Tuesday, April 26, 2016

God disciplines those He loves

When He shows no anger!
“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth[i] every son whom he receiveth”
Hebrews 12:6.
There cannot be a greater evidence of God’s hatred and wrath than His refusing to correct men for their sinful courses and vanities! Where God refuses to correct, there God resolves to destroy! There is no man so near God’s axe, so near the flames, so near hell, as he whom God will not so much as spend a rod upon!
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” (Rev 3:19).
God is most angry when He shows no anger!  
Who can seriously meditate upon this and not be silent under God’s most smarting rod? All the hell that you shall ever have!
 Consider Christian, that all your…
§  trials and troubles,
§  calamities and miseries,
§  crosses and losses,
which you meet with in this world are all the hell that you shall ever have!
Here and now, you have your hell. Hereafter you shall have your heaven! This is the worst of your condition; the best is yet to come! Lazarus had his hell first, his heaven last; but Dives[ii] had his heaven first and his hell at last.
§  You have all your pangs, and pains, and throes here that you shall ever have! Your ease, and rest, and pleasure are yet to come!
§  Here you have all your bitters; your sweets are yet to come!
§  Here you have your sorrows; your joys are yet to come!
§  Here you have all your winter nights; your summer days are yet to come!
§  Here you have your evil things; your good things are yet to come!
Death will put an end to all your sins and to all your sufferings! Death will be an inlet to those joys, delights, and comforts which shall never have an end![1]

God is most angry when He shows anger for a sinner, who would not take the free salvation in His Son, Christ. For such He is angry forever! The earth, with all it's misery and suffering is the closest to heaven that you'll get, if you die without Christ. This is true because, God does not constantly pour His wrath on you here on earth. He is patient towards you so that you may come to repentance. He provides for you temporal blessings in order to draw you to His eternal blessings which are only found in His Son. Would you dare die without Christ? 

Death will open the floodgates of hell - ETERNAL damnation for sinners. Dare to die without Christ and you'll have all eternity to discover! You'll eat trouble, and drink misery in hell. You will sleep on fire and drown in the ice. You will experience untold sufferings that words are limited in expressing its extent. You will be eternally separated from love and grace. You will know no peace and no joy. You will never sing, never smile, never rest. You will not cease to groan and moan, saying how just, holy and true is God... oh dear! Flee to Christ today and you will find true salvation and eternal joy in the blessedness of God.

For those who are in Christ, those who believe in His name and repent all their sins, those who are saved, death will put an end to all your sins and to all your sufferings! Death will be the gate of heaven, ushering you into the blessed presence of God.



[1] Thomas Brooks, The Mute Christian under the Smarting Rod, http://www.chapellibrary.org/files/8914/0171/9774/mcut.pdf




[i] scourgeth – to punish severely, implying whipping. Who can seriously meditate upon this and not be silent under God’s most smarting rod?
[ii] Dives – the Latin word for “rich (man)” occurring in the Vulgate, Luke 16; commonly taken as the proper name of the rich man in that parable and used generically for “rich man.”

Monday, April 18, 2016

Church Attendance: Is it Important?

Church Attendance:
Is it Important?
by Earl Blackburn


BEING FAITHFUL AND CONSISTENT in attending a true church of Jesus Christ and worshipping God is extremely important; more important than you may realize. Irregularity and unfaithfulness in attending church conveys a certain message and produces definite short term and far-reaching effects. Failure to assemble yourself with the Lord’s people at all stated meetings for worship, unless you are sick or legitimately hindered:
1.       Reveals a cold heart and lack of fervent love to Christ who instituted local churches (Revelation 2:4 & 3:20).
2.       It shows disregard for the apostolic example and command of God’s Holy Word (Acts 2:41 ff.; Hebrews 10:25).
3.        It robs you of blessing and help for the days ahead.
4.       It cheats the brethren of blessings and help they would receive from your mutual ministry to them (see 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good works.” NIV).
5.       It grieves the Holy Spirit who dwells in each believer individually, and in the church as a whole.
6.       It grieves the Elders who oversee you and minister the Word of God to you (Hebrews 13:7 & 17; cf. I Thessalonians 5:12, 13).
7.       It can influence others, by your poor example, to become unfaithful, lazy, indifferent and selfish. (Many young Christians have said, “Brother or Sister So-and-So do not come regularly, why should I?’’). You are a letter known and read by all men (2 Corinthians 3:2,3a).
8.       It discourages brethren in the body with whom you are joined.
9.       It is a poor testimony to unbelievers who see your inconsistency (see John 13:35; cf. 1 John3:13, 14).
10.   It demonstrates your lack of vision for the future of that particular church of Jesus Christ in which you are a member (see Jeremiah 29:10,11).
11.   It makes you a covenant-breaker in your commitment to God and to the church where you are a member.
12.   It is a dreadful and empty step toward backsliding and apostasy (study Hebrews 10:25 in its context of verses 19-39).
13.   It shows disrespect for the best and the brightest day of the week, Sunday-the Lord’s Day, the day on which the Lord Jesus rose from the dead.
A Christian is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and this saving grace causes one to love Christ’s churches, (see Psalms 27:4, 84:1,2 & 10, 87:1-3). If there is no love for Christ’s churches or no concern to be identified with a local church, then one’s faith is suspect. True and saving faith creates a love for the things Christ loves. He “loved the church and gave Himself for it;” (Ephesians 5:25). John Owen puts it well when he says:
“It is the duty of everyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ, and takes due care of his own eternal salvation, voluntarily and by his own choice to join himself to some particular congregation of Christ’s institution . . . no particular person is to be esteemed a legal, true subject that does not appear in these His courts with a solemn homage to Him.” (Works, Vol. 15, ‘Duty of Believers to Join Themselves In Church Order,’ pp. 319-327).
May each of us say from his heart, as David said of old, “I was Glad when they said to me, Let us go into the house of the LORD” (Psalm 122:1).

Published with permission from the author.


About the author
Pastor Earl Blackburn
Upon completion of his theological education, he was sent to Utah where he labored as a church planting missionary for seven years carrying the gospel to the Mormons. He was then called to Trinity Reformed Baptist Church in La Mirada, CA where he pastored for 22 years. He also served as Chairman of the Administrative Council of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America (ARBCA) for eight years. He has travelled extensively preaching in Pastors Conferences in the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Bro. Earl is the author of Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive (SGCB – 2012), Jesus Loves the Church and So Should You (SGCB – 2010) and John Chrysostom (Evangelical Press – 2012), contributed to the book Denominations or Associations (Calvary Press – 2001), and numerous periodicals including Founder’s Journal, Reformation Today, and Banner of Truth, and has authored several booklets published by Reformed Baptist Publications including Covenant Theology: A Reformed Baptist Overview, Unconditional Election, Why You Should Join A Church, and Which Church Should You Join. He has pastored Heritage Baptist Church (SBC and ARBCA) in Shreveport, LA since 2006. He and his wife Debby were married in 1975 and have one son Caleb and in Bossier City, LA


He describes himself as orthodox Trinitarian, addicted to Christology, confessional Reformed Baptist (LBC1689), servant of the Word, & married to the most wonderful woman in the world. You may follow Him on Twitter to be edified further by this brother - (https://twitter.com/EarlofBlackburn).

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Profiting from God’s Word


   James 1:19-25    
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.



There is no doubt that there is a way in which you could be profited by the Word of God and there is a way in which, even though you listen, you are not profited. Not because of the preacher but because of the way you listen. It is possible to attend church and remain unchanged by the power of God’s Word. James is particularly concerned that we listen, accept and do the Word of God in view of the momentary afflictions that are upon us. Therefore, if you will be able to respond well to the tests, trials and temptations that come your way, then you have to absolutely depend on the Lord in His Word.
James has already told us that God birthed us by His Word – He brought us forth by the Word of truth… what this means is that we began our spiritual life as a result of the Lord sending His life-giving Word our way. Ipso facto, we must ask ourselves, ‘How do I milk more from the Word of God that I hear preached and taught?’ There is always more for you, depending on the way you receive it. Is there something wrong with the way I listen? Do I need to change the attitudes, the skills or the content of sermon I hear? Some of you have come to be part of this church because you felt that there was something very wrong with the content of the sermons you were hearing. Having come here then, did you change your attitude to the Word of God? Perhaps this is the reason why you would spend the whole of the Lord’s Day with us – showing your changed attitude. This is the reason that you have learnt to read the Bible more; you have learnt meditation and close, candid and personal application of the Word of God; and you have learnt to do the Word and you are not content to simply amass knowledge, for we so well know that knowledge puffs up.
But the question I ask everyone is, do you realize that your skills of listening are as important as the content and the attitude? For if you will be profited by the content of the Word you hear, then you have to not only have the right disposition but also the right skill of receiving it. James is concerned that your handle these situations in a manner that is distinctively Christian.
1.      Be quick to hear
This is the first instruction to us – in hearing, the adjective to describe our hearing is quick. That is, fast and ready and eager to hear, without objections. One of the greatest calamities of our day is the lack of readiness in hearing. Have you been to those churches where the preacher is cheered by people who are constantly shouting, “tell them!”? People listening stand up and raise their hands. Or there is so much clapping and shouting the preacher is simply drowned by the hearers? They need the instructions here.
But here we are blessed in this church – the readiness to hear is seen not simply in church attendance, but also in the listening during the service as well as the voluntary listening of sermons from the internet within the week. Why shouldn’t we? After all, we have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God … this is the good news that was preached to us.
This exhortation given to us – be quick to hear. Open up your physical ears and may the Lord open up your heart to receive what you hear. Hearing is absolutely important, and each one of us need, as a matter of priority, to avail himself all opportunities of hearing the Word of God. But this passage concerns itself in how you hear. Imagine that from this pulpit, you listen to the two sermons and a Sunday school lesson on Sunday – that is 156 teachings in a year. Let us say that you listen to one more sermon within a week, that is 52 more and shall we agree that each sermon is an hour? Suppose you also attend one conference in which you listen to 10 sessions of one hour each. By the way, it is a good Christian practice to attend at least one conference a year. In a year you have listened to over 200hours of preaching. Let us cut this to 150 hours in a year. But the question is how do you hear? Does this translate to a changed life? Do you love the Lord more and kill sin more as a result? This gives you a solemn responsibility of living accordingly. This is our concern.
But I also want to address those who listen to the minimum – you come to church late half past eleven, that is, one time to hear the morning service sermon, and leave immediately after the service. You barely have anyone to challenge your Christian living within the week. You do not attend any prayer meeting or a Bible Study. Do you see the problem? The Word of God is the bread of life that you ought to feed on. Be available to hear it. And if you don’t stop claiming that you are a Christian.
This instruction is followed with another – be slow to speak. First listen before you speak. Make sure that you think first of what you add, make sense of it before speaking. This moratorium on speaking is very common in this book and in Proverbs. For we more often than not, speak too much. But, why is it that the Lord gave us one mouth and two ears – to speak less and ear more! Yet, for many of us, we have learnt a natural instinct of irrational objecting to everything and anything you hear. You place yourself in a pedestal of ‘I know more and better!’ I pray that by the grace of God all objections, all thoughts that exalt themselves above the knowledge of God will be brought down.


Why are we to be quick to hear and slow to speak? The reason for this is that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. In other words, we cannot please God by emotional outburst. We must not justify anger even when we think it is accomplishing God’s own ends of retribution. Not that all anger is sinful, but the fact is the anger of man cannot and does not please God. No unwise, rash or angry speech is going to get approval from God.
2.     Receive the Word with meekness
The following exhortation urges us not only to hear but also to receive the Word of God we hear in a certain manner. It is both negative and positive. We have to negatively remove all impediments in order to provide a place for the Word of God to find a place in our lives.
Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
First, deal with remaining sin. The word translated filthiness means moral impurity or uncleanness. This is describing how heinous and odious sin is. This describes the quality of sin – it is pungently sinful, monstrously wicked, and outrageously ugly. The next phrase, translated ‘rampant wickedness, describes the quantity of this sin – it is rampant, abundant and so overwhelming. It is shockingly evil and exceedingly evil. This moral impurity is accompanied by abundance of wickedness, that is, it takes many forms, like a virus – constantly replicating into different strains. Yes, sin is a genius of mutation and multiplication. Sin is constantly attacking in different camouflage combat attire. This is why you must be very vigilant.
Sin is the greatest impediment to receiving the Word of God. Sin makes the hears dull, the heart impermeable, the will impervious and the whole person rebellious to the Word of God. However, we are called to be pure having been sanctified by Holy Spirit using His Word of God. No one will do this for us – it is for us to put it away. The point is that we have a responsibility in our sanctification. We are to get rid of all remaining sin, aided by the Spirit and His Word. Unless we put away all sin, the Word of God will not be profitable us, even if it has power to save our souls.
Secondly, receive with meekness the implanted Word. The Word used here of receiving means to welcome or accept in such a manner that appropriates its blessings. This is same word and manner is used to show how the Bereans received the Word of God. This was the response of the Thessalonians, when they heard God’s Word. This phrase has overtones of the new covenant promise, where God promised to put His law within the hearts of His people (thus equal to implanting the word of God). God Himself was to write the law in their hearts (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:24-32). For how can people who are not only infested with sin, but completely devastated by sin live a pure life? Except if God works in them. God Himself has to replace the old hearts with new spiritually active organs so that they would respond truly, and properly in obedience to the Word of God.
God’s Word is to be welcomed with meekness, that is with a gentle, teachable attitude that acknowledges it as the authoritative Word of God, submitting to it. Since this Word has already been implanted in us, then it shouldn’t be hard to submit to it, with God’s help.
We are to go on receiving the Word until it will be firmly established in us. Each day we are to grow, and keep on growing as we feed on the Word of God. We must never grow tired of hearing the Word, just as no rational person grows to a point where they say, ‘I am now fully grown, I will need no more food!” If anyone bears this attitude, he will starve to death. The Lord promises to look on the one who is humble and contrite in Spirit and trembles at His Word (Is. 66:2). In humility we are to continue to feeding on the Word of God.
Likewise, the Word of God is able to save our souls in the sense that having been saved by Christ, He sustains us by feeding us on His Word. If you give up on the Word of God, then you would die spiritually. When God implants the Word, He inseparably makes it part of the believer, permanently guiding and influencing every part of their lives.
3.      Put the Word into Action
It is possible to prepare to come to church, to sit from morning to evening, and yet deceive yourself. If all you do is listen, then James writes something for you to consider, ‘But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves’.
There are many who constantly listen to sound doctrine, good and balanced preaching of the Word, and are only hearers and so experts in self-deception. If you attend to the Word of God with ears only, and no action, know for sure that you are on the danger zone. You must be blinded to think that your spiritual health is only measured by what you hear – it is measured by what you put into practice, how you live.
This is because the experience of regeneration has to be followed by a life of a new creation. You are professor of religion and nothing more if you do not practice what you hear. He compares such a person with a person who looks at his face in a mirror, leaves the mirror and then immediately forgets what he looks like (vv.23-24). In his illustration, the mirror is the Word of God, that is, the perfect law of God, also called the law of liberty. The Word of God is liberating sinners not only from ignorance, but also it is the primary tool for our sanctification.
It is expected that when after eating, you walk up the sink, as you wash your hands you also will see your face and deal with any food that is stuck on your face or big piece of Sukuma wiki or a piece of bean is stuck between your teeth and correct or pick it before leaving the sink. What if you walk away from the mirror and say, “I will deal with it as I go.” The next thing you meet with a person and, yes… greetings begin and before you know it, you forget your Sukuma wiki piece stuck on your teeth and then you become a laughing stock.Mirrors are there to reveal our outward appearance conditions so that we may deal with them immediately. Like mirrors, the Word of God correctly accurately and truly reveals to us our inward spiritual condition.
The idea of the Word being compared to a mirror is in 1 Corinthians 13:12 and it sheds more light on the fact that the mirror that Paul had was dim, or dark, imperfect or incomplete but the mirror we now have is perfect. Again the word translated perfect is used on both passages and it means, mature, complete or fully developed. Paul promised Christians who walk in love that even if at the time the revelation was not fully developed, for it was dim, or partial (v.10),  a time was coming when they will see clearly from the perfect law of God. Thankfully this is what we have – we have the two Testaments fully revealed, and developed.
When you hear, and even as you hear the Word of God, you ought to be examining yourself and finding out what areas you ought to change. For a person who only hears the Word and then forgets remains unchanged and influenced by the Word of God, and he does not grow in the Christian life.
Even worse, James very categorically in verse 25 says that God will only bless the person who does the Word of God. God will bless the man who perseveres; a man who continues or practices and exercises what he hears. Undoubtedly, God will be pleased by his actions that are informed by His Word. God will not bless you automatically – He will bless you when you approach His Word in the right way, and do it. Do not simply tell people, “God bless you!” God blesses those who obey His Word.
See the following passages to prove this:
ü  Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Psa 19:11.
ü  Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, Psa 119:2.
ü  But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" Luke 11:28.
ü  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. John 13:17.
ü  "And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book." Rev 22:7.

Do you want to see if James was speaking the truth? Then try what he has said – be a doer of the Word.

Applications
v  The responsibility upon the preacher and the hearer. You therefore notice both me who preach, and you who hear bear a heavy responsibility for the success of the Word we proclaim. You cannot expect me to work hard to prepare what to bring to you and not expect me to expect you to listen well. But this is not just a matter of what we expect from each other – rather it is what God requires of us. This is why it is not encouraging for pastors when after the Lord’s Supper, many members leave for one reason or another.
v  There are those of you who are living with all manner of filthiness and rampant wickedness. You are told to put it away if you want God’s blessings. Listen – it does not make sense for Christians to sin. Even worse it is incredible that Christians should find any pleasure in sin. The Lord has said that everyone who thus hopes in Him (Christ) purifies himself as He is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1Jn 3:3-6).
v  If you will receive the Word of God properly and be profited by it, then you will need to prepare in advance… sleep early on the eve of the Lord’s Day. Take notes. Re-read the notes afterwards. Pray as you think of these things you ought to change. Call God for help. Persevere in it – yes keep on and keep up with these disciplines.
v  I finish with a poem I wrote this week thinking about how we are to relate with Christ:
Let us cleave to Christ more closely,
love Him more heartily,
listen to Him more keenly
receive the Word of God more meekly
live to Him more thoroughly,
copy Him more exactly,
confess Him more boldly,
follow Him more fully
serve Him more faithfully,
Glorify Him forever.


Friday, April 8, 2016

Sickness (3)

Spiritual Counsel to the Sick

1.       What will you do when you are sick?


The time must come when you, as well as others, must go down the dark valley of the shadow of death. The hour must come when you, like all your forefathers, must sicken and die. The time may be near or far off. God only knows. But whenever the time may be, I ask again, What are you going to do? Where do you mean to turn for comfort? On what do you mean to rest your soul? On what do you mean to build your hope? From whence will you fetch your consolations?
I do entreat you not to put these questions away. Suffer them to work on your conscience, and rest not till you can give them a satisfactory answer. Trifle not with that precious gift, an immortal soul. Defer not the consideration of the matter to a more convenient season. Presume not on a death-bed repentance. The greatest business ought surely not to be left to the last. One dying thief was saved that men might not despair, but only one that none might presume. I repeat the question. I am sure it deserves an answer. "What will you do when you are ill?"
If you were going to live for ever in this world I would not address you as I do. But it cannot be. There is no escaping the common lot of all mankind. Nobody can die in our stead. The day must come when we must each go to our long home. Against that day I want you to be prepared. The body which now takes up so much of your attention –the body which you now clothe, and feed, and warm with so much care,– that body must return again to the dust. Oh, think what an awful thing it would prove at last to have provided for everything except the one thing needful,–to have provided for the body, but to have neglected the soul,–to die, in fact, like Cardinal Beaufort, and "give no sign" of being saved! Once more I press my question on your conscience: "WHAT WILL YOU DO WHEN YOU ARE ILL?"
2.      Seek the Lord Jesus Christ when He may be Found
In the next place, I offer counsel to all who feel they need it and are willing to take it, –to all who feel they are not yet prepared to meet God. That counsel is short and simple. Acquaint yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ without delay. Repent, be converted, flee to Christ, and be saved.
Either you have a soul or you have not. You will surely never deny that you have. Then if you have a soul, seek that soul’s salvation. Of all gambling in the world, there is none so reckless as that of the man who lives unprepared to meet God, and yet puts off repentance. –Either you have sins or you have not. If you have (and who will dare to deny it?), break off from those sins, cast away your transgressions, and turn away from them without delay. –Either you need a Saviour or you do not. If you do, flee to the only Saviour this very day, and cry mightily to Him to save your soul. Apply to Christ at once. Seek Him by faith. Commit your soul into His keeping. Cry mightily to Him for pardon and peace with God. Ask Him to pour down the Holy Spirit upon you, and make you a thorough Christian. He will hear you. No matter what you have been, He will not refuse your prayer. He has said, "Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37.)
Beware, I beseech you, of a vague and indefinite Christianity. Be not content with a general hope that all is right because you belong to the old Church of England, and that all will be well at last because God is merciful. Rest not, rest not without personal union with Christ Himself. Rest not, rest not till you have the witness of the Spirit in your heart, that you are washed, and sanctified, and justified, and one with Christ, and Christ in you. Rest not till you can say with the apostle, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day." (2 Tim. 1:12.)
Vague, and indefinite, and indistinct religion may do very well in time of health. It will never do in the day of sickness. A mere formal, perfunctory Church membership may carry a man through the sunshine of youth and prosperity. It will break down entirely when death is in sight. Nothing will do then but real heart–union with Christ. Christ interceding for us at God’s right hand,–Christ known and believed as our Priest, our Physician, our Friend,–Christ alone can rob death of its sting and enable us to face sickness without fear. He alone can deliver those who through fear of death are in bondage. I say to every one who wants advice, Be acquainted with Christ. As ever you would have hope and comfort on the bed of sickness, be acquainted with Christ. Seek Christ. Apply to Christ.
Take every care and trouble to Him when you are acquainted with Him. He will keep you and carry you through all. Pour out your heart before Him, when your conscience is burdened. He is the true Confessor. He alone can absolve you and take the burden away. Turn to Him first in the day of sickness, like Martha and Mary. Keep on looking to Him to the last breath of your life. Christ is worth knowing. The more you know Him the better you will love Him. Then be acquainted with Jesus Christ.
3.      Glorify the Lord in your  Sickness
In the third place, I exhort all true Christians who read this paper to remember how much they may glorify God in the time of sickness, and to lie quiet in quiet in God's hand when they are ill.
I feel it very important to touch on this point. I know how ready the heart of a believer is to faint, and how busy Satan is in suggesting doubts and questionings, when the body of a Christian is weak. I have seen something of the depression and melancholy which sometimes comes upon the children of God when they are suddenly laid aside by disease, and obliged to sit still. I have marked how prone some good people are to torment themselves with morbid thoughts at such seasons, and to say in their hearts, "God has forsaken me: I am cast out of His sight."
I earnestly entreat all sick believers to remember that they may honour God as much by patient suffering as they can by active work. It often shows more grace to sit still than it does to go to and fro, and perform great exploits. I entreat them to remember that Christ cares for them as much when they are sick as He does when they are well, and that the very chastisement they feel so acutely is sent in love, and not in anger. Above all, I entreat them to recollect the sympathy of Jesus for all His weak members. They are always tenderly cared for by Him, but never so much as in their time of need. Christ has had great experience of sickness. He knows the heart of a sick man. He used to see "all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease" when He was upon earth. He felt specially for the sick in the days of His flesh. He feels for them specially still. Sickness and suffering, I often think, make believers more like their Lord in experience, than health. "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." (Matt. 8:17.) The Lord Jesus was a "Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3.)  None have such an opportunity of learning the mind of a suffering Saviour as suffering disciples.
4. Always Keep a Close Communion with Christ
I conclude with a word of exhortation to all believers, which I heartily pray God to impress upon their souls. I exhort you to keep up a habit of close communion with Christ, and never to be afraid of "going too far" in your religion. Remember this, if you wish to have "great peace" in your times of sickness.
I observe with regret a tendency in some quarters to lower the standard of practical Christianity, and to denounce what are called "extreme views" about a Christian’s daily walk in life. I remark with pain that even religious people will sometimes look coldly on those who withdraw from worldly society, and will censure them as "exclusive, narrow–minded, illiberal, uncharitable, sour-spirited," and the like. I warn every believer in Christ who reads this paper to beware of being influenced by such censures. I entreat him, if he wants light in the valley of death, to "keep himself unspotted from the world," to "follow the Lord very fully," and to walk very closely with God. (James 1:27; Num. 14:24.)
I believe that the want of "thoroughness" about many people’s Christianity is one secret of their little comfort, both in health and sickness. I believe that the "half-and-half,"–"keep–in–with everybody" religion, which satisfies many in the present day, is offensive to God, and sows thorns in dying pillows, which hundreds never discover till too late. I believe that the weakness and feebleness of such a religion never comes out so much as it does upon a sick bed.
If you and I want "strong consolation" in our time of need, we must not be content with a bare union with Christ. (Heb. 6:18.) We must seek to know something of heart-felt, experimental communion with Him. Never, never let us forget, that "union" is one thing, and "communion" another. Thousands, I fear, who know what "union" with Christ is, know nothing of "communion."
The day may come when after a long fight with disease, we shall feel that medicine can do no more, and that nothing remains but to die. Friends will be standing by, unable to help us. Hearing, eyesight, even the power of praying, will be fast failing us. The world and its shadows will be melting beneath our feet. Eternity, with its realities, will be looming large before our minds. What shall support us in that trying hour? What shall enable us to feel, "I fear no evil"? (Psalm 23:4.) Nothing, nothing can do it but close communion with Christ. Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith,–Christ putting His right arm under our heads,–Christ felt to be sitting by our side,–Christ can alone give us the complete victory in the last struggle.
Let us cleave to Christ more closely, love Him more heartily, live to Him more thoroughly, copy Him more exactly, confess Him more boldly, follow Him more fully. Religion like this will always bring its own reward. Worldly people may laugh at it. Weak brethren may think it extreme. But it will wear well. At even time it will bring us light. In sickness it will bring us peace. In the world to come it will give us a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
The time is short. The fashion of this world passeth away. A few more sicknesses, and all will be over. A few more funerals, and our own funeral will take place. A few more storms and tossings, and we shall be safe in harbour. We travel towards a world where there is no more sickness,–where parting, and pain, and crying, and mourning, are done with for evermore. Heaven is becoming every year more full, and earth more empty. The friends ahead are becoming more numerous than the friends astern. "Yet a little time and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry." (Heb.10:37.) In His presence shall be fullness of joy. Christ shall wipe away all tears from His people’s eyes. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death. But he shall be destroyed. Death himself shall one day die. (Rev. 20:14.)
In the meantime let us live the life of faith in the Son of God. Let us lean all our weight on Christ, and rejoice in the thought that He lives for evermore.
Yes, blessed be God! Christ lives, though we may die. Christ lives, though friends and families are carried to the grave. He lives who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel. He lives who said, "O death, I will be thy plagues: O grave, I will be thy destruction." (Hosea 13:14.) He lives who will one day change our vile body, and make it like unto His glorious body. In sickness and in health, in life and in death, let us lean confidently on Him. Surely we ought to say daily with one of old, "Blessed be God for Jesus Christ!"



Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sickness (2)

This is the second post of a three part series on Sickness by J C Ryle (1816-1900) Who served as the Bishop of Liverpool in the Church of England. Although this message is old, it is as useful today as it was then, for it is saturated with Scriptures and directed by a Christian world-view which is so lacking in our day. Enjoy your read.

The special duties which sickness demands on us

I should be sorry to leave the subject of sickness without saying something on this point. I hold it to be of cardinal importance not to be content with generalities in delivering God’s message to souls. I am anxious to impress on each one into whose hands this paper may fall, his own personal responsibility in connection with the subject. I would fain have no one lay down this paper unable to answer the questions, "What practical lesson have I learned? What, in a world of disease and death, what ought I to do?"

(a) One paramount duty which the prevalence of sickness entails on man, is that of living habitually prepared to meet God. Sickness is a reminder of death. Death is the door through which we must all pass to judgment. Judgment is the time when we must at last see God face to face. Surely the first lesson which the inhabitant of a sick and dying world should learn should be to prepare to meet his God.

When are you prepared to meet God? Never till your iniquities are forgiven, and your sin covered! Never till your heart is renewed, and your will taught to delight in the will of God! You have many sins. If you go to church, your own mouth is taught to confess this every Sunday. The blood of Jesus Christ can alone cleanse those sins away. The righteousness of Christ can alone make you acceptable in the sight of God. Faith, simple childlike faith, can alone give you an interest in Christ and His benefits. Would you know whether you are prepared to meet God? Then where is your faith?–Your heart is naturally unmeet for God's company. You have no real pleasure in doing His will. The Holy Ghost must transform you after the image of Christ. Old things must pass away. All things must become new. Would you know whether you are prepared to meet God? Then, where is your grace? Where are the evidences of your conversion and sanctification?

I believe that this, and nothing less than this, is preparedness to meet God. Pardon of sin and meetness for God’s presence,–justification by faith and sanctification of the heart,–the blood of Christ sprinkled on us, and the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us,–these are the grand essentials of the Christian religion. These are no mere words and names to furnish bones of contention for wrangling theologians. These are sober, solid, substantial realities. To live in the actual possession of these things, in a world full of sickness and death, is the first duty which I press home upon your soul.

(b) Another paramount duty which the prevalence of sickness entails on you, is that of living habitually ready to bear it patiently. Sickness is no doubt a trying thing to flesh and blood. To feel our nerves unstrung, and our natural force abated,–to be obliged to sit still and be cut off from all our usual avocations,–to see our plans broken off and our purposes disappointed,–to endure long hours, and days, and nights of weariness and pain,–all this is a severe strain on poor sinful human nature. What wonder if peevishness and impatience are brought out by disease! Surely in such a dying world as this we should study patience.

How shall we learn to bear sickness patiently, when sickness comes to our turn? We must lay up stores of grace in the time of health. We must seek for the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost over our unruly tempers and dispositions. We must make a real business of our prayers, and regularly ask for strength to endure God’s will as well as to do it. Such strength is to be had for the asking: "If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it for you." (John 14:14.)

I cannot think it needless to dwell on this point. I believe the passive graces of Christianity receive far less notice than they deserve. Meekness, gentleness, longsuffering, faith, patience, are all mentioned in the Word of God as fruits of the Spirit. They are passive graces which specially glorify God. They often make men think, who despise the active side of the Christian character. Never do these graces shine so brightly as they do in the sick room. They enable many a sick person to preach a silent sermon, which those around him never forget. Would you adorn the doctrine you profess? Would you make your Christianity beautiful in the eyes of others? Then take the hint I give you this day. Lay up a store of patience against the time of illness. Then, though your sickness be not to death, it shall be "for the glory of God." (John 11:4.)

c) One more paramount duty which the prevalence of sickness entails on you, is that of habitual readiness to feel with and help your fellow-men. Sickness is never very far from us. Few are the families who have not some sick relative. Few are the parishes where you will not find some one ill. But wherever there is sickness, there is a call to duty. A little timely assistance in some cases,–a kindly visit in others,–a friendly inquiry,–a mere expression of sympathy, may do a vast good. These are the sort of things which soften asperities, and bring men together, and promote good feeling. These are ways by which you may ultimately lead men to Christ and save their souls. These are good works to which every professing Christian should be ready. In a world full of sickness and disease we ought to "bear ye one another’s burdens,"   "and be kind one to another." (Gal. 6:2; Eph. 4:32.)

These things, I dare say, may appear to some little and trifling. They must needs be doing something great, and grand, and striking, and heroic! I take leave to say that conscientious attention to these little acts of brotherly-kindness is one of the clearest evidences of having "the mind of Christ." They are acts in which our blessed Master Himself was abundant. He was ever "going about doing good" to the sick and sorrowful. (Acts 10:38.) They are acts to which He attaches great importance in that most solemn passage of Scripture, the description of the last judgment. He says there: "I was sick, and ye visited Me." (Matt. 25:36.)

Have you any desire to prove the reality of your charity,–that blessed grace which so many talk of, and so few practice? If you have, beware of unfeeling selfishness and neglect of your sick brethren. Search them out. Assist them if they need aid. Show your sympathy with them. Try to lighten their burdens. Above all, strive to do good to their souls. It will do you good if it does no good to them. It will keep your heart from murmuring. It may prove a blessing to your own soul. I firmly believe that God is testing and proving us by every case of sickness within our reach. By permitting suffering, He tries whether Christians have any feeling. Beware, lest you be weighed in the balances and found wanting. 
If you can live in a sick and dying world and not feel for others, you have yet much to learn.
I leave this branch of my subject here. I throw out the points I have named as suggestions, and I pray God that they may work in many minds. I repeat, that habitual preparedness to meet God, -habitual readiness to suffer patiently,–habitual willingness to sympathize heartily,–are plain duties which sickness entails on all. They are duties within the reach of every one. In naming them I ask nothing extravagant or unreasonable. I bid no man retire into a monastery and ignore the duties of his station. I only want men to realize that they live in a sick and dying world, and to live accordingly. And I say boldly, that the man who lives the life of faith, and holiness, and patience, and charity, is not only the most true Christian, but the most wise and reasonable man.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Sickness

Editorial
This is a three part series on Sickness by J C Ryle (1816-1900) Who served as the Bishop of Liverpool in the Church of England. Although this message is old, it is as useful today as it was then, for it is saturated with Scriptures and directed a Christian world-view which is so lacking in our day. Enjoy your read.

The general benefits which sickness confers on mankind.
I use that word "benefits" advisedly. I feel it of deep importance to see this part of our subject clearly. I know well that sickness is one of the supposed weak points in God’s government of the world, on which sceptical minds love to dwell.–"Can God be a God of love, when He allows pain? Can God be a God of mercy, when He permits disease? He might prevent pain and disease; but He does not. How can these things be?" Such is the reasoning which often comes across the heart of man.
I reply to all such reasoners, that their doubts and questionings are most unreasonable. They might as well doubt the existence of a Creator, because the order of the universe is disturbed by earthquakes, hurricanes, and storms. They might as well doubt the providence of God, because of the horrible massacres of Delhi and Cawnpore. All this would be just as reasonable as to doubt the mercy of God, because of the presence of sickness in the world.
I ask all who find it hard to reconcile the prevalence of disease and pain with the love of God, to cast their eyes on the world around them, and to mark what is going on. I ask them to observe the extent to which men constantly submit to present loss for the sake of future gain, present sorrow for the sake of future joy,–present pain for the sake of future health. The seed is thrown into the ground, and rots: but we sow in the hope of a future harvest. The boy is sent to school amidst many tears: but we send him in the hope of his getting future wisdom. The father of a family undergoes some fearful surgical operation: but he bears it, in the hope of future health.–I ask men to apply this great principle to God’s government of the world. I ask them to believe that God allows pain, sickness, and disease, not because He loves to vex man, but because He desires to benefit man’s heart, and mind, and conscience, and soul, to all eternity.
Once more I repeat, that I speak of the "benefits" of sickness on purpose and advisedly. I know the suffering and pain which sickness entails. I admit the misery and wretchedness which it often brings in its train. But I cannot regard it as an unmixed evil. I see in it a wise permission of God. I see in it a useful provision to check the ravages of sin and the devil among men’s souls. If man had never sinned I should have been at a loss to discern the benefit of sickness. But since sin is in the world, I can see that sickness is a good. It is a blessing quite as much as a curse. It is a rough schoolmaster, I grant. But it is a real friend to man’s soul.
(a) Sickness helps to remind men of death. 
The most live as if they were never going to die. They follow business, or pleasure, or politics, or science, as if earth was their eternal home. They plan and scheme for the future, like the rich fool in the parable, as if they had a long lease of life, and were not tenants at will. A heavy illness sometimes goes far to dispel these delusions. It awakens men from their day –dreams, and reminds them that they have to die as well as to live. Now this I say emphatically is a mighty good.
(b) Sickness helps to make men think seriously of God, and their souls, and the world to come. 
The most in their days of health can find no time for such thoughts. They dislike them. They put them away. They count them troublesome and disagreeable. Now a severe disease has sometimes a wonderful power of mustering and rallying these thoughts, and bringing them up before the eyes of a man’s soul. Even a wicked king like Benhadad, when sick, could think of Elisha (2 Kings 8:8.) Even heathen sailors, when death was in sight, were afraid, and "cried every man to his god." (Jonah 1:5.) Surely anything that helps to make men think is a good.
(C) Sickness helps to soften men's hearts, and teach them wisdom.
The natural heart is as hard as a stone. It can see no good in anything which is not of this life, and no happiness excepting in this world. A long illness sometimes goes far to correct these ideas. It exposes the emptiness and hollowness of what the world calls "good" things, and teaches us to hold them with a loose hand. The man of business finds that money alone is not everything the heart requires. The woman of the world finds that costly apparel, and novel-reading, and the reports of balls and operas, are miserable comforters in a sick room. Surely anything that obliges us to alter our weights and measures of earthly things is a real good.
(d) Sickness helps to level and humble us. 
We are all naturally proud and high–minded. Few, even of the poorest, are free from the infection. Few are to be found who do not look down on somebody else, and secretly flatter themselves that they are "not as other men." A sick bed is a mighty tamer of such thoughts as these. It forces on us the mighty truth that we are all poor worms, that we "dwell in houses of clay," and are "crushed before the moth." (Job 4:19), and that kings and subjects, masters and servants, rich and poor, are all dying creatures, and will soon stand side by side at the bar of God. In the sight of the coffin and the grave it is not easy to be proud. Surely anything that teaches that lesson is good.
(e) Finally, sickness helps to try men’s religion, of what sort it is. 
There are not many on earth who have no religion at all. Yet few have a religion that will bear inspection. Most are content with traditions received from their fathers, and can render no reason of the hope that is in them. Now disease is sometimes most useful to a man in exposing the utter worthlessness of his soul’s foundation. It often shows him that he has nothing solid under his feet, and nothing firm under his hand. It makes him find out that, although he may have had a form of religion, he has been all his life worshipping "an unknown God." Many a creed looks well on the smooth waters of health, which turns out utterly unsound and useless on the rough waves of the sick bed. The storms of winter often bring out the defects in a man’s dwelling, and sickness often exposes the gracelessness of a man’s soul. Surely anything that makes us find out the real character of our faith is a good.
I do not say that sickness confers these benefits on all to whom it comes. Alas, I can say nothing of the kind! Myriads are yearly laid low by illness, and restored to health, who evidently learn no lesson from their sick beds, and return again to the world. Myriads are yearly passing through sickness to the grave, and yet receiving no more spiritual impression from it than the beasts that perish. While they live they have no feeling, and when they die there are "no bands in their death." (Psalm 73:4.) These are awful things to say. But they are true. The degree of deadness to which man’s heart and conscience may attain, is a depth which I cannot pretend to fathom.
But does sickness confer the benefits of which I have been speaking on only a few? I will allow nothing of the kind. I believe that in very many cases sickness produces impressions more or less akin to those of which I have just been speaking. I believe that in many minds sickness is God’s "day of visitation," and that feelings are continually aroused on a sick bed which, if improved, might, by God’s grace, result in salvation. I believe that in heathen lands sickness often paves the way for the missionary, and makes the poor idolater lend a willing ear to the glad tidings of the Gospel. I believe that in our own land sickness is one of the greatest aids to the minister of the Gospel, and that sermons and counsels are often brought home in the day of disease which we have neglected in the day of health. I believe that sickness is one of God’s most important subordinate instruments in the saving of men, and that though the feelings it calls forth are often temporary, it is also often a means whereby the Spirit works effectually on the heart. In short, I believe firmly that the sickness of men’s bodies has often led, in God’s wonderful providence, to the salvation of men’s souls.
I leave this branch of my subject here. It needs no further remark. If sickness can do the things of which I have been speaking (and who will gainsay it?), if sickness in a wicked world can help to make men think of God and their souls, then sickness confers benefits on mankind.
We have no right to murmur at sickness, and repine at its presence in the world. We ought rather to thank God for it. It is God’s witness. It is the soul’s adviser. It is an awakener to the conscience. It is a purifier to the heart. Surely I have a right to tell you that sickness is a blessing and not a curse, –a help and not an injury, –a gain and not a loss,–a friend and not a foe to mankind. So long as we have a world wherein there is sin, it is a mercy that it is a world wherein there is sickness.