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Reading Classics Together

May 22, 2008

This morning those of us who are reading some Christian classics together are going to be looking at the fourth chapter of A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together.

Summary

Jesus’ fourth saying on the cross is the word of anguish. While hanging on the cross and facing the wrath of God, just cried out to His Father. This is what Matthew tells us in chapter 27 and verse 46 of his gospel. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

The chapter follows this outline:

  1. Here we see the awfulness of sin and the character of its wages.
  2. Here we see the absolute holiness and inflexible justice of God.
  3. Here we see the explanation of Gethsemane.
  4. Here we see the Savior’s unswerving fidelity to God.
  5. Here we see the basis of our salvation.
  6. Here we see the supreme evidence of Christ’s love for us.
  7. Here we see the destruction of the “larger hope.”

Discussion

Before I began reading the chapter, I spent some time just silently meditating on these words of Jesus. They are words I’ve thought about many times in life and ones which deserve much meditation. They are words for which we can never exhaust and never truly understand the depth of their meaning. Quite needless to say, my meditations took me to nowhere near the depth they took A.W. Pink.

The first thing that stood out to me as I read Pink’s reflections on these words of Jesus is the inadequacies of film to portray Jesus’ suffering. Countless millions of people spent a couple of hours watching The Passion of the Christ and there they saw Jesus get beaten to a pulp. In as much as Mel Gibson showed us Jesus’ physical sufferings, the movie was reasonably accurate. But the fact remains that no movie could describe the greater sufferings of Jesus, for they were inward and spiritual. Though His body was beaten and bruised, and though He felt incredible physical anguish, such has been the lot of millions of men through the history of the world. I dare say there have been many who have suffered worse physical torment than Jesus did. But the primary anguish Jesus faced was separation from God and the pouring out of God’s wrath upon Him. And how can we adequately describe this with words or portray it in film? It is impossible; it cannot happen. How can film portray the love and the anguish as they met on the cross? “These words of unequaled gift were both the fullest manifestation of divine love and the most awe-inspiring display of God’s inflexible justice.” What so many miss as they consider the cross is the actions of the Father and the awful toll this took on His Son. There is more to the cross than just the physical and we must make this clear!

The second thing that gripped me was Pink’s description of the various manifestations of man’s sin. “In its first manifestation it took the form of suicide, for Adam destroyed his own spiritual life; next we see it in the form of fratricide—Cain slaying his own brother; but at the Cross the climax is reached in deicide—man crucifying the Son of God.” Does this not show us on a macro scale the nature of sin, that it grows, always demanding more? A small sin quickly becomes a greater sin; soon nothing but the ultimate sins will please us. And such was the case when man reached the penultimate in sin—putting to death his own Creator.

Finally, I was challenged by Pink’s word that we must see the cross from at least four different viewpoints. “The tragedy of Calvary must be viewed from at least four different viewpoints. At the cross man did a work: he displayed his depravity by taking the Perfect One and with “wicked hands” nailing him to the tree. At the cross Satan did a work: he manifested his insatiable enmity against the woman’s seed by bruising his heel. At the cross the Lord Jesus did a work: he died the Just for the unjust that he might bring us to God. At the cross God did a work: he exhibited his holiness and satisfied his justice by pouring out his wrath on the one who was made sin for us.” This is all true, I am sure, but will require a lot more meditation before I would want to comment on it very much. How wondrous is the cross! It could be our meditation from now until the Lord’s return and we would still never exhaust its riches or its significance.

This was another chapter filled with gospel truths. This book is a gold mine.

Next Time

We will continue next Thursday with the fifth chapter of the book and look at Jesus’ word of suffering.

Your Turn

I am eager to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading.

May 15, 2008

This morning those of us who are reading some Christian classics together are going to be looking at the third chapter of A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together. This week we move on to the book’s third chapter.

Summary

Jesus’ third saying on the cross is the word of affection. While hanging in agony he looked down to his mother and to his dear friend John. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

The chapter follows this outline:

  1. Here we see the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy.
  2. Here we see the perfect man setting an example for children to honor their parents.
  3. Here we see that John had returned to the Saviour’s side.
  4. Here we discover an illustration of Christ’s prudence.
  5. Here we see that spiritual relationships must not ignore the responsibilities of nature.
  6. Here we see a universal need exemplified.
  7. Here we see the marvelous blending of Christ’s perfections.

Discussion

I felt that in this chapter Pink did a really good job of drawing out some of the implications of Jesus’ words to his mother and his friend. This chapter may not have been quite as meaty as some of the ones that have come before (and some of the ones to come) but there was still plenty there to chew on. There were two areas that really spoke to me.

The first of these was that this word to John was an example to any of us as we consider how we relate to our parents. “It is too often assumed,” says Pink, that the “fifth commandment is addressed to young folks only. Nothing can be further from the truth.” Just yesterday I was speaking to a friend about responsibility to parents and this chapter seems to tie in well. In our culture we value autonomy and feel that our parents should be able to support themselves indefinitely. This seems to be uniquely western since in most other cultures, and certainly in biblical culture, it is assumed that the parents would support the children and, when they were older, the parents would receive support from the children. Pink disagrees with this way of thinking. “In the course of time, the children grow to manhood and womanhood, which is the age of full personal responsibility, the age when they are no longer beneath the control of their parents, yet has not their obligations to them ceased. They owe their parents a debt that they can never fully discharge.” Children are to continue to esteem their parents and to care for them in whatever way is necessary. I believe those who adhere to other faiths tend to see this as more of a responsibility and put Christians to shame in this area. When we learn from Jesus’ example we see the unique responsibility to care for elderly parents.

Does this example of Christ on the cross put you to shame? It may be you are young and vigorous, and your parents gray-headed and infirm; but saith the Holy Spirit, “Despise not thy mother when she is old” ( Proverbs 23:22). It may be you are rich, and they are poor; then fail not to make provision for them. It may be they live in a distant state or land, then neglect not to write them words of appreciation and cheer which shall brighten their closing days. These are sacred duties. “Honour thy father, and thy mother.”

The second portion that jumped out to me was the one that discussed John’s return to the Saviour’s side. It is easy to forget, as we read these words, that John had earlier fled from Jesus. At some point he had migrated back to Jesus’ side and stood there before the Lord. But Jesus did not rebuke him. Jesus did not hold this against him. He did not say a word about it. Instead he bestowed upon John a great honor and responsibility. Though he had been scandalized by Christ and ashamed to be seen with Him, John returned and Jesus forgave. What an encouragement this is to those who have wandered away from God in their hearts. “Christ did not rebuke John on returning; instead, his wondrous grace bestowed on him an unspeakable privilege. Cease then your wanderings and return at once to Christ, and he will greet you with a word of welcome and cheer; and who knows but what he has some honorous commission awaiting you!” God is far more willing to forgive sin than we are to commit it. What a great God He is.

Next Time

We will continue next Thursday with the fourth chapter of the book and look at Jesus’ word of anguish.

Your Turn

I am eager to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading.

May 08, 2008

Today those of us who are reading some Christian classics together are going to be looking at the second chapter of A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together. Two weeks ago we began our eight-week study of this book by looking at the Introduction to the book and last week we read the first chapter which dealt with Jesus’ “word of forgiveness.” This week we move on to the book’s second chapter.

Summary

Jesus’ second saying on the cross is the word of salvation. To the thief who hung beside Him, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The chapter follows this outline:

  1. Here we see a representative sinner.
  2. Here we see that man has to come to the end of himself before he can be saved.
  3. Here we see the meaning of repentance and faith.
  4. Here we see a marvelous case of spiritual illumination.
  5. Here we see the Saviourhood of Christ.
  6. Here we see the destination of the saved at death.
  7. Here we see the longing of the Saviour for fellowship.

Discussion

There was a lot to take from this chapter (both because of its length and its depth). I will point to just a couple of items that stood out to me.

In the first place, I enjoyed Pink’s discussion of how a man must come to the end of himself before he can come to God. “Before any sinner can be saved he must come to the place of realized weakness.” As sinful humans we tend to rely on our own strength as long as we can, only giving up and learning dependence upon God as a final measure. We do this in salvation and continue to do it through the process of sanctification. So often God does not really begin His work in us until we have first exhausted all of our own methods. And so it was with this man. “He could not walk in the paths of righteousness for there was a nail through either foot. He could not perform any good works for there was a nail through either hand. He could not turn over anew leaf and live a better life for he was dying.” And here is where Pink makes a profound application. “Those hands of yours which are so ready for self-righteous acting, and those feet of yours which are so swift to run in the way of legal obedience, must be nailed to the cross. The sinner has to be cut off from his own workings and be made willing to be saved by Christ.” And once he has been saved, that same sinner must continue to be cut off from his own workings if he wishes to be sanctified and wished to grow in grace. It is a lifelong challenge to let go of ourselves and to depend on Christ.

Further on in the chapter I found this challenge. It is something I have thought about often and something I struggle with more then I’d care to admit.

That which makes heaven superlatively attractive to the heart of the saint is not that heaven is a place where we shall be delivered from all sorrow and suffering, nor is it that heaven is the place where we shall meet again those we loved in the Lord, nor is it that heaven is the place of golden streets and pearly gates and jasper walls - no, blessed as those things are, heaven without Christ would not be heaven. It is Christ the heart of the believer longs for and pants after - “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee” ( Psalm 73:25). And the most amazing thing is that heaven will not be heaven to Christ in the highest sense until his redeemed are gathered around him. It is his saints that his heart longs for. To come again and “receive us unto himself ” is the joyous expectation set before him. Not until he sees of the travail of his soul will he be fully satisfied.

This reminds me of John Piper’s words from God is the Gospel: “The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever say, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?” Too many Christians look to heaven for its benefits to us without understanding that the greatest benefit of all will the presence of Christ. We can long after all the good of heaven without feeling any desire to enjoy its greatest Good. And what a tragedy it is if we focus our attention and our affections on lesser treasures. To be absent from the body is to be present not with grandma or mom or dad, but first and foremost to be present with Christ. This promise should quicken our hearts and be at the forefront of our desires as we long for eternity.

And one more quick passage that caught my attention. In discussing the thief on the cross beside Christ Pink says something that stirred my heart with gratitude for so great a Savior. This thief “was an outcast from society - who would remember him! The public would think no more of him. His friends would be glad to forget him as having disgraced his family. But there is one with whom he ventures to lodge this petition - ‘Lord, remember me’.” When everyone else reviled this man, Christ still heard Him and gave Him the greatest gift. What a Savior!

Parenthetically, am I the only one who thinks Pink may rely on italics just a little bit too much? There were some portions of the chapter, particularly near the beginning, where it seems he went just a little bit crazy and it almost made it difficult to read. A small complaint, to be sure…

Next Time

We will continue next Thursday with the third chapter of the book and look at Jesus’ word of affection.

Your Turn

I am eager to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading.

May 01, 2008

Today those of us who have embarked on a project to read some Christian classics together are going to be looking at the first chapter of A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together. Last week we began our eight-week study of this book by looking at the Introduction to the book. This week we move on to the first chapter.

Summary

The first of the Savior’s words from the cross is the one we most need to hear. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is Jesus’ word of forgiveness, offered to the Father on behalf of those who had fastened Him to that cross. In these first words we see Jesus, even in His deepest agony, in an attitude of prayer, interceding for those whom He loves.

In this chapter Pink unravels all that Jesus meant in these few words. Here we see…

  1. …fulfillment of the prophetic word.
  2. …Christ identified with His people.
  3. …the Divine estimate of sin and its consequent guilt.
  4. …the blindness of the human heart.
  5. …an exemplification of Jesus’ own teaching.
  6. …man’s great and primary need.
  7. …the triumph of redeeming love.

Discussion

I had read only the first sentence before I needed to stop. “Man had done his worst.” I guess I knew this already—that what man did to Jesus was the worst thing he had ever done or could ever do. In fact, I mentioned this in a sermon just a few short weeks ago. But somehow this simple sentence just made me stop and consider that there really is nothing man could ever do, ever, in any situation, ever!, that could be worse than this. All of the horrible crimes we read about in the news and all of the disgusting events we read about in history, pale in comparison to this act of slaughtering the Son of God. No evil scheme any man could dream up could be worse than this. It is the most awful event in all of history and the most awful event that ever could be. How could man even scheme something so evil as to put to death the very Creator of the world? And what kind of God would humble Himself to suffer such humiliation and to face such pain?

I paused again on the next page when I read this, Pink’s reflection on Jesus being in prayer upon the cross: “No longer might those hands minister to the sick, for they are nailed to the cross; no longer may those feet carry Him on errands of mercy, for they are fastened to the cruel tree; no longer may He engage in instructing the apostles, for they have forsaken Him and fled—how then does He occupy Himself? In the Ministry of Prayer! What a lesson for us.” From here he encourages Christians who may be overcome by age and sickness and who may feel that their years of ministry are over. He encourages them to use these times to engage in this ministry of prayer. Who knows, but you may “perhaps accomplish more by this than by all your past active service. If you are tempted to disparage such a ministry, remember your Savior. He prayed, prayed for others, prayed for sinners, even in His last hours.” And what an encouragement this must be—and what a challenge it is—for us. Even when we feel like we have nothing to offer, we can go to our knees and plead for others before the throne. This “invisible” ministry is one that is far more powerful than we know and one whose results we may only know in eternity. But what a blessing it was that Jesus prayed even while on that cross.

And all this before even getting to the heart of the chapter. I suppose I will stop here and leave it to others to reflect on the seven points laid out by Pink. But first I’ll say just one thing. On a couple of occasions I’ve expressed my view that forgiveness is conditional—that God only expects us to forgive those who have repented of their sin. It would seem from this chapter that Pink would agree. Perhaps ironically, I am a bit less sure now than I used to be that this is always the case, but I did enjoy reading Pink’s rationale for such an understanding.

Next Time

We will continue next Thursday with the second chapter of the book and look at Jesus’ word of salvation.

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from even just the Introduction to the book (click here to read some comments from readers about the Introduction). Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the chapter.

April 24, 2008

Last year some of the readers of this site began to read Christian classics together with me. 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. This program allows us to read them together, providing both a level of accountability and the added of interest of comparing notes. We spent eight weeks reading through J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, covering one chapter per week and posting some thoughts about the book on Thursday mornings. We then turned to John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation and read it over thirteen weeks. Both titles were worthwhile reads and we learned that they have rightly earned their reputations as Christian classics. Feedback from readers assured me that this was a project we should continue as it benefited all who chose to participate.

Today we begin the third round of this project by reading The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by A.W. Pink. We’ll cover only the Introduction today and look at each of the book’s seven chapters in the seven weeks to come. I hope you’ll read along with us.

Each I am going to offer a short summary of the chapter and a couple of brief reflections. At that point I’ll ask that you feel free to post your own questions, comments or reflections.

Summary

As Introductions go, this one had a lot to offer. Because the book focuses on the seven words Jesus spoke from the cross, Pink had to provide the important “back story” in this introduction. To do this he explained that the death of Jesus was natural, unnatural, preternatural and supernatural.

Jesus’ death was natural in that it was a real death. The fact that this can seem so unremarkable to us proves that we do not have a sufficient apprehension of just who Jesus was. That God Himself could suffer and face a very human death is far more remarkable than we are accustomed to thinking. Jesus’ death was unnatural in that it was abnormal. Death had no claim on Jesus as it does on every other human who has ever lived. Hence Jesus death was different from any other before or since. Jesus’ death was preternatural in that it had been marked out and determined for Him beforehand. Before the foundations of the earth it had been foreordained that Jesus would die and that He would die in this manner. Jesus’ death was supernatural in that it was different from every other death (just as His birth was different and His life was different). Pink expands on this point by showing seven ways in which the Lord’s death was entirely unique.

In the chapters which follow we shall hearken to the words which fell from his lips while he hung upon the cross - words which make known to us some of the attendant circumstances of the great tragedy; words which reveal the excellencies of the one who suffered there; words in which is wrapped up the gospel of our salvation; and words which inform us of the purpose, the meaning, the sufferings, and the sufficiency of the Death Divine.”

Discussion

While I enjoyed Pink’s discussion of Jesus’ death under the four headings, it was the section on Jesus’ death being supernatural that really grabbed and held my attention. Though certain aspects of this have crossed my mind in the past (such as Jesus yielding His Spirit rather than having it taken from Him) there were others that were fresh to me. Never have I considered that Jesus was actively involved in fulfilling prophecy when He said, “I thirst.” While prophecy obviously has a predictive element, it makes perfect sense to me that Jesus would have had an awareness that He was fulfilling prophecy. Hence He deliberately cried out in thirst in order to fulfill those prophetic words spoken so long before. Similarly, I had never before taken in the significance of the word “loud” in the context of Jesus’ words. Jesus spoke loudly, showing that His strength had not failed Him. He had not been defeated; He had won. Pink attaches significance to every element of the biblical narrative whereas I am sometimes too quick to miss the important details.

Though this Introduction was short, it certainly packed a punch and gave me some things to meditate upon. I can’t wait to dive into the heart of the book beginning next week.

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the first chapter of the book. We have only just begun so there is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along.

Your Turn

I would like to know what you gained from even just the Introduction to the book. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.

April 02, 2008

Last year some of the readers of this site began to read Christian classics together with me. 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. This program allows us to read them together, providing both a level of accountability and the added of interest of comparing notes. We spent eight weeks reading through J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, covering one chapter per week and posting some thoughts about the book on Thursday mornings. We then turned to John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation and read it over thirteen weeks. I’m not quite sure how many people took the opportunity to read along with us, but believe there were at least a couple hundred. Both titles were worthwhile reads and we learned that they have rightly earned their reputations as Christian classics. Feedback from readers assured me that this was a project we should continue as it benefited all who chose to participate.

The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the CrossFor our third book I’ve decided that we will read The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by Arthur Pink. I will be reading from the edition recently published by Baker and featuring forewords by John MacArthur and Warren Wiersbe (and recommend you do the same if you do not already own a copy of the book). Here is the publisher’s description of the book: “The words Christ spoke from the cross can inform Christians of the purpose, the meaning, the sufferings, and the sufficiency of his death. After an introduction that discusses the nature of Christ’s death as natural, unnatural, preternatural, and supernatural, Dr. Arthur W. Pink clearly illustrates the lessons that can be drawn from Christ’s words-lessons on forgiveness, salvation, affection, anguish, suffering, victory, and contentment. This comprehensive and accessible volume is useful for both sermon preparation and personal study.”

If you would like to participate, please commit to reading the introductory chapters and Forewords by Thursday April 24. We will then read the seven chapters over the following seven weeks. All I ask of participants is that they read along and that they at least consider posting a comment each week.

You can buy it at Amazon, Westminster Books, Monergism Books and just about anywhere else. It shouldn’t cost you much more than ten dollars.

It would be a helpful gauge of participation if you’d post a comment on this post indicating that you’d like to read this book with us. So if you are going to read along, let me know, either with a comment or a quick email. I’m looking forward to reading this next classic with you!

February 21, 2008

This morning we come to the end of the second classic we’ve been reading together. Chapter 14 marks the end of John Owen’s Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers. If you are interested in knowing what we’re doing, you can read about it here: Reading Classics Together.

Summary

Today we are at the fourth and final part of the book: directions for the work of mortification.

  1. Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin
  2. This whole work is effected, carried on, and accomplished by the power of the Spirit, in all the parts and degrees of it
    1. The Spirit alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of the evil and guilt and danger of the corruption, lust, or sin to be mortified
    2. The Spirit alone reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for our relief
    3. The Spirit alone establishes the heart in expectation of relief from Christ
    4. The Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power
    5. The Spirit is the author and finisher of our sanctification
    6. In all the soul’s addresses to God in this condition, it has support from the Spirit

Discussion

I know that the purpose of this initiative is not to critique the books we read, but I do have to say that I found this chapter a rather anti-climactic end to the book. The directions for the work itself were brief and several of them received only a sentence or two of explanation. I’m sure this is by the author’s design. Maybe I am just lazy and am looking for a too-simple ABC, 123 kind of format—the “ten easy steps” kind of format that is so popular in publishing today. Instead, these directions for the work of mortification did not seem so easily applicable.

The main point of this chapter is an important one and a good way of summarizing all that Owen has said. This work of mortification of sin is effected, carried on, and accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. And maybe in this way the words in this final chapter really are the best way of ending. Even while we are responsible for joining the Spirit in the work of putting sin to death, and even while God will hold us to account, we depend on His Spirit. Without this reminder, maybe we would be prone to pride as we looked at the sin we had put behind us (such irony! Taking pride in putting sin to death…). Maybe we would forget that it is only with His power that we can do this. And so Owen ends with a final reminder that the Spirit convinces the heart of evil, that the Spirit reveals to us the fullness of Christ, that the Spirit establishes the hope for relief from the work of Christ, that the Spirit brings the cross into our hearts to destroy sin, that the Spirit authors and finishes our sanctification and that, whatever we do to truly and genuinely put sin to death, it is a work that begins and ends with the Spirit.

If I can just hold onto this, knowing that the Spirit is eager to mortify the sin I hold to, and that He is the active agent of change. If I can hold onto this, the book will have a lifelong impact on my faith.

What’s Next?

Now that we’ve come to the end of this book, we’ll take a brief break and then decide which classic we’ll read together next. I’m open to any and all suggestions!

Your Turn

As always, I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Please post your comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say something exceedingly clever or profound. Simply share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause. You can also post any questions that came up. Let’s be certain that we are reading this book together. The comments on previous chapters have been very helpful and have aided my enjoyment of the book. I have every reason to believe that this week will prove the same.

February 14, 2008

We are nearing the end of our project to read through John Owen’s classic book Overcoming Sin and Temptation. After this morning we will have just one chapter remaining. If you’d like to know more about this reading project, you can read about it right here: Reading Classics Together. If you are interested in participating in reading the next classic together, stay tuned to this site and we’ll choose a new book in just a week or two.

As we draw near to the end of this book, we are looking at specific instructions on how to put sin to death. We’re in the book’s second section—a section that focuses on “the nature of mortification.” Owen takes this approach:

  1. Show what it is to mortify any sin, and that both negatively and positively, that we be not mistaken in the foundation.
  2. Give general directions for such things as without which it will be utterly impossible for anyone to get any sin truly and spiritually mortified.
  3. Draw out the particulars whereby this is to be done.

He has already shown both negatively and positively what it is to mortify a sin and has given the general directions. He is now providing a list of instructions about how to actually do the business of mortifying sin.

Summary

This week Owen challenges the reader with several exhortations under this heading: “Do not speak peace to yourself before God speaks it, but hearken to what God says to your soul.”

  1. God reserves the privilege to speak peace to whom, and in what degree, he pleases
  2. It is the prerogative of Christ to speak peace to the conscience
    1. Men speak peace to themselves without the detestation of sin and the abhorrence of themselves for it
    2. Men speak false peace to themselves when they rely upon convictions and rational principles to carry them
  3. We speak peace to ourselves when we do it slightly
  4. If one speaks peace to himself upon any one account of sin, and at the same time has another evil of no less importance lying upon his spirit, without dealing with God, that man cries “Peace” when there is none
  5. When men of themselves speak peace to their consciences, it is seldom that God speaks humiliation to their souls

Discussion

I sat down to write about this week’s chapter and quickly found my time interrupted by the need for some high priority toilet repairs. I thought maybe I could use that as a metaphor for something, but nothing came to mind. So I proceed, but about an hour later than I would have liked! I will now have to keep my thoughts brief (for which I apologize).

This is a chapter that has intrigued me since I first skimmed through the book to get a sense of its flow. I guess the idea of peace appealed to me, and especially a peace of soul. There is a definite appeal to that. But Owen warns against speaking peace to our souls before God speaks that peace. So I have been wondering, what is this peace and how would God communicate it to us?

I thought Owen covered the subject well and without the long and parenthetical questions and answers that interrupted the last chapter a little bit. It is the prerogative to God to speak peace and the task of Christ to speak it home to the soul. We are prone to wanting to speak peace to ourselves and to salve our consciences when we have violated God’s will. But in so doing we speak a peace that is a false peace. We make a treaty with our consciences even while we have not experienced true repentance. We go on our way feeling better, but not being better. There may have been outward change, but nothing inward and lasting and real.

I saw myself as Owen described our tendency to speak peace to ourselves without hating the sin and abhorring our ourselves for committing it. Too often I allow myself off the hook, so to speak, acting as if my soul is at peace when the reality is that I have merely repented of the symptoms of sin or of my distaste for its consequences. In reality I have not repented of the sin and have not abhorred the nature that compels me to sin. God has not granted my peace. Instead, I’ve manufactured peace within my soul, but this without allowing God to speak His peace to me. How much better it is to wait for God to speak words of forgiveness and words of peace through His Word. This is the true source of peace and the true source of healing.

Next Week

Next Thursday we will continue by reading the book’s final chapter. And then we’ll have to discuss where we go next!

Your Turn

As always, I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Please post your comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say something exceedingly clever or profound. Simply share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause. You can also post any questions that came up. Let’s be certain that we are reading this book together. The comments on previous chapters have been very helpful and have aided my enjoyment of the book. I have every reason to believe that this week will prove the same.

February 07, 2008

This morning we continue with our reading of John Owen’s classic Overcoming Sin and Temptation. If you’d like to know more about this reading project, you can read about it right here: Reading Classics Together. We’re in the heart of the book now and are looking at specific instructions on how to put sin to death.

In the past few chapters we have been in the book’s second section—a section that focuses on “the nature of mortification.” In the past chapters and those to come Owen approaches the subject this way:

  1. Show what it is to mortify any sin, and that both negatively and positively, that we be not mistaken in the foundation.
  2. Give general directions for such things as without which it will be utterly impossible for anyone to get any sin truly and spiritually mortified.
  3. Draw out the particulars whereby this is to be done.

He has already shown both negatively and positively what it is to mortify a sin and has given the general directions. He is now providing a list of instructions about how to actually do the business of mortifying sin.

Summary

This week Owen exhorts the reader to “use and exercise yourself to such meditations as may serve to fill you at all times with self-abasement and thoughts of your own vileness.” He covers this in just two main points:

  1. Think much of the excellency of the majesty of God and your infinite, inconceivable distance from him.
  2. Think much of your unacquaintedness with him.

Discussion

This week’s chapter was interesting in that it quickly discussed the two main thrusts and then turned to long answers to questions Owen anticipated (and I’m not sure what it says about me that I arrived at neither of the questions on my own). It seemed to me that the questions were perhaps a little bit of a rabbit trail. I probably would have preferred if he had dedicated a bit more attention to both of the main points. But who am I to second guess Owen?

Regardless, I was immediately struck by the difference between this Puritan teaching and what passes for Christian teaching today. Not too long ago I read the two books written by Joel Osteen and really, there could hardly be a bigger contrast between the two. And I’m not exaggerating—they really are polar opposites in almost every way. Where Joel Osteen writes about how we are to accept that we’ve made mistakes and press on, attempting not to do bad things again, Owen calls this sin and writes of how this distances us from God. He allows sin no quarter and would never stoop to calling it mere “mistake.” Where Osteen teaches that we are fundamentally good and that we should think highly of ourselves, Owen teaches that we are to fill our minds with self-abasement and thoughts of our own vileness.

Yet we are not to think these things on their own, but rather, such thoughts are to be the natural consequence of pondering the majesty and the “otherness” of God. As we ponder God we are led to see the inconceivable distance between Him and us. And from there what can we do but ponder His greatness and our comparable vileness. Nowhere do Osteen or others of his ilk arrive at such conclusions because apparently there must be little difference between their view of humanity and their view of God. We are not so far removed from Him. I am sure there are those who read this and quickly picture dour Puritans who enjoy thinking of how awful they are as if beating up on themselves is a form of holiness. But this is not what Owen says at all. Instead he teaches that proper thoughts of God and of humanity are of critical importance because only through abasement of ourselves before God can we experience humility of spirit. It is like a balance. As our thoughts of God increase, our view of ourselves naturally decreases accordingly.

As is usually the case, I also honed in on several of Owen’s more notable quotes.

Our further progress consists more in knowing what he is not, than what he is.” So God is infinite (not finite) and immortal (not mortal). We, though, are finite and mortal. We know God based on what He is not.

The intention of all gospel revelation is not to unveil God’s essential glory that we should see him as he is, but merely to declare so much of him as he knows sufficient to be a [foundation] of our faith, love, obedience, and coming to him—that is, of the faith which here he expects from us; such services as beseem poor creatures in the midst of temptations.”

Know that your very nature is too narrow to bear apprehensions suitable to his glory.”

Next Week

Next Thursday we will continue by reading chapter thirteen. We are just two chapters away from the end!

Your Turn

As always, I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Please post your comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say something exceedingly clever or profound. Simply share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause. You can also post any questions that came up. Let’s be certain that we are reading this book together. The comments on previous chapters have been very helpful and have aided my enjoyment of the book. I have every reason to believe that this week will prove the same.

January 31, 2008

This morning we continue with our reading of John Owen’s classic Overcoming Sin and Temptation. If you’d like to know more about this reading project, you can read about it right here: Reading Classics Together. We’re into the real heart of the book now and are looking at specific instructions on how to put sin to death.

In the past few chapters we have been in the book’s second section—a section that focuses on “the nature of mortification.” In the past chapters and those to come Owen approaches the subject this way:

  1. Show what it is to mortify any sin, and that both negatively and positively, that we be not mistaken in the foundation.
  2. Give general directions for such things as without which it will be utterly impossible for anyone to get any sin truly and spiritually mortified.
  3. Draw out the particulars whereby this is to be done.

He has already shown both negatively and positively what it is to mortify a sin and has given the general directions. He is now providing a list of instructions about how to actually do the business of mortifying sin.

Summary

  1. Load your conscience with the guilt of sin
    1. Begin with generals and descend to particulars
      1. Charge your conscience with that guilt which appears in it from the rectitude and holiness of the law
      2. Bring your lust to the gospel

    2. Descend to particulars

      1. Consider the infinite patience and forbearance of God toward you in particular
      2. Consider the infinitely rich grace of God whereby you have been recovered to communion with him again
      3. Consider all of God’s gracious dealings with you

  2. Constantly long and breathe after deliverance from the power of it
  3. Consider whether the distemper is rooted in your nature and increased by your constitution

    1. Particular sinful inclinations are an outbreak of original lust in your nature
    2. Without extraordinary watchfulness, your nature will prevail against your soul
    3. For the mortification of any distemper rooted in the nature of a man, there is one expedient peculiarly suited: bringing the body into subjection
      1. The outward weakening and impairing of the body should not be looked upon as a thing good in itself
      2. The means whereby this is done should not be looked on as things that in themselves can produce true mortification of any sin

Discussion

I continue to enjoy and to profit from reading this book. When faced with sin this past week I really felt my heart stirred by some of what I learned in reading the last chapter. How could I do this sin when I know how serious it is for me to ignore the work of the Spirit as He turns my heart from it? With an awareness of how serious sin is for a believer, how could I recklessly push forward and sin against God? It is always a delight to see a book impact my life. This is especially true when the book is as infused with Scripture as this one is.

I enjoyed this week’s chapter as well. I’ll admit, though, that I was quite confused by much of the first direction—load your conscience with the guilt of sin. Despite several readings I just could not get my mind around what Owen was trying to communicate. There were parts I understood: “Persuade your conscience to hearken diligently to what the law speaks, in the name of the Lord, unto you about your lust and corruption.” And I understand his direction about looking to the gospel for further conviction of sin. But I feel like I was only scratching the surface here rather than really digging in. Hopefully your comments will bring some clarity.

Thankfully, I gained more from the rest of the chapter. I enjoyed Owen’s exhortation to “get a constant longing, breathing after deliverance from the power of sin.” “Longing, breathing, and panting after deliverance is a grace in itself, that has a mighty power to conform the soul into the likeness of the thing longed after.” And I can see from my life when I began to long after deliverance from sin. There was a time when I really was not so troubled by my sin. I may have felt some guilt from it and may have dreaded its consequences, but I did not long after deliverance. But when God, in His grace, helped me to truly desire to see my sin put away, it made such a difference to my life. “Unless you long for deliverance you shall not have it.” Those words have proven true in my life.

I also appreciated Owen’s charge that we need to rise against the first actings and conceptions of sin. His illustration was a good one. When water is restrained by dikes or levees or walls or canals it follows the course we have set for it. But when those walls crumble, the water follows its own destructive course. It overflows the banks and runs to its inevitable conclusion. And sin is much the same. We need to restrain sin and to “nip it in the bud” before it comes to full bloom in our lives (I think I’m mixing metaphors now). And this it will inevitably do if we allow it. “Rise up with all your strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had been fully accomplished what it aims at.” We do this with our help, taking measures to avoid sickness or reacting immediately at the first signs of the onset of illness. Why should we not do this with our sin?

And finally, a brief note. Is it just my lack of understanding a strange sentence structure, or is there a rather important not missing from this sentence: “The means whereby this is done—namely, by fasting and watching, and the like—should be looked on as things that in themselves, and by virtue of their own power, can produce true mortification of any sin.”

Next Week

Next Thursday we will continue by reading chapter twelve (the end is in sight!).

Your Turn

As always, I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Please post your comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say something exceedingly clever or profound. Simply share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause. You can also post any questions that came up. Let’s be certain that we are reading this book together. The comments on previous chapters have been very helpful and have aided my enjoyment of the book. I have every reason to believe that this week will prove the same.

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