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Quotes

May 15, 2016

Today I’m handing the reins to A.W. Tozer. In his book That Incredible Christian he has an extended look at the futility of regret. I read and re-read it this week and found it too sweet not to share.


The essence of legalism is self-atonement. The seeker tries to make himself acceptable to God by some act of restitution or by self-punishment or the feeling of regret. The desire to be pleasing to God is commendable, certainly, but the effort to please God by self-effort is not, for it assumes that sin once done may be undone, an assumption wholly false.

Long after we have learned from the Scriptures that we cannot, by fasting or the wearing of a hair shirt or the making of many prayers, atone for the sins of the soul, we still tend by a kind of pernicious natural heresy to feel that we can please God and purify our souls by the penance of perpetual regret.

This latter is the Protestant’s unacknowledged penance. Though he claims to believe in the doctrine of justification by faith he still secretly feels that what he calls “godly sorrow” will make him dear to God. Though he may know better he is caught in the web of a wrong religious feeling and betrayed.

There is indeed a godly sorrow that worketh repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10), and it must be acknowledged that among us Christians this feeling is often not present in sufficient strength to work real repentance; but the persistence of this sorrow till it becomes chronic regret is neither right nor good. Regret is a kind of frustrated repentance that has not been quite consummated. Once the soul has turned from all sin and committed itself wholly to God there is no longer any legitimate place for regret. When moral innocence has been restored by the forgiving love of God the guilt may be remembered, but the sting is gone from the memory. The forgiven man knows that he has sinned, but he no longer feels it.

The effort to be forgiven by works is one that can never be completed because no one knows or can know how much is enough to cancel out the offense; so the seeker must go on year after year paying on his moral debt, here a little, there a little, knowing that he sometimes adds to his bill much more than he pays. The task of keeping books on such a transaction can never end, and the seeker can only hope that when the last entry is made he may be ahead and the account fully paid. This is quite the popular belief, this forgiveness by self-effort, but it is a natural heresy and can at last only betray those who depend upon it.

It may be argued that the absence of regret indicates a low and inadequate view of sin, but the exact opposite is true. Sin is so frightful, so destructive to the soul that no human thought or act can in any degree diminish its lethal effects. Only God can deal with it successfully; only the blood of Christ can cleanse it from the pores of the spirit. The heart that has been delivered from this dread enemy feels not regret but wondrous relief and unceasing gratitude.

The returned prodigal honors his father more by rejoicing than by repining. Had the young man in the story had less faith in his father he might have mourned in a corner instead of joining in the festivities. His confidence in the loving-kindness of his father gave him the courage to forget his checkered past.

Regret may be no more than a form of self-love. A man may have such a high regard for himself that any failure to live up to his own image of himself disappoints him deeply. He feels that he has betrayed his better self by his act of wrongdoing, and even if God is willing to forgive him he will not forgive himself. Sin brings to such a man a painful loss of face that is not soon forgotten. He becomes permanently angry with himself and tries to punish himself by going to God frequently with petulant self-accusations. This state of mind crystallizes finally into a feeling of chronic regret which appears to be a proof of deep penitence but is actually proof of deep self-love.

Regret for a sinful past will remain until we truly believe that for us in Christ that sinful past no longer exists. The man in Christ has only Christ’s past and that is perfect and acceptable to God. In Christ he died. In Christ he rose, and in Christ he is seated within the circle of God’s favored ones. He is no longer angry with himself because he is no longer self-regarding, but Christ-regarding; hence there is no place for regret.

April 03, 2016

Albert Martin’s The Forgotten Fear is a very good book on a much neglected topic. I reviewed my notes for it this week and was struck again by the urgency of the subject. In the book’s opening chapter Martin examines a series of texts related to the fear of God and, having looked at each of them, draws three important conclusions.

What can we conclude in light of these pivotal texts found in both the Old and the New Testaments? First, I believe we are warranted to conclude that to be devoid of the fear of God is to be devoid of biblical and saving religion. It matters not how many texts of Scripture we can quote, or how many promises we may claim to believe. In the light of the texts of Scripture we have briefly considered (and they are but a sampling of many more), it is neither unkind nor unjust to assert that if you do not know what the fear of God is in your heart and life, you do not know experientially the first thing about true biblical and saving religion. That is a serious conclusion, but no less a conclusion can be drawn from these passages. Since Jesus Christ is the sum and substance of biblical religion, and since the Spirit given to Him and sent from Him is the Spirit of the fear of God, to be without the fear of God is to be without the Spirit of Christ. Romans 8:9 says that those without the Spirit of Christ do not belong to Christ. If such teaching is utterly foreign to you and leaves you completely baffled, you need to engage in some serious reflection. You need to examine the Scriptures and cry out to God, asking Him to teach you what it is to fear Him, for you see that if you are devoid of His fear, you have no true saving religion.

The second conclusion we are warranted in making is this: one of the accurate measurements of true spiritual growth is the measure to which one increases in walking in the fear of God. The Bible speaks of Hananiah in Nehemiah 7:2 as a man who “feared God more than many.” His spiritual stature as a man who possessed spiritual maturity, wisdom, and godliness to an exceptional degree was in great measure due to the fact that he “feared God more than many.”

Third, to be ignorant of the meaning of the fear of God is to be ignorant of a basic and essential doctrine of revealed religion. There are no doubt many in our day who are genuine Christians yet who are sadly deficient in their understanding of the concept of the fear of God. They are not strangers to the fear of God in their experience, but they are very unclear about the fear of God in their understanding. Are you such a Christian? Has your reading of this book thus far been like walking on ground unfamiliar to you? Since growth in grace is always joined to growth in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), it is vital to give yourself to earnest prayer and study so that you might have a clearer understanding of the fear of God. This, in turn, will lead to your further Christian growth and development.

The Garden
February 07, 2016

Why did God keep back just one thing from the people he made? Why would he make people in his image, then give them one prohibition? What was the purpose in that tricky Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Sinclair Ferguson addresses this in The Whole Christ.

I am giving you everything in this garden. Go and enjoy yourselves. But just before you head off, I have given you all of this because I love you. I want you to grow and develop in your understanding and in your love for me. So this is the plan:

There is a tree here, “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Don’t eat its fruit.

I know—you want to know why, don’t you?

Well, I have made you as my image. I have given you instincts to enjoy what I enjoy. So in one sense you naturally do what pleases me and simultaneously gives you pleasure too.

But I want you to grow in trusting and loving me just for myself, because I am who I am.

You can only really do that if you are willing to obey me, not because you are wired to, but because you want to show me that you trust and love me.

If you do that you will find that you grow stronger and that your love for me deepens.

Trust me, I know.

That’s why I have put that tree there. I so want you to be blessed that I am commanding you to eat and enjoy the fruit of all these trees. That’s a command! But I have another command. What I want you to do is one simple thing: don’t eat the fruit of that one tree.

I am not asking you to do that because the tree is ugly—actually it is just as attractive as the other trees. I don’t create ugly, ever! You won’t be able to look at the fruit and think, That must taste horrible. It is a fine-looking tree. So it’s simple. Trust me, obey me, and love me because of who I am and because you are enjoying what I have given to you. Trust me, obey me, and you will grow.

January 17, 2016

I’ve got a little bit of Spurgeon to share with you today. Here is Spurgeon reminding you of the cost of your sin and calling you to repentance for it.

A deep sense and clear sight of sin, its heinousness, and the punishment which it deserves, should make us lie low before the throne. We have sinned as Christians. Alas! that it should be so. Favoured as we have been, we have yet been ungrateful: privileged beyond most, we have not brought forth fruit in proportion.

Who is there, although he may long have been engaged in the Christian warfare, that will not blush when he looks back upon the past? As for our days before we were regenerated, may they be forgiven and forgotten; but since then, though we have not sinned as before, yet we have sinned against light and against love—light which has really penetrated our minds, and love in which we have rejoiced. Oh, the atrocity of the sin of a pardoned soul! An unpardoned sinner sins cheaply compared with the sin of one of God’s own elect ones, who has had communion with Christ and leaned his head upon Jesus’ bosom.

Look at David! Many will talk of his sin, but I pray you look at his repentance, and hear his broken bones, as each one of them moans out its dolorous confession! Mark his tears, as they fall upon the ground, and the deep sighs with which he accompanies the softened music of his harp! We have erred: let us, therefore, seek the spirit of penitence. Look, again, at Peter! We speak much of Peter’s denying his Master. Remember, it is written, “He wept bitterly.” Have we no denials of our Lord to be lamented with tears?

Alas! these sins of ours, before and after conversion, would consign us to the place of inextinguishable fire if it were not for the sovereign mercy which has made us to differ, snatching us like brands from the burning. My soul, bow down under a sense of thy natural sinfulness, and worship thy God. Admire the grace which saves thee—the mercy which spares thee—the love which pardons thee!

Take a Test on the Trinity
January 10, 2016

Last week I put out the call via Twitter: What is your favorite book on the Trinity? I received a lot of suggestions including many I had already read and thoroughly enjoyed: Delighting in the Trinity by Mike Reeves, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by Bruce Ware, and The Forgotten Trinity by James White. Many people also recommended Fred Sanders’ The Deep Things of God which I had never read. I remedied that and am glad I did. I will have a review for you next week, but for today wanted to share a couple of choice quotes.

Here he speaks on the very nature of the Trinity:

Pondering the eternal, essential Trinity is the most concrete and biblical way of acknowledging the distinction between who God is and what he does. God is eternally Trinity, because triunity belongs to his very nature. Things like creation and redemption are things God does, and he would still be God if he had not done them. But Trinity is who God is, and without being the Trinity, he would not be God. God minus creation would still be God, but God minus Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would not be God. So when we praise God for being our creator and redeemer, we are praising him for what he does. But behind what God does is the greater glory of who he is: behind his act is his being.

And this, which nicely follows that point:

We meet the triune God as he gives himself to us in the history of salvation, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Specifically, we meet the Trinity as the incarnate Son, his heavenly Father who loves the world and elects a people, and the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, whom Jesus and the Father poured out on all flesh after the ascension of Christ. We meet them, that is, in the middle of their missions for us and our salvation. We might say that we meet a salvation-history Trinity, in the Bible and in our Christian experience. But the persons of the Trinity have a depth of life behind those missions, and that infinite depth is precisely what the actual doctrine of the Trinity points to.

I also appreciated this extended definition of a familiar word, liturgy.

The best liturgies in use in Christian churches are ancient, well-worn compositions permeated with scriptural language skillfully deployed across a series of pastoral pronouncements, prayers, congregational responses, and songs. These are correlated with a series of symbolic actions arranged with equal artfulness to embody the theological commitments of the church. At crucial junctures, select passages of Scripture are read aloud as the word of the Lord for that day in the church calendar. The synergy of the words and actions constitute a worship experience intended to convey the entirety of the Christian message in symbolic form, and all of this takes place in its own liturgical language, regardless of the content of the actual sermon preached that day.

Happy Sunday, as you worship this triune God.

December 27, 2015

This morning, all across the world, thousands of ordinary pastors will preach ordinary sermons to ordinary people, and through these sermons they will communicate the most powerful, extraordinary news of all. This news will slowly but definitely make its mark on these people, conforming them ever more to the image of Christ. These congregations will also read the Bible together, pray, sing, and fellowship. Some will celebrate the Lord’s Supper and some will witness a baptism. These are the beautiful, wonderful, ordinary means of grace. Here is what Thomas Chalmers says about such ordinary things.

In bygone days when God’s covenant people sought to strengthen their piety, to sharpen their effectual intercessions, and give passion to their supplications, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

When intent upon seeking the Lord God’s guidance in difficult after-times, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

When they were wont to express grief—whether over the consequences of their own sins or the sins of others—they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

When they sought deliverance or protection in times of trouble, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

When they desired to express repentance, covenant renewal, and a return to the fold of faith, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

Such is the call upon all who would name the Name of Jesus. Such is the ordinary Christian life.

December 03, 2015

On a morning that followed a sick and sleepless night, these words were refreshing. They come from Charles Spurgeon and reflect on Psalm 146:7, “The Lord looseth the prisoner.”

He has done it. Remember Joseph, Israel in Egypt, Manasseh, Jeremiah, Peter, and many others. He can do it still. He breaks the bars of brass with a word and snaps the fetters of iron with a look. He is doing it. In a thousand places troubled ones are coming forth to light and enlargement. Jesus still proclaims the opening of the prison to them that are bound. At this moment doors are flying back and fetters are dropping to the ground.

He will delight to set you free, dear friend, if at this time you are mourning because of sorrow, doubt, and fear. It will be joy to Jesus to give you liberty. It will give Him as great a pleasure to loose you as it will be a pleasure to you to be loosed. No, you have not to snap the iron hand: the Lord Himself will do it. Only trust Him, and He will be your Emancipator. Believe in Him in spite of the stone walls or the manacles of iron. Satan cannot hold you, sin cannot enchain you, even despair cannot bind you if you will now believe in the Lord Jesus, in the freeness of His grace, and the fullness of His power to save.

Defy the enemy, and let the word now before you be your song of deliverance; “Jehovah looseth the prisoners.”

November 29, 2015

It was a slow week for letters to the editor, largely because of American Thanksgiving, I think. So I will double-down next week and in the meantime share a great little quote from Spurgeon.

No neutralities can exist in religion. We are either ranked under the banner of Prince Immanuel, to serve and fight His battles, or we are vassals of the black prince, Satan. “To whom belongest thou?” (1 Samuel 30:13)

Reader, let me assist you in your response. Have you been “born again”? If you have, you belong to Christ, but without the new birth you cannot be His. In whom do you trust? For those who believe in Jesus are the sons of God. Whose work are you doing? You are sure to serve your master, for he whom you serve is thereby owned to be your lord. What company do you keep? If you belong to Jesus, you will fraternize with those who wear the livery of the cross. “Birds of a feather flock together.” What is your conversation? Is it heavenly or is it earthly? What have you learned of your Master?—for servants learn much from their masters to whom they are apprenticed. If you have served your time with Jesus, it will be said of you, as it was of Peter and John, “They took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”

We press the question, “To whom belongest thou?” Answer honestly before you give sleep to your eyes. If you are not Christ’s you are in a hard service—Run away from your cruel master! Enter into the service of the Lord of Love, and you shall enjoy a life of blessedness. If you are Christ’s let me advise you to do four things. You belong to Jesus—obey him; let his word be your law; let His wish be your will. You belong to the Beloved, then love Him; let your heart embrace Him; let your whole soul be filled with Him. You belong to the Son of God, then trust him; rest nowhere but on him. You belong to the King of kings, then be decided for Him. Thus, without your being branded upon the brow, all will know to whom you belong.