The Worthlessness of Wealth

Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death (Proverbs 11:4).

Day of Wrath – John Martin

In the day of wrath by which is meant either death, which brings us ultimately to that day, or the day itself which will bring to an end this present evil age. When this age passes we enter an eternal and permanent state. For the day of wrath wealth will have no currency, indeed it’s value will be far less than the most accelerated hyper-inflation ever seen. We could also see wealth as not simply currency but also social worth. Wealth and social standing may gain a person entry into the most prestigious celebrations – even Royalty – but in the day of wrath, any currency will fail to have any influence.

A person may be poor but aspire to wealth and yet have none. They think by aspiring to aristocracy or the wealthy, the industrialist or the successful entrepreneur there will be a way of escape. If only I were wealthy? Not so, for we are told wealth is worthless in the day of wrath. See Revelation 6: 15-17.

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. (V 15)

They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! (V 16)

For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (v 16)

The Bible nowhere condemns wealth as intrinsically wicked. There’s nothing wrong with earning money or being wealthy. But there’s no virtue with it. It will not earn favour with The Almighty. By the same token, there’s no virtue to being poor either. The politics of envy is popular in our day and is a form of rebellion towards the providence of a generous God. Back in the 1st Century if as a slave you could be free, so be it. So there’s nothing wrong with changing your position or a promotion. But riches and poverty have to be held in relation to God. Yes, that’s easy to say in the West. I know this. Go and read the parable Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) and see where you would rather end up. Riches for that man were worthless. But Lazarus wasn’t saved by being poor but by trusting God, whereas the Rich Man rejected the Word of God.

But righteousness delivers from death. Death is synonymous with wrath ‘for it is given to man once to die and then judgment’ (Heb 9:27). But the text says we are delivered through righteousness. That is, by being righteous. Many understand Christians to be saying ‘we are righteous’ and mean by this ‘look how wonderfully righteous we are’. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth! We aren’t delivered by our own righteousness or by any righteous deeds. We are delivered by what has been called an alien righteousness – that is a righteousness from outside ourselves. We have no internal inherent spark of righteousness. To think otherwise is foolishness. The Bible says quite clearly ‘there is none righteous, no, not one (Rom 3:10)’  The righteousness the text speaks of must come from another. But who, since ‘there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins’ (Ecc 7:20). The Apostle John wept at the thought of no deliverer: ‘and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it (Rev 5:4).

So it isn’t just righteousness but a particular righteousness. The righteousness of a person. This person is The Lord Jesus Christ. It is He that delivers from death, destruction, and despair’.

Immortal honors rest on Jesus’ head;
My God, my portion, and my living bread;
In Him I live, upon Him cast my care;
He saves from death, destruction, and despair.
(Joseph Hart 1773-1844)

And it is only Jesus that is able to deliver from death. Having the righteousness that comes from God isn’t one option that we pick from many – which is often how it’s portrayed even by so-called ministers of religion. The truth is, it’s either the righteousness that God offers or you choose to go it alone. So if you do find yourself in an eternal hell, remember, you’ll be there because that was the choice you made.

Jesus is calling people to Himself. He says ‘come to me and I will give you rest’ (Matt 11:28-30). At the start of His earthly ministry, Jesus said ‘Repent and believe the Gospel’ (Mark 1:15). He also said ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’ (John 7:37). The Son of God, the one who died and rose, who lives for evermore, the one who has defeated death is the one who calls you to Himself. Do not delay (2 Cor 6:1-2).

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).

1. Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore!
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
He is able, He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more!

2. Let not conscience let you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.
This he gives you, This he gives you, This he gives you:
‘Tis the Spirit’s glimmering beam.

4. Come ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and mangled by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, Not the righteous, Not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to call.

5. Agonizing in the garden,
Lo! your Maker prostrate lies!
On the bloody tree behold Him:
Hear Him cry, before He dies:
“It is finished!” “It is finished!” “It is finished!”
Sinner, will this not suffice?

6. Lo! The incarnate God ascending,
Pleads the merit of His blood;
Venture on Him, venture freely;
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus, None but Jesus, None but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.

(Joseph Hart 1773-1844)

Dr Nick Needham Lecturing on ‘The Synod of Dort’ at Aberystwyth

Dr Nick Needham will be coming to Aberystwyth Saturday 23rd June to give two lectures on The Synod of Dort.

If you are in Aberystwyth do come along. The lectures will take place at Alfred Place Baptist Church. Coffee at 10:30.

Lecture 1 (11:00). What on Earth was The Synod of Dort?

Lecture 2 (14:30). Why Should I Care?

Dr Needham is the author of ‘2000 Years of Christ’s Power‘ currently in Four Volumes.

Volume 1. The Age of the Early Church Fathers

Volume 2. The Middle Ages

Volume 3. Renaissance and Reformation

Volume 4. The Age of Religious Conflict

(Nick has an overview of the Synod of Dort in Volume 4 of ‘2000 Years of Christ’s Power’ Chapter 2, Section 2, p 127 – 142.)

 

 

Bible Reading: Benefits and Warnings

When I say Bible Reading, I mean systemically reading it through in a year. There are quite a few plans available that take you through the OT and NT in a year. Here are three plans you might like to try.

No 1. The Murray M’Cheyne plan. This takes you through the whole Bible and through the Psalms and NT twice. It can be a lot of reading but then you do get Psalms and NT twice. Obtainable from The Banner of Truth to buy (cheap) or free to print off Here.

No 2. This plan is similar, going through the whole Bible once, so slightly less to read. Available Here.

No 3. Finally, there’s Reading it chronologically. Available to print off Here.

The advantage of the Chronological plan is you read events, Psalms and Prophets in ‘real time’. The disadvantage with this plan is you won’t reach the NT till October! So it is a bit lopsided. This is the plan I use, but as a ‘corrective’ I read a separate NT plan as well.

Go Here for more plans.

I accept there are many ways to ‘do’ your private devotions. And there are advantages to some of these methods. For example, some use commentaries or other things like The Geneva Bible notes – which are very good. I’ve never found that way helpful and they will not take you through the whole Bible. It’s my personal conviction that Christians should be primarily reading the Bibles. Ad Fontes if you like.

If I’m reading a book about doctrine or the Bible, I read that in addition to reading The Bible not instead of it. There are hundreds of excellent books out there that will grab our attention, but no matter how good it is, it isn’t The Word of God.

I have found that if I don’t read before I go out, the day and what it brings just takes over and I end up reading it when I’m far from my best, or I have to catch up. I know it isn’t easy with a family and work, but it can (normally) be done – even if, at times, done poorly. You may not agree, but I think better to do it poorly and out of duty than not at all.

Four Brief Benefits then, not necessarily in order of importance:

Benefit One: You get to read it all not just your favourite bits or what’s trending or topical in your particular Church circles. We rightly make much of The Bible and how all our doctrine and practice come from it, but have we read it. All of it. If you are a new Christian then you probably won’t have read through it yet. So let me encourage you to start doing it today.

Benefit Two: This is similar. You are reading what God Himself has decreed to be recorded and preserved. There are lots of things we might like to know that hasn’t been recorded for us but what we have is what God has left for us to read.

Benefit Three: By systematically and regularly reading it you will slowly become familiar with its contents. You will make connections between one Scripture and another. Names and places will begin to stand out and you get a ‘feel’ for the book as a whole.

Benefit Four: As you read pray. Let God’s Word speak to you and guide you. He will bring people, situations, your own failings and the wonder at what God has done for you in Christ before your mind. Thank God and pray.

Benefit Five: I decided to briefly add this one as well. God Himself tells us through His Word of particular benefits. We are warned, informed, encouraged, delighted, sanctified and cleansed! (Eph 5:26)

That’s the benefits. I’m sure there are many more but now for a few warnings.

Warning One: Just because reading it this way works for you – including the benefits – don’t be fooled into thinking God is going to bless you because of it. He might. He might not. It certainly won’t get you into heaven. Only Christ can do that! Take a look at your heart.

Warning Two: It isn’t always going to be great fun. There will be times when it will be a real grind and you’ll only be reading out of habit. The temptation will be to give up because your heart is cold and formal. Welcome to the real world. Press on. Don’t give up. Remember there isn’t just your own sinful heart to contend with, there’s also an enemy that would draw you away from God’s Word.

Warning Three: You find out other Christians aren’t or haven’t read it right through. Pride is always ready to overtake us. Imagine, getting proud for reading The Bible! It happens. However, God has a way of humbling the proud heart.

Warning Four: For whatever reason, there will be times when you will get behind and the task of catching up begins to look impossible. Don’t get overcome with guilt. Either of these options is fine. Option 1. Set some big chunks of time aside and catch up. Maybe a Sunday afternoon. Option 2. Start afresh from where you are and then keep going!

Finally: I might as well warn you now as there’s no way of getting around it, it won’t always be easy, it will take discipline and just sheer doggedness at times to keep going. But those glimpses The Lord will give you of Himself from time to time far out-way the hard work.

I hope you found this helpful and encouraging.

The Deceitful Heart

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV).

Another translation says the heart is not only deceitful but wicked.

‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ (KJV)

In today’s reading (29th April) from ‘Voices From The Past‘ (Banner of Truth, Edited by Richard Rushing) we are treated to the writing of Thomas Manton (Works, 1:138-144) on the deceitful heart. I’ll probably post more from this book because it’s really excellent. Thanks to The Banner of Truth and Richard Rushing for editing it. There is a ‘Voices From The Past’ Volume 2 but that will have to wait.

If you are someone who isn’t a Christian then read this (below) and understand the dire predicament you are in. If God doesn’t do the work of Conversion in your heart you are without hope (Eph 2:12). The Lord Jesus Christ has said ‘… whoever comes to me I will never cast out’ (John 6:37). If you want to know what’s really wrong with the world then look no further than your own heart. Yes, systems and governments and laws limit its wicked out working to some extent but as Manton says ‘What a miserable, wretched creature man is!’. Even the Apostle Paul cried out ‘O Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24) But Paul was then able to exclaim from where deliverance comes:

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25) Can You?

 

The Prayer Meeting

It’s probably true – though I can’t prove it – that every Church Prayer Meeting will have people in attendance that do not pray. We all know what it’s like to be in a meeting with those ‘awkward silences’. Not only that, it’s probably every Minister’s goal to get everyone praying. It’s the Ministerial equivalent of bringing peace to the Middle East. Many have tried; all have failed.

Believe me, none of the following is meant to be in a critical spirit. I too, attend the prayer meeting. I too want to see God moving. I want to be blessed. I want the local Church to be blessed. I want God’s people to be blessed. I too would like the experience of the early church:

Act 4:31  And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

What a thing that would be! I’ve been a Christian for nearly 40 years and my experience tells me not everyone prays. I know this because I can easily be the one that doesn’t pray. I’ve sat under countless pleas from Ministers to get their people praying in public. It doesn’t seem to make a lasting difference no matter what’s done or said. Something isn’t working.

This is my rambling take on the problem, if it is a problem, and some comments that will hopefully help both the meeting and Minister.

Audible & Silent Prayer

We all need to realise that because a person does not pray audibly it does not necessarily mean they are not praying. They may not be. But isn’t it more charitable to assume they are? And when someone is praying audibly the others are following (one would hope) the prayer and saying a silent Amen (if not an audible one) to the prayer.

I recently read an article about ladies praying in the prayer meeting. More specifically, that they should be praying. I know ladies that would never ever ever pray audibly in a prayer meeting. This is because it is their honest Biblical conviction they should remain silent. I’m thinking especially of some elderly Godly ladies. Forcing them to go against their conscience I believe is unhelpful. There are then differing views on women praying in public. Personally, I have no objection to women praying in the prayer meeting if that is their conviction. Though to be honest after looking into this there’s a strong case against the practice. And it has nothing to do with male superiority but everything to do with how God has ordered differing roles for men and women.

Men not praying in the prayer meeting is another thing altogether. And I must address myself in this regard. Though even here there should be room for charity given differing abilities, self-consciousness, immaturity and so on. But as a general rule, the men ought to be praying.  If they are not praying, how should this be remedied? That is the question. Strong arm tactics I don’t believe are effective. Pummelling non-praying men with guilt is also not effective. But there may be a case for the Minister to lovingly draw alongside to counsel and encourage the brother.

The ‘Awkward Silence’

The ‘awkward silences’ are only a problem if we make them a problem. Let’s assume, for the sake of charity, the people are praying, just not audibly. Ok, it is a church prayer meeting where people, God’s people, gather to pray, aloud. But people will pray. People do pray. Just not everyone. Just not continuous non-stop prayer throughout the meeting. Perhaps accepting this as the norm is just giving in to the ‘problem’. But maybe it would take the pressure off and more would pray.

The Vicissitudes of Life & Warfare

The condition of the people is very varied. Some come almost straight from work, some with great burdens, some struggling with sin, lack of assurance, worries, illness, caring for loved ones, debt and many other conditions. Some are simply terrified at hearing the sound of their own voice or speaking in public. We definitely need encouraging. What I believe is needed most is preaching. Mini-sermons if you will. Not a Bible study. No hobby horses. Preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Preach the Majesty of God and His Grace to us His people. Preach His Kindness to undeserving sinners. Preach the Word and let The Spirit of God do the work that only He can do.

‘Inspirer and Hearer of prayer
Thou Shepherd and Guardian of Thine’ (Augustus Toplady)

And,

‘Great Shepherd of Thy people hear;
Thy presence now display;
As Thou hast given a place for prayer,
So give us hearts to pray’ (John Newton)

There’s’ no doubt we are in a warfare as soon as we enter the prayer meeting. It will give the enemy of our souls great delight to see us not praying. On the other hand

‘…. Satan trembles, when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.’

And it’s true! But then I’ve heard that verse quoted many times in a prayer meeting and it has to be said, to little effect. One of the problems is the belief that if there’s a free flow of prayer that’s a good meeting. But if it’s hard work and a struggle it’s a bad meeting. The one makes us feel good, the other not so much. It’s good to have a sense of The Lord with us – of course it is – but we can so easily come to wrong conclusions. The reality is not always what it appears to be. Unless there’s a supernatural empowerment to pray engagement in warfare is going to be tough going.

Priorities in the Prayer Meeting

In our prayer meetings we all too easily start praying for stuff. It’s so easy to make it all about ourselves. We need to make a conscious effort to not do that. Even when urged to give God praise and thanks we so quickly and easily fall into making it all about ourselves. We need to cultivate a different attitude – this takes time. We need to be patient with ourselves and with one another. But cultivate the attitude we must.

What is wanted is something to ‘fix’ the meeting. I don’t believe that is possible. We can’t ‘fix’ anything. We need the Spirit of God to lead and guide us in our prayers. What does God want us to pray for, to thank Him for or to confess? With the best will in the world there will always be needs in the local, national and worldwide church and there will always be needs that suddenly arise so these could be mentioned at the meeting. But what if we had a list in our Bibles (perhaps inside the Church Bible as well) or on our phones that we can always bring to the meeting.

Here are a few suggestions:

To thank God for His being. Who He is. He is entirely self-sufficient in need of nothing and creator of all that exists..

The person and work of The Lord Jesus Christ. His Cross, His Blood, His resurrection, His intercession.

The person of The Holy Spirit. Pray that He would reveal The Lord Jesus to us and guide and help us as we pray.

To thank Him for the Holy Scriptures and the preservation of them for us.

To know God’s will.

His providence’s and the grace to persevere.

That the Triune God would be glorified in our church

Thank God that He has purchased a Church and those in it. Thank Him for our Salvation and that He keeps us by His Grace.

Thank Him for forgiveness, sanctification, justification and Glory.

To pray for the Pastor, Elders, Deacons. Pray they would be kept faithful and kept from falling.

To pray for the Word as it is proclaimed. That it might have the unction of God upon it.

To pray for the advance of the Gospel in our lives, church, locality, nation and world. Pray the Lord Jesus would see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.

Pray for our persecuted brethren around the world.

Many many more could be added to this list. It isn’t exhaustive but these are the sorts of things that should be on our minds (and in our Bibles I suggest) already. But then add to this more specific needs (in the local church) as they arise. But keep these to a minimum. Perhaps communicate the needs of the church through other means as well (email, text etc.) so we arrive at the meeting ready to bring our requests before the Throne of Grace. If there’s a need you know about. Pray about it.

Be Challenged & Encouraged

I hope this has been of some help. It has challenged me to think in the way I’ve suggested. It also challenges me to put what I can into practice.

I’m not naive enough to think any of this will ‘fix’ the prayer meeting, and certainly not a quick fix, but I do pray both people and our Ministers will be encouraged. God is with us! Christ is our Advocate! We are indwelt by His Spirit!

Come Down LORD!

Isa 64:1  Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence,

I’m reminded often of a passage in ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams translated by Bethan Lloyd-Jones. I’m paraphrasing but – ‘One brother began to pray in his usual lifeless and boring manner and as he continued praying in this way his prayer began to have life. As he then continued others were moved and The Spirit of God fell upon them – and Revival broke out.’

If I find the book I’ll correct it, but that’s the gist anyway. Isn’t that what we all want? But it’s not usually like that and it wasn’t for them either. But may it be so for His Glory – AMEN!

 

Don’t be a ‘lost’ celebrity

A recent news feed came through with a heading that said something like ‘Year in Review 2017: Remembering those we lost this year’. Roger Moore and Hugh Hefner were mentioned specifically. It’s always surprising how many celebrities have died each year and how many I’ve not heard of and also how many I didn’t realise had died. It struck me that they used the word lost. It made me think.

I’ve written previously that I’m unhappy about using the phrase ‘lost’ for those that have died in Christ. I’m not happy about those that have died outside of Christ either. But the terrible reality for those that have died without Christ is they are truly lost in every sense of that word. How many of those celebrities are truly lost I have no idea. I’m glad I don’t know but with some (as with non-celebrities) we fear the worst.

There’s a lovely verse in the Bible that says ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10 ESV). We don’t need Christmas to remind us, that Jesus came, and that He came to seek and to save the lost. There is no specific season to remember the grace of God – we can remember that every day.

Death and sin are the great levelers. The great and the good as well as the poor and the not so good will know these realities. It doesn’t matter how large or small a person’s ‘send-off’ is. Or whether in poor simplicity or with great pomp; they are equally dead just the same. The real question isn’t whether they are lost or not as we simply do not know. The real question is whether you are lost or not. If everyone were to be saved there would be no need for the Son of God to do any seeking. But He came, not only to seek, but to save. The wonder is by the Holy Spirit He is still seeking and saving. That doesn’t sit very well with our modern ‘can do’ independent sensibilities. But it’s something we are familiar with. Recruitment agencies ‘Headhunt’ the best candidates, usually for high-end positions. The Son of God is seeking sinners. That’s the only qualification He’s looking for – a realisation of sinfulness and of lostness.

Thankfully our lostness can be turned into foundness by the saving power of The Lord Christ. Many will know the first verse of John Newton’s hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. But if not, here it is:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

One of the most well known stories Jesus told is the Prodigal (wasteful) son and how this son went into the far country. But his father looked for his son and eventually embraced him exclaiming, ‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate’ (Luke 15:24).

The theme of being lost and being found is a wonderful redemptive theme. Its wonder is found in the reality of what The Lord Jesus Christ has done for sinners. The Prodigal son was aware of his great unworthiness as he fell at the feet of his Father. It’s a great picture of poor lost unworthy sinners coming to Christ for salvation. And it’s to Him, and only to Him, we must come. As the Bible says ‘… there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). No one else has done what Christ has done to redeem sinners, and no one else is mighty to save.

It’s unlikely a celebrity will be reading this, but if you are one, then you too along with the poorest most unlikely sinners may and must flee to Christ. Then trusting only in His great Redeeming work upon the Cross like John Newton, and every other Christian through the ages, you may also be found instead of being lost.

Is this Christmas? Extracting The Legal Pain!

Extracted is the legal pain. These five words in verse two form a single line in this remarkable hymn by Charles Wesley. This is Wesley at his best as someone said. These hymns are not inspired in the same authoritative sense that the Bible is but they can convey profound truth in a wonderful way. Inspired perhaps with a little i. These five words convey two very important Bible truths. Truths that need to be constantly stated because man in sin always assumes and seeks to state the opposite and to deny the truth. So what are these two truths?

1. ‘Extracted is the legal pain’ tells us of a problem. Any punishment is unpleasant and we all recognise that it’s the result of doing something wrong. Overstay in a car park and a demand for payment will arrive in the post. Get caught speeding and you’ll get a fine. These are trite examples but you get the idea. If you get caught breaking the law of God – and make no mistake we have all been caught – payment is required. The Bible calls it sin. And as we continue sinning, that is, as we continue breaking the law of God we are, as it were, earning a wage. The Bible says very plainly that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). As if that wasn’t bad enough, the reason we continue to sin is because there’s a deeper problem. The problem is that there’s a something wrong with our nature. But we seek to deny it or play it down. What problem? There’s nothing wrong with me, you might say, even though you know full well there is a problem. There’s a deep-seated problem that’s impervious to mere outward reformation. What’s required is a reformation that goes far beyond any outward change. Changes of habit or lifestyle are definitely in vogue and even make good viewing. But these changes will do nothing for us legally before God. In the court of God who can make representation for us when on every hand we are found guilty in thought word and deed. Any earthly representative has the same problem. It’s no accident The Lord Jesus Christ is called our Advocate (1 John 2:1). The problem for us is that we need a nature that is beyond the law. There isn’t one! The law of God condemns all. It slays all! All are guilty and found wanting before a Holy and Righteous God.

2. Although the words speak of punishment in an excruciating manner the legal pain is being extracted from an innocent party. The fact is, the legal pain should really be extracted from me, the guilty sinner, but it’s been extracted from another! Secondly then, to ‘Extract the legal pain’ speaks of Substitutionary Atonement. And this is the heart of The Gospel and why The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world. And it’s why at Christmas we realise why The Christ came. It’s not really about stars, stables and shepherds but about a bloody cross, about agony of soul and of body, about punishment and death. It’s about the cost of Redemption! A cost we sinners cannot ever possibly pay. Not even an eternity will extract the legal pain from us! We need another to do it for us. One that is suitably qualified for the awful task. Although Wesley has captured the horror of breaking the law of God putting the frighteners on you is not necessarily a good evangelistic strategy. But on the other hand, you are a fool if you ignore it because you don’t like being threatened or dislike ‘hellfire preaching’. The truth is, there is a Hell. And there’s only one way to escape it (Heb 2:3). That way is The Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Being ‘right with God’ is a legal declaration that God makes. This is the Justification by faith that is celebrated this 500th Reformation year – and every year. Because of what Christ has accomplished on the Cross, God is able to be just and to justify those that have faith in The Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 3:23-26).

So it’s no wonder the Wise men and the Shepherds rejoiced when the Salvation of God appeared. We Christians ought to be amazed at what God did in sending His Son. And we are amazed at what Christ has done by coming to us when we could not and would not go to Him (Heb 10:5). Salvation truly is of The Lord. Will you trust Him? Is your faith in The Christ? Please have a happy Christmas. But don’t ignore or neglect what it’s really all about.

Series on Ecclesiastes – A Reccomendation

IMG_2896This series on the Book of Ecclesiastes is by Pr Jeremy Rhode. Pr Rhode is a Lutheran minister of Faith Lutheran Church, Capistrano Beach, California. I am not a Lutheran but am finding this series to not only be extremely helpful and challenging but actually quite enthralling. He’s a good speaker. The series are made up of teaching sessions to his church. He says this book is about Solomon – via the Holy Spirit – gripping us by the neck and forcing us to look into the Abyss. You may remember the famous courtroom scene in ‘A Few Good Men’ where Tom Cruise asks for the truth and Jack Nicholson shouts back at him – ‘You can’t handle The Truth’. Well, can you? Christian, you would benefit from hearing this. And if you aren’t a Christian you really really need to hear this!

If there was ever a book needed for our time – the Book of Ecclesiastes is it. It is hard-hitting and does not shy away from telling us how it really is. Ultimately life without Christ is meaningless. Disagree? You need to hear him out.

Some listeners may balk at some of his doctrinal emphases. And you may wish he phrased things a little differently or in the way he makes some of his points. But that aside, I commend this series to anyone that has the courage to face up to reality. There’s a challenge for you! At the time of writing, I am at Lesson 9 of 24.

Follow This Link and see the feeds at the top of the page or download individual lectures.

HT. I came across this series via a recommendation from Chris Roseborough of Fighting for the Faith. Check his stuff out as well. Chris is also a Lutheran minister.

Bildad is Alive & Well

Job's_Comforters_Butts_setThis passage stood out from Job chapter 8.

Job 8:1 Then Bildad the Shuhite answered and said:
Job 8:2 “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind?
Job 8:3 Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
Job 8:4 If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.
Job 8:5 If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy,
Job 8:6 if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation.
Job 8:7 And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.

Then this passage from Zophar:

Job 11:2 “Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and a man full of talk be judged right?
Job 11:3 Should your babble silence men, and when you mock, shall no one shame you?
Job 11:4 For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in God’s eyes.’
Job 11:5 But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you,
Job 11:6 and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves‘.

Bildad and his two friends Zophar & Eliphaz are as much in the dark as poor Job but they make the assumption that it is because Job has sinned that calamity has fallen upon him. Of course, everything we do and all we are falls short of the Glory of God, so in that sense, we have all sinned. But here, there was no particular sin that brought judgement upon the head of Job. On the contrary, we are introduced in the very first verse of the book to Job as a man that ‘… was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil‘. We further read in chapter 1 ‘And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”. That is the testimony of God about His servant Job. Apart from the book of his name Job is only mentioned in three other places in the Bible, twice in Ezekiel and once in James. Here they are.

Eze 14:14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.
Eze 14:20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord GOD, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.

Jas 5:11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness (patience AV, endurance NASB) of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

The three verses testify to the character of Job. On fast forwarding to the last chapter, we read the following.

Job 42:7 After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
Job 42:8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

That is pretty serious stuff to have God say his anger burns towards the three friends. Why? Because they have not spoken what is right, unlike Job. Job is told to pray for his friends. Were the three friends included in verse 11 of the final chapter? I think so. The two things they had sought to do when silent are mentioned again at the end – to show sympathy and to comfort. Job still has to live with the death of his children even though blessed with further children. There is restoration but he still needs sympathy and comfort. Maybe Bildad and his friends learnt something as well. And Job had to pray for the ones that had cut him down with words. Something for us to learn.

Job 42:11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

So, returning to the passage in Job 8: 1-7, I thought, ‘I know this man’. Anyone sitting under a graceless and judgmental ministry, that batters instead of builds, that pours judgement instead of the Balm of Gilead will know him too. Bildad (and his friends) is alive and well.

It’s very simple, and simplistic, to think because this, that. Job’s friends were doing the best for him when they wept and sat with him in silence because they could see his suffering was very great. I’m sure Job was grateful that his friends sat with him. Until they opened their mouths that is. Here’s how they are introduced:

Job 2:11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him.
Job 2:12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.
Job 2:13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

If only they had kept quiet. Instead, they add to his suffering by getting it all wrong. Job is a righteous man. He has Gospel Righteousness. And by that I mean he had a righteousness that wasn’t his own. It is from another, given, gifted to Job through faith. Even though Job is a righteous man he says some dumb things like we all do and repents in dust and ashes before God.

May we learn to weep with those that weep. I am reminded again of the ministry of Andrew Davies some years ago at the Aberystwyth Conference. He preached four sessions through the book of Job. Now there was a lot of good things said. But a point Andrew made was this; ‘Don’t beat people with the truth!‘ Not only did they beat Job with the truth, they were wrong. Let us not be like that. Let us, so far as we are able, pour in the Balm of Gilead – the Gospel of the Grace of God in Christ. Let us not batter our brothers and sisters in Christ with the law but pour in the oil and the wine of forgiveness and mercy, truth and love, the covenant mercy of a gracious God!

The Heart of Christ by Thomas Goodwin – Foreword by Michael Reeves

IMG_0593The other day I was given a copy of Thomas Goodwin’s book The Heart of Christ, from the Puritan Paperback series from Banner of Truth.

The foreword by Michael Reeves was so moving I wanted to share it. The full title is: The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth.


How can Thomas Goodwin be so forgotten? Once ranked as a theologian alongside Augustine and Athanasius, even hailed as ‘the greatest pulpit exegete of Paul that has ever lived’, he should be a household name. His writings, while not easy, always pay back the reader, for in Goodwin a simply awesome theological intellect was wielded by the tender heart of a pastor.

As it is, Goodwin needs a little re-introduction. He was born in 1600 in the small village of Rollesby in Norfolk. His parents were God-fearing, and at the time the Norfolk Broads were well-soaked in Puritanism, so unsurprisingly he grew up somewhat religious. That all wore off, though, when he went up to Cambridge as a student. There he divided his time between ‘making merry’ and setting out to become a celebrity preacher. He wanted, he later said, to be known as one of ‘the great wits’ of the pulpit, for his ‘master-lust’ was the love of applause.

Then in 1620 – having just been appointed a fellow of Katharine Hall – he heard a funeral sermon that actually moved him, making him deeply concerned for his spiritual state. It started seven grim years of moody introspection as he grubbed around inside himself for signs of grace. Only when he was told to look outwards – not to trust to anything in himself, but to rest on Christ alone – only then was he free. ‘I am come to this pass now,’ he said, ‘that signs will do me no good alone; I have trusted too much to habitual grace for assurance of justification; I tell you Christ is worth all.’

Soon afterwards he took over from Richard Sibbes’ preaching at Holy Trinity Church. It was an appropriate transition, for while in his navel-gazing days his preaching had been mostly about battering consciences, his appreciation of Christ’s free grace now made him a Christ-centred preacher like Sibbes. Sibbes once told him ‘Young man, if ever you would do good, you must preach the gospel and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus’ – and that is just what Goodwin now did. And, like Sibbes, he became an affable preacher. He wouldn’t use his intellectual abilities to patronise his listeners, but to help them. Still today, reading his sermons, it is as if he takes you by the shoulder and walks with you like a brother.

All the while, Archbishop Laud was pressing clergy towards his own ‘high church’ practices. By 1634, Goodwin had had enough: he resigned his post and left Cambridge to become a Separatist preacher. By the end of the decade he was with other nonconformist exiles in Holland. Then, in 1641, Parliament invited all such nonconformists to return, and soon Goodwin was leading the ‘dissenting brethren’ at the Westminster Assembly. ‘Dissenting’, ‘Separatist’: it would be easy to see Goodwin as prickly and quarrelsome. In actual fact, though, while he was definite in his views on the church, he was quite extraordinarily charitable to those he disagreed with, and managed to command widespread respect across the theological spectrum of the church. Almost uniquely, in an age of constant and often bitter debate, nobody seems to have spoken ill of Goodwin.

If there was a contemporary Goodwin overlapped with more than any other, it was John Owen. In the Puritan heyday of the 1650s, when Owen was Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Goodwin was President of Magdalen College. For years they shared a Sunday afternoon pulpit, both were chaplains to Cromwell, together they would co-author the Savoy Declaration. And both had their own sartorial whimsies: Owen was known for his dandy day-wear, his snake-bands and fancy boots; Goodwin, it was giggled, had such a fondness for nightcaps that he is said to have worn whole collections on his head at once.

First and foremost, Goodwin was a pastor at heart. Students at Magdalen College soon found that, should they bump into Goodwin or his nightcaps, they could expect to be asked when they were converted or how they stood with the Lord. And when Charles II returned in 1660 and Goodwin was deprived of his post, it was to pastor a church in London that he went.

The last twenty years of his life he spent pastoring, writing treatises and studying in London (the study sadly interrupted in 1666 when the Great Fire burned more than half of his voluminous library). Then, at eighty years old, he was gripped by a fatal fever. With his dying words he captured what had always been his chief concerns: ‘I am going’, he said,

‘to the three Persons, with whom I have had communion… My bow abides in strength. Is Christ divided? No, I have the whole of his righteousness; I am found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Christ cannot love me better than he doth. I think I cannot love Christ better than I do; I am swallowed up in God… Now I shall be ever with the Lord’.

The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth was, almost immediately, Goodwin’s most popular work. It is also exemplary of his overall Christ-centredness and his mix of theological rigour and pastoral concern. Published in 1651 alongside Christ Set Forth, the two were written for reasons dear to Goodwin: that is, he felt that many Christians (like himself once) ‘have been too much carried away with the rudiments of Christ in their own hearts, and not after Christ himself’. Indeed, he wrote, ‘the minds of many are so wholly taken up with their own hearts, that (as the Psalmist says of God) Christ “is scarce in all their thoughts.”’ Goodwin wanted us ‘first to look wholly out of our selves unto Christ’, and believed that the reason we don’t is, quite simply, because of the ‘barrenness’ of our knowledge of him. Thus Goodwin would set forth Christ to draw our gaze to him.

Of the two pieces, Christ Set Forth and The Heart of Christ in Heaven, the latter was the cream, he believed, for through it he would present to the church the heart of her great Husband, thus wooing her afresh. His specific aim in this essay is to show through Scripture that in all his heavenly majesty, Christ is not now aloof from believers and unconcerned, but has the strongest affections for them. And knowing this, he said, may

‘hearten and encourage believers to come more boldly unto the throne of grace, unto such a Saviour and High Priest, when they shall know how sweetly and tenderly his heart, though he is now in his glory, is inclined towards them’.

Goodwin starts with Christ on earth and the beautiful assurances he gave his disciples. In John 13, for example, knowing that he was shortly to return to his Father, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet as a token of how he would always be towards them; he told them of how he would go like a loving bridegroom to prepare a place for his bride; after the resurrection, the first thing he calls them is ‘my brothers’; and the last thing they see as he ascends to heaven is his hands raised in blessing.

It is as if he had said, The truth is, I cannot live without you, I shall never be quiet till I have you where I am, that so we may never part again; that is the reason of it. Heaven shall not hold me, nor my Father’s company, if I have not you with me, my heart is so set upon you; and if I have any glory, you shall have part of it… Poor sinners, who are full of the thoughts of their own sins, know not how they shall be able at the latter day to look Christ in the face when they shall first meet with him. But they may relieve their spirits against their care and fear, by Christ’s carriage now towards his disciples, who had so sinned against him. Be not afraid, ‘your sins will he remember no more.’ … And doth he talk thus lovingly of us? Whose heart would not this overcome?

It is moving stuff, and it is strong stuff. In fact, Goodwin presents the kindness and compassion of Christ so strikingly that, when reading him, I find myself continually asking ‘Is Goodwin serious? Can this really be true?’ He argues, for example, that in Christ’s resurrection appearances, because he had dealt with the sin of his disciples on the cross, ‘No sin of theirs troubled him but their unbelief.’ And yet Goodwin is so carefully scriptural that one is forced to conclude that Christ really is more tender and loving than we would otherwise dare to imagine.

Then Goodwin takes us to the heart of his argument: his exposition of Hebrews 4:15, which

‘doth, as it were, take our hands, and lay them upon Christ’s breast, and let us feel how his heart beats and his bowels yearn towards us, even now he is in glory – the very scope of these words being manifestly to encourage believers against all that may discourage them, from the consideration of Christ’s heart towards them now in heaven’.

Goodwin shows that in all his glorious holiness in heaven, Christ is not sour towards his people; if anything, his capacious heart beats more strongly than ever with tender love for them. And in particular, two things stir his compassion: our afflictions and – almost unbelievably – our sins.

Having experienced on earth the utmost load of pain, rejection and sorrow, ‘in all points tempted like as we are’ Christ in heaven empathises with our sufferings more fully than the most loving friend. And more: he has compassion on those who are ‘out of the way’ (that is, sinning; Hebrews 5:2). Indeed, says Goodwin,

‘your very sins move him to pity more than to anger… yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease… his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his bowels shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not, ‘What shall separate us from Christ’s love?’

The focus is upon Christ, but Goodwin was ardently Trinitarian and could not abide the thought of his readers imagining a compassionate Christ appeasing a heartless Father. No, he said, ‘Christ adds not one drop of love to God’s heart’.11 All Christ’s tenderness comes in fact from the Spirit, who stirs him with the very love of the Father. The heart of Christ in heaven is the express image of the heart of his Father.

How we need Goodwin and his message today! If we are to be drawn from jaded, anxious thoughts of God and a love of sin, we need such a knowledge of Christ. If preachers today could change like Goodwin to preach like Goodwin, who knows what might happen? Surely many more would then say as he said ‘Christ cannot love me better than he doth. I think I cannot love Christ better than I do’.

Michael Reeves
Oxford
August 2011

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