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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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  • January 2011
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  • Recommended Reading

The Inside Problem And The Outside God

Quoting Michael S. Horton:

The problem, of course, is that we have an outside God and an outside redemption. Everything inside of us is the problem. The good news, however, is that the God who is completely other than we are became one of us, yet without succumbing to our selfish pride. He fulfilled the law, bore its judgment, and rose again as our solution to the curse of sin, death, and condemnation. Furthermore, he sent his Spirit to indwell us, making us new from the inside out, until one day our very bodies are raised. In one sense, of course, the Enlightenment was right: the law is in us by nature, since we are created in God’s image. The gospel is surprising, good news that has to come to us from the outside.

Guarding Your Heart

The heart is key to holiness concerning the eyes, the mouth, and the feet, and disciplining our minds and bodies. Jesus told us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt. 22:37). David says, ‘Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee’ (Psa. 119:11). Al Baker offers us his insights into this area of our lives:

Watch over your own heart with diligence, for from it flows the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

I have known men who began well, who began their careers and families with a steadfast commitment to honor God, to be faithful to their wives and children, and to keep a lid on their fleshly desires. Sadly, many of those men, as their careers wind down and they move into their retirement years are divorced, estranged from their children, and giving little evidence of the commitment to Christ they so long ago professed. I have often wondered, if asked to preach their funerals, what I would say. Would I tell their loved ones and friends, ‘Yes, I know he was a Christian and I can give you biblical assurance that he is now with Jesus.’ Would I be able to say that?

What went wrong? How did this happen? And what can I say to instruct you so that the same does not happen to you, so that you finish your race well without bringing shame to Christ, your family, or yourself? Solomon is instructing his son on how to live in the midst of a plethora of temptations, not the least of which are lurid women and bad friends. Within this context he tells his son what he must do, how he must do it, and what results from it. Note first of all his instruction. ‘My son, watch over your own heart.’ By heart he means the very citadel of his soul, the gateway to the rest of his body. A citadel is a military fortress which serves to protect an army and the people they serve. . . .

To watch over one’s heart is to pursue a personal inquisition of the heart. David asked God to search him, to know his heart, to try him and know his anxious thoughts, to see if there is any hurtful way in him, and to lead him in the everlasting way (Psa. 139:23-24). And in order to pursue this personal inquisition of the heart you must know yourself well, your sinful proclivities, your patterns of recurring sin, those things that seem constantly to bring you down. A recovering alcoholic knows he cannot be around alcohol or anyone who drinks. He must stay away from them. A man who is tempted to sexual sin while on business trips must ask his friends to pray for him, even to check in with him each night in his hotel room, or if possible and practical to take his wife with him. A man tempted to spend money frivolously learns that he cannot carry a credit card with him, except perhaps his business credit card, that he must pay cash for only what he needs.

And how can you guard your heart, the citadel of your soul? Solomon says we do it with all diligence. I suggest three things, the first of which I have just mentioned. First, you must nightly pursue a personal inquisition of the soul. By this I mean, at the end of the day, as you prepare for bed that night, ask yourself a series of questions like these — ‘how have I sinned in my speech today, how have I sinned in my thoughts, what have I done contrary to God’s law, what are the deep seated idols that manifest themselves in sinful values, words, and deeds? And when the Holy Spirit shows you your sin, be quick to humble yourself, to confess it as sin, to ask Jesus for his grace and holiness, and once again to claim Christ’s mercy and renewal. (“Pursuing a Personal Inquisition of the Heart”)

What Would Your Community Look Like If Satan Took Over?

The article below offers contrasting results of Satan’s war on Christianity. The warning to us here is to beware of the cultural church as much as we would avoid the obvious sin. Michael S. Horton writes:

What would things look like if Satan actually took over a city? The first frames in our imaginative slide show probably depict mayhem on a massive scale: Widespread violence, deviant sexualities, pornography in every vending machine, churches closed down and worshipers dragged off to City Hall. Over a half-century ago, Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, gave his CBS radio audience a different picture of what it would look like if Satan took control of a town in America. He said that all of the bars and pool halls would be closed, pornography banished, pristine streets and sidewalks would be occupied by tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The kids would answer “Yes, sir,” “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full on Sunday … where Christ is not preached.

Not to be alarmist, but it looks a lot like Satan is in charge right now. The enemy has a subtle way of using even the proper scenery and props to obscure the main character. The church, mission, cultural transformation, even the Spirit can become the focus instead of the means for “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). As provocative as Barnhouse’s illustration remains, it is simply an elaboration of a point that is made throughout the story of redemption. The story behind all the headlines of the Bible is the war between the serpent and the offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15), an enmity that God promised would culminate in the serpent’s destruction and the lifting of the curse. . . .

Satan lost the war on Good Friday and Easter, but has shifted his strategy to a guerilla struggle to keep the world from hearing the gospel that dismantles his kingdom of darkness. . . . Wherever Christ is truly proclaimed, Satan is most actively present. (Sermon: “Christless Christianity”)

Charles H. Spurgeon On Preaching

Charles H. Spurgeon

The supernatural force that brings us to salvation is the power of the Holy Spirit. However, it is wonderful that God should condescend to work this miracle of grace through men. God speaks the illuminating word of salvation by our lips. Charles H. Spurgeon reminds preachers that:

[T]hrough the instrumentality of our ministry [preaching]: our hearers have to be born again, and made new creatures in Christ Jesus, or else our preaching has done nothing for them. Ah, dear friends, we get into deep waters when we come to this great mystery does any unregenerate man know the meaning of being born again? Ask the learned doctors whether they know anything about it, and they will try to conceal their ignorance beneath a sneer. . . . Why do they sneer as if they were our superiors? The regenerate in this matter are necessarily their superiors. A person who has only one eye is a king among blind men; let not the blind affect to despise him. If any of us have personally experienced the new birth, even though we may be ignorant of many other things, we are in this point better instructed than those who have never felt the divine change. But, just in proportion as you know what it is to be born again, you will feel that herein is a task indeed. How sublime a position for you to become, under God, the spiritual parents of men! You could not create a fly; much less could you create a new heart and a right spirit. To fashion a world has less difficulty in it than to create a new life in an ungodly man; for in the creation of the world there was nothing in the way of God, but in the creation of the new heart there is the old nature opposing the Spirit. The negative has to be removed as well as the positive produced. Stand and look that matter over, and see if you are at all able in and of yourself to work the conversion or regeneration of a single child in your Sunday-school! My brethren, we are at the end of ourselves here. If we aim at the new birth of our hearers, we must fall prostrate before the Lord in conscious impotence, and we must not go again to our pulpits till we have heard our Lord say, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (“The Responsibility Of The Preacher”)

Christopher Love

Christopher Love

Christopher Love was born in Cardiff, Wales, in 1618. At the age of fourteen, he went to hear William Erbury, vicar of St. Mary’s in Cardiff, who would later stray into mysticism. His wife later wrote how Love reacted to that sermon: “God met with him and gave him such a sight of his sins and his undone condition that he returned home with a hell in his conscience.” His father noticed his son’s depression and locked him in a room on the second floor of the house to prevent him from attending church the next Sabbath. Love tied a cord to the window, slid down it, and went to church. His earlier convictions deepened and he was soon converted. (Excerpt from Meet the Puritans by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson)

There Is A Need For Guilt

Only those who are humble in heart will enter the Kingdom of God. Modern philosophy and psychology tell us that we must believe we are “OK” and that others are “OK” also. Thus, modern man would avoid being confronted by the consequences of his sins. The truth, however, is that I am not “OK”. I am a sinner in need of God’s help and I will never enter His Kingdom without the intervention of God. J. C. Ryle elaborates on this thought:

“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38)

A sense of sin, guilt, and poverty of soul, is the first stone laid by the Holy Ghost, when He builds a spiritual temple. He convinces of sin. Light was the first thing called into being in the material creation. (Gen. i. 3.) Light about our own state is the first work in the new creation. Thirsting soul, I say again, you are the person that ought to thank God. The kingdom of God is near you. It is not when we begin to feel good, but when we feel bad, that we take the first step towards heaven. Who taught thee that thou was naked? Whence came this inward light? Who opened thine eyes and made thee see and feel? Know this day that flesh and blood hath not revealed these things unto thee, but our Father which is in heaven. Universities may confer degrees, and schools may impart knowledge of all the sciences, but they cannot make men feel sin. To realize our spiritual need, and feel true spiritual thirst, is the A B C in saving Christianity. It is a great saying of Elihu, in the book of Job, – “God looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited not; He will deliver his soul from death, and his life shall see the light.” (Job xxxiii. 27, 28.) Let him that knows any thing of spiritual “thirst” not be ashamed. Rather let him lift up his head and begin to hope. Let him pray that God would carry on the work He has begun, and make him feel more. (Sermon: “If Any Man!”)

Franklin On Preparation

The Man God Uses

H. A. Ironside

Quoting H.A. Ironside:

“God is not looking for brilliant men, is not depending upon eloquent men, is not shut up to the use of talented men in sending His Gospel out in the world. God is looking for broken men, for men who have judged themselves in the light of the Cross of Christ. When He wants anything done, He takes up men who have come to an end of themselves, and whose trust and confidence is not in themselves but in God.”

Unless God Works In Us

Portrait of John Calvin (1509-64) (oil on canv...

John Calvin

Our salvation is by grace and by grace alone. Why is it that so many reject the Word of God at first glance? Why do others believe and follow Christ? John Calvin offers the explanation as he preaches in this excerpt on Galatians 1:6-11:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:6-8)

When we are first taught from the Word of God, if we are not genuinely touched, we find it the strangest book in the world; for the teaching of the gospel is always foolishness to the human mind, as we have seen on previous occasions (1 Cor. 2:14). And the reason for this? Because we are vanity: our hearts have wandered and gone astray, our natures incline and tend to falsehood, and we almost willfully desire to be beguiled. Because our minds are thus corrupted, we should not be surprised if we do not desire the Word of God and if it does not become a part of us. For our only activity is in rebelling against God. Although we think we are doing right, we are, in fact, blind. In short, the Scriptures do not say without cause that all men are ‘vanity and leasing’ (Psa. 4:2). We are in rebellion against God, pulling in the opposite direction when he calls us. God has granted us the privilege of being drawn to himself, and of realizing that his truth is what we must hold to. He has so mastered us that we are no longer full of guile, but willing to be completely subject to him. Even so, the devil is still able to lead us astray at any moment, because we are so fragile and inconstant! We have seen this happen to those who were mirror-images of holiness (as it were). We have been shocked to see them change so quickly and wander from the right path. What causes this? As I have already said, even when we are in good form, we cannot remain in this state long before we travel in the opposite direction; that is, unless God works in us and strengthens us in our weakness. (Sermon: “On Perverting the Gospel of Christ”)

Sometimes We Need Wise And Courageous Division

 

A. W. Tozer

Quoting A.W. Tozer:

“In a fallen world like ours unity is no treasure to be purchased at the price of compromise. Loyalty to God, faithfulness to truth and the preservation of a good conscience are jewels more precious than gold of Ophir or diamonds from the mine. For these jewels men have suffered the loss of property, imprisonment and even death; for them, even in recent times, behind the various curtains, followers of Christ have paid the last full measure of devotion and quietly died, unknown to and unsung by the great world, but known to God and dear to His Father’s heart. In the day that shall declare the secrets of all souls these shall come forth to receive the deeds done in the body. Surely such as these are wiser philosophers than the religious camp followers of meaningless unity who have not the courage to stand against current vogues and who bleat for brotherhood because it happens to be for the time popular… When confused sheep start over a cliff the individual sheep can save himself only by separating from the flock. Perfect unity at such a time can only mean total destruction for all. The wise sheep to save his own hide disaffiliates. Power lies in the union of things similar and the division of things dissimilar. Maybe what we need in religious circles today is not more union but some wise and courageous division.”

The Consequences Of An Incorrigible Disposition

Asahel Nettleton

He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy (Proverbs 29:1).

The Scriptures tell us that Pharaoh’s heart was hard even though he was often reproved by Moses, and by the judgments of God. When his conscience was aroused he silenced its voice, and hardened his neck. At length, he was suddenly destroyed by God in the depths of the sea. Asahel Nettleton explains Proverbs 29:1 in the excerpt below:

He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy. He shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. This is the doom of the incorrigible sinner:

His punishment shall have no end. Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. The smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever. To cut off from Dives the last hope of relief to his torments, Abraham added, And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from us to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Whose end is destruction. The redemption of the soul is precious and ceaseth forever. His destruction is eternal.

It is sudden. [He] shall suddenly be destroyed. Thus the Psalmist: How they are brought into desolation as in a moment?-They are utterly consumed with terror. As the fishes that are taken in an evil net-so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them. When sinners lose their souls they always lose them unexpectedly-especially those who have been hardened offenders. When they shall say, peace, and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, and they shall not escape.

This sentiment is illustrated in the providence of God. The fact is so common that it has become a proverb. The text itself is the result of a wise observation of the conduct of divine providence. It embodies the wisdom of ages. Thus was it with the inhabitants of the old world. They were often reproved by the preaching of Noah, and the by strivings of the Spirit, but they hardened their necks, and heeded neither. They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, and knew not until the flood came and took them all away. They were suddenly destroyed, and that without remedy. (Sermon: “The Destruction of Hardened Sinners”)

A Message To Ministers From C. H. Spurgeon

Charles H. Spurgeon

In this excerpt from a sermon preached at a conference for pastors, Charles H. Spurgeon reminds ministers where their strength, wisdom, and knowledge must come from. As Spurgeon explains here, it is much too easy for a teacher of the Gospel to put himself forward in the place of God:

In order to have power in public, we must receive power in secret. I trust that no brother here would venture to address his people without getting a message fresh from his Lord. If you deliver a stale story of your own concocting, or if you speak without a fresh anointing from the Holy One, your ministry will come to nothing. Words spoken on your own account, without reference to your Lord, will fall to the ground. When the footman goes to the door to answer a caller, he asks his master what he has to say, and he repeats what his master tells him. You and I are waiting-servants in the house of God, and we are to report what our God would have us speak. The Lord gives the soul-saving message, and clothes it with power: he gives it to a certain order of people, and under certain conditions.

Among those conditions I notice, first, simplicity of heart. The Lord pours most into those who are most empty of self. Those who have least of their own shall have the most of God’s. The Lord cares little what the vessel is, whether golden or earthen, so long as it is clean, and disengaged from other uses. He sees whether there is anything in the cup; and if so, he throws it all out. Only then is the cup prepared to receive the living water. If there is something in it before, it will adulterate the pure word; or if what was there before was very pure, it would, at least, occupy some of the room which the Lord seeks for his own grace. The Lord therefore empties us, that we may be clear from prejudice, self-sufficiency, and foregone conclusions as to what his truth ought to be. He would have us like children, who believe what their father tells them. We must lay aside all pretence of wisdom. (Sermon: “The Preacher’s Power”)

What Is It To Be Born Again?

Charles Spurgeon

There are people who deceive themselves and imagine that they have been regenerated. Now, they have forsaken God, yet believe they will once more be born again. They know nothing of this matter as Charles Spurgeon points out from the verses below:

“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4)

What is it to be born again, then? Very briefly, to be born again is to undergo a change so mysterious, that human words cannot speak of it. As we cannot describe our first birth, so it is impossible for us to describe the second. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” But while it is so mysterious, it is a change which is known and felt. People are not born again when they are in bed and asleep, so that they do not know it. They feel it; they experience it. Galvanism, or the power of electricity, may be mysterious; but they produce a feeling—a sensation. So does the new birth. At the time of the new birth the soul is in great agony—often drowned in seas of tears. Sometimes it drinks bitters, now and then mingled with sweet drops of hope. Whilst we are passing from death unto life, there is an experience which none but the child of God can really understand. It is a mysterious change; but, at the same time, it is a positive one. It is as much a change as if this heart were taken out of me, and the black drops of blood wrung from it, then washed and cleansed and put into my soul again. It is “a new heart and a right spirit:” a mysterious but yet an actual and real change!

Let me tell you, moreover, that this change is a supernatural one. It is not one that a man performs upon himself. . . . It is a new principle infused which works in the heart, enters the very soul, and moves the entire man. Not a change of my name, but a renewal of my nature, so that I am not the man I used to be, but a new man in Christ Jesus. It is a supernatural change—something which man cannot do, and which only God can effect; which the Bible itself cannot accomplish without the attendant Spirit of God; which no minister’s eloquence can bring about—something so mighty and wondrous, that it must be confessed to be the work of God, and God alone. Here is the place to observe that this new birth is an enduring change. Arminians tell us that people are born again, then fall into sin, pick themselves up again, and become Christians again—fall into sin, lose the grace of God, then come back again—fall into sin a hundred times in their lives, and so keep on losing grace and recovering it. Well, I suppose it is a new version of the Scripture where you read of that. But I read in my Bible that if true Christians could fall away, it would be impossible to renew them again unto repentance. I read, moreover, that wherever God has begun a good work he will carry it on even to the end; and that whom he once loves, he loves to the end. If I have simply been reformed, I may be a drunkard yet. . . . But if I am really born again, with that real supernatural change, I shall never fall away, I may fall into a sin, but I shall not fall finally; I shall stand while life shall last, constantly secure; and when I die it shall be said—

“Servant of God, well done!

Rest from thy blest employ;

The battles fought, the victories won;

Enter thy rest of joy.”

(Sermon: “The Victory of Faith”)

Our Protest Against Error

Charles H. Spurgeon

Quoting Charles Haddon Spurgeon:

“Neither when we have chosen our way can we keep company with those who go the other way. There must come with the decision for truth a corresponding protest against error.”

Jefferson On Power And Congress

Thomas Jefferson

Quoting Thomas Jefferson:

“The construction applied … to those parts of the Constitution of the United States which delegate Congress a power … ought not to be construed as themselves to give unlimited powers.”

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