Gratefully Reflecting on the Goodness of God

Religion, rightly understood, is doubtless sufficient of itself to bear us through all the changes of this world, and guide us to a better.  But our gracious Master has made us capable of tender and social affections, to add to the comfort of this present life.  I know nothing that is required of us as a duty, but what is both consistent with our happiness, and has a tendency to promote it.  Nor is there a single gratification prohibited, that is not, in its natural consequences, productive of pain or disgust.  But you will say, why all this to you?  You are guilty of no excess (except your partial regard to me may be deemed one).  I answer, it was a grateful reflection on the goodness of God, and a sense of what I owe Him, especially for giving you to me, directed my pen; and to whom could I so properly address these thoughts as to your dear self, since to you I am secondarily indebted for my present peace? – Letter: John Newton to his wife, Mary (September 14, 1750)

From: The Works of John Newton: Volume 4 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2015), p. 23.

John Newton (1725-1807) and his wife, Mary (1729-1790) were married from 1750 until her death.

For the Lord’s Day (473)

I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for My anger has been turned from them.  I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon.  They shall return and dwell beneath My shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.  (Hosea 14.4-7)

Assurance of Faith and Piety of Practice

We shall never be rooted and grounded in our belief unless we daily practice what we profess to believe.  Full assurance is the reward of obedience.  Answers to prayer are given to those whose hearts answer to the Lord’s command.  If we are devoted to God’s fear*, we shall be delivered from all other fear.  He has no fear as to the truth of the Word who is filled with fear of the author of the Word.  Skepticism is both the parent and the child of impiety, but strong faith both begets piety and is begotten of it.  We commend this whole verse to any devout person whose tendency is to skepticism.  It will be an admirable prayer for use in seasons of unusually strong misgivings. – Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), commenting on Psalm 119.38.

*”fear” in the sense of “reverence” and “awe”.

God Preserves His Word

The Lord’s care for His church is not only manifested in the documentation of His Word but also in its preservation through the centuries.  There are no historical or theological grounds for the thesis that the canon of Scripture derives its authority from that of the church.  We reject the Roman Catholic position that the authority of the canon is sustained and guaranteed by that of the church.  The church did not produce Scripture, but received it from God’s hand.  In this regard, it merely had a receptive function.

But there is also a subjective approach that we must reject.  According to this view, the Scriptures are not accepted as they have come to us, “but only to the extent that they can pass the test of our criticism or can be received by us on the wavelength of our own experience” (Van Bruggen).  Then the “judgment of faith” of the individual or the church becomes the decisive factor or one seeks a “canon within the canon.”  This is a canon that is discovered within the Bible by theologians.  But it implies a rejection of the canon as canon, because then it can no longer be the canon in the fullest sense of the Word.

The canon points beyond itself: God gave it to His church as a standard and guide.  And also in the factual recognition of the books of the Bible as canon we recognize the work of God in His church.  It is “the Holy Spirit [who] witnesses in our hearts that” it is from God (Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 5).

From: Concise Reformed Dogmatics by J. van Genderen and W. H. Velema; translated from the Dutch by Gerrit Bilkes and Ed M. van der Maas (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008), p. 113.  Dutch original published in 1992.

Contrasts

Out of Christ, God is a consuming fire.  In Christ, He is a reconciled Father. – J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), on Luke 5.1-11.

If you are not salting the world, the world is putrefying you. – Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), on Revelation 3.15, 19.

Christ Deals With Sinners

Whatever a man’s past life may have been, there is hope and a remedy for him in Christ.  If he is only willing to hear Christ’s voice and follow him, Christ is willing to receive him at once as a friend and to bestow on him the fullest measure of mercy and grace.  The Samaritan woman, the penitent thief, the Philippian jailer, the publican Zacchaeus, are all patterns of Christ’s readiness to show mercy and to confer full and immediate pardons.  It is His glory that, like a great physician, He will undertake to cure those who are apparently incurable and that none are too bad for Him to love and heal.  Let these things sink down into our hearts.  Whatever else we doubt, let us never doubt that Christ’s love to sinners passes knowledge and that Christ is as willing to receive as He is almighty to save. – J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), commenting on John 4.19-26.

Read Your Bible!

I am afraid that the plain, practical duty of reading their Bibles is getting to be a much-neglected duty among professing Christian people.  I do not know how you are to keep the words of Christ’s patience in your hearts and minds if you do not read them.  I am afraid that most Christian congregations, nowadays, do their systematic and prayerful study of the New Testament by proxy and expect their ministers to read the Bible for them and tell them what is there. . .I am afraid that newspapers and circulating libraries and magazines and little religious books – very good in their way, but secondary and subordinate – have taken the place that our fathers used to have filled by honest reading of God’s Word.  And. . .I believe it is a very large part of the reason why so many professing Christians do not come up to this standard and, instead of “running with patience the race that is set before them” walk in an extraordinarily leisurely fashion, by fits and starts – and sometimes with long intervals – in which they sit still on the road are are not a mile farther at a year’s end than they were when it began.  There never was, and there never will be, vigorous Christian life unless there be an honest and habitual study of God’s Word.  There is no short cut by which Christians can reach the end of the race. – Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), commenting on Revelation 3.10.

Christianity Comes to Sweden

The last of the three Scandinavian kingdoms fully to enter the Christian fold was Sweden.  Christians were to be found there at least as early as the ninth century, and Anskar visited the land more than once.  By 936, such Christian communities as had existed seem to have disappeared, but the faith was soon renewed.  Many Swedes who had been in England as merchants or soldiers and had been baptized there returned home.  In the second half of the tenth century, there were bishops in Sweden.  Early in the eleventh century, a Swedish king, Olof Skotkonung, was baptized and inaugurated a bishopric under the jurisdiction of the see of Hamburg-Bremen.  Although most of the land was still pagan and the main shrine of the old worship was maintained, as formerly, at Uppsala, missionaries from England were preaching the new faith.  As was to be expected and as was true in Norway, Christianity triumphed first in the south, nearer to Christendom, and paganism lingered longer in the north.  It was not until the first decades of the twelfth century that Christianity was dominant.  Monasticism entered through the Cistercians who, as we are to see, represented a revival in that movement.  When, in 1164, Sweden was given its own archiepiscopal see, its first incumbent was a Cistercian, its seat was placed at Uppsala, and the cathedral was erected on the site of the head temple of the pre-Christian pagan cult.  Thus was Christianity clearly victor, and not in a lax form, but headed by a member of that order, then young, which represented one of the latest and strictest attempts to conform fully to the Christian ideal.

From: A History of Christianity: Volume 1: to AD 1500 by Kenneth Scott Latourette; 2nd edition; reprint (Peabody: Prince Press, n.d.), p. 389.  This is a reprint of the 2nd edition of 1975.  The first edition, in one volume, was published in 1953.

Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884-1968) taught the history of Christianity at Yale Divinity School from 1921 to 1953.

For the Lord’s Day (472)

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ so that you may belong to another, to Him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.  For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.  But now, we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.  (Romans 7.4-6)

On God’s Creation in Winter

It is marvellous weather – brilliant sunshine on the snow, clear as summer, slightly golden sun, distance lit up.  But it is immensely cold – everything frozen solid – milk, mustard, everything.  Yesterday I went out for a real walk – I’ve had a cold and been in bed.  I climbed with my niece to the bare top of the hills.  Wonderful it is to see the foot-marks on the snow – beautiful ropes of rabbit prints, trailing away over the brows; heavy hare marks; a fox so sharp and dainty, going over the wall: birds with two feet that hop; very splendid straight advance of a pheasant; wood-pigeons that are clumsy and move in flocks; splendid little leaping marks of weasels coming along like a necklace chain of berries; odd little filagree of the field-mice; the trail of a mole – it is astonishing what a world of wild creatures one feels about one, on the hills in snow. – D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930), English novelist and poet (in 1919)

From: The English Year from Diaries and Letters, compiled by Geoffrey Grigson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 20-21.  The extract is from The Letters of D. H. Lawrence.