If you want to study human nature in any meaningful way work for a charity. In provides the whole range of human experience - the glorious ruin of the human condition. You get the highs of seeing hope on previously hopeless faces, acts of love to the loveless, compassion to the needy, courage and honour found in the least likely places, injustice averted and acts of self sacrifice that go unnoticed and unheralded by the world. And you get the other side too: the evil of man towards his fellow man, the greed of the human heart and its insatiable desire for more, the wilful blindness of humanity to the desperate need of humanity and the corruption of all good gifts.
For the last week I've been at the Christians Against Poverty debt centre in Edinburgh following around the two best centre managers in Britain. I had some experience of the ground work of CAP last year when I was volunteering as a befriender but it was good to be reminded of what the work is like.
Back in Head Office, working in Finance, it can all become so distant and detached, nothing more than numbers to be crm unched and expense forms wrongly filled out. Going on visits with the two centre managers closed that distance, bringing you into the homes of clients and seeing first hand their stories and troubles.
Every so often, I come across a hymn which gets the Christian life with all its joys and mourning. The following hymn was written by John Newton and is a beautiful testament to the Lord's purpose in sending us difficulties and afflictions:
Of all the revivals recorded for us in the Bible then one of my favourites, if I'm allowed to have such a thing, is the revival in the city of Nineveh as told us in Jonah 3. It's a short chapter so I'll quote it all:
"Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened."
This entire blog post is copied word for word from Justin Taylor's blog. The structure is Mr Taylor's work and the actual poem Mr Hart's work. Very obviously then - this work is not my own. It is worth copying as it is both greatly encouraging and a wonderful depiction of preaching the gospel to yourself day after day. The author gets the Christian life and the continual contrast between the beauty of Christ and the ugliness of our own lives.
The words to “The Grieved Soul,” by Joseph Hart (1712-1768):
1. Come, my soul and let us try
For a little season,
Ev’ry burden to lay by;
Come and let us reason.
What is this that casts you down?
Who are those that grieve you?
Speak and let the worst be known;
Speaking may relieve thee.
2. O, I sink beneath the load
Of my nature’s evil!
Full of enmity to God;
Captived by the devil!
Restless as the troubled seas,
Feeble, faint and fearful;
Plagued with ev’ry sore disease,
How can I be cheerful?
Recently, I decided to add a new test to my error detection system: if anyone ever says or implies holiness can be easy then they are flat out, automatically, without fail, speaking complete and utter rubbish. Thus does Keller's "if only we could be self-forgetful" and the other one "you just need to surrender to Jesus" fall by the way side, welcome victims to the keen blade of truth!
To be completely honest, I want holiness to be easy, in fact, often I like to think that increasing in holiness is some sort of magic trick - I say a prayer to God asking to be more holy and abracadabra, holiness is mine. Oh what foolishness my mind comes up with!
Fortunately, the Bible is very clear with us about holiness - "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," (Philippians 2v12) Notice the use of the word: "work." I looked up this word in the dictionary and it told me: "Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result." It made me a little glum because in my head I like to translate the verse: "Do very little and hope that things will come together for your own salvation with fear and trembling."
A couple of months ago I was reading a Puritan, maybe Ryle, and the author was talking about how holiness is hard work and he pointed out that what good thing in life isn't hard work? His point struck home, if I want to have a good meal then it involves effort, if I want to have good friendships, they involve effort, if I want to become good at a musical instrument or skill then I must work. Why then should holiness be any different? Why do we expect it to be so?
“I have a shelter in the storm
When troubles pour upon me
Though fears are rising like a flood
My soul can rest securely
O Jesus, I will hide in You
My place of peace and solace
No trial is deeper than Your love
That comforts all my sorrows”
Just about the only people writing proper good hymns today are Sovereign Grace Music and the above verse is one of theirs. It’s rather applicable to my life currently as I find myself halfway through fourth year, approaching graduation and with everywhere I applied to for a job rejecting my applications. As a planner I don’t like uncertainty and not knowing both what I want to do and what I will do frustrates me. It’s a real effort not to worry and by real effort I mean a complete failure on my part not to worry.
Yet why so I feel this way? “Cast your anxieties on God because he cares for you.” it says in 1 Peter 5 v 7. That verse alone is enough to grant me peace, God cares for me! What then do I have to fear? What is there to be worried about? Course, truth is I’m a functional unbeliever in this great truth. While ascribing to it with mouth in deed I worry.
This is the second part of my post on reflections of three years in the School of Christ. You can read the first part here. Let’s jump right back in there…
Read the Puritans (especially when things go wrong)
This may sound a bit of an odd one but only if you have never read the Puritans! They have been my companions through many a difficultly. Richard Sibbes (called the heavenly doctor – you soon realize why!) has helped me when I was in darkness and sitting in the silence of God with The Bruised Reed and Martyn Llyod-Jones (yes, technically not a Puritan but kind of is…) gave me comfort through The Causes and Cures of Spiritual Depression; then Sibbes came to the rescue again when I went through a relationship breakup with The Love of Christ and he was joined with John Flavel and The Mystery of Providence – one helped me when I was ever feeling unloved by riveting my attention back on Christ’s love for me and the other when I was feeling grumpy by casting my mind to higher issues and all that God does through the hardships of life. Or what about All Things for Good by Thomas Watson, Charity and its Fruits by Edwards or Communion with God by John Owen? What heavenly medicine they bring! In comparison most modern authors are mere children compared to the depth of God-given wisdom these men had along with such a pastoral concern for the souls of their fellow brothers and sisters. It is easy to tell, when reading the Puritans, that here were men who walked closely with the Lord.
You can keep your Pipers, Driscolls, Kellers and Chesters; they ain’t got nothing on the Puritans!
The Christian Union weekend away has come and gone and it gives me pause for thought and reflection as it marks the anniversary of my conversion three years ago. In 2009 then God took the question: “Are you living a distinctive life for Christ?” and used it to open my eyes to the truth that I wasn’t and that I should be. That evening I came to Christ, aware for the first time of the hopelessness of my condition without him and that in him lay the only way to salvation.
It’s been quite a ride since then, time has flown by and it feels like I’ve lived a lifetime as a Christian not just one thousand and ninety six days. It’s a misconception to think that conversation is the be all and end all of the Christian experience. Far from it! Conversion grants us immediate and compulsory enrollment in year 1 of the School of Christ with a set of courses and lessons perfectly tailored to our weaknesses and needs. For God is not unconcerned with his people, he loves us too much for that and he sets about completing the good work he has started.
This School has one main goal for all its students: holiness, being like Christ and growing in love for both God and man. The only graduation students see is the graduation of moving from this life to the next. It is without question the best and hardest school in all the world.
I should probably add that though I can highlight a lot of lessons I’ve learnt they are in the same breath a lot of lessons I am still learning. After all, the first rule of the School of Christ is that there is no end to the School of Christ!
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,
Bow down before Him, His glory proclaim;
Gold of obedience and incense of lowliness,
Bring and adore Him—the Lord is His Name.
Low at His feet lay Thy burden of carefulness,
High on His heart He will bear it for thee;
Comfort thy sorrows and answer thy prayerfulness,
Guiding thy steps as may best for thee be.
Fear not to enter His courts in the slenderness
Of the poor wealth thou wouldst reckon as thine;
Truth in its beauty, and love in its tenderness,
These are the offerings to lay on His shrine.
These though we bring them in trembling and fearfulness,
He will accept for the Name that is dear,
Mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness,
Trust for our trembling, and hope for our fear.
I make no apology for quoting the entirety of the above hymn even though it’s really only the first line that I am going to dwell on for this post. As with most old fashioned hymns it puts a lot of the modern efforts to shame. But that is a topic for a different day.
_ “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,”
Romans 5 v 20
Firstly, this is not a divine license to sin, Paul says in the next chapter: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6v1-2). So if it is not an encouragement to sin what is it and why is it important?
This verse is important because we all sin, we can fight against it all we like and we may even conquer some sins but there will always remain other ones we commit. This verse should not be read: I’ll sin so that grace might increase instead it should be read: I sin, thank God that even in my sin grace increases all the more. But what grace is to be found in the darkness of sin?