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:
Interestingly, the answer to this question is often presented as an absolute yes or an absolute no. If you answered with an absolute no then congratulations for being an antinomian (google it, somewhat to my own surprise I spelt this right first attempt), you're also wrong. And if you answered with an absolute yes then you're probably a Catholic or legalist and likewise wrong. The answer to the question is probably best summed up as a qualified yes (or even a qualified no but I think I prefer the emphasis on the doing of good). It requires a nuanced understanding of salvation and if you're wondering what on earth I'm going on about, please stay with me, at least until I've gone through the arguments.
Of course, one of the cornerstone principles of the Christian faith is salvation through faith alone. Happily, I'm not denying this. But salvation is much broader than we often conceive it to be. Let's spilt salvation into its parts then, sorry if you are put off with the '-ations' but it's good to learn the theological terms involved.
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?
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!
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.