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McCheyne was away from his congregation in 1839. He wrote back to a congregant who was not doing well. In this letter, he lays out how a pastor should rightly understand himself.

EDINBURGH, March 14, 1839.

 

But if the trial was needed by my people, it was still more needed by me. None but God knows what an abyss of corruption is in my heart. He knows and covers all in the blood of the Lamb. In faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me.

 

It is perfectly wonderful that ever God could bless such a ministry. And now, when I go over all the faults of it, it appears almost impossible that I can ever preach again. But then I think again, who can preach so well as a sinner—who is forgiven so much, and daily upheld by the Spirit with such a heart within!

 

I can truly say that the fruit of my long exile has been, that I am come nearer to God, and long more for perfect holiness, and for the world where the people shall be all righteous. I do long to be free from self, from pride, and ungodliness; and I know where to go, “for all the promises of God are yea and amen in Christ Jesus.”

The Law in Numbers 5concerning a woman falsely accuse of immorality.

Unlike other truth-by-water-ordeal rituals in the Ancient Near East there is nothing intrinsically harmful to the adultery-accused woman in drinking the dust water from the tabernacle floor into which the words of the scroll have been washed.

While condemning the adulteress, the law also protects the righteous vulnerable woman by vindicating her.

An innocent woman falsely accused might endure shame, terror and grueling emotional disturbance.

God’s vindication of the innocent is no marginal matter – and for Israel to ignore her acquittal would be to defy the judge of Israel. The woman’s community would have to acknowledge her innocence. In this ritual God serves as the advocate and arbitrator for a falsely accused woman.

In an honor-shame culture this woman’s exoneration implicit rebuke for the man.

There is a promised blessing of God’s favour that the vindicated woman will bear a child – which will also serve as a sign of her vindication.

The above was informed by Mary Wilson ‘Does the God of the Bible hate women?’ Gospel Coalition Podcast June 17, 2016.

"Lead us not into temptation"

… God tries in one way, Satan in another. Satan tempts that he may destroy, condemn, confound, cast down, but God, that by proving his own children he may make trial of their sincerity, and establish their strength by exercising it; that he may mortify, purify, and cauterize their flesh, which unless it were forced under this restraint would play the wanton and vaunt itself beyond measure. … To some it seems rough and harsh to ask God not to lead us into temptation, seeing that to tempt us is against his nature, as James so testifies [James 1:13]. But the question has already been partly solved, because our lust is properly the cause of all temptations that vanquish us [James 1:14], and therefore bears the blame. And James means only that it is futile and unjust to transfer to God those vices which we are compelled to impute to ourselves because we know ourselves to be guilty of them. But this does not prevent God, when it seems good to him, from turning us over to Satan, from casting us into a reprobate mind and foul desires, and from leading us into temptations, by a just but often secret judgment. For the cause has often been hidden from men, while it is certain with him. From this we gather it is not an improper expression …

Source: The sixth petition – Calvin’s Institutes, Book 3 Chapter 20 Section 46

Patient perseverance in prayer

Also, let us not tempt God and, wearying him with our depravity, provoke him against ourselves. This is usual with many who covenant with God only under certain conditions, and, as if he were the servant of their own appetites, bind him to laws of their own stipulation. If he does not obey them at once, they become indignant, grumble, protest, murmur, and rage at him. To such, therefore, he often grants in wrath and fury what in mercy he denies to others to whom he is favorable. The children of Israel supply proof of this, for whom it would have been much better not to be heard by the Lord than to swallow his wrath with their meat [Num. 11:18, 33].

Source: Patient perseverance in prayer – Calvin’s Institutes, Book 3 Chapter 20 Section 51

I am almost 50% through my first reading of Calvin’s Institutes. I should have done this years ago! Below is a section from Calvin’s discussion of Christian suffering. I have highlighted the bits that ‘grab’ me.

John Calvin, Institutes,
Book 3, Chapter 8 – Bearing the Cross, A Part of Self-denial

1. Christ’s cross and ours

But it behooves the godly mind to climb still higher, to the height to which Christ calls his disciples: that each must bear his own cross [Matt. 16:24]. For whomever the Lord has adopted and deemed worthy of his fellowship ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil. It is the Heavenly Father’s will thus to exercise them so as to put his own children to a definite test. Beginning with Christ, his first-born, he follows this plan with all his children. For even though that Son was beloved above the rest, and in him the Father’s mind was well pleased [Matt. 3:17 and 17:5], yet we see that far from being treated indulgently or softly, to speak the truth, while he dwelt on earth he was not only tried by a perpetual cross but his whole life was nothing but a sort of perpetual cross. The apostle notes the reason: that it behooved him to "learn obedience through what he suffered" [Heb. 5:8].

Why should we exempt ourselves, therefore, from the condition to which Christ our Head had to submit, especially since he submitted to it for our sake to show us an example of patience in himself? Therefore, the apostle teaches that God has destined all his children to the end that they be conformed to Christ [Rom. 8:29]. Hence also in harsh and difficult conditions, regarded as adverse and evil, a great comfort comes to us: we share Christ’s sufferings in order that as he has passed from a labyrinth of all evils into heavenly glory, we may in like manner be led through various tribulations to the same glory [Acts 14:22]. So Paul himself elsewhere states: when we come to know the sharing of his sufferings, we at the same time grasp the power of his resurrection; and when we become like him in his death, we are thus made ready to share his glorious resurrection [Phil. 3:10-11]. How much can it do to soften all the bitterness of the cross, that the more we are afflicted with adversities, the more surely our fellowship with Christ is confirmed! By communion with him the very sufferings themselves not only become blessed to us but also help much in promoting our salvation.

2. The cross leads us to perfect trust in God’s power

Besides this, our Lord had no need to undertake the bearing of the cross except to attest and prove his obedience to the Father. But as for us, there are many reasons why we must pass our lives under a continual cross. First, as we are by nature too inclined to attribute everything to our flesh-unless our feebleness be shown, as it were, to our eyes-we readily esteem our virtue above its due measure. And we do not doubt, whatever happens, that against all difficulties it will remain unbroken and unconquered. Hence we are lifted up into stupid and empty confidence in the flesh; and relying on it, we are then insolently proud against God himself, as if our own powers were sufficient without his grace.

He can best restrain this arrogance when he proves to us by experience not only the great incapacity but also the frailty under which we labor. Therefore, he afflicts us either with disgrace or poverty, or bereavement, or disease, or other calamities. Utterly unequal to bearing these, in so far as they touch us, we soon succumb to them. Thus humbled, we learn to call upon his power, which alone makes us stand fast under the weight of afflictions. But even the most holy persons, however much they may recognize that they stand not through their own strength but through God’s grace, are too sure of their own fortitude and constancy unless by the testing of the cross he bring them into a deeper knowledge of himself. This complacency even stole upon David: "In my tranquillity I said, ‘I shall never be moved.’ O Jehovah, by thy favor thou hadst established strength for my mountain; thou didst hide thy face, I was dismayed" [Ps. 30:6-7].’ For he confesses that in prosperity his senses had been so benumbed with sluggishness that, neglecting God’s grace, upon which he ought to have depended, he so relied upon himself as to promise himself he could ever stand fast. If this happened to so great a prophet, what one of us should not be afraid and take care?

In peaceful times, then, they preened themselves on their great constancy and patience, only to learn when humbled by adversity that all this was hypocrisy. Believers, warned, I say, by such proofs of their diseases, advance toward humility and so, sloughing off perverse confidence in the flesh, betake themselves to God’s grace. Now when they have betaken themselves there they experience the presence of a divine power in which they have protection enough and to spare.

3. The cross permits us to experience God’s faithfulness and gives us hope for the future

And this is what Paul teaches: "Tribulations produce patience; and patience, tried character" [Rom. 5:3-4, cf. Vg.]. That God has promised to be with believers in tribulation [cf. II Cor. 1:4] they experience to be true, while, supported by his hand, they patiently endure-an endurance quite unattainable by their own effort. The saints, therefore, through forbearance experience the fact that God, when there is need, provides the assistance that he has promised. Thence, also, is their hope strengthened, inasmuch as it would be the height of ingratitude not to expect that in time to come God’s truthfulness will be as constant and firm as they have already experienced it to be. Now we see how many good things, interwoven, spring from the cross. For, overturning that good opinion which we falsely entertain concerning our own strength, and unmasking our hypocrisy, which affords us delight, the cross strikes at our perilous confidence in the flesh. It teaches us, thus humbled, to rest upon God alone, with the result that we do not faint or yield. Hope, moreover, follows victory in so far as the Lord, by performing what he has promised, establishes his truth for the time to come. Even if these were the only reasons, it plainly appears how much we need the practice of bearing the cross. And it is of no slight importance for you to be cleansed of your blind love of self that you may be made more nearly aware of your incapacity; to feel your own incapacity that you may learn to distrust yourself; to distrust yourself that you may transfer your trust to God; to rest with a trustful heart in God that, relying upon his help, you may persevere unconquered to the end; to take your stand in his grace that you may comprehend the truth of his promises; to have unquestioned certainty of his promises that your hope may thereby be strengthened.

4. The cross trains us to patience and obedience

The Lord also has another purpose for afflicting his people: to test their patience and to instruct them to obedience. Not that they can manifest any other obedience to him save what he has given them. But it so pleases him by unmistakable proofs to make manifest and clear the graces which he has conferred upon the saints, that these may not lie idle, hidden within. Therefore, by bringing into the open the power and constancy to forbear, with which he has endowed his servants, he is said to test their patience. From this arise those expressions: that God tried Abraham, and proved his piety from the fact that he did not refuse to sacrifice his one and only son [Gen. 22:1,12]. Therefore, Peter likewise teaches that our faith is proved by tribulations as gold is tested in a fiery furnace [I Peter 1:7]. For who would say it is not expedient that the most excellent gift of patience, which the believer has received from his God, be put to use that it may be certain and manifest? Nor will men otherwise ever esteem it as it deserves.

But if God himself does right in providing occasion to stir up those virtues which he has conferred upon his believers in order that they may not be hidden in obscurity-nay, lie useless and pass away-the afflictions of the saints, without which they would have no forbearance, are amply justified. They are also, I assert, instructed by the cross to obey, because thus they are taught to live not according to their own whim but according to God’s will. Obviously, if everything went according to their own liking, they would not know what it is to follow God. And Seneca recalls that it was an old proverb, in exhorting any man to endure adversities, to say, "Follow God." By this the ancients hinted, obviously, that a man truly submitted to God’s yoke only when he yielded his hand and back to His rod. But if it is most proper that we should prove ourselves obedient to our Heavenly Father in all things, we must surely not refuse to have him accustom us in every way to render obedience to him.

5. The cross as medicine

Still we do not see how necessary this obedience is to us unless we consider at the same time how great is the wanton impulse of our flesh to shake off God’s yoke if we even for a moment softly and indulgently treat that impulse. For the same thing happens to it that happens to mettlesome horses. If they are fattened in idleness for some days, they cannot afterward be tamed for their high spirits; nor do they recognize their rider, whose command they previously obeyed. And what God complains of in the Israelites is continually in us: fattened and made flabby, we kick against him who has fed and nourished us [Deut. 32:15]. Indeed, God’s beneficence ought to have allured us to esteem and love his goodness. But inasmuch as our ill will is such that we are, instead, repeatedly corrupted by his indulgence, it is most necessary that we be restrained by some discipline in order that we may not jump into such wantonness. Thus, lest in the unmeasured abundance of our riches we go wild; lest, puffed up with honors, we become proud; lest, swollen with other good things- either of the soul or of the body, or of fortune-we grow haughty, the Lord himself, according as he sees it expedient, confronts us and subjects and restrains our unrestrained flesh with the remedy of the cross. And this he does in various ways in accordance with what is healthful for each man. For not all of us suffer in equal degree from the same diseases or, on that account, need the same harsh cure. From this it is to be seen that some are tried by one kind of cross, others by another. But since the heavenly physician treats some more gently but cleanses others by harsher remedies, while he wills to provide for the health of all, he yet leaves no one free and untouched, because he knows that all, to a man, are diseased.

6. The cross as fatherly chastisement

Besides this, it is needful that our most merciful Father should not only anticipate our weakness but also often correct past transgressions so that he may keep us in lawful obedience to himself. Accordingly, whenever we are afflicted, remembrance of our past life ought immediately to come to mind; so we shall doubtless find that we have committed something deserving this sort of chastisement. And yet, exhortation to forbearance is not to be based principally upon the recognition of sin. For Scripture furnishes a far better conception when it says that the Lord chastens us by adversities "so that we may not be condemned along with the world" [I Cor. 11:32]. Therefore, also, in the very harshness of tribulations we must recognize the kindness and generosity of our Father toward us, since he does not even then cease to promote our salvation. For he afflicts us not to ruin or destroy us but, rather, to free us from the condemnation of the world. That thought will lead us to what Scripture teaches in another place: "My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, or grow weary when he reproves you. For whom God loves, he rebukes, and embraces as a father his son" [Prov. 3:11-12 p.]. When we recognize the Father’s rod, is it not our duty to show ourselves obedient and teachable children rather than, in arrogance, to imitate desperate men who have become hardened in their evil deeds? When we have fallen away from him, God destroys us unless by reproof he recalls us. Thus he rightly says that if we are without discipline we are illegitimate children, not sons [Heb. 12:8]. We are, then, most perverse if when he declares his benevolence to us and the care that he takes for our salvation, we cannot bear him. Scripture teaches that this is the difference between unbelievers and believers: the former, like slaves of inveterate and double-dyed wickedness, with chastisement become only worse and more obstinate. But the latter, like freeborn sons, attain repentance. Now you must choose in which group you would prefer to be numbered. But since we have spoken concerning this matter elsewhere, content with a brief reference, I shall stop here.

 

Quotes from: Jon Bloom, Will You Wrestle with God?
http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/will-you-wrestle-with-god

What do you really need from God right now? What blessing do you want from him? How badly do you want it?

There are times when God only releases his blessings on us after a season of prolonged and even painful wrestling with him.

God even afflicted Jacob with a debilitating injury. This had the effect of making Jacob even more vulnerable to Esau, forcing Jacob’s faith to more fully rest on God and not himself. If necessary, God will cause us to limp to increase our faith.

When God calls us to wrestle with him, there’s always more going on than we first understand and God always uses it to transform us for good.

Do Not Let God Go Until He Blesses You!

God will meet you in your anguish, fear, and uncertainty. But he may not meet you in the way you expect or desire. Your greatest ally may show up looking at first like your adversary, inciting you to wrestle with him.

If so, remember Jacob. There are multiple blessings in the wrestling. You may not need soft words of comfort, you may not need to be left alone with your thoughts, you may not need sleep, you may not even need a healthy hip! What you need is God’s blessing!

But what if the confirmation in the kingdom of God is that things get increasingly hard? The opposite of what we wanted? More humbling than we ever expected?

What if the confirmation is that God is with us in our desolate places? What if the confirmation is the manger?

When our dreams and plans are falling apart, and our life feels humble and obscure when we were hoping for something prettier, maybe we are exactly where God wants us to be. Where he can use us most.

So as I mourn my weakness and disappointments, I remember the manger. My suffering is not glamorous. No one’s suffering is. It’s messy and painful and humbling. And yet God is glorified in it

Source: Vaneetha Rendall, The Manager: A Sign for the Suffering December 23, 2015 http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-manger

Source: John Owen, The Glory Of Christ ‘The Way And Means Of The Recovery Of Spiritual Decays, And Of Obtaining Fresh Springs Of Grace’

There is no visible difference, as to light, between the light of the morning and the light of the evening; yea, this latter sometimes, from gleams of the setting sun, seems to be more glorious than the other. But herein they differ: the first goes on gradually to more light, until it comes to perfection; the other gradually gives place to darkness, until it comes to be midnight. … And, by the way, this comparing of the path of the just to the morning light reminds me of what I have seen more than once. That light has sometimes cheerfully appeared to the world, when, after a little season, by reason of clouds, tempests, and storms, it has given place again to darkness, like that of the night; but it has not so been lost and buried like the evening light. After a while it has recovered itself unto a greater luster than before, manifesting that it increased in itself while it was eclipsed as to us.

(Isa. 44:3,4): "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the watercourses." … And here is, a supposition of what we are in ourselves, both before and after our conversion to God,—namely, as thirsty, dry, and barren ground. We have nothing in ourselves, no radical moisture to make us flourishing and fruitful. And as it is before, so it is after conversion: "We are not sufficient of ourselves; our sufficiency is of God" (II Cor. 3:5). Being left to ourselves, we should utterly wither and perish. But this is the glory of covenant promises, that, as to the communication of the grace of conversion and sanctification to the elect, they are absolutely free and unconditional. … But the promises which respect the growth, degrees, and measures of this grace in believers are not so. There are many duties required of us that these promises may be accomplished towards us and in us; yea, watchful diligence in universal gospel obedience is expected from us to this end. (See II Pet. 1:4-10.) This is the ordinary method of the communication of all supplies of grace to make us spiritually flourish and be fruitful, namely, that we be found in the diligent exercise of what we have received. God sometimes deals otherwise, in a way of sovereignty, and surprises men with healing grace in the midst of their decays and backslidings (as Isa. 57 :17,18). So has many a poor soul been delivered from going down into the pit. The Good Shepherd will go out of His way to save a wandering sheep; but this is the ordinary method.

And there is no grace or mercy that more affects the hearts of believers, that gives them a greater transport of joy and thankfulness, than this of deliverance from backslidings. It is a bringing of the soul out of prison, which enlarges it unto praise (Ps. 142:7).

The work of recovering backsliders or believers from under their spiritual decays is an act of sovereign grace, wrought in us by virtue of divine promises. Out of this eater comes meat. Because believers are liable to such declensions, backslidings, and decays, God has provided and given to us great and precious promises of a recovery, if we duly apply ourselves to the means of it.

That I might show how great a thing it is to have our spiritual decays made up, our backslidings healed, and to attain the vigorous actings of grace and spiritual life, with a flourishing profession and fruitful obedience …

First, all our supplies of grace are from Jesus Christ.

Second, the only way of receiving supplies of spiritual strength and grace from Jesus Christ, on our part, is by faith.

Third, this faith respects the person of Christ, His grace, His whole mediation, with all the effects of it, and His glory in them all. This is that which has been so much insisted on in the foregoing discourses that it ought not to be again insisted upon. This, therefore, is the issue of the whole: a steady view of the glory of Christ, in His person, grace, and office, through faith—or a constant, lively exercise of faith on Him, according as He is revealed to us in the Scripture—is the only effectual way to obtain a revival from under our spiritual decays, and such supplies of grace as shall make us flourishing and fruitful even in old age. He that thus lives by faith in Him shall, by his spiritual thriving and growth, "show that the Lord is upright, that he is our rock, and that there is no unrighteousness in him."

The only inquiry remaining is how a constant view of the glory of Christ will produce this blessed effect in us; and it will do so several ways.

a) It will be effected by that transforming power and efficacy with which this exercise of faith is always accompanied. This is that which changes us every day more and more into the likeness of Christ, as has been at large before declared. Herein all revivals and all flourishings are contained. To have a good measure of conformity to Christ is all whereof in this life, we are capable; the perfection of it is eternal blessedness. According as are our attainments therein, so is the thriving and flourishing of the life of grace in us; which is that which is aimed at. Other ways and means, it may be, have failed us; let us put this to the trial. Let us live in the constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, and virtue will proceed from Him to repair all our decays, to renew a right spirit within us, and to cause us to abound in all duties of obedience. This way of producing these effects flesh and blood will not reveal—it looks like washing in Jordan to cure a leprosy; but the life of faith is a mystery known only to them in whom it is.

b) It will fix the soul to that object which is suited to give it delight, complacency, and satisfaction. This in perfection is blessedness, for it is caused by the eternal vision of the glory of God in Christ; and the nearer approaches we make to this state, the better, the more spiritual, the more heavenly, is the state of our souls. And this is to be obtained only by a constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, as has been declared. And it is several ways effectual to the end now proposed. For,

1. Most of our spiritual decays and barrenness arise from an inordinate admission of other things into our minds. These weaken grace in all its operations. But when the mind is filled with thoughts of Christ and His glory, when the soul cleaves to Him with intense affections, they will cast out, or not give admittance to, those causes of spiritual weakness and indisposition. (See Col. 3:1—5; Eph. 5:8).

2. Where we are engaged in this duty, it will stir up every grace to its due exercise. This is that wherein the spiritual revival inquired after consists. This is all we desire, all we long for, this will make us fat and flourishing—that every grace of the Spirit have its due exercise in us. (See Rom. 5:3—5; II Pet. 1:5—8.) Whereas, therefore, Christ Himself is the first proper, adequate object of all grace, and all its exercise (for it first respects Him, and then other things for Him), when the mind is fixed on Him and His glory, every grace will be in a readiness for its due exercise. And without this we shall never attain it by any resolutions or endeavors of our own, let us make the trial when we please.

3. This will assuredly put us to a vigilant watch and constant conflict against all the deceitful workings of sin, all entrances of temptation, all surprisals into foolish frames by vain imaginations, which are the causes of our decays. Our recovery or revival will not be effected, or a fresh spring of grace be obtained, in a careless, slothful course of profession. Constant watching, fighting, contending against sin, with out utmost endeavor for an absolute conquest over it, are required. And nothing will so much excite and encourage our souls in this as a constant view of Christ and His glory; everything in Him has a constraining power hereunto, as is known to all who have any acquaintance with these things.

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