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Beware of the spiritual slide (C.H. Spurgeon)

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; But the LORD weigheth the spirits.” Proverbs 16:2
“Do you not know, brethren and sisters, that very often our ways seem very clean to us when they are not. I have learned by experience, most painful to my own soul, that I am not in the least qualified to judge of my own spiritual health: I have thought myself gradually advancing in the ways of God when I have been going back, and I have had the conceit crossing my mind that I had now overcome a certain besetting sin, when to my surprise I had found it return with greater force than before. Fellow professor, you may be at this moment walking as you think very rightly, and going on very well and comfortably, but let me ask you a few questions: are you not less in private prayer than you used to be? Do you not now hurry over it, do you not sometimes omit it altogether? Do you not frequently come from your closet without really having spoken to God, having merely gone through the form for the sake of quieting yourself? Your way may seem clean, but is it not foul when the mercy-seat becomes neglected?

  How about your Bible, is that read as it once was, and are the promises as sweet to you? Do they ever rise from the page and talk with you? Oh, but if your Bible be neglected, my brother, you may be just as diligent in attending to the house of God as you used to be, but is not yours a sad state of decay? Let me come closer still. Is there the vitality about your profession that there used to be? There are some in this house this morning, who, if they could speak, would tell you that, when to their great sorrow they fell into sin, it was because by little and little their piety began to lose its force and power of life. They have been restored, but their bones still ache where they were once broken, and I am sure they would say to their brethren, ‘Take care of allowing a gracious spirit to evaporate, as it were, by slow degrees. Watch carefully over it, lest, settling upon your lees, and not being emptied from vessel to vessel, you should by-and-by become carnally secure, and afterwards fall into actual sin.

  I ask some of my brethren here, and I ask the question because I have asked it of my own soul and answered it very tearfully, may not some of us be growing hardened in heart with regard to the salvation of our fellow creatures? Do we not love less now, than we used to do, those who are crying to us, ‘Come over and help us’? Do we not think ourselves getting to be experienced saints? We are not the poor sinners we once used to be. We do not come broken-heartedly to the mercy-seat as we did. We begin to judge our fellow Christians, and we think far less of them than we did years ago, when we used almost to love the ground that the Lord’s saints did tread upon, thinking ourselves to be less than nothing in their sight. Now, if it were the case in others, that they were growing proud, or becoming cold, or waxing hard of heart, we should say of them, ‘they are in great danger,’ but what about ourselves, if that be the case with us? For my own self, I dread lest I should come to this pulpit, merely to preach to you, because the time has come, and I must get through an hour, or an hour-and-a-half of worship.

  I dread getting to be a mere preaching machine, without my heart and soul being exercised in this solemn duty; and I dread for you, my dear friends, who hear me constantly, lest it should be a mere piece of clock-work, that you should be in the seats, at certain times in the week, and should sit there, and patiently hear the din which my noise makes in your ears. We must have vital godliness, and the vitality of it must be maintained, and the force and energy of our religion, must go on to increase day by day, or else, though our ways may seem to be very clean, the Lord will soon weigh our spirits to our eternal confusion.

  Do you know that to his people the divine weighing in fatherly chastisement is rough work, for he can put the soul into the scale to our own consciousness, and when we think that it weighs pounds, he can reveal to us that it does not even reach to drachms! ‘There,’ saith he, ‘see what you are!’ and he begins to strip off the veil of self-conceit, and we see the loathsomeness and falsehood of our nature, and we are utterly dismayed. Or perhaps the Lord does worse than that. He suffers a temptation to come when we do not expect it, and then the evil boils up within us, and we, who thought we were next door to the cherubs, find ourselves near akin to the demons; wondering, too, that such a wild beast should have slumbered in the den of our hearts, whereas we ought to have known it was always there, and to have walked humbly with God, and watched and guarded ourselves.

  Rest assured, beloved, great falls and terrible mischief never come to a Christian man at once, they are a work of slow degrees; and be assured, too, that you may glide down the smooth waters of the river and never dream of the Niagara beyond, and yet you may be speeding towards it. An awful crash may yet come to the highest professor among us, that shall make the world to ring with blasphemy against God, and the church to resound with bitter lamentations because the mighty have fallen. God will keep his own, but how if I should turn out not to be his own! He will keep the feet of his saints, but what if I leave off to watch, and my feet should not be kept, and I should turn out to be no saint of his, but a mere intruder into his family, and a pretender to have what I never had! O God, through Christ Jesus, deliver each of us from this.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Unsound Spiritual Trading,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 15. Originally preached on January 10, 1869. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1869), 22-23.

Only one will not do…How many have you?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

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Today, February 9th, is the birthday of notable historical figures such as the 9th President of the United States, William Henry Harrison, and the 18th century philosopher and political agitator – not to mention inveterate infidel – Thomas Paine.  Contemporary figures such as Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, the diminutive actor Joe Pesci, and the actress Mia Farrow were also born on this date.  More pertinent to my situation: 38 years ago today I was born in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, USA.  This birth was somewhat surprising because I arrived 3 months early (I’ve always been partial to dramatic entrances!)  The local doctors looked at this scrawny baby who weighed a mere 2 pounds 7 ounces and opined that I only had a 30% chance of surviving.  Happily, there is a God who rules over all and determines the times appointed for men.  Thus, in His sovereign mercy He spared my life.

A Mother’s Faith & A Faithful God

Although premature and suffering from cerebral palsy – which would go undiagnosed until I was nearly two – I enjoyed many blessings.  My chief advantage was to be born into a household where the parents were devout Christians who had a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and knew the value of intercessory prayer.  Anyone who has met my parents knows that my father is louder, larger, and much more forceful than my mother.  Nonetheless, in the early moments of my life it was my faithful Christian mother who offered a “Hannah prayer” to the Lord.  Those unfamiliar with this great woman of faith, Hannah, can consult 1 Samuel chapters 1 and 2.  Hannah prayed that the Lord would give her a son so that she could give him back to the Almighty for His service.  Similarly, my mother said, “Lord if you spare the boy’s life, I’ll give him back to You for Your work”.  I did not learn of this prayer for many years.  It was only after I began preaching and teaching from the Word of God that she told me of her “bargain” with the Lord.  In His grace, He honored that prayer and I have now been preaching His Word for over 20 years, spending nearly 12 of those in full time service for His glory.

Of course, my second birthday occurred 7 years after my first.  Thanks to the faithful witness of my parents as well as countless sermons heard in our local church, I was well-acquainted with the story of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I knew that there is a God who sent His Son into the world to die on the cross for sinners (1 Tim. 1:15.)  I also knew that not having the Son of God as my Savior left me in the dreadful state of being under the righteous condemnation of God for my sins (John 3:36.)  As a boy of 7, alone on my cousin’s porch, I simply asked the Lord to save me based on what His Word said: that His Son died for me and rose again so that I could be given eternal life.  John 3 famously describes the conversion experience as being “born again”.  It could also be translated “born anew” or “born from above”.  2 Corinthians 5:17 assures us that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature.  On that summer’s day I passed from a state of spiritual death – that is alienation from God and His life – to a state of spiritual life – knowing God through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:24; John 17:3.)

Happy Birthday To Me (Twice)

So on this day, my 38th birthday, I give thanks to God for His mercy and grace towards me: for allowing me to receive the Lord Jesus as my Savior and serve Him throughout my adolescence and adult life.  In my local church when someone has a birthday, we often sing a second verse to the well-known birthday chorus; the lyrics are as follows:

Happy birthday to you, only one will not do!

Born again means salvation, how many have you?

I am so thankful to write that I have 2 birthdays.  The natural one on February 9th, and the spiritual one on a specific day whose date I have forgotten from the summer of 1980.  Nonetheless, Christ lives within me and I live in Him (Col. 1:27; Rom. 8:1.)  If you cannot say that you have two, I urge you to read John 3 and consider where you stand with the Lord.  If you are to be saved from your sin and gain eternal life, you must receive the Lord Jesus Christ or to put it as He did, “you must be born again” (John 3:7.)

The Terror of Unanswered Prayer

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

“When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.” Prov. 1:27-33i
Alluding to the words of Revelation 6:16, the classic hymn, “The Love of God” says: “When years of time shall pass away/and earthly thrones and kingdoms fall/when men who here refuse to pray/ on rocks and hills and mountains call/God’s love so sure shall still endure all measureless and strong…”ii This haunting stanza reminds one that a fearful day of judgment will one day overtake this planet. Disbelieving creatures, now heedless of the danger to their souls, will then cry out for mercy, but it will be too late. By contrast, believers will never come into condemnation and possess the settled assurance that God hears and answers their prayers. One must weigh the difference between the saved and the lost in regard to prayer.
Wisdom Weighs In
Proverbs frequently uses the literary device of personification (i.e. “An imaginary or ideal person conceived as representing a thing or abstraction.”)iii The book opens with Wisdom entreating “the simple” and “fools” to repent of their scornful repudiation of knowledge and glean understanding from her (Prov. 1:20-24.) Although Wisdom is an abstract concept, the One “in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden,” embodies its characteristics (Col. 2:3.) Thus, in the passage Wisdom is a stand-in for the Lord’s opinion – much like Proverbs 8:12-36.
Wisdom takes umbrage with the unrighteous because “they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would none of my counsel; they despised all of my reproof” (Prov. 1:29-30.) The “fear of the Lord” is certainly a foreign concept to modern people. To acknowledge a Higher Being to whom they are beholden is odious to skeptical men and women. “Question Authority” is still the mantra of many, and they reject any notion of a God whom we need to fear. Henley’s poem may be over-quoted in Christian Apologetic literature, but the lines still record the sentiment of contemporary mankind: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”iv
Of course, the Lord is not like the pagan deities, fetishes, and demons that so often inspire terror-stricken adherents to acts of barbarism. People fear those sorts of false gods because they threaten their devotees with curses, spells, bad luck, and the like. Such caricatures of the Almighty offer nothing but craven capitulation to blind slavery. By contrast, the True and Living God inspires love, because He first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19; Rom. 5:8.) He also empowers us to live holy lives by His indwelling Spirit (Gal. 5:16-18, 22-23; Rom. 8.)
There is a proper “fear of the Lord,” which refers to believers’ respect for the awesome power and majesty of God. As one defines it: “Encompassing and building on attitudes of awe and reverence, it is the proper and elemental response of a person to God. This religious fear of God is a major biblical image for the believer’s faith. In fact, there are well over a hundred references to the fear of God in the positive sense of faith and obedience.”v Psalm 19:9 describes it in these words: “The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring for ever: The ordinances of Jehovah are true, and righteous altogether.” The Lord is pure and just, and fearing Him does not inspire debauchery, brutality, or the other forms of wickedness that are so common in fearful pagan adoration. The biblical fear of God is closely associated with worship. As one writer puts it: “True worship is reverential fear that discourages disobedience on the one hand and encourages obedience to God on the other hand.”vi
Prayerlessness Is Next To Godlessness
The fear of the Lord is entry level truth to gathering Wisdom’s treasures. If one refuses to reverence their Maker, they will be shut out from the enlightenment that He provides to His followers. Instead of the fear of God, “…fear cometh as a storm, and your calamity cometh on as a whirlwind…distress and anguish come upon you” (Prov. 1:27.) Since they rejected Wisdom’s counsel, they are left to reap the fruit of their misguided decisions (vv. 29-31.) They refuse to pray when God offers Himself in grace, only to have their prayers go unheeded when wrath overtakes them. Speaking as Wisdom, the Lord unequivocally says: “…they call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me” (v. 28.)
What a terrible thing it is to have the Lord turn away from one’s prayer. To realize too late one’s need, and to be shut up to the bad decisions one has made. Billions will find to their cost that prayer is no vain pursuit. Rather, one who now calls on God in fear for their eternal soul and asks Him to save them based on the sacrifice and work of the Lord Jesus Christ will never be turned away (Jn. 6:37.) Seeing oneself as a hell-bound, wrath-deserving sinner, who cannot by any means save oneself, one turns in repentance and faith to the Savior, asking Him for new life and turning oneself over to Him. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13.)
On the other side of the coin, believers are assured that God hears and answers their prayers. 1 John 5:14-15 teaches the beautiful effectiveness of believing prayer according to the will of God: “And this is the boldness which we have toward Him, that, if we ask anything according to His
will, He heareth us: and if we know that He heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of Him.” Thus, the early church devoted themselves to prayer and Paul asked for the intercession of believers (Acts 2:42; 1 Thes. 5:17, 25.) Contrary to the anxiety of the godless mentioned in Proverbs 1, believers enjoy God’s peace by bringing their requests and thanksgiving to Him (Phil. 4:6-7.) Christians ought to enter into this blessed access in prayer multiple times of day. Moreover, the local church prayer meetings ought to be overflowing with saints, who are passionately and freely interceding and supplicating the Lord on behalf of themselves and others. Sadly, all too often it is the few, rather than the many, who engage in this high and holy work.
i All verses in this article are taken from The American Standard Version, 1901 (ASV)
ii Frederick M. Lehman, “The Love of God”, accessed on 8/6/09 at: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/l/o/loveofgo.htm
iii Oxford English Dictionary, “Personification” – point “b”, Oxford University Press, 2nd edition (1989), electronic edition.
iv William Ernest Henley, “Invictus,” accessed on 8/6/09 at: http://www.constitution.org/col/invictus.htm
v vRyken, Leland ; Wilhoit, Jim ; Longman, Tremper ; Duriez, Colin ; Penney, Douglas ; Reid, Daniel G. “Fear of God,” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. electronic ed. Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity Press, 2000,, S. 277.
vi S.E. Porter, “Fear of God,” Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, ed. Ralph P. Martin & Peter H. Davids. Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity Press, 2000, electronic ed.

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