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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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KILLING SIN

John OwenJohn Owen:

“Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts.  He who doth not kill sin in his way takes no steps towards his journey’s end.  He who finds not opposition from it, and who sets not himself in every particular to its mortification, is at peace with it, not dying to it.” (Mortification of Sin in Believers)

CHRISTIAN DIVISION

Charles H. SpurgeonCharles H. Spurgeon:

“It is amazing how unanimous bad men can be. It has always struck me as a very startling thing that you have never heard of any division among the devils in Hell. There are no sects among the devils—they seem to work together with an awful unanimity of purpose in their wicked design. In this one thing they seem to excel the family of God. Oh, that we were as hearty and united in the service of God as wicked men are in the service of Satan!” (1892, Sermon #2254)

TEMPTATION

John OwenJohn Owen:

And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:9-11 ESV)

Our great Pattern hath showed us what our deportment ought to be in all suggestions and temptations. When the devil showed Him “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them,” to tempt Him withal, He did not stand and look upon them, viewing their glory, and pondering their empire…. but instantly, without stay, He cries, “Get thee hence, Satan.” Meet thy temptation in its entrance with thoughts of faith concerning Christ on the cross; this will make it sink before thee. Entertain no parley, no dispute with it, if thou wouldst not enter into it.

MORTIFICATION

John OwenJohn Owen:

“The vigor, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh…The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin…Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.” (Mortification of Sin in Believers)

GOD WORKS ALL IN US AND BY US

John OwenJohn Owen:

“Though we are commanded to ‘wash ourselves’, to ‘cleanse ourselves from sins’, to ‘purge ourselves from all our iniquities’, yet to imagine that we can do these things by our own efforts is to trample on the cross and grace of Jesus Christ. Whatever God works in us by his grace, he commands us to do as our duty. God works all in us and by us.” (The Holy Spirit, 124)

SANCTIFICATION IS A PROGRESSIVE WORK

John OwenJohn Owen:

“The growth of trees and plants takes place so slowly that it is not easily seen. Daily we notice little change. But, in course of time, we see that a great change has taken place. So it is with grace. Sanctification is a progressive, lifelong work (Prov. 4:18). It is an amazing work of God’s grace and it is a work to be prayed for (Rom. 8:27).”(The Holy Spirit, 108-109)

THE HOLY SPIRIT WORKS IN US

John OwenJohn Owen:

“He does not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience. The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself. And indeed, I might here bewail the endless, foolish labor of poor souls, who, being convinced of sin and not able to stand against the power of their convictions, do set themselves, by innumerable perplexing ways and duties, to keep down sin, but, being strangers to the Spirit of God, all in vain. They combat without victory, have war without peace, and are in slavery all their days. They spend their strength for that which is not bread and their labor for that which profits not.” (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, 62)

Concern for Souls

James Montgomery BoiceQuoting James Montgomery Boice:

[T]he greatest periods of faithful expository preaching were inevitably accompanied by the highest levels of sensitivity to the presence of God in worship and the greatest measure of concern for the cure of souls.

The Puritans are a great example, though one could cite the Reformation period or the age of the evangelical awakening in England as well. The Puritans abounded in the production of expository material. We think of the monumental productions of men like Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), Richard Baxter (1615-l691), John Owen (1616-1683), Thomas Watson (d. l686), John Flavel (1627-1691), Jonathan Edwards (1702-1758), and that later Puritan Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892). These men produced material so serious in its nature and so weighty in its content that few contemporary pastors are even up to reading it. Yet common people followed these addresses in former times and were moved by them. Worship services were characterized by a powerful sense of God’s presence, and those who did such preaching and led such services were no less concerned with the individual problems, temptations, and growth of those under their care. Who in recent years has produced a work on pastoral counseling to equal Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor (1656)? Who has analyzed the movement of God in individual lives as well as did Jonathan Edwards in A Narrative of Surprising Conversions (1737) and Religious Affections (1746) or Archibald Alexander in his Thoughts on Religious Experience (1844)? Questions like these should shake us out of self-satisfied complacency and show that we are actually conducting our pastoral care, worship, and preaching at a seriously lower level. (The Foundation of Biblical Authority, London & Glasgow: Pickering & Inglis, 1979, pp.123-143)

Temptation

John OwenJohn Owen:

Our great Pattern hath showed us what our deportment ought to be in all suggestions and temptations. When the devil showed Him “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them,” to tempt Him withal, He did not stand and look upon them, viewing their glory, and pondering their empire…. but instantly, without stay, He cries, “Get thee hence, Satan.” Meet thy temptation in its entrance with thoughts of faith concerning Christ on the cross; this will make it sink before thee. Entertain no parley, no dispute with it, if thou wouldst not enter into it.

True Christian Love

John OwenMany good things may be demonstrated in our lives without the presence of God’s love. We may be patient without love, pardon without love, and show kindness without love to no benefit, if we are not animated by true Christian love. John Owen explains why this is so:

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:14 ESV)

First, the love I am speaking of is the second great duty that was brought to light by the gospel. There is nothing like it in the world, except what proceeds from the gospel. The world does not have it and doesn’t know what it is. Discord, strife, wrath, and hatred entered by sin. When mankind fell from loving God and from being a special recipient of His love, mankind simultaneously fell into all sorts of hatred, conflict, and discord among one another. The love of God was originally, in the state of innocence, the bond of perfection. When that was broke, all of creation fell into disorder and chaos. In particular, all mankind fell into the state described by the Apostle Paul in Titus 3:3, ‘We were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.’

There is a carnal and natural love still in the world that is based on natural relations. We find this sort of love even among the most debased and brutish. There is also a type of love that arises from a common interest in particular sins and pleasures – from people who partake in the same behaviors or who seek to bind themselves together to advance some political end. All the love of the world may be understood as stemming from one or more of these motives and purposes. None of these are in any way the love that proceeds from the gospel. This is why genuine gospel love has the ability to amaze and attract unbelievers. They should be astonished by the new and different type of love that believers display toward one another. Indeed, one of the first sayings of heathens that observed Christians together was ‘See how they love one another’ For them to see people of different sorts – different races, different personalities, different classes, different financial brackets – all knit together in love was astonishing to them. It was astonishing because of its unique nature.

This love is the means of communion between all the members of the body of Christ, just as faith is the instrument of their communion with the head of the body, Jesus Christ. It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul joins faith and love together so many times in his writings as the entire means of the communion and fruitfulness of the mystical body of Christ. In one place he so orders his words to show the inseparable nature of these two things. ‘I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints’ (Philemon 5). We are to express both faith and love to Jesus Christ. But it is obvious that the saints are not the objects of our faith. The apostle places them together here to show how inseparable these two things are and to prove that they always go together. Where the one is, the other will be. And where one is not, the other is not.

Love is therefore the life, and soul, and fuel for all the duties that are performed among believers toward one another. Whatever duties you perform toward other believers – no matter how useful or how great – if they are not aroused and animated by this type of love, they are of no value to your communion with Christ or to the edification of the church. (“Gospel Charity”)

Love for the Brethren

John OwenHave you considered this? There is no real proof of salvation or evidence of our love for God unless we love the brethren. No matter how kind we are, if we don’t love our fellow Christians our words and deeds are empty. John Owen writes:

‘And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.’ (Colossians 3:14, KJV)

The word ‘agape,’ which is translated in the King James Version as ‘charity’ is the only word used in the New Testament to signify ‘love.’ And I wish that this word had always been rendered as such because in common speech, ‘charity’ – relieving the poor and afflicted – is merely one fruit of love. This is not the main sense of the word in Scripture. So our text could be better rendered, ‘Above all these things put on love.’ Every virtue and duty commanded in the Scriptures is usually placed on equal level with other virtues and duties, but there is one that has precedence over all other commands, as is here stated in our text, ‘Above all these things put on love.’ Other Scriptures state the same truth: ‘Before all things, have fervent love among yourselves’ (1 Peter 4:8). ‘Earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way… the greatest of these is love’ (1 Cor. 12:31, 13:13).

In 1 Corinthians 12-14, the Apostle Paul gives directions for the use of spiritual gifts for the edification of the church (and this is a most excellent thing). But when all is said and done, he emphasizes the ‘more excellent way’ of love, which he describes in detail in chapter 13. Not only is love commanded, but it is shown to have a special preeminence and excellency above all other things.

Therefore, I offer the following observation: Love is the principal grace and duty that is required from, and expected from, the saints of God. This is to be especially evident when they are engaged together in church fellowship. (“Gospel Charity”)

Bound for Heaven?

John OwenJohn Owen:

We all profess that we are bound for heaven, immortality, and glory: but is it any evidence that we really desire it if all our thoughts are consumed about the trifles of this world, which we must leave behind us, and have only occasional thoughts of things above?

Communion with God

John OwenThe following excerpts are from one of John Owen’s finest devotional works. Here, Owen presents us with the truth that believers have, or may have, communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. According to Owen:

By nature, since the entrance of sin, no man hath any communion with God. He is light, we darkness; and what communion hath light with darkness? He is life; we are dead, — he is love, and we are enmity; and what agreement can there be between us? Men in such a condition have neither Christ, nor hope, nor God in the world, Eph. ii. 12; “being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them,” chap. iv. 18. Now, two cannot walk together, unless they be agreed, Amos iii. 3. Whilst there is this distance between God and man, there is no walking together for them in any fellowship or communion.

Our first interest in God was so lost by sin, as that there was left unto us (in ourselves) no possibility of a recovery. As we had deprived ourselves of all power for [returning], so God had not revealed any way of access unto himself; or that he could, under any consideration, be approached unto by sinners in peace. Not any work that God had made, not any attribute that he had revealed, could give the least light into such a dispensation. The manifestation of grace and pardoning mercy, which is the only door of entrance into any such communion, is not committed unto any but unto him alone in whom it is, by whom that grace and mercy was purchased, through whom it is dispensed, who reveals it from the bosom of the Father. Hence, this communion and fellowship with God is not in express terms mentioned in the Old Testament. The thing itself is found there; but the clear light of it, and the boldness of faith in it, is discovered in the gospel, and by the Spirit administered therein. By that Spirit, we have this liberty, 2 Cor. iii. 17, 18. Abraham was the friend of God, Isa. xli. 8; David, a man after his own heart; Enoch walked with him, Gen. v. 22; — all enjoying this communion and fellowship for the substance of it.

But the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest whilst the first tabernacle was standing, Heb. ix. 8. Though they had communion with God, yet they had not παῤῥησίαν, — a boldness and confidence in that communion. … But now in Christ we have boldness and access with confidence to God, Eph. iii. 12. This boldness and access with confidence, the saints of old were not acquainted with. By Jesus Christ alone, then … is this distance taken away. He hath consecrated for us a new and living way (the old being quite shut up), “through the vail, that is to say, his flesh,” Heb. x. 20; and “through him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father,” Eph. ii. 18. “Ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ, for he is our peace,” etc., verses 13, 14. … Upon this new bottom and foundation, by this new and living way, are sinners admitted into communion with God, and have fellowship with him. And truly, for sinners to have fellowship with God, the infinitely holy God, is an astonishing dispensation. (Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost)

The Father’s Love

John OwenChristmas PointsettiasWhat would cause the compassion in God that He should so deeply concern Himself in our lost condition? It is the infinite love and goodness of His nature. John Owen writes:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 ESV)

The eternal … cause of the whole work wherein the Lord Christ was engaged, for the redemption and salvation of the Church, is the love of the Father. It is constantly ascribed to this in the Scripture. And this love of the Father acted itself in His eternal decrees, “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4); and afterward in the sending of His Son to render it effectual (John 3:16). Originally, it is His eternal election of a portion of mankind to be brought to the enjoyment of Himself, through the mystery of the blood of Christ and the sanctification of the Spirit (II Thess. 2:13, 16; Eph. 1:4-9; I Peter 1:2).

This eternal act of the will of God the Father does not contain in it an actual [approval] of, and complacency in, the state and condition of those that are elected; but only designs that on which they shall be accepted and approved. And it is called His love for several reasons:

(1) Because it is an act suited to that glorious excellency of His nature wherein He is love; for “God is love” (I John 4:8, 9). And the first egress of the divine properties must, therefore, be in an act of communicative love. And since this election, being an eternal act of the will of God, can have no moving cause but what is in Himself, if we could look into all the treasures of the divine excellencies, we would find none it could be so properly ascribed as to love. Wherefore,

(2) It is styled love because it was free and undeserved, as to anything on our part; for whatever good is done to any altogether undeserved, if it be with a design of their profit and advantage, it is an act of love and can have no other cause. So is it with us in respect of eternal election. There was nothing in us, nothing foreseen, as that which, from ourselves, would be in us, that should any way move the will of God to this election; for whatever is good in the best of men is an effect of it (Eph. 1:4). Since it tends to our eternal good, the spring of it must be love. . . .

This is the eternal spring which is derived to the Church through the mediation of Christ. Wherefore, that which put all the design of this eternal love of the Father into execution and wrought the accomplishment of it was the love of the Son. . . . (“The Glory of Christ in His Love”)

The Storm

Quoting John Owen:

Did you never run for shelter in a storm, and find fruit which you expected not? Did you never go to God for safeguard, driven by outward storms, and there find unexpected fruit?

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