been softened and mellowed instead of being exacerbated by old age.  If I recollect rightly, this is mentioned as true in relation to the Rev. Dr. Rodgers of New York by his biographer, my respected colleague, the Rev. Dr. Miller.  The late venerable Dr. Livingston of the Dutch Reformed Church, President of their college and seminary, was distinguished by uniform cheerfulness to a very advanced age, and his cordial and affectionate manners were remarked and felt by all who approached him.  John Newton, of London, seems to have possessed, with large measures of divine grace, a very happy physical temperament.  It is delightful to contemplate the old age of such a man.  And, while I am mentioning recorded examples of a temper in old age deserving of imitation, I would recall to the remembrance of my readers the case of Thomas Scott who, at a period of life when most men relinquish all severe labor, actually undertook to learn the Arabic language, that he might be able to give instruction to the missionaries going to the East.

From: Thoughts on Religious Experience by Archibald Alexander; reprint (Grand Rapids: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), pp. 270-271.  Originally published in 1844.

On Faith and Godly Fear

Faith in Jesus moves us from the dread of punishment to the godly fear that is the beginning of wisdom.  In Christ, we no longer fear God’s judicial penalty (Romans 8.1, 15).  But wisdom requires a genuine hatred of wrongdoing, not just a calculated avoidance of it out of self-interest.  The dread of punishment only makes us self-absorbed – worried about being hurt.  The true fear of the Lord serves Him out of joy and high appreciation for who He is.  “Even if there were no hell,” this kind of loving fear “would still shudder at offending Him alone” (John Calvin).

The difference between slavish, self-interested fear and the true fear of the Lord is the difference between a mere moralist and a real Christian.  There is no wise living unless we have a relationship with Him, one in which we obey Him out of love for who He is.  Only a faith sight of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us both humbles us and yet affirms us into the joyful fear of the Lord.

Do you refrain from sins mainly because you hate their consequences?  Or do you refrain out of distaste for the sins themselves, as they grieve and offend God?

From: God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs by Timothy Keller, with Kathy Keller (New York: Viking, 2017), p. 41.  Entry for February 10, commenting on Proverbs 1.7.