“Faith is the silver thread upon which the pearls of the graces are to be hung. Break that, and you have broken the string — the pearls lie scattered on the ground.”
The modern church may have many faults, but there is one thing that I think grieves God most, and that is the lack of love. Andrew Murray writes:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love …” (Galatians 5:22 ESV)
It is in our daily life and conduct that the fruit of the Spirit is love. From that comes all the graces and virtues in which love is manifested – joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness – no sharpness or hardness in your tone, no unkindness or selfishness, [but] meekness before God and man. You see that all these are the gentler virtues. I have often thought as I read those words in Colossians, “Put on therefore as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering” (Colossians 3:12), that if we had written this, we should have put in the foreground the strong virtues, such as zeal, courage, and diligence. But we need to see how the gentler, the most tender virtues are especially connected with dependence on the Holy Spirit. These are indeed heavenly graces. They never were found in the heathen world. Christ was needed to come from heaven to teach us. Your blessedness is long-suffering, meekness, kindness; your glory is humility before God.
You know what John says: “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another; God dwelleth in us” (I John 4:12). That is, I cannot see God, but as a compensation. I can see my brother, and if I love him, God dwells in me. Is that really true? That I cannot see God, but I must love my brother, and God will dwell in me? Loving my brother is the way to real fellowship with God. You know what John further says in that most solemn test, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (I John 4:20). There is a brother, a most unlovable man. He worries you every time you meet him. He is of the very opposite disposition to yours. You are a careful businessman, and you have to associate with him in your business. He is most untidy, unbusiness-like. You say:
“I cannot love him.”
Oh, friend, you have not learned the lesson that Christ wanted to teach above everything. Let a man be what he will, you are to love him. Love is to be the fruit of the Spirit all the day and every day. Yes, listen! If you don’t love that unlovable man whom you have seen, how can you love God whom you have not seen? You can deceive yourself with beautiful thoughts about loving God. You must prove your love to God by your love to your brother; that is the one standard by which God will judge your love to Him. If the love of God is in your heart, you will love your brother. The fruit of the Spirit is love. (“The Fruit of the Spirit is Love”)
Are you impatient? Are you even impatient with God? After all, we believe our own prayers should be answered instantly. When they are not, we begin to grumble with impatience. Our culture is addicted to instant gratification. We expect immediate answers to our problems. We do not like to wait for anything.
According to Isaiah, “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-31, ESV)
Matthew Henry writes of this verse: “They shall walk, they shall run, the way of God’s commandments, cheerfully and with alacrity (they shall not be weary), constantly and with perseverance (they shall not faint); and therefore in due season they shall reap. Let Jacob and Israel therefore, in their greatest distresses, continue waiting upon God, and not despair of timely and effectual relief and succor from him.”
Waiting requires submission to God’s Word and God’s Will. We are in His service, not He in ours. Complaining and impatience are contrary to God’s work in us. Our obsession with self results in weariness. Waiting on God, however, results in a thriving spirit – “renewed strength.” Divine power overshadows our weakness as we “wait for the Lord.”
Waiting on the Lord requires trust and self-discipline. Our own powers are insufficient to carry out God’s plan and purpose. Paul writes, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV) Self-sufficiency must be put aside in order to receive the overcoming strength of our Lord.
Charles Spurgeon writes, “If the Lord Jehovah makes us wait, let us do so with our whole hearts; for blessed are all they that wait for Him. He is worth waiting for. The waiting itself is beneficial to us: it tries faith, exercises patience, trains submission, and endears the blessing when it comes. The Lord’s people have always been a waiting people.” In other words, waiting on the Lord enables us to become what God wants us to be.
Instead of complaining at his lot, a contented man is thankful that his condition and circumstances are no worse than they are. Instead of greedily desiring something more than the supply of his present need, he rejoices that God still cares for him. Such a one is “content” with such as he has (Heb. 13:5).
“We do not wish to abolish teaching and to make every man his own master, but if the curates will not teach the gospel, the layman must have the Scripture, and read it for himself, taking God for his teacher.”
It is good that a man should be zealous for the Christian faith, but what are the signs of this zeal? According to J. C. Ryle:
“It is always good to be zealous in a good cause.” Galatians 4:18
[I]f zeal be true, it will be a zeal tempered with charity and love. It will not be a bitter zeal. It will not be a fierce enmity against people. It will not be a zeal ready to take the sword, and to smite with carnal weapons. The weapons of true zeal are not carnal—but spiritual. True zeal will hate sin—and yet love the sinner. True zeal will hate heresy—and yet love the heretic. True zeal will long to break the idol—but deeply pity the idolater. True zeal will abhor every kind of wickedness—but labor to do good, even to the vilest of transgressors. True zeal will warn as Paul warned the Galatians—and yet feel tenderly as a nurse or a mother over erring children. It will expose false teachers, as Jesus did the Scribes and Pharisees—and yet weep tenderly, as Jesus did over Jerusalem, when He came near to it for the last time. True zeal will be decided as a surgeon dealing with a diseased limb—but true zeal will be gentle as one that is dressing the wounds of a brother. True zeal will speak truth boldly, like Athanasius, against the world, and not care who is offended—but true zeal will endeavor in all its speaking, to speak the truth in love.
Furthermore, if zeal be true, it will be joined to a deep humility. A truly zealous man will be the last to discover the greatness of his own attainments. All that he is and does will come so immensely short of his own desires that he will be filled with a sense of his own unprofitableness, and amazed to think that God should work by him at all. Like Moses, when he came down from the mount, he will not know that his face shines. Like the righteous, in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, he will not be aware of his own good works. (“Be Zealous”)
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21 ESV)
C. H. Spurgeon found an old Bible one day with a small hole in it. It seems that a worm had eaten its way through the Bible from cover to cover. Considering this, Spurgeon suddenly exclaimed, “Lord, make me a bookworm like that!”
We all need to pray like that too. This is because most of us are poor Bible students. We really do not want to know God too well, because we hold to the old saying that “Ignorance is bliss.” To be a Christian, requires us to be willing to seek to know God with all our hearts and minds. Do you know the difference between milk and meat? Most Christians only seem to want a small dose of God-lite. They are afraid to get too close to God because it might require too much of them.
However, relationships require perseverance. The author of Hebrews puts it this way: “. . . we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:11-14, ESV)
The Christian must realize that reading and studying the Bible – along with other Christian books, commentaries, etc. – and spending time on our knees before God should always be our “constant practice.” We must read and study until we come to a true understanding of the Scriptures. This is the way to learn more about God.
In Luke 24:45, there is a phrase at the beginning of the verse that I love. It reads, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. . .” Jesus opened the minds of His disciples so that they could understand the Word of God. James, the half-brother of Jesus wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5, ESV)
Don’t allow words such as “theology” and “doctrine” intimidate you. “Theology” is simply the study of the nature of God and religious truth. It helps us to answer questions about God. “Doctrine” is a body of teachings and principles. They help us to be consistent and logical in our understanding of God. John Owens reminds us, “The foundation of true holiness and true worship is the doctrine of the gospel, what we are to believe. So when Christian doctrine is neglected, forsaken, or corrupted, true holiness and worship will also be neglected, forsaken, and corrupted.” Such an abomination occurs because we have failed to seek to understand the God of the Bible.
You have often heard me say that the Christian life has two dimensions: the first is faith, and the second is good works. A believer should live a devout life and always do what is right. But the first dimension of the Christian life—faith—is more essential. The second dimension—good works—is never as valuable as faith. People of the world, however, adore good works. They regard them to be far higher than faith.
Good works have always been valued more highly than faith. Of course, it’s true that we should do good works and respect the importance of them. But we should be careful that we don’t elevate good works to such an extent that faith and Christ become secondary. If we esteem them too highly, good works can become the greatest idolatry. This has occurred both inside and outside of Christianity. Some people value good works so much that they overlook faith in Christ. They preach about and praise their own works instead of God’s works.
Faith should be first. After faith is preached, then we should teach good works. It is faith—without good works and prior to good works—that takes us to heaven. We come to God through faith alone.
“I believe that the Bible is to be understood and received in the plain and obvious meaning of its passages; for I cannot persuade myself that a book intended for the instruction and conversion of the whole world should cover its true meaning in any such mystery and doubt that none but critics and philosophers can discover it.”
“Education is useless without the Bible.”
Salvation is offered to all men on the condition of faith in Christ. Therefore, in this sense, the covenant of grace is made with all men. The supreme sin of those who hear the gospel is that they refuse to accept this covenant, and therefore place themselves outside it. Charles Hodge writes:
In virtue of what the Son of God covenanted to perform and what in the fullness of time He actually accomplished, agreeably to the stipulations of the compact with the Father, two things follow. First, salvation is offered to all men on the condition of faith in Christ. Our Lord commanded his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. The gospel, however, is the offer of salvation upon the conditions of the covenant of grace. In this sense, the covenant of grace is formed with all mankind. And, therefore, the Westminster Confession says, ‘Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant [namely, by the covenant of works], the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein He freely offereth unto sinners [and all sinners] life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them able and willing to believe.’ If this, therefore, were all that is meant by those who make the parties to the covenant of grace, God and mankind in general and all mankind equally, there would be no objection to the doctrine. For it is undoubtedly true that God offers to all and every man eternal life on condition of faith in Jesus Christ. But as it is no less true that the whole scheme of redemption has special reference to those given by the Father to the Son, and of whom our Lord says, ‘All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out’ (John 6.37), … To them God has promised to give his Spirit in order that they may believe; and to them alone all the promises made to believers belong. (“The Covenant”)
Imagine an earthly situation where the heir-apparent to the throne meets with his closest friends on the eve of his own coronation. The new king’s friends would hardly desire that the king skip his own coronation. There is no greater benefit to the new king’s friends than that he ascends to the throne.
When Jesus left this world, He was not departing in exile. He was leaving for His coronation. He was passing from humiliation to exaltation. The extraordinary benefit in this for every Christian is that he can live in the full assurance that at this very moment the highest political office in the universe is being held by King Jesus. His term of office is forever. No revolution, no rebellion, no bloody coup can wrest Him from the throne. The Lord Christ omnipotent reigns.
The “where” partially explains the “why.” There is more to be added, though. The king serves in a dual capacity. He is not an ordinary monarch. At the same time He reigns as King, He serves His subjects as their Great High Priest. The King kneels before His own throne in supplication for His people. In addition to the session there is also intercession. Jesus’ throne is linked to the heavenly Holy of Holies. Daily, He makes intercession for you.
It was 3 a.m., Amsterdam, 1965. I couldn’t sleep. I was pacing the floor of our apartment like a caged lion. My body was more than ready for sleep, but my mind refused to shut down.
I had spent that day studying the doctrine of the ascension of Christ, the climactic moment of His departure from this world. One statement of Jesus gripped my mind in a vise. The statement was part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to His disciples in the upper room. He said: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7).
I paced the floor mulling over this astonishing statement. How could it possibly be better for the church to experience an absentee Lord? Parting with loved ones is not a “sweet sorrow.” One would think that to part with the incarnate Jesus would be an utterly bitter sorrow, a total dissolution to the soul.
Yet Jesus spoke of a certain “expediency” of His departure. The word translated “advantage” or “expedient” in John 16 is the word sumpherei, the same word employed by Caiaphas in his ironic prophecy (John 18:14).
The advantage of Jesus’ departure from earth is found partially in answer to Peter’s earlier question: “Lord, where are you going?” (Quo vadis?). We might say that the entire farewell discourse of John 14 was given in answer to that question. But equally important is that Jesus answered Peter by telling him not only where He was going but why He was going.
When Jesus left this world, He went to the Father. His ascension was to a certain place for a particular reason. To ascend did not mean merely “to go up.” He was being elevated to the right hand of the Father. The seat He occupies since His departure is the royal throne of cosmic authority. It is the office of the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
Samson, like many men and women of today, did not always use the graces bestowed upon him in a righteous manner. T. DeWitt Talmage reminds such men and women to not take for granted God’s good gifts:
You who are seated in your Christian homes; compassed by moral and religious restraints, do not realize the gulf of iniquity that bounds you on the north and the south and the east and the west. While I speak there are tens of thousands of men and women going over the awful plunge of an impure life; and while I cry to God for mercy upon their souls, I call upon you to marshal in the defense of your homes, your Church and your nation. There is a banqueting hall that you have never heard described. You know all about the feast of Ahasuerus, where a thousand lords sat. You know all about Belshazzar’s carousal, where the blood of the murdered king spurted into the faces of the banqueters. You may know of the scene of riot and wassail, when there was set before Esopus one dish of food that cost $400,000. But I speak now of a different banqueting hall. Its roof is fretted with fire. Its floor is tessellated with fire. Its chalices are chased with fire. Its song is a song of fire. Its walls are buttresses of fire. Solomon refers to it when he says: “Her guests are in the depths of hell.”
Our American communities are suffering from the gospel of Free Loveism, which, fifteen or twenty years ago, was preached on the platform and in some of the churches of this country. I charge upon Free Loveism that it has blighted innumerable homes, and that it has sent innumerable souls to ruin. Free Loveism is bestial; it is worse—it is infernal! … As far as I can understand the doctrine of Free Loveism it is this: That every man ought to have somebody else’s wife and every wife somebody else’s husband. … Never until society goes back to the old Bible, and hears its eulogy of purity and its anathema of uncleanness—never until then will this evil be extirpated. . . .
The Samson of the text long ago went away. He fought the lion. He fought the Philistines. He could fight anything, but death was too much for him. He may have required a longer grave and a broader grave; but the tomb nevertheless was his terminus. . . .
Oh, men of the strong arm and the stout heart, what use are you making of your physical forces? Will you be able to stand the test of that day when we must answer for the use of every talent, whether it were a physical energy, or a mental acumen, or a spiritual power? (“Brawn and Muscle”)
A proper fear of God is that indefinable mixture of reverence and pleasure, joy and awe which fills our hearts when we realize who God is and what He has done for us. It is a love for God which is so great that we would be ashamed to do anything which would displease or grieve Him, and makes us happiest when we are doing what pleases Him. (Grow in Grace)
Listed below are the current 12 largest Protestant Denominations in the US:
1. Southern Baptist Convention: 16.2 million members
2. The United Methodist Church: 7.8 million members
3. The Church of God in Christ: 5.5 million members
4. National Baptist Convention: 5.0 million members
5. Evangelical Lutheran Church, U.S.A.: 4.5 million members
6. National Baptist Convention of America: 3.5 million members
7. Assemblies of God: 2.9 million members
8. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): 2.8 million members
9. African Methodist Episcopal Church: 2.5 million members
10. National Missionary Baptist Convention of America: 2.5 million members
11. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS): 2.3 million members
12. The Episcopal Church: 2.0 million members