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

Evangelism means being honest

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Let’s not believe that we are simply all engaged in some search for truth. The fall did not leave people neutral toward God but at enmity with him. Therefore we must not pretend that non-Christians are seekers by the simple virtue of their having been made in the image of God. The Bible teaches that people are by nature estranged from God, and we must be honest about that.

What is repentance? It is turning from the sins you love to the holy God you’re called to love. It is admitting that you’re not God. It is beginning to value Jesus more than your immediate pleasure. It is giving up those things the Bible calls sin and leaving them to follow Jesus.

When we tell the gospel to people, we need to do it with honesty. To hold back important and unpalatable parts of the truth is to begin to manipulate and to try to sell a false bill of goods to the person with whom we are sharing. So however we evangelize, we aren’t to hide problems, to ignore our own shortcomings, or to deny difficulties. And we are not to put forward only positives that we imagine our non-Christian friends presently value and present God as simply the means by which they can meet or achieve their own ends. We must be honest.

Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, 56-57

How Do You Become Poor in Spirit?

How does one therefore become `poor in spirit’? The answer is that you do not look at yourself or begin by trying to do things to yourself. That was the whole error of monasticism. Those poor men in their desire to do this said, `I must go out of society, I must scarify my flesh and suffer hardship, I must mutilate my body.’ No, no, the more you do that the more conscious will you be of yourself, and the less `poor in spirit’. The way to become poor in spirit is to look at God. Read this Book about Him, read His law, look at what He expects from us, contemplate standing before Him. It is also to look at the Lord Jesus Christ and to view Him as we see Him in the Gospels. The more we do that the more we shall understand the reaction of the apostles when, looking at Him and something He had just done, they said, `Lord, increase our faith.’ Their faith, they felt, was nothing. They felt it was so weak and so poor. `Lord, increase our faith. We thought we had something because we had cast out devils and preached Thy word, but now we feel we have nothing; increase our faith.’ Look at Him; and the more we look at Him, the more hopeless shall we feel by ourselves, and in and of ourselves, and the more shall we become `poor in spirit’. Look at Him, keep looking at Him. Look at the saints, look at the men who have been most filled with the Spirit and used. But above all, look again at Him, and then you will have nothing to do to yourself. It will be done. You cannot truly look at Him without feeling your absolute poverty, and emptiness. Then you say to Him,

Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling.

Empty, hopeless, naked, vile. But He is the all-sufficient One-

Yea, all I need, in Thee to find, 0 Lamb of God, I come.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in The Sermon on the Mount (Kindle Edition)

Once a Man has the Love of Christ in His Heart…

The secret of the early Christians, the early Protestants, Puritans and Methodists was that they were taught about the love of Christ, and they became filled with a knowledge of it.

Once a man has the love of Christ in his heart, you need not train him to witness; he will do it. He will know the power, the constraint, the motive; everything is already there. It is a plain lie to suggest that people who regard this knowledge of the love of Christ as the supreme thing are useless, unhealthy mystics.

The servants of God who have most adorned the life and the history of the Christian Church have always been men who have realized that this is the most important thing of all, and they have spent ours in prayer seeking His face and enjoying His love. The man who knows the love of Christ in his heart can do more in one hour than the busy type of man can do in a century. God forbid that we should ever make the activity an end in itself.

Let us realize that the motive must come first, and that the motive must ever be the love of Christ.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Unsearchable Riches of Christ: An Exposition of Ephesians 3, 253

The Second Coming Will Be As Different As Possible From The First


Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:29-31)

The second personal coming of Christ shall be as different as possible from the first. He came the first time as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was born in the manger of Bethlehem, in lowliness and humiliation. He took on him the form of a servant, and was despised and rejected of men. He was betrayed into the hands of wicked men, condemned by an unjust judgment, mocked, scourged, crowned with thorns, and at last crucified between two thieves. He shall come the second time as the King of all the earth, with all royal majesty. The princes and great men of this world shall themselves stand before His throne to receive an eternal sentence. Before him every mouth shall be stopped, and every knee bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. May we all remember this. Whatever ungodly men may do now, there will be no scoffing, no jesting at Christ, no infidelity at the last day. The servants of Jesus may well wait patiently. Their master shall one day be acknowledged King of kings by all the world.

When Christ returns to this world, He will first take care of His believing people. He shall “send his angels,” and “gather together his elect.” In the day of judgment true Christians shall be perfectly safe. Not a hair of their heads shall fall to the ground. Not one bone of Christ’s mystical body shall be broken. There was an ark for Noah, in the day of the flood. There was a Zoar for Lot, when Sodom was destroyed. There shall be a hiding-place for all believers in Jesus, when the wrath of God at last bursts on this wicked world. Those mighty angels who rejoiced in heaven when each sinner repented, shall gladly catch up the people of Christ to meet their Lord in the air. That day no doubt will be a dreadful day, but believers may look forward to it without fear.

In the day of judgment true Christians shall at length be gathered together. The saints of every age, and every tongue shall be assembled out of every land. All shall be there, from righteous Abel down to the last soul that is converted to God—from the oldest patriarch down to the little infant that just breathed and died. Let us think what a happy gathering that will be, when all the family of God are at length together. If it has been pleasant to meet one or two saints occasionally on earth, how much more pleasant will it be to meet a multitude that no man can number!” Surely we may be content to carry the cross, and put up with partings for a few years. We travel on towards a day, when we shall meet to part no more.

Adapted from J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: The Book of Matthew (Kindle Edition)

The Terrible Danger of Trusting Your Faith, but Not Jesus

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you;depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

The alarming and terrifying thing which our Lord says is that not everyone who does say `Lord, Lord’, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Those who do go in say it; anyone who does not say it can never enter into the kingdom of heaven; but not all who do say it shall enter in. This is clearly something that should arrest us and cause us to pause. James, in his Epistle, puts the very same point. He warns us to be careful against merely relying upon our belief of certain things, and he puts it like this in a rather startling manner by saying, `The devils also believe, and tremble’ (James ii. ig).

An instance of this is found in the Gospels where we read that certain devils recognized Him and said `Lord, Lord’, but remained devils. We are all in danger of being content with an intellectual assent to the truth. There have been people throughout the centuries who have fallen into this trap. They have read the Scriptures and accepted their teaching. They believed the teaching, and sometimes they have been exponents of the truth, and have argued against heretics. And yet their whole character and life have been a denial of the very truth they have claimed to believe. It is a terrifying thought and yet Scripture so often teaches us that it is a dreadful possibility. A man who is unregenerate and not born again may accept the scriptural teaching as a kind of philosophy, as abstract truth. Indeed, I would not hesitate to say that I always find it very difficult to understand how any intelligent man is not compelled to do that.

If any man comes to the Bible with an intelligent mind and faces its evidence, it seems almost incredible that he should not arrive at certain inevitable logical conclusions. And a man may do that and still not be a Christian. The historical evidence for the Person ofJesus Christ of Nazareth is beyond question. You cannot explain the persistence of the Christian Church apart from Him; the evidence is overwhelming. So a man may face that and say: `Yes, I accept that argument’. He may subscribe to the truth and say: `Jesus of Nazareth was none other than the Son of God’. He may say that and still be unregenerate, and not a Christian. He may say `Lord, Lord’, and yet not enter the kingdom of heaven. Our forefathers, in days when they realized these dangers, used to emphasize this tremendously. Read the works of the Puritans and you will find that they devoted not only chapters but volumes to the question of `false peace’. Indeed, this danger has been recognized throughout the centuries. There is the danger of trusting your faith instead of Christ, of trusting your belief without really becoming regenerate. It is a terrible possibility. There are people who have been brought up in a Christian home and atmosphere, who have always heard these things, and in a sense have always accepted them, and have always believed and said the right thing; but still they may not be Christians.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Kindle Edition)

Do Not Expect Peace Before The Prince of Peace Returns

“…And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

—Matthew 24:6-14—

We are not to expect a reign of universal peace, happiness, and prosperity, before the end comes. If we do, we shall be greatly deceived. Our Lord bids us look for “wars, famines, pestilence,” and persecution. It is vain to expect peace until the Prince of Peace returns. Then, and not until then, the swords shall be beaten into ploughshares, and nations learn war no more. Then, and not until then, the earth shall bring forth her increase. (Isa. 2:4; Psa. 68:6)

We are not to expect a time of universal purity of doctrine and practice in the Church of Christ, before the end comes. If we do, we shall be greatly mistaken. Our Lord bids us look for the rising of “false prophets,” the “abounding of iniquity,” and the “waxing cold of the love of many.” The truth will never be received by all professing Christians, and holiness be the rule among men, until the great Head of the Church returns, and Satan is bound. Then, and not until then, there will be a glorious Church, without spot or blemish. (Eph. 5:27)

We are not to expect that all the world will be converted before the end comes. If we do, we shall be greatly mistaken. “The Gospel is to be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations,” but we must not think that we shall see it universally believed. It will “take out a people,” wherever it is faithfully preached, as witnesses to Christ, but the full gathering of the nations shall never take place until Christ comes. Then, and not until then, shall the earth be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. (Acts 15:14; Hab. 2:14)

Let us lay these things to heart, and remember them well. They are eminently truths for the present times. Let us learn to be moderate in our expectations from any existing machinery in the Church of Christ, and we shall be spared much disappointment. Let us make haste to spread the Gospel in the world, for the time is short, not long. The night comes when no man can work. Troublous times are ahead. Heresies and persecutions may soon weaken and distract the churches. A fierce war of principles may soon convulse the nations. The doors now open to do good may soon be shut forever. Our eyes may yet see the sun of Christianity go down like the sun of Judaism, in clouds and storms. Above all, let us long for our Lord’s return. Oh! for a heart to pray daily, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (Kindle Edition)

Let Us Watch and Be On Our Guard

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

—Matthew 24:3-14—

The first general lesson before us, is a warning against deception. The very first words of the discourse are, “Be careful that no one leads you astray.” A more needful warning than this cannot be conceived. Satan knows well the value of prophecy, and has ever labored to bring the subject into contempt. How many false Christs and false prophets arose before the destruction of Jerusalem, the works of Josephus abundantly prove. In how many ways the eyes of man are continually blinded in the present day, as to things to come, it might easily be shown. Irvingism and Mormonism have been only too successfully used as arguments for rejecting the whole doctrine of the second advent of Christ. Let us watch, and be on our guard.

Let no man deceive us as to the leading facts of unfulfilled prophecy, by telling us they are impossible–or as to the manner in which they will be brought to pass, by telling us it is improbable and contrary to past experience. Let no man deceive us as to the time when unfulfilled prophecies will be accomplished, either by fixing dates on the one hand, or bidding us wait for the conversion of the world on the other. On all these points let the plain meaning of Scripture be our only guide, and not the traditional interpretations of men. Let us not be ashamed to say that we expect a literal fulfillment of unfulfilled prophecy. Let us frankly allow that there are many things we do not understand, but still hold our ground tenaciously, believe much–wait long, and not doubt that all will one day be made clear. Above all, let us remember that the first coming of Messiah to suffer, was the most improbable event that could have been conceived, and let us not doubt that as He literally came in person to suffer, so He will literally come again in person to reign.

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (Kindle Edition)