A Pastor's Concern About Death-Bed Conversions

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 Entrenched Intellectualist

We first looked at J.I. Packers description of the Restless Experientialists. Now we move on to the entrenched intellectualist. May we avoid both extremes.

“Think now of the entrenched intellectualists in the evangelical world: a second familiar breed, though not as common as the previous type. Some of them seem to be victims of an insecure temperament and inferiority feelings, others to be reacting out of pride or pain against the zaniness of experientialism as they perceived it, but whatever the source of their syndrome the behavior-pattern in which they express it is distinctive and characteristic. Constantly they present themselves as rigid, argumentative, critical Christians, champions of God’s truth for whom orthodoxy is all. Upholding and defending their own view of that truth. Whether Calvinist or Arminian, dispensational or Pentecostal, national church reformist or Free Church separatist, or whatever it might be, is their leading interest, and they invest themselves unstintingly in this task. There is little warmth about them; relationally they are remote; experiences do not mean much to them; winning the battle for mental correctness is their one great purpose. They see, truly enough, that in our anti-rational, feeling-oriented, instant-gratification culture conceptual knowledge of divine things is undervalued, and they seek with passion to right the balance at this point. They understand the priority of the intellect well; the trouble is that intellectualism, expressing itself in endless campaigns for their own brand of right thinking, is almost if not quite all that they can offer, for it is almost if not quite all they have.”

J.I. Packer – A Quest for Godliness

The Restless Experientialists

In the next two posts I would like to quote J.I. Packer speaking of two different kinds of Christians we find in the church today because he does such a good job describing their key characteristics. They are two sides of a spectrum and both are problematic. My hope is that by looking at these, we might examine ourselves to see if we lean too heavily to one side or the other and find the balance that is found in the word of God.

“Those whom I call restless experientialists are a familiar breed, so much so that observers are sometimes tempted to define evangelicalism in terms of them. Their outlook is one of casual haphazardness and fretful impatience, of grasping after novelties, entertainments, and ‘highs’, and of valuing strong feelings above deep thoughts. They have little taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in their callings and their prayers. They conceive the Christian life as one of exciting extraordinary experiences rather than of resolute rational righteousness. They dwell continually on the themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction, and rest of soul with no balancing reference to the divine discontent of Romans 7, the fight of faith of Psalm 73, or the ‘lows’ of psalms 42, 88, and 102. Through their influence the spontaneous jollity of the simple extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, while saints of less sanguine and more complex temperament get driven almost to distraction because they cannot bubble over in the prescribed manner. In their restlessness these exuberant ones become uncritically credulous, reasoning that the more odd and striking an experience the more divine, supernatural, and spiritual it must be, and they scarcely give the scriptural virtue of steadiness a thought.”

-J.I. Packer – A Quest for Godliness

In the next post we will look at the entrenched intellecualists.

-D. Eaton

The Conscience Will Not Always Sleep

They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. – Romans 2:15

The principal means which God uses in conversion, is that of conscience; and indeed without this, all the rest are in vain. Outward afflictions are of service—only as they tend to awaken the conscience from its lethargy to a faithful discharge of its duty. It is conscience which makes the sinner sensible of his misery and scourges him. The lashes of a guilty conscience are intolerable; and some under them have chosen strangling and suicide, rather than life.

Conscience is a serpent in his breast, which bites and gnaws his heart; and he can no more avoid it, than he can fly from himself!

Let not such of you as have never been tortured with its remorse, congratulate yourselves upon your happiness, for you are not innocents! Your conscience will not always sleep! It will not always lie torpid and inactive, like a snake benumbed with cold, in your breast!

It will awaken you either to your conversion—or condemnation!

Either the fire of God’s wrath flaming from His law will enliven it in this world—to sting you with medicinal anguish; or the unquenchable fire of His vengeance in the lake of fire and brimstone will thaw it into life—and then it will horribly rage in your breast, and diffuse its tormenting poison through your whole frame! And then it will become a never-dying worm, and prey upon your hearts forever!

-Samuel Davies

If you find yourself being tormented by your conscience and in need of forgiveness, never forget, you can find your forgiveness in Jesus.

Top 10 Fight of Faith Posts of 2019

2019 was a great year for the Fight of Faith, and I am thankful to all of you who stopped by the blog. I am also thankful to Tim Challies who featured five of the articles below in his Al La Carte posts. The Fight of Faith readership increased by 410% over 2018. As a final post for the year, here are the top 10 most read Fight of Faith articles for 2019. Keep fighting the good fight of faith.

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10. The Years the Locust has Eaten

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9. The Art of Dying as a Christian

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8. Three Temptations of Weariness

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7. Christian, You Need to Slow Down

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6. In Loving Memory of My Friend, Henry J. Maruyama

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5. Earthly Glory Always Fades

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4. Social Media is Brain Poison

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3. The Reward of Sin

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2. How to Prepare a Sermon: A Layman’s Guide

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1. Singing Lies in Church

Happy New Year!

-D. Eaton

We Echo Satan When We Laugh at the Sins of Others

By other men’s sins, a holy man is put in mind of the badness of his own heart. Bernard makes mention of an old man, who, when he saw any man sin, lamented and wept for him. Being asked why he grieved so, for other men’s sins, answered, “He fell today, and I may fall tomorrow!”

The falls of others puts a holy man in mind of the roots of sinfulness which are in himself. Other men’s actual sins are as so many looking-glasses, through which a holy man comes to see the manifold seeds of sin which are in his own heart, and such a sight as this cannot but humble him.

A holy heart knows that the best way to keep himself pure from other men’s sins, is to mourn for other men’s sins. He who makes conscience of weeping over other men’s sins will rarely be defiled with other men’s sins.

A holy heart looks upon other men’s sins as their bonds and chains, and this makes him mourn. Ah, how can tears but trickle down a Christian’s cheeks, when he sees multitudes fast bound with the cords of their iniquity, trooping to Hell? Who can look upon a lost sinner as a bound prisoner to the prince of darkness and not bemoan him?

If holy people thus mourn for the wickedness of others, then certainly those who take pleasure in the wickedness of others, who laugh and joy, who can make a sport of other men’s sins are rather monsters than men! There are none so nearly allied to Satan as these, nor any so resemble Satan as much as these! (The devil always joys most—when sinners sin most!) To applaud them, and take pleasure in those who take pleasure in sin, is the highest degree of ungodliness!

-Thomas Brooks

What Happens To Us When We Are Not Thankful?

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! Psalm 106:1

What happens to our souls when we are not thankful? We get a glimpse of this in Psalm 106. The Psalm begins by calling the people of God to praise and thanksgiving. The following 12 verses continue by reminding them of God’s great and merciful works. How He showed His power and set them free from the slavery in Egypt, parted the Red Sea to get them to safety, and covered their enemies with water. As they remember God’s goodness toward them, we see thanksgiving flowing from grateful hearts as they recognize the Lord and His mighty works. Then, a few verses later, we find a drastic change as they soon forgot His works and did not seek His counsel.

As they were in the wilderness, forgetful of God’s goodness, they began to lust for the pots of meat they had in Egypt and began to test God in the desert. They started to demand meat, as if the Lord had failed to give them something they deserved. It is at this point we find this in verse 15: “And He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.” (NKJV)

The Lord had granted them their fleshly desires, which was meat in the form of quail, but the meat did not satisfy them. Instead, it made them sick. The more they ate, the more empty it left them, for the Lord had sent it with a wasting disease. Ingratitude works much the same way. When we think that we need something more than what God has already given us or has promised to provide, when we get it, we tend to find that our longings had deceived us. The reason for this is because we should be feasting upon God, through His word, in remembrance of all He has done on our behalf. When we forget God, and ingratitude begins to set in, it doesn’t matter what we receive; we will still want more and be spiritually sick. If God and His great mercy are not enough to fill our hearts with thanksgiving, nothing will.

Gratitude flows freely from a heart that is full of God, mindful of His great works, and aware of His grace to such unworthy and sinful creatures. The sinner, who hungers and thirsts after righteousness and has been filled by the justifying work of Christ, can find themselves in any harsh situation that this life has to offer and still have hearts that rejoice and are full. On the contrary, the person who forgets God’s great works toward them and begins to think they deserve more can be in the most pleasant of all earthy positions and still live with lean souls.

The same gospel that saves us from our wretched condition is the same Gospel that will fill our souls with joy for all eternity. We are never to forget how great His love is for us that we should be called sons and daughters of God. To live our lives without this truth at the center will bring leanness to our souls that will never be satisfied with anything this world has to offer.

This Thanksgiving, if your heart has been forgetful of God’s great love and mercy toward you, or if you find yourself unsatisfied with what the Lord had done for you, it is time to seek His face and remember His goodness. Do not let one more day go by without spending time in His word and calling out to Him in prayer. The most beautiful holiday meals will not cure the leanness of soul which accompanies ingratitude toward God, but if you have remembered your God and your heart is full of Him, then any lack you experience this holiday will not be able to empty the joy and gratitude which fills your soul. Godliness with contentment is great gain.

May all our hearts burst forth with gratitude toward our great God this holiday season!

-D. Eaton

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations. – Psalm 100

Everything Short of Hell is Mercy

How is it possible for any of us to live without a heart full of gratitude when everything short of hell is mercy? If we are not facing the the wrath of everlasting punishment at this moment, we are not getting what we deserve. That is true for every Christian and non-Christian alive right now.

We have a tendency to look at the way things are and assume that is the way it should be. We look at the life of an average person and think we deserve that at least. That misleading assumption is spewed forth by the father of lies and exists for the soul purpose of making our hearts cold toward the Lord of Mercy.

Our ingratitude, alone, is sin enough to condemn us for all eternity, yet here we sit, surrounded by so many pleasures of life and taking them for granted. To help us keep things in perspective, here are a few things that are better than what we deserve.

  • Cancer
  • Poverty
  • Betrayal
  • Depression
  • Prison
  • Loss of Loved Ones
  • Blindness
  • Persecution
  • Ridicule
  • Conflict at work
  • Catching a cold
  • Loss of a Presidential election
  • Traffic
  • Fuel Prices
  • A long line at the grocery store
  • Spotty wifi
  • Being on hold with the internet company for 20 minutes
  • An online delivery being delayed
  • Going to work tired
  • Someone saying something upsetting on social media
  • A sermon being a little dry
  • The worship leader singing a song we do not like

It is amazing how much time we can spend complaining about the items at the bottom of the list, especially in light of the items at the top of the list. Yet, the entire list is mercy compared to hell.

For those who reject Christ, everything on this list will soon come to an end. When the mercy ends, the list above will seem like heaven compared to what they will be facing for all eternity. They will go from mercy to justice.

For those who come to Jesus in faith, all of this will soon come to an end for them as well. Christian, your pain and frustrations are only temporary. You will soon enter into the presence of the king where there will be no more tears or sorrow. You will go from mercy to mercy. Hold on for just a little longer.

No matter what we are facing, we have every reason to rejoice in the Lord at this moment. Meditate on this truth, and let it flood your heart with gratitude, especially as we move into the Thanksgiving holiday. He is a good and gracious King.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. – Philippians 4:4

-D. Eaton

When Pressing on Means Giving Up

I could hear the voices whispering, “Persevere. Don’t give up. You need to press on.” The only problem was I was fairly certain these were the voices of the enemy. I was torn because persistence is something to honor. A sense of despondency and joy burned within me at the thought of ending several lifelong pursuits.

I knew it was the right thing to do. I needed to say goodbye to what I loved, because what I loved was toxic. It was like a destructive friendship. Friendships are to be cherished, and it always seems wrong to dissolve them, but when they are harmful, the appropriate thing to do is to bring them to an end.

I realized I had a long and unhealthy relationship with the world. I loved it and I was attempting to stake my claim, and find my refuge, in its kingdom. The discovery that these dark skies of adversity have revealed to me is that the things of the world are unable to protect or satisfy.

Faith has been awakened, and it is pointing my mind to things above. I know at this point the way to press on is to bring all these worldly pursuits to a close. I must say goodbye to these lifelong loves, and deep inside I can feel the heartache that will ensue. If left to myself, I will not have the strength to do it. I will run back into their arms like a lonely man returning to an abusive lover.

I will persevere, however, not because I have the ability, but because I am starting to realize that true perseverance in the things of God is not of myself.  I am, as Peter once said, being kept by the power of God through faith. Christ Jesus has begun a work He has promised to complete. I know my old nature will not give up easily, and it may win a few battles as I am being conformed to His image, but I will press on, because He has promised to never lose His child.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. – 1 John 2:15

-D. Eaton

When God Takes What We Love

And while [Lot] lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. -Genesis. 19:16

If what we love keeps us from growing in Christ, He will take our loves from us. In the verse above, we find Lot in the final moments before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The warnings had been clear, and Lot had not doubted the truthfulness of the threats. Yet in the final moments before the destruction, as Lot is told to escape with his life, he lingers as if unable to move. John Calvin says this regarding Lot’s lingering, “His tardiness is truly wonderful, since, though he was certainly persuaded that the angels did not threaten in vain, he could yet be moved by no force of words until he is dragged by their hands out of the city.”

What caused him to linger? Matthew Poole estimates that “He lingered, either through an aversion to part with all his estate, or to lose his sons-in-law; or through astonishment and distraction of mind, which made him both listless and impotent.” Whatever it was, Lot was powerless to move on his own, and this seems to be the experience of us all from time to time when the Lord, through his Word, has told us to move. Whether it is a sin with which we hate to part, or a comfortable career the Lord has told us to leave behind, many times we are spiritually sluggish.

God has told us in His word to press on and be conformed to his image. He has told us to do all He has commanded us. The thunderous warnings of the destruction of everything contrary to Him and His ways have rung in our ears; He warns us to flee the wrath to come. Along with the thundering of destruction that pressures us from behind, we also have the beauty of Christ and our promised joy in Him before us, bidding us come. Yet, even with all of this, we often sit motionless in a steadfast stupor.

As Matthew Henry so aptly put it, “Thus many that are under some convictions about the misery of their spiritual state, and the necessity of a change, yet defer that needful work, and foolishly linger.” Praise God Lot’s story does not end there, and neither does ours. God was merciful to him, and the angels grabbed him by the hand and pulled him out of the city to safety.

Are there areas in your life that hinder your growth in the things of the God? Do you know the Lord has called you to remedy a certain aspect of your life, yet you sit idle, making no progress in spiritual things? If so, be prepared, for if you are a true child of God who is unmoved even though you have heard His word, He will use other means to get you to advance. Whatever inordinate loves keep you motionless may be forcefully removed, requiring you to make steps onward in your journey to the Celestial City. Calvin makes the point clear when he says,

“For so it is often necessary for us to be forcibly drawn away from scenes which we do not willingly leave. If riches, or honors, or any other things of that kind, prove an obstacle to anyone, to render him less free and disengaged from the service of God, when it happens that he is abridged of his fortune, or reduced to a lower rank, let him know that the Lord has laid hold of his hand; because words and exhortations had not sufficiently profited him.”

Let us never forget that when the Lord takes what we love, it is His love for us that is at work. It is His mercy in action because it would have been no injustice on His part if He had left us in our impotent state to partake in the destruction that we refused to flee.

Has the Lord been calling you to surrender some sin? Has he been prompting you by His Holy Spirit to live a life in greater service to Him than the worldly pleasure you now serve? Or is he simply calling you to spend more time in the prayerful study of His Word, which we so often neglect? Whatever it may be, we all have enough sluggishness in us that we should, with all earnestness, strive against it. May the words of this devotion be the means God uses to move us on, for if mere words are not enough, in His mercy and love, He will lay his hands on His child.

-D. Eaton