Avoiding the Extremes

To avoid legality, let us not run into licentiousness.  This awfully prevails amongst professors in our day.  They incessantly dwell on doctrines but, if you aim to reduce them into experience and practice, they cry out, “Oh, you are as legal as an Arminian!”  This is really like one who should receive food into his mouth, chew it for a season, and then spit it out again.  But, as it passed not into the stomach to be digested, the body is not nourished by it.  So, revolving doctrines in the head, rolling them upon the tongue, and not digesting them in the heart, leaves the soul in a lean, starving condition from day to day.  What is truth in the head without fellowship with Christ, who is truth in the heart?

From: A Spiritual Treasury for the Children of God by William Mason; reprint (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), p. 78, from the devotion for February 6 (PM), commenting on Titus 2.10.  Originally published in 1765.

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On Faith

Here, faith is the first act of the regenerated soul, and the most important act, for it draws all holy affections and emotions in its train.  But, though it sweetly mingles with every other grace, it is distinct from them all.  All its diversified acts arise from the nature of the truths believed, and men may enumerate and name as many of these acts as they please.  Still, the nature of faith remains simple.  It is a firm persuasion or belief of the truth, apprehended under the illumination of the Holy Spirit.  It necessarily works by love and purifies the heart, for divine things thus concerned cannot but excite the affections to holy objects, by which sinful desires and appetites will be subdued.  And, when we are persuaded of the truth of God’s gracious promises, there will always be a sweet repose of soul because the promises contain the very blessings which we need, and especially if the soul is conscious that it is exercising faith, will produce sweet consolation – there is “joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15.13).

From: Thoughts on Religious Experience by Archibald Alexander; reprint (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), pp. 65-66.  First published in 1844.

“These Great Questions of Principle”

There are those who shrink from a consideration of these great questions of principle; there are those who decry controversy, and believe that the church should return to its former policy of politely ignoring or taking for granted the central things of the Christian faith.  But, with such persons, I, for my part, cannot possibly bring myself to agree.  The period of apparent harmony in which the church in America found itself a few years ago was, I believe, a period of the deadliest peril; loyalty to church organizations was being substituted for loyalty to Christ; church leaders who never even mentioned the center of the gospel in their preaching were in undisputed charge of the resources of the church; at board meetings or in the councils of the church, it was considered bad form even to mention, at least in any definite and intelligible way, the cross of Christ.  A polite paganism, in other words, with reliance upon human resources, was being quietly and peacefully substituted for the heroism of devotion to the gospel.

From: What is Faith? by J. Gresham Machen (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1925), pp. 40-41.

Matthew Henry (47) (8)

Works of charity, like other good works, should be done with thought and design, whereas some do good only by accident.  They comply, it may be hastily, with the importunity of others, without any good design, and give more than they intended, and then repent of it afterwards.  Or, possibly, had they duly considered all things, they would have given more.  Due deliberation, as to this matter of our own circumstances, and those of the persons we are about to relieve, will be very helpful to direct us how liberal we should be in our contributions for charitable uses.

Persons, sometimes, will give merely to satisfy the importunity of those who ask their charity, and what they give is, in a manner, squeezed or forced from them, and this unwillingness spoils all they do.  We ought to give more freely than the modesty of some necessitous persons will allow them to ask.  We should not only deal out bread but draw out our souls to the hungry (Isaiah 58.10).  We should give liberally, with an open hand, and cheerfully, with an open countenance, being glad we have ability and an opportunity to be charitable. – Matthew Henry (1662-1714), commenting on 2 Corinthians 9.6-15.

 

On the Nature of Man’s Understanding

By calling understanding “a natural gift,” Calvin means that it is part of the nature or essence of humanity, “inseparable from man’s nature” (Institutes 11.2.12), and is such that it cannot disappear without our losing our nature and becoming bestial.  Reason remains, as weakened but not obliterated, in two ways.  First, not every human intention is depraved.  Surprisingly, perhaps, Calvin does not subscribe to the view that all fallen actions proceed from an evil intention (although it must be borne in mind, at this point, that the Institutes is primarily a book addressed to Christians, to those whose natures have been regenerated): “For we know, all too well, by experience how often we fall despite our good intention.  Our reason is overwhelmed by so many forms of deceptions, is subject to so many errors, dashes against so many obstacles, is caught in so many difficulties, that it is far from directing us aright” (Institutes 11.2.25, my emphasis).  There are some good intentions, but they are rendered inoperative by other factors.  If, however, as this passage makes clear, certain things have remained despite the Fall, certain things have also changed; reason is now partly weakened and partly corrupted.  Reason once motivated unfallen humanity and now motivates the regenerate elect to do good (although it does not motivate the regenerate elect in all their actions, due to the sin remaining in them).  Rather, it motivates the unregenerate to evil, as a result of its corruption and weakness.  Similarly, fallen man retains his will, though it, too, is depraved.  One of the ways in which man is distinguished from non-human animals is that, even in fallen human nature, there is evidence of the desire to search out the truth; indeed, human nature is captivated by love of truth which, in fallen human nature, lapses into dullness and vanity.  “The lack of this endowment in brute animals proves their nature gross and irrational” (Institutes 11.2.12).

From: John Calvin’s Ideas by Paul Helm (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 136-137.

Regarding the Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper testifies to us that God’s people have a full pardon of sin only in the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished at the cross, that is, a full pardon of original and all actual sins.  We must have communion with that sacrifice by faith.  Beloved, let us examine ourselves in this matter.  Although, in these our days of superficiality, all professors of the truth are urged to attend the Lord’s Supper, the catechism tells us that this sacrament is instituted only for those who are truly sorrowful for their sins and yet trust that these are forgiven them for the sake of Christ, and that their remaining infirmities are covered by His suffering and death.  Do you, by effectual conviction, know something of this true sorrow?  Were your sins and guilt ever revealed to you as an offense against the attributes of God?  Have you become acquainted with a godly sorrow that works repentance to salvation not to be repented of?  If not, you have no right to partake of the Lord’s Supper, even though the consistory [church leadership] cannot prevent you from attending.

From: The Heidelberg Catechism in Fifty-Two Sermons by G. H. Kersten; translated from the Dutch by Gertrude DeBruyn (Sioux Center: Netherlands Reformed Book and Publishing, 1968), p. 423.  From the sermon for Lord’s Day 30: “The Proper Use of the Lord’s Supper.”  The Dutch original was published in 1948.

On Jesus’ Sinlessness

There is a complete absence of tendentious reporting of Jesus’ sinlessness.  Mainly, the matter is simply assumed.  His mother observed the Mosaic rite for purification of herself, but not for her Son; He went frequently to the temple but never, we may assume, offered sacrifice for sins (as sin and trespass offerings of Leviticus 5-7).  He prayed “Father, forgive them,” but never “forgive me.”  His expressions of anger and irritation are obviously justified and never out of control.  His prayers to the Father during the intense strain and suffering of the Passion, especially the last evening in Gethsemane, including the marvelous prayer of John 17, are in awareness of full fellowship with the Father unobstructed by the slightest taint of sin.

From: Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical by Robert Duncan Culver (Fearn: Mentor, 2005), p. 468.

On God’s Omniscience and Immensity

God sees all over this world: every man, woman, and child; every beast on earth, every bird in the air, every fish in the sea.  There is not so much as a fly or worm or gnat that is unknown to God.  He knows every tree, every leaf, every spire of grass; every drop of rain or dew; every single dust mote in the whole world.  God sees in darkness and under ground.  A thousand miles under ground is not hid from His view.  God sees all that men do or say, sees their hearts and thoughts.

God knows everything past, even things a thousand years ago.  He also knows everything to come, even a thousand years to come.  He knows all the men that will be, and all that they will do, say, or think.  This is more than all the rest: he perfectly knows Himself.  God is so great that we can’t know but little of Him.  Those who know most know almost nothing of God.  Man’s knowledge is not large enough: it can’t reach so far as the greatness of God.  A nutshell can’t contain all the waters of the sea: so, the mind of man.  The angels of heaven cannot comprehend God.  But God knows Him: knows Himself altogether.  We are so far from knowing all of God that we know but little of ourselves: but little of our bodies, little of our souls.  But God knows all things at all times; He doesn’t sleep, is not weary of minding so many things; nothing is ever out of His mind.  He knows all things at once: we can look but on one thing at once, but He comprehends all things in a single glance. . .

Because God made all things, He must see and know all things: all the stars, angels, all mankind; beast, birds, fishes, flies: every part of their bodies, their eyes, their legs, every bone, every vein.  He not only knows the stars, but every tree leaf and blade of grass; every drop of water and mote of dust: God must see them all when He made them; otherwise, He could not make them.  Did He not know what He did? – Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), from a sermon on  Job 9.4, preached in January, 1753.

From: The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards by John Carrack (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), pp. 37-38.

God Protects Us

“He will guard the feet of His faithful ones” (1 Samuel 2.9a, ESV)

The way is slippery and our feet are feeble, but the Lord will keep our feet.  If we give ourselves up, by obedient faith, to be His holy ones, He will, Himself, be our guardian.  Not only will He charge His angels to keep us, but He, Himself, will preserve our goings.  He will keep our feet from falling so that we do not defile our garments, wound our souls, and cause the enemy to blaspheme.  He will keep our feet from wandering so that we do not go into paths of error or ways of folly or courses of the world’s custom.  He will keep our feet from swelling through weariness or blistering because of the roughness and length of the way.  He will keep our feet from wounds.  Our shoes shall be iron and brass so that, even though we tread on the edge of the sword or on deadly serpents, we shall not bleed or be poisoned.  He will also pluck our feet out of the net.  We shall not be entangled by the deceit of our malicious and crafty foes.  With such a promise as this, let us run without weariness and walk without fear.  He who keeps our feet will do it effectually. – Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) from Faith’s Checkbook (devotional comment for January 24).