Regarding John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”

The Son’s offering of Himself is couched in terms that maintain the theological flavor and emphasis.  The Father’s word has already been given that “man shall find grace” (227).  Correspondingly, the “means” by which grace reaches man will be readily available.  This must be so by the very nature of divine grace itself – which is always freely given, unanticipated (“unprevented,” 231) and unsought, such is its joyful character as a gift to man.  It must be so, also, by the very character of man’s fallen status.  The status of disaffiliation to which disobedient man has inevitably committed himself is a status from which no fit approach could be initiated and no bargain struck, for man has nothing left to bargain with.  Having nothing to offer, man can make no valid move towards expiation.  He is, in short, wholly dependent for possible recovery of creational status on some movement starting outside himself and then involving him and carrying him back with it into the orbit of dialogue with divinity from which sin totally and logically has cut him off.  The thoroughness of Milton’s explication here has, once more, the effect of universalizing the situation.  If the reader feels that he is being preached at, it is because he is being preached at.  This is a sermon.  That it is also recognizably a day in the life of the Trinity may not make us feel hungry to share in the joys of Heaven, but we are fallen men and, perhaps, cannot be expected to relish such high delights.  At least, it makes us fully aware of what our human condition amounts to.

From: Milton’s Creation: A Guide Through “Paradise Lost” by Harry Blamires (London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1971), pp. 76-77.  Commenting on Book 3, Lines 217-343.

Harry Blamires (1916-2017) died on November 21, 2017, 15 days after his 101st birthday.  His best-known book, The Christian Mind, has never been out of print since it was first published in 1963.

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Matthew Henry (50) (11)

The best remembrance of our friends is to remember them at the throne of grace.  Paul was much in prayer for his friends, for all his friends, for these particularly.  It should seem, by this manner of expression, that he mentioned at the throne of grace the several churches he was interested in and concerned for particularly and by name.  He had seasons of prayer for the church at Philippi.  God gives us leave to be thus free with Him though, for our comfort, He knows whom we mean when we do not name them. . .Thanksgiving must have a part of every prayer, and whatsoever is the matter of our rejoicing ought to be the matter of our thanksgiving.  What we have the comfort of, God must have the glory of.  He thanked God, as well as made requests, with joy.  As holy joy is the heart and soul of thankful praise, so thankful praise is the lip and language of holy joy. – Matthew Henry (1662-1714), commenting on Philippians 1.3-6.

Two Levels of Understanding

No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord.  (Proverbs 21.30)

At one level, this proverb means that, if you set yourself against God to defy His will, you will end up only accomplishing His will at your own expense, as did Pharaoh in Exodus and those who crucified Jesus (Acts 2.23).

At another level, this text expresses the negative side of Proverbs’ great principle, that the fear of the Lord is the very beginning of wisdom. . .That is, without faith in God, even the most sophisticated and diligent thinker is going to leave out too much of reality to be genuinely wise about life.  No one would trust a surgeon who had no medical training or a cook who could not tell salt from sugar.  And why should we trust even our own thoughts and intuitions if they omit the One who created the fabric of the universe and holds it all together?

The next time you experience the pain of worry and anxiety, consider that it may be fueled by too much confidence that your plans are wiser than God’s.

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. 53.  From the devotion for February 22.

John Newton on Spirituality

A spiritual taste and a disposition to account all things mean and vain in comparison with the knowledge and love of God in Christ are essential to a true Christian.  The world can never be his prevailing choice (1 John 2.15).  Yet, we are renewed but in part and are prone to an undue attachment to worldly things.  Our spirits cleave to the dust in defiance of the dictates of our better judgments, and I believe the Lord seldom gives His people a considerable victory over this evil principle until He has let them feel how deeply it is rooted in their hearts.  We may often see persons entangled and clogged in this respect, of whose sincerity, in the main, we cannot justly doubt, especially upon some sudden and unexpected turn in life which brings them into a situation they have not been accustomed to.  A considerable part of our trials are mercifully appointed to wean us from this propensity, and it is gradually weakened by the Lord’s showing us, at one time, the vanity of the creature and, at another, His own excellence and all-sufficiency. – John Newton (1725-1807), from an undated letter to a correspondent first published in a collection of Newton’s letters in 1774.

From: Letters of John Newton by John Newton (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1960), pp. 25-26.  This volume contains a selection of Newton’s letters originally published in 1774, 1781, and 1785.

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.

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.