Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Quotes

August 15, 2010

Every now and again I like to post a favorite song that we sing at Grace Fellowship Church. In worship this morning we sang an old Newton hymn that has become a favorite. It’s a hymn you may well know, one titled “Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat.” It is one of Newton’s Olney Hymns. We use the third stanza as a chorus, singing in that chorus that though we are bowed down beneath a load of sin, we find rest in Christ.

I particularly love the final stanza which says “ ‘Poor tempest-tossed soul, be still; My promised grace receive’; ’Tis Jesus speaks—I must, I will, I can, I do believe.” Isn’t that a great progression? I must, I will, I can, I do believe. Brilliant.

Here are the words to the song.

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet,
For none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burdened souls to Thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.

Be Thou my Shield and hiding Place,
That, sheltered by Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him Thou hast died!

O wondrous love! to bleed and die,
To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I,
Might plead Thy gracious Name.

“Poor tempest-tossed soul, be still;
My promised grace receive”;
’Tis Jesus speaks—I must, I will,
I can, I do believe.

August 14, 2010

A couple of days ago I sat down and made my way through R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. This is one of those books that, if I was more organized, I would schedule to read every year or so. Maybe we ought to make it one of the volumes we read in a forthcoming Reading Classics Together. Though Dr. Sproul has written some great books in this life, I do think this is the best of them.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes, just a few of many (many!) I highlighted along the way:

We tend to have mixed feelings about the holy. There is a sense in which we are at the same time attracted to it and repulsed by it. Something draws us toward it, while at the same time we want to run away from it. We can’t seem to decide which way we want it. Part of us yearns for the holy, while part of us despises it. We can’t live with it, and we can’t live without it.

Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that he is holy, holy, holy that the whole earth is full of His glory.

If ever there was a man of integrity, it was Isaiah ben Amoz. He was a whole man, a together type of a fellow.  He was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man in the nation. He was respected as a paragon of virtue. Then he caught one sudden glimpse of a holy God. In that single moment, all of his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was exposed, made naked beneath the gaze of the absolute standard of holiness. As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other mortals, he was able to sustain a lofty opinion of his own character. The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed—morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart. His sense of integrity collapsed.

It’s dangerous to assume that because a person is drawn to holiness in his study that he is thereby a holy man. There is irony here. I am sure that the reason I have a deep hunger to learn of the holiness of God is precisely because I am not holy. I am a profane man—a man who spends more time out of the temple than in it. But I have had just enough of a taste of the majesty of God to want more. I know what it means to be a forgiven man and what it means to be sent on a mission. My soul cries for more. My soul needs more.

August 11, 2010

Not too long ago I reviewed the book The Trellis and the Vine and said that it is a book to which I give my highest recommendation. Since I wrote that review I’ve turned to the book often and have continued to find it very, very useful. I was glad to learn just recently that there will soon be a sequel to it titled The Archer and the Arrow (which I believe is due out a little bit later in the year).

As I was reading the endorsements for the book, I noticed that Mark Dever says this: “Phillip Jensen has been both faithfully and provocatively preaching God’s word for decades. Here he tells us how. His observations are keen, his suggestions convicting, his speaking plain. (And he also finally explains for us why most commentaries are so useless to the preacher!).” I was naturally a little bit intruiged by this, so went searching for Jensen’s explanation of why commentaries can be so useless. I quite liked what I read and got permission from Matthias Media to share it with you. Here it is, drawn from a chapter titled “Preaching the gospel by expounding the Bible” and a heading titled “Use your external sources wisely.”

The second thing to point out is the place of external aids in the process of preparation. It is very easy, particularly after spending years in seminary or Bible college, to assume that the answers we need will be found in the finest writers of the day. And so in order to find out what the text says we spend more time in the biggest, fattest, most up-to-date commentaries than we do in the Bible itself. But even the writers of the very best commentaries don’t know more about God’s will than the apostles who penned God’s word. And God’s revelation is not in their commentary but in the original text.

Part of the problem arises from the process by which commentaries come to be written these days. It starts with university staff and postgraduate scholars producing mono- graphs, theses and journal articles, usually about a small point in the text or an obscure matter of current debate. The pressure on these scholars (in respect of their jobs and careers) is to say something new, and this tends to push them towards historical background research—an area in which it is easier to come up with new discoveries and to contribute to the ongoing academic conversation. The commentary writers then gather up these various articles and theses into a book that is really a compendium of recent research organized by the text of a Bible book. The commentators will usually try to add something to the research by giving an overall argument to the book, but frequently they do no more than arbitrate among the various articles and debates, very often losing sight of the message and emphasis of the biblical text as they do so.

The result is that the agenda for the conversation has been set by someone apart from God. And in modern theological writing, it has often been set by someone who has no idea at all about who God is, but who has been asked to write the commentary because of their status or experience within the academic community.

It’s not that we should ignore the commentaries. They can be very useful tools, especially in pointing out interesting things in the text that we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. And if they have theological biases and commitments different from our own, they can lead us to ask questions that we would never have asked. But never read commentaries until you have wrestled with the text for yourself, and come to some conclusions about what you think and why. Otherwise you will just lap up whatever they feed you.

Commentaries, Bible dictionaries and the like are great servants but lousy masters.

And to that I think we can anticipate hearing a loud chorus of “Amen!”

August 01, 2010

In the past few years I’ve often been asked to speak or write on the topics of discernment and Christian maturity. I’ve also been asked to discuss the ways Christian communicate using all of these amazing new media available to us. In both cases I’ve found myself drawn to a quote by John Stott. This comes from his excellent commentary on Ephesians and here he discusses the well-known words of Ephesians 4:15 where the apostle calls us to speak truth in love. Stott aptly describes two different kinds of people.

Thank God there are those in the contemporary church who are determined at all costs to defend and uphold God’s revealed truth. But sometimes they are conspicuously lacking in love. When they think they smell heresy, their nose begins to twitch, their muscles ripple, and the light of battle enters their eye. They seem to enjoy nothing more than a fight. Others make the opposite mistake. They are determined at all costs to maintain and exhibit brotherly love, but in order to do so are prepared even to sacrifice the central truths of revelation. Both these tendences are unbalanced and unbiblical. Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth. The apostle calls us to hold the two together, which should not be difficult for Spirit-filled believers, since the Holy Spirit is himself ‘the spirit of truth,’ and his first fruit is ‘love.” There is no other route than this to a fully mature Christian unity.

July 31, 2010

A couple of years ago the British journalist John Naish released a book titled Enough (I don’t think it ever made it in substantial numbers to this side of the Atlantic). He subtitled the book, “Breaking free from the world of more.” He uses the book to encourage people to stop when they have enough—enough stuff, enough food, enough work, enough information. The book is a bit uneven with some parts being much better than others; one part I thought was particularly strong was his discussion about information and the near-ridiculous volume of information we are exposed to today. In  part of this chapter he writes about his approach to tackling information overload. I was writing on this very topic earlier in the week and I thought I’d share a short quote from Naish:

It involves fighting—and here’s my own new word—infobesity, by restricting one’s data diet. There are compelling reasons. The glut of information is not only causing stress and confusion; it also makes us do irrational things such as ignore crucial health information. The British Government’s latest survey on our food-buying patterns shows that while we are given more information than ever about healthy eating, our consumption of fresh food has fallen. This is partly because we are too busy getting and spending to enjoy the simple pleasures of cooking. But Catherine Collins, of the British Dietetic Association, says that info-overload is often to blame for this food-choice paradox: “We are so informed that we can’t be bothered.” That’s a fantastic slogan for the twenty-first century. We are so wired to gather information that often we no longer do anything useful with it. Instead of pausing to sift our intake for relevance and quality, the daily diet of prurient, profound, confusing and conflict information gets chucked on to a mental ash-heap of things vaguely comprehended. Then we rush to try to make sense of it all…by getting more.

As I read this, I thought of the Golden Labrador Retriever (i.e. Golden Lab), that ridiculous (but family-friendly) breed of dog that has a far bigger stomach than brain. The Lab, or at least the Labs I’ve known, cannot be trusted around food. They will eat until they are sick, throw up, and eat some more. Indefinitely. Some dogs have more common sense; they will eat for a while and save a portion of their food for another time. Not so the Lab. It will eat, and eat, and eat.

I do wonder if we are this way with information today—we eat and eat and eat, never pausing to digest, rarely showing any sensible moderation.

July 25, 2010

During my recent vacation I came face-to-face with my own prayerlessness and, just as discouragingly, the realization that in many ways I don’t even know how to pray. One aspect of training myself to pray more and to pray better is to write out some of my prayers in a journal. It’s a tough discipline, that. Prayer is intimate, it is private, and here I am writing it out on paper. It seems so very foreign. To make it less strange and to help me learn how to do it, I’ve been reading other people’s written prayers.

This week I was drawn to this one from Scotty Smith, whose entire blog is written prayers. He titles this “A Prayer About Being Oblivious to the Obvious.” What i like about Scotty’s prayers is the lack of pretension. They are not full of fancy words or unnecessarily formal language. He prays to God as a son petitions his father. And I think there is a lesson for me there.

Dear Lord Jesus, every time I read this story about two of your apostles and their mom asking for a position of privilege and power in your kingdom, I find my incredulity meter going berserk. How in the world could James and John possibly think such a request would ever be at all appropriate, given the three years of mentoring and modeling you gave them? Everything you taught and the way you lived your entire incarnate life absolutely contradicted such a notion and request. How dare they, how could they be so oblivious to the obvious? What’s with these power-hungry ingrates?

But just as I climb onto my hobby-horse of disgust and judgmentalism, the gospel of grace dismounts me, and I find the freedom to ask myself these questions: How am I just like James and John? When do my words, attitudes and choices contradict the very gospel that I love and defend? Whose incredulity meter am I forcing into overdrive? Those who live with me… those who work with me? Those who taste my impatience when I’m behind a steering wheel? Those who overhear my idle chatter and self-indulgent banter in any of a number of settings? Those most exposed to my unbelief, my fears, my rudeness, my driven-ness, my insincerity, my irritability?

Lord Jesus, that I’m even in your kingdom is a testimony to greatness of your mercy and the riches of your grace. The heck with sitting on your right or left, I’m just humbled and grateful to be in your hand… in your heart… in you. I could never drink the cup you alone drank for me on the cross.

The cup I now drink and the bread I now eat, remind me of your death… unite me to your life… call me to your likeness. Lord Jesus, I don’t want to be incredulous over anyone’s sin but my own. And, through the gospel, please make me less and less oblivious to my patently obvious need for more of your transforming grace.

Jesus, you came to serve not to be served, and to give your life as a ransom for many. May your servant’s heart be cultivated in me and demonstrated through me. So very Amen, I pray, in your patient and forbearing name.

July 18, 2010

Though I’ve read it often, I never tire of reading Charles Spurgeon’s account of his conversion. Spurgeon had been raised in a Christian home, had heard so much of God’s truth and had even begun to live in a moral and upright way. And yet he knew that he was not saved and, though he sought and sought, he could not find. Here is how God eventually found him.

*****

I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now, had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Church. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved….

July 04, 2010

Yesterday I gave you an early listen to Matthew Smith’s new song Goodnight. That song was drawn from the old hymn book titled Hymns from the Land of Luther which features German hymns translated to English by Jane Borthwick.

After I listened to Matthew’s hymn I immediately went looking for a copy of Hymns from the Land of Luther and found it on Google Books. I’d love to find a printed copy, but for now have been contenting myself with the PDF version. I was surprised to see how many of these hymns deal with death. There is even a hymn titled “To a Dying Child” (Depart, my child! the Lord thy spirit calls / To leave a world of woe. / Sad on my heart the heaveny summons falls; / Yet since He wills it so / I calm the rising agitation / And say, with humble resignation / Depart, my child!).