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Tim Challies

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Quotes

September 13, 2013

When I was in Scotland I spent one day on an impromptu and informal church history tour of the highlands. It was one of the best days I have ever had. We made many stops along the way and saw many relics of days gone by. At one point we parked beside an old graveyard and passed by many old tomb stones in order to stand by the grave of John Kennedy of Dingwall. Here is an excerpt from a book he wrote (Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire) in which he commemorates the ministers of that area. I cannot judge whether or not he remembers them accurately, but he certainly lays down the challenge to all who would call themselves ministers of the gospel.

There are some who preach before their people, like actors on a stage, to display themselves and to please their audience. Not such were the self-denied preachers of Ross-shire. There are others who preach over their people. Studying for the highest, instead of doing so for the lowest, in intelligence, they elaborate learned treatises, which float like mist, when delivered, over the heads of their hearers. Not such were the earnest preachers of Ross-shire. There are some who preach past their people. Directing their praise or their censure to intangible abstractions, they never take aim at the views and the conduct of the individuals before them. They step carefully aside, lest their hearers should be struck by their shafts, and aim them at phantoms beyond them. Not such were the faithful preachers of Ross-shire. There are others who preach at their people, serving out in a sermon the gossip of the week, and seemingly possessed with the idea that the transgressor can be scolded out of the ways of iniquity. Not such were the wise preachers of Ross-shire. There are some who preach towards their people. They aim well , but they are weak. Their eye is along the arrow towards the hearts of their hearers, but their arm is too feeble for sending it on to the mark. Superficial in their experience and in their knowledge, they reach not the cases of God’s people by their doctrine, and they strike with no vigour at the consciences of the ungodly. Not such were the powerful preachers of Ross-shire. There are others still, who preach along their congregation. Instead of standing with their bow in front of the ranks, these archers take them in line, and, reducing their mark to an individual, never change the direction of their aim. Not such were the discriminating preachers of Ross-shire. But there are a few who preach to the people directly and seasonably the mind of God in His Word, with authority, unction, wisdom, fervour, and love. Such as these last were the eminent preachers of Ross-shire.

Their preaching was remarkable for its completeness. It combined carefulness of exposition, fullness and exactness of doctrinal statement, a searching description of experimental godliness, and close application of truth to the conscience. The admixture of these elements, in wisely adjusted proportions, constitutes the true excellence of preaching. Careful to ascertain the mind of God in his Word, they were not content merely to prefix a passage of Scripture as a motto for their sermon. Their zeal for sound creed was at least equalled by their desire for a godly experience and a holy life. They loved ‘the form of sound doctrine,’ but they also loved ‘the power of Godliness’. They insisted on a clear understanding of the former, but they also insisted on a deep experience of the latter.

June 15, 2013

One of Satan’s favorite devices in deceiving people and leading them astray is to camouflage sins as virtues and to convince us that our sins are actually very small. Thomas Brooks provides a powerful response in Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. Don’t tune it out just because it’s from a Puritan author. Read it and you will be blessed.

Even those very sins that Satan paints, and puts new names and colors upon, cost the best blood, the noblest blood, the life-blood, the heart-blood of the Lord Jesus. That Christ should come from the eternal bosom of his Father to a region of sorrow and death!

That God should be manifested in the flesh, the Creator made a creature; that he who was clothed with glory should be wrapped with rags of flesh; he who filled heaven and earth with his glory should be cradled in a manger; that the almighty God should flee from weak man—the God of Israel into Egypt; that the God of the law should be subject to the law, the God of the circumcision circumcised, the God who made the heavens working at Joseph’s homely trade; that he who binds the devils in chains should be tempted; that he, whose is the world, and the fullness thereof, should hunger and thirst; that the God of strength should be weary, the Judge of all flesh condemned, the God of life put to death; that he who is one with his Father should cry out of misery, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”; that he who had the keys of hell and death at his belt should lie imprisoned in the sepulcher of another, having in his lifetime nowhere to lay his head, nor after death to lay his body…

…That that head, before which the angels do cast down their crowns, should be crowned with thorns, and those eyes, purer than the sun, put out by the darkness of death; those ears, which hear nothing but hallelujahs of saints and angels, to hear the blasphemies of the multitude; that face, which was fairer than the sons of men, to be spit on by those beastly wretched Jews; that mouth and tongue, which spoke as never man spoke, accused for blasphemy; those hands, which freely swayed the scepter of heaven, nailed to the cross; those feet, “like unto fine brass,” nailed to the cross for man’s sins; each sense pained with a spear and nails; his smell, with stinking odor, being crucified on Golgotha, the place of skulls; his taste, with vinegar and gall; his hearing, with reproaches, and sight of his mother and disciples bemoaning him; his soul, comfortless and forsaken.

And all this for those very sins that Satan paints and puts fine colors upon! Oh! how should the consideration of this stir up the soul against sin, and work the soul to fly from it, and to use all holy means whereby sin may be subdued and destroyed!

April 13, 2013

Some Christians see God as a kindly but passive observer of our choices. After all, God wouldn’t ever interfere with our free will, would He? Ask Jonah and a wry smile would come over his face.” This is how Colin Smith introduces a fictional anecdote from the life of the prophet Jonah:

Would God ever interfere with our free will?

Hmmm … let’s see.

I had made my choice. I suppressed my conscience, steeled my nerves and, by a free act of my own will, boarded the ship to Tarshish. But God would not let me go.

My will was taking me in the wrong direction. So God made an intervention, graciously messing with my rebellious heart to save me from a life wasted in disobedience.

God stepped into my life uninvited, through an unexpected storm, rolling dice, and pounding waves that pushed me down until, finally, I came to my senses and called on the Lord, only to find that He had already planned and provided for my salvation by sending a great fish.

But that was only the beginning. Having stretched myself out in ministry, I experienced a strange darkness in which I was overcome by resentment. Left to myself, I would have slouched into retirement angry with God and bitter about the events that had shaped my life. But God stepped in and showed me His compassion.

Would God interfere with our free will? I’m glad He interfered with mine! Left to myself, I would still be running from God, and who knows where I would be today? Rebellion and resentment were my foolish choice. Salvation comes from the Lord.

April 05, 2013

Josh Harris slapped me across the face. He did it through his book Humble Orthodoxy and a little story that is adapted from the words of Jesus in Luke 18. He tells the story “to challenge those of us who trust in the rightness of our doctrine and look down on others.” In other words, people like me.

One day two men went to church to pray.

The first man was a shallow, uninformed evangelical. Everything about him shouted of squishy theology. He didn’t know or use big theological words. He watched Christian TV and thought it was deep. He bought books from the inspirational section of the bookstore. He attended one of those megachurches where the sermons are short and the worship leaders look like American Idol contestants.

The second man who went to pray was different. He was a Christian of theological depth and substance—this was obvious by the heavy study Bible he carried with him. He only read books by long-dead theologians. He subscribed to the podcasts of all the solid, gospel-centered expository preachers who didn’t tell funny stories or make jokes in their sermons. He felt cheated if a sermon was less than an hour long.

This second man began to pray. He said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—doctrinally ignorant, theologically clueless, superficial in their saccharine-sweet evangelicalism. I thank you that you have made me what I am: true to good doctrine, uncompromising on teaching, orthodox to the core.”

But the first man would not even look up to heaven. Instead he beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

He follows up with this application: “If you consider yourself a person who takes doctrine seriously, do you see yourself in this story? Has a humble gratefulness for God’s mercy been replaced by a pride in all that you know? Are you prone to have contempt or a sense of superiority toward those with less knowledge? I believe Jesus would confront our misplaced confidence just as he did the self-righteousness of the Pharisees in his day.”

This is just one of the reasons I intend to read the book on a regular basis

March 29, 2013

My favorite book on the cross is Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore, a series of powerful meditations on the death of Jesus Christ. Almost any section of the book would make for useful meditation on Good Friday, but this one stood out and merits being shared.

Gethsemane means “the oil press.” David could say, “I am like a green olive tree in the house of God” (Psalm 52:8). Israel in her long history could say the same. But the suffering Savior could say it best of all, for there in Gethsemane—the oil press—he was crushed and bruised without mercy. But how and why? How is the sudden and dramatic change of atmosphere to be explained, even in a measure? Christ knew all along the death that awaited him. He had grappled with Satan and his legions more than once. He had repeatedly spoken of his death to his disciples, telling them what that death would accomplish. He had prayed with the utmost confidence in his high priestly prayer (John 17). Why, then, is there this sudden plunge into such awful agony, why this shuddering horror? Why is this fruit of the olive tree so severely crushed? Why does the divine record say that in Gethsemane our Lord BEGAN to be sorrowful, sorrowful in a new and terrible way? Was it not because God began forsaking him then? How else is this sorrow unto death to be understood?

“Jesus wept,” but never like this. No previous sorrow of his could match this. At the time of his arrest he declared, “Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). That cup was constantly in view as he prayed in Gethsemane. What cup? “THIS CUP”—not some future cup. The cup that was symbolized in the feast (Matt. 26:27,28) was now actual: God was placing it in the Savior’s hands and it carried the stench of hell. But stop!

Schilder is right. “Gethsemane is not a field of study for our intellect. It is a sanctuary for our faith.” Lord, forgive us for the times we have read about Gethsemane with dry eyes.

March 22, 2013

Earlier this week I found myself reading parts of Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed. It is always interesting to go back through a book I’ve read before to see what I highlighted. As it happens, I highlighted a lot. I wanted to share one section that really stood out to me this week. Sibbes is bringing encouragement to the Christian and he does so beautifully. I took the liberty of bolding a few favorite sentences for you. Because the language is just a little bit old-fashioned you may find it beneficial to read it aloud.


Some are loath to do good because they feel their hearts rebelling, and duties turn out badly. We should not avoid good actions because of the infirmities attending them. Christ looks more at the good in them which he means to cherish than the ill in them which he means to abolish. Though eating increases a disease, a sick man will still eat, so that nature may gain strength against the disease. So, though sin cleaves to what we do, yet let us do it, since we have to deal with so good a Lord, and the more strife we meet with, the more acceptance we shall have. Christ loves to taste of the good fruits that come from us, even though they will always savor of our old nature.

A Christian complains he cannot pray. “Oh, I am troubled with so many distracting thoughts, and never more than now!” But has he put into your heart a desire to pray? Then he will hear the desires of his own Spirit in you. “We do not know what to pray for as we ought” (nor how to do anything else as we ought), but the Spirit helps our infirmities with “groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26), which are not hid from God. “My sighing is not hidden from you” (Psa. 38:9). God can pick sense out of a confused prayer. These desires cry louder in his ears than your sins. Sometimes a Christian has such confused thoughts that he can say nothing but, as a child, cries, “O Father”, not able to express what he needs, like Moses at the Red Sea. These stirrings of spirit touch the heart of God and melt him into compassion towards us, when they come from the Spirit of adoption, and from a striving to be better.

“Oh, but is it possible”, thinks the misgiving heart, “that so holy a God should accept such a prayer?” Yes, he will accept that which is his own, and pardon that which is ours. Jonah prayed in the fish’s belly (Jon. 2:1), being burdened with the guilt of sin, yet God heard him. Let not, therefore, infirmities discourage us. James takes away this objection (James 5:17). Some might object, “If I were as holy as Elijah, then my prayers might be regarded.” “But,” says he, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” He had his passions as well as we, or do we think that God heard him because he was without fault? Surely not. But look at the promises: “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver you” (Psa. 50:15). “Ask, and it shall be given to you” (Matt. 7:7) and others like these. God accepts our prayers, though weak, because we are his own children, and they come from his own Spirit; because they are according to his own will; and because they are offered in Christ’s mediation, and he takes them, and mingles them with his own incense (Rev. 8:3).

There is never a holy sigh, never a tear we shed, which is lost. And as every grace increases by exercise of itself, so does the grace of prayer. By prayer we learn to pray. So, likewise, we should take heed of a spirit of discouragement in all other holy duties, since we have so gracious a Saviour. Pray as we are able, hear as we are able, strive as we are able, do as we are able, according to the measure of grace received. God in Christ will cast a gracious eye upon that which is his own.

Would Paul do nothing because he could not do the good that he would? No, he “pressed on toward the goal”.

Let us not be cruel to ourselves when Christ is thus gracious. There is a certain meekness of spirit whereby we yield thanks to God for any ability at all, and rest quiet with the measure of grace received, seeing it is God’s good pleasure it should be so, who gives the will and the deed, yet not so as to rest from further endeavors. But when, with faithful endeavor, we come short of what we would be, and short of what others are, then know for our comfort, Christ will not quench the smoking flax, and that sincerity and truth, with endeavor of growth, is our perfection.

What God says of Jeroboam’s son is comforting, “He only shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something pleasing to the LORD, the God of Israel” (1 Kings 14:13), though only “some good thing”. “Lord, I believe” (Mark 9:24), with a weak faith, yet with faith; love thee with a faint love, yet with love; endeavor in a feeble manner, yet endeavor. A little fire is fire, though it smokes. Since thou hast taken me into thy covenant to be thine from being an enemy, wilt thou cast me off for these infirmities, which, as they displease thee, so are they the grief of my own heart?

February 27, 2013

This morning I reviewed Tim Keller’s new book Galatians For You. I also wanted to share this quote from the book—a very helpful way to understand the four different kinds of people in the world. Here is what Keller says:

It is helpful to see that there are four kinds of people in the world:

Law-obeying, law-relying. These people are under the law, and are usually very smug, self-righteous and superior. Externally, they are very sure they are right with God, but deep down, they have a lot of insecurity, since no one can truly be assured that they are living up to the standard. This makes them touchy, sensitive to criticism and devastated when their prayers aren’t answered. This includes members of other religions, but here I am thinking mainly of people who go to church. These people have much in common with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

Law-disobeying, law-relying. These people have a religious conscience of strong works-righteousness, but they are not living consistently with it. As a result of this, they are more humble and more tolerant of others than the “Pharisees” above, but they are also much more guilt-ridden, subject to mood swings and sometimes very afraid of religious topics. Some of these people may go to church, but they stay on the periphery because of their low spiritual self-esteem.

Law-disobeying, not law-relying. These are the people who have thrown off the concept of the law of God. They are intellectually secular or relativistic, or have a very vague spirituality. They largely choose their own moral standards and then insist that they are meeting them. But Paul, in Romans 1:18-20, says that at a sub-conscious level, they know there is a God who they should be obeying. Such people are usually happier and more tolerant than either of the above groups. But usually there is a strong, liberal self-righteousness. They are earning their own salvation by feeling superior to others. It is just that this is usually a less obvious kind of self-righteousness.

Law-obeying, not law-relying. These are Christians who understand the gospel and are living out of the freedom of it. They obey the law of God out of grateful joy that comes from the knowledge of their sonship, and out of freedom from the fear and selfishness that false idols had generated. They are more tolerant than number 3, more sympathetic than number 1, and more confident than number 2. But most Christians struggle to live out number 4, and tend to see the world as a #1, #2, or even #3 person. But to the degree that they do, they are impoverished spiritually.

February 12, 2013

What should I do if I become convinced that I might have been born again after my baptism? That can be a tricky question (for baptists, at least). There are a lot of people who end up being baptized two, three or four times. The Gospel Coalition recently shared two answers to the question, one from a credobaptist (a person who holds that baptism should follow conversion) and one from a paedobaptist (who holds that infants should be baptized). Recently I read J.D. Greear’s book Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart (my review) and found his answer to the question very helpful. B&H, the publisher, was kind enough to allow me to share it with you.


Stop Asking Jesus Into Your HeartWhat do you do about baptism if you think that you might have been “born again” after your first one?

There are several answers to this question, depending on your particular situation. If your baptism occurred as an infant, I think the answer is clear: you should be baptized again. Your infant baptism was more a symbol of your parents’ faith (and thank God for their faith!) than yours. Every baptism we see in the New Testament, however, was a believer confessing his or her own faith. So be baptized “again,” fulfilling the hope your parents had when they baptized you as an infant. Don’t fear that you are dishonoring them. What better way to honor the hopes they expressed in your baptism than to choose for yourself to follow Jesus?

But what if you were baptized after an initial conversion experience but now suspect that your actual “regeneration” occurred later? Should you get re-baptized? There’s no hard and fast answer, but here’s what I’d suggest: if you know clearly that you were not saved at the point when you were baptized (i.e., you were pressured into baptism by your parents or friends, had no real grasp on salvation, had some ulterior motive, etc.), then be baptized again.

However, if your baptism depicted the beginning of a journey of faith, a journey marked by numerous “awakenings” and defining moments, let it stand, even if you wonder that perhaps your “regeneration” happened later.

February 08, 2013

Some words are written down and are here for a day and then gone. Other words are so pointed, so perfect, that they stand for many years. J.C. Ryle is a man who wrote many books and pamphlets and sermons that are as powerful and relevant today as they were in the 19th century. His description of jellyfish Christianity could as easily have been written here in the 21st century.

[Dislike of dogma] is an epidemic which is just now doing great harm, and specially among young people. It produces what I must venture to call a “jelly-fish” Christianity in the land: that is, a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power. A jelly-fish is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little, delicate, transparent umbrella. Yet the same jelly-fish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defense, or self-preservation. Alas! It is a vivid type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, “No dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine.” 

We have hundreds of “jelly-fish” clergymen, who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They have not definite opinions; they belong to no school or party; they are so afraid of “extreme views” that they have no views at all.

We have thousands of “jelly-fish” sermons preached every year, sermons without an edge, or a point, or a corner, smooth as billiard balls, awakening no sinner, and edifying no saint.

We have Legions of “jelly-fish” young men annually turned out from our Universities, armed with a few scraps of second-hand philosophy, who think it a mark of cleverness and intellect to have no decided opinions about anything in religion, and to be utterly unable to make up their minds as to what is Christian truth. They live apparently in a state of suspense, like Mohamet’s fabled coffin, hanging between heaven and earth and last.

Worst of all, we have myriads of “jelly-fish” worshippers—respectable church-going people, who have no distinct and definite views about any point in theology. They cannot discern things that differ, any more than color-blind people can distinguish colors. They think everybody is right and nobody wrong, everything is true and nothing is false, all sermons are good and none are bad, every clergyman is sound and no clergyman is unsound. They are “tossed to and fro, like children, by every wind of doctrine”; often carried away by any new excitement and sensational movement; ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old; and utterly unable to “render a reason of the hope that is in them.”

Never was it so important for laymen to hold systematic views of truth, and for ordained ministers to “enunciate dogma” very clearly and distinctly in their teaching.

November 22, 2012

The Conviction to LeadAl Mohler’s new book The Conviction to Lead is probably the best book on leadership I’ve ever read. (You may want to read my review) I recently went back through the book looking for the quotes that most stood out to me. Here is a small collection:

Christians are rightly and necessarily concerned about leadership, but many seem to aim no higher than secular leadership standards and visions. We can learn a great deal from the secular world and its studies and practices of leadership, but the last thing the church needs is warmed-over business theories decorated with Christian language.

Without apology, the Christian leader is a devoted student and a lifelong learner. Convictional intelligence emerges when the leader increases in knowledge and in strength of belief. It deepens over time, with the seasoning and maturing of knowledge that grows out of faithful learning, Christian thinking, and biblical reasoning.

The most important truths come alive through stories, and faithful leadership is inseparable from the power and stewardship of story. The excellent leader knows how to lead out of the power of the narrative that frames the identity and mission of the people he will lead, and the leader knows how to put his own story into service for the sake of the larger story.

No organization that exists simply for itself is worth leading. Leaders want to lead organizations and movements that make a difference—that fill a need and solve real problems. That story frames the mission and identity of the organization, and explains why you give your life to it. The excellent leader is the steward-in-chief of that story, and the leader’s chief responsibilities flow from this stewardship. Leadership comes down to protecting the story, bringing others into the story, and keeping the organization accountable to the story. The leader tells the story over and over again, refining it, updating it, and driving it home.

Leadership is the consummate human art. It requires nothing less than that leaders shape the way their followers see the world. That leader must shape the way followers think about what is real, what is true, what is right, and what is important. Christians know that all truth is unified, and so these concerns are unified as well. Leaders aim to achieve lasting change and common alignment on these questions.

In any context of leadership, passion arises out of beliefs. For the Christian leader, those convictions must be drawn from the Bible and must take the shape of the gospel. Our ultimate conviction is that everything we do is dignified and magnified by the fact that we were created for the glory of God. We were made for his glory, and this means that each one of us has a divine purpose.

Before anything else, leadership is an intellectual activity. While it is natural to point to action as the essence of leadership, activity is the result of thinking, and in this first stage of leadership the seeds of eventual success or failure are sown. Our actions may never reach the heights of our thinking, but you can be certain that the quality of your actions will never exceed the quality of your thinking.

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