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song of solomon

April 16, 2009

So this is it. As of today we’ve read the final chapter of William Wilberforce’s Real Christianity. This marks the seventh classic we’ve read together. I am going to offer a few closing remarks and then open it for discussion in case you’d like to reflect on the book. And then I guess we’ll have to start thinking about what comes next.


In the book’s final chapter, Wilberforce offers “Practical Hints for Real Christianity.” To be honest, I was not entirely sure how the chapter title accurately summarizes the chapter contents. I guess I was expecting something a little bit more practical in nature than what was actually there. But no matter. This chapter seemed to tie up a few loose ends—to offer reflections on a variety of issues. Hence I will just offer some loosely connected quotes that stood out to me.

I enjoyed Wilberforce’s words about the dread of sin that is a sure characteristic of the true Christian. “Such a dread causes him to look back upon the vices of his own youthful days with shame and sorrow. Then instead of conceding to young people to be wild and thoughtless—a privilege of their age and circumstances(!)—he is prompted to warn them against what has proved to him to be a matter of such bitter reflection.” Too often I have seen Christians look back on their wild days of youth with a certain fondness or even jealousy rather than the shame that seems more fitting to one who truly understands how even then he was living in utter rebellion against his God.

His words on humility were worth highlighting. The more I read of the lives of great men, the more I see how they emphasized humility. This was true of Wilberforce. “In proportion as a Christian grows in grace, so he grows in humility. Humility is indeed the principle first and last of Christianity. By this principle it lives and thrives. As humility grows or declines, so Christianity must flourish or decay.”

Writing about people who have satisfy themselves with a kind of “general Christianity,” Wilberforce says “they feel a general penitence and humiliation from a general sense of sinfulness and have general desires for holiness.” Biting words, those, and ones worthy of reflection. Do you feel only a general dislike for sin and desire a general holiness?

I think the best words in this chapter came in the final section where Wilberforce challenged people to be true Christians because of the state of the times. He knew what a nation of such Christians could accomplish and desired that the people of his nation and of his time would turn to the Lord, putting aside their general Christianity, their counterfeit Christianity, and that they would truly embrace the Lord. The final five or six paragraphs stands as his challenge to them. It could as easily stand as a challenge to us today, as we live in nations that are quickly becoming post-Christian, looking more and more like the nation he describes throughout this book. “Let [Christians] boldly assert the cause of Christ in an age when so many who bear the name of Christian are ashamed of Him. Let them accept the duty to serve, if not actually save, their country. Let them serve not by political interference, but by that sure and radical benefit of restoring the influence of true religious and of raising the standard of morality.”

And so Real Christianity, written though it was hundreds of years ago, is applicable and relevant even today. Wilberforce’s challenge is one we can ignore, regarding it as trapped in a different nation and a different time. But we do well, I think, to see that nations come and go but the spiritual realities remain the same. At any time there are many who profess faith, but there is usually only a remnant who truly embrace that faith and who live lives subjected to the Scriptures. Our task, like Wilberforce’s, is to urge people to give up their counterfeit faith and to turn to the freedom, the beauty, of real Christianity. And all for the glory of God.

Now What?

Now what? That’s a good question. In a week or two I will announce the next book we will be taking on. I think we are going to go Puritan, though I am open to any and all of your suggestions.

June 24, 2004

I know so little about love. This thought occurred to me just a few weeks ago and I began to look at love to see what it is and how I can learn to love more and love better. It is no great mystery that the Bible places great emphasis on love. The word “love” appears hundreds of times through the Scripture as God tells us not only how much He loves His children but also how we are to display God’s love to others.

It did not take me long to learn about the unbreakable link between love and humility. Love is impossible without humility. If I want to excel at love, I first need to learn to be humble; to learn to count my own joy and pleasure as less important than the joy and pleasure of someone else. Perhaps the key to love is learning to derive pleasure from someone else’s pleasure. Selfless love is to find pleasure in another person’s pleasure.

I think of my daughter and how much she loves it when I blow on her tummy. I derive no pleasure from the act of blowing “raspberries” on her stomach, but I derive nearly endless amounts of pleasure from hearing her squeal “stop!” and then “again!” I receive pleasure from her pleasure. While I could be reading a good book or surfing the Internet, thus deriving pleasure directly from my actions, I choose instead to find pleasure through my daughter’s pleasure. I put myself first by putting her first, finding pleasure in her pleasure.

I wish I could say that this was the rule rather than the exception, but far more often I seek to find pleasure selfishly.

I found in the Bible that there are two types of humility, and though they are related, they are distinct. God tells us to first to be humble before Him and then to be humble before our fellow man.

Humility before God is a humility before His Word. I need to approach the Bible with humility each time I open its pages. I need to acknowledge that the Word is the teacher and I am the student. I need to allow the Bible to tell me who I am and describe my condition as a human being. I need to accept the Bible’s solution to my condition. Psalm 25:9 says “The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way.” If I approach God’s Word to humble myself before it, God will guide and teach me. If I approach His Word with pride and with a haughty spirit, God will oppose me, for “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

When I read God’s Word with an attitude of humility I can learn from the tragic times faced by characters such as Samson or David. I know that I am as human as they were and as prone to sin as they were. I see myself in the words of Genesis 6:5 which says “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” When I read Jeremiah 17:9 I know that it describes my condition; I know that it is my heart that “is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” If I approach these same passages with an attitude of arrogance, feeling pride in my own abilities, I will learn nothing.

I believe this attitude of humility is what separates those believers who really “get it” from the masses of professed believers who never do - those people who continually show an attitude of arrogance before God do not allow Him to change and mold them. They make gods of themselves, believing that they are capable of doing God’s work in their own lives. They deny the truth and gravity of their situations. I can think of so many people I have known who never humbled themselves before the Word. When they read about sin, they saw other people. When they read the passages of Scripture that demand changes to their lives or that went against what they believed, they refused to humble themselves. I have been in that position and have refused to change and I am sure you have been too.

God forgive us for our arrogance and give us humble hearts.

When we have humbled ourselves before God, we are able to show His love to others by humbling ourselves before them – by esteeming them better than ourselves. Without first humbling ourselves before Him, we merely show our own love which is fatally flawed and full of sin. I think of Mother Teresa, a woman who outwardly showed love to so many, yet just a brief look at her life will show beyond any dispute that she never humbled herself before God. Think of the good her life could have accomplished had she been able to show God’s perfect love to the world rather than only her own selfish love.

Imagine how my life would change and how your life would change if we were truly able to derive pleasure from the pleasure of others. Imagine if we dedicated the time we spend deriving pleasure from television to gaining pleasure from the joy of helping others and esteeming them better than ourselves. Imagine how Christians could impact the world around them if we really understood the value of humility.

Many months ago I studied the book of Proverbs and learned the absolute importance of wisdom. Since then I continually pray that God will help me grow in wisdom. I have recently begun to pray that He will also grant me humility before His Word, so that He can change me and so that I can then show His love to the world around me.