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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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According To Your Faith

Alexander MacLaren

Alexander MacLaren once said, “In making our decisions, we must use the brains that God has given us. But we must also use our hearts which He also gave us. A man who has not learned to say, ”No” –who is not resolved that he will take God’s way, in spite of every dog that can bay or bark at him, in spite of every silvery choice that woos him aside–will be a weak and a wretched man till he dies.” Yet, this certainly does not have to be the case as MacLaren explains below:

“[A]nd what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. . . .” (Ephesians 1:19-20)

When we look at the exploded Utopias that fill the past; when we think of the strange and apparently fatal necessity by which evil is developed from every stage of what men call progress, and how improvement is perverted, almost as soon as effected, into another fortress of weakness and misery; when we look on the world as it is today, I know not whence a man is to draw bright hopes, or what is to deliver him from pessimism as his last word about himself and his fellows, except the “working of the strength of the might which he wrought in Christ.” “We see not yet all things put under him.” Be it so, “but we see Jesus,” and, looking to Him, hope is possible, reasonable, and imperative. . . .

 “No man hath ascended up into heaven save he that came down from heaven,” and having returned thither, stoops thence and will lift us to Himself. I am a poor, weak creature. Yes! I am all full of sin and corruption. Yes! I am ashamed of myself every day. Yes! I am too heavy to climb and have no wings to fly and am bound here by chains manifold. Yes! But we know the exceeding greatness of the power, and we triumph in Him.

That knowledge should shame us into contrition when we think of such force at our disposal and so poor results. That knowledge should widen our conceptions, enlarge our desires, breathe a brave confidence into our hopes, and should teach us to expect great things of God and to be intolerant of present attainments while anything remains unattained. It should stimulate our vigorous effort, for no man will long seek to be better if he is convinced that the effort is hopeless. . . .

It is great to preserve the ancient heavens fresh and strong by His might, but it is greater to come down to my weakness, to “give power to the faint,” and to “increase strength to them that have no might.” And that is what He will do with us. . . .

“To us-ward who believe.” Once more we are back at the old truth which we can never make too emphatic and plain that the one condition of the weakest among us being strong with the strength of the Lord is simple trust in Him, verified, of course, by continuance and by effort. . . . The wider and deeper the opening that we make in our natures by our simple trust in God, the fuller will be the rejoicing flood that pours into us. . . .

There are two measures of the immeasurable power; the one is that infinite limit of “the power which he wrought in Christ” and the other the practical limit. The working measure of our spiritual life is our faith. In plain English, we can have as much of God as we want. We do have as much as we want. And if, in touch with the power that can shatter a universe, we only get a little thrill that is scarcely perceptible ourselves and all unnoticed by others, whose fault is that? . . . The practical measure of the power is for us the measure of our belief and desire. And if we only go to Him, as I pray we all may, and continue there and ask from Him strength according to the riches that are treasured in Jesus Christ, we shall get the old answer, “According to your faith be it unto you.” (“The Measure of Immeasurable Power”)

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Do Not Hesitate To Receive The Call!

J. C. Ryle believed that great sinners could receive a great salvation from our great God. However, he offers this warning to reluctant sinners:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. (John 7:37)

[D]o you feel anything at this very moment? Is your conscience awake and working? Are you sensible of spiritual thirst, and longing for relief? Then hear the invitation which I bring you in my Master’s name this day-“If any man,” no matter who he may be, if any man, high or low, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, “if any man thirst, let him come to Christ and drink.” Hear and accept that invitation without delay. Wait for nothing. Wait for nobody. Who can tell that you may not wait for “a convenient season” till it be too late. The hand of a living Redeemer is now held out from heaven; but it may be withdrawn. The Fountain is open now; but it may soon be closed for ever. “If any man thirst, let him come and drink” without delay. Though you have been a great sinner, and have resisted warnings, counsel, and sermons yet come. Though you have sinned against light and knowledge, against a father’s advice, and a mother’s tears, though you have lived for years without a Sabbath, and without prayer, yet come. Say not that you know not how to come, that you do not understand what it is to believe, that you must wait for more light. Will a tired man say that he is too tired to lie down or a drowning man, that he knows not how to lay hold on the hand stretched out to help him, or the shipwrecked sailor, with a lifeboat alongside the stranded hulk that he knows not how to jump in? Oh, cast away these vain excuses! Arise, and come! The door is not shut. The fountain is not yet closed. The Lord Jesus invites you. It is enough that you feel thirsting, and desire to be saved. Come! come to Christ without delay. Who ever came to the Fountain for sin and found it dry? Who ever went unsatisfied away?

[H]ave you come to Christ already, and found relief? Then come nearer, nearer still. The closer your communion with Christ the more comfort you will feel. The more you daily live by the side of the Fountain, the more you shall feel in yourself “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John iv. I 4.) You shall not only be blessed yourself, but be a source of blessing to others.

In this evil world you may not perhaps feel all the sensible comfort you could desire. But remember you cannot have two heavens. Perfect happiness is yet to come. The devil is not yet bound. There is “a good time coming” for all who feel their sins and come to Christ, and commit their thirsting soul to His keeping. When He comes again they shall be completely satisfied. They shall remember all the ways by which they were led, and see the need-be of everything that befell them. Above all, they shall wonder that they could ever live so long without Christ, and hesitate about coming to Him. (Sermon: “If Any Man!”)

A Pastor’s Confessions

The following article is composed of excerpts from “A Pastor’s Secret Heart” published by The Banner of Truth Magazine, no. 235, April 1983. I think that it is good for those of us who are laypeople in the church to consider the reality and difficulty of a minister’s life. Toward this end, I suggest you read and consider the following article very carefully:

Our experience of the pastoral ministry stretches back to an ordination in the late fifties, and during the ensuing years we have fed and shepherded three congregations. . . .

In the sweep of these years since ordination, that is, from youth to our middle years, we can see two categories of experience, the bad and the good. Perhaps most of us, in our more public thoughts, are accustomed to concentrate upon the good and we give much emphasis to the privilege of our calling (of which none should be in doubt). But it is possible that, by taking stock of the bad, by facing it honestly, we may arrive at a deeper appreciation of the good. . . .

For us, at least, these are more difficult days than were those of the late fifties. Partly this derives from our youth being gone, because many will make allowances for a young man where none is made for the pastor with grey at his temples, and with heavy eyes. The most obdurate listener will entertain some hope that the youthful preacher will ‘change’, whereas no such hope will shield the same preacher in his later years from the barbs of those hard hearers. (We would here thank God for the love and understanding of those many Christian people, who, with courtesy and encouragement, have warmed even to our most immature utterances!)

But these are also more difficult days than former ones because of developments in society itself. Respect for authority generally, and respect for the ministerial office in particular, is much reduced. Individualism and self-assertiveness now rage without control. The very concept of the declarative communication of truth is demeaned: participation in the quest for ‘consensus’ has much diminished the preaching office. Together with this, we have seen a growing passion for excitement among professing believers. This poor, crude generation appears to know nothing, and to care nothing, for the testimony of the church’s experience through the ages. . . .

The cult of youth enters upon our present experience with desolating power. We recall from our childhood an awe of those who were old in the faith. ‘The glory of young men is their strength, grey hair the splendor of the old’ [Prov 20.29]. Today, however, our western world has gone far to rob old men of their splendor. Even the middle-aged must often give way to youth as we have witnessed when serving as moderator in vacancy committees. We have sat in despair as believers have stipulated that they shall look only for a man under thirty years of age, or certainly no where beyond his early thirties. Indeed, we must frankly confess to a spirit of outrage at the assumption that men in their forties, with both vigor of mind and body enriched by years of pastoral care, are now dismissed as vessels no longer fit for noble use. . . .

We believe that these three ingredients of the present times, namely, diminished respect for authority, increased passion for excitement, and the cult of youth, have given rise to the existence and employment of wrong criteria among the churches in their search for pastoral care. The danger may be described, in general terms, as looking for ‘instant’ personality — ‘cooked and tinned’ and needing but to be opened and served — for glamour, for youth. . . .

We may speak from sore experience, and say that a confrontation with moral problems will prove to be rocks upon which many ministries break. We know what it is to weep with and for the fallen, while seeking to counsel them in the way of life and with nothing but compassion and love for them in one’s heart. But we also know how wrathful a flock can be, if their pastor should dare to enter upon such matters. . . .

The pilgrim went from his Valley of Humiliation into the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Our path has gone in much the same way. We believe that, as greed rends the world, so vanity too often rends the church. Congregation upon congregation is dominated by a few powerful personalities who love their prominence, and who brook no interference. We do not depreciate powerful personalities, per se. Nor do we forget that the church has been greatly blessed, in every age, by those whom God gifted with leadership qualities. Such men are needed today in every congregation. It seems to us, however, that the church is blighted by the influence of those who love their power more than they love the Lord. To such people there is an impossibility about the apostolic command, ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ [Eph 5.21]. . . .

We cannot deny the weight of this suffering. Our resolve at times grows weary. We break-down and cry in our study where no one sees. We learn a certain slowness in our trusting of others: some prove false, and their evangelical statements are exceedingly hollow. But of others we may suggest that their hold upon the truth is so slight, their sympathy with the Biblical emphasis is so superficial, their openness to the poor values of this crazed world is so wide, that, while they declare themselves to be profited under our ministry today, we dread lest some turn of events shall quickly disrupt their loyalty. The night-watches do tend to close our mind upon these sorry things; sleeplessness is our frequent portion during the darkness, and weariness is our frequent portion through the day. Loneliness is the salient feature of our path. . . .

We confess that, at times, we feel that the dullness and beast-like passivity in the people, as if they were so many cows placidly gazing at one from the other side of the hedge, derives from too much television-viewing. In fact, we suspect that our people do sometimes ‘switch’ to another ‘channel’ as they sit before us. Certainly at the heart of our human need is the inability to stir anyone until Christ’s loud voice says, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ [John 11.43]. We have seen this throughout our work. It has dominated our thinking, until, night and day, we cry to the Lord that he will graciously bless our hearers.

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”)

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