Things Deep and Mysterious

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

Rom 11:33 ESV

I’m a pastor-theologian, I enjoy theological discussions as much as the next pastor-theologian. However, there are times when discussions need to end and worship should begin. Theological discussion is only helpful if it leads to awe-inspired adoration, mind-exulting praise, and heart-searching holiness for our Lord Jesus Christ. God is deep and mysterious and to think that we might ever figure him out goes beyond human pride and self-deception.

Important as it is that we recognize God working in us, I would yet warn against a too-great preoccupation with the thought. It is a sure road to sterile passivity. God will not hold us responsible to understand the mysteries of election, predestination, and the divine sovereignty.

The best and safest way to deal with these truths is to raise our eyes to God and in deepest reverence say, “O Lord, Thou knowest.” Those things belong to the deep and mysterious profound of God’s omniscience. Prying into them may make theologians, but it will never make saints.

A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Camp Hill, PA: Wingspread, 1982), 64.

Truth Obeyed Will Heal

If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.

John 7:17 ESV

Obedience is truth obeyed. Obedience is synonymous with the idea of surrender: we choose to yield our wills, desires, and goals to the control and leadership of the Holy Spirit. Obedience is driven by the desire to please our Heavenly Father through our attitude and actions. We value the leading, guiding and directing of the Holy Spirit more than our personal preferences and opinions. Obedience not only involves acquiescing to the direction of our Father, but also involves delighting in his purposes for us. We acknowledge that God’s Word is true and always trumps our our selfish wants and wishes.

Healing is made effective in our lives not by navel gazing, but by obeying the will of God. Often we wait for some great supernatural experience to take away our hurt, but God challenges us to abide in him, to love him, and serve others. Obedience, not self-centeredness, brings a deep inner healing of the heart. At times our inner pain is great, but God’s grace received through obeying his word brings deep and abiding healing.

Truth obeyed, said the Puritans, will heal. The word fits, because we are all spiritually sick — sick through sin, which is a wasting and killing disease of the heart. The unconverted are sick unto death; those who have come to know Christ and have been born again continue sick, but they are gradually getting better as the work of grace goes on in their lives.

The church, however, is a hospital in which nobody is completely well, and anyone can relapse at any time. Pastors no less than others are weakened by pressure from the world, the flesh, and the devil, with their lures of profit, pleasure, and pride, and, as we shall see more fully in a moment, pastors must acknowledge that they the healers remain sick and wounded and therefore need to apply the medicines of Scripture to themselves as well as to the sheep whom they tend in Christ’s name.

All Christians need Scripture truth as medicine for their souls at every stage, and the making and accepting of applications is the administering and swallowing of it.

J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 1990, reprint (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 65, paragraphing added.

HT: Justin Taylor

Do We Care About Communing with God?

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.

Eph. 3: 17-18 NLT

Communion with God is sharing in the presence of God: speaking and being spoken to by Him. Communion with God is participating in the life of God: an encounter that is loving, grace-filled, and life-changing. Communion with God is experiencing the constant, conscious presence of the Holy Spirit: we are never alone or forgotten. Communion with God is heaven on earth: a foretaste of the life we will live in heaven. Do we make it our daily goal to pursue communing with God as we go about our daily tasks? Is his presence our heart’s desire?

Whereas to the Puritans communion with God was a great thing, to evangelicals today it is a comparatively small thing.

The Puritans were concerned about communion with God in a way that we are not.

The measure of our unconcern is the little that we say about it.

When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology—but rarely of their daily experience of God.

Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service—but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God.

Our sermons contain much sound doctrine—but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour.

We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters.

Thus we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.

But how different were the Puritans! The whole aim of their ‘practical and experimental’ preaching and writing was to explore the reaches of the doctrine and practice of man’s communion with God.

J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (reprint ed., Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 215.

HT: Justin Taylor

 

A Bruised Heart

A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

Isaiah 42:3 ESV

As Christians, we must realize that God is not mad at us. He is not angry with us when we struggle in seasons of depression. When the struggles of life, the emptiness of loss, and the hurt of rejection bruise our hearts, Christ is present to heal, restore, and love. Remember that the same prophet who said that my wound is grievous and incurable (Jer. 15:18) is the same prophet who said from the Lord, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11). In this new year, we must remember that Christ is the balm of Gilead, the bright and morning star, the healer of our souls, our hope, our future and our mercy. He is not mad at us, but is longing to show us mercy in the midst of our sad faces and heavy hearts.

The sighs of a bruised heart carry in them a report, both of our affection to Christ, and of his care to us. The eyes of our souls cannot be towards him unless he has cast a gracious look upon us first. The least love we have to him is but a reflection of his love first shining upon us.

As Christ did, in his example to us, whatever he charges us to do, so he suffered in his own person whatever he calls us to suffer, so that he might the better learn to relieve and pity us in our sufferings. . . .

But our comfort is that Christ drank the dregs of the cup for us, and will succour us, so that our spirits may not utterly fail under that little taste of his displeasure which we may feel. He became not only a man but a curse, a man of sorrows, for us. He was broken that we should not be broken; he was troubled, that we should not be desperately troubled; he became a curse, that we should not be accursed. Whatever may be wished for in an all-sufficient comforter is all to be found in Christ.

Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, 1630 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2008), 66.

 

Paradoxes of Christmas

 

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

Luke 1:35

A theological paradox is a Biblical statement that seems contradictory, or opposed to rational thought, and yet is eternally true. For many, the doctrine of the incarnation is a paradox: how can God become man and live in one person? The Christmas season is full of paradoxes, Puritan pastor and theologian, Thomas Watson reveals the paradoxes of Christmas:

He was poor, that he might make us rich.

He was born of a virgin that we might be born of God.

He took our flesh, that he might give us His Spirit.

He lay in the manger, that we may lie in paradise.

He came down from heaven, that he might bring us to heaven….

That the ancient of Days should be born.

that he who thunders in the heavens should cry in the cradle….

that he who rules the stars should suck the breast;

that a virgin should conceive;

that Christ should be made of a woman, and of that woman which himself made,

that the branch should bear the vine,

that the mother should be younger than the child she bare,

and the child in the womb bigger than the mother;

that the human nature should not be God, yet one with God

Christ taking flesh is a mystery we shall never fully understand till we come to heaven.

If our hearts be not rocks, this love of Christ should affect us . Behold love that passeth knowledge! (Eph 3:19).

Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Banner of Truth)196, 198.

HT: reformation21

Trembling at God’s Word

For call those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

Isaiah 66:2 KJV

God is “looking,” he looking for a particular man or woman: one through whom he can speak, move, and bless. That person is a “humble” person, a person who knows that they cannot live life without Jesus. At its most basic, humility is seeing yourself as God sees you: dark yet lovely (Song of Songs 1:5), weak yet strong (2 Cor. 12:9), and poor yet spiritually rich (2 Cor. 5:21).

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking less about yourself. Humility is not denigrating yourself by making yourself out to be less than the total person that God has gifted and called you to be as his servant.

Having a, “contrite spirit,” is similar to maintaining an attitude of humility: a contrite spirit is a heart that is broken, needy, and yearning for help. It’s having a sense of sin: the emotional damage caused by sin, the selfishness that wounds others, and the helplessness that paralyzes. Contriteness is an awareness that our sin has hurt God and others, but it also acknowledges that God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness is greater than our failure.

Last, “trembling” at God’s Word is an attitude of submission, openness, and obedience to God’s spoken and written word.

In all, a believer that God uses is humble, contrite of heart, and submitted to God’s Word: the same character qualities that Jesus describes as  “poor in spirit” in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3). The “poor in spirit” acknowledges their complete and utter bankruptcy before God. Its admitting that we are spiritually, emotionally, and physically afflicted; completely unable to save ourselves.

In conclusion, the Lord is not looking for the adequate, successful, and influential: he seeks and supports those who know their need of him.

[God] has a heaven and earth of his own making, and a temple of man’s making; but he overlooks them all, that he may look with favour to him that is poor in spirit, humble and serious, self-abasing and self-denying, whose heart is truly contrite for sin, penitent for it, and in pain to get it pardoned, and who trembles at God’s word, not as Felix did, with a transient qualm that was over when the sermon was done, but with an habitual awe of God’s majesty and purity and an habitual dread of his justice and wrath. Such a heart is a living temple for God; he dwells there, and it is the place of his rest; it is like heaven and earth, his throne and his footstool.

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), Isa. 66:1–4.

God’s Glory and Crown

Holiness

Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders.

Exodus 15:11

Holiness is God’s infinite glory manifested to the world through his sinlessness of character, purity of intention, and righteousness of person. God is right, acts right, and does right.

The holiness of God is his glory and crown. It is the blessedness of his nature. It renders him glorious in himself, and glorious to his creatures. “Holy” is more fixed as an epithet to his name than any other. This is his greatest title of honor. He is pure and unmixed light, free from all blemish in his essence, nature, and operations. He cannot be deformed by any evil. The notion of God cannot be entertained without separating from him whatever is impure and staining. Though he is majestic, eternal, almighty, wise, immutable, merciful, and whatsoever other prefections may dignify so sovereign a being, yet if we conceive him destitute of this excellent perfection, and imagine him possessed with the least contagion of evil, we make him but an infinite monster, and sully all those perfections we ascribed to him before.

It is a contradiction for him to be God and to have any darkness mixed with his light. To deny his purity, makes him no God. He that says God is not holy, speaks much worse than if he said there is no God at all. Where do we read of the angels crying out Eternal or Faithful Lord God of hosts? But we do hear them singing Holy, Holy, Holy. God swears by his holiness (Psa. 89:35). His holiness is a pledge for the assurance of his promises. Power is his hand, omniscience his eye, mercy his heart, eternity his duration, but holiness his beauty. It renders him lovely and gives beauty to all his attributes. Every action of his is free from all hints of evil. Holiness is the crown of all his attributes, the life of all his decrees, and the brightness of all his actions. Nothing is decreed by him and nothing is acted by him that is not consistent with the beauty of his holiness.

Stephen Charnock, The Attributes of God, quoted from Voices from the Past, ed., Richard Rushing (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 265.

HT: Tim Challies

 

Love Lustres at Calvary

Love Shines in All Its Splendor at Calvary

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Cor. 5:21 ESV

As Good Friday approaches, we rejoice in the greatest event in the history of humankind. Here at Golgotha, God the Father, proved his love for us. Here, God the Son, took our place and received our just condemnation. Here, God the Holy Spirit, drew us to saving faith and deep repentance. Here, God’s grace is magnified as greater than our sin. Here, the mercy of God and the holiness of God met and kissed one another fulfilling the conditions of God’s justice and grace. Here at Calvary, the Holy Trinity’s love is displayed to the world.

The Puritan prayer, “Love Lustres at Calvary,” describes this great exchange: we receive Christ’s holiness and forgiveness while Christ takes upon himself our guilt and just judgment. As an act of love, God gladly made this unfair, one sided trade of our selfishness and pride for Christ’s righteousness and holiness. Therefore, we can live a life of intimacy with the Father because Christ has made all things right. This great exchange means that we can live on a daily basis an exchanged life of victory.

At Calvary, the greatest of all exchanges occurred. Jesus Christ, the one who is fully man and fully God, truly innocent and without sin, took upon himself all our selfishness, rebellion, and hate and substituted his righteousness, forgiveness, and love. Christ bore the just judgment of God for our miserable sins, guilt, and shame. Some theologians call this act, double imputation. I call it glory.

We can daily live the exchanged life because Christ by his gracious grace made the exchange of our sins for his righteousness on the Cross. The exchanged life is not a one-time act, but a lifestyle lived as we abide in Christ, trusting the Holy Spirit to live Christ’s life in and through us.

Love Lustres at Calvary

My Father,

Enlarge my heart, warm my affections,

open my lips,

supply words that proclaim ‘Love lustres at Calvary.’

There grace removes my burdens and heaps them on thy Son,

made a transgressor, a curse, and sin for me;

There the sword of thy justice smote the man,

thy fellow;

There thy infinite attributes were magnified,

and infinite atonement was made;

There infinite punishment was due,

and infinite punishment was endured.

Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,

cast off that I might be brought in,

trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend,

surrendered to hell’s worst that I might attain heaven’s best,

stripped that I might be clothed,

wounded that I might be healed,

athirst that I might drink,

tormented that I might be comforted,

made a shame that I might inherit glory,

entered darkness that I might have eternal light.

My Saviour wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes,

groaned that I might have endless song,

endured all pain that I might have unfading health,

bore a thorny crown that I might have a glory-diadem,

bowed his head that I might uplift mine,

experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,

closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on unclouded brightness,

expired that I might for ever live.

O Father, who spared not thine only Son that thou mightest spare me,

All this transfer thy love designed and accomplished;

Help me to adore thee by lips and life.

O that my every breath might be ecstatic praise,

my every step buoyant with delight, as I see my enemies crushed,

Satan baffled, defeated, destroyed,

sin buried in the ocean of reconciling blood,

hell’s gates closed, heaven’s portal open.

Go forth, O conquering God, and show me the cross, mighty to subdue, comfort and save.

Arthur Bennett, ed., Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers (Carlisle, Penn.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 76.

 

Holy, Holy, Holy

What Is God’s Holiness?

Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?

Exodus 15:11

Holiness is God’s infinite glory manifested to the world through his sinlessness of character, purity of intention, and righteousness of person. God is right, acts right, and does right. God’s holiness opposes wrong and his love reaches out to the wrongdoer. God’s holiness opposes sin for sin turns the world upside down, inside out, and wrong side up. Sin brings destruction, pain, and suffering to all. It denigrates God’s majesty and exalts humankind’s pride and rebellion. God’s holiness stands against sin’s evil, and therefore, gives God glory. God is beautiful for he cares about rampant injustice, ugly selfishness, and our self-inflicted pain.

It is his glory and beauty. Holiness is the honour of the creature; sanctification and honour are linked together (1 Thess. iv. 4); much more is it the honour of God; it is the image of God in the creature (Epn. iv. 24). When we take the picture of a man, we draw the most beautiful part, the face, which is a member of the greatest excellency. When God would be drawn to the life, as much as can be, in the spirit of his creatures, he is drawn in this attribute, as being the most beautiful perfection of God, and most valuable with him. Power is his hand and arm; omniscience, his eye; mercy, his bowels; eternity, his duration; his holiness is his beauty (2 Chron. xx. 21);—’ should praise the beauty of holiness.’ In Ps. xxvii. 4, David desires ‘to behold the beauty of the Lord, and inquire in his holy temple;’ that is, the holiness of God manifested in his hatred of sin in the daily sacrifices. Holiness was the beauty of the temple (Isa. xlvi. 11); holy and beautiful house are joined together; much more the beauty of God that dwelt in the sanctuary. This renders him lovely to all his innocent creatures, though formidable to the guilty ones. . . . And the angels’ song intimate it to be his glory (Isa. vi. 3); ‘The whole earth is full of thy glory;’ that is, of his holiness in his laws, and in his judgments against sin, that being the attribute applauded by them before.

Stephen Charnock, “The Atributes and Existence of God,” Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, Vol. One.

 

 

When It’s Good to Mourn

When We Grieve Our Sin, God Promises to Heal

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Matt. 5:4 NLT

We discussed the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) here and here. We found that the Sermon on the Mount is what our lives will look like when Jesus is having his way in us. With much encouragement, we discovered that Jesus will make us what he teaches what we should be. Then, we saw that spiritual bankruptcy is a good thing. It’s a good thing for God does not call us to be adequate, he only calls us to be available. Jesus yearns for us to come to the end of ourselves. He is waiting for us to stop trying to prove ourselves and to start trusting his sufficiency.

Surprisingly, mourning also becomes a good thing. Jesus speaks of a mourning that grieves over our sin, the corruption of our motives, the loss of innocence, and the pain we caused God and others. Gospel mourning opens the door for God’s healing, forgiveness and restoration. It is good to mourn our sin for there God’s redemption is found.

What is the right gospel-mourning?

It is spontaneous and free. It must come as water out of a spring, not as fire out of a flint. Tears for sin must be like the myrrh which drops from the tree freely without cutting or forcing. Mary Magdalene’s repentance was voluntary. ‘She stood weeping’ (Luke 7). She came to Christ with ointment in her hand, with love in her heart, with tears in her eyes. God is for a freewill offering. He does not love to be put to distrain.

Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1-12