Side by side with this bright crown [of heaven] behold another. It is the iron crown of hell, for Christ reigneth there supreme. Not only in the dazzling brightness of heaven, but in the black impenetrable darkness of hell is his omnipotence felt, and his sovereignty acknowledged; the chains which bind damned spirits are the chains of his strength; the fires which burn are the fires of his vengeance; the burning rays that scorch through their eyeballs, and melt their very heart, are flashed from his vindictive eye. There is no power in hell besides his. The very devils know his might. He chaineth the great dragon. If he give him a temporary liberty, yet is the chain in his hand, and he can draw him back lest he go beyond his limit. Hell trembles at him. The very howlings of lost spirits are but deep bass notes of his praise. While in heaven the glorious notes shout forth his goodness; in hell the deep growlings resound his justice, and his certain victory over an his foes. Thus his empire is higher than the highest heaven, and deeper than the lowest hell.
Charles Spurgeon, The Savior’s Many Crowns, The Complete Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 5: Sermons 225-285.
In other words, we are all engaged in “the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58). We all do our part in helping the vine to grow through prayerfully speaking the word, whenever and however we can. Luther put it with typical sharpness like this:
“The ministry of the Word belongs to all. To bind and to loose clearly is nothing else than to proclaim and to apply the gospel. For what is it to loose, if not to announce the forgiveness of sins before God? What is it to bind, except to withdraw the gospel and to declare the retention of sins? Whether they [that is, the Roman Catholic Church] want to or not, they must concede that the keys are the exercise of the ministry of the Word and belong to all Christians.”
Does this sound too extreme? Or too demanding on the struggling Christians you know? Or just too hard to persuade people of? We need to think further about the nature of the normal Christian life.
Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine (pg. 175).
“The fulfillment of . . . the promise could be testified by thousands of living Christians in the present day. They would say, if their evidence could be collected, that when they came to Christ by faith they found in him more than they expected. They have tasted peace and hope and comfort since they first believed, which, with all their doubts and fears, they would not exchange for anything in this world. They have found grace according to their need and strength according to their days. In themselves and their own hearts they have often been disappointed, but they have never been disappointed in Christ.”
J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (pg, 472).
This is the love of God which was supremely displayed in the cross (5:8; 8:32, 37), which has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (5:5), which has drawn out from us our responsive love (8:28), and which in its essential steadfastness will never let us go, since it is committed to bringing us safe home to glory in the end (8:35, 39). Our confidence is not in our love for him, which is frail, fickle and faltering, but in his love for us, which is steadfast, faithful and persevering. The doctrine of ‘the perseverance of the saints’ needs to be re-named. It is the doctrine of the perseverance of God with the saints.
Let me no more my comfort draw
From my frail hold of thee;
In this alone rejoice with awe—
Thy mighty grasp of me.
John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (pgs. 259–260).
When Satan launches what Edwards calls “vexatious accusations of conscience” against believers, he is playing upon the believer’s resensitized conscience (awakened by the Spirit) while muting the believer’s full and free forgiveness (won by the Son). The way to combat these accusations from hell is therefore not to deny the first, but to remember the second. We should not downplay the reasonableness of our condemnation. We do deserve to be condemned. But another reality transcends our condemnation: the atoning work of Christ. This work not only frees us from accusation (negatively) but also renders us righteous (positively).
The gospel has defanged Satan. His bite is all gums and no teeth. When Satan accuses believers covered by the blood of Christ, he is (to switch metaphors) firing empty cartridges – his gun makes a bang, but it can’t ultimately hurt us. “Satan cannot hurt” true believers, Edwards preached. “All the powers of darkness, with all their spite and malice, can do them no harm, and the flames of hell cannot reach them.”
Dane Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life (pg. 151).
The Christian life is not an ascetic life, but a life in which every received pleasure draws the mind up to supreme Pleasure, Christ himself, in his resplendent beauty. Joy is fundamentally a vision of God. Edwards therefore saw what many writers and preachers today do not: that the way to cultivate joy in God’s people was not to talk about joy but to talk about God. If a New York park guide wants to help his band of tourists feel awe at the Niagara Falls, he doesn’t give a lecture on awe. He shows them the falls. If a Christian leader wants believers to feel joy in Christ, he doesn’t mainly tell them about joy. He shows them Christ. Joy sneaks unbidden in the back door.
Edwards teaches us, then, of the God-centerdness of all joy in this fallen world. He reminds us that the formula to joy is not God and _______ so much as God in _________. Christ is not one more element to fit into an already packed schedule – one more item on a growing grocery list of priorities. Knowing Christ means seeing all of life in a new way, with new glasses. Jesus Christ gives meaning to all priorities, not only heading the list but coloring every one with new and exciting meaning. To become a Christian is to make all of life sacramental.
Dane Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life (pg. 77).
Our lives our filled with both joy and sorrow, gain and loss. John wants us to realize, as one writer observed: “Jesus is more than equal to either occasion. He has a place in all circumstances. If we invite him to our time of innocent happiness, he will increase our joy. If we call on him in our times of sorrow, anxiety, or bereavement, he can bring consolation, comfort, and joy that is not of this world.”
Richard Phillips, John: Volume 1 (pg. 281).
A thankful heart is constantly extending grace because it has received grace. Love and grace are uneven. God poured out on his own Son the criticism I deserve. Now he invites me to pour out undeserving grace on someone who has hurt me. Grace begets grace.
Paul Miller, The Praying Life (pg. 134).
Keller suggests twelve categories of people that the text may be speaking to:
- Conscious unbeliever: Is aware he is not a Christian (e.g., immoral pagan, intellectual pagan, imitative pagan, genuine thinker, religious non-Christian).
- Nonchurched nominal Christian: Has belief in the basic Christian doctrines, but with no or remote church connection (e.g., churched nominal Christian, semi-active moralist, active self-righteous).
- Awakened: Is stirred and convicted over his sin but without gospel peace yet (e.g., curious, convicted with false peace, comfortless).
- Apostate: Was once active in the church but has repudiated the faith without regrets.
- New Believer: Is recently converted.
- Doubtful: Has many fears and hesitancies about his new faith (e.g., eager, overzealous).
- Mature/growing: Passes through nearly all the basic conditions named below but progresses through them because he responds quickly to pastoral treatment or knows how to treat himself.
- Afflicted: Lives under a burden or trouble that saps spiritual strength (e.g., physically afflicted, dying, bereaved, lonely, persecuted/abused, poor/economic troubles, desertion).
- Tempted: Is struggling with a sin or sins that are remaining attractive and strong (e.g., overtaken, taken over).
- Immature: Is a spiritual baby who should be growing but is not (e.g., undisciplined, self-satisfied, unbalanced, devotee of eccentric doctrine).
- Depressed: Is not only experiencing negative feelings but also shirking Christian duties and being disobedient (e.g., anxious, weary, angry, introspective, guilty).
- Backslid: Has gone beyond depression to withdrawal from fellowship with God and with the church (e.g., tender, hardening).
Andy Naselli, quoting Tim Keller, in How to Understand and Apply the New Testament (pg. 316-17).
It is highly important, if God is to be honored and the heart of His child established, that we should be quite clear upon this precious truth. God’s love for me and for each of “His own” was entirely unmoved by anything in us. What was there in me to attract the heart of God? Absolutely nothing. But, to the contrary, there was everything to repel Him, everything calculated to make Him loathe me—sinful, depraved, a mass of corruption, with “ no good thing” in me.
A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God (pgs. 100).