Thursday, April 27, 2017

Student or Servant?

In his sermon "The Anointing at Bethany" on 03/26/17, Pastor Mark Fitzpatrick of Arann Reformed Baptist Church looks at John 12:1-8.  As he looks at Mary and Martha in this passage, he answers the question of whether or not it is better to be a student or servant of Christ:

"For Mary and Martha it was not just a miracle [the raising of Lazarus]; it was a restoration to the one that they loved.  Again, Martha is seen as the servant; Martha served.  It is good to be a servant of Christ; it is better to a student of Christ.  And that's lesson of Mary and Martha.  Martha the servant; Mary the student--better to be a student of Christ.  We all find it by nature easier to do things, than to learn.  We are workers rather than students.  But the greatest honor we can give to Christ is to learn of Him; giving attention to His Word.  Giving attention to how the Word describes Him is the greatest worship we can give to Christ.  That's why in Matthew 11, Christ exhorts us in verse 29 to "learn of Me".  [Christ says to] learn of Me, study Me, learn what I am; I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest unto your souls--the added promise to what it is to learn of Jesus Christ.  The reason we become so dissatisfied, quite often, is we concentrate on the outward things, but there is no satisfaction to the soul in that.  [There is] no satisfaction to the soul in concentrating as Martha did on the outward things.  She was not dealing with the heart issue; she was not dealing with her soul.  Mary dealt with the soul; Mary fed the soul.  While Martha was feeding Christ, Christ was feeding Mary.

...If we only come [to church] with the outward--doing our duty and going to church, that's all outward.  Lots of people see going to church as doing service to God--that's outward.  No, we are here this morning by God's grace to learn more of Jesus Christ; to be satisfied more with Jesus Christ; to find rest in Him.  If we leave [church] without not knowing more of that we have missed the whole point because Christ's great call, His invitation, is to find peace and rest in Him."

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light," (Matthew 11:28-30).

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Biblical Look at Death

In his sermon "Mary and the Love of Christ (2)" on 02/26/17, Pastor Mark Fitzpatrick of Arann Reformed Baptist Church looks at John 11:28-37.  In this passage, Mr. Fitzpatrick marvels at the fact that Jesus weeps at Lazarus's death, even though He knows that He will raise Lazarus:

"Death should make us weep.  We do mourn.  Yes, we don't mourn as those who have no hope, but it's unnatural not to mourn.  If the Son of God wept at the presence of death, we should weep.  There can be a false spiritually which makes you aloof...death should make us grieve; death should make us sorrow.  Of course, not to the point of desperation where we give up, but death is not the revealed will of God.  Yes, it is His sovereign will, but God's revealed will is life.  God created humanity to live, not to die.  God created the animals to live, not to die.  Death is an evil thing.  That's why we rejoice that our Savior has overcome death.  Where, O death, is thy sting?  Where, O grave, is thy victory?  Thanks be unto God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

"Jesus wept," (John 11:35)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Learning the Truth

In An Exposition of the Epistle of I John [ISBN 1-888514-01-9], Samuel E. Pierce (1746-1829) describes how Christians truly learn of Christ from 1 John 2:7.

First, he notes what this verse does not mean:

"And ye need not that any man teach you.  It could not be with any design to cast off all preaching and ordinances which are for the spiritual instruction of the people of the Most High God.  The gifts which our Lord Jesus Christ, since he entered into heaven, hath bestowed and still continues to bestow on his ministering servants, are expressly said to be for the edifying of the body of Christ, Eph. iv. 12, consequently our apostle does by no means intend the setting these aside.  No; he does not," (p. 285).

Then, Mr. Pierce shows that the persons so taught are to be preserved from error:

"When we see the glory of Christ, the excellency of his righteousness, the virtue and efficacy of his blood and sacrifice, in the light, and are led into the true knowledge and apprehension of the same, by the intuitive light and teaching of the Holy Spirit, the whole of these important verities appear far more glorious, and important, than all these do, when only spoken of, and taught us by the mere teaching of men.  And while we are not to despise the teaching of men, so far as it is in real unison and conformity to the written and revealed word, and will of God, yet it is the unction, or teaching of the Holy Ghost, which only can make the outward teaching and preaching of the gospel profitable to our souls: for it is he only who can lead us into the life-giving meaning of it, so as that we may be quickened up into real communion with the Lord thereby.

Such as the Lord teacheth, he gives them to distinguish truth from error.  He keeps them in the Truth, and hereby he preserves them from error.  He gives them to value Truth as truth.  He gives them to know, the scriptures are the sacred and grand repository of all Truth--That Christ is the Jewel in this glorious cabinet--That in Him are contained all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge--All which is set before us, in the ever-blessed gospel.  It should here be observed, that whilst no man is to be looked on as infallible, nor any, or every thing he says to be so, yet every one, so far as he hath received the knowledge of the Truth, or, any one single truth into his mind, as the Lord the Spirit hath taught it him, so far he is infallibly taught.  Which most especially appears, when the Truth and the person's spiritual apprehensions of the same, are altogether congenial with the written word.  For whatsoever we receive for Truth into our minds, which is not exactly as the word of God expresses and states it, is not the teaching of the Spirit of God," (p. 288-89).

Similarly, Pastor Mark Fitzpatrick of Arann Reformed Baptist Church makes the same observation in his sermon "The Triumphal Entry" on 03/26/17.  As he looks at John 12:9-22, he notes that it is the Holy Spirit which gives true believers understanding:

First he reads John 7:38-39 -- "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.  (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)"  Next he reads John 12:16 -- "These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him."

Then Mr. Fitzpatrick concludes:
"When Christ was glorified, [He] sent the Spirit to give them understanding of all these things.  It's amazing that even the disciples, at this point, didn't really get it.  You see, without the Spirit of God, we will never understand.  See 1 Cor. 2:14 which says the man without the Spirit does not accept the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him, neither can he understand them because they are spiritually discerned; they are spiritually understood.  We know (we experience as believers ourselves) that when we came to faith, the Bible became clear to us in a way that it was never clear before.  Suddenly we understand it; we get it. We get the simplicity of the Gospel.  We see it.  We see our own sin; we see our rebellion.  We see the righteousness in salvation, the humility of Christ.  We see these things as they meet our need."

"But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him," (1 John 2:27).

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Fighting Temptation

In his book Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, Thomas Brooks reminds believers that Satan must have permission from God and permission from the believer himself before Satan can do anything against the believer's happiness:

"Satan has only a persuading sleight, not an enforcing might.  He may tempt us -- but without ourselves he cannot conquer us; he may entice us -- but without ourselves he cannot hurt us.  Our hearts carry the greatest guilt in every sin.  Satan can never undo a man without himself...And as Satan must have permission from God, so he must have permission from us.  When he tempts us, we must assent; when he makes offers, we must hearken; when he commands, we must obey, or else all his labor and temptations will be frustrated, and the evil that he tempts us to shall be put down only to his account" (Kindle location 3281-3307).

Next he encourages believers to resist temptation:

"Make strong and constant resistance against Satan's temptations.  Make resistance against temptations by arguments drawn from the honor of God, the love of God, your union and communion with God; and from the blood of Christ, the death of Christ, and the glory of Christ; and from the voice of the Spirit, the counsel of the Spirit, the comforts of the Spirit, the presence of the Spirit, the seal of the Spirit, the whisperings of the Spirit, the commands of the Spirit, the assistance of the Spirit, the witness of the Spirit; and from the glory of heaven, the excellency of grace, the beauty of holiness, the worth of the soul, and the vile or bitterness and evil of sin -- the least sin being a greater evil than the greatest temptation in the world.

And see that you make constant resistance, as well as strong resistance.  Satan will come on with new temptations when old ones are weak...When you have overcome one temptation, you must be ready to enter the battle with another.

...remember, that it is dangerous to yield to the least sin -- to be rid of the greatest temptation.  To take this course were as if a man should think to wash himself clean in ink, or as if a man should exchange a light cross, made of paper, for an iron cross, which is heavy, toilsome, and bloody.  The least sin set home upon the conscience, will more wound, vex, and oppress the soul, than all the temptations in the world can...He who will yield to sin to be rid of temptation, will be so much the more tempted -- and the less able to withstand temptations," (Kindle locations 2519-2537).

Then Mr. Brooks continues to teach believers how to fight Satan:

"He who fights against Satan, in the strength of his own resolutions, constitution or education, will certainly fly and fall before him.  Satan will be too hard for such a soul, and lead him captive at his pleasure...If ever you would be too hard for Satan, and after all his assaults, have your bow abide in strength, then take to yourself the Word of God, which is 'the two-edged sword of the Spirit, and the shield of faith, whereby you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the devil' (Eph. 6:17)," (Kindle location 3328, 3347).

He warns believers to keep watch:

"...If you would not be taken in any of Satan's snares, then keep a strong, close, and constant watch (1 Thess. 5:6).  A sleepy soul that will not watch against temptations, will certainly fall before the power of temptations.  Satan works most strongly on the imagination, when the soul is drowsy...Watchfulness includes a waking, a rousing up of the soul.  It is a continual, careful observing of our hearts and ways, in all the turning of our lives -- that we still keep close to God and his Word...Watchfulness is the heart busied and employed with diligent observation of what comes from within us, and of what comes from without us and into us," (Kindle location 3446-3455).

Finally, he exhorts believers to remember:

"A soul high in communion with God may be tempted -- but will not be easily conquered...Communion with God is very inflaming, elevating and strengthening...If you would not be taken in any of Satan's snares, then do not engage Satan in your own strength -- but be every day drawing new virtue and strength from the Lord Jesus.  Certainly that soul that engages against any old or new temptation without new strength, new influences from on high -- will fall before the power of the temptation.

...Ah, souls! remember this, that your strength to stand and overcome must not be expected from graces received in the past -- but from the fresh and renewed influences of heaven.  You must lean more upon Christ than your duties; you must lean more upon Christ than upon your spiritual tastes and discoveries: you must lean more upon Christ than upon your graces, or else Satan will lead you into captivity," (Kindle location 3464-3488).

"Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak," (Matt. 26:41).

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Vain Thoughts

In his book Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, Thomas Brooks counsels the believer to consider how his vain thoughts disrupt the worship of God.

First, Mr. Brooks looks at the device of Satan:  "Oh! the vain thoughts that Satan casts in, do so distaste my soul, and so grieve, vex, perplex, and distract my soul, that they even make me wary of holy duties, yes, of my very life," (Kindle location 1845).

The author then proceeds to give remedies against Satan's device of vain thoughts:
  1. "To have your hearts strongly affected with the greatness, holiness, majesty, and glory of that God before whom you stand, and with whom your souls converse in religious services.  Oh! let your souls be greatly affected with the presence, purity, and majesty of that God before whom you stand...There is nothing that will contribute so much to the keeping out of vain thoughts, as to look upon God as an omniscient God, an omnipresent God, an omnipotent God, a God full of all glorious perfections, a God whose majesty, purity, and glory will not allow him to behold the least iniquity," (Kindle location 1853).
  2. "To be faithful in religious services, notwithstanding all those wandering thoughts the soul is troubled with.  This will be a sweet help against them: for the soul to be resolute in waiting on God, whether it be troubled with vain thoughts or not," (Kindle location 1862).
  3. "That those vain and trifling thoughts that are cast into our souls, when we are waiting upon God in this or that religious service, if they be not cherished and indulged -- but abhorred, resisted, and disclaimed; they are not sins upon our souls, though they may be troubles to our minds; they shall not be put upon our accounts, nor keep mercies and blessings from being enjoyed by us...It is not Satan casting in of vain thoughts that can keep mercy from the soul, or undo the soul -- but the lodging and cherishing of vain thoughts...Vain thoughts pass through the best hearts; they are lodged and cherished only in the worst hearts," (Kindle location 1862-1881).
  4. "That watching against sinful thoughts, resisting of sinful thoughts, lamenting and weeping over sinful thoughts, carries with it the sweetest and strongest evidence of the truth and power of grace, and of the sincerity of your hearts, and is the readiest and the surest way to be rid of them (Psalm 139:23)," (Kindle location 1881).
  5. "To labor more and more to be filled with the fullness of God, and to be enriched with all spiritual and heavenly things.  What is the reason that the angels in heaven have not so much as an idle thought?  It is because they are filled with the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19)...Oh, then, lay up much of God, of Christ, of precious promises, and choice experiences in your hearts -- and then you will be less troubled with vain thoughts," (Kindle location 1899-1908).
  6. "To keep up holy and spiritual affections; for such as your affections are, such will be your thoughts...Those who are frequent in their love of God and his law, will be frequent in thinking of God and his law," (Kindle location 1908).
  7. "To avoid multiplicity of worldly business.  Oh, let not the world take up your hearts and thoughts.  Souls which are torn in pieces with the cares of the world will be always vexed and tormented with vain thoughts in all their approaches to God," (Kindle location 1908).

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ," (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What Wicked Men Truly Lack

In Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, Thomas Brooks notes that the eighth device of Satan is to present the outward mercies that vain men enjoy and the outward miseries they are freed from while they walk in the ways of sin.  Brooks's fourth remedy to this device is to consider (Kindle location 932):

"That the lack of wicked men, under all their outward mercy and freedom from adversity, is far greater than all their outward enjoyments.  They have many mercies, yet they lack more than they enjoy.  The mercies which they enjoy are nothing to the mercies they lack.  It is true, they have honors and riches, and pleasures and friends, and are mighty in power; their family is established, and their offspring are before their eyes.  'Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them.'  'They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance.  They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ.'  'They spend their days in wealth, their eyes stand out with fatness, they have more than heart can wish: and they have no bands in their death--but their strength is firm; they are not in trouble as other men.'

Yet all this is nothing to what they lack.  They lack a saving interest in God, Christ, the Spirit, the promises, the covenant of grace, and everlasting joy.  They lack acceptance and reconciliation with God; they lack righteousness, justification, sanctification, adoption, and redemption.  They lack the pardon of sin, and power against sin, and freedom from the dominion of sin.  They lack that favor with God, which is better than life, and that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory, and that peace which passes understanding, and that grace, the least of which is more worth than heaven and earth.  They lack a house that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  They lack those riches that perish not, the glory that fades not, that kingdom that shakes not.

Wicked men are the most needy in the world, yes, they lack those two things that should render their mercies sweet, that is, the blessing of God, and contentment with their condition!"

"Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee," (Hebrews 13:5).

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Backsliding Resolved

In his book Getting Back in the Race: The Cure for Backsliding [ISBN 978-1-936760-35-0], Joel Beeke defines backsliding as "a season of increasing sin and decreasing obedience in those who profess to be Christians," (p. 16) and outlines the signs of a backsliding believer [see my first post here].  Then he lays out how Christians cure backsliding (pp. 43-65):

True Repentance which involves:
  1. Recognition of your sinful condition
  2. Remembrance of your past obedience
  3. Searching out sin--"You know there cannot be any true, spiritual revival of grace while unrepentant sin remains undiscovered in your heart," (p. 47).
  4. Grieving over sin
  5. Confessing your sin
  6. Fleeing from sin--"But godly repentance includes both turning from sin and turning to God.  It flees from sin with the heart," (p. 49).
  7. Pursuing righteousness
True use of the Means of Grace:
  1. The means of the Word of God
  2. The means of prayer
  3. The means of public worship--"Much backsliding could be avoided or remedied simply by faithful participation in a faithful church," (p. 57).
  4. The means of affliction
  5. The means of spiritual desertion
  6. The means of human accountability
True Reaffirmation of Faith through:
  1. The Father
  2. The Son
  3. The Holy Spirit
Mr. Beeke rightly notes that "the backslider's fundamental problem is one of misplaced trust (Hosea 2:5, 8, 12)," (p. 62).  Therefore, he concludes that "[i]n order to know God in utter dependence, you must also know yourself.  You must know your utter inability to do any good apart from his grace.  You must know the dire straits in which your backsliding has put you.  You must know the horrible offense of your sins against God...But you must also know the infinite riches of grace in Jesus Christ...Dependence means that we build our lives and hopes on a fountain outside ourselves: the only reliable foundation is our triune God," (pp. 63-64).

"Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up," (Hos. 6:1).

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Backsliding Identified

In his book Getting Back in the Race: The Cure for Backsliding [ISBN 978-1-936760-35-0], Joel Beeke defines backsliding as "a season of increasing sin and decreasing obedience in those who profess to be Christians," (p. 16) and outlines the signs of a backsliding believer (pp. 22-40):
  1. Coldness in prayer--"Before long, morning prayer is all but given up; you no longer feel it is critical to call on God to begin your day rightly.  Prayer at bedtime shortens, and wandering thoughts during prayer multiply.  Prayer throughout the day largely vanishes," (p. 23).
  2. Indifference under the Word--"It is not enough to attend preaching; one must desire the Word.  You do not neglect church attendance, but neither do you cherish it; the heart is not in it as before...Perhaps you still read the Bible dutifully and even regularly, but where is the spiritual relish with which you read the Word in former times?...God's hand may be upon your conscience for some sin, but you refuse to confess it and forsake it, so the Word shines upon you like the hot sun in a summer drought (Psalm 32:3-4)...You fill your mind with the things of the world and the cares of this life while neglecting the truths of God," (pp. 24-27).
  3. Growing inner corruptions--"The secret sins of the heart begin to multiply as you neglect to put them to death...You may say the right things, but only to win the admiration of others. Deep in your heart, self-exaltation becomes your motivation.  Spiritual pride replaces lowliness of mind...You may still confess sin as sin and make vows to change, but you do both acts as an empty show of piety.  Your confession comes without repentance, and you do not follow your vows with change.  You speak against sin but accommodate it in practice and, on occasion, even fuel sin, in spite of your conscience (Romans 13:14)...The danger is that your self-examination becomes less frequent, less thorough, and less prayerful," (pp. 27-29).
  4. The love of the world--"One sign of backsliding, and often the first sign others can notice, is an increase in worldliness.  In everyday life, in conversation, and even in dress and fashion, the spirit of the world begins to take hold of you...Instead of being a chaste spouse devoted to your Lord, you begin to flirt with the world...As this happens, the world increasingly fills your days and subverts your heart...Like Lot, you may be vexed by the world (2 Peter 2:7) but still drawn to its vanities and ideas," (pp. 29-31).
  5. Declining love for believers--"Backsliding can advance so far that brotherly love, one of the most basic marks of saving grace (1 John 3:14), seems to all but disappear within you...Your own self-promotion and self-protection can smother any thought of self-sacrifice or service to others," (p. 32).
  6. Man-centered hopes--"Into the vacuum created by God's departing glory rushes man's love for strife and vainglory (Philippians 2:3a)...People become the center of church, so peoples becomes the subject of all talk.  People are either idolized or criticized, and God and his Word are set aside.  Conversation increasingly centers on preachers and leaders, and you set yourselves up as judge of one another," (p. 33).
Mr. Beeke gives a wake-up call to all Christians: "Backsliding may not immediately produce scandalous sins; it may begin with a cold heart," (p. 25).  He concludes this section by noting that the greatest evil of backsliding is the fact that we do not feel any guilt for it: "We complain about spiritual dryness, the darkness of the times, the sad condition of the church and of God's people, but what does the Lord say of such complaining?  They are nothing more than empty words in his ears if we do not repent of our role in causing the deadness and darkness," (p. 39).

"Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men," (Isa. 29:13).