I recently had the privilege of preaching at the First Artesia Christian Reformed Church. Since 2020 has been a troubled-filled year, I preached on how faith is the victory that overcomes the world.
I pray you will be encouraged.
I recently had the privilege of preaching at the First Artesia Christian Reformed Church. Since 2020 has been a troubled-filled year, I preached on how faith is the victory that overcomes the world.
I pray you will be encouraged.
Over the years, it seems like corporate worship in many churches has been vanishing. The calling of the local church, first and foremost, is to gather for worship, but we do it much less frequently now than we did in the past. Sinclair Ferguson has a test he likes to apply to those who tell him that the worship at their church is excellent. He responds by saying, “The litmus test of the quality of morning worship is the quality of evening worship.”
Before we unpack his statement, let us take a minute to see how far we have come. Most of us who grew up in the church can remember going to church at least three times a week. Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday nights were times set apart to worship our Savior. In the town where I grew up, the teachers in the public school used to give less homework on Wednesday nights because they knew this was the pattern for many of their students. Coaches would also release the athletes on time so they could go to church, and rarely was there ever another competing event scheduled on that night.
Those days are long gone. It eventually came to the point where churches began abandoning Wednesday nights. For some, they did not walk away from Wednesday entirely; they simply recalibrated them into nights set apart for other programs: small groups, youth groups, children’s ministries . These programs are, without a doubt, good things, but we must be clear, even with other programs in place, the church took a step back in deciding it was not going to meet for corporate worship mid-week.
As we all know, for many churches, the same thing eventually happened to Sunday evening gatherings. Now, many churches in America only gather as a corporate body once a week for worship. The course of 20-30 years has made a huge impact on what the life of a local church looks like. So, what did Ferguson mean when he said, “The litmus test of the quality of morning worship is the quality of evening worship.” For many churches that do have Sunday night services, usually only one third of the people attend in the evening, and this is a reflection on the morning worship. To put it in more general terms for churches that do not have evening services, what he meant was, if the worship is so great, why is the body satisfied with such a limited amount of it? The truth is, many churchgoers do not want more of it. Our lack of desire for prayer and the preaching of the word seems to be a symptom of our spiritual drowsiness.
How did we get here? If there is a spiritual malaise going on in a church, the blame cannot be laid entirely at the feet of the leadership. Most of the pastors, elders, and deacons I know did everything they could to keep the weekly services alive, but the people were not interested. The problem is not that we do not have Sunday evening and Wednesday night services per se’; the problem is that we are no longer hungry for worship.
I get it; there is no biblical mandate that says 6 p.m. Sunday is to be set apart for worship. I also understand that Sunday evening church services were a relatively new development in church history. Please do not misunderstand me. This post is not an indictment against churches that do not have these additional services. Christian liberty is a real thing. The church where I attend does not meet on Sunday evenings, and I think it is a pretty great church. Small groups and other gatherings have filled-in some of the gaps, however, I cannot help but lament how far we have come as a culture, and with this spiritual malaise in place in many congregations, we now face a new threat—another attempt of the enemy to quench the fire of worship in our hearts.
The lockdowns of COVID-19 have exacerbated the lethargy of many. Way too many churchgoers are more than satisfied with watching church from their couches, and this spiritual dullness will continue to hold sway even after the restrictions are removed. If the church does not get serious about corporate worship, the leadership and congregants alike, this cultural moment could turn into one more giant leap down the path of vanishing worship.
There is hope, however, because the Lord is using these lockdowns to stir a fire in many churches. It is a desire for corporate worship that will not be quenched by merely getting back to normal; it is a hunger for more. My prayer is the Lord will continue to ignite this fire in the hearts of countless brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe. Instead of continuing to abandon our worship, may we begin to reclaim it for the glory of our great God.
The true Christian is called to be a soldier, and must behave as such from the day of his conversion to the day of his death, he is not meant to live a life of religious ease, indolence, and security, He must never imagine for a moment that he can sleep and dose along the way to heaven, like one travelling in an easy carriage. If he takes his standard of Christianity from the children of this world he may be content with such notions, but he will find no countenance for them in the Word of God. If the Bible is the rule of his faith and practice, he will find his lines laid down very plainly in this matter. He must “fight.”
With whom is the Christian soldier meant to fight? Not with other Christians. Wretched indeed is that man’s idea of religion who fancies that it consists in perpetual controversy. He who is never satisfied unless he is engaged in some strife between church and church, chapel and chapel, sect and sect, party and party, knows nothing yet as he ought to know. Never is the cause of sin so helped as when Christians waste their strength in quarreling with one another, and spend their time in petty squabbles.
No, indeed! The principal fight of the Christian is with the world, the flesh, and the devil. These are his never-dying foes. These are the three chief enemies against whom he must wage war. Unless he gets the victory over these three, all other victories are useless and vain. If he had a nature like an angel, and was not a fallen creature, the warfare would not be so essential. But with a corrupt heart, a busy devil, and an ensnaring world, he must either “fight” or be lost.
He must fight the flesh. Even after conversion he carries within him a nature prone to evil, and a heart weak and unstable as water. To keep that heart from going astray, there is need of a daily struggle and a daily wrestling in prayer. “I keep under my body,” cries St. Paul, “and bring it into subjection.” “I see a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity.” “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? .… They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” “Mortify your members which are upon the earth” (1 Cor. ix. 27; Rom. vii. 23, 24; Gal. v. 24; Coloss. iii. 5).
He must fight the world. The subtle influence of that mighty enemy must be daily resisted, and without a daily battle can never be overcome. The love of the world’s good things, the fear of the world’s laughter or blame, the secret desire to keep in with the world, the secret wish to do as others in the world do, and not to run into extremes—all these are spiritual foes which beset the Christian continually on his way to heaven, and must be conquered. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God: whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God.” “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” “The world is crucified unto Me, and I unto the world.” “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” “Be not conformed to this world” (James iv. 4; 1 John ii. 15; Gal. vi. 4; 1 John v. 4; Rom. xii. 2).
He must fight the devil. That old enemy of mankind is not dead. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve he has been going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it, and striving to compass one great end—the ruin of man’s soul. Never slumbering and never sleeping, he is always going about as a lion seeking whom he may devour. An unseen enemy, he is always near us, about our path and about our bed, and spying out ail our ways. A murderer and a liar from the beginning, he labors night and day to cast us down to hell. Sometimes by leading into superstition, sometimes by suggesting infidelity, sometimes by one kind of tactics and sometimes by another, he is always carrying on a campaign against our souls. “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” This mighty adversary must be daily resisted if we wish to be saved. But “this kind goeth not out” but by watching and praying, and putting on the whole armour of God. The strong man armed will never be kept out of our hearts without a daily battle. (Job i. 7; 1 Peter v. 8; John viii. 44; Luke xxii. 31; Ephes. vi. 11).
Reader, perhaps you think these statements too strong. You fancy that I am going too far, and laying on the colours too thickly. You are secretly saying to yourself, that men and women in England may surely get to heaven without all this trouble and warfare and fighting. Listen to me for a few minutes, and I will show you that I have something to say on God’s behalf. Remember the maxim of the wisest general that ever lived in England: “In time of war it is the worst mistake to underrate your enemy, and try to make a little war.” This Christian warfare is no light matter. Give me your attention and consider what I say.
What saith the Scripture? “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life. .… Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” “Labour for the meat that endureth unto everlasting life.” “Think not that I am come to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.” “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” “War a good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience” (1 Tim. vi. 12; 2 Tim. ii. 8; Ephes. vi. 11-13; Luke xiii. 24; John vi. 27; Matt. x. 84; Luke xxii. 36; 1 Cor. xvi. 18; 1 Tim. i. 18, 19). Words such as these appear to me clear, plain and unmistakable. They all teach one and the same great lesson, if we are willing to receive it. That lesson is, that true Christianity is a struggle, a fight, and a warfare.
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. -Ephesians 3:8
The apostle Paul felt it a great privilege to be allowed to preach the gospel. He did not look upon his calling as a drudgery, but he entered upon it with intense delight. Yet while Paul was thus thankful for his office, his success in it greatly humbled him. The fuller a vessel becomes, the deeper it sinks in the water. Idlers may indulge a fond conceit of their abilities, because they are untried; but the earnest worker soon learns his own weakness.
If you seek humility, try hard work; if you would know your nothingness, attempt some great thing for Jesus. If you would feel how utterly powerless you are apart from the living God, attempt especially the great work of proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ, and you will know, as you never knew before, what a weak unworthy thing you are.
Although the apostle thus knew and confessed his weakness, he was never perplexed as to the subject of his ministry. From his first sermon to his last, Paul preached Christ, and nothing but Christ. He lifted up the cross, and extolled the Son of God who bled thereon. Follow his example in all your personal efforts to spread the glad tidings of salvation, and let “Christ and him crucified” be your ever recurring theme.
The Christian should be like those lovely spring flowers which, when the sun is shining, open their golden cups, as if saying, “Fill us with thy beams!” but when the sun is hidden behind a cloud, they close their cups and droop their heads. So should the Christian feel the sweet influence of Jesus; Jesus must be his sun, and he must be the flower which yields itself to the Sun of Righteousness. Oh! to speak of Christ alone, this is the subject which is both “seed for the sower, and bread for the eater.” This is the live coal for the lip of the speaker, and the master-key to the heart of the hearer.
My nerves were shot. I could feel the stress coursing through my body, and I knew what was pulling the strings. All of the tension straining my soul was connected to the things of this world. I had been seeking my meaning in them, and their uncertain nature made everything I was standing upon precarious, which had caused me to collapse in fear. Though I did not know it at the time, those ties to the world needed to be severed, or I was going break.
It was then that I saw a man walking toward me. He was a smallish man with a stern face that made me question his intentions, but as he drew near, I saw kindness in his eyes that provided me with some relief. He looked at me, and he immediately saw my distress. The windows of my soul were open to him, and he could see that the treasure of my heart was man’s applause. He saw that earthly pleasures had my rapt attention and would not let me go.
He immediately showed me a picture of a man arrayed in full splendor. Never had I seen such an image. The portrait reached deep down into my soul. My lust grabbed a hold and refused to let go because I wanted to be that man. Then something happened. I saw that the man of splendor was disillusioned. He had everything for which I longed, but he was still unsatisfied. He cried, “Vanities of vanities. All is vanity.”
How could this be? The man in the picture had everything I knew would make me happy, and he was still unfulfilled. I felt myself take in a deep breath. Something that had been putting pressure on my chest broke free, and I felt my lungs begin to relax. With that, the small man was gone.
As I lay there pondering what had happened, I saw a man of great evil approach me, and he had, in his hands, all the treasures of the world. He, too, had everything that I desired and had been investing my life and soul to attain, but he was hideous. I could not tell if he reminded me more of Nero or Hitler. As I look upon the monster in front of me, a searing thought shot across my mind. “If the Lord of heaven and earth allows the greatest portion of the world’s treasure to be held by the vilest of men, his avowed enemies, then they must not be the greatest treasures man can possess.” If earthly riches were part of God’s greatest gifts, the wicked would have no part in them. As he was walking away, I noticed the tension running up and down the back of my neck start to relax, and the years of chronic pain in my head began to fade.
As I sat there beginning to wonder if I had been directing all my life pursuits toward the wrong things; another man came into view. This one was the exact opposite of the last man. He was godly. I saw 11 more standing at a distance behind him, and all of them wore the clothes of poverty. I saw them being mistreated. They had no desires for earthly power, riches, or fame. In fact, they had given up what they did have to possess something greater. As the man in front stood there looking at me, I saw joy in his eyes. He said, to me, “I count all things as dung compared to knowing Christ.” He smiled and walked away, and the others went with him.
I knew at that moment that these were the men used by God to lay the foundation of the Church. The Holy Spirit had used them to write down the very words of God for all subsequent generations, and the man in front had just called all that I was pursuing “dung.” At that moment, most of the strained nerves in my body that had been tethered to the false treasures began to snap, and, contrary to what I would have thought, as they snapped, they did not hurt. Instead, they loosened and began to regain their intended use. Feeling the life returning to my body, I stood to my feet, and then something even greater happened.
I saw a man approaching riding a white horse, and he was beautiful. I knew right away that he had sent the first three visitors. As I looked upon him, my joints felt loose, my muscles began to give way, and I went down to my knees. Everything about me began to come undone. His voice shook my soul with comfort, and he showed me his hands, his feet, and his side. Up until this point, I had been pursuing the world’s crown, and he showed me what that crown truly looked like by showing me the scars on his head.
He is the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords, and he was despised and rejected by men. Foxes have dens, the birds of the air have nests, but he did not have a place to lay his head. If the treasures and esteem of this world were of eternal value, he would have had them. His beauty and worth emanated from his holiness, and the world’s riches had nothing to do with it. Compared to him, they were revolting and unnecessary.
At the sight of him, I felt something within me die. It was a former and perverse love for the things of the world. I knew in that moment that it was not wrong to possess them or use them; it was wrong to love them. The glorious cross of Jesus now stood between me and the world, and I no longer desired it, for the Pearl of Great Price overshadowed it. He then lifted me to stand in a strength not my own.
I had always known his scars provided the forgiveness of my sin, but I never realized how much they were calling me away from the things of the world. Seeing them, I felt everything within me begin to rest. My former pursuits are coming to an end. They are vain, and I now realize that my ambition for the things of the world made me my own tormentor. Through these visitors, Jesus poured contempt on the things of the world in comparison to him. He continues to lead me further out of the darkness into his marvelous light.
Now I am here to visit you. You, who have been striving after riches, power, fame, and sexual appeal. You, who are striving to increase them. You, who place your hope in keeping them. You, who fear to lose them. You, who find your delight in them. You, whose thoughts are continually upon them. You, whose conversation is always about them. Remember, they are unstable and cannot offer you the security and lasting pleasure you seek. Never forget that the Lord often allows his enemies to have the greatest portion of them. Keep in mind that his greatest servants rarely had any of the world’s goods, and they had everything in our Savior. Most importantly, look to Jesus and His cross to see how contemptuous they are compared to knowing him.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. – 1 John 2:15
Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. – Proverbs 23:4
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. -1 Timothy 6:10
Our Lord had no need to undertake the bearing of the cross except to attest and prove his obedience to the Father. But as for us, there are many reasons why we must pass our lives under a continual cross… We readily esteem our virtue above its due measure. And we do not doubt, whatever happens, that against all difficulties it will remain unbroken and unconquered. Hence we are lifted up to stupid and empty confidence in the flesh; and relying on it, we are then insolently proud against God himself, as if our own powers were sufficient without his grace.
He can best restrain this arrogance when he proves to us by experience not only that great incapacity but also the frailty under which we labor. Therefore, he afflicts us either with disgrace or poverty, or bereavement, or disease, or other calamities. Utterly unequal to bearing these, in so far as they touch us, we soon succumb to them. Thus humbled, we learn to call upon His power, which alone makes us stand fast under the weight of afflictions.
-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion-
Repentance is the tear of love,
dropping from the eye of faith,
when it fixes on Christ Crucified.
Repentance begins in the humiliation of the heart, and ends in the reformation of the heart and of the life. Sincere repentance is never too late, but late repentance is seldom sincere. The thief on the cross repented, and was pardoned in the last hour of his life. We have one such instance in scripture–that none might despair; and only one–that none might presume.
Still, however, the probability that apparent repentance which comes at a dying hour will be genuine, is very small. The following fact will furnish an affecting illustration of this sentiment, and a solemn warning against the too common delusion of deferring the work of repentance to a dying bed:
The faithful and laborious clergyman of a very large and populous parish had been accustomed, for a long series of years, to preserve notes of his visits to the afflicted, with remarks on the outcome of their affliction, whether life or death, and of the subsequent conduct of those who recovered.
He stated, that, during forty years, he had visited more than two thousand people apparently drawing near to death, and who revealed such signs of penitence as would have led him to indulge a good hope of their eternal safety if they had died at that moment.
When they were restored to life and health–he eagerly watched if they should bring forth fruits fit for repentance. But alas! of the some two thousand death-bed professions, only two people manifested an abiding and saving change! The rest, when the terrors of eternity ceased to be in immediate prospect, forgot their pious impressions and their solemn vows, and returned with new avidity to their former worldly-mindedness and sinful pursuits.
-Gorham Abbott, 1833
“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death!” 2 Corinthians 7:10
The following is a challenging thought from J.C. Ryle for those who profess to be Christians but reject the doctrine of hell.
There is but one point to be settled, “What does the Word of God teach?” Do you believe the Bible? Then depend upon it, Hell is real and true. Hell is as true as Heaven, as true as the fact that Christ died upon the cross.
Disbelieve Hell, and you unscrew, unsettle, and unpin everything in the Scripture. Disbelieve Hell, and you may as well throw your Bible away at once! From “no Hell” to “no God” is but a series of steps!
Do you believe the Bible? Then depend upon it, Hell will have inhabitants. If I never spoke of Hell, I would think I had kept back something that was profitable, and would look on myself as an accomplice of the devil!
A flood of false doctrine has lately broken in upon us. Men everywhere are telling us, “that God is too merciful to punish souls forever–that all mankind, however wicked and ungodly will sooner or later be saved.” We are to embrace what is called “kinder theology,” and treat Hell as a pagan fable.
This question lies at the very foundation of the whole Gospel. The moral attributes of God–His justice, His holiness, His purity, are all involved in it. The Scripture has spoken plainly and fully on the subject of Hell. If words mean anything, there is such a place as Hell. If texts are to be interpreted fairly, then most people will be cast into it. The same Bible which teaches that God in mercy and compassion sent Christ to die for sinners–also teaches that God hates sin, and must from His very nature punish all who cleave to sin and refuse the salvation He has provided.
“Blessed are they that mourn.” This beatitude is clearly one of the great paradoxes of scripture. “Blessed” and “mourning” almost seem to be contradictory. When we think of mourning, we rarely think about blessing, Typically our minds think of death because mourning is something we do when someone dies, but here again, Jesus is showing us that there is a depth to the Christian life we need to take the time to understand.
What it does not mean
What does Jesus mean when He says, “Blessed are they that mourn? To understand this, the first thing we should do is clear away the debris by eliminating a few possible types of mourning that Jesus does not have in mind. First, there is some mourning that is sinful. Some people desire to fulfill their lusts, but they are unable to do so. These unfulfilled sinful desires could lead them to depression and mourning. Others have satisfied their lusts and have been caught and mourn the fact that they have been exposed and have to face the consequences, but they do not regret the sin itself. Scripture calls this worldly sorrow which leads to death (2 Corinthians 7:10). Second, it does not simply mean being sad that someone has died. Even haters of God do this, but they mourn like those who have no hope. There is no blessing in these kinds of mourning.
What it means
So what does Jesus mean? It is important to keep in mind that the beatitudes build upon each other. They are not things we do to be saved; they are changes in our nature worked in us by the Holy Spirit. The first beatitude was poverty of spirit, and when we looked at it, we understood that because we are sinful, we have no merit before a holy and just God. The mourning of the second beatitude flows directly from our poverty of spirit. If you have never known your poverty of spirit, you will never mourn spiritually over your destitute condition. With this in mind, we are aware that this mourning is a mourning over our sinfulness.
We first experience this at our conversion, but it continues throughout the Christian life. Do you hate your sin? Do you hate to see sin hurting those you love? Then you are experiencing this blessed mourning. Romans 8:23 says, “And not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” This groaning seems closely related to mourning over sin. This mourning is an attribute of a blessed person because this mourning is a gift of God. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Conviction must of necessity precede conversion,” and conviction of sin is a gift of God. We should not be afraid of it.
The end of glibness
Glibness in the Christian life is done away with by this beatitude. Do you see life as a joke or merely one big party? Then maybe some self-examination is needed. There is a seriousness about the Christian life that needs to be part of our character. We are not to be morose or miserable. We can laugh, and we should have joy, but not regarding sin. It is important to remember, that one of Jesus’ titles was “Man of Sorrows.” If we have no spiritual hunger, and our lives are characterized by glibness, Jesus speaks directly to us in Luke 6:25. He warns, “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” If there is no mourning over sin in this life, there will be plenty of it in the life to come.
Those, however, who mourn over their sin now, will be comforted. Jesus is revealing Himself to them, and He will continue to do so. We will be comforted because our sins are forgiven. We are declared righteous in Him (justification) and He has also begun to kill the sin in us (sanctification). We are both mournful and happy because of Christ and the hope He gives us as the victor over sin and all its wages.
In the next post on the beatitudes, we will see how the poverty of spirit and mourning over our sinfulness produces in us a meekness that inherits the earth. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. How does this blessed mourning manifest itself in your life, and how is it a blessing?
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. – Matthew 5:4