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Reading Classics Together

May 06, 2010

A new Thursday brings us to our next reading in Richard Sibbes’ classic The Bruised Reed. This week we were to read chapter 6 (“Marks of the Smoking Flax”) and chapter 7 (“Help for the Weak”).

Summary

Some weeks I like to provide a summary of the content of the chapters we’ve read. Today, though, I think I’ll simply provide a roundup of some of those most quotable quotes. As I’ve said before, Sibbes has that Puritan ability to condense massive amounts of truth into a single and highly memorable statement. He reminds me a little bit of Matthew Henry in that regard. Here are a few of the statements I just had to highlight.

“We must not judge of ourselves always according to present feeling, for in temptations we shall see nothing but smoke of distrustful thoughts.”

April 29, 2010

This morning we come to our third reading in Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed. Though we’re still early in the book, already I’m seeing so much evidence as to why Sibbes was known as a physician of the soul or, to use the title given to him in his day, “The Heavenly Doctor Sibbes.” I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book that is more comforting, more pastoral in its tone. Sibbes has an amazing ability to bring comfort and hope through carefully crafted words.

Summary

Our reading this week included two chapters, the first of which is titled “Christ Will Not Quench the Smoking Flax.” Here he speaks more of the term “the smoking flax” by which he refers to that spark of faith that exists in those who have been newly saved. He assures the reader that Christ will never extinguish such beginnings of faith for two reasons: “First, because this spark is from heaven: it is his own, it is kindled by his own Spirit. And secondly, it tends to the glory of his powerful grace in his children that he preserves light in the midst of darkness, a spark in the midst of the swelling waters of corruption.”

April 22, 2010

Today we come to our second reading in Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed. We are looking at chapters 2 and 3 today, seeing that Christ will not break the bruised reed and learning what God means by “the smoking flax.”

Summary

Sibbes looks first to Christ’s dealing with the bruised reed (and, to reiterate, a bruised reed is a person who is in misery of spirit so either he will come to Christ or be drawn closer to Christ). He points to Christ’s mercy, saying “he will not only not break nor quench, but he will cherish those with whom he so deals. … Shall we think there is more mercy in ourselves than in God, who plants the affection of mercy in us?” Because we know how to show mercy, we can be assured that Christ will show greater mercy to those who have been bruised. Through Christ’s humanity he is able to sympathize with us in our plights. Though he has now ascended to heaven, “His advancement has not made him forget his own flesh. Though it has freed him from passion, yet not from compassion towards us. … He will not show his strength against those who prostrate themselves before him.”

April 15, 2010

Today we begin our journey through Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed. I’m starting a bit late in the day, as it happens, due to some technical issues. Nevertheless, here we go. If you have decided to read this classic with us, you are free to leave a comment below. And if you’re not the commenting sort, that’s just fine. I ask only that you keep reading the book.

Summary

As you might expect, the first chapter of The Bruised Reed is dedicated to explaining the rather odd expression that makes up the title. The words come from Isaiah 42:1-3 and are fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 12:18-20).

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

In this chapter Sibbes looks quickly at the calling of Christ to his office and the manner in which he carries it out. There are a few quotes that I found particularly noteworthy.

In speaking of Christ’s calling he says “Christ was God’s servant in the greatest piece of service that ever was, a chosen and a choice servant who did and suffered all by commission from the Father. In this we may see the sweet love of God to us, in that he counts the work of our salvation by Christ his greatest service, and in that he will put his only beloved Son to that service.”

April 10, 2010

Ten days ago I announced the next classic book we’ll be reading together. To refresh your memory, it will be The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a few months, you know the pattern. Through the week anyone who wishes to participate reads a chapter from the book and on Thursdays we come here and discuss it. It’s that simple, really. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. I know this was long the case for me. This program allows us to read such classic works together, providing both a level of accountability and the added interest of comparing notes as we read in community. The Bruised Reed is, by all accounts, the kind of book any Christian will benefit from. So please do consider reading it with us.

April 01, 2010

(Note: I know that I owe you an article on how to read a book. It’s coming; it may be tomorrow, it may be next week. But it’s coming.)

Several years ago I introduced a program called Reading Classics Together. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. I know this was long the case for me. This program allows us to read such classic works together, providing both a level of accountability and the added interest of comparing notes as we read in community. Those who have participated in each of the programs will now have read Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Real Christianity by William Wilberforce, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs and Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray. That is quite a solid collection of classics! I have benefited immensely from reading these books and know that others have, too. The format is simple: every week we read a chapter or a section of a classic of the Christian faith and then on Thursday we check in at my blog to discuss it. It’s that easy: one chapter per week.

It has been a few weeks now since we finished reading the last classic together. We finished reading Redemption Accomplished and Applied, an excellent book and, by any measure, a true classic. Though I have long been familiar with classic Reformed theology, I learned a great deal from Murray. And now it’s time to move on.

Today I want to announce the next classic we’ll be reading together. We’ll be heading back to the Puritans and reading The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. First published in 1630, the book has long been a source of spiritual comfort for Christians. Sibbes exposits Isaiah 42:3 and “unfolds the tender ministry of Jesus Christ, who is ‘a physician good at all diseases, especially at the binding up of the broken heart.’” Charles Spurgeon said of Sibbes that he “never wastes the student’s time … he scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands.”

At Puritan Sermons you can read an article from Banner of Truth magazine that provides a useful overview of the book. The author of that article says, “Though well written and reasoned, The Bruised Reed is far from a scholarly treatise. It was originally published as ‘Some Sermons contracted out of the 12. of Matth. 20.’ It was not written in the heat of academic debate, but in the heat of pastoral concern, as the title page continues: ‘At the desire, and for the good of weaker Christians.’ But Sibbes writes armed with more than just a pastor’s concern. He writes with a physician’s skill, for he knows the true cause of his readers’ woes and symptoms, and wastes no time in directing them to the cure.”

February 11, 2010

And here we are, in the last reading from John Murray’s classic book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. This week brings us to the glorious subject of glorification.

Summary
Glorification is the final phase of this long application of the redemption to God’s elect. “It is that which brings to completion the process which begins in effectual calling. Indeed it is the completion of the whole process of redemption.” Glorification is the consummation of the promise that comes with the effectual call. It is not something we experience at the moment of death, though, but something greater than that. It is something we will experience only upon Christ’s return. “The redemption which Christ has secured for his people is redemption not only from sin but also from all its consequences. Death is the wages of sin and the death of believers does not deliver them from death. … Hence glorification has in view the destruction of death itself. … It is the complete and final redemption of the whole person when in the integrity of body and spirit the people of God will be conformed to the image of the risen, exalted, and glorified Redeemer, when the very body of their humiliation will be conformed to the body of Christ’s glory.” These are sweet words to the believer.

This truth that glorification depends upon Christ’s return indicates that it is something all Christians will experience together, at the exact same point in time. Those who died first will be glorified in the same moment as those who are still alive at his return. The whole church will experience this last event in unison. Here Murray offers a succinct understanding of this: “Glorification, then, is the instantaneous change that will take place for the whole company of the redeemed when Christ will come again the second time without sin unto salvation and will descend from heaven with the shout of triumph over the last enemy.”

He offers two important points. First, that glorification is associated and bound up with the coming of Christ in glory. “So indispensable is the coming of the Lord to the hope of glory that glorification for the believer has no meaning without the manifestation of Christ’s glory. Glorification is glorification in Christ. Remove the latter and we have robbed the glorification of believers of the one thing that enables them to look forward to this event with confidence, with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Second, he wants the reader to know that “the glorification of believers is associated and bound up with the renewal of creation. It is not only believers who are to be delivered from the bondage of corruption but the creation itself also.” At the moment when believers are delivered from their sin, the whole of creation will be delivered from the effects of that sin. “When we think of glorification, then, it is no narrow perspective that we entertain. It is a renewed cosmos, new heavens and new earth, that we must think of as the context of the believers’ glory.” Doesn’t the believer’s heart long for this day?

Before he closes the chapter, Murray dispels modern day myths about the body and soul, myths that say that what is material is the source of our sin. This raises the body over the soul, as if the soul is pure and the body sinful. “This conception can be made to appear very beautiful and ‘spiritual,’ but it is just ‘beautiful paganism.’ It is a straight thrust at the biblical doctrine that God created man with body and soul and that he was very good. It is also aimed at the biblical doctrine of sin which teaches that sin has its origin and seat in the spirit of man, not in the material and fleshly.” This myth, alive in the day of the biblical writers and alive today, perhaps primarily in the influence of the New Age, must be rejected.

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

Next…
Stay tuned and in a couple of weeks I’ll let you know what classic we’ll be reading next.

February 04, 2010

Another round of Reading Classics Together is swiftly drawing to its close. We have one more chapter to read in John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied and then we will have reached the end. But before we do that, let’s talk about this week’s chapter which dealt with the doctrine of Union with Christ.

Summary
I’ll admit that this was a chapter that took me by surprise. I suppose I must not have thought very much about union with Christ in the past and how it fits within the application of redemption. So it surprised me a little to see how deep-rooted this doctrine is, to see how it is in many ways the doctrine that encompasses all the others. Murray says “Nothing is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ. … Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ. Indeed the whole process of salvation has its origin in one phase of union with Christ and salvation has in view the realization of other phases of union with Christ.” Having read that, I knew I needed to sit up and pay attention.

Murray looks at both of these “phases” of union with Christ, first in the broad sense and then in the narrow. He looks first to the broad sense of the word and shows what Scripture teaches respecting it.

All who are elect were elected in Christ. “Those who will be saved were not even contemplated by the Father in the ultimate counsel of his predestinating love apart from union with Christ—they were chosen in Christ. As far back as we can go in tracing salvation to its foundation we find ‘union with Christ’; it is not something tacked on; it is there from the outset.” From before the world, from all eternity, we were united in Christ as those who were predestined in him.

God’s people were in Christ when he lived, died and was born again. “We may never think of redemption in abstraction from the mysterious arrangements of God’s love and wisdom and grace by which Christ was united to his people and his people were united to him when he died upon the accursed tree and rose again from the dead.” So even when Christ died, we were united with him.

It is in Christ that God’s people are created anew. “It should not surprise us that the beginning of salvation in actual possession should be in union with Christ because we have already found that it is in Christ that salvation had its origin…” When we are born again, we are regenerated in Christ.

The believer’s life is continued by his being in Christ. “It is in Christ that Christian life and behavior are conducted.” We live day to day in union with Christ.

It is in Christ that believers die. “They have fallen asleep in Christ or through Christ and they are dead in Christ.” When we die, we die in Christ.

It is in Christ that God’s people will be resurrected. “It is in Christ they will be made alive when the last trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible.” When we rise again in the resurrection, we will be resurrected in Christ.

Through all of this we see that union in Christ is not confined to space and time. We have always been united to him, we live in him now, and we will be united to him forever. This is an amazing truth that stirred my heart. “[Union with Christ] has the expanse of eternity. Its orbit has two foci, one the elected love of God the Father in the counsels of eternity, the other glorification with Christ in the manifestation of his glory. The former has no beginning, the latter has no end.” Do you see this? There is a sense in which we who believe have been united to Christ since before the world began and in which we will always and forever be united to him. “It is a perspective with a past and with a future, but neither the past nor the future is bounded by what we know as our temporal history.” “Apart from union with Christ we cannot view past, present, or future with anything but dismay and Christian dread. By union with Christ the whole complexion of time and eternity is unchanged and the people of God may rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” It is our union with Christ that gives us hope and peace when we look to today, when we look to yesterday, when we look to tomorrow.

Now, though union with Christ is an important part of the application of redemption, Christians do not become partakers of Christ until redemption is actually applied to them. Here Murray turns to the second “phase” and offers a few words about this union.

First, this union is spiritual. It is spiritual in that the bond of this union is the Holy Spirit and also in that there is a spiritual relationship in view here.

Second, this union is mystical. Wanting to use this word in its best sense, Murray says, “A mystery is something which eye hath not seen nor ear heard neither hath entered into the heart of man but which God has revealed unto us by his Spirit and which by revelation and faith comes to be known and appropriated by men.” So this union is not mystical in the sense the word is used by eastern religions, but mystical in that there is a sense of mystery about it—mystery that is slowly being revealed in God’s revelation.

To draw attention to just what an amazing mystery this is, he says the following: “Of all the kinds of union or unity that exist for creatures the union of believers with Christ is the highest. The greatest mystery of being is the mystery of the trinity—three persons in one God. The great mystery of godliness is the mystery of the incarnation, that the Son of God became man and was manifest in the flesh. But the greatest mystery of creaturely relations is the union of the people of God with Christ. And the mystery of it is attested by nothing more than this that it is compared to the union that exists between the Father and the son in the unity of the Godhead.”

Returning again to the big picture of the doctrine of union with Christ Murray says, “Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation. All to which the people of God have been predestined in the eternal election of God, all that has been secured and procured for them in the once-for-all accomplishment of redemption, all of which they become the actual partakers in the application of redemption, and all that by God’s grace they will become in the state of consummated bliss is embraced within the compass of union and communion with Christ.” Could he say it with more strength than this? We have no right or ability to think of the other doctrines without reference to this one.

Before he closes the chapter, he seeks to show on more critical fact about union with Christ, one more thing without which the doctrine would be incomplete. This union is more than union only with Christ—it is also a union with the Father and the Spirit. “Believers know the Father and have fellowship with him in his own distinguishing character and operation as the Father. They know the Son and have fellowship with him in his own distinguishing character and operation as the Son, the Savior, the Redeemer, the exalted Lord. They know and have fellowship with the Holy Spirit in his own distinguishing character and operation as the Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Sanctifier. It is not the blurred confusion of rapturous ecstasy. It is faith solidly founded on the revelation deposited for us in the Scripture and it is faith actively receiving that revelation by the inward witness of the holy Spirit.” In our union with Christ, we are united also with the Father and the Spirit. We “enter into the holy of holies of communion with the triune God and do so because we have been raised up together and made to sit together in the heavenlies in Jesus Christ.”

How is it, then, that I’ve never contemplated the scope of this doctrine?

Next Week
For next Thursday please read the final chapter—“Glorification.”

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

January 30, 2010

Once again, I’m a couple of days late with this next entry in Reading Classics Together. Being on the road for almost the entire week played havoc with my schedule (though I did remember to bring the book with me). Again I’m indebted to Rebecca Stark for providing a great post that I was able to “borrow.”

*****

John Murray starts this chapter by admitting that there are, at first glance, strong arguments against the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. We all know, from scripture and history and our own experience, those who have appeared to be genuine believers but have fallen away from the faith.

The first step, then, in building the case for this doctrine is establishing what it is not. “It does not mean,” he writes, “that every one who professes faith in Christ and who is accepted as a believer in the fellowship of the saints is secure for eternity and may entertain the assurance of eternal salvation.”

No, Jesus himself give us the criterion for determining true believers: true believers continue in the faith until the end. The kind of temporary faith that doesn’t endure can look very much like the real thing.

…[I]t is possible to have very uplifting, ennobling, reforming, and exhilarating experience of the power and truth of the gospel, to come into such close contact with he supernatural forces which are operative in God’s kingdom of grace that these forces produce effects in us which to human observation are hardly distinguishable from those produced by God’s regenerating and sanctifying grace and yet be not partakers of Christ and heirs of eternal life.

But true believers persevere. They sin, they may backslide, but they will not finally fall away because they “are kept by the power of God through faith” until the end.

What scripture does Murray appeal to in his defense of perseverance of the saints? He starts with Romans 8:28-30, the Golden Chain of Redemption. The called are justified and the justified are glorified. If true saints—those who are called and justified—can be lost, it would go against what Paul is plainly teaching in these verses.

Next he moves to the teachings of Jesus in John 6 and 10. Jesus says that those given to him by the Father—who are also those who believe, who are also those who come to him, who are also those who are drawn by the Father—will be raised on the last day. And no one who is given to Jesus by the Father can be snatched away. In fact, believers have a kind of double security because they are held in the hand of Christ and the hand of the Father. Two powerful hands are grasping us tightly until the end.

Have we not in this truth new reason to marvel at the grace of God and the immutability of his love?

When my kids were younger, they’d enthusiastically affirm something by saying, “Yes! Yes! Double yes!” Doubly held so that we can never perish gets a double yes from me.

*****

For next week, please read chapter 9, Union with Christ.

January 21, 2010

Today we continue in our readings in John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. We are now eleven readings in with only three to go. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but this has without a doubt been one of my favorite classics to read together. I have learned a lot from it and have highlighted a huge percentage of the words. I know it’s a book I will return to often.

Summary
This week’s chapter deals with sanctification. Murray begins with a couple of presuppositions. Primarily, he wants to show the close relationship between sanctification and both calling and regeneration (both of which we’ve already discussed). “Sanctification,” he says, “is a work of God in us, and calling and regeneration are acts of God which have their immediate effects in us.” So these three are bound together in the fact that each of them is an inward act of change unlike, for example, justification or adoption which are instead changes of status about and outside of us. He would also have us know that sanctification particularly concerns the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer and who directs this work. And finally, he wants the reader to know that sanctification is a necessary work that will be present in the life of every believer. “Sin is dethroned in every person who is effectually called and regenerated. … The Holy Spirit is the controlling and directing agent in every regenerate person. Hence the fundamental principle, the governing disposition, the prevailing character of every regenerate person is holiness—he is ‘Spiritual’ and he delights in the law of the Lord after the inward man.” He says also, “He who died and rose again with Christ is freed from sin, and sin will not exercise the dominion.”

Murray turns next to the concern of sanctification, showing what it is that the Holy Spirit actually does in this ongoing act. “This deliverance from the power of sin secured by union with Christ and from the defilement of sin secured by regeneration does not eliminate all sin from the heart and life of the believer. … Sanctification is concerned precisely with this fact and it has as its aim the elimination of all sin and complete conformation to the image of God’s own son, to be holy as the Lord is holy.” He offers several considerations:

First, all sin in the believer is the contradiction of God’s holiness. It is “the contradiction of all [the believer is] as a regenerate person and son of God. It is the contradiction of God himself, after whose image he has been recreated.”

Second, the presence of sin in the believer involves conflict in his heart and life. “The more sanctified the person is, the more conformed he is to the image of his Savior, the more he must recoil against every lack of conformity to the holiness of God. The deeper his apprehension of the majesty of God, the greater the intensity of his love to God, the more persistent his yearning for the attainment of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, the more conscious will he be of the gravity of the sin which remains and the more poignant will be his detestation of it.”

Third, there must be a constant and increasing appreciation that though sin still remains it does not have the mastery. “There is a total difference between surviving sin and reigning sin, the regenerate in conflict with sin and the unregenerate complacent to sin. It is one thing for sin to live in us: it is another for us to live in sin. It is one thing for the enemy to occupy the capital; it is another for his defeated hosts to harass the garrisons of the kingdom.” He says also, “It is the concern of sanctification that sin be more and more mortified and holiness ingenerated and cultivated.”

Next, Murray discusses the agent of sanctification, showing that ultimately it is God who sanctifies and, specifically, the Holy Spirit. He shows that we must “realize our complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit. We must not forget, of course, that our activity is enlisted to the fullest extent in the process of our sanctification. But we must not rely upon our own strength of resolution or purpose.” Though we are active in sanctification, we are active only through the power of the Spirit.

Further, “it is as the Spirit of Christ and as the Spirit of him who raised up Christ from the dead that the Holy Spirit sanctifies.” We must not think of the Spirit’s work of sanctification apart from Christ’s work on the cross.

Finally, Murray looks to the means of sanctification, saying, “We must also take account of the fact that sanctification is a process that draws within its scope the conscious life of the believer. The sanctified are not passive or quiescent in this process. … God’s working in us is not suspended because we work, nor our working suspended because God works. Neither is the relation strictly one of co-operation as if God did his part and we did ours so that the conjunction or co-ordination of both produced the required results.” Rather, “the relation is that because God works we work. All working out of salvation on our part is the effect of God’s working in us, not the willing to the exclusion of the doing and not the doing to the exclusion of the willing, but both the willing and the doing.”

This is a lifelong struggle and one that involves the whole being. “The exhortations to action with which the Scripture is pervaded are all to the effect of reminding us that our whole being is intensely active in that process which has as its goal the predestinating purpose of God that we should be conformed to the image of his Son.”

Next Week
For next Thursday please read the next chapter—“Perseverance.”

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

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