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What concern have we in the sins of the day wherein we live? – John Owen

March 27, 2011 Comments off

Discourse III

Question. What concern have we in the sins of the day wherein we live?

Answer. All sins may be referred to two heads:— First, Irreligion. Secondly, Immorality.

First. Irreligion; and that may be reduced to two heads, — atheism and false worship: you may add, also, particularly, the contempt of all instituted worship. It takes up much of the sins against the first table; however, at present I shall only speak of the first of them:— As to atheism, then, it may be no age can parallel that wherein we live, considering all the ways whereby the atheism of man’s heart may discover itself. For, take it absolutely, and in the seat of it, it is found only in the heart of man; unless some one or other prodigious instance breaks out sometime, as we have had in our days: but otherwise, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” The heart is the seat of atheism. But we consider the ways whereby this atheism may and doth manifest itself:—

(1.) By horrid, cursed, blasphemous swearing; which is a contempt of the name of God. And when did it ever more abound in this nation?

2.) By reproaching of the Spirit of God. Perhaps this is the peculiar sin of the nation at this day; and that the like hath not been known or heard of in any nation under the sun.

(3.) By scoffing at all holy things; — at the Scriptures, — at every thing that carries a reverence and fear of God; so that a man who dares profess a fear of God in what he doth, makes himself a scorn.

(4.) Contempt of all God’s providential warnings is another proof of atheism. Never had a nation more warnings from God’s providence, nor ever were they more despised. These things, brethren, are not done in a corner; they are perpetrated in the face of the sun. The steam of them darkens the whole heaven, and they abound more and more every day.

Secondly. Shall we go to the other head, — namely, Immorality, — and see how it is there? It would be an endless thing, to go over the sins that reign among us: oppression, blood, uncleanness, sensuality, drunkenness, — all to the height, raging and reigning in the nation. I mention these things as a matter to be bewailed before the Lord by us this day; and we ought to be affected with the consideration of them.

Unto this great prevalency and predominancy of sin in the whole nation, there is added a strange and unspeakable security. The truth is, men were a little awakened one while in the nation. When the judgments of God — the pestilence, the fire, the sword, and the year after, another warning from heaven — were upon us, then there was a little awakening, like a man out of a dead sleep, that lifts up his head, and rubs his eyes for a time. But I can say this, that it is now towards forty years since God enabled me to observe something in the world; and, to my knowledge, I never observed this nation in that state of security wherein it is at this day. For, even in former times, there were warnings continually that God had a controversy with the nation; and those that had any fear of God spake one to another about it; and we saw and found their warnings were not in vain.

But here is now a general security. Men complain of straits, want, poverty, and the like; but as to any thing wherein God hath to do with the world, either my observation doth greatly deceive me, or I never saw, I think, so general a security as at this day in this nation. And this security hath reached us all, — even the churches of God themselves.

These things are matter of fact. The whole question is, Whether we are greatly to be concerned in these things or not? “They are the sins of wicked men, and they are the sins of the persecutors of God’s people, and the like; and what have we to do with them?”

The psalmist of old said, that “rivers of waters ran down his eyes, because men did not keep the law of God.” And you know that God doth set a special mark upon those, not that are free from the abominations of the age, but upon those that mourn for the abominations that are in the midst of us. It will not be enough for us, that we are free from those abominations, unless we are found to mourn for them. Brethren, our own hearts know we are guilty in this matter, and that we had need seek the face of God this day to give us a deeper sense of these things than we have obtained.

The name of God is blasphemed, the Spirit of God reproached, a flood of iniquity spreads itself over the nation, the land of our nativity, over the inheritance of Christ, over a nation professing the reformed religion; — all things go backward, — every thing declines. Indeed, brethren, if you will not, I do acknowledge here before you, and to my own shame, I have great guilt upon me in this matter, that I have not been sensible of the abominations of the nation, so as to mourn for them and be humbled for them, as I ought to have been. And you will do well to search your hearts, and consider how it is with you; — whether indeed you have been affected with these things; or whether you have not thought all is well, while all hath been well with yourselves and families, and, it may be, with the church, that may have no trouble upon that account. The security that is upon the nation is dismal; and, I may say, I see no way or means whereby the nation should be freed from this security. The conduct of the ministry, which they are under generally, is not able to free them from this security; nor the dispensation of the word: [so] that it seems to be a security from God to lead on the nation to judgment; the means for the removal of it and the awakening of us being laid aside.

And if it comes this way, or that way, any way, though we see not the morning of it, you will find yourselves concerned in it. — “Who may abide the day of his coming?”

We may do well, brethren, to consider the state of the church of God in the world, among ourselves, and our own condition. I need not tell you how it is in the world; but this I can say, that to my apprehensions, the interest of Christ and the gospel was never so fast going down in the world since it came into it, as at this day. I will give you my reason of what I say: When the gospel was first planted and brought into the world, the devil was not able to bring the church into its apostasy, under six, or seven, or eight hundred years, and that by degrees. Since the time of the Reformation, the church was progressive for about seventy years; it stood at a stay about the same proportion of time; and ever since, it hath been going backward, straitened in all places: the power of it decays, and the peace of it is taken away, and destruction everywhere seems to lie at the door.

Many, indeed, are in great misery and distress: some I have heard of lately sold for slaves, for the testimony of their conscience. How is it with the church of Christ in this nation? Truly, some [are] in great poverty, in great affliction, in great distress; and I am afraid we and others have not hearts to relieve them, as we ought to do, in a due manner: however, let us help them with our prayers.

And that which is worst of all, there seems to me, I must acknowledge it, to be a very great decay in all churches of Christ in the nation, especially among those of us who have had most peace, most prosperity. That which we call zeal for God is almost quite lost among us. Some of us have almost forgot whether there be such a thing as the cause and interest of Christ in the world. We who have cried and prayed about it, and had it upon our hearts, have sat down in our narrow compass, and almost forgot there is such a thing as the interest of Christ in the world, so as to have an active zeal for the ordinances of God according to rule, as God requires of us. Our primitive love, — how is it decayed! Value of the ordinances of Christ, and the society of his people for edification, — how cold are we grown in these things! How little is the church society upon our hearts, which some of us remember when it was the very joy of our souls! Truly we have reason to lift up our cry to God, that he would return and visit the churches, and pour out a new, fresh, reviving spirit upon them, that we fall not under the power of these decays till we come to formality, and God withdraws himself from us, and leaves us; which he seems to be at the very point of doing.

Then, brethren, let us remember our own church; that God would in an especial manner revive the spirit of life, power, and holiness among us; that he would be pleased to help the officers of the church to discharge their duty, and not suffer them to fall under any decay of grace or gifts, unfitting of them to the discharge of their office to the edification of the church; that he would give them also to beware and take heed of formality as to the exercise of gifts in their administration; and that he would take care of us, since we are apt to fall under these things. Let us pray that we may be acted by the Spirit of God, and enlivened by the grace of God, in all things we do.

Have any of us any particular occasions in reference to temptations, trials, and troubles? — we may bear it upon our hearts to the Lord this day. This is much better than by multiplying a company of formal bills. The Lord help us to know the plague of our own hearts, and to be enabled to plead with the Lord, upon this opportunity, for grace and mercy to help us in every time of need!

Source: Several practical cases of conscience resolved

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Sanctification does not consist in retirement from our place in life – JC Ryle

May 25, 2010 Comments off

Sanctification does not consist in retirement from our place in life, and the renunciation of our social duties. In every age it has been a snare with many to take up this line in the pursuit of holiness. Hundreds of hermits have buried themselves in some wilderness, and thousands of men and women have shut themselves up within the walls of monasteries and convents, under the vain idea that by so doing they would escape sin and become eminently holy. They have forgotten that no bolts and bars can keep out the devil, and that, wherever we go, we carry that root of all evil, our own hearts. To become a monk, or a nun, or to join a House of of Mercy, is not the high road to sanctification. True holiness does not make a Christian evade difficulties, but face and overcome them. Christ would have His people show that His grace is not a mere hot-house plant, which can only thrive under shelter, but a strong, hardy thing which can flourish in every relation of life. It is doing our duty in that state to which God has called us—like salt in the midst of corruption, and light in the midst of darkness—which is a primary element in sanctification. It is not the man who hides himself in a cave, but the man who glorifies God as master or servant, parent or child, in the family and in the street, in business and in trade, who is the Scriptural type of a sanctified man.
Our Master Himself said in His last prayer, “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” (John xvii. 15.)

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Sanctification does not consist in retirement from our place in life

The way of the weak is the only healthy way

March 2, 2010 Comments off
By J. I. Packer
“It’s a grand life if you don’t weaken,” says the British platitude. It’s a good life only when you do weaken, says the Bible. Once more the wisdom of God upsets the conventional wisdom, the wisdom of this world. Christians must always be alert to points at which God’s thoughts cut across what society takes for granted and must dare to be different when loyalty to their Master so requires—which is frequently. With regard to strength and weakness, the antithesis between the world’s way and that of Christ is total and stark and may not be toned down.

The world’s stance—that is, the view of mankind in the mass, without God and under sin—is not in doubt. Ever since Lamech and the tower of Babel the world has worshipped successful strength—the physical strength of Goliath, the executive strength of emperors and generals, the strength of purpose that explorers, go-getters, and tycoons display, the mental strength of thinkers and teachers. Individuals have sought to emulate these forms of strength by gestures of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. But Scripture shows that weakness, known and embraced as such, is of the essence of right living.

The world continues as it was. That explains why body-building (gaining an intimidating physical presence) and assertiveness training (learning, by verbal push and shove, how to get your way) and the “success syndrome” are so prominent in North America today; just as it explains why an Englishman feels that his home is his castle and why an Asian cannot contemplate losing face. Our proud world, thus tuned to seek strength, sees personal limitations somewhat pitiful and its compassion for handicapped humans often has a touch of contempt mixed in. It was so when the Corinthians said of Paul, “his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible”(2 Cor. 10:10, NKJV) and therefore declined to take him seriously. The world never has time for weakness in any form.

In its dictatorial way, the world tries to make Christians revere successful strength. When people’s spiritual quality is measured by whether they are good speakers or outstanding athletes or great money-makers or popular TV personalities, rather than by their character as it appears in non-official relationships, the world is making headway in this. When preachers present salvation as God’s gift to us of power to use, whether in maintaining a type of euphoria called victorious living or in effectively claiming health and wealth or in ministries of evangelism and healing or in any other acknowledged type of Christian effectiveness, the world’s strategy is advanced again. To say that God gives us power to use is not at all what Scripture means when it affirms that God’s power works in us and the Christian life is distorted when it sets forth as a use of strength in this way.

Certainly, God strengthens the weak—but understand how! Strength means ability to do something that requires effort. Scripture tells us that God gives strength for three things: endurance of strain and pressure, fidelity in serving God and others, and resistance to Satanic wiles. The Lord Jesus, who showed this threefold strength to perfection in the days of his flesh, now from his throne imparts it to those who are alive in him. In them the moral and spiritual instincts of Jesus’ holy character now seek active expression, and the Holy Spirit acts in their actions to work in them the good works in which the expression of these instincts is seen.

But, and this the crucial point to grasp, what I have just formulated only becomes reality when Christians feel too weak, mentally, morally, and spiritually, and maybe physically too, to rise to the demands of each situation. Then they extend the hand of faith to God as drowning men stretch for the lifebelt. “Help!” is prayer at its truest, as it is weakness at its most explicit. And it is a prayer that God answers!

Why does God shape his children’s lives in a way that keeps them feeling weak and swamped? Why do believers constantly find thorns in their flesh and in their beds? Why does the God of sovereign love periodically plunge his beloved ones in to suffering and strain? Paul’s testimony tells us partly why. “We were under great pressure . . . this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.” “We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” “For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 1:8 f., 4:11, 12:10). Exactly!

What the world never understands and those who think that the good Christian feels strong and powerful and has life easy never understands is that only consciously weak souls ever lean hard enough on the Lord to stand steady or walk straight in his risen power. Weakness is the true path, the only healthy way.

How weak, I wonder, are you today?

J.I. Packer is professor of historical and systematic theology at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

This article was previously published in Eternity Magazine, November 1987.

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