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    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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The Practice Of Piety

Isaac Barrow

Quoting Isaac Barrow (1630-1677):

“It is a fair adornment of a man and a great convenience both to himself and to all those with whom he converses and deals, to act uprightly, uniformly, and consistently. The practice of piety frees a man from interior distraction and from irresolution in his mind, from duplicity or inconstancy in his character, and from confusion in his proceedings, and consequently securing for others freedom from deception and disappointment in their transactions with him.” (Godliness is Profitable for All Things by Isaac Barrow)

Ravished By The Beauty Of Christ

Jonathan Edwards

Early in my Christian walk, I was led to the writings of Jonathan Edwards. His writings and sermons are inspiring and present a glorious view of the reality and beauty of God. I also recommend the biography of Jonathan Edwards by that wonderful biographer and preacher Iain H. Murray. In the sermon excerpt below, Edwards discusses the source of true spiritual desires:

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder.” (James 2:19)

The sight of the beauty of divine things will cause true desires after the things of God. These desires are different from the longings of demons, which happen because the demons know their doom awaits them, and they wish it could somehow be otherwise. The desires that come from this sight of Christ’s beauty are natural free desires, like a baby desiring milk. Because these desires are so different from their counterfeits, they help to distinguish genuine experiences of God’s grace from the false.

False spiritual experiences have a tendency to cause pride, which is the devil’s special sin. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” (1 Tim 3:6) Pride is the inevitable result of false spiritual experiences, even though they are often covered with a disguise of great humility. False experience is enamored with self and grows on self. It lives by showing itself in one way or another. A person can have great love for God, and be proud of the greatness of his love. He can be very humble, and very proud indeed of his humility. But the emotions and experiences that come from God’s grace are exactly opposite. God’s true working in the heart causes humility. They do not cause any kind of showiness or self-exaltation. That sense of the awesome, holy, glorious beauty of Christ kills pride and humbles the soul. The light of God’s loveliness, and that alone, shows the soul its own ugliness. When a person really grasps this, he inevitably begins a process of making God bigger and bigger, and himself smaller and smaller.

Another result of God’s grace working in the heart is that the person will hate every evil and respond to God with a holy heart and life. False experiences may cause a certain amount of zeal, and even a great deal of what is commonly called religion. However it is not a zeal for good works. Their religion is not a service of God, but rather a service of self. This is how the apostle James puts it himself in this very context, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” (James 2:1920) In other words, deeds, or good works, are evidence of a genuine experience of God’s grace in the heart. “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:34) When the heart has been ravished by the beauty of Christ, how else can it respond? (“True Grace Distinguished from the Experience of Devils”, 1752)

The Issue Of Sovereignty

Signing of the Declaration of Independence

Quoting Steven Groves:

The United States is a sovereign nation. Sovereignty is a simple idea: the United States is an independent nation, governed by the American people, that controls its own affairs. The American people adopted the Constitution and created the government. They elect their representatives and make their own laws. The Founding Fathers understood that if America does not have sovereignty, it does not have independence. If a foreign power can tell America “what we shall do, and what we shall not do,” George Washington once wrote to Alexander Hamilton, “we have Independence yet to seek, and have contended hitherto for very little.” The Founders believed in sovereignty. In 1776, they fought for it. (Excerpt from: Understanding America – Why Does Sovereignty Matter to America?)

Westminster Confession Of Faith: CHAPTER 13 – OF SANCTIFICATION

Westminster Assembly

I am currently posting, every few days, one chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is woefully neglected by the average Christian in this age; yet, it should be studied regularly by all who classify themselves as Protestants. In 1643, an Assembly of Divines convened at Westminster Abbey in London. Their task was to bring the Church of England into greater conformity with the Church of Scotland and the Continental Reformed churches. The Westminster Assembly produced documents on doctrine, church government, and worship:

CHAPTER 13

1. They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.

3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

The Dangerous Prayer

Samuel Davies

The cultural Christian will find his dangers numerous. He is particularly in danger from pride, presuming upon God, lukewarmness and self-righteousness. His heart is still corrupt and ensnared by the world. He is in danger of resting short of true Christianity. Danger is thick on every side and it is very doubtful whether he will be saved because he rests upon a false assurance. This is evident from his lack of proper earnestness in prayer, Bible study, church attendance, and seeking after holiness. Samuel Davies illustrates below the harm of prayers in the mouths of false believers:

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)

View a lukewarm professor [claims to be a Christian] in prayer; he pays to an omniscient God the compliment of a bended knee, as though he could impose upon him with such an empty pretense. When he is addressing the Supreme Majesty of heaven and earth, he hardly ever recollects in whose presence he is, or whom he is speaking to, but seems as if he were worshiping without an object, or pouring out empty words into the air: perhaps through the whole prayer he had not so much as one solemn, affecting thought of that God whose name he so often invoked. Here is a criminal petitioning for pardon so carelessly, that he scarcely knows what he is about. Here is a needy, famishing beggar pleading for such immense blessings as everlasting salvation, and all the joys of heaven, so lukewarmly and thoughtlessly, as if he cared not whether his requests were granted or not. Here is an obnoxious offender confessing his sins with a heart untouched with sorrow: worshiping the living God with a dead heart; making great requests, but he forgets them as soon as he rises from his knees, and is not at all inquisitive what becomes of them, and whether they were accepted or not. And can there be a more shocking, impious, and daring conduct than this? To trifle in the royal presence would not be such an audacious affront. For a criminal to catch flies, or sport with a feather, when pleading with his judge for his pardon, would be but a faint shadow of such religious trifling. What are such prayers but solemn mockeries and disguised insults? And yet, is not this the usual method in which many of you address the great God? The words proceed no further than from your tongue: you do not pour them out from the bottom of your hearts; they have no life or spirit in them, and you hardly ever reflect upon their meaning. And when you have talked away to God in this manner, you will have it to pass for a prayer. But surely such prayers must bring down a curse upon you instead of a blessing: such sacrifices must be an abomination to the Lord: Prov. xv. 8; and it is astonishing that he has not mingled your blood with your sacrifices, and sent you from your knees to hell; from thoughtless, unmeaning prayer, to real blasphemy and torture. (Sermon: “The Danger of Lukewarmness in Religion”)

The Vanity And Wickedness Of A Lukewarm Christianity

Samuel Davies

Even the best of Christians will sometimes find themselves in a state of lukewarmness towards the things of God. It is during these times that the real Christian will seek the Author of divine fire. He will cry unto the Lord “Fill me with the flame of Your Righteousness!” Samuel Davies challenges the indifferent confessor of Christ in the following article:

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)

Though you should profess the best religion that ever came from heaven, it will not save you; nay, it will condemn you with peculiar aggravations if you are lukewarm in it. This spirit of indifferency diffused through it, turns it all into deadly poison. Your religious duties are all abominable to God while the vigor of your spirits is not exerted in them. Your prayers are insults, and he will answer them as such by terrible things in righteousness. And do any of you hope to be saved by such a religion? I tell you from the God of truth, it will be so far from saving you, that it will certainly ruin you for ever: continue as you are to the last, and you will be as certainly damned to all eternity, as Judas, or Beelzebub, or any ghost in hell. But alas!

How common, how fashionable is this lukewarm religion! This is the prevailing, epidemical sin of our age and country; and it is well if it has not the same fatal effect upon us it had upon Laodicea; Laodicea lost its liberty, its religion, and its all. Therefore let [the state of] Virginia hear and fear, and do no more so wickedly. We have thousands of Christians, such as they are; . . . but alas! They are generally of the Laodicean stamp; they are neither cold nor hot. But it is our first concern to know how it is with ourselves; therefore let this inquiry go round this congregation; are you not such lukewarm Christians? Is there any fire and life in your devotions? Or are not all your active powers engrossed by other pursuits? Impartially make the inquiry, for infinitely more depends upon it than upon your temporal life.

If you have hitherto been possessed with this Laodicean spirit, I beseech you indulge it no longer. You have seen that it mars all your religion, and will end in your eternal ruin: and I hope you are not so hardened as to be proof against the energy of this consideration. Why halt you so long between two opinions? I would you were cold or hot. Either make thorough work of religion, or do not pretend to it. Why should you profess a religion which is but an insipid indifferency with you? Such a religion is good for nothing. Therefore awake, arise, and exert yourselves. Strive to enter in at the strait gate; strive earnestly, or you are shut out for ever. Infuse heart and spirit into your religion. Whatever your hand findeth to do, do it with your might. Now, this moment, while my voice sounds in your ears, now begin the vigorous enterprise. Now collect all the vigor of your souls and breathe it out in such a prayer as this, “Lord, fire this heart with thy love.” (“The Danger of Lukewarmness in Religion”)

Do Not Neglect Meeting Together

Pilgrims Walking To Church

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 122:1)

These are verses that should bring shame to many of us who may be slack in attendance upon the worship of our God. How rare it has become when a congregation can listen to a sermon even 45 minutes. We arrive late and if the service is one minute too long by our accounting, we get up and leave! When we come to worship we have not prepared our hearts and minds to devote our attention to the glory of God and hear His message to us.

Our prayers, praises, and obedience are to be given with gladness of heart. Such an attitude will be affected by the love of God. The follower of Christ will not slip like a snail into church after the beginning of the service. He will arrive early with a warm-hearted expectation of worshiping God. It is sad that this is not the expectation of so many churches.

How encouraged would any minister be to look upon his congregation and see that they are prepared to hear the Word of God? Let him be prepared to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit. His flock needs a shepherd to lead them in the way.

We must also remind ourselves daily that if there is an opportunity to hear the Word of God, such an opportunity should not be passed by. Our absence will be our lost. Whatever the cause, the effect may be grievous. There is a price for each opportunity lost to be in the presence of our Lord. Therefore, whatever your excuse for not attending to the Word preached, it is an opportunity lost which would have been for your own good. Those of us, who may skip church attendance because of our own negligence, risk the loss of some measure of grace and comfort offered. Let us not neglect the word of grace and the blessing of participating in the community of the saints.

The Loss Of Heaven

Richard Baxter

Quoting English Puritan preacher, minister and author Richard Baxter (1615-1691):

“A hard heart now makes heaven and hell seem but trifles. We have showed them everlasting glory and misery, and they are as men asleep; our words are as stones cast against a wall, which fly back in our faces. We talk of terrible things, but it is to dead men; we search the wounds, but they never feel it; we speak to rocks rather than to men; the earth will as soon tremble as they. But when these dead souls are revived, what passionate sensibility, what working affections, what pangs of horror, what depths of sorrow will there then be! How violently will they denounce and reproach themselves! How will they rage against their former madness! The lamentations of the most affectionate wife for the loss of her husband, or of the tenderest mother for the loss of her children, will be nothing to theirs for the loss of heaven.” (From: “Lamentations of the Lost,” excerpt from The Saint’s Everlasting Rest)

The Angelic World

Dr. Sam Storms

Quoting Sam Storms:

Jesus believed in and experienced the ministry of angels:

1. His conception was announced by an angel (Gabriel).

2. His birth was announced by angels.

3. He was tempted by a fallen angel.

4. He was ministered to by angels subsequent to the temptation.

5. His teaching is filled with references to angelic beings.

6. He experienced the ministry of angels in Gethsemane.

7. He could have appealed to twelve legions of angels (Mt. 26:53).

8. [Angels] were present at His tomb following the resurrection.

9. [Angels] were present at His ascension.

The point is that angels were an integral part of Christ’s birth, life, ministry, teaching, death, resurrection, ascension, and will accompany Him at his second advent. To deny the reality of the angelic world is to undermine the integrity of Jesus himself. (Angels, November 8, 2006, www.enjoyinggodministries.com)

Living Life To The Glory Of God

Samuel Clarke

Reverend Samuel Clarke came from a long line of Puritan ministers. He was a distinguished Bible scholar and a caring pastor. His ordination in the Dagnall Lane Chapel in 1712 was attended by several notable ‘dissenting’ ministers of the day. The closing exhortation at the service was delivered by Matthew Henry, the famous Bible commentator. Pastor Clarke ran a weekly Bible class for young people, teaching scripture and practical Christian living. In the following sermon excerpt, he helps us to understand the nature of true Christian character:

For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him. (Genesis 18:19)

These words are part of the character, which God himself, in different places of the Old Testament, has given of that great and good man, the Patriarch Abraham. And they are spoken in this place, as a ground or reason of the great and lasting blessings which God declared he intended to confer upon him. . . . Upon account of this character, and the blessings consequent upon it, he is elsewhere styled in scripture, “the friend of God,” and the “father of all them that believe”. . . .

The virtues, upon the account whereof these great blessings were promised to Abraham, were personal: but the blessings themselves, it is evident, were, with regard to him, figurative only; being fulfilled not till some hundreds of years after, upon his posterity; whereas, he himself did but sojourn in the land of promise, as in a strange country, and confessed that he was a stranger and pilgrim on the earth. . . .

The particular virtue which procured to Abraham the character given him in my text, was his keeping the way of the Lord, that is, his adhering to the belief and worship of the one true God of the universe, in opposition to the general corruption of the idolatrous nations among whom he lived; and his commanding his children and his household after him, to do the like. . . .

The great and principal design of every man’s life, ought to be the promoting of the glory of God; the encouraging of virtue, and discouraging every kind of vice. Not that any man is obliged to be perpetually employed in actions that are immediately of a religious nature; or that all his thoughts and discourses are to be wholly confined to things sacred: but that his principal and final aim, his general and constant view, the settled temper and disposition of his mind, and the habitual tendency of all his actions, be the establishing of truth and right in the world. And when once a man has habitually fixed to himself this great end, and it is become, as it were, his natural temper; when he is “transformed,” as St. Paul expresses it, “by the renewing of his mind,” and his “meat and drink,” as our Savior speaks concerning himself, is to “do the will of his Father which is in Heaven:” this love of goodness, will naturally, like all other habits, influence even the most common actions of his life: even when he is not actually thinking of it, but employed perhaps in the most vulgar affairs, or even in diversions themselves; yet still everything he does, will habitually have somewhat in it, tending to promote a general sense of truth and equity, a general regard to God and virtue. And whatever his particular state, relation, or circumstances of life be; he will particularly apply the proper advantages and opportunities, wherewith that state or those circumstances more peculiarly furnish him to promote the same ends of virtue and goodness. (“The Character of a Good Man”)

Alexander Hamilton On National And State Governments

Alexander Hamilton

Quoting Alexander Hamilton:

This balance between the National and State governments ought to be dwelt on with peculiar attention, as it is of the utmost importance. It forms a double security to the people. If one encroaches on their rights they will find a powerful protection in the other. Indeed, they will both be prevented from overpassing their constitutional limits by a certain rivalship, which will ever subsist between them. (June 17, 1788: Alexander Hamilton speech to the New York Ratifying Convention)

Westminster Confession Of Faith: CHAPTER 12 – OF ADOPTION

Westminster Confession of Faith

I am currently posting, every few days, one chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is woefully neglected by the average Christian in this age; yet, it should be studied regularly by all who classify themselves as Protestants. In 1643, an Assembly of Divines convened at Westminster Abbey in London. Their task was to bring the Church of England into greater conformity with the Church of Scotland and the Continental Reformed churches. The Westminster Assembly produced documents on doctrine, church government, and worship:

CHAPTER 12

1. All those that are justified, God vouchsafed, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption, by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God, have his name put upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption, have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry, Abba, Father, are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him, as by a father: yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption; and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.

Charles Spurgeon On The Quickened Church

Charles H. Spurgeon

The blessings of the Holy Spirit are needed in every church in every age. This need has become magnified in our day as church leaders tend to turn to packaged programs for drawing to and keeping people in the membership of the church. We have pushed aside the notion that the Holy Spirit builds the church. Charles Spurgeon comments on the work of the Holy Spirit:

Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. (Haggai 2:4-5)

The Holy Spirit being with us, He can move the whole church to exercise its varied ministries. This is one of the things we want very much—that every member of the church should recognize that he is ordained to service. Everyone in Christ, man or woman, hath some testimony to bear, some warning to give, some deed to do in the name of the holy child Jesus; and if the Spirit of God be poured out upon our young men and our maidens, each one will be aroused to energetic service. Both small and great will be in earnest, and the result upon the slumbering masses of our population will surprise us all. Sometimes we lament that the churches are so dull. There is an old proverb which says of So-and-so, that he was “as sound asleep as a church.” I suppose there is nothing that can sleep so soundly as a church. But yet the Spirit of God still remaineth, and therefore churches go to be awakened. I mean that not only in part but as a whole, a church may be quickened. The dullest professor, the most slovenly believer, the most captious and useless member of a church, may yet be turned to good account. I see them like a stack of faggots, piled up, dead and dry. Oh for the fire! We will have a blaze out of them yet.

Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove, brood over the dark, disordered church as once thou didst over chaos, and order shall come out of confusion, and the darkness shall fly before the light. Only let the Spirit be with us, and we have all that is wanted for victory. Give us His presence, and everything else will come in its due season for the profitable service of the entire church. (“The Abiding of the Spirit, the Glory of the Church”)

Our Strength Is In Christ

John Calvin

Quoting Protestant Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564):

“Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5):

“‘I am the vine,’ says He, ‘ye are the branches. My Father is the husbandman. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me. For without me ye can do nothing.’ (John 15:1-5) If we cannot bear fruit of ourselves, anymore than a branch can bud after it is torn up from the ground, and deprived of moisture, we must no longer seek for any aptitude in our nature to that which is good. There is no ambiguity in this conclusion, ‘Without me ye can do nothing.’ He does not say that we are too weak to be sufficient for ourselves, but reducing us to nothing, excludes every idea of ability, however diminutive.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin)

How May We See Our Real And Proper Likeness?

 

George Whitefield Preaching

George Whitefield was probably the most famous religious figure of the eighteenth century. Whitefield was a preacher capable of commanding thousands on two continents through the sheer power of his oratory. In his lifetime, he preached at least 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million hearers. The spiritual revival he ignited, the Great Awakening, became one of the most formative events in American history. His last sermon on this tour was given at Boston Commons before 23,000 people, likely the largest gathering in American history to that point. In this excerpt from one of his sermons, Whitefield helps his audience to understand their true nature and their necessity for Christ in order to gain salvation:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. (Jeremiah 18:1-6)

I am sensible, that many are offended, when mankind are compared to beasts and devils. And they might have some shadow of reason for being so, if we asserted in a physical sense, that they were really beasts and really devils. . . . But when we make use of such shocking comparisons . . . we would be understood only in a moral sense; and in so doing, we assert no more than some of the most holy men of God have said of themselves. . . . Our stupidity, proneness to fix our affections on the things of the earth, and our eagerness to make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof, evidence us to be earthly and brutes!; and our mental passions, anger, hatred, malice, envy, and such like, prove with equal strength, that we are also devilish. Both together conspire to evince, that in respect to his affections, as well as his understanding and will, man deservedly may be termed a piece of marred clay. . . .

But this is not all, we have yet more evidence to call; for do the blindness of our understandings, the perverseness of our will, the rebellion of our affections, the corruption our consciences, the depravity of our reason prove this charge; and does not present disordered frame and constitution of our bodies confirm the same also? Doubtless in this respect, man, in the most literal sense of the word, is a piece of marred clay. For God originally made him of the “dust of the earth.” So that notwithstanding our boasting of our high pedigrees, and different descent, we were all originally upon a level and a little red earth was the common substratum out of which we were all formed. Clay indeed it was, but clay wonderfully modified, even by the immediate hands of the Creator of heaven and earth. One therefore hath observed, that it is said “God built the man;” he did not form him rashly or hastily, but built and finished him according to the plan before laid down in his own eternal mind. . . .

This is the account, which the sacred volume gives us of this interesting point. This, this is that blessed book, that book of books, from whence, together with an appeal to the experience of our own hearts, and the testimonies of all past ages, we have thought proper to fetch our proofs. For, after all, we must be obliged to divine revelation, to know what we were, what we are, and what we are to be. In these, as in a true glass, we may see our real and proper likeness. . . . Had we kept our original integrity, the law of God would have yet been written in our hearts, and thereby the want of a divine revelation, at least such as ours, would have been superseded; but being fallen, instead of rising in rebellion against God, we ought to be filled with unspeakable thankfulness to our all bountiful Creator, who by a few lines in his own books hath discovered more to us, than all the philosophers and most learned men in the world could, or would, have discovered, though they had studied to all eternity. (Sermon: “The Potter and the Clay”)

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