Devout Meditations (8)

The Lord was pleased to visit me with a slight illness in my late journey.  I was far from well on Tuesday, but supposed it owing to the fatigue of riding and the heat of the weather but, the next day, I was taken with a shivering, to which a fever succeeded.  I was, then, near sixty miles from home.  The Lord gave me much peace in my soul, and I was enabled to hope He would bring me safe home, in which I was not disappointed.  And, though I had the fever most part of the way, my journey was not unpleasant.  He likewise strengthened me to preach twice on Sunday and, at night, I found myself well, only very weary, and I have continued well ever since.  

I have reason to speak much of His goodness and to kiss the rod, for it was sweetened with abundant mercies.  I thought that, had it been His pleasure I should have continued sick at Oxford, or even have died there, I had no objection.  Though I had not that joy and sensible comfort which some are favored with, yet I was quite free from pain, fear, and care, and felt myself sweetly composed to His will, whatever it might be.  Thus, He fulfills His promise in making our strength equal to our day, and every new trial gives us a new proof how happy it is to be enabled to put our trust in Him. – Letter: John Newton (1725-1807) to Sally Johnson (May 31, 1769)

Works, Volume 2, Page 8

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Matthew Henry (32)

The mariners observed so much peculiar and uncommon either in the storm itself or in their own distress by it that they concluded it was a messenger of divine justice sent to arrest someone of those who were in the ship as having been guilty of some enormous crime – judging, as the barbarous people (Acts 28.4), “‘no doubt one of us is a murderer’ or guilty of sacrilege or perjury, or the like, who is, thus, ‘pursued’ by the ‘vengeance of the sea,’ and it is for his sake that we all suffer.”  Even the light of nature teaches that, in extraordinary judgments, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against some extraordinary sins and sinners.  Whatever evil is upon us at any time, we must conclude there is a cause for it.  There is evil done by us, or else this evil would not be upon us.  There is a ground for God’s controversy. – Matthew Henry (1662-1714), commenting on Jonah 1.4-10.

Augustine’s Letters

Among Augustine’s correspondents, we find a young man who (Letter 118 [AD 410]) requests the Bishop to send him [an] explanation of a number of passages in Cicero.  The young man was, frankly, concerned to get a reputation for scholarly attainments.  He received, in reply, a letter of very considerable length, in thirty-four sections, containing many remarks of a sort which he had neither desired nor expected.  Augustine was greatly distressed at the young man’s vanity* and charged him with being more concerned for reputation than for knowledge.  Did he suppose that bishops had nothing better to do than write comments on Cicero?  Very unpalatable remarks followed on the emptiness of human praise and the futility of ambition.

*Augustine himself was 56 years old in 410.

From: The Letters of St. Augustine by W. J. Sparrow-Simpson; Handbooks of Christian Literature series (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919), p. 52.

A Journal Entry

January 26, 1710.  The last week, I spent some time in prayer, with fasting, especially for my wife’s safe delivery.  But, with me, it went not well.  My frame was not fixedly lively.  This, upon reflection, was terrible to me, as a sign for evil, which was the means of quickening in secret where I got what I got not with others.  And, I have observed that the thing I have been still led to for her was a life for God.  And it was most clear to me, this night in particular, that it was not so much her life as life for God that I desired.  Grace to her (as to myself) to live well, more than life.  I have been this day also, from the life of the beast, helped to prize the enjoyment of God, and was led into a sweet view of the purity and refinedness of the pleasures of the fountain, and the dregs mixed with those of the streams, that make them humbling and contemptible.

From: Memoirs of the Life, Times, and Writings of the Reverend and Learned Thomas Boston, AM (Edinburgh: W. Anderson, 1776), p. 249.

The Practice of Christianity

Paul’s instructions for parents are surprisingly simple.  On the one hand, this is because the hardest thing about being a father or mother is doing what you know you should do: be kind and just, not angry and unfair; train and discipline your children consistently; teach them the Word of God.  On the other hand, Paul’s few words to fathers stand upon two broad bases.  First, the Book of Proverbs offers a wealth of wisdom for training children.  Second, Ephesians 4-6 reminds us that successful parenting requires us to walk worthy of our calling in every area of life: church, daily repentance, avoiding worldliness, and marriages of love and respect.  If we are faithful in these four areas, we have laid a solid foundation for raising our children.

No Christian is a spiritual civilian.  We are all soldiers on the front lines.  Therefore, we must live in a state of battle-readiness, always alert for our enemy.  Believers, however, need not live in bondage to fear.  Christ is our armor, and He is sufficient to overcome a legion of fallen angels.  Let us, therefore, make walking with Christ our lifestyle by meditating on the truth, doing what is right, resting on Christ’s [death] for peace of conscience, trusting God’s promises, hoping in total salvation, speaking God’s Word, and praying always for ourselves, other Christians, and the preachers of the gospel.  By God’s grace in Christ, we can overcome the evil one.

From: Family Worship Bible Guide, Joel R. Beeke, general editor (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016), pp. 790-791.  Devotional notes for Ephesians 6.

The Sharpness of the Christian’s Combat

First, it is a single combat.  Wrestling is not, properly, fighting against a multitude but, when one enemy singles out another and enters the list with him, each exerting his whole force and strength against one another – as David and Goliath, when the whole armies stood, as it were, in a ring to behold the bloody issue of that duel.  Now, this is more fierce than to fight in an army where, though the battle be sharp and long, the soldier is not always engaged but falls off when he is discharged and takes breath awhile – yea, possibly, may escape without hurt or stroke because there the enemy’s aim is not at this or that man, but at the whole heap.  In wrestling, [however], one cannot escape so, he being the particular object of the enemy’s fury, must needs be shaken and tried to purpose.

Indeed, the word “wrestling” signifies such a strife as makes the body shake again.  Satan hath not only a general malice against thee, John, [and] thee, Joan, he will single thee out for his enemy.  We find Jacob, when alone, a man wrestled with him.  As God delights to have private communion with his single saints, so the devil [delights] to try it hand to hand with the Christian, when he gets him alone.  As we lose much comfort when we do not apply the promise and providence of God to our particular persons and conditions – God loves me, pardons me, takes care of me.  The water at the town-conduit doth me no good if I want [do not have – RZ] a pipe to empty it into my cistern, so it obstructs our care and watchfulness when we conceive of Satan’s wrath and fury as bent, in general, against the saints and not against me in particular.  O, how careful a soul would be in duty if, as going to church or closet [your time and place for private prayer and Bible-reading – RZ] he had such a serious meditation as this: Now Satan is at my heels to hinder me in my work, if God help me not!

From: The Christian in Complete Armor by William Gurnall; reprint, 2 volumes in one edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), Volume 1, Page 113.

Christianity Encompasses All of Life

But, as a matter of fact, the religion of the Christian man embraces the whole of his life.  Without Christ, he was dead in trespasses and sins, but he has now been made alive by the Spirit of God.  He was, formerly, [an] alien from the household of God, but has now been made of member of God’s covenant people.  Can this new relationship to God be regarded as concerning only one part and, apparently, a small part of his life?  No, it concerns all his life, and everything that he does he should do, now, as a child of God. – J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)

Devout Meditations (7)

Your part is to pray to Him, to hear His Word, and to listen with attention when you hear it preached.  I trust you will find your light increase and your difficulties abate. 

I wish you to be as cheerful and easy as possible.  Cheerfulness is no sin nor is there any grace in a solemn cast of countenance.  On the other hand, I would not have you light or giddy with levity.  It will hurt your own spirit and hinder you from the pursuit of what, in your serious moments, you most desire.  I know your natural spirits are changeable.  Sometimes, they are highly volatile.  I would have you correct them by thinking you are a sinner. 

Sometimes, you are grave enough but, if you feel uneasy, then try to think what a Savior you read of.  Be sure you do not indulge a hard thought of Him, as though He were severe and stern and ready to take advantage of you.  Form your ideas of Him from the accounts the evangelists give you, that He was meek and lowly when upon earth, full of compassion and gentleness, ready to pity, to heal, to help, and to teach all who come to Him.  And, they will tell you that He had, in particular, a great love for children.  He tells you so, Himself.  You read how He took them in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.  When you think of this, shake off gloomy thoughts, speak to Him in your heart, and say, “Lord, bless me, too.” – Letter: John Newton (1725-1807) to Elizabeth Catlett (his adopted daughter), January 10, 1781.

Works, Volume 4, Page 511.

Matthew Henry (31)

Temporal deliverances are, indeed, wrought for us in mercy when, with them, there is holiness, when there is wrought, in us, a disposition to receive them with love and gratitude to God.  When we are sanctified, they are sanctified to us.  Holiness is, itself, a great deliverance and an earnest of that salvation which we look for. . .Where there is holiness, there shall be deliverance. – Matthew Henry (1662-1714), commenting on Obadiah 17-21.

The Inwardness and Spirituality of Psalm 119

This great “Psalm of the Law” is based upon the prophetic (Ezra 9.11) presentation of the Law in the Book of Deuteronomy, with the spirit and language of which its author’s mind was saturated.  It represents the religious ideas of Deuteronomy developed in the communion of a devout soul with God.  It is the fruit of that diligent study of the Law which is enjoined in Deuteronomy 6.1-9, a beginning of the fulfillment of the promise of an inward and spiritual knowledge of it which is proclaimed in Jeremiah 31.[31-37].  The psalmist is one whose earnest desire and steadfast purpose it is to make God’s law the governing principle of his conduct, to surrender all self-willed thoughts and aims, to subordinate his whole life to the supremely perfect will of God with unquestioning faith in His all-embracing providence and unfailing love.

The “Law of God,” which the psalmist describes in its manifold aspects of His law, word, promise, commandments, statutes, judgments, precepts, testimonies, [and] ways, is not the law in the narrower sense of the Mosaic legislation or the Pentateuch.  The Hebrew word “torah” has a wider range of meanings, and here, as in Psalms 1 and 19, it must be understood to mean all divine revelation as the guide of life.  This it is which kindles the psalmist’s enthusiasm and demands his allegiance.  It is no rigid code of commands and prohibitions, but a body of teaching, the full meaning of which can only be realized gradually and by the help of divine instruction.

It has been said that the psalmist’s devotion to the Law contains the germ of Pharisaic legalism, but it may be questioned whether the observation is just.  Nowhere does the psalmist allow law to interfere between him and God.  Never is a formal observance of external rules substituted for the inward devotion of the heart.  If, sometimes, his professions of obedience seem to savor of self-righteousness, his prayers for grace fully recognize that strength to obey must come from God.  The psalm is an acknowledgement of the blessing of a revelation, of the strength which the law gives to Israel in the midst of surrounding heathenism, and to the faithful Israelite in the presence of a prevailing laxity of faith and morals.  In an age when the voice of prophecy was rarely heard or, perhaps, was altogether silent, it begins to draw strength from meditation on the revelation made to past generations.  It points, no doubt, toward the age of the scribes, but it represents the best spirit of that age.

It is remarkable that a psalm, emanating from the period in which the ritual law was codified and the Temple became the center of Israel’s religion, should contain no reference whatever to ceremonial or sacrifice.  Doubtless, the psalmist would have included the ceremonial law as a part of God’s commandments but, evidently, he does not regard it as the principle part of them.  The whole psalm is animated by a profound inwardness and spirituality as far removed as possible from the superstitious literalism of a later age.  It shows no tendency to substitute mechanical observance of rules for the living application of principles.  Such obedience, if it falls short of the full liberty of the gospel is, at least, a step towards it.

From: The Book of Psalms by A. F. Kirkpatrick; The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1902), pp. 700-701.  This commentary was originally published in three volumes during the 1890s.