The Penning Pastor: And All the Preachers Said…

Undoubtedly I derive from the Gospel a peace at bottom, which is worth more than a thousand worlds. But though I rest and live upon the truths of the Gospel—they seldom impress me with a warm and lively joy. In public, indeed, I sometimes seem in earnest and much affected—but even then it appears to me rather as a part of the gift entrusted to me for the edification of others, than as a sensation which is properly my own. For when I am in private, I am usually dull and stupid to a strange degree, or the prey to a wild and ungoverned imagination; so that I may truly say, when I would do good, evil, horrid evil, is present with me! Ah, how different is this from sensible comfort! and if I was to compare myself to others, to make their experience my standard, and was not helped to retreat to the sure Word of God as my refuge, how hard would I find it to maintain a hope that I had either part or lot in the matter! What I call my best times, are when I can find my attention in some little measure fixed to what I am about; which indeed is not always, nor frequently, my case in prayer, and still seldom in reading the Scripture. My judgment embraces these means as blessed privileges, and Satan has not prevailed to drive me from them. But in the performance of them, I too often find them tasks; feel a reluctance when the seasons return, and am glad when they are finished. O what a mystery is the heart of man! What a warfare is the life of faith! (at least in the path the Lord is pleased to lead me.) What reason have I to lie in the dust as the chief of sinners, and what cause for thankfulness that salvation is wholly of grace! Notwithstanding all my complaints, it is still true that Jesus died and rose again; that he ever lives to make intercession, and is able to save to the uttermost! But, on the other hand, to think of that joy of heart in which some of his people live, and to compare it with that apparent deadness and lack of spirituality which I feel—this makes me mourn. However, I think there is a Scriptural distinction between faith and feeling, grace and comfort—they are not inseparable, and perhaps, when together, the degree of the one is not often the just measure of the other. But though I pray that I may be ever longing and panting for the light of his countenance—yet I would be so far satisfied, as to believe the Lord has wise and merciful reasons for keeping me so short of the comforts which he has taught me to desire and value more than the light of the sun! —John Newton, Works

The Penning Pastor: The Good of Evil

An evil nature cleaves to me; so that when I would do good, evil is present with me. It is, however, a mercy to be made sensible of it, and in any measure humbled for it. Ere long it will be dropped in the grave; then all complaints shall cease. That thought gives relief. I shall not always live this poor dying life: I hope one day to be all ear, all heart, all tongue: when I shall see the Redeemer as he is, I shall be like him. This will be a heaven indeed, to behold his glory without a veil, to rejoice in his love without a cloud, and to sing his praises without one jarring or wandering note, for ever. In the mean time, may He enable us to serve him with our best. O that every power, faculty, and talent, were devoted to him! He deserves all we have, and ten thousand times more if we had it; for he has loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. He gave himself for us. In one sense we are well suited to answer his purpose; for if we were not vile and worthless beyond expression, the exceeding riches of his grace would not have been no gloriously displayed. His glory shines more in redeeming one sinner, than in preserving thousand angels. —John Newton, Works

There’s an Ocean in Those Pints (Psalm 4)

“You have given me relief when I was in distress.”

David cries out to God to answer his prayer concerning his present. He asks God for grace in his now. Sandwiched between, he remembers the past. David doesn’t bank out of the past; he banks out of the future confident because of his past. David has reasoned this way before.

“Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God. …The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine (1 Samuel 17:31–37).”

It would be a poor decision to start making withdrawals from an account based upon old bank statements. But, if a rich benefactor has told you that he has a limitless money, there when you need it for the cause that he loves, then looking to past withdrawals assures you of the future. You wouldn’t banking out of the past, you’d be banking in hope of the future. The past would bolster your confidence in the availability of future funds. The past proves your benefactor is reliable concerning the future.

This is what John Piper calls living by faith in future grace. God has promised that there’s an infinite ocean of grace for us in Christ that’s ours to draw from by prayer. We cannot see this ocean of promises except by faith. We can see the collected pool of past grace and the river of presently flowing grace such that it builds assurance that the ocean is as big as He says. We cannot sustain today’s faith on yesterday’s grace, but recalling yesterday’s grace can strengthen our faith that the promises will not fail us today. Piper explains,

“The infinite reservoir of future grace is flowing back through the present into the ever-growing pool of past grace. The inexhaustible reservoir is invisible except through the promises. But the ever-enlarging pool of past grace is visible; and God means for the certainty and beauty and depth to strengthen our faith in future grace.”

This is part of the logic of Romans:8:23: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all [past grace], how will he not also with him graciously give us all things [future grace]?” It’s paramount to realize this doesn’t denigrate the past accomplishment of Christ crucified. All the grace that ever has or will flow into the Christian’s life flows from the crucified and risen Christ. Looking to the cross assures us of today and forevermore. If it doesn’t, we’re hopeless. We’re to be pitied. Our faith is vain (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Reminisce on the past grace poured into your life. Behold all the grace that has flowed from the fount of Christ recorded for us in both testaments of the Holy Scriptures. Read church history and see the pool swell further. Fellowship with the saints listening to the testimonies of you brothers and sisters. When you do, you will see a sea of collected past grace that dwarfs the Sun, and then Christ will turn to you and say that it’s as nothing compared to the universe of future grace that will one day swallow up that Sun, and all this future grace flows from His past wounds. When Jesus bled, those few pints of blood were the spilling of a infinite universe of grace—all the grace that ever was and forever will be for the redeemed.

A “Christian” of Leafy Show (Matthew 21:18-22)

American’s knowledge of figs is generally limited to Fig Newtons, so some knowledge of fig trees is especially helpful here. But before we get on that highway I want to emphasize the sense in which I use “helpful.” You don’t need to be an expert on ancient customs and practices to read your Bible. If you carefully read your text, and have a thorough knowledge of Scripture you can read with confidence. You will make greater strides in understanding if you steep your mind in the Old Testament rather than a book about old customs. Nevertheless, such knowledge can be helpful.

It is March/April. A fig may be putting out leaves at this time and if there are leaves it is certain that there is an early, edible fruit bud. This bud will fall off and the better fruit will be ripe in June. This is why Mark says that it “was not the season for figs (Mark 11:13).” This is why Jesus didn’t go to another tree. This tree was an early bloomer, it stood out. Jesus is on the highway to Jerusalem and Figgy’s Diner had a light flashing “open.” Jesus pulls off the highway, but the doors are locked and the place is desolate. This tree flirts fruit, but only gives leaves. R.T. France comments, “Its precocious show of foliage promised, but did not provide.”

That information is helpful, but much more helpful are texts like this:

Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved. Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. Give them, O Lord— what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels. Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death. —Hosea 9:10-16 (ESV)

The fig tree is often a metaphor for Israel. Fruit is expected, but Israel proves fruitless. John the Baptizer said “even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees (Luke 3:9).” Jesus is the lumberjack. This miracle is the only miracle of judgment, of cursing, we see Jesus do, and it plops itself right here after Jesus purges the temple, and before he has a showdown with the priests. The point? There are lots of leaves, but no fruit, so the axe is coming down.

Are you a “Christian” of leafy show? Like Adam and Eve do you try to hide behind leaves of your own making? Church attendance, Bible study, small group participation, zestful singing, being involved in lots of Christian activities and programs can be nothing more than leafy show. How do you know if you are producing bitter leaves or sweet fruit? Here is a question to help you answer that question; do you approach things like prayer, Bible study, the worship gathering, as leaves to show, or streams to tap your roots into? Do you say of the things listed above, “I do…,” or “I need…”?

The Pilgrim: Beholding is Becoming

Now, the ancients and elders of the town of Mansoul thought that they never should have enough of the Prince Emmanuel; his person, his actions, his words and behaviour, were so pleasing, so taking, so desirable to them. Wherefore they prayed him, that though the castle of Mansoul was his place of residence (and they desired that he might dwell there for ever), yet that he would often visit the streets, houses, and people of Mansoul. For, said they, dread Sovereign, thy presence, thy looks, thy smiles, thy words, are the life, and strength, and sinews of the town of Mansoul.

Besides this, they craved that they might have, without difficulty or interruption, continual access unto him (so for that very purpose he commanded that the gates should stand open), that they might there see the manner of his doings, the fortifications of the place, and the royal mansion-house of the Prince. When he spake, they all stopped their mouths and gave audience; and when he walked, it was their delight to imitate him in his goings. —John Bunyan, The Holy War

Directional Challenge (Matthew 20:17-28)

Jesus is heading south to Jerusalem, down to the cross. But Matthew and Jesus tell us that He is going up to Jerusalem. Did Jesus miss His turn? No, Jerusalem is always up. Psalms 120-134 are “Songs of Ascents.” These would be sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the feasts. Jesus and the disciples may have very well be singing them on their journey to Jerusalem for the Passover. Remember when the kingdom divided after Solomon into the northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah? This gives you the lay of the land. The majority of Israelites, before the split, would head south toward the Temple, singing Songs of Ascent. This is because Jerusalem was spiritually up. It was also up in elevation, drastically so from Jericho, which, being situated near the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth, is one of the lowest cities on earth at over 800 feet below sea level. Jerusalem in contrast is over 2500 feet above sea level.

So down (directionally) is up (in elevation). But up (in elevation) is down (humiliation). But ultimately down (humiliation) is up (glorification). This is true for Jesus, and that is why it is true for us. At the cross, Jesus sets the standard for greatness. He stoops to serve, and He stoops to the lowest depths.

There was no abasement ever so deep as Christ’s was, in a double regard. First, None ever went so low as he, for he suffered the wrath of God, and bore upon him the sins of us all; none was ever so low. And then in another respect his abasement was greatest because He descended from the highest top of glory; and for Him to be man, to be a servant, to be a curse, to suffer the wrath of God, to be the lowest of all – Lord, wither doest Thou descend? —Richard Sibbes

Jesus does just set the standard for us, He sets it for us. The cross is not only the standard, it is the source of all human greatness. He gave His life as a ransom. His death purchased us and delivered us from our bondage. Christ set an example for us, but His example empowers us to follow. The most important thing to know about following Jesus, are the steps you cannot take. We cannot go to the cross as He did. But because of His greater service, we can do lesser acts, empowered by His, that point others to the only one who is truly great.

Many today want to emphasize the cross only or mainly as a moral act to be replicated, an example to be followed, rather than an atonement in our place, but if there is no redemption, then the example is ludicrous. Tim Keller illustrates,

Imagine that you are walking along a river with a friend, and your friend suddenly says to you, ‘I want to show you how much I love you!’ and with that he throws himself into the river and drowns. Would you say in response, ‘How he loved me!’ No, of course not. You’d wonder about your friend’s mental state. But what if you were walking along a river with a friend and you fell into the river by accident, and you can’t swim. What if he dived in after you and pushed you to safety but was himself drawn under by the current and drowned. Then you would respond, ‘Behold, how he loved me!’ The example of Jesus is a bad example if it is only an example. If there was no peril to save us from—if we were not lost apart from the ransom of his death—then the model of his sacrificial love is not moving and life-changing; it is crazy. Unless Jesus died as our substitute, he can’t die as a moving example of sacrificial love.

Underlying Christus Exemplar is penal substitutionary atonement.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. —1 Peter 2:21-24 (ESV)

Christ’s atoning service makes ours possible and makes it potent. The cross is the standard and the source; every lesser sacrifice points to the greatness of His.

[W]hoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. —1Peter 4:11 (ESV)

The Pilgrim: A Big Difference

[T]here is a difference betwixt growing worse and worse, and thy seeing more clearly how bad thou art. —John Bunyan, Come and Welcome to Jesus

The Pilgrim: Jesus Saves Our Good Works Too

He saves us, and saves our services too. (Rev 5:9-14) They would be all cast back as dung in our faces, were they not rinsed and washed in the blood, were they not sweetened and perfumed in the incense, and conveyed to God himself through the white hand of Jesus Christ; for that is his golden-censer; from thence ascends the smoke that is in the nostrils of God of such a sweet savour. (Rev 7:12-14, 8:3,4) -John Bunyan, Christ a Complete Savior

Tolle Lege: Future Grace

Readability: 3

Length: 401 pp

Author: John Piper

Here is savory truth, slow cooked to intensify flavor over thirty-one days.  Here are thirty-one meditations that are deeply theological and deeply practical. With all of the contemporary discussions concerning the gospel, law, and sanctification, this book written more than a decade earlier is now even more helpful and needed. Piper shows that we are sanctified by faith, but that we must fight for faith, and that specifically the faith that we fight for is faith in future grace. Future Grace will show you the God-glorifying nature of faith, the promises it leans into, and give instruction on how to fight for faith in those promises. Most helpful are the smattering of chapters that deal with fighting the specific sins of pride, anxiety, shame, impatience, covetousness, bitterness, despondency, and lust. This will prove to be a hard read for some. I’ll give you Piper’s own words why you should read this book anyway:

Every book worth reading beckons with the words, “Think over what I say.” I do not believe that what I have written is hard to understand – if the person is willing to think it over. When my sons complain that a good book is hard to read, I say, “Raking is easy, but all you get his leaves; digging is hard that you might find diamonds.”

There are diamonds here. Here are a few:

Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God. No one sins out of duty. We sin because it holds out some promise of happiness. That promise enslaves us until we believe that God is more to be desired than life itself (Psalm 63:3). Which means that the power of sin’s promise is broken by the power of God’s. All that God promises to be for us in Jesus stands over against what sin promises to be for us without him.

I conclude that the New Testament teaches us to obey the commandments of God – the law of Christ – by faith in future grace. The commandments of Christ are not negligible because we are under grace. They are doable because we are under grace.

Hell will not be able to blackmail heaven into misery. God’s judgment will be approved, and the saints will experience the vindication of truth as a great grace.

The test of whether our faith is the kind of faith that justifies is whether it is the kind of faith that sanctifies.

WTS Books: $10.00               Amazon:$10.87