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.

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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.

Matthew Henry (48) (9)

If we have thought it necessary to seek justification by faith in Christ, why, then, should we hamper ourselves with the law?  What did we believe in Christ for?  Was it not that we might be justified by faith in Christ?  And, if so, is it not folly to go back to the law and to expect to be justified either by the merit of moral works or the influence of any ceremonial sacrifices or purifications?  And, if it would be wrong in those who are Jews by nature to return to the law and expect justification by it, would it not be much more so to require this of Gentiles, who were never subject to it, since “by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified?” – Matthew Henry (1662-1714), commenting on Galatians 2.16 (which says – 3 times in that same verse – that good works are useless for salvation)

“It Snapped Shut on a Man’s Heart Like a Trap”

Something has happened to the doctrine of justification. . .The faith of Paul and Luther was a revolutionizing thing.  It upset the whole life of the individual and made him into another person altogether.  It laid hold on the life and brought it unto obedience to Christ.  It took up its cross and followed along after Jesus with no intention of going back.  It said goodbye to its old friends as certainly as Elijah when he stepped into the fiery chariot and went away in the whirlwind.  It had a finality about it.  It snapped shut on a man’s heart like a trap.  It captured the man and made him, from that moment forward, a happy love-servant of his Lord.

From: The Root of the Righteous by A. W. Tozer (Harrisburg: Christian Publications, 1955), pp. 45-46.

Quoted in: Romans 1-8 by John MacArthur; The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Volume 15 (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1991), p. 205.

The Christian’s Obedience to God the Key to Spiritual Growth

Would we, then, make progress in God’s school so as to profit from His teaching and be built up in the faith?  Let this be our foundation: we must endeavor to give God our obedience, to exalt Him in our midst and to reverence Him as He deserves.  If we do that, we will surely build.  We cannot, however, give ourselves to godly fear or feel disposed to serve and honor Him unless we know Him as a gracious Father in whom we may rest and find refuge.  Let us remember, therefore, what we are taught concerning Jesus Christ, in whom God so reveals His true self that we can be confident of His love.  Let us lay hold of the grace offered to us by the Son of God and which He daily pours upon us.  Having received His grace, let us come directly to our God, knowing that He is ready to welcome us.  And, since we have all the more cause to love Him who has met us in His infinite goodness, let us not be ungrateful for the many blessings He has bestowed on us, but let us come in obedience to Him that we may serve Him all the days of our lives and, as we walk in His fear, let us grow ever stronger in godliness, as His Word urges us to do.

From: “Doctrine Good and Bad,” a sermon on 1 Timothy 4.6-7, from Sermons on First Timothy by John Calvin; translated from the French by Robert White (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2018), pp. 479-480.  Calvin’s series of 54 sermons on 1 Timothy was preached in St. Peter’s Church in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1554 and 1555.