You may easily be sure that most quarrels online tends to the ruin of the Church, and the hindrance of the gospel, and the injury of the common interest of Christianity. You know ungodly divisions are greatly condemned in the scriptures, and that they are usually the result of pride, uncharitableness, and temper, and that the Devil is best pleased with it because he gains the most by it.
If arguments cause any divisions, be sure to look first to the interest of common truth and good, and to the exercise of love: and do not become passionate contenders for any party in the division, or censure those to do not enter the fight, but join rather with the moderate and the peacemakers than with the contenders and dividers.
I understand that those who want to draw you into a combative fervor will tell you that their cause is the cause of God, and that you will betray him if you are not zealous in it. They will tell you that it is your sinfulness that makes you selfishly desire moderation and peace. They will also condemn you by saying you are hypocrites, that you are lukewarm, and that you agree with error. And they are right, if it is indeed the cause of God, but upon great experience, I must tell you, that of the zealous contenders online that claim the cause of God and truth, there are very few that know what they are talking about.
Some of them claim the cause of God, when their cause is the spoiled spawn of a proud and ignorant mind. Some of them are impassioned before they have even had time to give it any serious thought. Others are lead astray by some person or tribe that fascinates their minds. Many are blinded by their carnal interests, and many of them, in mere pride, think highly of an opinion because they believe they know more than ordinary men do. Finally, many of them are simply looking for likes and retweets.
As far as my judgment has been able to reach, the people that have stood for restraint have been the most sensible, and have had the best understanding of the controversies that are under debate among good Christians. Those that castigate them as lukewarm or corrupted have been people that have had the least judgement, and are usually full of proud and foul mistakes in the points in question.
In all this, I do not deny that every truth of God is to be highly valued and that those that plead for neutrality, whenthe essential doctrines of the faith are being disputed, are false-hearted hypocrites. However, some truths must be silenced for a time, (though not denied) when contending for them is untimely and tends to the injury of the Church. Take heed what you do online when God’s honor, and men’s souls, and the Church’s peace are are at stake.
-Richard Baxter (edited and updated for today’s reader)
The imputed righteousness of Christ will answer all of the fears, doubts, and objections of your soul. How shall I look up to God?–In the righteousness of Christ. How shall I have communion with a holy God?–In the righteousness of Christ? How shall I find acceptance with God?–In the righteousness of Christ. How shall I die?–In the righteousness of Christ. How shall I stand before the judgment seat?–In the righteousness of Christ. The only sure way under all the temptations, fears, conflicts, doubts, and disputes, is by faith to remember Christ and the sufferings of Christ your mediator and surety.
Oh Christ, I am your sin, but you are my righteousness; I am your curse, but you are my blessing; I am your death, but you are my life; I am the wrath of God to you, but you are the love of God to me; I’m your hell, but you are my heaven. His righteousness answers all objections, though there may be a million of them made against a good estate of a believer. This is a precious truth, worth more than a world, that all our sins are pardoned. In Christ, justice and mercy kiss each other, yea justice says, ‘I am pleased.’
We own a Kingdom that will not shake, one eternal in the heavens. We have a certificate of guarantee for all the happiness and blessedness of the world to come. The righteousness of Christ is your life, your joy, your comfort, your crown, your confidence, your heaven, and your all. In righteousness you may safely and comfortably live, and happily and quietly die. Ah, that believers would dwell much upon this truth. The righteousness of Christ cannot be lost; it is from everlasting to everlasting. When once this white raiment is put on a believer, it can never fall off. Interest in his righteousness guarantees all the glory of the Heavenly Kingdom!
This Saturday, February 9, I lost a friend to a motorcycle accident. I met Henry just over 16 years ago working in admissions at Trinity Law School. He came to talk to me because he was interested in attending law school. The day I met him he walked in with the same exuberant smile that you see in the picture above, and his countenance never changed in all the years I knew him. Anyone who knew him can attest that Henry was glad to see everyone who crossed his path, and he was an encouragement to me whenever we spent time together.
When it comes to memories of Henry, there are too many to mention so I will only tell you of one here. One of my favorite recollections is when Henry, myself, and our good friend Ryan Theule represented the law school at a three-day music festival in Monterey CA called Spirit West Coast. The best part was that we decided, instead of getting a hotel, to sleep in a tent at a campground for three nights. Henry was exuberant in all aspects of life and this aspect carried over to the noises he made while sleeping. Ryan and I did not get an hour sleep that night because Henry sawed enough logs to devastate an entire forest. As we began stirring in the morning, standing in the cleared land that was now our campground, a couple neighbor campers came by to tell us that they too could not sleep thanks to Henry. Why would I tell you this? Because Henry’s response to all this is a perfect picture of who he was. Henry was slightly embarrassed, apologetic, and yet tickled pink at the entire scenario. His grin went ear to ear each time we brought it up as if he saw it as some kind of accomplishment. His thumbs would go up, his head would begin to nod slightly, and he would let out a slow and satisfied “YYYYEEEAAAAHHHH!”
One of the things Henry and I used to do when he worked with me full-time, is we would go to the used theology bookstore on lunch to find treasures. There are many things I could tell you about Henry, but there is one thing I can not leave out because it was the basis of so many of our conversations, and that was his love for the theological writings of the Puritans. I can still picture the day he returned, arms full, with all eight volumes of John Owen’s commentary on Hebrews. Henry was glowing.
What was it he loved so much about the Puritans? I believe it was their ability to speak to his spiritual condition. Like every Christian, Henry was a sinner saved by grace. The Lord called him out of a background of drugs, and other sinful choices. He knew what he deserved for his iniquities, and he knew, thanks to Jesus, he would not have to face that recompense. This is what bonded Henry and me. We also knew that even though we have been justified by the blood of Jesus, we were still fighting a daily battle with indwelling sin, and this is where the Puritans, the physicians of the soul, had their most profound effect on us.
Often, the Christian life is portrayed as one of constant victory, “if you have enough faith,” but this is not what is presented in scripture. Being a believer in a fallen world is one fraught with difficulties and disappointments, and that is on top of the daily battle with our own sinfulness. The Puritans understood this and this is why I believe they resonated with Henry so much. The joy that flowed from Henry was not contrived, it was real and it was deep, but this did not mean that Henry did not feel the weight of the world on a daily basis. Like the Puritans, he desired to grow into a holiness that he did not yet entirely possess in practice, but he did not place his hope in himself, or his ability to conform himself into the image Christ. He had laid that at the feet of Jesus.
Upon coming to Christ, Henry’s sins were forgiven. Any regrets he may have had from his past were wiped away, and the justice that those sins deserved, Jesus bore on the cross in his place. Henry was counted righteous in Christ because his sins were imputed to Jesus, and Christ’s righteousness was counted as his. This is justification. From there, the Lord begins the sanctification process. This is where we begin to actually become more holy in our daily living. The desire to be conformed to the image of Christ was something Henry pursued; though, like every other Christian, he did not pursue it perfectly. As Henry strove to grow in godliness, he kept his confidence in Jesus who promised to “complete the work he started in him.” (Phillipians. 1:6). It is with this foundation that any other obstacle can be endured, and this is what kept Henry smiling.
Henry has fought the good fight, he has finished his race (2 Tim. 4:7-8). He lived a life of hope and heartbreak, of discouragement and delight. In the midst of all of his successes and failures, the Lord never let go of his child. The last enemy that Henry had to face was death, and death will be the last enemy to be destroyed (1. Cor. 15:26). Jesus was not only delivered over to death for Henry and all who will place their trust in Him, but He rose for our justification (Romans 4:25). Anyone who believes in the name of the Son of God may know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13), and Henry has taken hold of the eternal life to which he was called (1 Tim. 6:12).
I can remember the day I was married to my wife, Julie. I am the youngest of five and all my siblings had already been wed. As I stood there, I remember thinking, “this is actually happening to me. It is my turn to do what so many have already done.” Beforehand, it always seemed so far in the future, but there I was in the midst of it. The same could be said for so many other events in our lives, and the same could be said about the day we will die. Henry never would have thought that it would come so soon, but it was his time, and it will be our time soon enough. To paraphrase John Donne, there is a sense we need not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. Every death is a reminder that our time is coming.
Are you ready? Have you placed your faith in the atoning work of the only mediator between God and man; Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5)? Are you living for the things that matter? As Henry found himself on his death bed, I am sure he would have told us, that so many of the anxieties he had held while living were driven by the pursuit of things that hold no ultimate value. I can say this because of my many conversations with him, and my own experience chasing the things of the world. Knowing Henry, if he could tell us anything now, he would tell us to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Any pursuit that does not have this as its ultimate aim is chasing the wind.”
I believe with all my heart that right now Henry is in the presence of Jesus. Henry has been conformed to the image of Christ now that he has seen Him face to face, and his hunger and thirst after holiness have been filled. I imagine soon, he will be sitting down with John Owen to discuss and the glory of Jesus. For those who believe, we will see Henry again, and at that moment his thumbs will go up, his head will begin to nod slightly, and he will let out a slow and satisfied “YYYEEEEAAAAAHHH!
“Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” -Lamentations 3:41
Prayer is the spiritual pulse of the renewed soul; its beat indicates the healthy or unhealthy state of the believer. Just as the physician would decide upon the health of the body from the action of the pulse, so would we decide upon the spiritual health of the soul before God, by the estimation in which prayer is held by the believer. If the soul is in a spiritually healthy, growing state, prayer will be vigorous, lively, spiritual, and constant; if, on the contrary, the heart is wandering, and love waxes cold, and faith is decaying, the spirit and the habit of prayer will immediately betray it.
The spirit of prayer may decline in the believer, and he may not at once be sensible of it. The form and the habit of prayer may for a while continue—but the spirit of prayer has evaporated, and all is coldness and dullness—the very torpor and frigidity of death! But of what real worth is the habit of prayer, apart from the spirit of prayer? Just what this planet would be without the sun, or the body without the living, animating, breathing soul—what but a cold, lifeless form? Yes, and a believer may be beguiled into this lamentable state, and not a suspicion of its existence be awakened; he may observe his accustomed habit, and use his empty form, and not suspect that all is cold and breathless as death itself. Oh, it is not the rigidly-observed form that God looks at; nor is it great volubility, and eloquent fluency, and rich sentiment, and splendid imagery, and rounded periods, that God regards: far from this; a man may not be able to give expression to his deep emotion in prayer, his thoughts may find no vehicle of utterance, language may entirely fail him; and yet the spirit of prayer may glow in his breast—and this—the true language of prayer—finds its way to the ear and to the heart of God. Reader, look well to the state of your soul; examine your prayers; see that you have not substituted the cold form for the glowing spirit—the mere body for the soul. Real prayer is the breathing of God’s own Spirit in the heart: have you this? It is communion and fellowship with God: know you what this is? It is brokenness, contrition, confession, and that often springing from an overwhelming sense of His goodness and His love shed abroad in the heart: is this your experience? Again, we repeat it, look well to your prayers; test them, not by the natural or acquired gift which you may possess—this is nothing with God; but test them by the real communion you have with God—the returns they make to your soul.
There should be the searching out and the removal of that which hinders prayer. Many things weaken true prayer: unsubdued sin—unrepented sin—unpardoned sin (we mean the secret sense of it upon the conscience)—worldly-mindedness—light and trifling conversation, vain disputations—much and frequent communion either with unconverted individuals, or cold and formal professors—all these combined, or any single one, will, if suffered to prevail, unfit the mind for converse with God, and cause a decay of the spirit of prayer in the soul. Regard that as injurious which touches the devotional frame of your mind, which abridges the hour of prayer, and removes the fine edge of its holy enjoyment.
Sovereign Lord, what I most desired you have denied, yet I praise you! On what account, I know not, yet I praise you. You have done it; that silences me. Your will makes it indisputable, and renders it my indispensable duty to your wise determinations. Hitherto I have had no complaint on the conduct of providence; nor shall I complain until all the mazes are explained. Do, then, all your counsel, though all my counsels should come to nothing. Can a person expect favors from God–who will not wait for God’s way and time?
But what does it matter how the affairs of a present world go, if the interests of the next world are secured? The weather-vane is whirled about with every blast, but the iron spire is still at rest, because it cannot be displaced. So, what does it matter though the outward man decays–if the inner man grows? What does it matter though the temporal condition be perplexed–if the conscience is possessed of spiritual peace? I praise you that you interpose your providence, even in disappointing my dearest plans; and do not give me up to the blind desires of my own heart, and to wander at random in counsels of mine own. I can resolve the present case into nothing but your will; yet I rejoice more to resign to your will, and to be submissive to your disposal, than to have my will in every point performed. This is the only way in my private capacity that I can glorify you.
If all things went as I would have them, I could not positively learn the care of God. But when providence, beyond all human probability, twists enterprises out of my hands, and well-resolved designs out of my heart–this clearly shows to me your condescending concern about my lot and life. Thus you take the wise in their own craftiness; for when all my schemes were so well laid, that human policy approved of, and wit itself commended; yet, when you did blow upon them, how did they like rainbows painted on the watery clouds, when thunders break, or boisterous winds attack–scatter into disappointments and pain!
Hence, in the school of providence I am taught some lessons.
Not to look to the appearance of things, but to the power of God, who brings light out of darkness, and calls the things that are not, as though they were.
That from probabilities, impossibilities may spring; while apparent impossibilities dissolve into easy escapes. As for the first, it was very probable that the Egyptians might overtake and put Israel to the sword, yet it became impossible for them to do it. And as for the second it seemed impossible that Israel could escape ruin, when enclosed with insurmountable hills, and swelling seas, and pursued by enraged foes; yet, in what an easy way did they walk to their deliverance!
I am taught to believe, and to give glory to the almighty power of God, when impossibilities throng thick before me.
To see my own finite wisdom to be but folly, that I can neither prevent nor foresee those events which I do not desire.
To hold all my mercies, all my privileges from God, and not from the certainty in which they seem to stand.
Not to think that things are lost, when so they seem to be. When I think I am most sure of some things, they are all on a sudden taken from me; so when lost, they can all of a sudden be restored.
And, lastly, to see the mutable and fickle state of temporal things, and therefore to hold a loose grip on the creature, however dear, however near–and to set my affections on things that are above.
“Set up waymarks, make guideposts–set your heart toward the highway, even the way which you went–turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these your cities.” –Jeremiah 31:21
To look at the past is often a blessed encouragement for the future. If we are travelers in the way Zionward, we shall have our various waymarks. A conspicuous call, or a signal deliverance, or a gracious manifestation of Christ; a promise applied here, or a marked answer to prayer there; a special blessing under the preached word; a soft and unexpected assurance of an interest in the blood of the Lamb; a breaking in of divine light when walking in great darkness; a sweet sip of consolation in a season of sorrow and trouble; a calming down of the winds and waves without and within by, “It is I, be not afraid”–such and similar waymarks it is most blessed to be able to set up as evidences that we are in the road.
And if many who really fear God cannot set up these conspicuous waymarks, yet they are not without their testimonies equally sure, if not equally satisfying. The fear of God in a tender conscience, the spirit of grace and of supplications in their breast, their cleaving to the people of God in warm affection, their love for the truth in its purity and power, their earnest desires, their budding hopes, their anxious fears, their honesty and simplicity making them jealous over themselves lest they be deceived or deluded, their separation from the world, their humility, meekness, quietness, and general consistency often putting to shame louder profession and higher pretensions–these and similar evidences mark many as children of God who cannot read their title clear to such a privilege and such a blessing.
But whether the waymarks be high or low, shining in the sun or obscure in the dawn, the virgin of Israel is still bidden to “set them up,” and to “set also her heart toward the highway, even the way by which she came.”