February, 2017

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God’s mercy & justice – A meditation by Horatius Bonar

Monday, February 20th, 2017

“And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” Genesis 6:6

“Mercy had long prevailed against judgment; now judgment prevails against mercy. Grace had done wonders for the sinner. To do more would be to subvert righteousness, and to tamper with the awfulness of law. As the gracious Father, he had hitherto delayed the vengeance; but now, as the righteous Judge, he must interpose. He has long lingered in his love, yearning over his rebellious children; he can linger no more. His strange work must be done, at whatever sacrifice, either to himself or to man. He must not only withhold the good, he must visit with the evil, and he must do it himself. He, the Maker, must be the destroyer too. Man must be given up! He has gone beyond the limit within which grace can be righteously exercised. He has made it impossible for God to bless him. He has put it out of God’s power to do anything more in his behalf. He has made it a matter of righteous necessity that God should execute vengeance upon him. God wanted to bless, man has compelled him to curse. God wanted to save, man has compelled him to destroy. Condemnation, wrath, ruin, wretchedness for ever, must now be man’s portion! The vessel which God had made, and meant for honour and for gladness, must become a vessel of shame, eternal shame, filled with gall and wormwood! No wonder that it grieved him at his heart! . . . [These words] affirm that God’s grief is both sincere and deep. It is a Creator’s grief. It is a Father’s grief. It is grief such as afterwards uttered itself, over Israel, in such words as, ‘How shall I give thee up, O Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee up, O Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah, how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me; my repentings are kindled together.’ It is grief such as, at a still later day, gave vent to itself in Christ’s tears over Jerusalem. And is not all that reality? Was there ever reality like it? Yet all this does not make hell less true, nor the everlasting burnings less terrible.

Many seem to suppose that, because God has not passions such as we have; that because he is not liable to emotions like ours; that because there are no such swellings and subsidings of feverish excitement, interfering with the infinite serenity and blessedness of his divine being, that therefore God does not feel; that it would be degrading him to suppose that he can be affected, in the remotest degree, by the alternations of joy or sorrow,—especially in so far as the condition of his creatures can be conceived as being the source of either.

It is not so. This would be indifference, not serenity. It would make Jehovah not the God who is revealed to us in the man Christ Jesus. It would make him inferior to his creatures in all those tender affections which constitute so noble a part of our being. It would invest him with the insensibility of Stoicism. But with him whom we call our God, there is no such insensibility, no such Stoicism. He is love. He is the God of all grace. He is merciful and gracious, long-suffering, slow to anger, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin. He so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son. It is written of him, that ‘his soul was grieved for the miseries of Israel;’ that ‘in all their affliction he was afflicted.’ He stoops over us in the fondness of parental love. He yearns over us. He longs to see us happy. He delights to bless. His strange work is to curse. Nay, he is the very fountainhead of love. All the affections of man’s soul are but the copy of his; faint indeed and dim, yet truly the copy, the counterpart, the earthly likeness of the heavenly reality. Man’s heart is, in all the affections that are holy, the very transcript of God’s. In God is the birthplace of all feeling, and shall he not feel? With him is the well-spring of all affection, and shall he be cold, and divested of all loving sympathies? Shall he give to man such powers of emotion, constituting the divinest part of our nature, and shall he himself be unmoved and immoveable? He is the Father of spirits, and shall he so entirely differ from the spirits that he has made? He made them in his own image; and is that image nothing but unsympathising callousness? Is it but the ice, or the rock, or the iron? He sent his Son to be the revelation of his mind and heart; and do we not see, from that Son, how deeply the Father feels? Do we not see in him, who is his perfect image, what is the Creator’s sympathy for his creatures in their joys and sorrows? Do we not see in him, with what strength he can hate the sin, and yet love, nay, weep over, the sinner? Ay, and does not the Holy Spirit also unfold his feelings? And do we not read of that Spirit being resisted, vexed, grieved, as if sorrowing over our coldness, our neglect, our unbelief, our ungodliness?

What, then, can these things mean, but that our God truly and deeply feels? There can, indeed, be nothing carnal, nothing allied to imperfection or weakness, in such sensibility; but to suppose him to be devoid of feeling, as we too often do, is to deny him to be perfectly and truly God! Ah! it is only when we learn how profoundly he feels, that we know aright the character of that God with whom we have to do. It is only when we realise how sincerely he yearns, and pities, and joys, and grieves, and loves, that we understand that revelation which he has made of himself in the gospel of his grace, and in the person of his Incarnate Son. Nor till then do we feel the unutterable malignity of sin, as being a grieving of God, a vexing of his loving Spirit, and become rightly alive to the depravity of our own rebellious natures. It is only then that we can cordially enter into God’s condemnation of the evil, and sympathise with him in that which makes him grieve. Never, till we give him credit for feeling as he says he does, can we really long for deliverance from that which is not only the abominable thing which he hates, bat that thing of evil and sorrow over which he so sincerely mourns.

It is this which gives such power to God’s expostulations with the sinner, and his appeals to the sinner’s conscience and heart. We are apt to treat these utterances of God as mere words of course, or, at least, as words which, however gracious in themselves, could not be supposed to embody the feelings of him from whom they come. It is far otherwise. God not only means what he says, but he feels what he says. He is not unconcerned about our condition, or indifferent to the reception or rejection of his messages. When he says, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ he utters the deep feeling of his heart. When he says, ‘How shall I give thee up?’ he shews us how he feels. When he says, ‘O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments,’ he tells us how he feels. And when his only-begotten Son, in the days of his flesh, said to the unbelieving Jews, ‘Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life,’ he shewed us how truly, in this respect, the Father and the Son are one, and that to each poor child of earth, however erring, however dark, however unbelieving, however rebellious, he is stretching out his hands in love, and, not the less sincerely, because, to tens of thousands, he is stretching out these hands in vain.” Horatius Bonar, Family Sermons. (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1863), 305-310. [Italics original.]

Discipleship and the Church: A new way for a new day (A guest-post by R.P. Amos)

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

While our Lord was on earth we read of “His disciples”. A disciple is one who learns from and follows his master’s ways. The 12 disciples had one teacher to disciple them: Jesus on earth. But the early Christians did not have Jesus on earth to teach them.

What they had was a plurality of men: the Lord’s chosen apostles. The apostles received the Lord Jesus’ continuing revelation of new mysteries from heaven (1 Cor.2:7,10,13). They transmitted it orally or in written form, called “the apostle’s doctrine”. In this way the chosen apostles fulfilled the risen Lord’s command to them: “teach [disciple] all nations …teaching them to observe all things…I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:16-20).

But the term “disciple” is never used again in God’s Word after Acts 21:16. The written instruction to the Christian church (the epistles) uses in its place terms such as“brethren” (family relationship), “saints” (holy ones indwelt by the Holy Spirit), “body” (a living organism connected to the Head). Now, by definition, our Lord Jesus Christ does what no other discipler of men could or can do! Christ is not merely with us at times teaching us. Christ is in us continually teaching us (“revealing” to us – giving us to understand) “the deep things of God” through His Spirit that is given to all believers (1Cor. 2, Eph. 4:20,21). Now we have the whole written Word taught by His Spirit.

The New way: the Church in Christ

Each member of this body has different manifestations of the Spirit. These are called gifts, (1Cor. 12:7). While no one individual possesses all the given gifts, the body as a whole does. No longer is it just one individual that is complete, like Christ or even an apostle. Now it is the body, joined together as one, that is both multi-gifted and complete. This unique group is Christ’s living extension. This is “the church”. For this reason the epistles put the emphasis on believers learning by assembling together “in the church” (a meeting). There, the different gifts given from the one Head “come together into one place” (1Cor. 14). In the New Testament church meeting, when this plurality of gift functions, the results are “that all may learn” (1 Cor. 14:31). In the Greek this word “learn” comes from the word “disciple” – it is what a disciple is meant to do.

The Shortcomings of the Old Way for Today

We all know how horses were once a great way to make progress in travel. But to ride a horse on a super highway today presents many dangers and would border on insanity.

To view discipleship as mainly one person teaching or mentoring another person (or persons) belonged to a past age before the creation of the Body of Christ. This is not to say that there is never liberty to teach others outside the “four walls” of a church meeting. (See Acts 18:26, 20:20 / Titus 2, etc.). But to fail to view God’s design of the New Testament church and its meeting, that uses a functioning plurality as His new and ordained way for learning, misses the new body dynamic – and can present the following dangers.

Danger 1 – Man is perceived as a master Discipling implies the one teaching is the master. There is only one master (teacher) and He is in heaven; “all ye are brethren” says the Lord (Matt. 23:8-10). We read in Acts 20:30 that from among even those who were elders some would speak perverse things to “draw away disciples after them”. All true ministry will therefore guide believers to dependence on the Head and to fellowship with His body.

Danger 2 – Bypassing God’s checks and balances Individual discipling can unwittingly bypass the accountability God has ordained in His church. A plurality of elders or overseers (who meet the qualifications) with the Holy Spirit’s enabling is to shepherd each local church (Acts 20:28). Correcting an erring believer will require the whole assembly when ‘one on one’ was insufficient to succeed (Matt. 18: 15-17/ 1Cor. 5:4). We are not to be accountable to just one person. Serious failings and sins are not to be kept secret or limited to the knowledge or judgment of only one person. The NT church meeting has a plurality of gift that function with accountability. “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge”.

Danger 3 – Bypassing the plurality of gifts and elderly wisdom “Discipling” can lock a person into only one person’s style and abilities – with its limitations. By God’s intention, no one person has all the gifts. “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing …” (Romans 12:4). Titus 2 teaches that the aged men and women, with their wisdom, experience and godly example, have a great role to play toward the younger ones. To bypass involvement in the body is but a partial diet that will stunt one’s growth.

Danger 4 – Bypassing the Lordship of Christ displayed in a church meeting We’ve learned why individual discipling is not the highest form of learning. It is “in the church” of God that believers not only learn the word, but they also learn the ways of God. Among other things this includes reverence, order, protocol, respect, and the authority of headship and submission. There is an authority and an experience of the way of the risen Lord that is uniquely demonstrated when in assembly (1Cor. 14:23-37). It is what Psalm 77:13 speaks of: “Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary”. A body has only one head and needs authority and wisdom from that Head to function effectively

Danger 5 – Not providing an outlet for interactive growth Discipling is learning. But to learn all that there is to be learned we don’t just hear words. We also need to do according to what we heard. So for a body to grow and be healthy it not only needs to take in (eat), it must also exercise and give out to others. The NT church meeting is not just a place to sit and receive. It is also a place for the body members to function according to one’s heart, gifts and roles for the edification of all (1Cor. 14). The more a person grows from a baby into adulthood, the more that person increasingly develops the ability to give to others, which matures them in life.

When you’re involved in the NT church you are involved in the new way of discipleship!

Christ In Place Of Self – Horatius Bonar on Rom. 14:7

Friday, February 10th, 2017

“For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.” Romans 14:7

“It is the Lord Jesus Christ who has come into the place of self, filling up its room. In turning from self we do not leave ourselves without an object to live for, or to die for: we get one infinitely more worthy than we possessed before. Instead of self we get the Son of God; the glorious one. He fills us, occupies us, engrosses us henceforth. He is all to us what self was before. He takes the place of self in everything from first to last, great or small. He is the Substitute for self, first of all, in the matter of our standing before God. As the first thing the Holy Spirit does is to set aside self, in the matter of justification and acceptance, so his next is to present to us the Son of God as the true ground of our acceptance. We no longer seek to be justified by self in any sense, or on account of anything done to self; on account of amended self, or improved self; or mortified self, but solely on account of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us and who rose again. Having taken him in the place of self, we find ourselves at once accepted of the Father, ‘accepted in the beloved,’ accepted, not because self has been improved, but because self has been set aside and the Son of God substituted in its room. And in this Son of God, whom we take as a substitute for self, in the matter of our acceptance, we find an object worth living for, an object that we can carry through everything, through every part of life, into every region of life. We make him our Alpha and Omega, our first and our last. On a sick-bed our object is, that Christ should be glorified whatever becomes of us. On a deathbed our desire is, that Christ should be magnified, and in all that may happen to our name after death, in anticipation either of good report or of bad report among men, our sole wish is, that the name of Christ should be exalted. Thus, in living and in dying, Christ is all. He has come in the room of self, and fills that room entirely. Our life is thus full of Christ, and so is our death; ‘Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: so that living or dying we are the Lord’s.’ You are not your own at any time, nor in any circumstances, but his, his only.

What solemnity is thus thrown over life! All its parts, all its movements, are now consecrated to the Lord. Up till the time when this substitution takes place our life is a wasted one, utterly thrown away. It is dedicated to self, just as some of Egypt’s magnificent temples of old were consecrated to the worship of some reptile. But now that self has been cast out, and Christ introduced, our life has become a sacred thing; every part of it is consecrated,—made ‘holy unto the Lord.’

What dignity this imparts, both to life and death! Let it be the life or death of the poorest, if he be a believing man, a man in Christ Jesus, what a dignity attaches to him; a dignity that attaches to no other being upon earth, not even to its mightiest kings. From the moment that he became a man in Christ Jesus, living not to himself but to Christ, all littleness vanished, all narrowness and meanness were gone, and in the place thereof grandeur, glory, and heavenly magnificence thrown around his person. What a change!

What importance now attaches to life! All triviality has passed out of it. It has now become an important thing either to live or to die. We have got something worth living for, and something worth dying for; and in circumstances such as these, there can be nothing unimportant about life. The end we live for, the end we speak for, the end we act for, raises life up to an importance which nothing else could have done. There can be nothing little now about anything that we think, speak, or do.

What an imperishable character is thus imparted to life! Everything we do, whether in living or in dying, becomes imperishable, now that we live unto the Lord and die unto the Lord. It was self formerly that ruined everything, that made everything connected with us to crumble down and waste away. But now it is entirely different. The Lord has come in to occupy the place of self. He is come in, who is ‘the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,’ and he imparts his immortality to us, in all we are and do. Now nothing dies, but everything lives, and that for ever, for it is done unto the Lord. Every word spoken for him has an eternal being. Every action done for him carries its results forward into eternity; and every step we take, if taken for him, is a step whose effects are immortal, as is our being, and as is the being of him who has, by his oneness with us, attached to all we do his own imperishable character.

What an incentive to zeal this gives us! We have now got something to do that is really worth doing; an object worth living for and worth dying for. There is nothing so heartless as to have no object in life, or a poor object; and, on the contrary, there is nothing so quickening, so animating, as to have a worthy object. How mighty, then, must be the impulse, when we can feel that our life is a life to the Lord, that our death is a death to the Lord.

What a reason for consistency and holiness of life! Everything we do tells, not merely upon our comfort, on our earthly prospects, on our good name, but upon the glory of Christ. We have now become so connected with him that everything we speak or do bears upon him and his cause. The consistency of a holy life honours him, and brings a good report of him to our fellow-men. How watchful, then, ought we to be; how jealous over ourselves, lest self should assume the place that belongs only to the Lord; how anxious to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things; how desirous that our life should be a consistent witness-bearing for Christ, that our light should shine before men!” Horatius Bonar, Family Sermons (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1863), 239–243. [Italics original.]

Spurgeon on Mary Magdalene

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

“Mary Magdalene represents those who have come under the tormenting and distracting power of Satan, and whose lamp of joy is quenched in tenfold night. They are imprisoned not so much in the dens of sin as in the dungeons of sorrow, not so criminal as they are wretched, nor so depraved as they are desolate. We do not with any certainty understand the precise nature of being possessed with the devil. Holy Scripture has not been pleased to acquaint us with the philosophy of possessions, but we know what the outward symptoms were. Persons possessed with devils were unhappy; they found the gloom of the sepulchre to be their most congenial resort. They were unsocial and solitary. If they were permitted, they broke away from all those dear associations of the family circle which give half the charms to life: they delighted to wander in dry places, seeking rest and finding none: they were pictures of misery, images of woe. Such was the seven times unhappy Magdalene, for into her there had entered a complete band of devils. She was overwhelmed with seven seas of agony, loaded with seven manacles of despair, encircled with seven walls of fire. Neither day nor night afforded her rest, her brain was on fire, and her soul foamed like a boiling caldron. Miserable soul! No dove of hope brought the olive branch of peace to her forlorn spirit, she sat in the darkness and saw no light—her dwelling was in the valley of the shadow of death. Among all the women of Magdala there was none more wretched than she, the unhappy victim of restless and malicious demons. Those who were possessed with these evil spirits, were defiled thereby, as well as made unhappy; for a heart cannot become a kennel for the hounds of hell without being rendered filthy and polluted. I suppose that in addition to the natural corruptions which would be in Mary as well as in ourselves, there would be a more than human nimbleness to evil, a vivacity, an outspokenness about all her sinful propensities, which only the indwelling fiend could give. Satan being within, would be sure to stir up the coals of impure thoughts and evil desires, so that the fire of sin would burn vehemently. Her inner self may have been sorely troubled with such excess of wickedness, but she was without power to damp the furnace of her mind. She would be incessantly assaulted by unearthly profanities and hideous suggestions; not as with us, proceeding from the devil without, who is a dreaded antagonist, but from seven devils within, who had entrenched themselves upon a dreadful vantage ground. She was in that sense, no doubt, greatly polluted, although it would be difficult to say how far she was accountable for it, on account of the dislodgment of her reason. In addition to the unhappiness and the defilement occasioned by Satanic possession, these persons were frequently dangerous to others and to themselves. Sometimes, we read, they were cast into the fire, and anon into the water; some cut themselves with knives or sharp stones, others tore their garments in pieces, and even when bound in chains—according to the old fashioned method of controlling lunatics—they burst their bonds. Such persons must have been very undesirable inmates of any house, however remote their chamber. It must frequently have been necessary to confine them apart, for in their madness they were not to be trusted; for, as is often the case, those who had been nearest and dearest to them, became the first objects of their enmity. To give a spiritual turn to the subject, let me remark that it is one of the most dreadful things about some of those who are plunged in unbelief, that the mischief of their misery is not confined to themselves, but extends to their families and connections. Their example drips like the upas tree, with poison; they are like the clouds that gathered over Sodom, full of fiery hail; they bring sadness and sorrow wherever their influence is felt. The man who has laid in beds of spices, spreads perfume on all sides; but the man who has familiar intercourse with horrors, like one fresh come from the lazar house, bears all the seeds of death about him in the gloom and melancholy which he spreads abroad. To sum up much in a few words, there is no doubt that Mary Magdalene would have been considered by us to be demented—she was, practically, a maniac. Reason was unshipped, and Satan stood at the helm instead of reason, and the poor barque was hurried hither and thither under the guidance of demons. What a dreadful state to be in! And yet, dear friends, though actual Satanic possession is unknown among us now, we have seen several cases extremely like it, and we know at this hour some who baffle altogether all attempts to comfort them, and make us feel that only the good Physician can give them rest. I remember a man of excellent character, well beloved by his family and esteemed by his neighbours, who was for twenty years enveloped in unutterable gloom. He ceased to attend the house of God, because he said it was of no use; and although always ready to help in every good word and work, yet he had an abiding conviction upon him that, personally, he had no part nor lot in this matter, and never could have. The more you talked to him, the worse he became; even prayer seemed but to excite him to more fearful despondency. In the providence of God I was called to preach the word in his neighbourhood; he was induced to attend, and, by God’s gracious power, under the sermon he obtained a joyful liberty. After twenty years of anguish and unrest, he ended his weary roamings at the foot of the cross, to the amazement of his neighbours, the joy of his household, and the glory of God. Nor did his peace of mind subside, for until the Lord gave him a happy admission into eternal rest, he remained a vigorous believer, trusting and not being afraid. Others are around us for whom we earnestly pray that they also may be brought out of prison to praise the name of the Lord.

Magdalene’s case was a perfectly helpless one; men could do nothing for her. All the surgery and physic in the world would have been wasted upon her singular malady. Had it been any form of physical disease or purely mental derangement, help might have been attainable, but who is a match for the crafty and cruel fiends of the pit? No drugs can lull them to sleep, no knife can tear them from the soul. The loving friend and the skilful adviser stood equally powerless, nonplussed, bewildered, dismayed. Mary was in a hopeless condition. There was nothing known by any, even the wise men of the east, of any method by which seven evil spirits could be dislodged. However expensive the remedy, her relatives would have resorted to it; but who can cope with devils? Doubtless all who knew her thought that death would be a great relief to her, and would relieve her family of wearisome anxiety and fear. Although willing to help, they could not aid in the slightest degree, and had the hourly sorrow of seeing her endure an agony which they could not alleviate. Magdalene was the victim of Satanic influence in a most fearful form: sevenfold were the spirits which possessed her; and there are men and women nowadays who are tempted by the great enemy of souls to a most awful degree. Some of us have endured temporary seasons of frightful depression, which have qualified us to sympathise with those who are more constantly lashed by the fury of the infernal powers. We too have had our horror of great darkness. We have groaned with David, ‘I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long . . . I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart . . . My heart panteth, my strength faileth me: as for the light of mine eyes, it also is gone from me.’ We have been, though only for a few days or hours at a time, reduced to such an utter prostration of heart, that our soul chose strangling rather than life, for the sorrows of death compassed us, and the pains of hell gat hold upon us—we found trouble and sorrow. Believe me, brethren, this is no child’s play, but a thing to turn the hair grey, and plough deep furrows on the brow. It is no trivial sorrow to lament with the weeping prophet. ‘Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger. From above hath he sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them: he hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back: he hath made me desolate and faint all the day. The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand: they are wreathed, and come up upon my neck: he hath made my strength to fall, the Lord hath delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up.’

It is a melancholy fact that some persons continue for months and years to drink this cup of trembling. John Bunyan’s case is to the point, for he floundered in the Slough of Despond as long as any of the pilgrims whom he has so graphically described. In his instance, those succeeding shadows, those variations of unbelief, those recurring glooms all arose from the same fruitful source of ill: Satan was afraid that he was about to lose a bondslave, and therefore aroused himself to prevent his captive’s escape. Like the city of Mansoul when besieged by the troops of Immanuel, when Diabolus was loath to leave, the evil one barricades the doors, and strengthens the walls, so that there may be no entrance for the word of truth. Moreover, as we are told in the Revelation, the devil hath great wrath when he knoweth that his time is short; and he takes care, like a bad tenant, to do all the mischief he can before he is ejected. I may be addressing some such persons here, or in after days my words may meet the eye of poor tortured souls, O that they might find rest! It is painful in the extreme to meet with such unhappy minds, they are the great difficulty of a pastor’s work; so great indeed is the difficulty, that workers with little faith are ready to give up the task, and to leave the matter as impracticable. We have known those who have felt that they could pray no longer for their inconsolable friends: verily, beloved, we must not yield to so heartless a suggestion. As we said the other Sabbath morning, until the gate of hell is shut upon a man, we must not cease to pray for him; and if we see him hugging the very door-posts of damnation, we must go to the mercy-seat and beseech the arm of grace to pluck him from his dangerous position. While there is life there is hope, and, although the soul is almost smothered with despair, we must not despair for it, but rather arouse ourselves to awaken the almighty arm. The case of the Magdalene is a looking-glass in which many souls wrung with anguish may see themselves.” C. H. Spurgeon, “Mary Magdalene,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 14. Originally preached on January 26, 1868. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1868), 50-53.