Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father, after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:24)
From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
As I contemplate human nature and human life, what astonishes me is not that God allows and permits war, but the patience and the long-suffering of God. “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). He suffered the evil, perverse ways of the children of Israel for centuries; and now for nearly two thousand years He has patiently borne with a world that in the main rejects and refuses His loving offer, even in the Person of His only-begotten Son. The question that needs to be asked is not, “Why does God allow war?” but rather, “Why does God not allow the world to destroy itself entirely in its iniquity and its sin?” Why does He in His restraining grace set a limit to evil and to sin, and a bound beyond which they cannot pass?
Oh, the amazing patience of God with this sinful world! How wondrous is His love! He has sent the Son of His love to our world to die for us and to save us; and because men cannot and will not see this, God permits and allows such things as war to chastise and to punish us, to teach us and to convict us of our sins, and above all to call us to repentance and acceptance of His gracious offer. The vital question for us therefore is not to ask, “Why does God allow war?” The question for us is to make sure that we are learning the lesson and repenting before God for the sin in our own hearts and in the entire human race that leads to such results. May God grant us understanding and the true spirit of repentance, for His name’s sake.
– Martyn Lloyd-Jones
(Read this slowly and carefully with real meditation-MT)
Of the many video clips I watched of Billy Graham the week of his death, one in particular has stuck with me. Preaching in Southern Seminary Chapel in 1982, Graham said that at sixty-four years old, his greatest surprise in life was the brevity of life: ‘If someone had told me when I was twenty years old that life was very short and would pass just like that — I wouldn’t have believed it. And if I tell you that, you don’t believe it either. I cannot get young people to understand how brief life is, how quickly it passes.’
Time. Flying past us. Not enough of it. Slipping away from us. Always pressed for it. Wishing we were better at managing it. Feeling guilty we don’t have more for someone special or something noble. We are always running out of time. And Billy Graham is right — oh, how quickly it passes.
Time is a profoundly theological entity. An eternal God teaches creatures some of his greatest lessons in the vehicle of time. It has both a linear and a circular form — you can’t repeat time, even as it gives you many things on a repeating loop. All of it educates us about what God loves and about what it means to be human, giving us at least three great lessons.
1. THE PATH OF WISDOM RESPECTS TIME’S RHYTHMS.
‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1). It’s worth pausing right there, at the entrance to this most famous of reflections on time.
Scripture says there is a time for all things, but our world counters that, instead, all things can be done all the time. Most technology, for instance, has harnessed us to the lie that we can throw off the creaturely restraints of time and have access to everything always, without waiting, without stopping, and without needing to rest.
Electricity blurs the boundaries between working while it is day and sleeping while it is night. Our online life has become our timeless master, as several screens ping commands without end which we obey without question. Gyms, fuel stations, libraries, offices, and supermarkets are open 24-7 and we come to believe we can do everything all the time. There is no particular season for anything. We do what we want, when we want.
Wise people respect time’s rhythms. Dawn, morning, afternoon, evening, night. God made six days to work, one day to rest. This structures a week, which repeats over a month, and the months in years.
Many people try to live rhythm-free lives by simply doing whatever they feel like doing in any given moment, without proper attention to whether it is the right time to do that thing; this actually tears at the fabric of what it means to be human. We are now discovering that our constant, season-less attention to digital media is diminishing our personhood.
In years of pastoral ministry, I have not seen many families unravel who unswervingly observe the Lord’s Day together with deliberate joy and routine hospitality. I have witnessed others whose irregular devotion to the corporate body of the church is merely a symptom of the irregular rhythms in other areas of life.
2. THE PATH OF FOLLY SEEKS TO CONTROL TIME’S SEASONS.
Rhythms are not all there is in an ordinary life under the sun — there is ‘a time to be born, and a time to die’ (Ecclesiastes 3:2), there is ‘a time to weep, and a time to laugh’ (Ecclesiastes 3:4), there is ‘a time to love, and a time to hate’ (Ecclesiastes 3:8). These are seasons, not rhythms, for there is no predictability to their appearance in our timelines and often their presence takes us by surprise.
It takes the eye of faith to see that God ‘has made everything beautiful in its time’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11), because we often live with life’s ugliness and pain as much as its beauty and delight. Further, these are relational seasons: they involve people we love and lose, those we wrong and forgive, those we befriend and those who do us harm. We are profoundly relational beings and most of our lives are taken up with navigating the different seasons of our relationships and the effects they have on us.
Such seasons expose how little control we actually have over our lives. Zack Eswine says, ‘Many of our frustrations rise from our blindness to the change of season or to the pain or joy of them, and we struggle to adjust our expectations’ (Recovering Eden, 130). What do we do with those seasons which bring wrecking-ball damage to our tidy little realms? Where do we turn?
Ecclesiastes helps us to see that one of the seasons we do not control is the time for justice. ‘I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work’ (Ecclesiastes 3:17). There will be a time, one day, for divine time travel: ‘God seeks what has been driven away’ (Ecclesiastes 3:15). All the events of human history that have slipped through the hourglass of time into the past might be lost to us — but they are never lost to God. One day, he will dial back time and fetch the past into his present to bring it to account. Every time will have its day in court.
Foolish people seek all the answers to life in each and every season of life. But some seasons yield only questions, not answers. Some seasons bring a wound that will not heal; it might take a lifetime to learn that we ‘cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The story of my life has broken characters, jarring interruptions, unexpected joys and relationships caught up in unresolved tensions and difficulties. In God’s kindness I have, as yet, unfinished chapters. But my story is not the story. ‘The story reveals that there will be a time for judgment, and believers trust that judgment will finally prevail’ (Craig Bartholomew).
3. THE PATH OF LIFE EMBRACES TIME’S REVERSALS.
This perspective is the gospel’s now-and-not-yet voice speaking in the unfamiliar accent of Ecclesiastes. Today is the time of suffering and anguish, of work and pleasure, of toil and terror; tomorrow is the time of glory and judgment, of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting in world without end.
Now, this; tomorrow, that. The Lord Jesus fills our time with the unspeakable comfort of promised great reversals. Lose your life today for the sake of Jesus and his gospel; save it tomorrow. Gain the world now; forfeit your soul then. Be ashamed of Jesus in the time of this sinful generation; witness him being ashamed of you in the time of his coming in the glory of the Father and the holy angels (Mark 8:35–38).
Believers on the road to life know that the experiences of time can be reversed. The gospel turns the world on its head. Marred beyond human resemblance, the Servant of the Lord comes, in time, to shut the mouths of kings; buried with the wicked, he comes, in time, to divide the spoils of the strong (Isaiah 52–53). Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who are hungry, those who lose everything in the here and now, for the day of reversal is coming and the reward will be great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5).
– David Gibson
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
When the alarm went off at 4:59 am, I had a split-second thought of the utter realness of dying and standing before an utterly holy God with nothing to commend me but my own life.
The horror of it was only surpassed by the flash of reality: Jesus Christ died for this very moment.
Then it was gone.
My immediate sense was: This is the essence of what happens whenever someone is converted. This is how Jesus Christ is discovered to be real. This is how a person comes to cherish the love of Christ. Suddenly, for the first time, they see and feel, with the eyes of their heart, the undeniable reality of having to meet God with a guilty conscience.
The impact of that vision is devastating. It causes us to know that our only hope is a Mediator. Standing alone, with nothing to commend us but our own sinful life, we are utterly lost. If there is any hope for eternity in the presence of this God, we will need a Redeemer, a Substitute, a Savior.
At this point of terrible crisis, nothing shines like the gospel of Jesus Christ — “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). In the split second before he was there, I was granted to see the all-engulfing darkness and horror of the judgment — not a theological inference, not a merely rational conclusion, not a mere thought, but a glimpse with the inward eye full of knowing and feeling and certainty.
Our God is a consuming fire. He will not look upon evil. We are utterly lost. My guilt was so huge, so real, so unquestioned in that split second, that there is not even the remotest possibility of making excuses. It was sudden and all-enveloping and infinitely hopeless.
In this instant, Jesus is all that matters. O Christ! O Christ! Can my heart contain the wave of gratitude?! O Gift of God, my desperate and only need!
– John Piper
Psalm 87 is so good this morning! But one verse in it reminded me of growing up in a small moralistic and legalistic church in West Texas. There was no gospel preached in that church, and it was boring to me. But I have some vivid memories, one of which was the Sunday evening service, when they would always sing s specific song every Sunday night each week. I knew it was coming every time and I dreaded it– The Footsteps of Jesus. The first stanza was forever etched in my mind as a lost sinner growing into adulthood–
Sweetly, Lord, have we heard Thee calling,
Come, follow Me!
And we see where Thy footprints falling
Lead us to Thee.
Footprints of Jesus,
That make the pathway glow;
We will follow the steps of Jesus
Where’er they go.
The words meant nothing to me for years except as a religious memory. But I could have sung that first stanza and the chorus anywhere, anytime, by memory. Only later did I realize it was straight out of the Bible in Psalm 85:13–“Righteousness will go before Him, and shall make His footsteps our pathway.”
His footsteps our pathway; what is the pathway for the believer laid out in Psalm 85? It is marvelous! To summarize—
1. The path of favor (vss. 1 and 3); In the gospel is favor. He has made known to us his salvation. Merciful and kind favor so undeserved! In His favor, all His wrath is gone toward us forever because of the cross–“You have taken away ALL your wrath and turned from Your fierce anger.” The redemption of the cross did this permanently for us. Now favor is ours always every moment– forever!
2. The path of restoration (vss. 1 and 4) “You have brought back the captivity of Jacob . . . . Restore us, O God.” Deliverance from the bondage and captivity of sin and being restored to life and freedom. What a path!
3. The path of reviving and joy (vs. 6) “Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” The Holy Spirit gives this periodically, as we seek Christ and walk with Him.
4. The path of continual communion and obedience (vs. 8) “I will hear what God the Lord will speak; He will speak peace to His people.” This is the path of walking with Christ, hearing His voice, and joyfully conforming our lives to His ways, purpose, and path.
5. The path of gospel warning (vs 8) “But let them not turn back again to folly.” The gospel not only sets us free and encourages us, it not only strengthens and sanctifies us, it also warns us to not return to a path of past sin and this world again. It warns us to not turn back, not to look back, and to keep our hand to the plow. There is nothing in our past or in this vile world that can satisfy or help us. The past path of sin and worldly pleasure only robs the believer. It offers nothing for us except spiritual grief and danger. Keep on the path! Turn not back again to folly!
6. The path of promise (vs. 12) “Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.” The Lord will give what is good”; all He does is good and whatever He gives is always good for us, regardless of our evaluation of it. If it is not good for His child, He won’t give it; if it will do us true good, He gives it. Scripture says, “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” What promises the gospel gives us, exceedingly great and precious! We should feed daily upon the sweet and true promises of His Word. They are all ours, certain and unfailing–the path of promise!
7. The path of His footsteps (vs. 13) “Righteousness will go before Him and shall make His footsteps our pathway.” Picture it–His footsteps, the way of the Master, the path Jesus walked, the way He lived, the choices He made, the way of God’s commandments, the life of obedience He had–all of it is our pathway, which were His footsteps. His footsteps are the map set before us in Scripture, the highway of holiness, the path of obedience, and the steps of the Lord.
Wherever He leads, I’ll go–whatever He reveals, I will walk in that light–whatever He says, I’m bound with joy to do–what He wants for me is my daily bread, meat to eat that the world knows nothing about. Following Jesus is better than life itself. There is no other way for the Christian than one–His footsteps, our pathway!
– Mack Tomlinson
“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?” (Isaiah 45:9)
The majesty of God is magnified when we see him through the lens of creation out of nothing. He commands nothingness, and it obeys and becomes something.
Out of nothing he makes the clay, and out of the clay he makes us — the pottery of the Lord (Isaiah 45:9) — his possession, destined for his glory, in total dependence on him.
“Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3). It is a humbling thing to be a sheep and a pot that belong to somebody else.
There is another amazing statement about God’s majesty, which, when you put it together with God’s absolute power and rights as Creator, explodes with good news for us.
Isaiah 33:21! It says, “The Lord in majesty will be for us!”
For us! For us! The Creator is for us and not against us. With all the power in the universe and with absolute right to do as he pleases with what he made — he is for us!
“No eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4). “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
Can you think of anything (I mean anything) that is more comforting and assuring and delighting than that the Lord in his majesty is for you?
– John Piper
All the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)
Prayer is the place where the past and future are linked repeatedly in our lives. I mention this here because Paul links prayer with God’s Amen in this verse in a striking way.
In 2 Corinthians 1:20, he says (with choppy Greek that comes through in choppy English), “That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” Let’s try to smooth that out.
Here’s what he is saying: “Therefore, because of Christ, we say Amen to God in our prayers to show that God gets the glory for the future grace we are counting on.”
If you’ve ever wondered why Christians say Amen at the end of our prayers and where that custom comes from, here’s the answer. Amen is a word taken straight over into Greek from Hebrew without any translation, just like it has come into English and most other languages without any translation.
In Hebrew, it was a very strong affirmation (see Numbers 5:22; Nehemiah 5:13; 8:6) — a formal, solemn, earnest “I agree,” or “I affirm what you just said,” or “This is true.” Most simply, “Amen” means a very earnest Yes in the context of addressing God.
Now notice the connection between the two halves of 2 Corinthians 1:20. The first half says, “All the promises of God find their Yes in him.” The second half says, “That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
When you realize that “Amen” and “Yes” mean the same thing, here’s what the verse says: In Jesus Christ, God says his Yes to us through his promises; and in Christ we say our Yes to God through prayer.
– John Piper
ENTERTAINED BY VIOLENCE
We should also recognize that our present world has de-sensitized itself against the terrors of hell by creating horrors of its own, both real and in the name of entertainment. Death and violence are shown on television and in films in such horrific ways as to become unreal, particularly to the young. Terrors must become even more shocking to have any impact at all. Those who live in the twentieth century are tending to become increasingly more blase and fearless towards all authority, law and order. In turn this breeds attitudes toward God of either total apathy or open rebellion.
This is not to suggest that we should ‘play the world at its own game’ and try to shock by drawing lurid word-pictures of what we may conceive hell to be like. Nothing less than the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit working through faithful preaching of his Word will shake men from their present false sense of security. Our preaching needs to regain a proper balance between God’s law, judgement and eternal retribution for sin with the loving offer of God’s gracious pardon through Jesus Christ to hell deserving sinners.
Just as the joys of heaven are quite beyond our present imagination, so hell must be infinitely worse then our minds can grasp. The images of fire, darkness, chains, separation from God, are all suggestive of terrible prospects. Who among us can begin to fathom what an eternity of conscious remorse for sin and refusing Christ must mean? Truly Jesus says: ‘There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt. 13.50). He warns, ‘ What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?’ (Mark 8:37). In hell there is simply no respite. The occasional ‘glimpses’ we may catch of it are enough to convince us that this is a place of utter despair.
Thomas Boston, the 18th century Scottish divine, deals movingly with the awful tragedy of those who are still unregenerate, spiritually blind and hell-bent. In his book Human Nature in its Four-Fold State he writes:
If you knew your case, you would cry out: ‘Oh! darkness! darkness! darkness! The face covering is upon you already as condemned persons, so near are you to everlasting darkness. It is only Jesus Christ who can stop the execution, pull the napkin off the face of the condemned malefactor, and put a pardon in his hand.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne felt the urgency of this doctrine. On one occasion when journeying on his pony he took shelter from the rain in an engine house of a quarry. He simply pointed to the fire of the furnace, and said: What does that remind you of?’ Some time later the man who had been tending the furnace came and told M’Cheyne how God had used that ‘word in season’ to his own salvation.
M’Cheyne would often visit dying parishioners on Saturday afternoons. He said that before preaching he ‘liked to look over the verge!’ He was like Richard Baxter of Kidderminster of whom it was said that ‘he preached as a dying man to dying men’. We need this urgency in preaching today!
A MESSAGE FOR US TODAY
Yet what immense difficulties we confront. How may we preach this terrible truth to men? For a start, does the world we live in not seem remote from all this? Do not so many people around us today live in nice homes, wear fashionable clothes, hold educational qualifications and enjoy respectable positions in life? We may more easily envisage heaven. Are we therefore fools to feel concerned that hell is real and judgement will come?
We must remember that Jesus said: ‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away’ (Matt. 24:37-39). It is only faith that sees beyond this present world and only faith in God’s Word that holds us in the knowledge that these things are irresistibly certain and will come to pass in the end.
Of all truths we must first preach this to our own hearts. We need to feel and see the utter tragedy of countless multitudes who rush blindly on to perdition. Never will we preach it unless we first believe it ourselves.
But believe it we must, and preach it we must! Not as ranters, but earnestly, lovingly, persuasively, calling young and old alike to escape from God’s righteous anger against sin and to flee to Christ whose blood was spilled to save all who in faith will call upon his name. We must study how we may restore this note of warning into our regular evangelical preaching and to correct the distortion and imbalance brought upon the preaching of the gospel over this past century.
John Bunyan is still true to life in our day and age when he has the family and neighbors of Pilgrim mock his warnings to escape from the City of Destruction. ‘He is mad! Put him to bed’ is the only response they can make. We are likely to receive similar ridicule from many quarters today if we speak of hell.
Yet we should remember that we stand in the best of company — alongside Enoch and Noah, John the Baptist, the apostles — yes, and even in company with our Lord himself. May God raise up faithful preachers of his Word who will courageously and graciously declare this difficult but necessary truth to a careless, dying world.
– Howard Davies
In John Bunyan’s book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, the story begins with Christian discovering news which causes him great alarm. Clothed in rags and with a burden upon his back, he is distressed to learn from a book he has been reading that the city he lives in is soon to be destroyed by fire from heaven. He tells his wife and children of their terrible danger. They must immediately try to escape.
But the response of his family is to think he has gone mad! As night is coming on, they hasten to put him to bed in the hope that he might recover his senses by morning. However, the next day they find him even more troubled. He wanders alone in the fields, sighing and reading from the book in his hands. Occasionally he is heard to cry out: ‘What must I do to be saved?’
In days of great spiritual darkness those called by God to preach the gospel have a sobering task. Our present world is still as Bunyan saw it. It is the City of Destruction. Mankind lies under the same certainty of coming judgement from heaven. Yet tragically, the clear note of warning in preaching has all but disappeared. The truths of final judgement and hell have long been omitted from most modern preaching. Hell has become the forgotten doctrine of the twentieth century.
This change can be traced back to the late 18th and 19th centuries and the so-called ‘age of enlightenment’. Attacks upon the inspiration of Scripture sprang from claims that human reason was above the Word of God. The outcome of this view was that anything in Scripture which seemed unreasonable or unpalatable to man’s natural mind began to be disputed and rejected.
While the Church from the beginning had taught the certainty of hell and eternal punishment view which denied this teaching began to creep in. Annihilation, conditional immortality and universalism are all deviations which fly in the face of Scripture. As J. I. Packer has pointed out, each it a variation of the theme that either ‘God is too good to damn men’, or that ‘men are too good to be damned’. Such views have made deep inroads into the Church, causing the virtual disappearance of the doctrine of hell in preaching. This omission is far more damaging than most writers realize.
General William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, was most forthright in preaching the doctrine of hell. His sermons show how often he took up this theme and how lovingly he warned men and women to turn to the only Savior of mankind. Perhaps best known of all his sermons is ‘Who cares?’ (published in The War Cry of June 20, 1885) in which he graphically depicted his vision of a Rock in the midst of a raging sea where men, women and children were everywhere perishing. Nearly twenty years later, when his life was nearly ended, Booth had not weakened in his preaching of this truth. In 1904 he urged his officers to–
“Make people fell the truth as regards judgement, heaven and hell. All around you there is growing up a great peril of unbelief on these questions. You must fight it! … Men sleep on the verge of hell. You must fight to awaken them! You must startle them out of the fatal stupor in which they stand all unheeding on the brink of a burning hell!”
Perhaps the most remarkable sermon on hell was preached by Jonathan Edwards at Enfield, North America, in 1741. The sermon was called ‘Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God’ and was based on the text: ‘Their foot shall slip in due time’ (Deut. 32:35). Using most dramatic language, Edwards pictured natural man held by life’s thin thread over the pit of hell. Although many have criticized Edwards for what they consider to be ‘exaggerated descriptions of hell’, his motivation was correct. Edwards recognized the eternal issues at stake. He concluded his sermon by saying–
“This is an awful subject! May it be blessed for the awakening of unconverted souls to the conviction of their danger!… Let everyone who is out of Christ now awaken and flee from the wrath to come! The wrath of God is now undoubtedly hanging over this nation, or even over many in church congregations. Heed the angel’s message to Lot in Sodom:’Escape for your life! Do not look behind you. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.”
Bunyan would have approved. Indeed, the one whose approval counts above all others was himself the most awesome preacher of this doctrine. The terrible warnings of hell given by Jesus in the gospels must be forgotten.
In this ‘enlightened age’, all who preach God’s Word are under pressure to adopt wrong attitudes towards the doctrine of final retribution. The fact that this doctrine is so rarely mentioned gives hearers the impression that hell is nothing more than a curious idea from earlier centuries now made irrelevant by modern sophistication. To most preachers, hell has become a subject of embarrassment rather than a terrible and certain reality.
This has led to the doctrine of hell being isolated from all other doctrines. Failure to recognize that Christian doctrine must be viewed as a complete and integrated unit, rather than individual, loosely-related truths, always has a debilitating effect upon preaching. Not to preach and teach the awful reality of hell progressively weakens the doctrines of sin, law, judgement, the wrath of God, and the atoning blood of Christ. Indeed, even the character of God is impugned. Does God not mean what he says?
When the doctrine of hell is omitted, it follows that the terms ‘saved’ and ‘salvation’ become meaningless. This is why modern man neither sees nor feels the slightest need to come to Christ. And why should he? He feels no danger. What has he to fear? Certainly nothing from the ‘God of love’ so blandly promised by many today. Hearers are too easily assured. Many now preach as if all in congregations are assumed to be saved, and emphasis has swung away from need for the powerful inner work of regeneration by God’s Spirit alone to calls for ‘re-dedication’.
On one occasion when George Whitefield was in America, he sat under the thorough preaching of Gilbert Tennent. Whitefield later said: “I never before heard such a searching sermon. Hypocrites must soon be converted or enraged at his preaching! I fear I have brought comfort too soon!”
All this is a far cry from much evangelism today. Nowadays the typical example of ‘a successful growing Community church’ boasts of worship styles described as ‘fun!’ Because the goal is numbers, those who attend must always leave feeling good about themselves. This requires that ‘negative words and concepts’, such as law, wrath, judgement and hell must be studiously avoided in the rush for success.
Not surprisingly, modern-day conversions too often lack evidence of deep heart-conviction or mourning over sin. Many now vaguely speak of being ‘saved from their sins’ or even of ‘what Jesus has added to their lifestyle’. Most have no consciousness at all of having been saved from judgement and the awesome finality of eternal hell. It never seems to enter their head. And little wonder, for who has bothered to tell them? If the doctrine of hell is no longer part of the gospel, then surely we must question what the term ‘salvation’ means.
Should God graciously permit true revival to come again in these last days, there is one characteristic we may expect to find. It is that men, women and children will all receive a deep sense of the awe and greatness of God. In revival, men realize how dreadful is the nature of sin and how righteous is God. In revival, men begin to see how terrible it is to be eternally lost and how certain is divine judgement. A study of revivals show that ‘the fear of God’ is always present. That there is so little fear and awe of God in the churches today is sobering evidence against the claims of some who seem to confuse revival with noise and numbers.
to be continued–
On Sunday morning, August 5, 1855, 21-year-old Charles Haddon Spurgeon stepped behind the pulpit of New Park Street Chapel, London, to challenge his congregation to follow the example of one of the saints who had inspired his ministry, the apostle Paul. ‘As a preacher of the word,’ Spurgeon said of Paul, ‘he stands out pre-eminently as the prince of preachers and a preacher to kings.’
Young Spurgeon’s description of Paul was prophetic of his own future ministry. Within a few short years of that Sabbath morning, Spurgeon also earned the nickname ‘the prince of preachers’ as he proclaimed God’s word to congregants from every stratum of society. The boy preacher from humble beginnings even became the ‘preacher t kings’ as members of the British royal family filled his pews.
LESSONS FROM THE PRINCE OF PREACHERS
‘Spurgeon approached the Bible on his knees.’ I first heard the name ‘Spurgeon’ as a young boy in Scotland. However, when I became a man, and began to read his sermons and writings, he endeared himself to me even more. Today, as a minister, I find in his work and life a wonderful example of what it means to be a preacher of the gospel.
1) Preach the Word. As Spurgeon stood before the congregation of New Park Street Chapel that same August Sunday to discuss what it means to preach the word, he pointed his listeners to the veracity and sufficiency of the Scriptures. ‘Am I to take God’s Bible and sever it and say, “This is husk and this is wheat?”‘ Spurgeon said, ‘Am I to cast away any one truth and say, “I dare not preach it”? No — God forbid!’
Throughout his ministry, Charles Spurgeon maintained an unwavering commitment to the word of God. Over time it became apparent that whether he was preaching in the Crystal Palace, before thousands in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, or with his students, Spurgeon was a man of integrity. His integrity, however, extended beyond his own personal life to encompass his concern for the gospel and theology. His preaching was forever crystal clear and Jesus-centered — qualities that have chased me down through the corridors of time to make me an unabashed fan of Spurgeon.
2) Cultivate the Heart of a Shepherd. Following the example of his Good Shepherd, Spurgeon was filled with compassion for sinners and longed to see them safely returned to the fold of God. Spurgeon firmly believed God lovedsaving the lost. It was a conviction that fueled his ministry. His tremendous longing to see men and women respond to the offer of the gospel was only matched by his intolerance for those who tainted the gospel of grace with the fallacy of works.
‘I find a great many preachers are preaching that kind of doctrine,’ Spurgeon said. ‘They tell a poor convicted sinner, “You must go home and pray and read the Scriptures; you must attend the ministry.” Works, works, works — instead of, “By grace are you saved through faith”‘ (see Ephesians 2:8).
‘It is easier to spend five hours preparing for a sermon that to consecrate five minutes to prayer for our people.’
Spurgeon was also committed to tenderly feed his flock. Although he had very little formal education, there was something of genius about him. He read the primary sources of theological works, then took those incredibly complex concepts and distilled them down in a way that ensured the youngest person and the least educated person in the room could understand them. His clear and simple sermons are a shining example for all modern preachers to emulate.
3) Seek Godliness over Giftedness. Spurgeon was an absolute sensation in his time, preaching to over ten million people. During each service, stenographers recorded his message. At the end of evening, the sermon was sent to print to be sold in shops and rail stations the next morning. Yet, for all his gifts and influence, Spurgeon was a humble man.
There was nothing superficial or showy about him. He approached the Bible on his knees. He seemed to have a deep awareness that he had been called by the grace of God, and that it was that same grace which empowered and equipped him for the privilege of ministry. This genuine humility of heart allowed him to realize he could plant and water, but only God could make things grow. ‘Remember,’ Spurgeon admonished the congregation of New Park Street Chapel, ‘both trowel and mortar must come from him. The life, the voice, the talent, the imagination, the eloquence — all are the gifts of God!’
Spurgeon was convinced that the dangerous sin of pride could find him anywhere, even in the pulpit. Perhaps today’s ministers are even more vulnerable to hubris than in Spurgeon’s day. With the advent of social media in which ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ are the baseline for success, it is all too easy for a pastor to lose sight of the life of sacrifice to which he has been called.
As shepherds of God’s people, we are to give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word, but it is far easier to spend five hours in preparation for a sermon than it is to consecrate five minutes to prayer for our people. We think the congregation needs our giftedness, but the truth is, what they really need is our godliness.
God has called us to be servants, not celebrities. It is important for us to be in the hospital visiting the sick, and at the bedsides of those facing death. When we allow ‘the weed of pride’ to take root in our ministries, we soil the reputation of the gospel by embracing a double standard that allows us to proclaim certain truths without living in the light of the very messages we proclaim.
Let’s not kid ourselves. It is not what people say about us or what we say about ourselves that matters, but what God says about us.
Jesus is the chief Shepherd: we are the under shepherds. It was this pattern of ministry that Spurgeon exemplified for me. May I, along with all of God’s servants who endeavor to preach the gospel, hold firmly to the pattern set before us, fulfilling our call to ministry with holy reverence. May we all say with the apostle Paul and with Spurgeon, ‘Woe unto us if we preach not the gospel!’
– Alistair Begg