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It’s very gray this morning… and windy and cool.  It should be gray on Good Friday.

All creatures should walk solemnly today as we contemplate the Savior of the world.

This Jesus, whose sinless life fulfilled all the righteous demands of the law which we were helpless to do.

This Jesus, who on this day of all dreadful days cannot restrain his love.  He gives a Gentile governor numerous opportunities to follow conscience and to know the Truth which sets men free (John 18-19).  He warns the mourners who follow him on his road to the cross – “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:27-31).  He prays from the cross for his accusers – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  He bestows forgiveness and gives eternal hope to the believing criminal crucified next to him (Luke 23:39-43) and He cares for his mother (John 19:26-27).

This Jesus, will willingly suffer torture and humiliation on this day at the hands of his creatures.  He asked, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).  Yet, He submitted to the will of the Father to proceed with their plan crafted before the foundations of the world were laid (Luke 22:42).

Pilate’s weakness will not only lead to Jesus’ crucifixion, but add to his sufferings as he tries to appease the blood-thirsty crowd by having Jesus tortured.  He orders Jesus flogged, whipped with leather straps studded with bits of lead and pieces of bone.  Jesus is then led back before the angry crowd in this bloodied state clothed in a purple robe and crowned with thorns, the result of cruel bullying by Pilate’s soldiers.  He is cast out of the Jews’ beloved Jerusalem, bearing the disgrace of an execution “outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:13).  At the cross, He is stripped down his chiton, the garment worn next to his skin.  The attending soldiers throw lots for his clothes, judging the clothing to be of more value than its owner, the God-man who hangs nearly naked before them.

Then, of course, there comes the greatest transaction in the history of the world.  By the end of this day, all of Christ’s righteousness will appear as available credit in the accounts of sinful men.  Before this though, Jesus will become sin – my sin, your sin, the sin of all mankind.  He will absorb all the punishment for it in wave after wave as He hangs on the tree and turns away God’s wrath from rebellious mankind to himself.  There remains for God’s people not a single drop of wrath left toward us, all was spent on his Son.  There is only goodness and love left toward me, his child.

Hmmm…
ah me…

Oh!  I see the sun has broken through!

It should be sunny on this day.

“And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I have is grace!”

– – – – –

Illustration by Christopher Powers, Full of Eyes, for his music video set to Sovereign Grace’s song, “All I Have is Christ.”

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Now I saw in my dream that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall and that wall is called salvation (Isaiah 26:1).  Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty because of the load on his back (James 2:10).

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross and a little below in the bottom, a sepulcher.  So I saw in my dream that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders and fell from off his back and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulcher where it fell in and I saw it no more.

Then was Christian glad and light-some and said with a merry heart, “He hath given me rest by his sorrow; and life by his death.”  Then he stood still a while to look and wonder for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden.  He looked, therefore, and looked again even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks (Zechariah 12:10).

Now as he stood looking and weeping, behold three shining ones came to him and saluted him with, “Peace be to thee.”   So the first said to him, “Thy sins be forgiven” (Mark 2:5).  The second, stript him of his rags and clothed him with change of raiment (Zechariah 3:4).  The third also set a mark in his forehead and gave him a roll with a seal upon it which he bid him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the Celestial Gate (Ephesians 1:13-14).  So they went their way.  Then Christian gave three leaps for joy and went out singing:

Thus far did I come loaden with my sin,
Nor could ought ease the grief that I was in,
Till I came hither:  What a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?
Blest cross!  Blest sepulcher! Blest rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me.

– – – – – – – – – –

Bunyan, John, and Cynthia Wall. The Pilgrim’s Progress: An Authoritative Text Contexts Criticism. New York, N.Y. ; London: Norton, 2009. 32-33. Print.

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Close up of antique love letter on parchment

Here are twenty thought-provoking motives for loving God from the 17th-century Puritan, Thomas Watson, in his little volume All Things for Good.  He writes:  This is meant to persuade all who bear the name of Christian to become lovers of God.  All the strength in men or angels cannot make the heart love God… it is only the almighty and invincible power of the Spirit of God [which] can infuse [this] love into the soul.

To excite and inflame our desires after it, here are Watson’s twenty motives for loving God as prescribed:

  1. Without love for God, all our religion is vain for it is not how much we do, but how much we love. To do duty without love is not sacrifice, but penance.
  2. Love is the most noble and excellent grace; by it we resemble God, who is love. Believing and obeying do not make us like God, but by love we grow like Him (1 John 4:16).  Love is a grace which most delights in God.  Love is the incense which makes all our services fragrant and acceptable to God.
  3. Is that unreasonable which God requires? It is but our love.  If He should ask our estate or the fruit of our bodies, could we deny Him?  But He asks only our love.  Is this a hard request?  Was there ever any debt so easily paid as this?  Love is no burden.  Is it any labor for the bride to love her husband?  No; it is delightful.
  4. God is the most adequate and complete object of our love. All the excellences that lie scattered in the creatures are united in Him.  He is wisdom, beauty, love; yea, the very essence of goodness.   There is nothing in God can cause a loathing.  The more we enjoy of him, the more we are ravished with delight.
  5. Love facilitates religion. Love makes duty a pleasure.  He that loves God is never weary of telling it; never weary of serving him.
  6. God desires our love. We have lost our beauty and stained our blood, yet the King of Heaven is a suitor to us!  What is there in our love that God should seek it?  What is God the better for our love?  He does not need it – He is infinitely blessed in Himself, yet He seeks it.
  7. He deserves our love for how He has loved us! What a miracle of love is it that God should love us when there was nothing lovely in us.  We had something in us to provoke fury, but nothing to excite love.  What love, passing understanding, was it to give Christ to us!  That Christ should die for sinners!  God has set all the angels in heaven wondering at this love.
    Oh the living love of a dying Savior!  I think I hear him say to us, “Reach hither your hands.  Put them into my side.  Feel my bleeding heart.  See if I do not love you.  And will you not bestow your love upon me?  Will you love the world more than me?  Did the world appease the wrath of God for you?”
  8. Love to God is the best self-love. It is self-love to get the soul saved and He is sure to dwell with God in heaven that has God dwelling in his heart.  He that does not love God, does not love himself.
  9. Love to God evidences sincerity. Loving God evidences that God has the heart, and if the heart be his, that will command all the rest.
  10. By our love to God, we may conclude God’s love to us. “We love him, because he first loved us” (I John 4:19).  Do you love God? Then you may be sure of God’s love to you.  Our love is nothing but the reflection of God’s love.
  11. If you do not love God, you will love something else, either the world or sin; and are those worthy of your love? Is it not better to love God than these?  It is better to love God than the world as appears in the following particulars.

a.  Worldly things will not satisfy. You may as well satisfy your body with air.  If the globe of the world were yours, it would not fill your soul.  And will you set your love on that which will never give you contentment?  When I awake out of the sleep of death, and shall have some of the rays and beams of God’s glory put upon me, I shall then be satisfied with his likeness (“When I awake, I shall be satisfied with thy likeness” – Psalm 17:15).

b.  Worldly things cannot remove trouble of mind. King Saul, being perplexed in mind, all his crown jewels could not comfort him (I Sam. 28:15).  But if you love God, He can give you peace when nothing else can; He can turn the “shadow of death into the morning” (Amos 5:8).   He can apply Christ’s blood to refresh your soul.

c.  If you love the world, you love that which may keep you out of heaven. Prosperity, to many, is like the sail to the boat which quickly overturns it; so that by loving the world, you love that which will endanger you.  But if you love God, there is no fear of losing heaven.  He will be a Rock to hide you, but not to hurt you.

d.  You may love worldly things, but they cannot love you in return. You love gold and silver, but your gold cannot love you in return.  But if you love God, He will love you in return.  God will not be behindhand in love to us: for our drop, we shall receive an ocean.

e.  When you love the world, you love that which is worse than yourselves. As Christ speaks in another sense of the fowls of the air, “Are ye not much better than they?” (Mttw 6:26).  So I say of worldly things, Are ye not much better than they?  You love a fair house, a beautiful picture; are you not much better than they?  But if you love God, you place your love on the most noble and sublime object; you love that which is better than yourselves.  God is better than the soul, better than angels, better than heaven.

f.  You may love the world and have hatred for your love. Thus it is with all sublunary things:  we love them and they prove nettles to sting.  We meet with nothing but disappointment.  God may chastise, but He cannot hate.  Every believer is part of Christ and God can as well hate Christ as hate a believer.

g.  You may over-love the creature. You may love wine too much, and silver too much, but you cannot love God too much.  If it were possible to exceed, excess here were a virtue; but it is our sin that we cannot love God enough.

h.  You may love worldly things, and they die and leave you. Riches take wings, relations drop away.  But if you love God, He is “a portion forever” (Ps. 73:26).

i.  If it is better to love God than the world, surely also it better to love God than sin. What is there in sin that any should love it?   Sin is a debt.  “Forgive us our debts” (Mttw 6:12).  It is a debt which binds over to the wrath of God; why should we love sin?  Does any man love to be in debt?  Sin is a disease.   And will you love sin?  Will any man hug a disease?  Will he love his plague-sores?  Sin is a pollution.  The apostle calls it “filthiness” (James 1:21).  It is compared to leprosy and to poison of asps.  God’s heart rises against sinners.  “My soul loathed them” (Zech. 11:8).  What is in sin to be loved?  Shall we love deformity? Sin is an enemy.  It has four stings – shame, guilt, horror, death.  Will a man love that which seeks his death?  Surely then it is better to love God than sin.  God will save you, sin will damn you.

12.  The relation we stand in to God calls for love. “Thy Maker is thy husband” (Is. 54:5).  And shall a wife not love her husband?  He is full of tenderness: His spouse is to him as the apple of his eye.  He rejoices over her, as the bridegroom over the bride (Is. 62:5).  He loves the believer as He loves Christ (John 17:26).  Either we must love God or we give ground of suspicion that we are not yet united to Him.

13.  Love is the most abiding grace. This will stay with us when other graces take their farewell.  In heaven, we shall need no repentance; we shall not need patience; we shall need no faith (Heb. 11:1).  Faith is the staff we walk with in this life.  “We walk by faith” (2 Cor. 5:7).  But we shall leave this staff at heaven’s door and only love shall enter.  How should we strive to excel in this grace, which alone shall live with us in heaven, and shall accompany us to the marriage-supper of the Lamb!

14.  Love to God will never let sin thrive in the heart. The flower of love kills the weed of sin; though sin does not die perfectly, yet it dies daily.  How should we labor for that grace which is the only corrosive to destroy sin!

15.  Love to God is an excellent means for growth of grace. “But grow in grace” (2 Pet. 3:18).  Love is like watering of the root which makes the tree grow.  This grace of love would nurse and cherish all the graces.

16.  There is a great benefit which will accrue to us if we love God. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).  God has promised a crown of life to them that love Him (Js 1:12).  It is a crown that fades not away (1 Pet. 5:4).  Thus God would draw us to Him by rewards.

17.  Love to God is armor against error. Why are men given up to strong delusions?  Because “they receive not the love of truth” (2 Thes. 2:10-11).  The more we love God, the more we hate those heterodox opinions that would draw us off from God into libertinism.

18.  If we love God, we have all winds blowing for us; everything in the world shall conspire for our good. We know not what fiery trials we may meet with, but to them that love God all things shall work for good.  Those things which work against them shall work for them; their cross shall make way for a crown.

19.  Want of love to God is the ground of apostasy. That soldier, who has no love to his commander, when he sees an opportunity, will leave him and run over to the enemy’s side. He who has no love in his heart to God, you may set him down for an apostate.

20.  Love is the only thing in which we can retaliate with God. There is nothing in which we can answer God again, but love.  We must not give Him word for word, but we must give Him Love for love.

 

Question:  What shall we do to love God?

Answer:

1) Study God.  Take a view of his superlative excellences, his holiness, and his incomprehensible goodness.

2) Labor for an interest in God.

3) Make it your earnest request to God, that He will give you a heart to love him.  Surely God will not deny it.  Cry to God, “Lord, give me a heart to love Thee.  It is my grief; I can love Thee no more.  Oh, kindle this fire from heaven upon the altar of my heart!” Surely this prayer pleases the Lord and He will pour of his Spirit upon you, whose golden oil shall make the lamp of your love burn bright.

 

Love influences the graces, it excites the affections,
it makes us grieve for sin, it makes us cheerful in God;
it is like oil to the wheels; it quickens us in God’s service.
How careful then should we be to keep alive or love for God!

– – – – –

Watson, Thomas. “An Exhortation to Love God.” All Things for Good. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986. 88 -103. Print.

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effectual-calling

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

– – – – – –

Surely Romans 8:28 is one of the most oft-quoted passages by both the child of God and the merely religious.  Despite the naturalist’s contention that our lives are just a running collection of chance and matter, most sense deep down (perhaps at the birth of one’s child or perhaps at the death of a great person) that there is purpose in our lives and in the fabric of the universe.  We lay hold of this verse in our trust that there is a God and He is working out his plan for this world… and for my life… according to his all-knowing time table and according to his all-good nature.

However, upon a second look, we see that the great promise of Romans 8:28 has at least two per-requisites before one might claim it for himself.  First of all, this promise is only for those who love God (see previous post).  Secondly, this promise is only for those who are called.  Thomas Watson in All Things for Good points out that although love is first mentioned in this verse, it is not first wrought.  Instead, firstly, we must be called of God before we can love God.  “Calling is made the middle link (Rom. 8:30) between predestination and glorification; and if we have this middle link fast, we are sure of the two other ends of the chain.”

A.  (p. 104) There are six things observable about calling:

1.  (p. 104) A distinction about calling.

a.  There is an outward calling. This is God’s blessed tender of grace in the gospel, his parleying with sinners when He invites them to come in and accept of mercy.  This external call is insufficient to salvation, yet sufficient to leave men without excuse. “Many are called, but few chosen” (Mt. 20:16).

b.  There is an inward calling.  God wonderfully overpowers the heart and draws the will to embrace Christ.  This is, as Augustine said, an effectual call.  God, by the outward call, blows a trumpet in the ear; but by the inward call, He opens the heart as He did the heart of Lydia (Acts 16:14).  The outward call may bring men to a profession of Christ; but the inward call brings them to a possession of Christ.  The outward call curbs a sinner, the inward call changes him.

2.  (p.105) Our deplorable condition before we are called.

a.  We are in a state of vassalage – at the command of Satan, as the ass is at the command of the driver.

b.  We are in a state of darkness (Eph.5:8). A man in the dark is full of fear, he trembles every step he takes.

c.  We are in a state of impotency. No strength to resist a temptation or grapple with a corruption.  Nay, there is not only impotency, but obstinacy (“Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost”, Acts. 7:51.)   Besides indisposition to do good, there is actual opposition to it.

d.  We are in a state of pollution – the heart is the devil’s forge where the sparks of lust fly.

e.  We are in a state of damnation. We are born under a curse.  The wrath of God abideth on us (John 3:36).

This is our condition before God is pleased by a merciful call to bring us near to Himself and free us from that misery in which we were before engulfed.

3. (p.106) The means of our effectual call.  The usual means which the Lord uses in calling us is not by raptures and revelations, but is:

a.  By his Word. The voice of the Word is God’s call to us.  When the Word calls from sin it is as if we heard a voice from heaven.

b.  By his Spirit. This is the loud call.  The ministers of God are only the pipes and organs; it is the Spirit blowing in them that effectually changes the heart.  So it is not the seed of the Word that will effectually convert, unless the Spirit puts forth his sweet influence.  God’s Spirit is to be implored that He would put forth his powerful voice and awaken us out of the grave of unbelief.

4.  (p. 106) The method God uses in calling of sinners.

The Lord does not tie himself to a particular way or use the same order with all.  Such as have had godly parents and have sat under the warm sunshine of religious education often do not know how or when they were called.  The Lord did secretly and gradually instill grace into their hearts as the dew falls unnoticed on drops.  They know by the heavenly effects that they are called, but the time or manner they know not.

Others are more stubborn and knotty sinners.  God uses more wedges of the law to break their hearts; He deeply humbles them and shows them they are damned without Christ.  Then having ploughed up the fallow ground of their hearts by humiliation, He sows the seed of consolation.  He presents Christ and mercy to them and draws their wills, not only to accept Christ, but passionately to desire and faithfully to rest upon Him.  This call, though it is more visible than the other, is not more real.  God’s method in calling sinners may vary, but the effect is still the same.

5. (p. 107) The properties of this effectual calling.

a.  It is a sweet call.  The freedom of the will is not taken away, but the stubbornness of it is conquered.  (“Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power,” Ps. 110:3.)

b.  It is a holy call.  “Who has called us with a holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9).  This call of God calls men out of their sins; by it they are consecrated and set apart for God.  They who are effectually called are separated from sin and consecrated to God’s service.  Holiness is the badge and livery of God’s people.  Let not any man say he is called of God that lives in sin.  Let not the merely moral person say he is effectually called.  What is civility without sanctity?  It is but a dead carcass strewed with flowers.

c.  It is an irresistible call.  When God calls a man by his grace, he cannot but come.  When He says, “Let there be light,” there was light, and when He says, “let there be faith,” it shall be so.  If God will call a man, nothing shall lie in the way to hinder – difficulties shall be untied, the powers of hell shall disband.  “Who hath resisted his will?” (Rom 9:19).

d.  It is a high call.  “I press on toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God” (Phil. 3:14).  It is a high calling because we are called to high exercises of religion – to die to sin, to be crucified to the world, to live by faith, to have fellowship with the Father (1 John 1:3).  It is a high calling because we are called to high privileges, to justification and adoption, to be made co-heirs with Christ.

e.  It is a gracious call… free grace. That God should call some and not others; some taken and others left; one called who is of a more rugged, morose disposition, another of sharper intellect, of a sweeter temper, rejected… here is free grace.  That the poor should be rich in faith, heirs of a kingdom (Js 2:5), and the nobles and great ones of the world for the most part rejected… this is free and rich grace.  “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Mt. 11:26).  That under the same sermon one should be effectually wrought upon, another no more moved than a dead man with the sound of music; that one should hear the Spirit’s voice in the Word, another not hear it… behold, here is distinguishing grace!

f.  It is a glorious call.  “Who hath called us unto his eternal glory” (1 Pet. 5:10).  God calls us first to virtue and then to glory.  God would have us part with nothing for him but that which will damn us if we keep it.

g.  It is a rare call.  Few are savingly called.  “Few are chosen” (Mt. 22:14).  Few, not collectively, but comparatively.  Many have the light brought to them, but few have their eyes anointed to see that light.  And in those climates where the Sun of Righteousness does shine, there are many who received the light of the truth without the love of it.  There are many formalists, but few believers.  There is something looks like faith which is not.  The hypocrite’s faith will break with the hammer of persecution.  Most men shape their religion according to the fashion of the times.

h.  It is an unchangeable call.  When God calls a man, He does not repent of it.  This is the blessedness of a saint – his condition admits of no alteration.  God’s call is founded upon his decree and his decree is immutable.  Acts of grace cannot be reversed.

6. (p.112) The end of our effectual calling is the honor of God – “That we should be to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12).

The Lord will have some in all ages who shall oppose the corruptions of the times, bear witness to his truths, and convert sinners from the error of their ways.  They who have been monuments of God’s mercies will be trumpets of his praise.

These considerations show us the necessity of effectual calling.  Without it, there is no going to heaven.  We must be “made meet for the inheritance” (Col. 1:12).  What gives this meetness, but effectual calling?  The high calling is not a thing arbitrary or indifferent, but as needful as salvation.  It is called a creation (Col 3:10) and a man can no more convert himself than a dead man can raise himself.

Objection:  Some say the will of natural man is not dead, but asleep, and God by persuasion does only awaken us and then the will can obey God’s call and move of itself to its own conversion (Armenianism).

Answer:  Every man is by sin bound in fetters (“I perceive that thou art in the bond of iniquity,” Acts 8:23).  It is insufficient to persuade a man in fetters to go.  There must be a breaking of his fetters and setting him free before he can walk.  So it is with natural man – he is fettered with corruption.  Now the Lord by his converting grace must not only file off his fetters, but give him legs to run too or he can never obtain salvation (Reformed theology).

– – – – – –

B.  (p. 113) An exhortation to make your calling sure.

“Give diligence to make your calling sure” (2 Pet. 1:10).  This is the great business of our lives – to get sound evidences of our effectual calling.  Do not rest in baptism. Do not be content that Christ has been preached to you.  Do not satisfy yourselves with an empty profession.  But labor to evidence to your souls that you are called of God.

1.  (p. 114) Consider how sad your case is if you are not effectually called:

a. If you are not effectually called, you are strangers to God. “At that time ye were without Christ, strangers to the covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12).  If you are strangers, what language can you expect from God but this, “I know you not!”

b. If you are not effectually called, you are enemies. You are heirs to all the plagues written in the book of God.  Though your resist the commands of the law, you cannot flee from the curses of the law.

Question:  Is there any hope of my being called?  I have been a great sinner.

Answer: Great sinners have been called (ex: Paul).  God loves to display his free grace to sinners.  Therefore be not discouraged.  You see a golden cord let down from heaven for poor trembling souls to lay hold upon.

Question:  How shall I know I am effectually called?

Answer:  He who is savingly called is called out of himself; not only out of sinful self, but out of his righteous self as well.  “Not having mine own righteousness” (Phil. 3:9).  He whose heart God has touched by his Spirit lays down the idol of self-righteousness at Christ’s feet.  He uses morality and duties of piety, but does not trust to them.  This self-renunciation is, as Augustine says, the first step to saving faith.

2.  (p.115) He who is effectually called has a visible change wrought.  He is altered from what he was before.  His body is the same, but not his mind… he is another spirit. “And such were some of you; but ye are sanctified, but yea re justified” (1 Cor. 6:11). Grace changes the heart in three ways:

a.  There is a change wrought in the understanding. The first work of God in the creation of the world was light… so it is in the new  “Whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).  He sees such evil in sin and excellency in the ways of God as he never saw before.  Indeed, this light which the blessed Spirit brings may well be called a marvelous light.  “That ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).  It is a marvelous light in six respects:

(1)  It is marvelous light in that it is strangely conveyed – from above, from the Sun of Righteousness himself.

(2)  It is marvelous in its effect. This light does that which no other light can – it makes a man perceive himself to be blind.

(3)  It is marvelous light because it is more penetrating. Other light may shine upon the face; this light shines into the heart and enlightens the conscience (2 Cor. 4:6).

(4)  It is marvelous light because it sets those who have it a marveling. They marvel at themselves, how they could be contented to be so long without it.  They marvel that their eyes should be opened and not others.  They marvel that though they hated and opposed this light, yet it should shine in the firmament of their sols.  This is what the saints will stand wondering at to all eternity.

(5)  It is marvelous light because it quickens. It makes alive those who “were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).  Therefore, it is called the “light of life” (John 8:12).

(6)  It is marvelous light because it is the beginning of everlasting light. The light of grace is the morning-star which ushers in the sunlight of glory.

Can you say that this marvelous light of the Spirit has dawned upon you when you were enveloped in ignorance and did neither know God nor yourself – suddenly a light from heaven shined round about you?

b.  There is a change wrought in the will. The will, which before opposed Christ, now embraces Him. The regenerate will answer to every call of God as the echo answers to the voice. “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6).  The will now becomes a volunteer; it enlists itself under the Captain of Salvation.

c.  There is a change in the conduct. He who is called of God walks directly contrary to what he did before.  He walked before n envy and malice, now he walks in love; before he walked in pride, now in humility.  Truly, natural men must have a gracious change while they live or a cursed change when they die.

(1)  He who is effectually called of God esteems this call as the highest blessing.  A carnal person can no more value spiritual blessings than a baby can value a diamond necklace.  He who is enlightened by the Spirit counts holiness his best heraldry and looks upon his effectual calling as his preferment.

(2)  He who is effectually called of God is called out of the world.  It is a “heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1).  Godly man, though his body be from the earth, the sparkling of his affections is from heaven.  His heat is drawn into the upper region, as high as Christ.  He not only casts off every wicked work, but every earthly weight.  He is not a worm, but an eagle.

(3)  He who is effectually called is diligent in his ordinary (earthly) calling.  Religion does not seal warrants to idleness.  Christians must not be slothful.  A slothful person becomes a prey to every temptation.  He who is called of God, as he works for heaven, so he works in his trade.

– – – – –

Watson, Thomas. “Effectual Calling.” All Things for Good. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986. 104-118. Print.

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praise

God has been faithful to teach us many, many things during our ten-year trial (see post).  There are three who share in our family business – Dana, his dad, and his brother, Larry.  It has been an unforeseen blessing that each has a vital Christian walk and each has placed himself under the teaching of God’s Word – when one of the three has been particularly harassed, one of the others seem able to draw from what God is teaching him and to bring a healing balm at the needed time.

Not all of God’s words to us have been soothing and re-assuring; more than our share have brought conviction and sorrowful repentance.  A couple of these verses, given early on in our trial, brought us face-to-face with our independence and a murmuring spirit which we know now to be dishonoring and grievous to our Maker.

One of the passages of which I speak is Deuteronomy 28:47-48 where the nation of Israel is being reprimanded.  Why? “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.”  The NIV translates verse 47 “…you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity…”

There’s a scene in the movie The Hiding Place where Corrie ten Boom is being dished up a thin broth in the Nazi concentration camp where she and her sister, Betsie, were imprisoned in the last year of World War II.  The film shows previous scenes, times of prosperity, flash through Corrie’s mind as she recalls the feasts and fellowship which she had known before the war.

A similar thought was mine when I encountered Deuteronomy 28:47.  Scenes of past abundance flitted across my mind, days in which I was not careful to respond to God’s lavish goodness with “joyfulness and gladness of heart.”  I’ve written of this before, probably because it is a recurring theme in Dana’s and my training, but a thankful heart honors the loving care of our sovereign Father.   The ungodly and unrighteous are accused of this very thing in Romans 1:21 “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Because of our continued temptation to despair as we wonder if there will ever be a change to our present circumstances (a.k.a. failure to trust in the goodness of God’s purposes), Dana and I are trying to remind each other to look for every small grace that we encounter. I am praying for Dana that God would be the lifter of his head and he would raise his focus to see the gifts that surround us.

It’s a bit like Brother Lawrence’s book Practicing the Presence of God, though.  I’m convinced it would be life-giving, but in my frailty I seem only to be able to sustain the practice for short periods of time.  I pray that with use and Holy Spirit reminders, I might grow my capacity to see better my Father’s hand in the world around me.

To this end, I was particularly challenged by a prayer shared by Ravi Zacharius recently.  The prayer was written by Michel Quoist, a 20th century French Catholic priest and writer, as part of his book Prayers of Life.  Oh, that I might become by God’s grace an old woman who delights in the evidences of God’s care around me and my default way to walk through this world would be that of thanksgiving and gratitude. I pray that Quoist’s prayer will inspire you this Thanksgiving 2016 to similarly pray throughout your day.

– – – – –

Thank you, Lord, for all the gifts you’ve given to me today.

Thank you for all I have seen, heard, and received.

Thank you for the water that woke me up, the soap that smells so good, the toothpaste that refreshes.

Thank you for the clothes that protect us, for their color and their style.

Thank you for the newspaper so faithfully there, for the comics, for my morning smile.

Thank you for useful meetings, for justice done, and for the big games won.

Thank you for the street cleaning truck and the men who run it, for their morning shouts and all the early morning noises.

Thank you for my work, the tools, and my efforts.

Thank you for the metal in my hands, for the whine of the steel biting into it, and for the satisfied look of the foreman for the load of finished pieces.

Thank you for Jim, my friend, who loaned me his file, for Danny who shared his lunch with me, for Charlie who held the door open for me.

Thank you for the welcoming street that led me here, for the shop windows, the cars, and the passers-by, for all the life that flowed swiftly between the windowed walls of the houses.

Thank you for the food that sustains me, for the glass of water that refreshes me.

Thank you for the car that weekly took me where I wanted to be, for the fuel that made it go, for the wind that caressed my face, for the trees that nodded to me on the way.

Thank you for the boy I watched on the foot-path opposite, thank you for his roller skates, thank you for his comical grin when he fell.

Thank you for the morning greetings I received and all the smiles.

Thank you for my mother who welcomes me at home and for her tactful affection, for her silent presence.

Thank you for the roof that shelters me, for the lamps that light me, for the radio that plays, for the news, for music, and for singing.

Thank you for the bunch of flowers so pretty on my table.

Thank you for the tranquil night.

Thank you for the stars, Lord, and thank you, too, for silence.

Thank you for the time you’ve given me, Lord, for life, for grace, and for just being there.

Thank you, now, for listening to me, and taking me seriously, for gathering my gifts in your hands to offer them to your Father.

Thank you, Lord, thank you.

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grave-i

Folks don’t often make death a ready topic, even among Christians who claim that Earth is not our home and we await the better country of heaven (Hebrews 11:16).  The agrarian society of our ancestors lived a lot closer to death than we do today and most of us are quite removed from much exposure to it.  Even the glut of violent media we consume does not prepare us for the illness and death of those for whom we actually care.  Our dear pastor, Walt Barrett, is taking about a month and a half to preach on what happens after we die.  As he has said, it is a bit of an elephant in the room.

 

In opening up the Scriptures to us regarding our eternal hope and home, Pastor Walt shared a deeply introspective poem about one man’s desire to finish his earthly assignment well.  This has reminded me of two other poems, one of which was set to music by Robert Lowry in the 19th century; the other, I am told, was one Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poems.

 

This latter poem, Mortality, written by William Knox (who himself died at the age of 36 years), is a bit Ecclesiastes-like.  It provides no Christian hope, but certainly speaks to the brevity of life and the proximity of death as Pastor Walt puts it.  There is an inescapable conclusion: The grave is a sure end for all who breathe this Earth’s air.  That there is anything of substance after the grave is never addressed, but perhaps seeing the frailness of life is a good first step to awakening the hope that our lives might have meaning past our Earthly existence.

– – – – –

Mortality
by William Knox, 1789-1825

O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a fast-flitting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to his rest in the grave.

The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie.

The child that a mother attended and loved,
The mother that infant’s affection that proved;
The husband that mother and infant that blessed,
Each, all, are away to their dwelling of rest.

The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure,—her triumphs are by;
And the memory of those that beloved her and praised
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.

The hand of the king that the scepter hath borne,
The brow of the priest that the miter hath worn,
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.

The peasant whose lot was to sow and to reap,
The herdsman who climbed with his goats to the steep,
The beggar that wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.

The saint that enjoyed the communion of heaven,
The sinner that dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.

So the multitude goes, like the flower and the weed
That wither away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes, even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that hath often been told.

For we are the same that our fathers have been;
We see the same sights that our fathers have seen,—
We drink the same stream, and we feel the same sun,
And we run the same course that our fathers have run.

The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think;
From the death we are shrinking, they too would shrink;
To the life we are clinging to, they too would cling;
But it speeds from the earth like a bird on the wing.

They loved, but the story we cannot unfold;
They scorned, but the heart of the haughty is cold;
They grieved, but no wail from their slumber may come;
They enjoyed, but the voice of their gladness is dumb.

They died, ay! they died! and we things that are now,
Who walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
Who make in their dwellings a transient abode,
Meet the changes they met on their pilgrimage road.

Yea! hope and despondence, and pleasure and pain,
Are mingled together like sunshine and rain;
And the smile and the tear, and the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.

‘Tis the wink of an eye, ‘tis the draught of a breath,
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud,—
O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

– – – – –

The poem to follow is the one shared by Pastor Walt, titled Let Me Get Home Before Dark.  I’m given to understand that the author, Robertson McQuilken, had watched his wife succumb to early on-set Alzheimers.   McQuilken was forced to resign his position as president at Columbia International University to care for her.  His resignation speech regarding his intentions is an ode in itself to love, loyalty, and sacrifice.  As he was growing old, he began to be concerned that he was not going to finish his earthly mission well.  He did not want to ruin Christ’s reputation by making shipwreck of his faith in the end.  This is a topic to which Dana and I return for ourselves – we want to be found faithful when we meet the Lord.  It is the very language I hear Joni Eareckson Tada use as she struggles with her 50+ years of paraplegia after a diving accident in her teens.

Let Me Get Home Before Dark

It’s sundown, Lord.
The shadows of my life stretch back
into the dimness of the years long spent.
I fear not death, for that grim foe betrays himself at last,
thrusting me forever into life:

Life with You, unsoiled and free.
But I do fear.
I fear the Dark Specter may come too soon
– or do I mean, too late?
That I should end before I finish or finish, but not well.
That I should stain Your honor, shame Your name,
grieve Your loving heart.

Few, they tell me, finish well . . .
Lord, let me get home before dark.

The darkness of a spirit grown mean and small,
fruit shriveled on the vine,
bitter to the taste of my companions,
burden to be borne by those brave few who love me still.
No, Lord.  Let the fruit grow lush and sweet,
A joy to all who taste;
Spirit- sign of God at work,
stronger, fuller, brighter at the end.
Lord, let me get home before dark.

The darkness of tattered gifts,
rust-locked, half-spent or ill-spent,
A life that once was used of God now set aside.
Grief for glories gone or
Fretting for a task God never gave.
Mourning in the hollow chambers of memory,
Gazing on the faded banners of victories long gone.
Cannot I run well unto the end?
Lord, let me get home before dark.

The outer me decays –
I do not fret or ask reprieve.
The ebbing strength but weans me from mother earth
and grows me up for heaven.
I do not cling to shadows cast by immortality.
I do not patch the scaffold lent to build the real, eternal me.
I do not clutch about me my cocoon,
vainly struggling to hold hostage
a free spirit pressing to be born.

But will I reach the gate
in lingering pain, body distorted, grotesque?
Or will it be a mind wandering untethered
among light phantasies or grim terrors?

Of Your grace, Father, I humbly ask. . .
Let me get home before dark.

– – – – –

The last poem I share is the brightest of the mix.  It was penned by the beloved hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, who was blinded at six weeks of age.  In her life she is said to have written over 8,000 hymns.  Regarding her blindness, Fanny said:

“It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”

Her hymn All the Way My Savior Leads Me has long given Christian believers the words to declare their eternal hope.  All the way – through life, death, and life after death – our Savior will lead us.  What’s more?  Whatever may befall us on our journey… Jesus doeth all things well.

All the Way My Savior Leads Me

All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread;
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living bread.
Though my weary steps may falter,
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see;
Gushing from the rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see.

All the way my Savior leads me
O the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way;
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way.

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christians-burden

“I never, ever in my wildest dreams, thought I would one day be going through chemo.”  The world of a professional acquaintance of mine (I’ll call her R) came crashing down mid-August when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

We were in pretty regular email contact last spring when R helped me in a professional capacity.  I happened to email her before school started just as a hi, how are you doing contact.  At that very time she had just received a professional opinion of breast cancer and was awaiting the official results of her diagnostic labs. In a few days, she wrote back and said that the cancer had been confirmed.  She was understandingly reeling from the news and said she needed time to process it all.  I let her know how sorry I was for her troubles.

In God’s providence, I pass by R’s house every day on my way to work.  The Lord has often laid it on my heart to pray for her.  I don’t know what her religious convictions are, so I have just prayed that God would use this great affliction to impress upon her the brevity of our time on earth and her need to answer one of the universal questions of life, namely, Is this all there is?  I asked God to use this crisis in her life to draw her to him.

This week I thought to encourage R by letting her know that I have been praying for her often as I pass her home.  I expressed my hope that her treatments have not been too grueling and she is feeling encouraged and sustained by those around her.  I closed with “peace” and that’s really all I wrote.  Although she knows I teach at a Christian school, she and I have had no conversations of a spiritual nature so I thought it best not to cast pearls.

Her reply has grieved me:

Hi Kim.  I’m here at work at the moment, but barely hanging on by my fingernails.  I am trying to push it until 3:00.  Yesterday was my first day back and I lasted about three hours.  Chemo is horrible.  I’m one week out from my first chemo, three treatments left to go, each spaced three weeks apart.  I have lost 19 pounds.  I have to dig very deep.

I am open to having you pray for me whenever you drive by.  The only thing I’m extremely not open to is when people suggest that this is God’s will for me.  I will not tolerate any of that nonsense.  Thank you for checking on me.

I was reminded of an Isaac Watts hymn to which I’ve very recently been introduced: “How Sweet and Aweful is the Place” (note: Aweful is different than awful), especially these lines:

…Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

So much is revealed by her reply.  Firstly, there seems to be a glaring disconnect to the human condition in her statement, “I never, ever in my wildest dreams, thought I would one day be going through chemo.”  Really???  I found that statement shocking since I think of that sort of thing all the time (probably my scale tips too far in the other direction).

You see, I know I live in a world where not only humanity is fallen and under a curse (hopelessly separated from the one, true, holy, living God if it were not for our rescue by said God), but all of creation is victim to this curse as well. True, God has given mankind dominion over his creation – an ability to seek and discover the uses and purposes of the treasures God has scattered throughout his universe, but I also know that this very creation has been “subjected to futility” along with mankind and is in “bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:19-21).  It, like I, await with “eager longing” our freedom from this bondage when Christ returns for his children.

I know that all of creation has experienced this decay from its original glory and is no longer as reliable as it once was.  It’s the reason why I don’t eat chocolate with abandon, or rich pasta, or pizza, or boxes of Good & Plenty, or (wait… I digress).  It’s what makes me get on the treadmill or pick up light weights periodically; not because I’m one of those endorphin addicts, but because I experience and confirm the Second Law of Thermodynamics:  “While quantity [of energy] remains the same (the First Law), the quality of matter/energy deteriorates gradually over time.”  Beyond a doubt, my matter is gradually deteriorating over time, as is that of my universe.  I know that given enough time, the resources I might currently rely upon for health (medicine or supplements, movement, heredity, treatments, etc.) will eventually fail me.  One day I will break down completely and die (with further deterioration occurring in the grave).

Beyond shock though, the rest of R’s message just plain makes me sad.  It is a window into how those with no hope beyond their own material resources deal with issues of life and death like cancer.  Her rejection of God’s sovereignty in her affairs is a rejection of that one thing which is my keel in rough seas and affords me peace in times of trial and suffering.  As the hymn writer Annie Flint has put it:  “To added afflictions, He addeth His mercy; to multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.”  In exchange for this, R is left to dig very deep.  And what will she find there, I wonder?

She is “open” to my praying for her, but I wonder to what god she assumes I will pray.  Her sense of god seems to be a very small god who, if he exists at all, is not in control of his universe.  In condescending to allow me to pray for her, she is either allowing me my prayers but believing them to be useless, or she believes that this god’s main role is to help us out when we get into trouble or make us feel better so we can be happy.  She will not tolerate any nonsense which hints at this god having a greater purpose for her life than mere well being.

In Sunday School today, I couldn’t help think of R and her darkened understanding as we studied 2 Peter 1:1-4.  Peter writes to those in the faith, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (v2).  Peter knew what I have proven in my life… as I grow in my knowledge and understanding of God, my peace is multiplied.  It does not diminish my peace to know God as sovereign over every aspect of my life, it multiplies my peace.  This is because I know him to be as He has declared:  “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6).  It is a great peace to me and comfort in times of distress to know as Abraham Kuyper has declared: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

For her own good and before it’s too late, I pray that R will dig very deep and come to the end of herself; that her finite resources exhausted, she will seek and find rest for her soul as only Jesus can give.  There have been tougher cases than R’s who have eventually bent their knees to the one, true God, Yahweh.   An encouragement to some is a warning to others:  One day “every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).  May R confess Jesus as Lord before that great and terrible day when the destinies of all will be fixed, even as many are suddenly made aware of their gross error in rejecting this mighty, sovereign God.

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