This is a beautiful hymn, proven time and again by our own experience, is it not? Perhaps one of the most stunning claims we make as Christians is that we have a book that accomplishes far more than any other printed material. We claim that reading a text and believing in faith is used by God to actually change us.
Laden with guilt and full of fears,
I fly to Thee, my Lord,
And not a glimpse of hope appears,
But in Thy written Word
The volumes of my Father’s grace
Does all my griefs assuage
Here I behold my Savior’s face
In every page.
This is the field where, hidden, lies
The pearl of price unknown
That merchant is divinely wise
Who makes the pearl his own
Here consecrated water flows
To quench my thirst of sin
Here the fair tree of knowledge grows,
No danger dwells within.
This is the judge that ends the strife,
Where wit and reason fail
My guide to everlasting life
Through all this gloomy vale
Oh may Thy counsels, mighty God,
My roving feet command,
Nor I forsake the happy road
That leads to Thy right hand.
One of the beauties of reading old books is that they dispel the ridiculous notions that somehow the people of yesteryear were fundamentally different than we are today. For all our internal combustion engines, polyester and rayon laced clothing, and penicillin, human nature never changes.
Samuel Pearce was an English pastor who died at the age of 34 from tuberculosis. While he died at an age that few today die, of an illness few today will die of, Samuel Pearce was no different than you or me. Writing to his good friend William Carey (yes, that William Carey), Pearce’s pen cries out:
I think I am the most vile, ungrateful servant that ever Jesus Christ employed in his church. At some times, I question whether I ever knew the grace of God in truth; and at others I hesistate on the most important points of the Christian faith. I have lately had peculiar struggles of this kind with my own heart, and have often half concluded to speak no more in the name of the Lord. When I am preparing for the pulpit, I fear I am going to avow fables for facts, and doctrines of men for the truths of God. In conversation I am obliged to be silent, lest my tongue should belie my heart. In prayer I know not what to say, and at times think prayer altogether useless…
I frequently find a backwardness to secret prayer, and much deadness in it; and it puzzles me to see how this can be consistent with a life of grace. However, I resolve, that, let what will become of me, I will do all I can for God while I live, and leave the rest to him; and this I usually experience to be the best way to be at peace…
My labours are acceptable and not altogether unprofitable to the hearers; but what is this to me, if my own soul starves whilst others are fed by me? O my brother, I need your prayers; and I feel a great satisfaction in the hope that you do not forget me. Oh that I may be kept faithful unto death!
Our heroes are flawed heroes. They fell into times of deep distress, long grey valleys where the sun did not seem to shine and the landscape afforded no glimmer of joy. They lost courage, held back their tongues when they ought to have spoken, found themselves grasping to the same promises of God in the midst of doubt and despair.
The difference with them is that their struggles exist in the greater context of a race finished. I read of Samuel Pearce and see that indeed he was faithful to the end, and the faithfulness at the end casts a brighter hue across the dusty grey trails they often trod. Yet, this is why we have the Scriptures, the same promises that have been clung to for generations upon generations of men and women fighting for faith in a world intent upon undoing such steadfast hope. He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it. Samuel Pearce proved it, and we are proving it for the next generation.
Last night I had a dream so real that when I awoke I was unsure which reality was actually reality. I was standing in one of my RAs’ room, talking with him when Satan showed up unannounced. He pounded the walls, broke down the door. In swept the rain and in swept him, standing before us with full intent to kill. Entirely unsure of what to do, we began shouting at him the promises of God we have through the person of Jesus Christ. I don’t think I was audibly screaming as I woke up when he began to approach, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was.
It was a dream; nothing more. It is not prescient of some catastrophe about to strike my life or a shadow of reality that needs to be interpreted back into what might be or might become. It was a dream, not unlike the sort where my seminary final exams prove to be about fertilizer treatments and lawn care.
And yet it struck me that this dream had a far better theology than that which runs through my mind on a day-to-day level in one area. Satan was real, and he was desperately evil. This was no here kitty kitty Satan. This was the roaring lion on a mission to kill, and he was coming for me.
A chapel speaker once asked us the question last year, “If every passage about Satan and the demons was struck out of the Bible would it change the way you pray?” At the time I could only answer no. Because I did not think of the active role the opposers of God play in history and in my own life. Tempter. Accuser. Deceiver. These are the titles of the Devil, and titles we would do well to remember. He is the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this world in which we live.
Martin Luther captured well the substance of living in a demon-haunted world under the banner of Christ.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
Amen and amen.
Many Christians, especially those who serve in some from of full-time vocational service, experience a unique bias toward those who do not know Christ. Christian people who are trying to grow in their faith surround themselves with other Christian people. They read Christian books, listen to Christian radio, and have Christian symbols displayed on their person and workspace, if possible. For those in Christian service, their primary responsibility lies in taking care of the flock of God. They work with Christians, have a Christian coffee mug from which to drink, have Christian paraphernalia decorating their offices, and fellowship primarily with other Christians. As a result, most Christians have very little contact with those who do not know Christ.
Truthfully, most Christians probably do not like being around non-Christians. Once Christ has transformed an individual, that person will often become very aware of the behavior of others. People outside of Christ become offensive in the language they use, in the attitudes they demonstrate, and in the behaviors they accentuate. As a result, many Christians isolate themselves from non-Christians.
If one truth can be communicated at this point, it is this: the reason that lost people act the way they do is because they are lost. That statement is not meant to be pejorative. It is meant, however, to arouse Chrsitains to examine their lifestyles and to discover why they are not more engaged with people outside of Christ. Evangelism must become a priority for believers if a Great Commussion Resurgence is to take place. For pastors, that level of primacy must begin with them. . . .
One of the reasons pastors are not witnessing is because they are responsible for a plethora of activities. They have administrative duties to handle including budgeting, staffing, planning, and programming. They have ministry to be done, from visiting Aunt Susie because her bunions are hurting to ministering to a family who has suffered an untimely death. They have visits to make, from hostpitals, to nursing homes, to the homebound, and to new members. They have discipleship to accomplish, from prayer groups, to personal mentoring, and to preparation for weekly Bible study. And they have sermons to prepare…lots of sermons. . . .
In the end, little time is left for evangelism. The most unfortunate issue in this entire scenario comes form the fact that the pastor will be criticized if he does not visit Aunt Susie, or if he misses seeing a church member who just needed a visit, or if his sermons are not as exciting or uplifting as that guy on television who smiles a lot. Rarely do people become upset if he has not done any evangelism….If we really beleive in evangelism, then churches must release their pastors from activities that members of the church can accomplish…
from The Great Commission Leader: The Pastor as Personal Evangelist by William D. Henard
in Great Commission Resurgence (ed. Chuck Lawless and Adam Greenaway)
pg. 273, 274, 278
Jonathan Edwards writes,
But though spiritual pride be so subtle and secret an iniquity, and commonly appears under a pretext of great humility; yet there are two things by which it may be discovered and distinguished. The first is this: he that is under the prevalence of this distemper, is apt to think highly of his attainments in religions, as comparing himself with others. . . .That the person who is apt to think that he, as compared with others, is a very eminent saint, much distinguished in christian experience, in whom this is a first thought, that rises of itself, and naturally offers itself; he is certainly mistaken; he is no eminent saint; but under the great prevailings of a proud and self-righteous spirit. And if this be habitual with the man, and is statedly the prevailing temper of his mind, he is no saint at all; he has not the least degree of any true christian experience; so surely as the word of God is true. . . .
Secondly, Another infallible sign of spiritual pride, is persons being apt to think highly of their humility. False experiences are commonly attended with a counterfeit humility. . . . An eminent saint is not apt to think himself eminent in any thing; all his graces and experiences appear to him to be comparatively small; but especially his humility. Nothing appertains to christian experience, and true piety, is so much more out of his sight. He is a thousand times more quick-sighted to discern his pride, than his humility. On the contrary, the deluded hypocrite, who is under the power of spiritual pride, is so blind to nothing as his pride; and so quick-sighted to nothing, as the shows of his humility.
from Religious Affections, italics in original
“There are some doctrines that if, come judgment day it turns out I’m wrong on, I’ll be really mad about. ‘You know Russell, the paedo-baptist were right.’ ‘What? Are you serious? The paedo-baptists? You’ve got to be kidding me!’ The age of the earth is not one of those. I’d shrug my shoulders and say “Well, okay.” (Dr. Russell Moore)
“If you teach your people a caricature of wrong positions, you will only serve drive them into those wrong positions when they encounter them. If you present evolutionists as a bunch of idiots and they prove not to be that, you’ve undermined everything that you have taught those people under your care. You were wrong about the evolutionists, what else were you wrong on?” (Dr. Russell Moore)
“Talk the way the Bible talks.” (Dr. Jim Hamilton)
“The problem with our prayer lives is not that we pray about the same old things every time. We naturally pray for the things that are important to us. The problem is that we pray for the same old things in the same old way.” (Dr. Donald Whitney)
“For those with mental illnesses, they need to realize that their radar is out and surround themselves with those who are not. All of us have times when we need others to help us. We need to realize our weak points and work to insulate ourselves with the wisdom of others….People can have ethical intuition skewed. Wisdom is recognizing it.” (Dr. Russell Moore)
“How does mercy relate to love? Mercy is a kind of love, but not all love is mercy. The Son loves the Father, but the Son does not show mercy to the Father.” (Dr. Russell Moore)
“We have to understand the system in wrong worldviews in order to blow it apart, not just caricature the system. It’s scary because we can’t just demonize them. There’s a reason why people believe what they do. They’re not stupid. There are usually good things in different systems, but they all have gaps.” (Dr. Russell Moore)
“Evangelical ethics usually goes wrong by thinking through individual ethics before ethics within the church. We see Paul judging people inside the church in 1 Corinthians 5, not those on the outside. People in the congregation like homosexuality sermons because its an ‘Us vs. Them’ situation. But we soften how we handle divorce. We call it a ‘tragedy’ instead of a ‘scandal,’ while railing on what is done on the outside of the church.” (Dr. Russell Moore)
“When you have weak eccleseology and strong political identification, you have people who are incensed if you insult a political figure but not about disbelieving the Trinity. They’ll tear up over Lee Greenwood’s ‘God Bless the USA’ but never shed a tear over ‘Holy, Holy, Holy.'” (Dr. Russell Moore)
“When faced with sinful issues, resist the temptation to build a hedge and bind people’s conscience for the sake of the few who struggle. Don’t ban computers from your people’s homes because some of them use internet pornography. It’s much harder to teach people to submit to Christ and love righteousness than make up rules for them to follow.” (Dr. Russell Moore)
“There is no silver bullet to protecting religious liberty other than a massive movement of healthy churches that the government is scared to mess with. As long as churches decline, religious liberty will decline.” (Dr. Russell Moore)
“You want all people to come into the church and experience an embassy-like experience of the Kingdom as an outpost of it, yet recognizing where it is in the context. A USA embassy in Saudi Arabia must be American. But there also must not people people chanting ‘U-S-A Rules!’ outside. Know your context and understand the transcendent Kingdom. We’re all satellite campuses of Mount Zion Church of Heaven right now.” (Dr. Russell Moore)
“A wedding is not a bling show. It is a covenant, not an expression of the love of the couple. The community verifies that the couple ought to be getting married. The opportunity to voice against the marriage is the center of the ceremony, as the community affirms or denies the legitimacy of the union.” (Dr. Russell Moore)
“Generational divides within the church exacerbate sexual issues in the church. We blame the younger people for the divide. No! It’s the older people who have neglected to train them. Older men with younger men, older women with younger women. We have to train our young people how to fight the battles against Satan’s potential inroads.” (Dr. Russell Moore)
“Men, have you heard the rumors of about this class? Let me tell you it’s far worse than the stories. I’ll never trick you. I’m coming with the 105 mph fastball every pitch. You are Joe Theismann and I am Lawrence Taylor. And I’m coming for your leg every single play.” (Dr. Russell Fuller, Elementary Hebrew)
Perhaps sensing that morale was low within our Hebrew Syntax class, Dr. Betts rallied the troops by sharing this story with us on Thursday:
“I was beckoned out of the classroom during drills one day and this guy was crying and shaking uncontrollably. I figured something really terrible must have happened. After he composed himself I asked him what was wrong and he said, ‘H-H-Hebrew.’ I got mad at him. I had backed over my son with my car and nearly killed him earlier in the semester. That’s a trial. Hebrew is a privilege that men around the world would give everything to study, and you’re crying about it?”