It’s not insensitive, it’s simply the truth

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It’s not manipulative or insensitive to bring up the urgent nature of salvation. It’s simply the truth. The time of opportunity will end.

As Christians, we’ve come alive to the truth that history isn’t cyclical, always repeating in an endless rotation of events, spinning till any given part of it becomes meaningless. No! We know that God has created this world, and that he will bring it to a close at the judgment. We know that he gives us life, and he takes it away. The time that we have is limited; the amount is uncertain, but the use of it is up to us. So Paul tells us in Ephesians to “make the most of every opportunity (5:16).”

Like a collector buying up a collection, we should desire to capture each fleeting hour and to turn it into a trophy for God and his grace. As Paul said, “The time is short. From now on … those who use the things of the world [should use them] as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:29, 31).

What are your circumstances right now? Trust the Lord to use you in them instead of seeking for new ones. Don’t let the passing permanence of your world or the lulling tedium of certain long hours and minutes make a fool of you. The days are “evil” (Eph. 5:16) in the sense that they are dangerous and fleeting, and we must redeem the time and make the most of every hour. So we say with Paul that, in view of a certain judgment, Christ’s love compels us to tell the good news to others (see 2 Cor. 5:10–15). We must be honest not only about the cost of repentance, but also about the expiration date of the offer. Such honesty compels us to urgency.

Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, 58-59

(photo credit: snaps via photopin cc)

6 quotes Christians need to let lie fallow

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

We Christians do love our quotes—and there are so many brilliant ones to choose from! But by golly, we sure do seem to be a repetitive bunch. Far too often, we’re using the same quotes, over and over.

And over.

So yesterday, inspired by a friend’s lament of the increased use of the Samwise “everything sad is coming untrue” quote from Lord of the Rings, I took to the Interwebs to get your feedback, asking what you believe are the most over-used quotes from Christian authors.

Here are the top answers:

1. “We are far too easily pleased…” From C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

2. John Piper’s mission statement. From Desiring God (and pretty much everything else he’s ever written and/or preached since):

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

3. “He is no fool…” From The Journals of Jim Elliot:

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

4. “More wicked… but more loved.” Tim Keller’s gospel summary, from multiple books and sermons:

“We are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope.”

5. C.S. Lewis’ trilemma. From Mere Christianity:

‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

6. The one which Martin Luther never actually said. But the ideas can definitely be gleaned from his work:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.

You can see why they’re quoted so often. They’re conceptually brilliant and (in most cases) captivating in their simplicity. But there are two dangers with quoting these so frequently:

We risk cheapening their meaning. And when that happens, powerful truths become pithy sentiments. 

That’s the first danger. The second is it reveals we may not be diversifying our reading in a healthy fashion. When we all read the same books, by the same people, quoting the same things, we risk creating a homogenous intellectualism. And when this happens, we risk losing our ability to think critically, as well as the joy of discovering ideas that come from outside our normal spheres of influence.

When boundaries are swept aside, pragmatism follows

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Whenever truth, dogma, and boundary lines are swept to the side in churches, pragmatism almost always follows, just as it does in philosophical circles.… In and of itself, thinking pragmatically is not a bad thing. The problem comes when pragmatism fills the vacuum left by the rejection of biblical principles, such that pragmatism becomes the only principle. Pragmatism, by its very nature, requires us to base our decisions on visible, even quantifiable, results. But surely the utility of statistics in a Christian church is limited at best, deceiving at worst. Does a large church mean that the preaching has been sound or entertaining? It’s hard to say. How can we quantify the movement of the supernatural? How accurately can we evaluate those things that the Bible assures us can be seen only with eyes of faith? How well can we discern what’s in the mind of God?

In other words, the very things that give life and breath to the church cannot be seen or measured. A hundred Boy Scouts can meet in a room, as can a hundred Masons, as can a hundred Muslims, as can a hundred people calling themselves “Christian.” What’s the difference between these groups? Statistically, nothing. What’s the difference between them spiritually? Hopefully, everything. But spiritual differences can be seen only with spiritual eyes. They cannot be surveyed with the kinds of questions human beings are capable of answering by checking a box, at least until ministers and churches become able to discern which conversions are genuine and which ones aren’t, and whether numerical growth in the church is a sign of God’s decision in eternity past to bless a church with fruitfulness or merely the effectiveness of catchy programs.

Statistics may have their uses for churches, but the most important things about a church cannot be measured—the differences between fake and real, between flesh and spirit, between the minds of men and the mind of God. Only as we stand before God on the day of judgment will the real measurement of things be revealed. Sadly, too many pastors and churches attempt to measure their ministry by what is seen rather than what is unseen.

Adapted from Jonathan Leeman, The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, 60-61

His best things are so interwoven with corruptions

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I admit fully that man has many grand and noble faculties left about him, and that in arts and sciences and literature he shows immense capacity. But the fact still remains that in spiritual things he is utterly “dead,” and has no natural knowledge, or love, or fear of God. His best things are so interwoven and intermingled with corruption, that the contrast only brings out into sharper relief the truth and extent of the fall. That one and the same creature should be in some things so high and in others so low,—so great and yet so little,—so noble and yet so mean,—so grand in his conception and execution of material things, and yet so grovelling and debased in his affections,—that he should be able to plan and erect buildings like those to Carnac and Luxor in Egypt, and the Parthenon at Athens, and yet worship vile gods and goddesses, and birds, and beasts, and creeping things,—that he should be able to produce tragedies like those of Æschylus and Sophocles, and histories like that of Thucydides, and yet be a slave to abominable vices like those described in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans,—all this is a sore puzzle to those who sneer at “God’s Word written,” and scoff at us as Bibliolaters, But it is a knot that we can untie with the Bible in our hands. We can acknowledge that man has all the marks of a majestic temple about him,—a temple in which God once dwelt, but a temple which is now in utter ruins,—a temple in which a shattered window here, and a doorway there, and a column there, still give some faint idea of the magnificence of the original design, but a temple which from end to end has lost its glory and fallen from its high estate. And we say that nothing solves the complicated problem of man’s condition but the doctrine of original or birth-sin and the crushing effects of the fall.

J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots

The world rests on revelation

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The world itself rests on revelation; revelation is the presupposition, the foundation, the secret of all that exists in all its forms. The deeper science pushes its investigations, the more clearly will it discover that revelation underlies all created being. In every moment of time beats the pulse of eternity; every point in space is filled with the omnipresence of God; the finite is supported by the infinite, all becoming is rooted in being. Together with all created things, that special revelation which comes to us in the Person of Christ is built on these presuppositions.

The foundations of creation and redemption are the same. The Logos who became flesh is the same by whom all things were made. The first-born from the dead is also the first-born of every creature. The Son, whom the Father made heir of all things, is the same by whom he also made the worlds. Notwithstanding the separation wrought by sin, there is a progressive approach of God to his creatures. The transcendence does not cease to exist, but becomes an ever deeper immanence. But as a disclosure of the greatness of God’s heart, special revelation far surpasses general revelation, which makes known to us the power of his mind. General revelation leads to special, special revelation points back to general.

The one calls for the other, and without it remains imperfect and unintelligible. Together they proclaim the manifold wisdom which God has displayed in creation and redemption.

Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation, pp. 27-28

Let no one see your face till God has seen it

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Do not try to tell your tale to man till you have told it first to God. When you are at home on Christmas-day, let no one see your face till God has seen it. Be up in the morning, wrestle with God; and if you friends are not converted, wrestle with God for them; and then you will find it easy work to wrestle with them for God. Seek, if you can, to get them one by one, and tell them the story. Do not be afraid; only think of the good you may possibly do. Remember, he that saves a soul from death hath covereth a multitude of sins, and he shall have stars in his crown for ever and ever. Seek to be under God—Saviours in your family, to be the means of leading your own beloved brethren and sisters to seek and to find the Lord Jesus Christ, and then one day, when you shall meet in Paradise, it will be a joy and blessedness to think that you are there, and that your friends are there too, whom God will have made you the instrument of saving. Let your reliance in the Holy Spirit be entire and honest. Trust not yourself, but fear not to trust him. He can give you words. He can apply those words to their heart, and so enable you to “minister grace to the hearers.”

Charles Spurgeon, Going Home

Celebrate the festive day!

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Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for his mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.

Augustine (as published in Peace by Stephen J. Nichols, p. 72)

Celebrate with all the good cheer you can afford

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We have nearly arrived at the great merry-making season of the year. On Christmas-day we shall find all the world in England enjoying themselves with all the good cheer which they can afford. Servants of God, you who have the largest share in the person of him who was born at Bethlehem, I invite you to the best of all Christmas faire—to nobler food than makes the table groan—bread from heaven, food for your spirit. Behold, how rich and how abundant are the provisions which God has made for the high festival which he would have his servants keep, not now and then, but all the days of their lives!

Charles Spurgeon (as published in Peace by Stephen J. Nichols, p. 92)

Living in her Old Testament faith

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Mary was not chosen because of any human merit, not even for being, as she undoubtedly was, deeply devout, nor even for her humility or any other virtue, but entirely and uniquely because it is God’s gracious will to love, to choose, to make great what is lowly, unremarkable, considered to be of little value. Mary the tough, devout, ordinary working man’s wife, living in her Old Testament faith and hoping in her Redeemer, becomes the mother of God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (as published in Peace by Stephen J. Nichols, pp. 28-29)

A lovely sound penetrating the soul

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Behold here what the Gospel is, namely, a joyful sermon concerning Christ, our Savior. Whoever preaches him rightly, preaches the Gospel of pure joy. How is it possible for man to hear of greater joy than that Christ has given to him as his own? He does not only say Christ is born, but he makes his birth our own by saying, to you a Savior.

Therefore the Gospel does not only teach the history concerning Christ; but it enables all who believe it to receive it as their own … Of what benefit would it be to me if Christ had been born a thousand times, and it would daily be sung into my ears in a most lovely manner, if I were never to hear that he was born for me and was to be my very own? If the voice gives forth this pleasant sound, even if it be in homely phrase, my heart listens with joy for it is a lovely sound which penetrates the soul.

Martin Luther (as published in Peace by Stephen J. Nichols, pp. 79)

The regal emblem of a scepter

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So Caesar gave the command in order to tax the whole world (Lk. 2:1). The star gave the command that magi from the east would voluntarily come, bearing gifts (Mt. 2:11). Augustus won his throne through a great deal of killing at the battle of Actium. The Lord Jesus won His throne at the battle of Golgotha, where He conquered and crushed the devil by dying, and not by killing. The star in the east, the one the wise men followed, was a star that declared a coming kingdom, a kingdom that would never end. This is the kingdom of the true king, before whom the most magnificent kings in the history of the world were but flickering types and shadows.

Note the contrasts. Taxes are coerced from the populace, for kings are afraid that if they weren’t mandatory, then no one would pay them. But the first tribute that came to Jesus was tribute borne by traveling aristocratic foreigners, who were under absolutely no obligation to bring their gifts—other than the internal obligation that God had given them. The difference between these two forms of taxation can also be seen in how these rulers undertake their rule. Augustus insisted that taxes be paid to him. Christ came down to insist that the fundamental payment be made by Him. And because He humbled Himself freely, God saw to it that tribute flowed to Him freely and without coercion.

The star of Bethlehem is therefore the regal emblem of a scepter, a scepter of never-ending glory. That glory is the glory of free grace, which means that we are ruled in liberty. We give in the same way that the wise men did, out of sheer gratitude.

Douglas Wilson, God Rest Ye Merry: Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything

Celebrating Christmas is telling the story of world history

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In our celebration of Christmas, we are telling the story of world history. Just as the Fourth of July tells the story of independence from Britain, so Christmas tells the story of our successful war for independence from the devil. Christmas, and all the symbols of it (whether trees, carols, or Handel’s Messiah), are markers, monuments built from stone. They are an Ebenezer—thus far the Lord has helped us.

And practice. We order our lives around the life and accomplishments of Jesus. We do this, not so that we might live like pagans in between our holidays, but rather so that these holidays will mark and bound our lives, lives that are lived in the light of the conquering gospel.

And since we believe that the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, by this celebration we are not only living out our own worldview, we are declaring to unbelievers what the worldview of the entire earth will someday be.

Douglas Wilson, God Rest Ye Merry: Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything

He must stoop in order to lift

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In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must also disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.

C.S. Lewis (as published in Peace by Stephen J. Nichols, pp. 18-19)

The ears of many are stopped up with earth!

Hands Holding a Seedling and Soil

The ears of many of our hearers are stopped up with earth! I mean the cares of the world, that the Word preached will not enter, according to that in the parable, ‘Hearing, they hear not’ (Matthew 13:13). We read of Saul, his eyes were open—yet ‘he saw no man’ (Acts 9:8). A strange paradox! And is it not as strange that men’s ears should be open—yet ‘in hearing hear not?’ They mind not what is said: ‘They sit before you as my people—but their heart goes after their covetousness’ (Ezekiel 33:31). Many sit and stare the minister in the face—yet scarcely understand a word he says. They are thinking of their wares and are often casting up accounts in the church. If a man is in a grinding-mill, though you speak ever so loud to him—he does not hear you for the noise of the mill. We preach to men about matters of salvation—but the grinding-mill of worldly business makes such a noise that they cannot hear! ‘In hearing, they hear not.’ It being thus, ministers who are called ‘sons of thunder’ had need often ascend the mount and ‘lift up their voice like a trumpet’ (Isaiah 58:1) that the deaf ear may be cleaned and unstopped, and may hear ‘what the Spirit says unto the churches’ (Revelation 2:7).

As some have earth in their ears—so others have a stone in their hearts! They make ‘their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear’ (Zechariah 7:12). The ministers of Christ therefore must be frequently brandishing the sword of the Spirit and striking at men’s sins, that, if possible, they may at last pierce the heart of stone! When the earth is scorched with the sun, it is so hard and crusted, that one shower of rain will not soften it. There must be shower after shower before it will be either moist or fertile. Such a hardened piece, is the heart of man naturally. It is so stiffened with the scorchings of lust, that there must be ‘precept upon precept’ (Isaiah 28:10). Our doctrine must ‘distill as the dew, as the small rain on the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass’ (Deuteronomy 32:2).

Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes