Archive for the ‘Christian Life’ Category

Edward Dering’s prayer for a gospel-centered, sin-hating, Christ-focused, Spirit-empowered Christian life

The following was written by Edward Dering, an English Puritan who lives from 1540-1576, as a prayer containing the sum and effect of the catechism he had written for the people of God (maybe I can post that catechism at a later date?). It is a beautiful summary of the Christian experience. Pray it today, and often!

O merciful and heavenly Father, since at every light occasion, I am withdrawn from your holy laws, to the vanities of this life, unto all sin and wickedness; I beseech you in mercy set before my eyes always the remembrance of your judgment seat, and my last end: whereby I may be daily stirred up to consider in what great danger I stand, through the horrible punishment due to my sins: that daily groaning under the burden of them, I may fly for succor to your beloved son Jesus Christ, who has fully paid, suffered & overcome the punishment due to them: and through the working of your holy Spirit in me, I may be fully assured in my soul and conscience, that the curse, condemnation, and death which these my sins deserve, is fully paid, suffered, and overcome in Christ, that his righteousness, obedience, and holiness is mine, and whatsoever he has wrought for man’s salvation is wholly mine.

Strengthen this faith in me daily more and more, that I may inwardly feel comfort and consolation in this, that I feel your holy Spirit bear record unto my spirit, that I am your child, grafted into the body of your Son, and made with him fellow heir of your everlasting kingdom. So work in me by your holy Spirit, that daily more and more I may feel sin die in me, that I do not delight therein, but daily may groan under the burden thereof, utterly hate, detest, and loath sin, set myself and all the powers of my soul and body against sin, and have my full delight, joy, comfort, and pleasure in those things which be agreeable to your will, that I may walk as becomes the Children of light, looking still for that good time, which it shall please you to call me to your everlasting kingdom, and joy eternal. This in mercy grant unto me for Jesus Christ’s sake, my only Lord and Savior, Amen.

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Four reasons why you should be thankful for the changes God brings into your life.

If there is anything that is constant in this life, it is life’s inconstancy. Change and decay are ever-present realities. Whether it’s children growing up, fortunes made and lost, job relocations, aging parents, friends growing more distant, your favorite restaurant closing, the death of a spouse – we live in a world that is mutable. The Scriptures declare that the earth and the heavens “will perish…and all of them will wear out like a garment; like clothing God will change them and they will be changed” (Psalm 102:26). Change is hard. It’s painful. So why does God ordain it for us?

Moses Drury Hoge pastored Second Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, for nearly fifty-four years, from 1845-1898; it was the only church he ever pastored. In a sermon on Hebrews 1:10-12, Hoge shows “that the very fluctuations of our present state of being, that what we call the accidents that befall men; that the crosses and disappointments which are so common, as well as the blessings that fill the heart with gratitude and joy – these are so many instrumentalities by which God shapes and moulds human character, and by which he teaches men how so to use this present life as to be prepared for life eternal.”

What are “the ethics of change, the moral uses of vicissitudes”? Hoge gives four ways that God uses change in our lives, four reasons why we can be thankful that change is a reality for us.

1. “[One] answer is that God has placed us in the midst of these perturbations to keep our life from becoming stagnant. If there was no change we would all become imbecile. I say if there was no change in the intellectual world, men would, by and by, drivel into impotence. Change is necessary to stir up and quicken and freshen life, just as thunder and storm are necessary to purify the sultry, stifling air. If it were not for these vicissitudes there would be no intellectual and no spiritual development. Change is God’s benediction to humanity. No man knows what he can do until he is put in a new situation that calls forth his energies. No man knows the resources that slumber within himself until the exigency comes that wakes them into efficiency. So God puts adversity and prosperity in the world to balance each other and to discipline and develop what is best in man.”

2. “Another reason why we are placed in such a world of change is to keep us from presuming on the future. You remember the description that one of evangelists gives us of the world’s fool of the first magnitude – the greatest fool whose biography has been written – who said, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, eat, drink and be merry,’ as if the soul could be nourished by what grows in the vineyard and the field. The foot uttered a soliloquy, but there were two voices. It was a dialogue; another speaker broke in and said, ‘This night,’ not in some future year, but ‘this night, thy soul shall be required of thee.'”

3. “Again, life’s changes teach us to avoid the perils of both prosperity and adversity. Do you know the danger of too much success, of a life of uninterrupted prosperity? You say, selfishness and indifference to the interests and happiness of others. It is all that, but another danger of too much prosperity is discontent…The danger of adversity is doubt – doubt of God’s providence, and finally a denial that there is any providence – until at last the person says, ‘I am no worse than other people, but God seems to think so. he afflicts me, and I do not have anything but trouble. I doubt whether there is any providence at all.'”

4. “When we come to inquire into the moral uses of vicissitudes, and what is the grand purpose for which God has placed us in a world of such mutation, we can give briefly, in closing, this answer: it is that we may fix our thoughts and hopes upon something that is both permanent and satisfying…Experience and revelation unite in teaching that the soul must have some foundation on which to build and rest secure, which is not subject to mutation; something as enduring as its own immortality, and as satisfying as its capacities for happiness. But this it cannot find either in the material or intellectual creations of men – not in the noblest or most enduring of them; it cannot find it in human love, however pure and constant; it cannot find it in wealth or fame or power; it cannot find it in nature, whose well-ordered harmonies seem sweet and unvarying as the song of the morning stars. Where, then, is the foundation on which the deathless soul may erect its immortal hopes and find its eternal rest and peace and blessedness? The answer comes, all else must change and pass away, ‘but thou remainest.’ God is the soul’s infinite necessity, the soul’s eternal satisfaction. He alone is immutable…One way, then, by which the soul learns to know God is through its own great necessities which he alone can satisfy.”

(from “The Changing World and the Unchanging God,” by Moses Drury Hoge, in Southern Presbyterian Pulpit, 24ff.)

The Three Legs of the Christian Life

Every stool needs three legs to balance properly. The Christian life is no different. When it comes to maturing as a Christian, there are three areas, three aspects, three “legs” that need to be firmly in place.

First, we must know the truth. Paul says in Titus 1:1 that he is an apostle “for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth…” Knowledge is the foundation of all true faith, whether the object of that faith is a proposition or a person. We must be ever-increasing in our knowledge of sound doctrine. There is an intellectual, rational, cognitive component to the Christian life that we ignore or eschew to our spiritual detriment and harm. Paul was an apostle so that God’s elect might come to know the truth and believe that truth with all their hearts. We never stop learning the truth, deepening in our understanding and experience of it.

Second, we must grow in godliness. Paul continues in Titus 1:1, “…the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness…” The truth is according to godliness. They go together. Where you have one you must have the other. “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (I Cor. 8:1). We can know a lot of facts, but without love – and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit – our knowledge is worthless, pointless, useless, in vain. It’s no accident that Paul speaks in the same breath of those who are “always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” and who “hold to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (II Tim. 3:5, 7). True knowledge is always accompanied by genuine godliness. We must hold and speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). The “things that are fitting for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1) are the spiritual graces that ought to mark older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and servants. Grace trains us to live godly in the present age (Titus 2:11-12); that’s why Paul says we are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (I Tim. 4:7). Some people have a long leg of knowledge, and a short leg of godliness. Others have a long leg of godliness, and a short leg of knowledge. Both are unsightly, ungainly, awkward, unbalanced, halting. We should aspire to neither knowledge nor godliness by themselves, but rather to both together.

Third, we must go show (and tell) the love of Christ in good deeds. All the pastoral epistles (especially Titus!) are filled with an emphasis upon good deeds, deeds that are “good and profitable for men,” that “meet pressing needs” (Titus 3:8, 14). We are to be “careful to engage in good deeds.” That is, our lives as Christian can’t stand upon two legs only – sound doctrine and piety – but must have an active, social, merciful, serving, horizontal component as well. Only then do we have the true balance the Scriptures envision for the people of God. These good deeds are never disconnected from our verbal witness to Christ and His gospel, of course, and so showing and telling go together – we demonstrate the love of Christ tangibly in deeds of mercy and goodness, and we declare that love in the proclamation of the gospel of grace. We speak the truth in love. We love in action, and we speak the truth. We go into the world, loving the world and sharing the gospel with the world, that all might be served and that God’s elect might be saved.

These are the three pillars, the three legs of the stool of the Christian life. If you know your American Presbyterian history (nicely explained in Reformed Theology in America, edited by David Wells, especially George Marsden’s Introduction), then you won’t be surprised that these three components, found so clearly in the book of Titus (and in all the Scriptures), approximate the three extremes that American Presbyterians have tended toward: doctrinalism, pietism, and culturalism. May the Lord give us grace not to live as people of extremes, but to be committed to all three aspects of His work in us by His Spirit. Know the truth, grow in godliness, and go show (and tell) the love of Christ in good deeds.

My Commencement Address to the Graduates of the Veritas School, May 16, 2014

This past Friday night I had the privilege of delivering the commencement address to the graduates of the Veritas School in Ridgeland, MS. A manuscript of my talk may be found here.  I didn’t say everything in this manuscript, and I said several things not included in this manuscript, or in a different way – but hopefully this published address will serve as a reminder to these graduating seniors, and will be a charge that many others might profit from as well.

When we are strong, we might be weak…

II Chronicles 12:1 – “When the kingdom of Rehoboam was established and strong, he and all Israel with him forsook the law of the LORD.” Beware positions of strength, for they are when we are most likely to be tempted to presumption, and thus fall. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” I Cor 10:12

Link to Thomas Chalmers’ “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”

Yesterday in my sermon I mentioned Thomas Chalmers’ sermon “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Here it is; I encourage you to read it. It’s not easy reading, and will probably need to be read more than once to get it. But it’s worth the effort.

SDG,
Ezra