Good and Ill from the Hand of God

Indeed, the believer should accept whatever comes with a gentle and thankful heart, because he knows that it is ordained by the Lord. Moreover, he must not stubbornly resist the rule of God into whose power he has placed himself and all his affairs.

So let the Christian make it his priority to drive from his breast that foolish and unfortunate comfort of pagans, who, in order to bolster their spirits against all adverse events, credit those events to fortune. They think it’s silly to be angry at fortune, since she is reckless, aimless, and blind – inflicting her wounds equally on the deserving and undeserving. In contrast, the rule of godliness is to recognize that God’s hand is the sole judge and governor of every fortune, and because His hand is not recklessly driven to fury, it distributes to us both good and ill according to His orderly righteousness.

John Calvin, A Little Book on the Christian Life (pgs. 53-54)

Staggering towards Glory

Of course, none of us is capable of running swiftly on the right course while we remain in the earthly confinement of our bodies. Indeed, most of us are so oppressed with weakness that we make little progress – staggering, limping, and crawling on the ground. But let us move forward according to the measure of our resources and pursue the path we have begun to walk. None of us will move forward with so little success that we will not make some daily progress in the way. Therefore, let us keep trying so that we might continually make some gains in the way of the Lord, and neither let us despair over how small our successes are. For however much our success fall short of our desire, our efforts aren’t in vain when we are farther along today than yesterday. So let us fix our eyes on the goal with sincerity and simplicity, aspiring to that end – neither foolishly congratulating ourselves, nor excusing our evil deeds. Let us press on with continual striving toward that goal so that we might surpass ourselves – until we have finally arrived at perfection. This, indeed, is what we follow after all our lives, but we will only possess it when we have escaped the weakness of the flesh and have been received into His perfect fellowship.

John Calvin, A Little Book on the Christian Life (pgs. 16-17)

Striving for Holiness

The measure of our love to God, seems in justice to be the measure of our love of every virtue. We are to love and practise it with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. And when we cease to live with this regard to virtue, we live below our nature, and, instead of being able to plead our infirmities, we stand chargeable with negligence.

It is for this reason that we are exhorted to work out our salvation with fear and trembling; because unless our heart and passions are eagerly bent upon the work of our salvation; unless holy fears animate our endeavours, and keep our consciences strict and tender about every part of our duty, constantly examining how we live, and how fit we are to die; we shall in all probability fall into a state of negligence, and sit down in such a course of life, as will never carry us to the rewards of Heaven.

And he that considers, that a just God can only make such allowances as are suitable to His justice, that our works are all to be examined by fire, will find that fear and trembling are proper tempers for those that are drawing near so great a trial. And indeed there is no probability, that any one should do all the duty that is expected from him, or make that progress in piety, which the holiness and justice of God requires of him, but he that is constantly afraid of falling short of it.

Now this is not intended to possess people’s minds with a scrupulous anxiety, and discontent in the service of God, but to fill them with a just fear of living in sloth and idleness, and in the neglect of such virtues as they will want at the day of Judgment. It is to excite them to an earnest examination of their lives, to such zeal, and care, and concern after Christian perfection, as they use in any matter that has gained their heart and affections.

William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (pgs. 13-14).

The Reason for God-talk

This is part of a conversation between the ghost of a painter who just arrived in the land and one of the “solid” people:

“When you painted on earth-at least in your earlier days-it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too. But here you are having the thing itself. It is from here that the messages came. There is no good telling us about this country, for we see it already. In fact we see it better than you do.”

“Then there’s never going to be any point in painting here?”

“I don’t say that. When you’ve grown into a Person (it’s all right, we all had to do it) there’ll be some things which you’ll see better than anyone else. One of the things you’ll want to do will be to tell us about them. But not yet. At present your business is to see. Come and see. He is endless. Come and feed.”

There was a little pause. “That will be delightful,” said the Ghost presently in a rather dull voice.

“Come, then,” said the Spirit, offering it his arm.

“How soon do you think I could begin painting?” it asked.

The Spirit broke into laughter. “Don’t you see you’ll never paint at all if that’s what you’re thinking about?” he said.

“What do you mean?” asked the Ghost.

“Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.”

“But that’s just how a real artist is interested in the country.”

“No, You’re forgetting,” said the Spirit. “That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.”

“Oh, that was ages ago,” said the Ghost. “One grows out of that. Of course, you haven’t seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.”

“One does, indeed. I also have had to recover from that. It was all a snare. Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower – become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.”

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (pgs. 510-511 in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics).

A Guest of God

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.

 

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?

 

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

 

George Herbert, “Love (III)” in The Best Poems of the English Language (pg. 188).

The Essence of Sin

The natural man is a sinner because and only because he challenges God’s selfhood in relation to his own. In all else he may willingly accept the sovereignty of God; in his own life he rejects it. For him, God’s dominion ends where his begins. For him, self becomes Self, and in this he unconsciously imitates Lucifer, that fallen son of the morning who said in his heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. . . . I will be like the Most High.”

Yet so subtle is self that scarcely anyone is conscious of its presence. Because man is born a rebel, he is unaware that he is one. His constant assertion of self, as far as he thinks of it at all, appears to him a perfectly normal thing. He is willing to share himself, sometimes even to sacrifice himself for a desired end, but never to dethrone himself. No matter how far down the scale of social acceptance he may slide, he is still in his own eyes a king on a throne, and no one, not even God, can take that throne from him.

Sin has many manifestations but its essence is one. A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares, “I AM.” That is sin in its concentrated essence; yet because it is natural it appears to be good. It is only when in the gospel the soul is brought before the face of the Most Holy One without the protective shield of ignorance that the frightful moral incongruity is brought home to the conscience. In the language of evangelism the man who is thus confronted by the fiery presence of Almighty God is said to be under conviction. Christ referred to this when He said of the Spirit whom He would send to the world, “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”

A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy (pgs. 21-22).

 

The Power of God

Outside of heaven, the power of God in its highest density is found inside the gospel. This must be so, for the Bible twice describes the gospel as “the power of God.” Nothing else in all of Scripture is ever described in this way, except for the Person of Jesus Christ. Such a description indicates that the gospel is not only powerful, but that it is the ultimate entity in which God’s power resides and does its greatest work. Indeed, God’s power is seen in erupting volcanos, in the unimaginably hot boil of our massive sun, and in the lightning speed of a recently discovered star seen streaking through the heavens at 1.5 million miles per hour. Yet in Scripture such wonders are never labeled “the power of God.” How powerful, then, must the gospel be that it would merit such a title! And how great is the salvation it could accomplish in my life, if I would only embrace it by faith and give it a central place in my thoughts each day.

Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer (pgs. 14-15).

Gratitude for the Church

To fail to associate ourselves in a lasting and committed way with the Head of the church by joining his body is surely a sign of ingratitude, whether from an uninformed or a dull heart. We who have the privilege of living in countries where we may freely join a local church should keep this admonition from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in mind:

It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing. They remember, as the Psalmist did, how they went “with the multitude…to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday” (Ps.42:4)…Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living in common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.

Thabiti Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member?, (pgs. 70-71) quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.

Thoughts of God

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God.

A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy (pg. 4).

Failure to Worship

When I fail to worship God as Savior, I am too casual about my sin and too focused on yours. Our relationships are often harmed when we try to atone for our own sins while condemning the other person for his.

Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (pg. 64).