If

Two weeks ago we discussed ‘casting doubt.’ Two of the questions we looked at began: “If you are the Son of God…” This week, I’d like us to consider a similar question: “If He is the Lord, then what does that require of us?” Last week’s questions, spoken by the Lord Jesus’s adversaries, insinuated He was not who He said He was. This week’s question assumes He is who He says He is.

Let’s consider, then, what sort of people should we be? In the context of Christ’s return, the Apostle Peter says:

What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. 2 Peter 3:11b – 12a English Standard Version (ESV)

Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached a sermon called “The World On Fire” based on these verses almost a century and a half ago. The second half of his sermon discusses how we ought to live. He starts by comparing us to Noah:

…Our position as Christians is, at this moment, like that of Noah before the destruction of the world by water. What manner of person ought Noah to have been? He said to himself, “This fair and beautiful world in which I dwell will soon be covered with the ooze and slime of a tremendous deluge.”

He looked upon his fellow men and he thought and said of them, “Except these men fly to the ark and are sheltered with me, they will, every one of them, be drowned.” He saw them marrying and given in marriage, feasting and trifling at the very hour when the flood came and he felt that if they would believe as he did they would find something other to do than to be engrossed in carnal pleasures.

When he saw them heaping up money he would almost laugh yet weep to think that they should hoard up gold to be submerged with themselves in the general flood. When men added to their estates acre after acre, I have no doubt the Patriarch said to himself, “The flood will sweep away all these landmarks and as it carries away the owner so will it destroy all vestige of his barn and his farm and his fields.”

Spurgeon then helps us walk in Noah’s shoes, so to speak, and think along with him:

I should suppose such a man, daily expecting the rain to descend and the flood to burst up from beneath, would lead a life very free from worldliness, a life the very reverse of the rest of his fellow men. They would reckon him to be very eccentric. They would be unable to understand him. And, indeed, his conduct would be such that no one could understand it except upon the theory that he believed in the destruction of all around him.

He then draws conclusions for us from Noah’s life:

Now our life ought to be like that of Noah. Look around on the beauties of Nature and when you enjoy them, say to yourself, “All these are to be dissolved and to melt with fervent heat.” Look up into the clear blue and think that yonder sky, itself, shall shrivel like a scroll and be rolled up like a garment that has seen its better days and must be put aside.

Look on your fellow men, your own children and your household, and those you pass in the street or meet with in transacting business, and say, “Alas, alas, unless these men, women and children fly to Jesus and are saved in Him, they will be destroyed with the earth on which they dwell, for the day of the Lord is surely coming and judgment awaits the ungodly.”

This should make us act in a spirit the opposite of those who now say, “Go, let us buy and sell and get gain. Let us heap together treasure. Let us live for this world. Let us eat and drink, and be merry.” They are of the earth, therefore is their conduct and conversation earthy. They build here, on this quicksand, and after their own sort they find a pleasure therein—but you whose eyes have been opened know better—and you, therefore build upon the Rock.

Then Spurgeon exhorts us to take God’s perspective:

You understand that the things which are seen are but a dream, that the things unseen are, alone, substantial. Therefore, set loose by all things below the moon and clutch as with the grasp of a dying man the things immortal and eternal which your God has revealed to you!

And he reminds us what we will face as the consequences of our actions:

Such conduct will separate you from your fellow men, as there is down deep in your heart an [goal] different from theirs. And as you set a different estimate on all things, your conduct will be wide apart from theirs. Being swayed by different motives, your life will diverge from theirs and they will misunderstand you. And while trying to find motives for you, as they do not know the true motive, they will ascribe ill motives to you.

But, so it must be. You must come out from among them, be separate and touch not the unclean thing. And the fact that all these things are to be dissolved should make it easy for you to do so, no, natural for you to do so, as it must have made it both easy and natural to the Patriarch Noah.

Spurgeon then examines the worldly man’s perspective:

…The sinner finds a reason for sin when he says, “God is not here. Everything goes on in the ordinary way.  God does not care what men do.”

“No,” says the Apostle, “He is not away, He is here, holding back the fire. He is reserving this world a little while, but by-and-by He will let the fires loose and the world will be destroyed. He is not far off. He is even at the door.”

Considering all that preceded, he calls us to examine ourselves and pray:

Am I ready to be caught away to be with my Lord in the air? Or shall I be left to perish amidst the conflagration? How ought I to live! How ought I to stand, as it were, on tiptoe, ready when He shall call me, to be away up into the Glory, far off from this perishing world!

It makes us look upon all these things in a different light and upon eternal things with a more fixed eye—and a sterner resolve to live unto God. Observe, if sin, even on the inanimate world, needs such a purging by fire as this—if the fact that sin committed here makes it necessary that God should burn it all up—what a horrid thing sin must be!

O to be purged from it! Refining fire, go through my heart! Spirit of the living God, sweep with all Your mighty burnings through and through my body, soul and spirit till You have purged me of every tendency to sin.

Finally, Spurgeon calls those outside the commonwealth to enter by the narrow way:

…Will you not have Christ? Will you not have a Savior? For if you will not, there remains for you only a fearful looking for judgment and of fiery indignation! Tempt not the anger of God! Yield to His mercy now! Believe in His dear Son. I pray that you may this day be saved and God be glorified in your salvation. Amen.

And, thus, let it be.

The World On Fire – Charles Spurgeon Sermon, YouTube, Published March 4, 2017, Christian Praise and Worship in Songs, Sermons, and Audio Books

Casting Doubt

The noun ‘doubt’ means:

A feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.

“some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of this account”

synonyms: uncertainty, unsureness, indecision, hesitation, dubiousness, suspicion, confusion

antonyms: certainty, confidence, conviction, trust

Two world-historical persons faced life threatening doubt in their lifetimes. One chose poorly which resulted in death for himself, his wife, and all his children and the Other chose well which resulted in everlasting life for those who are His. These are their stories.

The first story starts and ends in a garden:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Genesis 3:1-3 English Standard Version (ESV)

To this, the commentator, John Calvin, said:

Yea, has God said? …More correct is the [translation…] ‘Can it be, that God should forbid the eating of any tree whatever?’ …because there is greater probability that Satan, in order to deceive more covertly, would gradually proceed with cautious prevarications to lead the woman to a contempt of the divine precept.

…Under the pretext of inquiring into the cause, [Satan] indirectly weakens [Adam’s and Eve’s] confidence in [God’s] word. …I have no doubt that the serpent urges the woman to seek out the cause, since otherwise he would not have been able to draw away her mind from God.

Very dangerous is the temptation, when it is suggested to us, that God is not to be obeyed except so far as the reason of his command is apparent. The true rule of obedience is, that we, being content with a bare command, should persuade ourselves that whatever he enjoins is just and right.

But whosoever desires to be wise beyond measure, him will Satan, seeing he has cast off all reverence for God, immediately precipitate into open rebellion…Satan…wished to inject into the woman a doubt which might induce her to believe [what God had said] not to be the word of God…

The second story starts in a wilderness and ends on a site of execution:

[Jesus…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness] for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” Luke 4:2-4 (ESV)

and

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,

    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4:2-4 (ESV)

To this temptation, Calvin said:

Christ’s reply…is appropriate: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” […It is as if He said:] “You advise me to contrive some remedy, for obtaining relief in a different manner from what God permits. This would be to distrust God; and I have no reason to expect that he will support me in a different manner from what he has promised in his word. You, Satan, represent his favor as confined to bread: but Himself declares, that, though every kind of food were wanting, his blessing alone is sufficient for our nourishment.”

Such was the kind of temptation which Satan employed, the same kind with which he assails us daily. The Son of God did not choose to undertake any contest of an unusual description, but to sustain assaults in common with us, that we might be furnished with the same armor, and might entertain no doubt as to achieving the victory…

Next, he unravels the often-unacknowledged truth of our daily sustenance:

The word does not mean doctrine, but the purpose which God has made known, with regard to preserving the order of nature and the lives of his creatures. Having created men, he does not cease to care for them: but, as “he breathed into their nostrils the breath of life,” (Genesis 2:7,) so he constantly preserves the life which he has bestowed.

In like manner, the Apostle says, that he “upholds all things by his powerful word,” (Hebrews 1:3😉 that is, the whole world is preserved, and every part of it keeps its place, by the will and decree of Him, whose power, above and below, is everywhere diffused. Though we live on bread, we must not ascribe the support of life to the power of bread, but to the secret kindness, by which God imparts to bread the quality of nourishing our bodies.

Hence, also, follows another statement: by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God shall men live. God, who now employs bread for our support, will enable us, whenever he pleases, to live by other means…

Finally, Calvin sums up this lesson as:

The precise object of Christ’s reply is this: We ought to trust in God for food, and for the other necessaries of the present life, in such a manner, that none of us may overleap the boundaries which he has prescribed.

But if Christ did not consider himself to be at liberty to change stones into bread, without the command of God, much less is it lawful for us to procure food by fraud, or robbery, or violence, or murder.

And this second story ends outside Jerusalem:

Those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Matthew 27:39-40 (ESV)

About these verses, Calvin discusses the question:

If thou art the Son of God. Wicked men demand from Christ such a proof of His power that, by proving himself to be the Son of God, he may cease to be the Son of God. He had clothed himself with human flesh, and had descended into the world, on this condition, that, by the sacrifice of his death, he might reconcile men to God the Father.

So then, in order to prove himself to be the Son of God, it was necessary that he should hang on the cross. [Yet,] those wicked men [argued] that the Redeemer will not be recognized as the Son of God, unless he come down from the cross, [disobeying] the command of his Father, and, leaving incomplete the expiation of sins, [thus] divesting himself of the office which God had assigned to him.

But let us learn from [their evil witness] to confirm our faith by considering that the Son of God determined to remain nailed to the cross for the sake of our salvation, until he had endured most cruel torments of the flesh, and dreadful anguish of soul, and even death itself.

And lest we should come to tempt God in a manner similar to that in which those men tempted him, let us allow God to conceal his power, whenever it pleases Him to do so, that he may afterwards display it at his pleasure at the proper time and place.

And so God deigned to show us favor by resisting the temptation and triumphing over death.

On the same topic, the preacher, Charles Spurgeon, offers solace and encouragement in the face of many such ‘ifs’ that cast doubt.

Therefore, no longer doubt, but believe in Him.

R.C. Sproul: Christ Crucified, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries

The Lord is Not Slow

Two weeks ago, we discussed: “Where is the promise of His coming?” We covered the first few verses of the third chapter of the Apostle Peter’s second letter (2 Peter 3:4-7.) Today, we go on to 2 Peter 3:9-13 and consider the theme: “The Lord is not slow.”

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!

But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:9-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

The theologian John Calvin starts his exposition of this passage with a summary:

But the Lord is not slack, or, delays not. …[Peter says, as a check on us,] that the Lord defers his coming that he might invite all mankind to repentance. For our minds are always [immoderate], and a doubt often creeps in, why he does not come sooner…

Calvin then dissects what has become a contentious point for many concerning Calvinism. Dare we say that Calvin was not a hyper-Calvinist?

Not willing that any should perish. So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and [he stands ready] to bestow salvation on the lost. But, [notice the order,] that God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish; for in these words the way and manner of obtaining salvation is [identified (i.e., repentance.)] Every one of us, therefore, who [desires] salvation, must…enter in by this way.

But, [one can ask], If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world

So, as Spurgeon would later say: “That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not.”

Next, Calvin explains the purpose in Peter’s reassurance of His coming:

But the day of the Lord will come. This has been added, that the faithful might be always watching, and not promise tomorrow to themselves. For we all labor under two very different evils — too much haste, and slothfulness. We are seized with impatience for the day of Christ already expected; [yet,] at the same time, we securely regard it as afar off…[From what cause] is it that flesh indulges itself except that there is no thought of the near coming of Christ?

Further, he shows that these verses are meant to exhort us to godly living:

What afterwards follows, respecting the burning of heaven and earth, requires no long explanation, if indeed we duly consider what is intended. For it was not [Peter’s] purpose to speak [sophisticatedly] of fire and storm, and other things, but only that he might introduce an exhortation, which he immediately adds, even that we ought to strive after newness of life…

And finally, Calvin makes the exhortation clear:

Looking for and hasting unto, or, waiting for by hastening; …We must always take heed lest the security of the flesh should creep in; we ought, therefore, strenuously to labor in good works, and run quickly in the race of our calling…

Let us, therefore, not be unfaithful because of His delay but be ready for action like those waiting for a savior from heaven.

R.C. Sproul looks at 2 Peter 3:9, YouTube

Beyond

The word transcendence means: existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level. We seek that quality in our culture; and yet, everything we try falls far short of that which is true:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than [or, beyond] all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

The eminent preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon gave a marvelous sermon on these verses, which he called: “Paul’s Doxology.” He said in overview:

…In the verses before us, [Paul] closes [chapter 3 of Ephesians] with a hymn, a hymn of incomparable praise…

In our text we have adoration, not prayer, …not even so much the act of praise… [Whereas] praise is a river flowing on joyously in its own channel, banked up on either side that it may run towards its one object. …Adoration is the same river overflowing all banks, flooding the soul and covering the entire nature with its great waters—and these not so much moving and stirring as standing still in profound repose, mirroring the Glory which shines down upon it—like a summer’s sun upon a sea of glass!

Adoration is not seeking the Divine Presence, but conscious of it to an unutterable degree and, therefore, full of awe and peace… It is the eloquent silence of a soul that is too full for language. Adoration is to prostrate yourself in the dust in humility and yet to soar aloft in sublime thought—to sink into nothing and yet to be so enlarged as to be filled with all the fullness of God! It is to have no thought and yet to be all thought—to lose yourself in God—this is adoration.

Spurgeon closed his introduction by urging what he hoped would result from the rest of the sermon.

[Adoration] should be the frequent state of the renewed mind. We ought to set apart far longer time for this sacred engagement… In that spirit, I desire to approach the text and I ask you to turn your eyes away from all else to HIM, even to the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.

Next, he walked through the text expositing on the words: “ask,” “think,” “all,” “we,” and “abundantly.” Spurgeon spent the most time on the word “ask:”

[Paul] declares that the Divine ability to bless is above what we ask…

The blessings sought and obtained have assuredly been neither few nor small. Some of us would almost seem to have tried the limit of prayer in the matters for which we have cried unto the Lord. …Our prayer at its best and boldest has many a boundary. It is limited often by our sense of need. [But] we scarcely know what we need! …We mistake our condition. We know not how deep and numerous our needs are.

Our soul’s hunger is not keen enough—sin has taken the edge from our spiritual appetites and, therefore, we limit and cramp our prayers. But, blessed be God, He is not limited by our sense of need! …God is able to go beyond our absolute needs and He has often already done so. He has given to His redeemed more than, as creatures, they absolutely require to make them happy and blessed!

Having identified our sin as blunting our ability to ask (i.e., pray,) he then examined our limited desire and trust:

Our prayer is also limited by our desire. Of course, a man does not pray any further than his desires go—and our desires are not always as much awake as they should be. We are sometimes very cold and slow in desiring good things…

Alas, like the foolish king of Israel, we shoot but two or three arrows when we ought to have emptied out our quiver! …But, blessed be God, He is not limited by our desires! He is able to bless us beyond what our souls have yet learned to wish for! …We cannot believe God to be so good as to give us such unspeakable blessings and so we fail. How much we lose thereby I scarcely dare pause to consider! Our unbelief is a great impoverishment to us.

…No man ever believed God as much as he might believe, nor trusted His promise so implicitly as he might do, or put so large a construction upon the Divine Word as it would bear. O Brothers and Sisters, we have to thank God that He is not bounded by our narrow faith, but even goes beyond what we believe concerning Him!

Finally, with regard to prayer, Spurgeon discussed our limited understanding:

How often, too, we are limited in prayer by our lack of comprehension—we do not understand what God means…God condescends to use human language and to us the words mean silver, but He uses them in a golden sense. He never means less than He says, but He always means far more than we think He says. …His power to bless us is not bounded by our power to understand the blessing!

Grace is not measured to us according to our capacity to receive, but according to His efficacy to bestow! He can enlarge us, my Brethren! …Prayer is an exercise in which our minds ought to be expanded and our hearts enlarged! …Our boldest prayer is not the boundary of what He is able to bestow! …Pray as you will till the keys of Heaven seem to swing at your side and yet you can never outrun that Omnipotence to bless which dwells in the Lord God Almighty!

Then, he turned to the word “think:”

The Apostle then goes on to say that the ability of God to bless is above what we think…

Your thoughts, even at their best, are not His thoughts! As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are His thoughts above yours, think however you may! How amazing a subject is now before us! What language of mine can adequately set forth the Divine ability to bless, when both the eagle eye of prayer and the eagle wing of thought fail to discover a [limit]?

Next, Spurgeon considered the word “all:”

Now, I need to call your attention, in this passage, to every word of it, for every word is emphatic. “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Not above some things that we ask, but, “ALL.” Not above some of our dimmer conceptions, our lower thoughts, but above “ALL” that we think! Now just put together all that you have ever asked for. Heap it up and then pile upon the top all that you have ever thought of concerning the riches of Divine Grace. What a mountain!

…High as this pyramid of prayers and contemplations may be piled, God’s ability to bless is still higher. …He is able to do above all good things for us. O Lord, help us to understand all this! Give us faith to get a grip of this and then to magnify and adore You! Alas, our adoration can never be proportionate to Your goodness!

Then, he discussed the word “we:”

Now, dwell on another word, “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” The “we” refers to the Apostles as well as to ourselves. …Paul, in that “we,” may be viewed as including the Apostles— “we,” the [twelve] who have come nearest to Jesus and have been personally taught how to pray by Him—we who have seen Him face to face and upon whom His Spirit specially rests.

“He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above what ‘we’ ask”! The Apostles were Inspired. The Spirit of God was in them to an unusual degree. Their thoughts were larger than ours, but, says Paul, He is able to do above what we think, even we, His Apostles, the best, the most holy, the most spiritual of Christian men!

Finally, Spurgeon closed this part of his sermon with the word “abundantly,” from which this post derives its title:

…Now, notice the Apostle’s use of the word, “abundantly.” He says, not only that God is able to do above what we ask or think, but “abundantly.” We might say of a man, “He has given much, but he has still something left.” That expression would fall sadly short if applied to the Most High! He has not only something left, but all abundance left! We have already understood but a part of His ways. We have been able to comprehend the mere remnant of His glorious Grace.

The reserve of goodness, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him far exceed our thoughts. Our Apostle, not content with the use of the word “abundantly,” adds another word, and says, “exceedingly abundantly.” …No language was powerful enough for the Apostle—I mean for the Holy Spirit speaking through the Apostle—for very often Paul [must] coin words and phrases to show forth his meaning and here is one—”He is able to do exceedingly abundantly”—so abundantly that it exceeds measure and description!

As an example of God’s abundance, in a passage transposed from earlier in the sermon, Spurgeon said:

[We might have been restored to the full stature of unfallen manhood and in consequence have been as Adam was before his sin, but, wonder of wonders, the Lord has done more, for He has made us His children and His heirs, heirs of God, joint heirs of Jesus Christ!

This is not the supply of necessity—it is the bestowal of honor, dignity and exceedingly great glory! And now, although our needs are, in themselves, very terrible and far greater than can be supplied by anything short of all-sufficiency, yet God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we actually need!

He will not treat us as men treat a pensioner, to whom they allot barely enough to live upon and count themselves generous for doing so. He will treat us as kings and princes and do exceedingly abundantly above all that we need! Thus does He leave our prayers far behind, outstripping both our sense of need and the need itself.]

Returning to his overarching theme of adoration, he said:

…Now to help you to adore the Lord—for that is my one objective this morning—think how blessed you are in having such an all-sufficient God! It is always pleasant to take out of a great heap and to know that what you receive does not deprive others of their share…

Thus we see that there need be no limit to our prayers. You need never rise from your knees and say, “Perhaps I was presumptuous. Perhaps I have asked more than God will give?” Down on your knees, Brother, Sister, and ask God to forgive you for dishonoring Him by harboring such a thought! He is able to give exceedingly abundantly above what you ask. …If He was able to do exceedingly abundantly in the Apostle’s time, He is quite as able, still, and we may come to Him without fear.

Applying all that he said previously, Spurgeon said:

Now, I see, also, that if my case is very special, still I need not tremble or stand in dread of need. What if I require superabundant Grace? I may have it! …What comfort this should afford even to poor sinners who are far away from God. He is able to give you great forgiveness for the greatest possible sin! Sins that you have not yet thought of, He can pardon! Do but come to God in Christ Jesus and you shall find Him able to save to the uttermost.

…We know that God can give us more than we ask or think, for He has given us more than we have asked or thought. Our regeneration came to us before prayer, for prayer was the first sign of the new birth already given. To pray for life is not a faculty of the dead — but regeneration puts into us the living desire and the spiritual longing. The first principle of life imparted makes us long after more life.

We were dead in sin and far from God and He surprised us with His preventing mercy. And in us was fulfilled the words, “I was found of them that sought Me not.” In this case He did for us above what we asked or thought. Redemption—whoever sought for that? Had it not been provided from of old, who would have dared to ask the Lord to give His Son as a Substitute to bleed and die for man? Sirs, in providing a Substitute for us from before the foundation of the world, the Lord has already gone beyond man’s thoughts or requests! Thanks be unto Him for His unspeakable Gift!

And, then, reiterating God’s abundance, he said:

…Moreover, where prayer has been offered, our heavenly Father has gone far beyond what we have asked or thought. I said unto the Lord, in the anguish of my soul, that if He would forgive my sins I would be content to be the meanest servant in His house and would gladly lie in prison all my life, and live on bread and water.

But His mercy did not come to me in that scanty way, for He put me among His children and gave me an inheritance! “Make me as one of Your hired servants” is a prayer the Father does not hear—He puts His hand on His child’s mouth when he begins to talk so, and says, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet.” We have asked for a stone and He has given us bread We have asked for bare bread and he has given us angels’ food. …And therefore we are warranted in expecting that in the future He will continue to outdo our prayers.

Finally, in closing, Spurgeon offers his own doxology:

…He that created the heavens and the earth is made a Man and lies in a manger! He whom angels obey is despised and rejected of men! He who only has immortality, hangs on a tree and bleeds and dies! There must be, in those groans and those drops of sweat, and those wounds, and that death of His, a power to save altogether inconceivable! Immanuel made a Sacrifice! What ability to bless must dwell in Him! He must be able to do exceedingly abundantly above what we ask or think!

Thus, with this attitude, let us adore Him.

Future of Forestry – O Come Let Us Adore Him (LIVE – San Diego), YouTube, Future of Forestry, Lyrics

Cords of Kindness

Do you respond quicker to threats and oppression or to gentleness and mercy? It’s not an easy question to answer. Though we might prefer gentleness, threats often stir up a faster response. Though this is the case, God chooses to be merciful to His people. He said, through His prophet, Hosea:

I led them with cords of kindness [or humaneness],

    with the bands of love,

and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,

    and I bent down to them and fed them.

Hosea 11:4 English Standard Version (ESV)

The preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon spoke about this verse to his congregation more than once. He explains the first half of Hosea 11:4 this way:

GOD, by the mouth of His Prophet, is here [taking issue] with His people for their ungrateful rebellion against Him. He had not treated them in a harsh, tyrannical, overbearing manner, else there might have been some excuse for their revolt. But His rule had always been gentle, tender, and full of pity.

Therefore, for them to disobey Him was the very height of wanton wickedness. The Lord had never made His people to suffer hard bondage in mortar and in brick as Pharaoh did, yet we do not find that they raised an insurrection against the Egyptian tyrant. They gave their backs to the burdens, and they bore the lash of the taskmaster without turning upon the hands which oppressed them.

But when the Lord was gracious to them and delivered them out of the house of bondage, they murmured in the wilderness, and were justly called by Moses, “rebels.” They had no such burdens to bear under the government of God as those which loaded the nations under their kings, and yet they willfully determined to have a king for themselves.

No taxes were squeezed from them, no servile service was demanded at their hands. Their thank offerings and sacrifices were not ordained upon a scale of oppression. Their liberty was all but boundless—their lives were spent in peace and happiness, every man under his own vine and fig tree—none making them afraid…

The whole dealings of Jehovah with His people Israel were full of matchless tenderness. As a nursing mother with her child, so did God deal gently with His people. Yet, hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! The Lord has nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Him. Did a nation ever cast away her gods, even though they were not gods? Were not the heathen faithful to their idols? But Israel was bent on backsliding—her heart was set upon idolatry, and the God of her fathers was disregarded.

Jehovah was despised, and His gentle reign and government she set herself to destroy. This was the complaint against Israel of old. As in water face answers to face, so the heart of man to man. As men were in days of [old], so are they now.

God has dealt with us who are His people in an [exemplary] way of loving kindness and tender mercy, and I fear that to a great extent the recompense we have rendered to Him has been very much like the ungrateful return which He received from the seed of Jacob of old…

Thus, Spurgeon, through example, illustrated the truth of the following:

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did…Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11-12 (ESV)

Spurgeon, the pastor that he was, then unfolded the example for his congregants and for us today:

This morning I shall ask you to think of the tender dealings of God with you, my Brothers and Sisters, that you may not be as Israel was. But that feeling the power of the Divine gentleness, you may serve your God with a perfect heart, and walk before Him as those should who have partaken of such benefits…

As for the Christian, other and higher considerations rule him. He is drawn by the cords of a man and by the bands of love. Further, you will see the gentleness of the way in which God calls His people to duty in the fact that He is pleased to accept their service even when it is, in itself, far from being at all worthy of His smile.

O my Brethren, if you and I had to be saved or to be preserved in spiritual life by our doings, then nothing but perfection in service could answer our turn. And every time we felt that what we had done was marred and imperfect we should be full of despair.

But now we know that we are already saved, and are forever safe, since nothing remains unfinished in [Christ’s] work which justifies us. We bring to the Lord the loving offerings of our hearts, and if they are imperfect we water with our tears those imperfections.

We know that He reads our hearts and takes our works not for what they are in themselves but for what they are in Christ. He knows what we would make them if we could. He accepts them as if they were what we mean them to be. He takes the will for the deed often, and He takes the half deed often for the whole.

And when Justice would condemn the action as sinful, for it is so imperfect, the mercy of our Father accepts the action in the Beloved, because He knows what we meant it to be. And though our fault has marred it, yet He knows how our hearts sought to honor Him.

Oh, it is such a blessed thing to remember that though the Law cannot accept anything but what is perfect, yet God, in the Gospel, as we come to Him as saved souls, accepts our imperfect things!

Why, there is our love! How cold it often is, and yet Jesus Christ takes pleasure in our love! Then, again, our faith, I must almost call it unbelief, it is often so weak—and yet though it is as a grain of mustard seed, Jesus accepts it, and works wonders by it.

As for our poor prayers, often so broken with so many distracted thoughts in them, and so poverty-stricken in importunity and earnestness, yet our dear Lord takes them, washes them in His blood, adds His own merit to them, and they come up as a sweet savor before [God] Most High.

It is delightfully encouraging to know that in our sincere but feeble service the Scripture is fulfilled—“a bruised reed shall He not break, and a smoking flax will He not quench.” Even our green ears of corn may be laid on the altar. If we cannot bring a lamb, our turtle doves and two young pigeons shall be received

Yes, blessed be God, all true fruit of Grace comes from Him. Is not this a charmingly powerful motive to service? Though it is so different from the reasons which drag on the sons of men, do we not feel it to be mightily operative? The Lord will help us in the service, and render unto man according to his work. He has said, “Fear you not. For I am with you: be not dismayed. For I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness.”

Having shown us that God deals gently and mercifully with us as we seek to serve Him, he presents how our actions should mirror His among ourselves:

…But Gospel motives to God’s people are as nails fastened in a sure place. They are suitable, and therefore effectual. You could not hope to govern the nation by the same ruler and methods with which, as a father, you order your family. In your family, it may be there is not even a rod, certainly there is no [police officer], no prison, no [judge that passes death sentences].

Children are ruled by a father on a scheme essentially different from the rule of magistrates and kings. There are maxims of courts of legislature which would never be tolerated in the home of love. Just so, within the family of God there are no penal inflictions, no words of threat such as must be employed by the great King when He deals with the mass of His rebellious subjects.

You are not under the Law, else there would be judgment and curses for you. You are under Grace, and now the motives by which you are to be moved are such as might not affect others, but which, since you are renewed in the spirit of your mind, most powerfully affect you.

It is a great thing for a man to feel that God does not now appeal to him as He would to an ordinary person, but that having given him a new nature, He addresses him on higher grounds.

“I beseech you therefore, Brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”

…The really saved soul, overwhelmed with gratitude, exclaims, “My God, my Father, I cannot sin, I must live as You would have me, I must serve You. Such love as this touches my heart, it stirs everything that is noble that You have implanted in me. Tell me what Your will is, and whether I have to bear it or to do it, I will delight in it if You will give me all-sufficient Grace.”

Yes, the Lord always appeals to the higher points in the Christian’s constitution, and thus He draws us with the cords of a man, with bands of love…

Finally, Spurgeon sums up the meaning of God’s words communicated through the prophet Hosea.

Thus I have, without dwelling on the mere words, given you the sense of the first clause of the text, “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.”

The impelling, urging powers that lead Christians on to consecration and holiness are never those which befit slaves or carnal minds.

They are such as are worthy of the dignity of the sons of God, and they are full of tenderness, and kindness, and love. For the gentleness of God is great towards His people.

Therefore, let us act accordingly.

Sam Phillips — I Need Love (with The Section Quartet), YouTube, Lyrics

Treasure of the Broken Land

So many have died this winter. Simply scanning the list of deaths in December noted by Wikipedia is overwhelming. Imagine, then, a valley of dry bones. Surely, symbolic of something epochal. The prophet Ezekiel recounts his vision in chapter 37 of the book of the Bible named after him. He tells of a conversation between the Lord God and himself:

And [God] said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:3-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

Some commentators think Ezekiel’s vision pertains to national Israel, either prior to and during the Lord’s first advent or His second. Some think it represents the resurrection to life of spiritual Israel, either prior or after the same two appearances. Finally, some think it refers to the general resurrection at the last day. Here’s a sample of three commentators’ views. Matthew Henry says:

…It is without doubt a most lively representation of a threefold resurrection, besides that which it is primarily intended to be the sign of:

1.) The resurrection of souls from the death of sin to the life or righteousness, to a holy, heavenly, spiritual, and divine life, by the power of divine grace going along with the word of Christ, John 5: 24-25.

2.) The resurrection of the gospel church, or any part of it, from an afflicted persecuted state, especially under the yoke of the New-Testament Babylon, to liberty and peace.

3.) The resurrection of the body at the great day, especially the bodies of believers that shall rise to life eternal.

Next, Alexander MacLaren says:

This great vision apparently took its form from a despairing saying, which had become a proverb among the exiles, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost: we are clean cut off’ (v. 11). Ezekiel lays hold of the metaphor, which had been taken to express the hopeless destruction of Israel’s national existence, and…from it wrings a message of hope…We may look at the vision from three points of view: considering its bearing on Israel, on the world, and on the resurrection of the body.

…The spirit promised in them is simply the source of life, literally, of physical life; metaphorically, of national life…The proper scope of the vision is to assure despairing Israelites that God would quicken the apparently slain national life, and replace them in the land.

…We may extend the application of the vision to the condition of humanity and the divine intervention which communicates life to a dead world, but must remember that no such meaning was in Ezekiel’s thoughts…

As to the bearing of the vision on the doctrine of the resurrection little need be said…For clear expectations of such a resurrection we must turn to scriptures [such] as Daniel 12: 2, 13 …

Finally, Charles Haddon Spurgeon says:

This vision has been used, from the time of Jerome onwards, as a description of the resurrection…But while this interpretation of the vision may be very proper as an accommodation, it must be quite evident to any thinking person that this is not the meaning of the passage…

The meaning of our text [from] the context is most evidently, if words mean anything, first, that there shall be a political restoration of the Jews to their own land and to their own nationality. And then, secondly, there is in the text and in the context a most plain declaration that there shall be a spiritual restoration— in fact a conversion—of the tribes of Israel…

…There will be a native government again. There will again be the form of a political body…A State shall be incorporated and a king shall reign…And they are also to be reunited. There shall not be two, nor ten, nor twelve, but one—one Israel praising one God—serving one king and that one King the Son of David, the descended Messiah!

But there is a second meaning here. Israel is to have a spiritual restoration or a conversion…The unseen but Omnipotent Jehovah is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth by His ancient people. They are to come before Him in His own appointed way, accepting the Mediator whom their [ancestors] rejected. They will come into Covenant relation with God…that Covenant of which Christ is the federal Head, the Substance and the Surety…

Our times are in turmoil as many watch for the fulfillment of this prophesy in one or many of its stated understandings. However, though Ezekiel’s prophesy may not explicitly refer to the general resurrection, we know that this event is sure. In line with our recent postings on Ecclesiastes 9:10-11: Marking Time and The Race, I refer you to lyrics that one of our poets wrote:

…I thought our days were commonplace

Thought they would number in millions

Now there’s only the aftertaste

Of circumstance that can’t pass this way again

.

…I can melt the clock hands down

But only in my memory

Nobody gets the second chance to be the friend they meant to be

.

…Treasure of the broken land

Parched earth give up your captive ones

Waiting wind of Gabriel

Blow soon upon the hollow bones

I have these lyrics framed on my desk in memory of my mother’s going to be with Christ. Soon, we will see our treasures in heaven: the people we loved who obeyed the Lord Jesus Christ even unto death.

Mark Heard – Treasure of the Broken Land, March 12, 2013, YouTube, Righteous Rock Radio

Marking Time

Sometimes I feel like I’m just marking time. Do you ever? Soldiers do it purposefully, marching in-place. But that’s not what I’m experiencing. Others suspend progress, waiting in readiness. Nope, that’s not it. I find that I’m operating in an apathetic and ineffective manner. A wise, if disillusioned, king once said:

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with [all] your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in [the grave], to which you are going. Ecclesiastes 9:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Solomon’s disillusionment jumps out at us, yet his admonition to do whatever your hand finds to do with all your might still stands. However, maybe we should reconsider; is his insistence on our approaching death cynicism or is it realism?

Charles Haddon Spurgeon gave an impassioned sermon on this verse. Spurgeon first tackles the question of why we, who profess Christ as Lord, remain here on earth at all:

…Why is the army of the living God still on the battle field? One charge might give them the victory. Why are God’s ships still at sea? One breath of his wind might waft them to the haven.

…The answer is; they are here that they may glorify God, and that they may bring others to know his love. We are not here in vain, dear brethren. We are here on earth like sowers scattering good seed; like ploughmen ploughing up the fallow ground. We are here as heralds, telling to sinners around

“What a dear Savior we have found,”

and heralding the coming of our Master. We are here as the salt to preserve a world, which else would become putrid and destroyed. We are here as the very pillars of this world’s happiness: for when God shall take away his saints, the universal moral fabric “shall tumble to its fall; and great shall be the crash, when the righteous shall be removed, and the foundations shall be shaken.”

He then observes we have a definite purpose:

Taking it as granted that the people of God are here to do something to bless their fellow-men, our text comes in very pertinently as the rule of our life. May God help us to practice it by giving us much of his powerful Spirit. “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might.”

This is what thou art here for. Thou art here for a certain purpose. That purpose will soon be ended, and whether it be accomplished or unaccomplished, there shall never be a second opportunity for attempting it, “for there is no work, nor device nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, wither hither thou go.”

Since we are here for a purpose, he dissects the implications. First, do what is near at hand:

…Here we will observe, first, that this refers us to the works that are near at hand. You are not called upon today, the most of you, to do works which your eye sees far away in [India] or China. The most of you are called especially to do the work which is near at hand. People are always desiring to be doing something miles off; if they could but be somewhere else what wonders they would accomplish!

Then, do that which is possible:

…Again, “whatsoever thy hand finds to do,” refers to works that are possible. There are many things which our heart finds to do that we never shall do. It is well [that] it is in our heart; God accepts the will for the deed.

But if we would be eminently useful, we must not be content with forming schemes in our heart, and talking of them with our lips. We must [create] tangible schemes that we can really manage, ideas that we can really carry out; and, [in that way,] we shall fulfill the exhortation of Solomon, “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it.”

And don’t shirk doing that which others consider menial:

…We all have a preference to do those duties which we regard as being honorable, as coming strictly within the range of our own office, those which probably will be rewarded with the praise of men.

But if there is any duty that shall never be heard of till the day of judgment, if there is any work that never shall be seen until the blaze of the last day shall manifest it to a blind world, then we generally [slight] such a duty and seek another.

Oh, if [we] did but understand the true majesty of humility, and how great a thing it is for a Christian to do little things, to bow himself and to stoop, we should rather envy the meanest of the flock than the greatest, and each of us try to wash the saint’s feet and perform the most menial service for the Master…

Spurgeon then turns to our methods, how we are to do it. First, do not procrastinate:

Put it not off one hour. Do it! Procrastinate not a day. “Procrastination is the thief of time.” Let him not steal thy time. Do it, at once. Serve thy God now; for now is all the time thou canst reckon on.

Then, do it with all your might:

…But where is the might of a Christian? Let us not forget that the might of a Christian is not in himself, for he is perfect in his weakness. His might lies in the Lord of Hosts. It will be well for us if all we attempt to do is done in God’s strength, or else it will not be done with might: it will be feebly and badly done.

Whenever we attempt to [offer the Gospel] in the winning of souls, let us first begin with prayer. Let us seek his help. Let us go on with prayer mixed with faith; and when we have concluded the work, let us commend it again to God with renewed faith and fresh prayer. What we do thus will be well done, and will not fail in its effect.

But what we do merely with creature-strength, with the mere influence of carnal zeal, will come to nothing at all. “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do,” do it with that real might which God hath promised them that ask it, with that real wisdom which he gives liberally, which he bestows on all who seek it meekly and reverently at his feet.

His third consideration is on why we should do it with all our might:

…[Because] death is near and when death comes there will be an end to all our serving God on earth, an end to our preaching, an end to our praying, an end to our doing [anything] for God’s glory among the perishing souls of men. If we all lived in the light of our funerals how well should we live.

…If we build not now, the fabric can never be built. If now we spin not, the garment will never be woven. Work while you live, and live while you work; and God grant to each of us that we may discharge in this life all the desires of our hearts, in magnifying God and bringing sinners to the cross.

Lastly, Spurgeon closes with a reflection on his own work and ours:

…Though from this day forward I should preach every hour in the day, though I could spend myself and be spent; though night should know no rest and day should never cease from toil, and year should succeed to year till this hair was hoary and this frame exhausted, when I come to render up my account He might say, “Well done.”

But I should not feel it was so, but should rather say, “I am still an unprofitable servant; I have not done that which it was even my bare duty to do much less have I done all to show the love I owe.” Now will you think what you have done, dear brother and sister, and surely your account must fall short equally with mine.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, for he that believes and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believes not shall be damned.”

At this time of year, having just lost a dear friend too early, I purpose to do those possible things near at hand with no consideration for recognition. And I purpose to do them without delay, in His strength, and to His glory.

And you?

Future of Forestry – Silent Night (LIVE – San Diego), YouTube, Published Dec. 20, 2016, Future of Forestry