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September 2007

September 30, 2007

Just a few days ago I found out that a dear old friend died last week. Though we had not spoken to him for several years, he is a man who, along with his wife, left a deep impression on Aileen and me. When we were young and newly married we held up this man and his wife as the example of elderly godliness; we did aspire and still do aspire to be like them someday.

A couple of weeks ago a reader forwarded an article to me written by James Russell Miller a Presbyterian pastor who lived from 1840-1912 and who pastored churches in Pennsylvania and Illinois. As I read it again today I couldn’t help but think of our old friend and the beauty of old age that he and his wife displayed. This article is worth the read just for the closing sentence.


This may scarcely seem a fitting theme to introduce in a book meant chiefly for the young, and yet a moment’s reflection will show its appropriateness and practicalness.

Old age is the harvest of all the years that have gone before. It is the barn into which all the sheaves are gathered. It is the sea into which all the rills and rivers of life flow from their springs in the hills and valleys of youth and manhood. We are each, in all our earlier years, building the house in which we shall have to live when we grow old. And we may make it a prison or a palace. We may make it very beautiful, adorning it with taste and filling it with objects which shall minister to our pleasure, comfort, and power. We may cover the walls with lovely pictures. We may spread luxurious couches of ease on which to rest. We may lay up in store great supplies of provision upon which to feed in the days of hunger and feebleness. We may gather and pile away large bundles of wood to keep the fires blazing brightly in the long winter days and nights of old age.

Or we may make our house very gloomy. We may hang the chamber-walls with horrid pictures, covering them with ghastly spectres which shall look down upon us and haunt us, filling our souls with terror when we sit in the gathering darkness of life’s nightfall. We may make beds of thorns to rest upon. We may lay up nothing to feed upon in the hunger and craving of declining years. We may have no fuel ready for the winter fires.

We may plant roses to bloom about our doors and fragrant gardens to pour their perfumes about us, or we may sow weeds and briers to flaunt themselves in our faces as we sit in our doorways in the gloaming.

All old age is not beautiful. All old people are not happy. Some are very wretched, with hollow, sepulchral lives. Many an ancient palace was built over a dark dungeon. There were the marble walls that shone with dazzling splendor in the sunlight. There were the wide gilded chambers with their magnificent frescoes and their splendid adornments, the gaiety, the music, and the revelry. But deep down beneath all this luxurious splendor and dazzling display was the dungeon filled with its unhappy victims, and up through the iron gratings came the sad groans and moanings of despair, echoing and reverberating through the gilded halls and ceiled chambers; and in this I see a picture of many an old age. It may have abundant comforts and much that tells of prosperity in an outward sense—wealth, honors, friends, the pomp and circumstance of greatness—but it is only a palace built over a gloomy dungeon of memory, up from whose deep and dark recesses come evermore voices of remorse and despair to sadden or embitter every hour and to cast shadows over every lovely picture and every bright scene.

It is possible so to live as to make old age very sad, and then it is possible so to live as to make it very beautiful. In going my rounds in the crowded city I came one day to a door where my ears were greeted with a great chorus of bird-songs. There were birds everywhere—in parlour, in dining-room, in bedchamber, in hall—and the whole house was filled with their joyful music. So may old age be. So it is for those who have lived aright. It is full of music. Every memory is a little snatch of song. The sweet bird-notes of heavenly peace sing everywhere, and the last days of life are its happiest days—

“Rich in experience that angels might covet,
Rich in a faith that has grown with the years.”

The important practical question is, How can we so live that our old age, when it comes, shall be beautiful and happy? It will not do to adjourn this question until the evening shadows are upon us. It will be too late then to consider it. Consciously or unconsciously, we are every day helping to settle the question whether our old age shall be sweet and peaceful or bitter and wretched. It is worth our while, then, to think a little how to make sure of a happy old age.
We must live a useful life. Nothing good ever comes out of idleness or out of selfishness. The standing water stagnates and breeds decay and death. It is the running stream that keeps pure and sweet. The fruit of an idle life is never joy and peace. Years lived selfishly never become garden-spots in the field of memory. Happiness comes out of self-denial for the good of others. Sweet always are the memories of good deeds done and sacrifices made. Their incense, like heavenly perfume, comes floating up from the fields of toil and fills old age with holy fragrance. When one has lived to bless others, one has many grateful, loving friends whose affection proves a wondrous source of joy when the days of feebleness come. Bread cast upon the waters is found again after many days.

I see some people who do not seem to want to make friends. They are unsocial, unsympathetic, cold, distant, disobliging, selfish. Others, again, make no effort to retain their friends. They cast them away for the slightest cause. But they are robbing their later years of joys they cannot afford to lose. If we would walk in the warmth of friendship’s beams in the late evening-time, we must seek to make to ourselves loyal and faithful friends in the busy hours that come before. This we can do by a ministry of kindness and self-forgetfulness. This was part at least of what our Lord meant in that counsel which falls so strangely on our ears until we understand it: “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”

Again, we must live a pure and holy life. Every one carries in himself the sources of his own happiness or wretchedness. Circumstances have really very little to do with our inner experiences. It matters little in the determination of one’s degree of enjoyment whether he live in a cottage or a palace. It is self, after all, that in largest measure gives the color to our skies and the tone to the music we hear. A happy heart sees rainbows and brilliance everywhere, even in darkest clouds, and hears sweet strains of song even amid the loudest wailings of the storm; and a sad heart, unhappy and discontented, sees spots in the sun, specks in the rarest fruits, and something with which to find fault in the most perfect of God’s works, and hears discords and jarring notes in the heavenliest music. So it comes about that this whole question must be settled from within. The fountains rise in the heart itself. The old man, like the snail, carries his house on his back. He may change neighbors or homes or scenes or companions, but he cannot get away from himself and his own past. Sinful years put thorns in the pillow on which the head of old age rests. Lives of passion and evil store away bitter fountains from which the old man has to drink.

Sin may seem pleasant to us now, but we must not forget how it will appear when we get past it and turn to look back upon it; especially must we keep in mind how it will seem from a dying pillow. Nothing brings such pure peace and quiet joy at the close as a well-lived past. We are every day laying up the food on which we must feed in the closing years. We are hanging up pictures about the walls of our hearts that we shall have to look at when we sit in the shadows.
How important that we live pure and holy lives! Even forgiven sins will mar the peace of old age, for the ugly scars will remain.

Summing all up in one word, only Christ can make any life, young or old, truly beautiful or truly happy. Only He can cure the heart’s restless fever and give quietness and calmness. Only He can purify that sinful fountain within us, our corrupt nature, and make us holy. To have a peaceful and blessed ending to life, we must live it with Christ. Such a life grows brighter even to its close. Its last days are the sunniest and the sweetest. The more earth’s joys fail, the nearer and the more satisfying do the comforts become. The nests over which the wing of God droops, which in the bright summer days of prosperous strength lay hidden among the leaves, stand out uncovered in the days of decay and feebleness when winter has stripped the branches bare. And for such a life death has no terrors. The tokens of its approach are but “the land-birds lighting on the shrouds, telling the weary mariner that he is nearing the haven.” The end is but the touching of the weather-beaten keel on the shore of glory.

September 29, 2007

For Us and for Our SalvationStephen Nichols is quite the prolific author. A professor at Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School and a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary, Nichols has written several notable books in the past few years and it seems that he always has at least one title on the “Coming Soon” lists at Crossway or P&R Publishing. Nichols has a gift for presenting church history in a way that is interesting and in a way that appeals to those who may not otherwise know (or care) about the long, storied history of the church. He shows how church history is relevant precisely because the controversies we face today are strikingly similar to ones the church has dealt with long ages ago.

September 28, 2007

In his new book Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges writes about the important discipline of preaching the gospel to yourself every day. Realizing that many people have heard of this discipline but do not know how to practice it, he provides an overview of how he does so. I found it helpful and trust you will too. What could be more important than beginning each day with a fresh understanding of the great work of the gospel and its application to your life?


Since the gospel is only for sinners, I begin each day with the realization that despite my being a saint, I still sin every day in thought, word, deed, and motive. If I am aware of any subtle, or not so subtle, sins in my life, I acknowledge those to God. Even if my conscience is not indicting me for conscious sins, I still acknowledge to God that I have not even come close to loving Him with all my being or loving my neighbor as myself. I repent of those sins, and then I apply specific Scriptures that assure me of God’s forgiveness to those sins I have just confessed.

I then generalize the Scripture’s promises of God’s forgiveness to all my life and say to God words to the effect that my only hope of a right standing with Him that day is Jesus’ blood shed for my sins, and His righteous life lived on my behalf. This reliance on the twofold work of Christ for me is beautifully captured by Edward Mote in his hymn “The Solid Rock” with his words, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Almost every day, I find myself going to those words in addition to reflecting on the promises of forgiveness in the Bible.

What Scriptures do I use to preach the gospel to myself? Here are just a few I choose from each day:

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

There are many others, including Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 8:12; and 10:17-18.

Whatever Scriptures we use to assure us of God’s forgiveness, we must realize that whether the passage explicitly states it or not, the only basis for God’s forgiveness is the blood of Christ shed on the cross for us. As the writer of Hebrews said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (9:22), and the context makes it clear that it is Christ’s blood that provides the objective basis on which God forgives our sins.

September 27, 2007

“Fight the good fight of faith.”

Today those of us who are engaged in this project to read some great Christian classics together are going to be looking at the fourth chapter of J.C. Ryle’s Holiness. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together. Even if you are not participating, please keep reading. I’m sure there will be something here to benefit you. We are at the half-way point of this study. If you’d like to participate, please do. Otherwise you may wish to wait until we have completed this study and begin our next one (did someone say, “John Owen?”).

To this point Ryle has covered Sin, Sanctification and Holiness. This week he progresses to “The Fight.” In this chapter he examines the biblical metaphor of the Christian life being a faith of faith. “There is [a] warfare of far greater importance than any way that was ever waged by man. It is a warfare which concerns not two or three nations only, but every Christian man and woman born into the world. The warfare I speak of is the spiritual warfare. It is the fight which everyone who would be saved must fight about his soul.”

Summary

The chapter follows this general outline:

  1. True Christianity is a fight
    1. It is a fight against
      1. The Flesh
      2. The World
      3. The Devil
    2. It is a necessary fight
      1. A fight of absolute necessity
      2. A fight of universal necessity
      3. A fight of perpetual necessity
  2. True Christianity is the fight of faith
  3. True Christianity is a good fight
    1. It has the best of generals
    2. It has the best of helps
    3. It has the best of promises
    4. It has the best of issues and results
    5. It does good to the soul
    6. It does good to the world
    7. It ends in a glorious reward
  4. Application
    1. To those who struggle for the fight of the word: Join Christ’s army
    2. To those who are tried soldiers of Christ, remember:
      1. to put on the whole armor of God
      2. to keep from civilian affairs
      3. to beware of insincere soldiers
      4. Balaam, Judas, Demas, and Lot’s wife
      5. the eye of Christ is upon us
      6. the countless soldiers who have fought before us
      7. time is short

Discussion

“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.” How true these words are! And how they clash with the prevailing opinion of our day. We are accustomed to hearing preachers speak of the abundant life and the life of constant blessing and ease. We are accustomed to thinking that ease is the right of the Christian while difficulty is the result of a dead faith. But Ryle, looking to the Bible, tells us otherwise. The Christian life is a battle, from beginning to end, from conversion to consummation.

Many teachers today tell us that Christians must abandon the warfare imagery common in days past. If Jesus were to give us His Word today, they say, He would not use this imagery. It is contextual and a product of a violent Roman society. But I disagree. What better image is there of the Christian life than the constant battle against the flesh, the world and the devil. We cannot dialog and cannot rely on peacekeepers or negotiators. Rather, we must fight. We must battle continually as we seek to live in a way that is consistent with our position as children of God.

This is more than imagery. The fight is a principle, a worldview, a way of understanding life. If we do not understand that life is a battle, we will easily be lulled into complacency. “He who would understand the nature of true holiness must know that the Christian is ‘a man of war.’ If we would be holy we must fight.”

So this is the main point I take away from this week’s chapter. The battle is raging whether I choose to acknowledge it or not. If I see life in this way—in the way the Bible describes—I will be equipped to properly understand the difficulties that attend day-to-day life as a Christian. I will know that my flesh, the world and the devil are fighting against me and I will know that through the power of the Holy Spirit I can and must fight back.

Next Time

We’ll continue the book next Thursday (October 4) with the fifth chapter (“The Cost”). If you’ve committed to join in this reading project, please keep reading and be prepared to discuss it!

Your Turn

I am interested in hearing what you took away from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Don’t feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or gave you pause or confused you.

September 27, 2007
Thursday September 27, 2007 Reformation21
The new edition of Reformation21 is now available.
Live from Mongolia
A local pastor is in Mongolia (of all places) teaching pastors there. At his blog you’ll find a fascinating journal of his travels. (HT:PM)
What Piper Said
John Piper shares what he said at his granddaughter’s funeral yesterday. Continue to pray for Abraham, Molly and the family!
World Gone Mad
Further proof that the world has gone mad.
September 26, 2007

Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Emasculated Theology…

Review of Everything Must Change by Brian McLarenThose of us who have been keeping a wary eye on the Emerging Church know that to understand the movement we must understand Brian McLaren. Though it is not quite fair to label him the movement’s leader, he certainly functions as its elder statesman and his writing seems to serve as a guide or compass for the movement. Where he leads, others follow. It is with interest, then, that I turned to his latest book Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. It is a book that promises to electrify the Emerging Church and, if history is a reliable guide, to further polarize it from those who hold to more traditional Protestant beliefs. My plan in this review is simple: I’m going to give an outline of what the book teaches and then interact with it just a little bit.

September 26, 2007
Wednesday September 26, 2007 Interview with Leland Ryken
Alex Chediak has begun a review with Dr. Leland Ryken concerning the Literary Study Bible which he edited along with his son Phil Ryken.
Interview with Iain Campbell
Meanwhile, Martin Downes interviews Iain Campbell and discusses “the importance of a preacher’s relationship to Christ, and a Word centred ministry, as the antidote to error and the remedy for those in error.”
Whateverlife
FastCompany has the remarkable story of a 17 year-old girl who rakes in $70,000 per month through her web site.
September 25, 2007

A couple of new titles from HarperOne showed up here last night. Both look excellent. As a reader and reviewer who focuses on Christian books, it’s easy to keep an eye on the Christian publishers and neglect to watch the mainstream ones. But Harper sometimes publishes notable volumes that I wouldn’t want to miss.

City Upon a HillThe first is A City Upon a Hill: How Sermons Changed the Course of American History by Larry Witham. Here is the publisher’s description:

The Puritan founder John Winthrop preached about “a city upon a hill,” Abraham Lincoln’s two greatest speeches have been called “sermons on the mount,” and Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” oration is nothing if not a sermon. Not only can the history of the United States be told through its reflection in the landmark sermons preached from its pulpits and in front of its memorials, but in fact it was often the sermon that inspired and helped define American history.

Between the colonization of America and the terrorist attacks of September 2001, the sermon has both shaped America’s self–understanding and reflected both sides of its most important social, political, military, and philosophical debates. That is the story of A City Upon a Hill: How the Sermon Made America, a narrative history of events, people, and ideas, showing us at our best––and sometimes at our worst. The book will cover American history from 1606 to 2001, building links between the pulpit and politics, between preachers and presidents, between sermons and historical events.

A City Upon a Hill will elaborate on two unifying themes. The first and central theme will be the idea of America as a “chosen” nation (raised as recently as the second inaugural of President Bush in 2005). A second underlying theme will be the perennial debate in America between liberty and order. In addition, the role of the sermon as the first mass media will be examined.

As a narrative history, A City Upon a Hillwill ask about, for example, the role of religion in the American Revolution and slavery, whether religious affiliation has grown or declined in various centuries, and how much ideas and beliefs affected policies, and vice versa. The sermon offers a uniquely compelling vehicle to tell the national story. The sermon shows that what America says and believes can often be better than what it does, serving as a national conscience amid centuries of triumphalist claims. The sermon gathers together four centuries of disparate strands and provides a solid grip for defining a nation.

Christianity's Dangerous IdeaThe second title is Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First by Alister McGrath. Here is what the publisher says about it:

The “dangerous idea” lying at the heart of Protestantism is that the interpretation of the Bible is each individual’s right and responsibility. The spread of this principle has resulted in five hundred years of remarkable innovation and adaptability, but it has also created cultural incoherence and social instability. Without any overarching authority to rein in “wayward” thought, opposing sides on controversial issues can only appeal to the Bible—yet the Bible is open to many diverse interpretations. Christianity’s Dangerous Idea is the first book that attempts to define this core element of Protestantism and the religious and cultural dynamic that this dangerous idea unleashed, culminating in the remarkable new developments of the twentieth century.

At a time when Protestants will soon cease to be the predominant faith tradition in the United States, McGrath’s landmark reassessment of the movement and its future is well-timed. Replete with helpful modern-day examples that explain the past, McGrath brings to life the Protestant movements and personalities that shaped history and the central Christian idea that continues to dramatically influence world events today.

After a quick skim I can say that both titles look great and I’m looking forward to reading them…