Pay attention to these wonderful words

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Are you not surprised that there should be such an expression as that in the Bible, “That justifies the ungodly?” (Rom. 4:15) I have heard that men that hate the doctrines of the cross bring it as a charge against God, that He saves wicked men and receives to Himself the vilest of the vile. See how this Scripture accepts the charge, and plainly states it! By the mouth of His servant Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, He takes to Himself the title of “Him who justifies the ungodly” He makes those just who are unjust, forgives those who deserve to be punished, and favors those who deserve no favor. You thought, did you not, that salvation was for the good and that God’s grace was for the pure and holy, who are free from sin? It has fallen into your mind that, if you were excellent, then God would reward you; and you have thought that because you are not worthy, therefore there could be no way of you enjoying His favor.

You must be somewhat surprised to read a text like this: “Him who justifies the ungodly “I do not wonder that you are surprised; for with all my familiarity with the great grace of God, I never cease to wonder at it. It does sound surprising, does it not, that it should be possible for a holy God to justify an unholy man? We, according to the natural legality of our hearts, are always talking about our own goodness and our own worthiness, and we stubbornly hold to it that there must be something in us in order to win the notice of God. Now, God, who sees through all deceptions, knows that there is no goodness whatever in us. He says that “None is righteous, no not one” (Ro 3:10). He knows that “all our righteousness deeds are like a polluted garment”(Is 64:6), and, therefore the Lord Jesus did not come into the world to look after goodness and righteousness with him, and to give them upon persons who have none of them. He comes, not because we are just, but to make us so: he justifies the ungodly.

Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace

Quenching thirst with sand

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photo: iStock

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. Eph. 2:8-9 (HCSB)

To take comfort from our good doings, or good feelings, or good plans, or good prayers, or good experiences, is to delude ourselves, and to say peace when there is no peace. No man can quench his thirst with sand, or with water from the Dead Sea; so no man can find rest from his own character however good, or from his own acts however religious.

Horatius Bonar, God’s Way of Peace: A Book for the Anxious, 20–21.

What stands between us and God? Only one thing

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

There is only one thing between us and God, and that is our sin. It is not our intellect that separates us from God. The barrier is sin, this barrier that has come in. That is the problem: God is there, and we are here. “Why do I not know him?” asks someone. Because of this barrier. The only way to have it removed is through the Lord Jesus Christ. He came in order to be my sin offering. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself . . . he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21). There it is—your sin has been laid upon him, it has been dealt with, it is cleared. Believe it, thank God for it, and you will know him as your Father. Christ “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). “Do you need wisdom?” says Paul in essence to the cultured Greeks. “If you do, go to Christ. He is the wisdom of God; all the necessary truth is in him.” He is the truth.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing

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There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be trust as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest.

B.B. Warfield (as quoted in Doxology and Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader by Matt Boswell)

Where does your praise really come from?

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Let us watch, that our praise really flows “out of the abundance” of what our hearts have “learned” of His “righteous judgments.” For do we not sometimes speak of our Savior with a secret lurking after self-exaltation? May we not really be seeking and serving ourselves in the very act of seeming to serve and honor Him? Surely the very thought of the selfishness that defiles our holiest earthly praise, may well quicken our longings after that world of praise, where the flame burns active, bright, incessant; where we shall offer our sacrifices without defilement, without intermission, without weariness, without end.

Charles Bridges, An Exposition of Psalm 119

A kingdom beyond all hyperbole

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photo: iStock

Great reason we should be heavenly in our thoughts, affections, conversation, if we consider what a blessed kingdom heaven is. It is beyond all hyperbole. Earthly kingdoms scarce deserve the names of cottages compared with it. We read of an angel coming down from heaven, who set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth. Rev 10: 2. Had we but once been in the heavenly kingdom, and viewed the superlative glory of it, how might we, in holy scorn, trample with one foot on the earth, and with the other foot upon the sea? There are rivers of pleasure, gates of pearl, sparkling crowns, white robes; and should not this make our hearts heavenly? It is a heavenly kingdom, and such only go into it who are heavenly.

Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer

There is such a thing as a holy boldness in prayer

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A big question in the Christian life is whether or not praying things like “if it’s your will” is a cop-out. Some advocates of “bold” prayer, like Steven Furtick in his book Sun Stand Stillsuggest that if you’re praying like that, you’re doing it wrong. Your prayers are too small.

I understand why some complain about a lack of boldness in prayer—and I agree, there is a definite weakness in the prayers of many of us, notably my own. My heart is often too fickle to really believe God will answer, so I don’t sincerely ask. But what’s the solution? Is it to create big hairy audacious goals and demand that God move heaven and earth to allow you to accomplish them? This seems to be the thinking behind the solutions offered to believers struggling to pray boldly.

The problem, though, is that those who complain about a lack of boldness in prayer aren’t really talking about boldness at all. Instead, they’re advocating arrogant presumption upon God. It’s what J.C. Ryle calls in A Call to Prayer, “an unfitting familiarity” in prayer, something never to be praised.

Instead, we ought to pursue what Ryle calls “a holy boldness, which is exceedingly to be desired.” This is not arrogant presumption, but the pattern of the saints of old. Ryle writes:

I mean such boldness as that of Moses, when he pleads with God not to destroy Israel “Why,” says he, “should the Egyptians speak and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains? Turn from your fierce anger.” Exodus 32:12. I mean such boldness as that of Joshua, when the children of Israel were defeated before men of Ai: “What,” says he, “will you do unto your great name?” Joshua 7:9. This is the boldness for which Luther was remarkable. One who heard him praying said, “What a confidence was in his very expressions. With such a reverence he sued, as one begging of God — and yet with such hope and assurance, as if he spoke with a loving father or friend. This is the boldness which distinguished Bruce, a great Scottish divine of the seventeenth century. His prayers were said to be “like bolts shot up into Heaven.” Here also I fear we sadly come short. We do not sufficiently realize the believer’s privileges. We do not plead as often as we might, “Lord, are we not your own people? Is it not for your glory that we should be sanctified? Is it not for your honor that your gospel should increase?”

This is what I want to see in my own life—a confidence in my prayers, that even as I plead, it is with hope and assurance. To have prayers that are like “bolts shot up into Heaven.” There is no presumption in that; rather there is an appropriate confidence and trust in the One whom we seek in prayer, and a desire to see his name made great in our world. It’s the kind of boldness that sets aside our agendas in favor of God’s.

That is holy boldness in prayer. Though I may fall short, Lord, let me pray in that way.

The Holy Spirit does not work a blind, ungrounded faith

One of the many books I’m very (very!) slowing plugging away at is The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary by Fred Zaspel. Warfield, as Zaspel points out in his introduction, is someone much admired by scholars for his commanding authority and yet few lay persons seem to have read more than snippets (I’m certainly as guilty of this as anyone!).

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One of the reasons I’ve loved what I’ve read of Warfield is the depth of his thinking—his understanding of a given theological subject is by no means superficial. There’s a weightiness that’s too often missing from those of us who write today.

Consider these words on the kind of faith God brings forth in the hearts of those he is redeeming:

It certainly is not in the power of all the demonstrations in the world to make a Christian. Paul may plant and Apollos water; it is God alone who gives the increase. But it does not seem to follow that Paul would as well, therefore, not plant, and Apollos as well not water. Faith is the gift of God; but it does not in the least follow that the faith that God gives is an irrational faith, that is, a faith without grounds in right reason. It is beyond all question only the prepared heart that can fitly respond to the “reasons”; but how can even a prepared heart respond, when there are no “reasons” to draw out its action? . . . The Holy Spirit does not work a blind, an ungrounded faith in the heart. What is supplied by his creative energy in working faith is not a ready-made faith, rooted in nothing and clinging without reason to its object; nor yet new grounds of belief in the object presented; but just a new ability of the heart to respond to the grounds of faith, sufficient in themselves, already present to the understanding. We believe in Christ because it is rational to believe in him, not though it be irrational. Accordingly, our Reformed fathers always posited in the production of faith the presence of the “argumentum propter quod credo,” as well as the “principium seu causa efficiens a quo ad credendum adducor.” That is to say, for the birth of faith in the soul, it is just as essential that grounds of faith should be present to the mind as that the Giver of faith should act creatively upon the heart.

B.B. Warfield, as quoted in The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway 2010)

Warfield understands well that the Christian faith is not a light and airy thing—it is a weighty thing indeed. Our faith doesn’t abandon the intellect, but embraces, encourages—even demands!—that we use our minds well to the glory of God. How better off would we be if we truly grasped that truth. What would be different?


Zaspel’s two works on Warfield, The Theology of B. B. Warfield ($3.99 ePub and Kindle) and Warfield on the Christian Life ($2.99 ePub and Kindle) are currently on sale in various eBook formats at Amazon and Crossway. These are books you don’t want to pass up, so order them now before this special pricing ends.

Do not be discouraged

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If Satan fume and roar against you, whether it be against your bodies by persecution, or inward in your conscience by a spiritual battle, do not be discouraged, as though you were less acceptable in God’s presence, or that Satan might at any time prevail against you. No! Your temptations and storms that arise so suddenly argue and witness that the seed that is sown has fallen on good ground, has begun to take root, and shall, by God’s grace, bring forth fruit abundantly in due season and convenient time. That is what Satan fears; and therefore thus he rages (and shall rage) against you, thinking that if he can repulse you now suddenly in the beginning, that then you will be at all times an easy prey, never able to resist his assaults. But as my hope is good, so shall my prayer be, that you may be so strengthened, that the world and Satan himself may understand and perceive, that God fights your battle.

John Knox, The Works of John Knox Vol. 4

Before the first star was kindled, Christ loved his Church

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Before the first star was kindled, before the first living creature began to sing the praise of its Creator, he loved his Church with an everlasting love. He spied her in the glass of predestination, pictured her by his divine foreknowledge, and loved her with all his heart; and it was for this cause that he left his Father, and became one with her, that he might redeem her. It was for this cause that he went with her through all this vale of tears, discharged her debts, and bore her sins in his own body on the tree. For her sake he slept in the tomb, and with the same love that brought him down he has gone up again, and with the same heart beating true to the same blessed betrothment he has gone into the glory, waiting for the marriage day when he shall come again, to receive his perfected spouse, who shall have made herself ready by his grace. Never for a moment, whether as God over all, blessed forever, or as God and man in one divine person, or as dead and buried, or as risen and ascended, never has he changed in the love he bears to his chosen.

Charles H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. XL

What is essential to obtaining a quiet and untroubled heart?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

We can come to the Father even while we are in this world, having a certain knowledge of him and intimacy with him so that whatever may happen to us in this life, we are always in touch with God and always in communion and fellowship with him.

In other words, we should be able to say, as the Bible says we should, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:6). So when illness comes or accident or war or trial or persecution or even death itself, I can immediately speak to God and know that I am in his hand. So whatever happens to me, I know “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). Come to the Father—really come to know God, so that God becomes to you more real, in a sense, than anything you see. This is essential to obtaining a quiet and untroubled heart.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

Unless Christ is central, the experience is counterfeit

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Unless this Christ, the Son of God, is in the central place as the only way to God, there is no gospel.… The times are desperate, they are urgent, and I can think of nothing sadder than for men and women to think they are in relationship to God and then find, at the critical moment, that it has all been a delusion. There are counterfeit experiences; there is an enemy, the devil, who can, according to the apostle Paul, transform himself into a veritable “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He will do anything, he will give any kind of experience as long as he can stand between you and this message of Christ. But here is the teaching of the Lord himself: “I myself am the way. No man comes unto the Father but by me.” The apostle Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, says, “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “For,” says the apostle Paul, speaking of his time in Corinth, “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). These men were Jews; they had always believed in God. But what they had come to see was that there is no knowledge of God as Father, no arriving in his presence and spending eternity with him, except through this Christ of God.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

A purchased peace

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Christ hath purchased peace for his people; and what Christ hath purchased for them, God the Father is engaged to give unto them. Read the purchase in Eph. 2:13-14, “But now in Christ Jesus, ye who were sometimes afar off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us. Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments, for to make in himself of twain, one new man, so making peace.” Verse 16, “And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby; and came and preached peace unto you that were afar off, and to them that were nigh.” So that thus ye see it is the purchase of Jesus Christ: this inward peace and quietness of soul, it is Christ’s purchase; and what Christ the Son hath purchased, God the Father is engaged to give.

William Bridge, A Lifting Up for the Downcast

Pride is spiritual cancer

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It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life. But you can see why. The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature. But this does not come through our animal nature at all. It comes direct from Hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly. For the same reason, Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices.

Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy’s Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity—that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride—just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Kindle location 1625)