Category Archives: Thoughts

The Glory of Heaven for the Dregs of Earth

The Glory of Heaven for the Dregs of Earth

These three sentences from Stephen Charnock represent only a small sample of the veritable riches of heart warming theological reflections and meditations found in his The Existence and Attributes of God. Though it is taking me an interminably long time to work through his classic work, I cannot complain because I have been relishing these opportunities to read it.

Technically, the second sentence cannot be a “run on sentence” but if it were, it would be a glorious run on sentence! He has been delineating the numerous ways in how our God is GOOD. The following passage comes from one of the sections detailing this statement: “In God’s giving Christ to be our Redeemer, he gave the highest gift that it was possible for divine goodness to bestow” (324). The Father’s Son was given to rescue us “by his death.” Meditate on the wonders of God’s goodness to us in all that our gracious Lord Jesus underwent for us!

He gave him to us, to suffer for us as a man, and redeem us as a God; to be a sacrifice to expiate our sin by translating the punishment upon himself, which was merited by us. Thus was he made low to exalt us, and debased to advance us, made poor to enrich us, 2 Cor. 8:9, and eclipsed to brighten our sullied natures, and wounded that he might be a physician for our languishments; he was ordered to taste the bitter cup of death, that we might drink of the rivers of immortal life and pleasures; to submit to the frailties of the human nature, that we might possess the glories of the divine; he was ordered to be a sufferer, that we might be no longer captives, and to pass through the fire of divine wrath, that he might purge our nature from the dross it had contracted. Thus was the righteous given for sin, the innocent for criminals, the glory of heaven for the dregs of earth, and the immense riches of a Deity expended to re-stock man.[1]

[1] Stephen Charnock, The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1864–1866), 2:326.

The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth

The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth

Have you ever wondered why Christ should care for you as a believer? Why should He love you after your repeated failures and sins? Since He is in heaven and exists in His exalted state, why should He care about me? We feel ourselves to be most unworthy of the least of his mercies. Yet we need to be convinced of our Lord’s goodness, kindness, and love before we draw near to Him by faith. Thomas Goodwin addresses a concern many of us might have had but may not have pondered it as deeply.

We learn from the Gospel accounts that Christ was compassionate and tender. While He was on earth, He exhibited great acts of kindness. But He is in heaven now, no longer in His estate of humiliation. He is physically removed from us and reigns in might and glory. Doesn’t He now despise the lowly things He once experienced? He performed His covenant obligations by obeying His Father unto death. Wouldn’t He be less concerned since He finished His work and reigns in His estate of exaltation? This is how Goodwin pursued the issue.

Goodwin masterfully and almost exhaustively argues that Christ’s disposition, love, tenderness, etc. has not changed in heaven. If He loved while on earth, then He surely loves in heaven. Remember, Jesus beckoned us to come to Him because He is meek and lowly of heart (Mt. 11:28). We must not think that Christ is less concerned and less meek because He has been exalted and removed from us. His nature has not changed even though His estate has. Goodwin says,

Yea, but (may we think) he being the Son of God and heir of heaven, and especially being now filled with glory, and sitting at God’s right hand, he may now despise the lowliness of us here below; though not out of anger, yet out of that height of his greatness and distance that he is advanced unto, in that we are too mean for him to marry, or be familiar with. He surely hath higher thoughts than to regard such poor, low things as we are. And so though indeed we conceive him meek, and not prejudiced with injuries, yet he may be too high and lofty to condescend so far as to regard, or take to heart, the condition of poor creatures. No, says Christ; ‘I am lowly’ also, willing to bestow my love and favour upon the poorest and meanest. (63-64)

But isn’t Christ so Holy and exalted that He could no longer tolerate all our various provocations? That is, we offend Him so often and He is so Holy, why would He take any interest in us?

We are apt to think that he, being so holy, is therefore of a severe and sour disposition against sinners, and not able to bear them. No, says He [Christ]; ‘I am meek,’ gentleness is my nature and temper. As it was of Moses [who was deemed to be meek], who was, as in other things, so in that grace his type; he was not revenged on Miriam and Aaron, but interceded for them. So, says Christ, injuries and unkindnesses do not so work upon me as to make me irreconcilable, it is my nature to forgive: “I am meek.” (63)

Underneath this argument is something Goodwin established earlier in his little treatise. Christ has been appointed to save the people whom the Father gave to Him and to love them to the end. That commission did not end with His humiliation. He willingly, as well as obediently, loves His people in both estates – in the estates of humiliation and exaltation. This pleases the Father. Therefore, we can be certain that Christ still has a heart for us (hence the title): The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth.[1] The longer title summarizes the whole treatise: “A Treatise Demonstrating The gracious Disposition and tender Affection of Christ in his Humane Nature now in Glory, unto his Members under all sorts of Infirmities, either of Sin or Misery.”

Goodwin’s little work is quite difficult to read. He is no Thomas Watson. I’ve read enough Puritans over the years and find Goodwin to be more difficult than most. His writings are dense and difficult to follow — he is creative as well as frustratingly speculative at times. Even Owen is easier (at least for me). However, expending your energy on his writings will be well worth it because it will yield great benefits to your soul as well as weighty thoughts for your mind. You have to follow him closely because he develops a string of arguments that come to a firm and helpful conclusion. If you do not follow him closely, you will not be able to appreciate the conclusions he draws. Because you didn’t see how he got there, his conclusions may not convince you. Often, I’ve had to rehearse his line of thinking to see how he came to a specific conclusion. He trudges through seemingly small and impertinent points but they are being used as little bridges to the next point. So, read him carefully with coffee in hand. Don’t rush through this book and I’m convinced you will greatly appreciate it and immensely benefit from the short treatise. The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth is a gem and probably his best work.

[1] I am using the Banner of Truth edition — Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2011). This edition is only 158 pages long! Various Kindle versions are available and cheaper but the BOT edition is much easier to read.

Mocking God with Our Prayers

Mocking God with our Prayers

As important and vital as prayer is, we must not forget that in this most holy duty, we can easily sin and bring judgment upon ourselves. I am not talking about cold, lifeless, distracted, etc. prayers — we are all too well aware of these struggles and problems. William Jay made some shocking observations and when we consider them, we cannot but remain mute and circumspect. He says,[1]

For there is much prayer that is a mere mockery of God. Out of their own mouths many will be condemned hereafter: and they would feel themselves condemned already, were it not that the heart is deceitful above all things, as well as desperately wicked.

[That is, if we were not so easily deceived because of our wicked hearts, we would quickly recognize how our prayers truly mock God. Our responses to our prayers betray us and in our heart of hearts, we know we’re not earnestly asking God for the things that we do ask. We give Him lip service but our hearts are far from Him.]

A man prays to redeem his time, and to have his conversation in heaven; and goes and sits in a place of dissipation for the answer.

[After having prayed, wept, etc. we think we have done it all. Did we not pour out our hearts? Well, that matter is concluded. We walk away from our time of prayer and act on principles contrary to the very things for which we prayed. We want to redeem the time — so we ask God for help. Somehow we convince ourselves that our petition was the deed. Our next activity contradicts everything we prayed for moments before.]

A father prays for the salvation of his child; and does all in his power to leave him affluent; and surrounded with temptations that render his conversion a miracle.

[How convicting is this? Do our children believe their education is the most important? Many rigorously discipline their children in matters of education and casually focus on matters of their soul. Whether they attend worship or not is not paramount. Their son can miss church at the slightest scent of a headache but they cannot forgo educational requirement unless they are half dead. Perhaps we focus on good work ethics, frugality, etc. — this is all well and good, but do we show the same earnestness and attention to their spiritual welfare? What do our children think is the most important?]

A third prays to be — condemned; for he prays, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us: and he is implacable.

[Some men and women remain bitter and “implacable” (cannot be appeased). They will have their pound of flesh from their offenders. They beg for personal forgiveness from the Lord but demand retribution from each person who has crossed them. How can that be? How can we ask the Lord for pardon and remain resentful, bitter, unforgiving, etc.? None of the offenses against us can equal the heinous nature of our wicked transgressions against a holy God. May we never condemn ourselves in this matter! Forgiving someone is the ABC’s of basic Christianity and the most lovely to behold.]

When a man sincerely desires a thing, in proportion as he desires it, he will seek after it; and use all the means placed within his reach to obtain it. When, therefore, a person professes a great concern for a thing, and neglects whatever is necessary to it, we make no scruple to tax him with folly or falsehood. Let us do, in religious matters, what we do in other cases — Let us judge of our faith, by our practice; and of our hearts, by our lives.[2]

[All of us must re-consider what we have been praying for and ask ourselves if we truly seek those things? O may the Lord be gracious to us in this matter because we can so easily mock Him. Lord have mercy upon us. Amen!]

[1] My comments are in brackets.

[2] William Jay, Morning Exercises, Oct. 31.

Facing Grief by John Flavel

Facing Grief: Counsel for Mourners[1]

by John Flavel (1627-91)

This book was written by a Presbyterian minister in 1674. He witnessed the death of his only child and three wives. He was survived by his fourth wife. After the death of his second wife and the death of his first and only child (mom and child died at childbirth), John Flavel wrote this work to help us sorrow correctly.

Though this small book deals primarily with the death of loved ones, these timeless truths apply to all forms of afflictions. That is how I read this book. It relates to those who are afflicted with health issues, sudden turn of events, loss of employment, a broken relationship, financial hardships, etc.

Flavel works with the assumption (a biblical assumption) that God orders all things. That serves as the foundation for his discourse . Our losses, afflictions, etc. come to us by the hand of God. That being the case, how do we respond to Him? He does not deny that we must mourn or grieve but denies that we should murmur or grumble


Text and Theme

 “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.” (Lk. 7:13) Having lost her son, our Lord compassionately said “Weep not.” From this, Flavel argues that Christ’s encounter with her is providential and his counsel comes from compassion. His counsel to not weep means, “Yet the words are not an absolute prohibition of tears and sorrow; he does not condemn all mourning as sinful, or all expressions of grief for dead relations as uncomely… he only prohibits the excesses and extravagancies of our sorrows for the dead…” (pp. 6-7) He counseled her this way because he intended to quickly remove the cause of her tears by restoring her son to life (7).

Though this is an extraordinary case, yet all believers can also moderate their sorrows with the death of their believing loved ones since Christ will raise them as well.



The book has eight chapters. The second chapter explains the difference between moderate and immoderate sorrow. Fourth explains when sorrow actually becomes sinful. The longest chapter is the sixth chapter: “Godly Mourners Comforted.” In it, he gives twenty considerations. The seventh chapter tackles the arguments people often use to justify their sorrow: “Pleas for Immoderate Grief Answered.” The last chapter offers several ways to prepare ourselves so that our sorrows would not overwhelm us.

The fifth chapter is unusual. In it, he offers counsel to unbelievers. The general thrust is that they can ultimately find their relief only in Christ. Here is one of the counsels:

This affliction for which you mourn may be the greatest mercy to you that ever yet befell you in this world. God has now made your heart soft by trouble, showed you the vanity of this world, and what a poor trifle it is which you made your happiness. There is now a dark cloud spread over all your worldly comforts. Now, oh, now! if the Lord would but strike in with this affliction, and by it open your eyes to see your deplorable state, and take off your heart for ever from the vain world, which you now see has nothing in it; and cause you to choose Christ, the only abiding good for your portion… (39)

We will focus only on a few things from the book. I recommend that you read the entire book, whatever your circumstances. Some weighty thoughts can be found in this precious little volume.


When Sorrow is Sinful

Perhaps we think that each individual should grieve in his own way? After all, we are all different. We dare not gently challenge them because we are not in their shoes! Sorrow is just a response, an emotion over which they have no control and for which they remain immune from any challenge. Flavel, on the other hand, not being insensitive, offers seven circumstances in which sorrow has become sinful.



First, It causes us to slight and despise all our other mercies and enjoyments as small things, in comparison with what we have lost.

Besides, what vile ingratitude is in this! What, are all your remaining mercies worth nothing? You have buried a child, a friend; well, but still you have a husband, a wife, other children; or if not, you have comfortable accommodations for yourselves, with health to enjoy them; or if not, yet have you the ordinances of God, it may be, an interest in Christ and in the covenant, pardon of sin, and hopes of glory. What, and yet sink at this rate, as if all your mercies, comforts, and hopes, even in both worlds, were buried in one grave! Must Ichabod be written upon your best mercies because mortality is written upon one? (22)


Thirdly, Our sorrows then become sinful and exorbitant when they divert us from, or distract us in our duties, so that our intercourse with heaven is stopped and interrupted by them.

Or if you dare not wholly neglect your duty, yet your affliction spoils the success and comfort of it; your heart is wandering, dead, distracted in prayer and meditation, so that you have no relief or comfort from it. (26)


Fifthly, When affliction sours the spirit with discontent, and makes it inwardly grudge against the hand of God, then our trouble is full of sin, and we ought to be humbled for it before the Lord.

…how many have their hearts embittered by discontent and secret risings against the Lord? Which, if ever the Lord open their eyes to see, will cost them more trouble, than ever that affliction did which gave the occasion of it. (30)


Sixthly, Our sorrows exceed due bounds when we continually excite and provoke them by willing irritations.

Grief, like a lion, loves to play with us before it destroys us. And strange it is that we should find some kind of pleasure in rousing our sorrows. (31)


Comfort in Times of Affliction

Flavel considers twenty ways to find comfort in times of sorrow. He says that believer does not want to provoke or grieve his heavenly father so he gives these comforts to settle their hearts. Though these considerations focus on being bereaved of a loved one, still many of these have general principles that apply to all our afflictions.



Consideration 1. Consider, in this day of sorrow, who is the framer and author of this rod by which you now smart; is it not the Lord? And if the Lord has done it, it becomes you meekly to submit. ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psa. 46:10).

Remember, our Sovereign God has clearly acted in this event. We must believe that His purpose is good and that He acted for my ultimate good.


Consideration 6. A parting time must needs come; and why is not this as good as another? You knew before-hand your child or friend was mortal, and the thread which linked you together must be cut.

Most things have their time limit. Our health, relationships, present prosperity, etc. have never been promised to us to be forever. A parting time was bound to come. In this, we acknowledge that God has determined that exact time and bow in thanksgiving and submission.


Consideration 14. Be careful you exceed not in your grief for the loss of earthly things, considering that Satan takes the advantage of all extremes.

Sometimes he injects desponding thoughts into the afflicted soul. ‘For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before your eyes’ (Psa. 31:22); ‘My hope is perished from the LORD: remembering my affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall’ (Lam. 3:18–19).

Sometimes he suggests hard thoughts of God: ‘The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me’ (Ruth 1:20). Yea, that he has dealt more severely with us than any other; ‘Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD has afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger’ (Lam. 1:12).

And sometimes he suggests murmuring and repining thoughts against the Lord. The soul is displeased at the hand of God upon it. Jonah was angry at the hand of God, and said, ‘I do well to be angry, even unto death’ (Jon. 4:9). What dismal thoughts are these! And how much more afflictive to a gracious soul than the loss of any outward enjoyment in this world.

And sometimes he suggests very irreligious and atheistical thoughts, as if there were no privilege to be had by religion, and all our pains, zeal, and care about duty, were little better than lost labour: ‘Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency; for all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning’ (Psa. 73:13–14).

By these things Satan gets no small advantage upon the afflicted Christian; for albeit these thoughts are his burden, and God will not impute them to the condemnation of his people, yet they rob the soul of peace, hinder it from duty, and make it act uncomely under affliction, to the stumbling and hardening of others in their sin. Beware, therefore, lest by your excess of sorrow you give place to the devil. ‘We are not ignorant of his devices.’ (81-82)


Consideration 15. Give not way to excessive sorrows on account of affliction, if you have any regard to the honour of God and religion, which will hereby be exposed to reproach.

If you slight your own honour, do not slight the honour of God and religion too; take heed how you carry it in a day of trouble; many eyes are upon you. It is a true observation that a late worthy author has made upon this case:

What will the Atheist, and what will the profane scoffer say, when they shall see this? So sottish and malicious they are, that if they do but see you in affliction, they are straightway scornfully demanding, Where is your God?

But what would they say, if they should hear you yourselves unbelievingly cry out, Where is our God? Will they not be ready to cry, this is the religion they make such boast of, which you see how little it does for them in a day of extremity: they talk of promises, rich and precious promises; but where are they now? Or to what purpose do they serve? They said they had a treasure in heaven; what ails them to mourn so then, if their riches are there? (82)


Consideration 16. Be quiet and hold your peace; you little know how many mercies lie in the womb of this affliction.

And what if by this stroke the Lord will awaken your drowsy soul, and recover you out of that pleasant but dangerous spiritual slumber you were fallen into, whilst you had pillowed your head upon this pleasant, sensible creature-enjoyment? Is not this really better for you than if he should say, Sleep on: he is joined to idols, let him alone; he is departing from me, the fountain, to a broken cistern; let him go.

And what if by this rod your wandering, gadding heart shall be whipped home to God, your neglected duties revived, your decayed communion with God restored, a spiritual, heavenly frame of heart recovered? What will you say then? Surely you will bless that merciful hand which removed the obstructions and adore the divine wisdom and goodness that, by such a device as this, recovered you to himself. Now you can pray more constantly, more spiritually, more affectionately than before. O blessed rod, which buds and blossoms with such fruits as these! Let this be written among your best mercies, for you will have cause to adore and bless God eternally for this beneficial affliction. (85-86)


Consideration 13. Consider, though he should deny you any more comforts of this kind, yet he has far better to bestow upon you, such as these deserve not to be named with.

Poor heart, you are now dejected by this affliction that lies upon you, as if all joy and comfort were now cut off from you in this world.

A cloud dwells upon all other comforts; this affliction has so embittered your soul that you taste no more in any other earthly comforts than in the white of an egg. Oh that you did but consider the consolations that are with God for such as answer his ends in affliction, and patiently wait on him for their comfort!

Flavel cites a very moving account from Robert Fleming’s The Fulfilling of the Scripture:

One Patrick Mackewrath, who lived in the west parts of Scotland, whose heart in a remarkable way the Lord touched, and after his conversion (as he showed to many Christian friends) was in such a frame, so affected with a new world wherein he was entered, the discoveries of God and of a life to come, that for some months together he did seldom sleep but was still taken up in wondering. His life was very remarkable for tenderness and near converse with God in his walk; and, which was worthy to be noted, one day, after a sharp trial, having his only son suddenly taken away by death, he retired alone for several hours, and when he came forth, did look so cheerfully that to those who asked him the reason thereof, and wondered at the same in such a time, he told them, He had got that in his retirement with the Lord that, to have it afterwards renewed, he would be content to lose a son every day. …

Oh, what a sweet exchange had he made! Surely he had gold for brass, a pearl for a pebble, a treasure for a trifle; for so great, yea, and far greater is the disproportion between the sweet light of God’s countenance, and the faint dim light of the best creature-enjoyment. (76-78)


[1] John Flavel, The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel, vol. 5 (London; Edinburgh; Dublin: W. Baynes and Son; Waugh and Innes; M. Keene, 1820), 604ff. The original title was published in 1674 as “A TOKEN FOR MOURNERS: or the advice of Christ to a distressed mother, bewailing the death of her dear and only son: Wherein the Boundaries of Sorrow are duly fixed, Excesses restrained, the common Pleas answered, and divers Rules for the support of God’s afflicted Ones prescribed.” The version I read is Facing Grief: Counsel For Mourners, Puritan Paperbacks (Banner of Truth, 2010). It is only 122 pages!


Jesus is Answerable to Every Condition

William Jay’s Morning Exercises has been a rich blessing. I began his meditations this year for the first time. Having worked through Spurgeon for several years and then using Voices from the Past for about three years, I wanted to try something new this year. Though Jay’s reflections are longer than Spurgeon’s, I have benefited greatly from his expositions. I hope to compare Spurgeon to Jay sometime in the future. But for now, let me cite today’s reading (a portion). On April 16, Jay meditates on Jn. 14:18, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

Jay notes how the disciples were about to forsake Jesus in the very near future and yet Jesus spoke of comforting them after He leaves. “They were going to leave him comfortless, as far as it depended upon them… But — much as they deserved it — ‘I will not,’ says he, ‘leave you comfortless.’ ‘I will’ — not to punish, or upbraid, but to relieve, and encourage — ‘I will come to you.'”

After drawing out several good points, he concludes by declaring how much we need our Lord and how He is sufficient and “a resource equal to the exigency; a consolation adequate to all the distress.” Jesus’ coming to us in the Holy Spirit is more than enough and He is more than adequate for all our needs. Here then are his concluding words:

The happiness we derive from creatures is like a beggar’s garment — it is made up of pieces, and patches, and is worth very little after all. But the blessedness we derive from the Savior is single, and complete. In him all fulness dwells. He is coeval [of equal age and duration] with every period. He is answerable to every condition. He is a physician, to heal; a counselor, to plead; a king, to govern; a friend, to sympathize; a father, to provide. He is a foundation, to sustain; a root, to enliven; a fountain, to refresh. He is the shadow from the heat; the bread of life; the morning star; the sun of righteousness —all, and in all. No creature can be a substitute for him; but he can supply the place of every creature. He is all my salvation and all my desire. My hope, my peace, my life, my glory, and joy.

We should all believe that our Lord “can supply the place of every creature,” whatever the loss or pain. Saints of all ages can bear witness to His faithfulness and sufficiency. May we, by His grace, be enabled to believe and experience that Jesus “is answerable to every condition” we face.



The Angels’ Holy Zeal to Avenge God’s Cause

I had never considered this thought regarding the elect angels.  John Newton sanely and guardedly described the ministry of angels in one of his letters. There was nothing particularly new in most of what he wrote though, as so often is the case with his letters, what he wrote was practical and edifying. He did however conclude the epistle by challenging unbelievers who might have happened to read this published letter with these words: “They burn with an holy zeal to avenge his cause; and only wait his command to smite you, as one of them smote Herod, for not giving glory to God. Pray for faith and repentance.”[1] These are sobering words. Since elect angels do the Lord’s bidding and are on the Lord’s side with a zeal for His glory, Newton correctly drew the conclusion that they are not sympathetic to those who rebel against their Lord. Unless the Lord saves and converts the rebels, the angels will eventually pour out the wrath of God on them (cf. Rev. 16:1).

[1] John Newton, The Works of The Rev. John Newton (New York: Williams & Whiting, 1810), 1:389.

Christians and Political Fanaticism

Christians and Political Fanaticism[1]

This study will not address everything about politics. My main purpose in this study is to challenge us to consider our hearts over these matters. How do we look at politics in terms of the Bible and in terms of our hope? Are we too easily caught up in politics? William G. T. Shedd (19th century) and John Newton (18th century) both spoke on these matters.

Shedd on Political Fanaticism[2]

Shedd argued that Patriotism is an instinctive feeling and is not to be rejected but cultivated. “But one chief mode of cultivating and sanctifying the sentiment is to moderate it.” It can degenerate to fanaticism. “The claims of a man’s country are inferior to the claims of God upon him.” It cannot have first place in our lives. “Hence if a man devote his time, his strength, and his thoughts so excessively to the political party to which he belongs as to neglect the concerns of his own soul and the religious welfare of his family and society, then his so-called patriotism is a sin.” (260)

Shedd argued that political fanaticism was rampant in America. Each election year excited the people “unduly and extravagantly.” We tend to think one certain policy over another is often the decisive factor in our nation’s destiny. We place unnecessary weight and importance on to political issues. “Government is an uncertain and experimental science. It is often difficult to say which is the better of two propositions, or two measures. Nothing but the trial will decide.” Our Christian faith, on the other hand, is not subject to these things; it is not “an uncertain and experimental science. It is drawn out in black and white in a written volume.” We must therefore recognize that in politics, men may properly differ. Then he concludes with this short paragraph:

The great defect in American politics is fanaticism. Let your moderation in politics be known to all men, is the true maxim for the people. It will be a happy day when the masses of our citizens shall be as greatly excited upon the subject of morals and religion as they now are upon politics, and as moderate in their political excitements as they now are in their religious. (262)

Shedd’s words should challenge us. Are we more zealous about politics as we are about our own relationship with Christ? Do we know the details of our political party more than we do of our own Christian doctrine? Shedd saw this fanaticism in the nineteenth century. Do we not see more in our generation?


Newton’s Thoughts on Politics

John Newton’s moderate views help us in our day of heavy interest in politics. In 1775, when the Americans were reacting against England’s control, Newton called for a prayer meeting (5AM on Tuesdays). It was well attended and he added the following statement:

We do not pray that either army may knock the other on the head, but that the Lord in his wisdom (for I believe it is beyond the wisdom of the wisest men) would point out expedients for peace, and that the sword may be put quietly into its scabbard. It seems to me one of the darkest signs of the times, that so many of the Lord’s professing people act as if they thought he was withdrawn from the earth, and amuse themselves and each other, with declamations against instruments and second causes and indulge unsanctified passions instead of taking that part which is assigned them Ezek. 9:4. [“And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.”]

He further added that he believed the Lord still reigns and He alone was our sure sanctuary. “Thus you have the substance of my political creed.”[3]

When England was involved in some sort of war in 1794, he was grieved and believed that the nation’s “sins plunged us into it.” He was convinced that the best he could do for his country was to pray for her. Then he tells John Ryland, “Sin, my friend, is the great evil. Let us preach against sin, let us cry to the Lord for mercy, let us point to Jesus as the only refuge from the storm, and let us leave the rest to them who know better.” (Wise Counsel, 305) Rather than getting all excited about this and that political issue, he looked at the matter theologically.

He recognized these national events were from the Lord (309) and that God was still accomplishing His purpose. He believed meddling in politics (as ministers) was wrong (331).

I believe as you say that intermingling of politics with religion has done much harm. But I thank God this is not my easy besetting sin. My whole concern with politics is to tell the people that the Lord reigns, that all hearts are in his hands, that creatures are all instruments of his will, and can do neither more nor less than he, for wise reasons, appoints or permits; that sin is the procuring cause of all misery; that they who sigh and mourn for our abominations and stand in the breach pleading for mercy, are better patriots than they who talk loudly about men and measures, of either side.[4]

This is spiritual wisdom. We can so easily get exercised over political events and speeches. Our affections are too dependent on the fortunes of political events. What matters most is the nation’s spiritual and moral condition. Think about it, none of the political parties in our nation encourages true righteousness. Newton refused to “meddle” in these things. When the subject of “national debt” came up, Newton focused on a different national debt.

I meddle not with disputes of party, nor concern myself with any political maxims, but such as are laid down in Scripture. There I read, that righteousness exalteth a nation, and that sin is the reproach, and if persisted in, the ruin of any people. Some people are startled at the enormous sum of our national debt: they who understand spiritual arithmetic, may be well startled if they sit down and compute the debt of national sin.[5]

We may have thoughts about our own national debt and national problems. But we should be more concerned about the spiritual issues of our nation. I fear more energy, time, and passions are expended on political matters than spiritual issues.


Some Biblical Thoughts

We are taught from Hebrews that in this earth (and nation) we do not have a lasting city — “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Heb. 13:14). Paul says that our “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) and that “from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” In both passages, we are reminded of a coming city and a coming Lord.

Remember the words of our Lord in Mt. 22:21, ““Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” But we are also to set our minds and affections on the things above where Christ is (Col. 3:1ff.). Obedience to our civil authorities must be followed (Rom. 13:1ff.; 1Peter 2:13-17) but we do all this “for the Lord’s sake” (1Pet. 2:13).


Some General Conclusions

1. Political zeal must not cloud our judgments.

2. Political issues must not preoccupy our time.

3. Political matters do not change hearts, lives, and especially eternal matters.

4. Our hopes, countenance, and expectations must be on the Lord and His Word and not on the fortunes of our political parties.

5. Remember, God possesses the true seat of power — it does not exist in our political parties, the White House, the Congress, etc.

[1] The audio recording of this lesson can be found on

[2] W. G. T. Shedd, “Political Fanaticism,” in Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1893), 259-262. You can download this short essay: Shedd, Political Fanaticism

[3] John Newton, Wise Counsel – John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., ed. Grant Gordon (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 84.

[4] Wise Counsel, 324.

[5] Josiah Bull, ed., Letters by the Rev. John Newton (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1869), 235.

A Sight of Christ and Our Tribulations, John Newton

These two quotes from Newton reveal his profound understanding of Christian experience and our sufferings. All genuine believers can bear witness to the truth of these statements.

“When we can fix our thoughts upon him, as laying aside all his honors, and submitting for our sakes to drink of the bitter cup of the wrath of God to the very dregs; and when we further consider, that He who thus suffered in our nature, who knows and sympathizes with all our weakness, is now the Supreme Disposer of all that concerns us, that He numbers the very hairs of our heads, appoints every trial we meet with in number, weight, and measure, and will suffer nothing to befall us but what shall contribute to our good, this view, I say, is a medicine suited to the disease, and powerfully reconciles us to every cross.”  (Letters of John Newton, 47-48)[1]

“A lively impression of his love, or of his sufferings for us or of the glories within the vail, accompanied with a due sense of the misery form which we are redeemed; these thoughts will enable us to be not only submissive, but even joyful, in tribulation.” (Letters of John Newton, 210)

Newton is surely correct when he wrote, “How little do the thoughtless and the gay know of that intercourse which passes between believers and the invisible world!” (Letters of John Newton, 201)

[1] Josiah Bull, ed., Letters by the Rev. John Newton (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1869), 47-48. The Banner of Truth Trust recently published this volume in hardback; you can also download a free pdf version from google books. I find the pdf version to be very versatile for my ipad and computer.

Lessons for Christians from Joe Paterno

[This is the document I passed out in our Sunday School. I have added to it to make it clearer for the reader. It is to be used in conjunction with the lesson I have in the Sunday School hour. The audio of the lesson can be found]

1Cor. 10:12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

We have all heard about what happened to Joe Paterno, the coach of Penn State for 46 years. I am neither a Penn State fan nor a devotee of football. In fact I know very little of college football and rarely watch it these days.

I also do not presume to know all the facts or details of this heinous situation. It is neither edifying to rehearse the details of this wicked crime nor prudent. Enough is known to compel us to be circumspect.

Three things compelled me to pursue this study. 1) A caller on the radio noted how Joe Paterno be remembered — no longer as a great honorable coach but one who mishandled this situation very badly. 2) A dear brother in Christ said to me that these events were sobering. 3) I happened to be reading a selection from John Newton again that dovetailed with these events. I thought it necessary as a pastor to strike while the iron is hot.

For all I know, Joe Paterno may emerge as a hero — I don’t know and it doesn’t matter but there are definitely three things (at least) we can draw from this grievous situation. I have not heard if Paterno is a Christian or not but allow me to use his life as a metaphor for our spiritual pilgrimage, the pilgrim’s progress. I want to meditate on four lessons we could learn from this.

1. We need the Lord’s grace to see things with moral clarity.

If Joe Paterno were able to do it again, he would have acted differently knowing what he knows now. To see things clearly from a spiritual moral perspective is an act of God’s grace; we must beseech Him for wisdom so that we will not fall into sin. We make myriads of decisions in our lives and many of them chosen unwisely may be our undoing later on. Let us earnestly beseech the Lord to keep us, to fill us with wisdom, to enlighten our hearts and imprint upon our souls the gravity of the moment.

2. We need the Lord’s grace to run well unto the end. It’s not over til it’s over! Remember Peter, David, & Solomon.

All of us have the race before us. Some of us will reach the celestial city much earlier than the rest. Either way, we must run to the end. None of us can presume that we will make it to the end with ease. Joe Paterno almost ended his distinguished career with distinction but now his entire life and all his achievements have been sullied. O to make it unto the end without dishonoring our dear master! May He give us the grace to run well and to the end.

3. We must recognize how quickly man’s glory fades.

This football legend, had he ended well, would still have been forgotten. Eventually, all our exploits and glory done for self and this world will come to naught. Only what is done for Christ will last.

4. We must remember that our glory can turn to dishonor in a flash. The Lord must hold us up or we will perish.

One mistake, one act of indiscretion, etc. can overturn our reputation, our wealth, our health, etc. We are in the Lord’s hands at all times but let us not presume that we can flirt with sin and lesser things and assume all will be well. May the Lord keep us and may we by His grace and mercy humbly and safely cling to Him! O to cling evermore to Him who loved us and gave Himself up for us!

How quickly our lives change. In looking up a few bits of information regarding Joe Paterno, I ran across this clip on a site. I’ve never heard of him before but the news blurb aptly illustrates how quickly our lives and fortunes can change.

Once-richest Irishman declared bankrupt

Sean Quinn, three years ago listed as Ireland’s richest man, has been declared bankrupt in a Northern Ireland court over alleged debts of €2.8bn to the Irish state-owned lender Anglo Irish Bank.

The 64-year old businessman’s insurance, cement and property empire collapsed last year following a multibillion euro stock market gamble on the share price of Anglo, which was nationalised during Ireland’s banking crisis.

John Newton and the Lord our Keeper

In a letter to young John Ryland, Newton refers to his sense of inner corruption and weakness. Earlier, he confess, “It is a mercy that I have not been surprised and overwhelmed long ago: without help from on high it would soon be over with me.” (p. 88)

One trial however abides with me; a body of sin and death, an inward principle of evil, which renders all I do defective and defiled. But even here I find cause for thankfulness, for with such a heat as I have, my sad story would soon be much worse, if the Lord were not my keeper. By this I may know that he favours me, since weak and variable as I am in myself, and powerful and numerous as my enemies are, they have not yet prevailed against me. And I am admitted to a throne of grace, I have an advocate with the Father. And such is the power, care and compassion of my great Shepherd that, prone as I am to wander, he keeps me from wandering quite away. When I am wounded he heals me; when I faint, he revives me again.[1]

Newton recognized how easily he could have fallen. He attributes his continued state of grace to God’s mercy. True believers feel the plague of their hearts and are surprised that they have not been undone by their sins. Newton’s humbly admits that the Lord had kept him; if the Lord were not our keeper, we would all fall. What happened to Paterno and those related to this incident could easily affect us — “It is a mercy that I have not been surprised and overwhelmed…”


Edward Reynolds and His Meditations on Peter’s Fall

Another extract that helps us on this matter of Joe Paterno is from Edward Reynolds (a Westminster Divine). He penned thirty short meditations on Peter’s fall and rise. This is taken from his third Meditation. Written in old English, it may be difficult for readers to follow so let me summarize the main point and then you can meditate on this paragraph. He says that we can never assume that we will never fall. If we are true believers, we will indeed make it to heaven but there is no promise that we will never fall into temptation. Reynolds’s words are sobering because he reminds us that all our resolutions (like Peter’s protest and promise) are worthless unless our Lord gives us grace to keep them for His glory.

Vows and promises unconditionally addressed, cannot but prove dangerous to the strongest faith. God must first give us perseverance, before we can promise it; it is not in our power, though it be our duty to perform it. Though Peter may, in the virtue of Christ’s promise, be sure not to fall into hell, he cannot, in the virtue of his own promise, be sure not to fall into temptation: though he can be secure that faith shall have the last victory; yet he cannot, that it shall have every victory: though it cannot die and be finally dried up, yet it may ebb and languish; and though even now it can look undauntedly on the nails of a cross, yet presently it may be affrighted at the voice of a maid. He only that hath given faith unto us, can give life and action unto our faith… Lord! let me never barely promise, but let me withal pray unto thee; and let ever my purpose to die for thee, be seconded with a supplication that I may not deny thee; whenever I have an arm of confidence to lift up in defence of thy truth, let me have a knee of humility to bow down before thy throne: Lord, give me what I may promise; and I will promise what thou requirest. (Works, 3:11)

[1] John Newton, Wise Counsel – John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., ed. Grant Gordon (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 170. Newton has made similar confessions earlier on, see pp. 88, 145.

Lessons from John Newton’s Letters

Lessons from Newton’s Letters to John Ryland[1]

John Newton (1725-1807), Richard Cecil (1748-1810), and Henry Venn (1724-1797) of the late eighteenth century are some of the most judicious men I have read. Though I have read more on Newton than the other two, there is something common to all three. They all possessed good sound judgment on Christian experience and on religious duties. On this side of the Atlantic, we could add another person and that would be Archibald Alexander (1772-1851). To me, these all demonstrated similar wisdom. They were balanced, measured, mature, and lighted with good sound wisdom.

These extracts convey something of Newton’s sound advice to young John Ryland (1753-1825). These letters immensely helped Ryland and others to whom Newton wrote. Many of them ended up being published. In the product description of this book, it says that John Newton

has rightly been called ‘the letter-writer par excellence of the Evangelical Revival’. Newton himself seems to have come to the conclusion, albeit reluctantly, that letter-writing was his greatest gift. In a letter to a friend he confessed, ‘I rather reckoned upon doing more good by some of my other works than by my ‘Letters’, which I wrote without study, or any public design; but the Lord said, ‘You shall be most useful by them,’ and I learned to say, ‘Thy will be done! Use me as Thou pleasest, only make me useful.’

These were some of the things that did my soul much good this past week. Meditating on these thoughts from his letters should help us all.


A Believer’s Frame[2]

This letter answers a question raised by John Ryland about what a person is to do when he finds himself “always still, quiet, and stupid” in spiritual terms. That is, what is one to do when he lacks spiritual earnestness? These are some of Newton’s answers to Ryland’s query. Since the matter is universal, Newton published his answer for the benefit of a larger audience.

1. A warning is given. What would happen if a believer never found himself “occasionally poor, insufficient, and … stupid?” If someone was always spiritually enlarged, he would be in danger of being “puffed up with spiritual pride.” In turn, he would be less aware of his absolute dependence of or need for Christ. Ryland, as a preacher, could not experimentally address others about these spiritual struggles if he never underwent these difficulties.

2. Similarly, Newton points out that the angel who appeared to Cornelius did not preach to him. One of the reasons for this is quite interesting: “For though the glory and grace of the Saviour seems fitter subject for an angel’s powers than for the poor stammering tongues of sinful men, yet an angel could not preach experimentally, nor describe the warfare between grace and sin from his own feelings.” (34)

3. Furthermore, this concern about one spiritual frame is actually good. A conscious desire for a taste of God’s presence and grieving over our lack of spiritual ardor suggests that the foundation is good. “And the heart may be as really alive to God, and grace as truly in exercise, when we walk in comparative darkness and see little light, as when the frame of the spirits is more comfortable. Neither the reality nor the measure of grace can be properly estimated by the degree of our sensible comforts.” (35)

Isn’t this one of the sad conditions of our soul? We thirst so little; we are so easily satisfied with so many lesser things. That a believer is concerned about his apathy and coldness is a good thing.

4. Newton says that the command to rejoice always means what it says. It is as if the Lord were saying, “I call upon you to rejoice, not at some times only, but at all times. Not only when upon the mount, but when in the valley. Not only when you conquer, but while you are fighting. Not only when the Lord shines upon you, but when he seems to hid his face.” (36)

5. There is also a requirement for us to submit to His will. That is we can earnestly call upon God to relieve us of this distress with “regulated by a due submission to his will” without the petition being “inordinate for want of such submission.” That is, God may have a purpose and sometimes our cries are simply our unwillingness to submit to him. “I have often detected the two vile abominations self-will and self-righteousness insinuating themselves into this concern.” (36) He unpacks these two “abominations” quite well.

6. Self-will. Some are unsuitably impatient and unwilling to yield themselves to God’s disposal. This is sin. God is the great physician, a wise infallible doctor to my soul. Too often we prescribe to him what the medicine ought to be. “How inconsistent to acknowledge that I am blind, to entreat him to lead me, and yet to want to choose my own way, in the same breath!”

Isn’t this all too often true? We say God is wise and our impatience and petition demands that He answer immediately in a prescribed manner. It is as if God can no good with me unless he lift this spiritual difficulty from me. Our sinful heart knows best though our lips may confess a differently theology.

7. Self-righteousness. “Again, self-righteousness has had a considerable hand in dictating many of my desires for an increase of comfort and spiritual strength. I have wanted some stock of my own. I have been wearied of being so perpetually behold to him, necessitated to come to him always in the same strain, as a poor miserable sinner. I could have liked to have done something for myself in common, and to have depended upon him chiefly upon extraordinary occasions.” (37)

Yet God would have us realize we can do absolutely nothing without him. We want our way so that we are no longer beholden to God for help. We want to be able to establish our own righteousness in one way or another. Our gracious Lord wants us to depend upon him for the most basic needs as well as the most spiritual.


Delusive Impressions[3]

It is not clear what it was Sally Luddington actually intimated from the impressions she received. She seems to have concluded that the Lord was leading her to do something by these spiritual impressions (or delusions). Newton’s comments on this are very instructive.

Texts of Scripture brought powerfully to the heart are very desirable and pleasant, if their tendency is to humble us, to give us more feeling sense of the preciousness of Christ, or of the doctrines of grace; if they make sin more hateful, enliven our regard to the means, or increase our confidence in the power and faithfulness of God. But if they are understood as intimating our path of duty in particular circumstances, or confirming us in purposes we may have already formed, not otherwise clearly warranted by the general strain of the word, or by the leadings of Providence, they are for the most part ensnaring, and always to be suspected. Nor does their coming to the mind at the time of prayer give them more authority in this respect. When the mind is intent upon any subject, the imagination is often watchful to catch at anything which may seem to countenance the favourite pursuit. It is too common to ask counsel of the Lord when we have already secretly determined for ourselves. And in this disposition we may easily be deceived by the sound of a text of Scripture, which, detached from the passage in which it stands, may seem remarkably to tally with our wishes. Many have been deceived this way. And sometimes, when the even has shown them they were mistaken, it has opened a door for great distress, and Satan has found occasion to make them doubt even of their most solid experiences. (55-56)

This is sound advice. Matters regarding marriage, job decisions, ministry opportunities, major financial purchases, new career paths, etc. have forced earnest Christians to seek the Lord’s counsel. In such circumstances, some professing believers have been “led” by strange means.

1. Whatever the impression, if they contribute to the above examples (love for Christ, etc.), then little or no harm can come from it and is most likely of God.

2. Newton recognizes that the heart is deceitful and if there is something upon which our hearts are really set, then “spiritual” or “scriptural” support can easily be found. He says they are “for the most part ensnaring, and always to be suspected.” Let us always doubt ourselves in these matters. Some look to the Word, read providence, seek counsel with a special bent to garner support for their precommitted decision.

3. Lastly, notice the dangerous result. If Satan misleads us or if we are simply misled by our foolish fancy, then Satan will cause us to “doubt even [our] most solid experiences.” There are some who are so gun shy after being duped by enthusiasm (“spiritual” emotionalism), they doubt all manner of solid Christian experience and thus fall into another error.


A Great Stroke

In this letter, Newton writes of a “great stroke” on the church by taking an eminent saint home (he already wrote about other dear saints recently taken home). This is one of his comments regarding that as he spiritually reflects on it:  “Thus the Lord is pleased to take of some of his most eminent servants in the height of their usefulness, to caution those who are left not to presume upon their fancied importance. He can do without the best of us.” (63)

In the church, in our lives, etc. God would have us lean on Him and not on the flesh. Nothing or no one is more important than our God. God will take all good things away so that our hearts would be wrapped up in Him.

[1] From John Newton, Wise Counsel – John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., ed. Grant Gordon (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009).

[2] A very practical letter and one which addresses a common struggle of all believers. It can be found in his Works I:253-61.

[3] This letter is found on pp. 55-57; in Newton’s Works, 2:116-20.


[Adult Sunday School Lesson, Oct. 9, 2011]