• Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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  • March 2023
    M T W T F S S
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The True Knowledge of Christ

John CalvinJohn Calvin:

None have intercourse with Christ but those who have acquired the true knowledge of him from the Gospel. The Apostle denies that any man truly has learned Christ who has not learned to put off “the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and put on Christ,” (Eph. iv. 22.) They are convicted, therefore, of falsely and unjustly pretending a knowledge of Christ, whatever be the volubility and eloquence with which they can talk of the Gospel. Doctrine is not an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart. Let them, therefore, either cease to insult God, by boasting that they are what they are not, or let them show themselves not unworthy disciples of their divine Master. To doctrine in which our religion is contained we have given the first place, since by it our salvation commences; but it must be transfused into the breast, and pass into the conduct, and so transform us into itself, as not to prove unfruitful. If philosophers are justly offended, and banish from their company with disgrace those who, while professing an art which ought to be the mistress of their conduct, convert it into mere loquacious sophistry, with how much better reason shall we detest those flimsy sophists who are contented to let the Gospel play upon their lips, when, from its efficacy, it ought to penetrate the inmost affections of the heart, fix its seat in the soul, and pervade the whole man a hundred times more than the frigid discourses of philosophers? (On the Christian Life)

Wandering Thoughts

Thought and wisdom are not to be confused. The wisdom that many possess in their later years comes by the Holy Spirit through the power of sanctification. The work of the Spirit in our minds facilitates the gradual dying out of the power of temptation over us. Yet our thoughts are not completely free of temptation. Thomas Goodwin writes:

O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you? (Jeremiah 4:14 ESV)

We find our minds ready to spend thoughts about anything rather than what God at present calls unto. When we go to a sermon, we find we could then spend our thoughts more willingly about reading, or haply searching our hearts; unto which at another time, when called to it, we should be most unwilling to. We could be content to run wild over the fields of meditations and miscellaneous thoughts, though about good, rather than to be tied to that task, and kept in one set path. . . .

[T]hough indeed the mind of man is nimble and able thus to run from one end of the earth to another, which is its strength and excellence, yet God would not have this strength, and nimbleness, and mettle spirit in curveting and trembling, as I may call it, but in steady directing all our thoughts straight on to his glory, our own salvation, and the good of others; he gave it this nimbleness to turn away from evil, and the first appearance of it. As we are to walk in God’s ways he calls us to, so every thought, as well as every action, is a step, and therefore ought to be steady; ‘Make straight steps to your feet,’ says the Apostle, Heb. xii. 13, turning not to the right hand nor to the left, until we come to the journey’s end of that business we are to think of. But our thoughts at best are as wanton spaniels, who, though indeed they go with and accompany their master, and come to their journey’s end with him in the end, yet do run after every bird, and wildly pursue every flock of sheep they see. This unsteadiness arises from the like curse on the mind of man as was on Cain, that it being ‘driven from the presence of the Lord,’ it proves a vagabond, and so ‘men’s eyes are in the ends of the earth.’ This foolishness is also seen in that independence in our thoughts; they hanging oft together as ropes of sand. . . . This madness and distemper is in the mind since the fall . . . that if notes were taken of our thoughts, we should find thoughts so vagrant, that we know not how they come in, nor whence they come, nor whither they would. . . . And as Seneca says of men’s lives, as of ships that are tossed up and down at sea, it may be said they have been tossed much but sailed nothing; the like in this respect may be said of the thoughts. Or as when men make imperfect dashes, and write nonsense, they are said to scribble, they do not write; so, in these follies and independencies, we . . . lose ourselves, we do not think.

More Than Conquerors

Quoting Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910):

‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?’ A heterogeneous mass the Apostle here brigades together as an antagonistic army. They are alike in nothing except that they are all evils.

There is no attempt at an exhaustive enumeration, or at classification. He clashes down, as it were, a miscellaneous mass of evil things, and then triumphs over them, and all the genus to which they belong, as being utterly impotent to drag men away from Jesus Christ. To ask the question is to answer it, but the form of the answer is worth notice.

Instead of directly replying, ‘No! No such powerless things as these can separate us from the love of Christ,’ he says, ‘No! In all these things, whilst weltering amongst them, whilst ringed round about by them, as by encircling enemies, “we are more than conquerors.”’

Thomas Goodwin: How Long?

There is much vanity in our thoughts and manner of thinking. Our thoughts are subject to vanity much more than we wish to admit. Thomas Goodwin explains:

How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? (Jeremiah 4:14)

In these words he compares the heart unto some house of common resort, made, as it were, with many and large rooms to entertain and lodge multitudes of guests in; into which, before conversion, all the vain, light, wanton, profane, dissolute thoughts that post up and down the world, as your thoughts do, and run riot all the day, have free, open access, the heart keeps open house to them, gives them willing, cheerful welcome and entertainment; accompanies them, travels over all the world for the daintiest pleasures to feed them with; lodgeth, harbors them; and there they, like unruly gallants and roisters, lodge, and revel it day and night, and defile those rooms they lodge in with their loathsome filth and vomits. ‘How long,’ says the Lord, ‘shall they lodge therein,’ whilst I, with my Spirit, my Son, and train of graces, ‘stand at the door and knock,’ Rev. iii. 20, and cannot find admittance? Of all which filthiness, etc the heart, this house, must be washed: ‘Wash thy heart from wickedness.’ Washed, not swept only of grosser evils, as, Matt. xii. 43, the house the unclean spirit re-enters into is said to be swept of evils that lay loose and uppermost, but washed and cleansed of those defilements which stick more close, and are incorporated and wrought into the spirit. And those vain and unruly guests must be turned out of doors without any warning; they have stayed there long enough, too long: ‘how long?’ And ‘the time past may suffice,’ as the Apostle speaks; they must lodge there no more. The house, the soul, is not in conversion to be pulled down, but only these guests turned out; and though kept out they cannot be, they will still enter whilst we are in these houses of clay, yet lodge they must not. If thoughts of anger and revenge come in the morning or daytime, they must be turned out ere night: ‘Let not the sun go down upon your wrath,’ Eph. iv. 26; for so you may come to lodge yet a worse guest in your heart with them. ‘Give not place to the devil,’ for it follows, who will ‘bring seven worse with him.’ If unclean thoughts offer to come to bed to thee when thou lie down, let them not lodge with thee. To conclude, it is not what thoughts are in your hearts, and pass through them, as what lodging they have, that doth difference your repentance. Many good thoughts and motions may pass as strangers through a bad man’s heart; and so likewise multitudes of vain thoughts may make a thoroughfare of a believer’s heart, and disturb him in good duties, by knockings and interruptions, and breakings in upon the heart of a good man; but still they lodge not there – are not fostered, or harbored. (“The Vanity of Thoughts”)

Power To Be More

Alexander MacLaren

If you are a Christian, there is a power that is working in you. The real and brilliant glories of the ascended Jesus Christ affirm this. He has saved us from the death of sin and brought us so near to Himself that we truly live beside Him even as we stumble in the present darkness. Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910) explains how this is possible:

“[A]nd what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. . . .” (Ephesians 1:19-20)

He can have little depth of religion who has not often felt that the transcendent glory of that promised future sharpens the doubt– “and can I ever hope to reach it?” Our paths are strewn with battlefields where we were defeated; how should we expect the victor’s wreath? And so Paul does not think that he has asked all which his friends: in Ephesus need when he has asked that they may know the hope and the inheritance. There is something more wanted, something more even for our knowledge of these, and that is the knowledge of the power which alone can fulfill the hope and bring the inheritance. His language swells and peals and becomes exuberant and noble with his theme. He catches fire, as it were, as he thinks about this power that works in us. . . .

And then the Apostle, when he has once come in sight of his risen Lord, as is His wont, is swept away by the ardor of his faith and the clearness of his vision and breaks from his purpose to dilate on the glories of his King. We do not need to follow him into that. I limit myself this morning to the words which I have read as my text with only such reference to the magnificent passage which succeeds as may be necessary for the exposition of this.

So, then, I ask you to look first at the measure and example of the immeasurable power that works in Christians. . . .

The Resurrection, the Ascension, the session at the right hand of God, the rule over all creatures, and the exaltation above all things on earth or in the heavens-these are the things which the Apostle brings before us as the pattern-works, the chef d’oeuvre of the power that is operating in all Christians. The present glories of the ascended Christ are glories possessed by a man; that being so, they are available as evidences and measures of the power which works in believing souls. In them we see the possibilities of humanity, the ideal for man which God had when He created and breathed His blessing upon him. It is one of ourselves who has strength enough to bear the burden of the glory, one of ourselves who can stand within the blaze of encircling and indwelling Divinity and be unconsumed. The possibilities of human nature are manifest there. If we want to know what the Divine power can make of us, let us turn to look with the eye of faith upon what it has made of Jesus Christ. . . .

Therefore, when doubts and fears and consciousness of my own weakness creep across me and all my hopes are dimmed, as some star in the heavens is when a light mist floats between us and it, let us turn away to Him our brother, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, and think that He in His calm exaltation and regal authority and infinite blessedness is not only the pattern of what humanity may be but the pledge of what His church must be. “The glory that thou gavest me I have given them.” (“The Measure of Immeasurable Power”)

The Reproof Of Sinners

Asahel Nettleton

He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy (Proverbs 29:1).

The great early American preacher, Asahel Nettleton, provides here a stern warning to the church and ministers of Christ:

God has made it the duty of his people to deal faithfully with each other. Exhort one another daily, lest any be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. And again, Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart (Leviticus 19:17).The expression is peculiarly forcible. The Almighty considers a neglect of brotherly reproof as on a par with the open indulgence of the feelings of anger and resentment. Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor and not suffer sin upon him. And says our Savior, If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. Brethren, says James, if any do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

Further, God has provided for the reproof of offenders by making it a duty of parents towards their children. To attend to the spiritual concerns of children, and to restrain their wickedness is the most important part of a parent’s duty. We have had fathers of our flesh, says the Apostle, who have corrected us, and we gave them reverence-and most persons can adopt his language in relation to their own experience. Yes; and what a load of guilt will rest upon the head of that ungodly child who has despised all the warnings, the entreaties, and tears, and prayers of a pious father, or an affectionate mother, who travailed in birth again that Christ might be formed in their souls, the hope of glory, when their own bodies slumber in the dust.

God also reproves sinners by his providences. He sends his judgments abroad in the earth that the inhabitants may learn righteousness. By the pains we feel, we are admonished that we are sinners; and warned to flee from the wrath to come.

By his Word. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, and for reproof. All the invitations, commands, and threatenings, and warnings in the Bible are so many admonitions to sinners.

By his ministers. Son of man, I have made thee a watchman to the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. Show thy people their transgression, and the house of Israel their sin. Hear the injunction of Paul on Timothy: I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come(it seems as if, in uttering this prediction the Apostle had an eye upon sinners of our own day); For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.

But woe to those ministers who do not feel the weight of this charge-and woe to those wincing hearers, who (having itching ears that will not endure sound doctrine, heap to themselves teachers that prophecy smooth things, and say peace, peace to the wicked, when God hath declared that there is no peace for them. Against such preachers and hearers the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke, and all the curses that are written in this book shall be upon them, and the Lord shall blot out their names from under heaven. If ye cease to warn the wicked, the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thine hand. Mark: the consequence of withholding the warning, is the destruction of both the preacher and the hearer.

God Came As A Little Child On Christmas

Bernard of Clairvaux, the main contributor to ...

Bernard of Clairvaux

From a sermon by Bernard of Clairvaux:

“When God emptied himself and took the form of a servant, he emptied himself only of majesty and power, not of goodness and mercy. For what does the Apostle say? ‘The goodness and humanity of God our Savior have appeared in our midst.’ God’s power had appeared already in creation, and his wisdom in the ordering of creation; but his goodness and mercy have appeared now in his humanity.

So what are you frightened of? Why are you trembling before the face of the Lord when he comes? God has come not to judge the world, but to save it! Do not run away; do not be afraid. God comes unarmed; he wants to save you , not to punish you. And lest you should say ‘I heard your voice and I hid myself,’ look-he is here, an infant with no voice. The cry of a baby is something to be pitied not to be frightened of. He is made a little child, the Virgin Mother has wrapped his tender limbs in swaddling bands; so why are you still quaking with fear? This tells you that God has come to save you, not to lose you; to rescue you, not to imprison you.

God is already fighting your two enemies, sin and death–the death of both body and soul. He has come to conquer both of them; so do not fear, he will save you from them. He has already conquered sin in his own person, in that he took our human nature upon himself without spot of sin. From this moment on he pursues your enemies and overtakes them, and will not return until he has overcome them both. He fights sin with his life, he attacks it with his word and example; and in his passion he binds it, yes, binds ‘the strong man and carries off his goods’. In the same way it is in his own person that he first conquers death when he rises as ‘the first fruits of those who sleep, the firstborn from the dead’. From now on he will conquer it in all of us as he raises up our mortal bodies, and death, the last enemy, will be destroyed.

In his rising he is clothed with honor, no longer wrapped in swaddling bands as at his birth. At his birth, in the wide embrace of his mercy, he judged no one; but at his resurrection he ties around his waist the girdle of righteousness which in some sense must define the embrace of his mercy. Henceforth we must be ready for judgment which will take place when we ourselves are raised. Today he has come to us as a little child, that before all else he might offer all people mercy; but in his resurrection he anticipates the final judgment when mercy must needs be balanced by the claims of righteousness.”

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