GOD STILL USES CLAY POTS by John MacArthur

The New Testament was not written by the elite of Egypt. It was not written by the elite of Greece, Rome, or even Israel. The greatest scholars in the world at that time were down at Egypt; they were in the greatest library of antiquity at Alexandria. The most distinguished philosophers were in Athens; the most powerful leaders of men were in Rome; and the religious geniuses were in Israel’s temple. But God never used any of them! He just used clay pots. He passed by Herodotus, the historian; Socrates, the philosopher; Hippocrates, the father of medicine; Euclid, the mathematician; Archimedes, the father of mechanics; Hipparchus, the astronomer; Cicero, the orator; and Virgil, the poet. He passed by them all. Why? Clay pots served His purposes better. From a human viewpoint (and perhaps in their own minds), all those prominent people were magnificent vessels. But someone deeply impressed with his own value isn’t going to see value in the gospel. So God chose peasants, fishermen, smelly guys, and tax collectors—clay pots chosen to carry, proclaim, and write the priceless treasure we call the gospel.

God is still doing it that way. He is still passing by the elite. He is still passing by the hard-hearted, non-listening, proud intellectuals. They may be sitting in their ivory towers in the universities and seminaries, or in their bishoprics and their positions of authority in the churches, but God is finding the humble who will carry the treasure of saving truth.

How can that work? It works because “we do not preach ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:5). We are not the message. The church I pastor has been blessed because God has blessed His truth. It’s not me. When Paul says, “When I am weak, then I am strong,” he doesn’t mean that he is a man with no convictions. Neither does he mean that he is an undisciplined man, a lazy man, an irresponsible man, or a man who can’t work hard. What he means by “weak” is this: “I got myself out of the equation. And that’s when the strength became apparent—when I got myself out of the way.”

If you want to be used mightily by God, get yourself out of the way. Learn to see yourself as a garbage pail, or, in the words of Peter, to clothe yourself with humility (1 Peter 5:5). It’s not about you; it’s not your personality, it’s the Word of God. God doesn’t need the intellectuals. He doesn’t need great people, fancy people, or famous people. The people aren’t the power. The power is the message! He puts the treasure in clay pots so that “the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:7b).

If you look for a human explanation for Paul’s success, there isn’t one. People have said to me, “I’m studying the Bible to see why Paul was successful.” I’ll tell you why he was successful: he preached the truth. And the truth is powerful. Or they will say, “We want to come to your church to find out what makes things tick there.” I’ll tell you what makes things tick there: the truth of God. The truth of God and the power of God; those are what make things tick. The surpassing greatness explains the transcendent might of superlative power from God on the souls of those who hear the truth. We preachers are clay pots at best! In and of ourselves, we have nothing to offer, neither beauty nor power. Paul knew that, which is why he says, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3b).

In the end, it’s OK that we’re so weak and so afraid. Our faith should not rest in ourselves anyway, but in the power of God. We’re nothing. As Paul says elsewhere, “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7). God is everything!

Years ago, James Denney wrote: “No one who saw Paul’s ministry and looked at a preacher like Paul could dream that the explanation lay in him. Not in an ugly little Jew without presence, without eloquence, without the means to bribe or to compel could the source of such courage, the cause of such transformation, be found. It must be sought not in him, but in God.” In 1911, in his book The Glory of the Ministry, A. T. Robertson quoted Denney: “There always have been men in the world so clever that God could make no use of them. They could never do His work; they were so lost in admiration of their own. God’s work never depended on them, and it doesn’t depend on them now. The power is not the product of human genius, or cleverness, or technique, or ingenuity; the power of the gospel is in the gospel.” We ministers are weak, common, plain, fragile, breakable, dishonorable, and disposable clay pots who should be taking the garbage out—but instead we’re bringing the glory of God to our people.

The amazing thing is that such weakness does not prove fatal to the gospel. Thankfully, the gospel is not from us. The great reality is, God’s clay-pot strategy is essential to the gospel, because it makes crystal clear where the power really lies. We are unworthy servants, but God has given us the treasure of the gospel. What an inestimable privilege!

This excerpt is adapted from John MacArthur’s contribution in Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching.

 

THE BANNER OF TRUTH TURNED 60 YEARS OLD YESTERDAY

The Banner of Truth Trust Turns 60 Years Old

Jul 22, 2017 | Justin Taylor

banner of truth

Iain Murray is 86 years old. Sixty years ago today, along with Jack Cullum and Sidney Norton, officially founded Banner of Truth, the Reformed-evangelical publisher that began out of Westminster Chapel in London in 1957. It is headquartered today in Edinburgh, Scotland, with distribution offices in Carlyle, Pennsylvania.

Here is a 15-minute overview of the non-profit publisher’s history and distinctives:

https://player.vimeo.com/video/123863745

The Banner’s website recounts some of the historical background:

By late 1956, Iain Murray was in London as an assistant to Dr Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel. One of his duties was to take a Wednesday night meeting. Initially this meeting was to be a biblical exposition, but Lloyd-Jones changed this, and under his direction, Iain Murray was tasked with giving addresses on church history.

One of those who regularly attended these Wednesday night meetings was a businessman, Jack Cullum. In his forties, dark haired, and standing 6ft 4ins tall (1.93m), he was a distinguished-looking character. As he listened to the addresses on church history and heard of the way that God had worked in times past, learned of the people God had used and what they believed, he was prompted to meet with the speaker and ask how it was that this thrilling history of the church was so little known to contemporary Christians.

Iain Murray’s answer was that quite simply it was because the books that told of these things, that were so rich in information and teaching, were almost all long out-of-print and consequently known to very few. When in the recent past second-hand Puritan books had been available, no one had wanted them and therefore British publishers generally took the view that such old titles were unsaleable and not worth reprinting. To most publishers of the day, the emphasis of that literature was not congenial to much that passed for biblical Christianity in the twentieth century.

Religious publishing had become too market oriented; too driven by the question of whether a title was saleable and to what degree it could be expected to be popular and profitable.

Hearing this, Mr Cullum became convinced that the classics of historic biblical Christianity should be put back into print. He had seen considerable success in his business ventures, and in his new found conviction, he was prepared to put in the resources to make things happen and to start a publishing company. This was not uniformly approved of by his friends and advisors. One advised him that were he to put resources into publishing, especially the publication of literature so long unread and for which there was no known demand, then such a venture would last no longer than six months.

But Jack Cullum’s commitment to the vision that he had discussed and deliberated on with Iain Murray was strong, and so, on 22 July1957, a non-profit charity was formed, named The Banner of Truth Trust in continuity with the name of the magazine. The main objective in the trust deed, reflecting Mr Cullum’s vision, stated:

The object of the Charity is to promote in such parts of the world as the Trustees may decide the better knowledge and understanding of the doctrines of the Christian faith as taught by the Protestant Reformers and English Puritans.

From these early days, Dr Lloyd-Jones was a close advisor to the work of the new Trust, and contributed to the choice of the books to be published.

You can read the whole thing here.

Mark Dever, in an article trying to explain where all of these young Calvinists have come from in the 21st century, wrote about the focus and importance of the Banner:

Well-bound and attractively presented, no such editions of Reformed works from the English-speaking tradition had been popularly published for a century. Through consistently keeping key titles in print, carefully screening what would be published, word of mouth, huge 50% (or more) discounts for theological students, the Banner brought affordable, well-presented re-prints of classic works to a new generation. The libraries of our generation of ministers are filled with books written decades and even centuries earlier, newly re-printed. Some contemporary authors were published-not least of whom is Iain Murray himself. He has produced a series of productive works, uniting piety, theology and history, all in a popular style and with an eye to instructing and edifying the church.

But what was most exceptional about the Banner in the late 1950’s was its widespread distribution of literature from the past. The Princeton faculty teach us again through their books. Dutch Calvinsts and English Puritans appeared again. Readers were introduced to 19th-century divines (the Bonars, Charles Bridges). Furthermore, the Banner was in it for the long-term. They were theologically motivated. They were not put off publishing a work because it would not sell immediately. They gave time to allow an old classic to slowly disseminate through networks of Christians and fraternals of ministers. And their assiduous work in publishing in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s has clearly helped to bring forth (and equip) a harvest in the 1980s and 1990s and still today.

I am grateful to God for this publisher and their decades of faithfulness. What a gift.

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Justin Taylor is the Vice President of Publication for Crossway Books and blogs at BETWEEN TWO WORLDS. 

11 REASONS CHARLES SPURGEON WAS DEPRESSED

11 Reasons Spurgeon Was Depressed

Spurgeon owned more than thirty books on mental health. He read about depression, wrote about depression, and suffered from depression.

Spurgeon’s depression didn’t hinder his ministry – in fact, it helped it. Spurgeon’s many faces might have frustrated the artist trying to paint his portrait, but they also gave the pastor a multi-faceted empathy for the problems facing his flock. That’s one reason Spurgeon was “the people’s preacher.” Spurgeon called his depression “a prophet in rough clothing.” His weakness reminded him that, as humans, we are all designed from dust. 

 

An artist once tried to paint a portrait of Charles Spurgeon. After much frustration he said, “I can’t paint you. Your face is different every day. You are never the same.”

To be sure, the most popular preacher in the Victoria era was also one of the most burdened.

Spurgeon owned more than thirty books on mental health. He read about depression, wrote about depression, and suffered from depression. Spurgeon’s letters contain numerous references to his sinking spirits. He often called himself a “prisoner” and wept without knowing why.

“I pity a dog who has to suffer what I have.”

Some biographers have claimed Spurgeon suffered from bipolar disorder, oscillating between highs and lows, ups and downs, productivity and inability. Others believed his “fainting fits” were also caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Dr. Anil Den, a psychiatrist in London today, claimed that Spurgeon’s depression was endogenous, and if he were alive today, he’d be treated with medicine.

The best new PhD research on Spurgeon’s depression comes from Dr. Brian Albert, who noted that Spurgeon’s doctors, Joseph Kidd, R. M. Miller, and Russell Reynolds, believed one reason for the pastor’s depression was “extra pressure of care or labour.”

Spurgeon’s wife believed the weather affected his mental stability. “Dull and dreary days depressed him,” she wrote.

Was Spurgeon’s depression only a spiritual problem? Spurgeon didn’t think so. He did acknowledge “soul sickness,” but also understood that the brain is just as broken as the body. If the body needs medicine, why not the mind? “It is not repentance,” he speculated, “but indigestion or some other evil agency depressing the spirits.”

“The troubled man experiences a good deal, not because he is a Christian, but because he is a man, a sickly man, a man inclined to melancholy.”

Victorians didn’t have a modern understanding of mental health. They viewed depression as a disorder rather than a disease and believed each person could be cured. The most common treatment for serious cases was admittance to public asylums (Spurgeon’s first church in London was located beside a “lunatic asylum”).

“Do not think it unspiritual to remember that you have a body. . . . The physician is often as needful as the minister.”

Diagnosing the dead is neither easy nor altogether accurate. But in the case of Charles Spurgeon, it’s worth a try.

Why was Spurgeon depressed? Here are a few reasons distilled from his own writings.

  1. Chemical Imbalance

“The mind can descend far lower than the body, for there are bottomless pits.”

“Some are touched with melancholy from their birth.”

  1. Illness

“I have been very ill for more than five weeks, and during that time I have been brought into deep waters of mental depression.”

“A sluggish liver will produce most of those fearsome forebodings, which we are so ready to regard as spiritual emotions.”

  1. Trauma

“There are dungeons beneath the Castle of Despair as dreary as the abodes of the lost, and some of us have been in them” (in the context of the Surrey Garden Music Hall Disaster of 1856).

  1. Loneliness

“This loneliness, which if I mistake not is felt by many of my brethren, is a fertile source of depression.”

  1. Increased Mental Exertion

“All mental work tends to weary and to depress, for much study is a weariness of the flesh.”

“I cannot yet call myself free from fits of deep depression, which are the result of brain-weariness; but I am having them less frequently, and therefore I hope they will vanish altogether.”

  1. Fame

“When I first became a pastor in London, my success appalled me; and the thought of the career which it seemed to open up, so far from elating me, cast me into the lowest depth, out of which I uttered my misery, and found no room for a Gloria in excelsis.”

  1. Failure

“How often have some of us tossed to and fro upon our couch half the night because of conscious shortcomings in our testimony! How frequently have we longed to rush back to the pulpit again to say over again more vehemently, what we have uttered in so cold a manner!”

  1. Weather

“Living in an unbroken series of summer days, where no cold mists are dreamed of, it is no great marvel that rheumatic pains fly away, and depression of spirit departs.”

  1. Conviction

“I often wonder, to this day, how it was that my hand was kept from rending my own body in pieces through the awful agony which I felt when I discovered the greatness of my transgression.”

  1. Nervousness

“To my great sorrow, last Sunday night I was unable to preach. I had prepared a sermon upon this text, with much hope of its usefulness; for I intended it to be a supplement to the morning sermon, which was a doctrinal exposition. The evening sermon was intended to be practical, and to commend the whole subject to the attention of enquiring sinners. I came here feeling quite fit to preach, when an overpowering nervousness oppressed me, and I lost all self-control, and left the pulpit in anguish.”

  1. Controversy

“I cannot tell you by letter what I have endured in the desertion of my own men.”

“I have suffered enough for one lifetime from those I lived to serve.”

  1. Criticism

Charles Spurgeon “is a nine days’ wonder, a comet that has suddenly shot across the religious atmosphere. He has gone up like a rocket, and ere long will come down like a stick” (The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, April 28, 1855)

A Final Word

Spurgeon’s depression didn’t hinder his ministry – in fact, it helped it.

Spurgeon’s many faces might have frustrated the artist trying to paint his portrait, but they also gave the pastor a multi-faceted empathy for the problems facing his flock. That’s one reason Spurgeon was “the people’s preacher.”

Spurgeon called his depression “a prophet in rough clothing.” His weakness reminded him that, as humans, we are all designed from dust.

“As to mental maladies, is any man altogether sane? Are we not all a little off the balance?”

With Spurgeon, may God’s strength be spotlighted in the shadow of our sufferings.

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Dr. Christian George serves as the curator of the C.H. Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Seminary, Kansas City, Mo., and as assistant professor of historical theology.

THE SUFFERING AND THE GLORY OF PSALM 22 by Robert Godfrey

The Suffering and the Glory of Psalm 22
We wonder how our loving heavenly Father can stand idly by when we are in such distress.

Written by W. Robert Godfrey | Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Yet, even in this extreme distress, David never loses faith or falls into complete hopelessness. His anguish leads him to prayer, and the first words of the prayer are “My God.” Even in his suffering and wondering about the ways of God, he does not let go of his knowledge that God is his God. In the midst of his anguish, he articulates that faith.

Psalm 22 begins with the most anguished cry in human history: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These are the words that Jesus took on His lips at the depth of His suffering on the cross. His suffering was unique at that point as He offered Himself up for the sins of His people. And so, we have tended to see this cry as unique to Jesus. But such an approach to these words is clearly wrong. Jesus was not inventing unique words to interpret His suffering. Rather, He was quoting Psalm 22:1. These words were first uttered by David, and David was speaking for all of God’s people. We need to reflect on these words and the whole psalm as they relate to Christ and to all His people in order to understand them fully.

The psalm begins with a section dominated by the agonized prayer of David (vv. 1–21). David is expressing in the first place his own experience of feeling abandoned by God. Here is the most intense suffering God’s servant can know—not just that enemies surround him (vv. 7, 12–13) and that his body is in dreadful pain (vv. 14–16), but that he feels that God does not hear him and does not care about his suffering. And this is not just the experience of David. It is the experience of all God’s people in the face of terrible trouble. We wonder how our loving heavenly Father can stand idly by when we are in such distress.

Yet, even in this extreme distress, David never loses faith or falls into complete hopelessness. His anguish leads him to prayer, and the first words of the prayer are “My God.” Even in his suffering and wondering about the ways of God, he does not let go of his knowledge that God is his God. In the midst of his anguish, he articulates that faith. He remembers God’s past faithfulness in Israel’s history: “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame” (vv. 4–5). Then, David remembers God’s past care in his own personal life: “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God” (vv. 9–10). A recurring spiritual remedy in the Psalms is to fill the mind with memories of God’s past faithfulness to assure us of His present faithfulness.

We see David’s hope also in the earnestness of his prayer for present relief. He knows that God can help, and he turns to God as the only one who will help: “But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!” (v. 19). We must never stop praying, even in our deepest distress.

John Calvin in his commentary concluded that a sense of being forsaken by God, far from being unique to Christ or rare for the believer, is a regular and frequent struggle for believers. He wrote, “There is not one of the godly who does not daily experience in himself the same thing. According to the judgment of the flesh, he thinks he is cast off and forsaken by God, while yet he apprehends by faith the grace of God, which is hidden from the eye of sense and reason.” We must not think that living the Christian life is easy or that we will not daily have to bear the cross.

This psalm is not only the experience of every believer, but it is also a very remarkable and specific prophecy of the sufferings of Jesus. We see the scene of the crucifixion especially clearly in the words, “A company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (vv. 16–18). Here we see that indeed this psalm comes to its fullest realization in Jesus.

Jesus knew this psalm and quoted its first words to identify with us in our suffering, since He bore on the cross our agony and suffering. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death” (Heb. 2:14). Jesus does deliver us by becoming our substitute and the sacrifice for our sins.

In the second part of this psalm, the mood and tone change dramatically. Agonized prayer turns to ardent praise. The psalmist comes to be filled with praise: “In the midst of the congregation I will praise you” (v. 22). He calls on his brothers to join him in praise: “You who fear the LORD, praise him!” (v. 23).

This ardent praise is for the success of the cause of God. The failure that at the beginning of the psalm seemed certain is now swallowed up in victory. This success will not just be personal or individual but will be worldwide. The praise rests on the abundant promise: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you… . All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust” (vv. 27, 29). After suffering comes the glory of a worldwide kingdom.

God’s success will not only affect the whole world, but will also span the generations: “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the LORD to the coming generation” (v. 30). The picture here is not of a brief time of success for the cause of the Lord, but the assurance that the time of suffering will lead to a time of great spreading of the knowledge of God throughout the earth. And surely, since the time of Pentecost, we have seen the fulfillment of this promise. All around the world today, Jesus is known and worshiped. Even while suffering continues in this world, we have seen Christ’s promise realized: “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

This success is the Lord’s doing, “for kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations” (v. 28). He is the active One who ultimately gives victory to His cause. The Lord achieves His triumph through the instruments He uses. And David sees himself as an instrument especially in his proclaiming the goodness and mercy of his God: “I will tell of your name to my brothers” (v. 22). Jesus also is the speaker in verse 22, as we are told in Hebrews 2:12 (this citation shows again how fully the New Testament sees Jesus speaking in the Psalter).

The psalmist, indeed, proclaims the name of God, particularly in terms of His saving mercy: “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (v. 24). Such proclamation is vital to the mission of God in the world. As Calvin wrote, “God begets and multiplies his Church only by means of the word.” Those who have experienced God’s mercy must tell others about it.

While God uses instruments to accomplish His purposes, the glory is His alone, for it is He who acts through them and ensures their success. For that reason, this psalm ends with this firm certainty: “He has done it” (v. 31). Our God hears our prayers, fulfills His promises, and fills us with praise. “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

As we seek to understand Psalm 22 so that we can appropriate it and use it, we need to see in it the direction of the history of the church: first suffering and then glory. We also need to see something of a pattern of piety for the church and for the individual Christian. The pattern is this: The real and inescapable problems of life in this fallen world should lead us to prayer. Prayer should lead us to remembering and meditation on the promises of God, both those fulfilled in the past and those that we trust will be fulfilled in the future. Remembering the promises of God will help us to praise Him as we ought. As we praise Him, we can continue to face with grace and faith the problems that come daily into our lives.

© 2017 Ligonier Ministries

 

AMERICAN COLLEGE OF PEDIATRICIANS: CHILDREN NEED HETEROSEXUAL PARENTS

American College Of Pediatricians: Children Need Heterosexual Parents:

Studies that appear to indicate neutral to favorable child outcomes from same-sex parenting have critical design flaws. These include non-longitudinal design, inadequate sample size, biased sample selection, lack of proper controls, failure to account for confounding variables, and perhaps most problematic – all claim to affirm the null hypothesis.14,15,16 Therefore, it is impossible for these studies to provide any support for the alleged safety or potential benefits to children from same-sex parenting.

Data on the long-term outcomes of children placed in same-sex households is sparse and gives reason for concern.17 This research has revealed that children reared in same-sex households are more likely to experience sexual confusion, engage in risky sexual experimentation, and later adopt a same-sex identity.18-22 This is concerning since adolescents and young adults who adopt the homosexual lifestyle are at increased risk for mental health problems, including major depression, anxiety disorders, conduct disorders, substance dependence, and especially suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.23 Recent studies confirm that children reared by same-sex couples fare worse in a multitude of outcome categories than those reared by heterosexual, married couples.24-27

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AMERICAN COLLEGE OF PEDIATRICIANS (July, 2017)

ON THE DEATH OF AN ONLY SON–“THE MYSTERY OF PROVIDENCE”

“Should it be according to thy mind?” (Job 34. 33)

(This is the first half of a sermon preached by John E. Hazelton at Streatley Hall, London, on August 1st. 1909. The occasion of this wonderful discourse was the death of his only son.)

The whole verse reads: “Should it be according to thy mind? He will recompense it, whether thou refuse, or whether thou choose; and not I: therefore speak what thou knowest”; but we will seek to confine our attention to the first clause. These are the words of Elihu to Job: “Should it be according to thy mind?”

When we read the Book of Job, the pathetic central figure pretty well absorbs our attention. Our hearts thrill as we gaze upon him. The book opens, and we see that man of God sitting in the midst of the calm and cloudless day of prosperity; a rich man, an influential man, a God-­fearing man, a man evidently singularly happy in his domestic relations. And at eventide that same day a desolate dwelling! A rich man made poor! A father, absolutely childless! A God-fearing man on whom the enemy seems to have wrought pretty well all his will.

Then, succeeding that first chapter, we have alternations in the experience of Job of darkness and light – darkness that might be felt; light that came from God out of heaven. We see the fearful conflict between the unbelief of his heart and the faith of God’s elect of which he, by grace, was made a partaker. We see Job brought at last to acknowledge that God had a perfect right to do with him and his as it pleased Him. The fierce winds of adversity blow, and Job is like a tree shaken by those winds; a complete tornado of trial presses upon him, but like all sanctified trial, that very hurricane causes him to wrap his roots closer around the Rock of eternal ages, and from the heart of that dear man springs one of the most wonderful utterances in the whole of the Word of God: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13. 15).

So we have in Job a wonderful object-lesson of the blessed truth that “the just shall live by faith” (Heb. 10. 38). How are we kept amidst life’s trials? By the mighty power of God. Through what instrumentality? Through the instrumentality of faith. “Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Pet. 1. 5). Then our faith is the instrument by which we are kept. Yes, but above and beyond all that is the Keeper of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, who prays for all His people in life’s bitterest sorrows that their faith fail not.

Here is one of the questions that was asked by one of Job’s friends; not by one of the three, but by the youngest of all, Elihu. The questions of the Book of Job are not the least instructive part of this wonderful portion of God’s Word. Questions asked by God, questions asked by Satan, questions asked by Job, and questions asked by his four friends. Out of the old world, and from the centuries behind us, come those questions. How each question pierces today to the very heart of things, and how many replies voice the yearnings and experiences of God’s dear people as they face sorrow, change, pain and death!

Here is one question put by the Lord: “Wilt thou condemn Me, that thou mayest be righteous?” (Job 40. 8), and Job could not answer that. Here is Satan’s question: “Doth Job fear God for nought?” (Job 1. 9), and Satan received his answer. Here is Job’s question: “How should man be just with God?” (Job 9. 2). Each question is asked and answered by words full of peace and rest.

But to come to our text. It is a question asked by Elihu, the youngest of those five men. Elihu is a proper name, signifying “God is Jehovah.” In him we see a man of God inspired by the Holy Spirit as a divinely-commissioned messenger between God and Job. God sent Elihu with divine messages to His servant Job, and I take it, whilst not regarding Elihu exactly as a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, he certainly shadows forth the Lord Jesus in many things that he says to Job.

What had Job been asserting? Certain things which Elihu was commissioned to meet. He was sent in love and mercy to reason with poor Job. Job had been complaining that God did not answer his prayers. Have you ever complained like that? I have again and again. Elihu took that up (read it when you get leisure). He reminded Job that God speaks in many ways, answers His people in many ways, and appears to them in ways that they do not expect. Job undoubtedly charges God with unjustness, with inflicting wrong upon him; and see how beautifully Elihu vindicates the power, wisdom, love and grace of God. Job complains that God’s providences are unsearchable. When I say Job, we read our names there, do we not? He complains that God’s providences are unsearchable, he chafes under them; so Elihu replies and answers Job. Then God speaks at last. He speaks to Job out of a whirlwind. What is the end of it all? Job says, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42. 5,6).

Let us now look at this question, “Should it be according to thy mind?” First of all A FACT is implied: secondly, THE TRUE REPLY to this question is a negative one; thirdly, there is THE RESPONSE which we are enabled to make to it when God raises up faith in act and exercise in our hearts.

First of all there is the fact, implied: “Should it be according to thy mind?” The fact is that things are not according to our mind. What things? Pretty well all things in relation to God’s providence.

Now I would put it in this way. No child of God here has all he wishes. Many of us, most of us, all of us have a great deal in our lives and in our lots that are crooks; they are very crooked things. “Should it be according to thy mind?” Can you make straight what God has made crooked, and what He in His lovingkindness and tender mercy has brought into your life, and brought into mine?

Here are the things. We deprecate them. We put them away as it were with our hands. We object to them. We strive against them. Between you and these things there is continual collision, and where there is collision, there is heat and wasting and pain.

Should these things be according to your mind? Job wanted everything according to his mind, and so do you and I. That bitter pang, that tearing up of your hopes by the roots, that unsuspected heritage of penury; are these things according to your mind? The anguished sick bed upon which you see those near and dear to you, or that you may occupy yourself; that crushing bereavement; that particular thing in your business or elsewhere. Are these things according to your mind? Should they be? That is what God says here by the Holy Ghost: “Should it be according to your mind?”

See how this question comes right home to us on this the first Lord’s day in August, 1909. More than three thousand years ago this question was asked, and the heart is the same as ever with regard to the things by which God’s people are surrounded. “Should they be according to our mind?” I should like them to be, and so would you, but God the Holy Ghost says here, “Should it be?”

What is the result of these things that are not according to our mind? We toil; O how we toil! The disciples, before the Lord spoke the word of peace, were “toiling in rowing” (Mark 6. 48), rowing against the wind and waves; “toiling in rowing,” and so we toil against these things. We fret and fume. God casts these things down and we attempt to rebuild them.

If I may speak for others, I am continually, in my folly and unbelief, attempting to rebuild what God has cast down. That building is not according to God’s mind, and therefore He has brought it down. I know it was in accordance with your mind, and you were fitting it together according to your own goodwill and pleasure. Vain regrets we indulge in for that which is lost. Almost – quite, is it? – almost there is a sense of injury in our hearts that things are not according to our mind, that they do not take the shape that we want them to take; that they refuse to answer to the moulding which our hands would bring about in relation to the affairs of our lives. We are just baffled, and when we feel baffled we get awfully rebellious, just like Job who said (I leave it to your consciences whether you have indulged the secret thought; Job had it out in words), “Thou art become cruel to me” (Job 30. 21). That is what he said to God! What a merciful God we have! He did not deal with Job accordingly. “Thou art become cruel to me,” because these things are not according to my mind.

Let us turn for a moment in the direction in which God inspired Elihu to direct Job’s attention. Job’s faith, although it died down, never died out. To Peter our Lord said, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22. 32). It did fail, but the word in the original is “die not out.” “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith die not out.” So Job’s faith died not out.

What are these things that are not according to our mind? They are according to the mind of our covenant-keeping God; they are according to the mind of Him who never inflicted one wrong on any of His dear children; they are according to the mind of Him who sees the end from the beginning; they are according to the mind of Him who is the Executor of His Father’s will, and whose heart is set not only upon the salvation, but the guidance of each of His dear people. They are according to the mind of Him who sitteth upon the throne. He causes all things that are not according to our mind to work together for the good of all of us that love God and are the called according to His purpose. They are according to the mind of Him of whom it was affirmed when on earth, “He hath done all things” beautifully “well” (Mark 7. 37). They are according to the mind of Him whose nature and whose name is Love. O what a word this is for our faith! “What I do,” said the Lord elsewhere, “what I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter” (John 13. 7).

Should it then be according to thy mind in this little span of life of ours – seventy or eighty or ninety years, but for most of us less than seventy? Eternity is coming, and in this little bit of eternity (for we are in eternity now; time is part of eternity) should it be according to our mind when we are loved with a love that streams from a past eternity, with a love that reaches to an eternity yet to come? He “maketh the clouds His chariot” (Psa. 104. 3), and every cloudy chariot moves upon the axle of everlasting love.

What is a cloud? How do you feel when you enter a cloud? It is a mist, it is a dimness, it is a fog. You do not know which way to go in a fog. The road with which you are most familiar becomes one in which you quickly lose your way. In a fog things appear far beyond their ordinary dimensions. You take a pathway which you believe to be the road, and soon you are enveloped in a mystery.

What are all these clouds? The chariot of a covenant-keeping God. He “maketh the clouds His chariot.” Where is God’s throne, His throne of grace, power and mercy? In the middle of all those clouds. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him: righteousness and judgement are the habitation of His throne” (Psa. 97. 2), but God is moving on His undisturbed affairs.

What are the two charioteers that draw the chariot of our covenant-keeping God in Christ? “Mercy and truth shall go before Thy face” (Psa. 89. 14). Our divine Saviour, the Lamb who died for us at Calvary, the “Lamb in the midst of the throne,” is moving on among His people in His cloudy chariots. Mercy – O the mercy of our God in Christ! mercy and truth, mercy and faithfulness, faithfulness to His God, the faithfulness of the covenant, faithfulness to you and to me – mercy and truth draw on these cloudy chariots of our God and surround His throne. Here, then, is the fact implied, that things are not according to our mind.

Once more in relation to the cloudiness of the dispensations of our God. Where does the Lord say He will appear? “I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat” (Lev. 16. 2).

You see everything here connected with the cloudy dispensations of our God and His appearing to His people is associated in type with the covenant. The mercy seat covered the ark of the covenant, representing the “covenant, ordered in all things, and sure” (2 Sam. 23. 5), and in this covenant are these things which are not according to our mind. “I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat” – in the density, in the gloom. The Lord Jehovah in the midst of the cloud. “But, Lord, every door is shut; every hope is cut off; things will never be the same to me again as they were!”

There follows a mist and a weeping ram, and life is never the same again; you know that in your troubles, don’t you? Life is never the same again. “Lord, I come to Thee for help, for blessing, for mercy, for a revelation afresh to my poor soul of Thy covenant love to me in Christ Jesus my Lord. Where can I turn with the shut doors?” “I am cut down like a tree” (see Job 19. 10), says Job.

“I will appear” – there is no contingency here – “I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.” O our blessing is, dear friends, that our God in Christ rules from the mercy seat. Our God in Christ rules on the basis of His covenant love everything concerning you and me. These things that are not, and cannot be, and ought not to be, according to our minds, are all being ruled by Him who sitteth upon the throne, and when we reach the other side – and perhaps it will not be long with some of us – when we reach the other side, shall we not be able to say, “Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints”? (Rev. 15. 3).

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“Should it be according to thy mind?” (Job 34. 33)

(This is the second half of a sermon preached by John E. Hazelton at Streatley Hall, London, on August 1st. 1909. The occasion of this wonderful discourse was the death of his only son. The first section may be found here.)

Secondly, the proper reply to make to this questions is one emphatically in the negative. “Should it be according to thy mind?” No! That is the reply of grace. Yes! That is the reply of sense and reason.

Why is that negative reply a right one? First of all, because our knowledge is so limited. We are permitted to see a good deal more than Job saw. Job was living just a day or an hour at a time, but here in the Book of Job God has lifted the veil, and we see the whole thing from the beginning to the end. We see God’s purposes, the workings of God’s love, the tender patience of God.

It is all mapped out before us here, but Job had not this book. We, through this revelation, see a great deal more than Job saw until the end, and we see in Job an object lesson to devils, angels and men. Here we see that which illustrates the love, the faithfulness and the patience of Job’s Redeemer. “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth” (Job 19. 25). My Redeemer, not only in the sense of ransoming Job with His precious blood, but my Vindicator, my glorious Kinsman, my Friend!

I know that He liveth. We see so little, dear friends, compared with what God sees, and because we see so little, so very little, things ought not to be, and cannot be, according to our mind.

Dr. David Livingstone wrote in his diary in Central Africa, “We see but small segments (cuttings, parts) of the mighty cycles (or circles) of Providence, and we imagine they are failures. If we could see the larger arc (the larger portion of the circle) we should often rejoice where now we weep.” That is true. God sees the whole; He guides the spokes of all that wondrous wheel of providence, but we, with our limited knowledge, are able only just to see the present moment, and not able to see two or three minutes ahead.

Once more in relation to this. Our knowledge being so limited, should we not seek for more grace that we may be restrained from premature judgement? Present things, present troubles, which are not according to our mind, are vitally united to future things. God works as a whole – past, present and future are one glorious chain. Then how can you judge of present things until the future things come? Should these present things be according to our mind? Are we to judge of the web before the pattern is fully formed? If we had our will we should say, “Lord, put in the fair colours in our lives now.” If the web of our lives were left to us, we should seek to do this, and we should weave a web of sackcloth, with no use or beauty discernible. One thread! There is no beauty there! One note of music, it is but one! One wheel! More wheels than one are needed. All the threads are needed for the pattern. With all the notes there is the harmony. All the wheels moving – there are the great transactions of our God in providence. All parts will be adjusted presently, not according to thy mind now, but according to His mind.

“Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own Interpreter,
And He will make it plain.”
Brother, sister, can we not say this, “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us”? (1 John 4. 16). What a mercy if we are brought to say that! “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.” If that is true, “Should things be according to our mind?”

“We have known and believed the love that God hath to us” before all worlds in the “covenant, ordered in all things, and sure.” He has loved us with an everlasting love. Bless God if He has brought us to be grounded upon covenant truth; there is no gospel without. “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us” in the Person of His dear Son before all worlds. “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us” in sending His Eternal Son to take into union with Himself our nature, and in that nature to atone for our sins; to speak the words of the everlasting gospel to us; in that nature to enter into heaven, there to appear in the presence of God for us. “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.”

“Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief’ (Mark 9. 24). “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us” – we cannot, we dare not, we would not deny it – in sending His Holy Spirit into our hearts, quickening us from the death of trespasses and of sins; warming these hearts that by nature are cold and dead as the stones; revealing to the eyes of our faith the beauty and preciousness of His own dear Son; causing our hearts to be warmed from time to time with the Saviour’s name, and making that name as ointment that is poured forth. He has caused our hearts, notwithstanding all our wicked rebelliousness, to say,

Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast.
How great, how wonderful is the love of the Spirit in coming into a heart like yours and like mine!

“We have known and believed the love that God hath to us,” whereby we cry Abba Father, whereby He has distinguished us from many around. And yet when God steps into our lives, when He touches us in the tenderest place of all, we begin to doubt the love that God hath to us. O what a mass of contradiction we are! O for grace to cry:

I do not ask my cross to understand.
My way to see,
Better in darkness just to feel Thy hand,
And follow Thee.
Our judgement too is so imperfect. We not only do not see far, but we do not see correctly. Not only so, but when we do see, we mistake the nature of what we see. What do you shrink from? Inconvenience, trouble, pain. What do you want? Life to be all harvest, and the pathway to be ever smooth. What is the way trodden by the footsteps of the flock? Across the sands we journey; among the rocks we move.

Now and then there is a green and a flowery place, and then it is according to our mind. We do not want to move. Like the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration we cry, “Lord … let us make here three tabernacles” (Matt. 17. 4). But that was not the Lord’s way or will. The cloud beckons on, the rough pathway has again to be trodden. “Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest: because it is polluted” (Mic. 2. 10).

Take two illustrations. Look at Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees. Do you think that Abraham would have chosen to leave the old homestead in Ur of the Chaldees, and the pasture lands that belonged to his family for ages? “Go forth,” said the Lord to Abraham, and the word was with power, and “he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Heb. 11. 8).

What do we read Abraham bought in the shape of land? God said, “All the land is to belong to your descendants.” But Abraham bought some land! We only read that he bought one piece, and that was for a grave. A pilgrim and a stranger was he. “Should it be according to thy mind?” It was not according to Abraham’s mind by nature, but God gave him grace and he went forward leaning upon his Beloved.

Look at Joseph. Will you go as a slave to the Ishmaelites? Will you be torn from your father? Jacob, will you part with Joseph? Never, never! Joseph would have shrunk from the slavery, the sorrow and the shame that awaited him in Egypt, but he was sold to the Ishmaelites. Jacob had to give him up; Joseph was torn from the embrace of a beloved father. What was it all for? Temporally, at least, for the salvation of his father and brethren. See how our God works with a never-failing skill, and brings out of His mind those deep and glorious designs which are so manifest in dear Joseph’s life – peace, joy, salvation, glory. See the great and the wonderful issue of it all.

Lastly, there is the prayerful response which we are enabled to make as the Holy Spirit enables. O how dependent we are upon the Spirit, are we not, dear friends?

“O you should believe, you should do this, that and the other!” How awfully empty all that talk is! We want the Holy Spirit to call into exercise the faith He gives, to fan the spark which He breathes into the soul. What is the will of God concerning us? We are predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son. What does that mean? To be made like unto Christ. I am not like Him now, but the beginnings of the work are sure, and presently when we meet the Lord in the air, we shall be made absolutely – body, soul and spirit – like unto Him.

One feature is this. Our Lord said, “Not My will, but Thine, be done” (Luke 22. 42), and so we are predestinated to be conformed to the image of our Lord. “To be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8. 6), and so the Lord brings us through our bereavements, sorrows and trials to wait upon God, and those who wait never wait in vain. We can testify to that. By the Holy Spirit He brings out of every carnal thought and sweetly humbles us.

O that the Spirit of the living God may reveal unto us Jesus, our dying Saviour, our ever-living Redeemer! Jesus in the omnipotence of His love, Jesus in the omniscience of His wisdom, Jesus the fountain of faith, hope and love. I will go out unto Him, for He has said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee” (Isa. 26. 3).

“Should it be according to thy mind?” No, Lord, no. Give me grace to give up searching Thy providence with my candle, and just let me – and I speak for you – just let me, like a tired child, rest on Thy heart of love, and looking up to Thee say,

Blest is my lot whate’er befall,
What can disturb it? who appal?
While as my Strength, my Rock, my All,
Saviour, I cling to Thee.
“I know the thoughts,” says He, according to whose mind are all our affairs – “I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jer. 29. 11).

This article has been taken from the July edition of the Gospel Standard Magazine with the permission of the editor.

 

IS CHRISTIANITY RATIONAL ? by R. C. Sproul

When I say that Christianity is rational, I do not mean that the truth of Christianity in all of its majesty can be deduced from a few logical principles by a speculative philosopher. There is much information about the nature of God that we can find only because God himself chooses to reveal it to us. He reveals these things through his prophets, through history, through the Bible, and through his only begotten Son, Jesus. But what he reveals is intelligible; we can understand it with our intellect. He doesn’t ask us to throw away our minds in order to become Christians.

 

By all means! It is intensely rational. Now, I’ve had the question asked of me, “Is it true that you are a Christian rationalist?” I said, “By no means! That’s a contradiction in terms. A rationalist is somebody who embraces a philosophy that sets itself over and against Christianity.” And so, while a true Christian is not a rationalist, the Christian faith is certainly rational.

Is Christianity coherent? Is it intelligible? Does it make sense? Does it fit together in a consistent pattern of truth, or is it the opposite of rational—is it irrational? Does it indulge in superstition and embrace Christians who believe that Christianity is manifestly irrational? I think that’s a great tragedy. The God of Christianity addresses people’s minds. He speaks to us. We have a Book that is written for our understanding.

When I say that Christianity is rational, I do not mean that the truth of Christianity in all of its majesty can be deduced from a few logical principles by a speculative philosopher. There is much information about the nature of God that we can find only because God himself chooses to reveal it to us. He reveals these things through his prophets, through history, through the Bible, and through his only begotten Son, Jesus.

But what he reveals is intelligible; we can understand it with our intellect. He doesn’t ask us to throw away our minds in order to become Christians. There are people who think that to become a Christian, one must leave one’s brain somewhere in the parking lot. The only leap that the New Testament calls us to make is not into the darkness but out of the darkness into the light, into that which we can indeed understand. That is not to say that everything the Christian faith speaks of is manifestly clear with respect to rational categories. I can’t understand, for example, how a person can have a divine nature and a human nature at the same time, which is what we believe about Jesus. That’s a mystery—but mysterious is not the same as irrational.

Mystery doesn’t apply only to religion. I don’t understand the ultimate force of gravity. These things are mysterious to us, but they’re not irrational. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t understand from my finite mind how these things work out,” and it’s another thing to say, “They’re blatantly contradictory and irrational, but I’m going to believe them anyway.” That’s not what Christianity does. Christianity says that there are mysteries, but those mysteries cannot be articulated in terms of the irrational; if that were so, then we have moved away from Christian truth.

Is the Christian faith really rational? and other questions can be found in our Questions Answered section.