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Tim Challies

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Quotes

March 28, 2009

I’ve been reading a new book by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington. It is titled The Bookends of the Christian Life. I read it some time ago when it was in manuscript form (as I was asked to write a blurb for it) but I am reading it again for review purposes, now that I’ve received a printed copy. I should have a review of the book ready to go for Tuesday. For now, though, I wanted to share with you what I’ve found one of the most comforting statements I’ve read in a long time. In the book’s early pages the authors describe Christ’s righteousness and the present reality of our justification. And here they offer some words that we all know, and yet somehow we tend to lose track of. They remind us that as sinful human beings, even as Christians, we are tempted to rely on our good deeds to save us but also on our bad deeds to condemn us. Here is what they say:

“Faith involves both a renunciation and a reliance. First, we must renounce any trust in our own performance as the basis of our acceptance before God. We trust in our own performance when we believe we’ve earned God’s acceptance by our own good works. But we also trust in our own performance when we believe we’ve lost God’s acceptance by our bad works—by our sin. So we must renounce any consideration of either our bad works or our good works as the means of relating to God.

Second, we must place our reliance entirely on the perfect obedience of the sin-bearing death of Christ as the sole basis of our standing before God—on our best days as well as our worst.

What a blessing it is that as Christians we relate to God only and always through the mediation of Christ. What a joy that we can renounce our works, whether good or bad, as our means of relating to God. What comfort!

March 14, 2009

It has been a bit of a theme in my life lately—the timeliness and relevance of words spoken or words written many years ago. Such is this case with this quote from the pen of J.C. Ryle, who wrote about the dislike of dogma that was so powerfully present in his day and age. Here is what Ryle had to say, words that could as easily be written about our day:

[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, and 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.

March 08, 2009

While Charles Spurgeon has justly gone down in history as “the Prince of Preachers,” he was also a man who prayed very powerfully. Tony Capoccia has gone to the trouble of updating just a few of Spurgeon’s prayers, removing some of the antiquated language and replacing it with language that is a bit more familiar to us. Though these prayers are clearly geared to corporate prayer, they are valuable even to individuals as we seek to pray better, more powerfully, to our God. Here is one that Tony has titled “The Wings of Prayer.” I marked with bold type my favorite portion of the prayer.


Our Father, Your children who know You delight themselves in Your presence. We are never happier than when we are near You. We have found a little heaven in prayer. It has eased our load to tell You of its weight; it has relieved our wound to tell You of its hurt; it has restored our spirit to confess to You its wanderings. No place like the mercy seat for us.

We thank You, Lord, that we have not only found benefit in prayer, but in the answers to it we have been greatly enriched. You have opened Your hidden treasures to the voice of prayer; You have supplied our necessities as soon we have cried to You; yes, we have found it true: “Before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

We do bless You, Lord, for instituting the blessed ordinance of prayer. What could we do without it, and we take great shame to ourselves that we should use it so little. We pray that we may be men and women of prayer, taken up with it, that it may take us up and bear us on its wings towards heaven.

And now at this hour will You hear the voice of our supplication. First, we ask at Your hands, great Father, complete forgiveness for all our sins and shortcomings. We hope we can say with truthfulness that we do from our heart forgive all those who have in any way trespassed against us. There lies not in our heart, we hope, a thought of enmity towards any man. However we have been slandered or wronged, we would, with our inmost heart, forgive and forget it all.

We come to You and pray that, for Jesus’s sake, and through the virtue of the blood once shed for many for the remission of sins, You would give us perfect pardon of every sin of the past. Blot out, O God, all our sins like a cloud, and let them never be seen again. Grant us also the peace- speaking word of promise supplied by the Holy Spirit, that being justified by faith we may have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us be forgiven and know it, and may there remain no lingering question in our heart about our reconciliation with God, but by a firm, full assurance based on faith in the finished work of Christ may we stand as forgiven men and women against whom transgression shall never be mentioned forever again.

And then, Lord, we have another mercy to ask which shall be the burden of our prayer. It is that You would help us to live such lives as pardoned men should live. We have but a little time to live here, for our life is but a vapor; soon it vanishes away; but we are most anxious that we may spend the time of our sojourning here in holy fear, that grace may be on us from the commencement of our Christian life even to the earthly close of it.

Lord, You know there are some that have not yet begun to live for You, and the prayer is now offered that they may today be born again. Others have been long in Your ways and are not weary of them. We Sometimes wonder that You arc not weary of us, but assuredly we delight ourselves in the ways of holiness more than ever we did. Oh! that our ways were directed to keep Your statutes without slipping or flaws. We wish we were perfectly obedient in thought, and word, and deed, entirely sanctified. We shall never be satisfied till we wake up in Christ’s likeness, the likeness of perfection itself. Oh! wake us to this perfection, we beseech You. May experience teach us more and more how to avoid occasions of sin. May we grow more watchful; may we have a greater supremacy over our own spirit; may we be able to control ourselves under all circumstances, and so act that if the Master were to come at any moment we should not be ashamed to give our account in His hands.

Lord, we are not what we want to be. This is our sorrow. Oh! that You would, by Your Spirit, help us in the walks of life to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. As men of business, as work-people, as parents, as children, as servants, as masters, whatever we may be, may we be such that Christ may look on us with pleasure. May His joy be in us, for then only can our joy be full.

Dear Savior, we are Your disciples, and You are teaching us the art of living; but we are very dull and very slow, and beside, there is such a bias in our corrupt nature, and there are such examples in the world, and the influence of an ungodly generation tells even on those that know You. O, dear Saviour, do not be impatient with us, but still teach us at Your feet, till at last we shall have learned some of the sublime lessons of self-sacrifice, of meekness, humility, fervor, boldness, and love which Your life is fit to teach us. O Lord, we beseech You to mold us in Your own image. Let us live in You and live like You. Let us gaze on Your glory till we are transformed by the sight and become Christlike among the sons of men.

Lord, hear the confessions of any that have backslidden, who are rather marring Your image than perfecting it. Hear the prayers of any that are conscious of great defects during the past. Give them peace of mind by pardon, but give them strength of mind also to keep clear of such mischief in the future. O Lord, we are sighing and crying more and more after Yourself. The more we have of You the more we want You; the more we grow like You; the more we perceive our defects, and the more we pine after a higher standard to reach even to perfection itself.

Oh! help us. Spirit of the living God, continue still to work in us. Let the groanings that cannot be uttered be stilled within our Spirit, for these are growing pains, and we shall grow while we can sigh and cry, while we can confess and mourn; yet this is not without a blessed hopefulness that He that has begun a good work in us will perfect it in the day of Christ.

Bless, we pray You, at this time, the entire church of God in every part of the earth. Prosper the work and service of Christian people, however they endeavor to spread the kingdom of Christ. Convert the heathen; enlighten those that are in any form of error. Bring the entire church back to the original form of Christianity. Make her first pure and then she shall be united. O Savior, let Your kingdom come. Oh! that You would reign and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

We pray You use every one of us according as we have ability to be used. Take us, and let no talent be wasted in the treasure house, but may every dollar of Yours be put out in trading for You in the blessed market of soul-winning. Oh! give us success. Increase the gifts and graces of those that are saved. Bind us in closer unity to one another than ever. Let peace reign; let holiness adorn us.

Hear us as we pray for all lands, and then for all sorts of men, from the Sovereign on the throne to the peasant in the cottage. Let the benediction of heaven descend on men, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

February 28, 2009

Many weekends I like to post a prayer from that collection of Puritan prayers called The Valley of Vision. I do this because I need to learn to pray and because I know there is much I can learn from this book. Though it is not an instruction manual, there is a sense in which is serves in just that way. Most of us (perhaps all of us) learn to pray by imitating others. And the people who prayed these prayers and recorded them for us are worthy of imitation. These are not prayers to be read as if just reading the words has any power or worth; they are prayers to be prayed as if they were your own words. As you speak them, offering them to God, they become just that.

This is the prayer that gave its name to the book. It is called “The Valley of Vision.”

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

February 22, 2009

It was a long but beautiful day today. I spent just about all of it, from beginning to end, with God’s people—time spent with them worshiping God, time spent with them in fellowship. Early this morning I had hoped to post a prayer from the Valley of Vision but time got away from me. It seems even more appropriate to do so now, with the day drawing to a close. Here is “Evening Praise,” a prayer that brings to a close a glorious day.

Giver of all,
Another day is ended
and I take my place beneath
my great Redeemer’s cross,
where healing streams continually descend,
where balm is poured into every wound,
where I wash anew in the all-cleansing blood,
assured that Thou seest in me no spots of sin.
Yet a little while and I shall go to thy home
and be no more seen;
help me to gird up the loins of my mind,
to quicken my step,
to speed as if each moment were my last,
that my life be joy, my death glory.

I thank Thee for the temporal blessings of this world—
the refreshing air,
the light of the sun,
the food that renews strength,
the raiment that clothes,
the dwelling that shelters,
the sleep that gives rest,
the starry canopy of night,
the summer breeze,
the flowers’ sweetness,
the music of flowing streams,
the happy endearments of family, kindred, friends.
Things animate, things inanimate, minister to my comfort.
My cup runs over.
Suffer me not to be insensible to these daily mercies.
Thy hand bestows blessings:
Thy power averts evil.
I bring my tribute of thanks for spiritual graces,
the full warmth of faith,
the cheering presence of thy Spirit,
the strength of thy restraining will,
thy spiking of hell’s artillery.
Blessed be my sovereign Lord!

February 21, 2009

As I read John Piper’s book Finally Alive I came across a lot of godly wisdom. But there was one quote that, more than the others, jumped out at me. I thought I’d share it with you today…

*****

This is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. (1 John 3:11-14)

Now this specific form of love in verse 12 may seem to you to be totally unneeded. “Don’t be like Cain who murdered his brother.” Am I really concerned that there will be a spate of murders among Christians? No. And I don’t think John feared that either, though it does happen. He doesn’t focus on the murder. He asks in verse 12, “And why did he murder him?” That’s John’s concern. There is something about Cain’s motive that he thinks will be relevant to the way believers love each other.

He answers at the end of verse 12: “Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” What John is saying here is not merely that love doesn’t kill a brother, but that love doesn’t feel resentful when a brother is superior in some spiritual or moral way. Cain didn’t kill Abel simply because Cain was evil. He killed him because the contrast between Abel’s goodness and Cain’s evil made Cain angry. It made him feel guilty. Abel didn’t have to say anything; Abel’s goodness was a constant reminder to Cain that he was evil. And instead of dealing with his own evil by repentance and change, he got rid of Abel. If you don’t like what you see in the mirror, shoot the mirror.

So what would it be like for any of us to be like Cain? It would mean that anytime some weakness or bad habit in our lives is exposed by contrast to someone else’s goodness, instead of dealing with the weakness or the bad habit, we keep away from those whose lives make us feel defective. We don’t kill them. We avoid them. Or worse, we find ways to criticize them so as to neutralize the part of their lives that was making us feel convicted. We feel like the best way to nullify someone’s good point is to draw attention to their bad point. And so we protect ourselves from whatever good they might be or us.

But John’s point is: Love doesn’t act like that. Love is glad when our brothers and sisters are making progress in good habits or good attitudes or good behavior. Love rejoices in this growth. And if it happens to be faster than our own growth, then love is humble and rejoices with those who rejoice.

So the lesson for us is: Everywhere you see some growth, some virtue, some, spiritual discipline, some good habit, or good attitude, rejoice in it. Give thanks for it. Compliment it. Don’t resent it. Don’t be like Cain. Respond the opposite from Cain. Be inspired by other people’s goodness.

Love is humble. Love delights in other people’s good. Love doesn’t protect its own flaws. Love takes steps to change them. What a beautiful fellowship where everyone is rejoicing in each other’s strengths, not resenting them! This is what the love of God looks like when the new birth gives it life in the people of God.

February 14, 2009

In John Stott’s little book Your Mind Matters I found this quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He was commenting on Matthew 6:30 in his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount and offered a great critique to those who feel that faith and thinking are opposites; that a person who has faith is a person who refuses to use his mind. Instead, says Lloyd-Jones, a person who exercises faith must use his mind.

Faith according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking; and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him. … We must spend more time in studying our Lord’s lessons in observation and deduction. The Bible is full of logic, and we must never think of faith as something purely mystical. We do not just sit down in an armchair and expect marvelous things to happen to us. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith is essentially thinking. Look at the birds, think about them, draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them. … Faith, if you like, can be defined like this: It is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense. The trouble with the person of little faith is that, instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else, and, as we put it, he goes round and round in circles. That is the essence of worry. … That is not thought; that is the absence of thought, a failure to think.
February 07, 2009

I really enjoying reading David Wells’ books (the theologian, that is, not the pitcher). His four (or five) volume series that began with No Place for Truth and ended with Above All Earthly Pow’rs (or The Courage To Be Protestant) is a modern day classic. There is lots of great content to mine from them.

Here is something he wrote in Above All Earthly Pow’rs. He reflected on the events of September 11 and the church’s apparent inability to respond in a way that was adequate. These are words worth pondering. I find that I return to them often.

This moment of tragedy and evil shone its own light on the Church and what we came to see was not a happy sight. For what has become conspicuous by its scarcity, and not least in the evangelical corner of it, is a spiritual gravitas, one which could match the depth of horrendous evil and address issues of such seriousness. Evangelicalism, now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not very serious anymore.

No sooner did I post this than I thought of another quote that is equally good (and very closely associated). This one is from The Courage To Be Protestant.

This co-opting of showbiz, this transformation of Christianity into entertainment, is rapidly becoming the norm today, not the exception. Pastor are straining to outdo each other in becoming as chic and slick as any show in Las Vegas.

I pity satirists who might be tempted to try to tweak these segments of the evangelical world. Theirs is a mission impossible. It can no longer be done. No matter how indelicately they might exaggerate, no matter how much they might embellish to make a point, no matter how many descriptions they might offer of the tasteless things that are happening, it will most likely be met with only a yawn and a bored question: “So … ” Nothing seems improbable. None of it, in fact, ever seems exaggerated and none of it seems improper. It has now become impossible to insult some evangelicals. How the Wittenburg Door stays in business, I do not know.


February 06, 2009

I’ve been reading through Gregory Koukl’s new book Tactics (check back on Tuesday for a review) and came to a brief section dealing with theistic evolution. Theistic evolution is all the rage within Christian circles today and I thought it may be worth discussing the logic he uses to refute it. I’d be interested in your thoughts on it. Here’s Koukl:

*****

Some people suggest that God used evolution to design the world. They are motivated, I think, by two impulses. The first is a desire to affirm the Bible. The second is a suspicion Darwinism may have merit. Thus, they declare both true.

These two notions, however, seem incompatible to me. It may sound reasonable for God to “use” evolution, but if you look closer I think you will see the problem.

Suppose I wanted a straight flush for a hand of poker. I could either pull the cards out of the deck individually and “design” the hand, or I could shuffle the cards randomly and see if the flush is dealt to me. It would not make any sense, though, to “design” the hand by shuffling the deck and dealing. There’s no way to ensure the results. (I guess if I were really clever I could make it look like I was shuffling the deck when in reality I was stacking it, but that would be a deceitful kind of design called “cheating.”).

In the same way, either God designs the details of the biological world, or nature shuffles the deck and natural selection chooses the winning hand. The mechanism is either conscious and intentional (design), or unconscious and unintentional (natural selection). Creation has a purpose, a goal. Evolution is accidental, like a straight flush dealt to a poker rookie.

The idea that something is designed by chance is contradictory. Like trying to put a square peg in a round hole, this just doesn’t fit.

*****

So, is Koukl on to something here? Does theistic evolution contradict itself? Does it make God into a cheater? Has God “made it look like he was shuffling the deck when in reality he was stacking it?” Or perhaps neither…

February 01, 2009

This morning I stumbled across the first few pages of Alexander Strauch’s Leading with Love. He begins this book by telling a story from the life of Dwight L. Moody. He tells of a time that the evangelist Henry Moorhouse was asked to preach at Moody’s church every night for a week. To everyone’s surprise, Moorhouse preached seven consecutive sermons on John 3:16, preaching on God’s love from Genesis to Revelation. Moody’s son recorded the impact of this preaching in the life of his father:

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