Worldliness, Pt 2

Supernatural power

While we may expect unregenerate men to have no discernment on this issue, it has to be a matter of concern when – given the prominent warnings of the New Testament – the demonic ceases to be a vital part of the belief of professing Evangelicals.

For the apostles, understanding the existence and wiles of Satan was essential to Christian living: ‘Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might … For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age’ (Ephesians 6:10, 12). This teaching determines the biblical view of human need.

Non-Christians are in a condition of blindness and bondage. They are under a power greater than the will of man and from which only Christ can set them free. Here was the recognition which led the apostles to repudiate all the world’s methods for winning disciples. Supernatural power had to be met with supernatural power: ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

Darkness and confusion

The biblical revelation on evil spirits is no less relevant to the way in which the church is to defend herself against the demonic. We are constantly warned that Satan works principally through doctrinal deception and falsehood. He was the inspiration for all the false prophets of the Old Testament: ‘He is a liar and the father of it’ (John 8:44).

His great intent is to bring darkness and confusion into the church as he did among the Jews. It was a lie of Satan which brought judgement into the infant church at Jerusalem (Acts 5:3). It was Satan who at Paphos opposed Paul on his first missionary journey by using a sorcerer ‘to turn away the proconsul from the faith’ (Acts 13:8).

The church at Corinth was in danger of allowing ‘a different gospel’ to be unopposed because ‘the serpent who deceived Eve by his craftiness’ was working to mislead her (2 Corinthians 11:3).

False prophets arise within the church yet they do not appear as such: ‘And no wonder!’, writes the apostle, ‘For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:14). The idea that Christianity stands chiefly in danger from the forces of materialism, or from secular philosophy, or from pagan religions, is not the teaching of the New Testament. The greatest danger comes rather from temptations within and from those who, using the name of Christ, are instruments of Satan to lead men to believe a lie. ‘False christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect’ (Matthew 24:24).

Resolute resistance

No one can rightly believe this without seeing the seriousness of error. Wrong belief is as dangerous as unbelief. To deny the deity and the work of Christ will shut men out of heaven as certainly as will the sin of murder (John 8:24; 1 John 2:22-23).

To preach ‘another gospel’ is to be ‘accursed’ (Galatians 1:6-9).Those who support heresies ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (Galatians 5:20-21).This means that a large part of the preservation and defence of the church lies in resolute resistance to falsehood and in forthright teaching of the truth. Such warnings as ‘beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees’ (Matthew 16:12), for they ‘shut up the kingdom of God against men’ (Matthew 23:13), run right through the New Testament.

The apostles, filled with the Spirit of Christ, suffered no toleration of error. They opposed it wherever it arose and required the same spirit of all Christians. Eusebius, the early church historian, wrote of their outlook: ‘Such caution did the apostles and their disciples use, so as not even to have any communion, even in word, with any of those that thus mutilated the truth, according to the declaration of Paul: “An heretical man after the first and second admonition avoid, knowing that such a one is perverse, and that he sins, bringing condemnation on himself”.’

Consistent with love

Yet today this kind of witness against heresy and error, if not altogether silenced, has become muted to an extraordinary degree. ‘Even the mildest assertion of Christian truth today sounds like a thunderclap because the well-polished civility of our religious talk has kept us from hearing much of this kind of thing’ (Wells, No place for truth, p.10).

The explanation often given by Evangelicals for the lack of confrontation with error is that a harsh militancy has done more harm than good. As Christians, it is said, we do not want to be party to the kind of strident controversy which has too often marred the faith. Dr Billy Graham has often blamed ‘fundamentalists’ for this fault.

But the fact that what the New Testament says on love has been ignored, is no reason why its injunctions against error should not be obeyed. That some have followed these injunctions in a contentious spirit is no excuse for others not to follow them at all.
A biblical contending against error is fully consistent with love; indeed it is love for the souls of men which requires it. The command to contend for the faith is not abrogated because some have failed to speak the truth in love.

Be watchful

However, there would appear to be a far more probable reason for the contemporary absence of opposition to error. It is the way in which the instrumentality of the devil in corrupting the truth has been so widely overlooked.

In this, as I have already said, we differ widely from Scripture. Instead of believers in the apostolic age being directed to listen to all views ‘with an open mind’, they were told how to ‘test the spirits, whether they are of God’ (l John 4:1). For there are ‘deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons’ (1 Timothy 4:1); false teachers ‘who will secretly bring in destructive heresies’ (2 Peter 2:1). There are words which ‘spread as a cancer’ (2 Timothy 2:17).

– Iain Murray

Worldliness, Pt 1

What is worldliness?

Worldliness is departing from God. It is a man-centred way of thinking; it proposes objectives which demand no radical breach with man’s fallen nature; it judges the importance of things by the present and material results; it weighs success by numbers; it covets human esteem and wants no unpopularity; it knows no truth for which it is worth suffering; it declines to be a ‘fool for Christ’s sake’.
Worldliness is the mind-set of the unregenerate. It adopts idols and is at war with God. Because ‘the flesh’ still dwells in the Christian he is far from immune from being influenced by this dynamic.

It is of believers that it is said, ‘the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary one to another’ (Galatians 5:17). It is professing Christians who are asked, ‘Do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?’ (James 4:4) and are commanded, ‘Do not love the world’, and ‘keep yourselves from idols’ (1 John 2:15, 5:21).

Apostasy generally arises in the church just because this danger ceases to be observed. The consequence is that spiritual warfare gives way to spiritual pacifism, and, in the same spirit, the church devises ways to present the gospel which will neutralise any offence.
The antithesis between regenerate and unregenerate is passed over and it is supposed that the interests and ambitions of the unconverted can somehow be harnessed to win their approval for Christ. Then when this approach achieves ‘results’ – as it will – no more justification is thought to be needed. The rule of Scripture has given place to pragmatism.

Converted to the world

The apostolic statement, ‘For if I still pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ’ (Galatians 1:10), has lost its meaning. No Christian deliberately gives way to the spirit of the world, but we all may do so unwittingly and unconsciously.

That this has happened on a large scale in the later-twentieth century is to be seen in the way in which the interests and priorities of contemporary culture have come to be mirrored in the churches — the antipathy to authority and to discipline; the cry for entertainment by the visual image rather than by the words of Scripture; the appeal of the spectacular; the rise of feminism; the readiness to identify power with numbers; the unwillingness to make ‘beliefs’ a matter of controversy – all these features, so evident in the world’s agenda, are now also to be found in the Christian scene.

Instead of the churches revolutionising the culture, the reverse has happened. Churches have been converted to the world. David Wells has written: ‘The stream of historic orthodoxy that once watered the evangelical soul is now dammed by a worldliness that many fail to recognise as worldliness because of the cultural innocence with which it presents itself. … It may be that Christian faith, which has made many easy alliances with modern culture in the past few decades, is also living in a fool’s paradise, comforting itself about all the things God is doing … while it is losing its character, if not its soul’.


This same worldliness has come to affect the way in which the gospel is often presented to the unconverted. Leonard Sweet has pointed out that Evangelicals and liberals are often similar in the inducements which they propose to their hearers why they should become Christians. Both offer such things as more success in life, a happier marriage, an integrated personality, more meaning to existence, and so on. In other words, the reasons for becoming a Christian are pragmatic and they are presented with stories of how it has worked for others.
The subject of worldliness, however, has a deeper bearing. Human conduct is not capable of being understood so long as it is imagined that man is self-contained and insulated from any power other than his own. Worldliness, it is true, is the outcome of man’s fallen nature, but the same fall which introduced that nature also brought man under the control of Satan and demonic powers. Worldliness is no accident; it is the devil’s use of such idols as pride, selfishness, and pleasure, to maintain his dominion over men.

The malice of Satan

What Satan proposes for man’s happiness is, in truth, the result of implacable malice towards the whole human race. He means to exclude God and to destroy men, and the system he has devised to do this is so subtle that man is a willing and unconscious captive: ‘You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him’ (John 8:44).

Scripture says a great deal on the reality of the demonic, and yet the subject is today largely passed over in silence. Human wisdom has no place for the very idea and diverges completely from the revelation in Scripture.

The devil is a mere fable and superstition, so men believe; according to Scripture he is the unseen enemy who constitutes the greatest problem for men in general and for the churches in particular. Man is in the midst of a supernatural conflict; and the adversary – ‘the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience’ (Ephesians 2:2) – is vastly superior to all the intelligence and energies of men. – To be continued

– Iain Murray

Keep Yourself in the Love of God

Satan is ever at work attempting to lead Christians into apostasy. He blinds their minds, inflames their lusts, pours out his temptations, involves them in false and corrupt reasonings, transforms himself into an angel of light, and uses signs and lying wonders, all to support his delusions. Satan never tires and never goes on vacation. Dr D M Lloyd-Jones said: ‘I am certain that one of the main causes of the condition of the professing church today is that the devil is being forgotten’.
Keep Yourself in the Love of God

The idea that professing Christians may not be true Christians is something not easily acknowledged in the present climate of the church. One finds it even more difficult to believe that ministers, with acknowledged gifts and abilities, whose teaching may have been blessed to many, could after all be themselves devoid of true grace. The fact that error and apostasy appeared so early on in the history of the New Testament church was to be a solemn warning to the church in later ages. We find that in a very short time after Pentecost, error was creeping in, for example, to the church in Corinth and to the churches of the Galatians. Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are full of warnings of the readiness of some to apostatise from the truth. The Epistles of John and the Epistle of Jude warn Christians of the danger of falling away. The threat of apostasy is highlighted in the letters to the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2-3. How frequent the promise there is made ‘to him who overcometh’.

Satan is Behind Apostasy

If that was true of the church in the age of the apostles, what will become of us, if we cease to be watchful and not use the means of keeping ourselves from falling away? The enemy of our souls is ever active in this respect. His malice is made clear by John Owen in his treatise on ‘The Nature and Causes of Apostasy from the Gospel’: ‘Satan is ever at work attempting to lead Christians into apostasy. He blinds their minds, inflames their lusts, pours out his temptations, involves them in false and corrupt reasonings, transforms himself into an angel of light, and uses signs and lying wonders, all to support his delusions. Satan never tires; he never goes on holiday’. Dr D M Lloyd-Jones said: ‘I am certain that one of the main causes of the condition of the church today is that the devil is being forgotten’.

Jude, in his General Epistle, gives us solemn warnings about apostasy but goes on to apply the preservative. At the outset of the Epistle he tells us that he was about to write on ‘the common salvation’ (v3) when something came to his attention which required urgent action. His focus was drawn to threats that caused him to exhort his hearers ‘to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints’. He was aware of Satan using men as instruments of this apostasy. ‘There are certain men crept in unawares’. It was like someone slipping poison into a glass. Certain men were perverting the grace of God and turning it into sensuality. He goes on to speak of their doom which is as certain as what happened to Israel in the wilderness, the fallen angels and Sodom and Gomorrah. (v 5-7).
Protection from Apostasy

Following all the warnings Jude addresses his readers with the remedy (verses 20-21). ‘But ye, beloved’. There must be a distinct difference as far as true believers are concerned. We are to go in the opposite direction from the apostates. There is one central remedy set before us: ‘Keep yourselves in the love of God’. If we were to follow some modern translations of verses 20-21 we would be considering four imperatives – build, pray, keep and look. But the original points to only one imperative – keep, and then to three participles – building, praying and looking. There is the what we are to do, and then the how we are to do it.

1. What We Are to Do
‘Keep yourselves in the love of God’. How is this possible? Two things are implied:

1) It is because God has set His love on us that we are Christians. There is no salvation outside that consideration. We are the objects of the benevolent love of God to hell deserving sinners. The apostle John said: ‘We have known and believed the love God hath to us.’ (1 John 4.16). Hold on to that. Keep yourselves in ‘the faith that worketh by love’.

2) It is because God’s love for us has become His love in us. ‘The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us’ (Rom 5.5). In His love to us He imparts to us His own nature. We are made ‘partakers of the divine nature’. (2 Pet 1.4). That nature is love. The commandments are the imprint of his nature and therefore we keep his commandments. Love becomes the moving power or principle within us. ‘God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him,’ (1 John 4.16). There is a reciprocal love in the relationship. Jesus said: ‘As the Father hath loved me so have I loved you, continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments ye shall abide in my love;even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.’ (John 15.9-10). The triune God comes to love us with a love of complacency.

2. How We Are to Do It
Three things are required:

1) ’Building up yourselves on your most holy faith’. We are to build on the only true foundation and as stones we are being fashioned into the temple of the church, which is Christ’s body. Instruction in the truth and spiritual illumination are the means for preserving our souls. ‘Gospel truth is the only root from which gospel holiness grows’ (John Owen).

2) ‘Praying in the Holy Ghost’. There is saying prayers, as Saul the Pharisee did frequently, but only when he was wrought upon by the Holy Spirit could it be said, ‘Behold he prayeth’ (Acts 9.11). Prayer is the vital breath for maintaining the spiritual life.

3) ‘Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life’. The Lord Jesus Christ has given eternal life to His own. (John 17.2) It is ‘the life proper to the age to come’ and it has entered our souls in this present age. ‘Ours is a religion’, said J G Vos, ‘whose centre of gravity lies beyond the grave in the world to come’. That is where our focus must be.

Keeping Short Accounts

The Puritans used to say: ‘Keep short accounts with God and men’. The truth is that there is no such position as standing still in the Christian life. ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.’ (Phil 2.12-13). If we are not going forward we are going back and that is where the seeds of apostacy are liable to be sown in the soul. The neglect of warnings leads to a false sense of security. We need to be constantly reminded that only ‘he that endureth to the end shall be saved’ (Matt 10.22). It is by faith that we will overcome. But ‘the faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance’. (John Murray). According to Hebrews 10.37-39, if one perseveres in faith he will gain his life; if he shrinks back he will prove himself reprobate. In the words of R L Dabney, ‘the saint is a penitent until he reaches heaven’, and surely Philip Henry was right when he said, ‘I will take my repentance to the gates of heaven’.

– John J. Murray

Characteristics of True Faith, Pt 2

The next characteristic of true faith is that it stands on the promises of God, trusting in the promises. The writer is still talking about the faith of Abraham but now he brings in Sarah. Both had to be committed to the promise because it pertained to their offspring. ‘Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed’ (v11).

It seemed an impossible situation; Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90. She was well past the age of child bearing. When frst hearing the news of an heir, unbelief had a temporary hold and her faith wavered: ‘Sarah laughed within herself’ (Genesis 18:12). ‘And the Lord said unto Abraham, “Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall of a surety bear a child, which I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord?”‘ (Genesis 18:13-14).

What brought about the change? She stopped looking at the problem and started looking to the Lord, ‘because she judged him faithful who had promised’ (v11). She took her mind off of the problem to the Promiser. He became the object of her faith. ‘True faith’, says Sinclair Ferguson, ‘takes its character and quality from its object and not from itself’.

Is anything too hard for the Lord? He created the world out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3). He promised and he will bring it to pass. Abraham and Sarah had a child.

True Faith is Tested
The third characteristic of true faith is that it is tested: ‘By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac’ (11:7). There is a Jewish tradition that Abraham was tested on ten different occasions. If so, certainly this must have been the most painful. The commandment forbade the taking of life and Isaac was the best gift God had given to him. In Isaac, the promise was to be fulfilled and yet he was to be taken away. Does providence run contrary to the promise?

But Abraham believed that the God who had promised was able to raise him even from the dead. He did, in effect, offer him in will, heart, and affection. God accepted the will for the deed, ‘for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me’ (Genesis 22:13) and ‘from hence also he received him in a figure’ (v19).

As Christians we should not be afraid of trials and troubles. Indeed, an undisturbed life is great cause for concern. James begins his epistle with these words: ‘My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (trials) (James 1:2). It is the great common experience of the Redeemer and the redeemed, There is a purpose in it, ‘Knowing this that the trying of your faith works patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing’ (v3-4).

Trials and tribulations blow away the chaff and produce endurance in a life of undivided obedience. Peter, in his first epistle, speaks of rejoicing in our great salvation, and then he brings in a caution, ‘though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:6-7). The genuine element in the faith is proved by a process similar to that of refining and is found to be more valuable than the precious metals. The result is what meets the approval of God and redounds to his glory.

Many passages of Scripture warn us of the dangers of a temporary faith and a faith that fails. The faith of the Hebrew Christians was wavering: ‘Cast not away your confidence’ (Hebrews 10:35). The writer then goes on to say, ‘we are not of them that draw back’ (v39), after which he immediately introduces us to the gallery of faith, of whom it is said ‘these all died in faith’ (Hebrews 11:13). Faith dominated their lives while trials abounded.

As John Calvin says, ‘their achieving such triumphs with limited resources ought to put us to shame.’ Luther puts it his own way: ‘When Abraham shall rise again at the last day, then he shall chide us for our unbelief, and will say: “I had not the hundredth part of the promises which ye have, and yet I believed.”‘ (Tabletalk, 2009, p233).

The ‘cloud of witnesses’ are there to stir us up to endure unto the end (Hebrews 12:1-4). This faith, as Luther maintained, is an operative grace, it is an overcoming grace, and ultimately, it is a victorious grace. God grant that it may be ours!

– John J. Murray

Characteristics of Truth Faith, Pt 1

There are many misconceptions about faith these days. Some think of it as a commodity, saying ‘I wish I had your faith.’ Others think of it simply as the means of salvation to deliver us from hell. Much of the evangelistic preaching in recent years has been directed in that way. ‘Believe and on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved’ they say, then a decision is made and it is as if there were no further implications for an ongoing life of obedience. Many are under the impression that their exercise of faith frees them from the law; ‘Once saved, always saved’ after all. Such faith is superficial.

Is this the faith that is so highly extolled in Hebrews 11? In that eulogy on faith, Abraham is given the chief place. He is more fully portrayed that anyone else in the gallery as the father of the faithful. Reference is made to him some ninety times in the New Testament. He is the pattern that we are to follow.

There are three things in particular in his life that demonstrate the nature of true faith–

True Faith Changes our Entire Perspective

In God’s Dealings with Abraham, we have the beginning of the redemptive activity that will lead to the unfolding of the covenant of grace. We see three things:

The Divine Initiative– Abraham is a shining example of the divine initiative. At the time of his call he was living in the Ur of The Chaldees, ‘worshiping other gods’ (Joshua 24:2), and in pagan darkness. He had no thought of the true God.

Suddenly, as we are told in Acts 7:2, by the martyr Stephen, ‘the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesapotamia’. He is described as ‘the God of glory’ because his glory is his self-manifestation. What kind of reaction this must have produced in Abraham’s mind! It was like the revelation that Isaiah had in the temple, a sovereign revelation and call, and he was given grace to respond to it. So it is for everyone that is ‘born of the Spirit’.

Absolute Obedience– ‘By faith Abraham, when he was called… obeyed’ (Hebrews 11:8). It was an efficacious call. He had not fulfilled the purpose of his creation– to glorify God. He had rather dethroned the living God and set up idols of his own imagination. God’s call was to bring Abraham back to allegiance to himself and there must be an immediate and unqualified response. He had to come out from among the pagan worshipers and make God his own God and his inheritance. The Word of God became everything to him and he did nothing that was not by the command of God. As Thomas Manton observes: ‘Faith is the life of our lives, the soul that animates the whole body of obedience’.
Separation to God– Abraham’s entire perspective changed. He was formerly living for the riches and honours of this life, but he began to live life in terms of his final destiny. He was set free from the desire to make this world his home because God promised him an inheritance. This inheritance was a ‘better country’ and ‘a city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God’. It is the fatherland or the homeland where God dwells. He has prepared it for people and he is their ultimate inheritance. The whole plan is beautifully portrayed in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, where we see Christian fleeing from the City of Destruction and journeying on to the Celestial City. – to be continued

– John J. Murray

No Holiness, No Heaven

The grace that does not make a man better than others is a worthless counterfeit. Christ saves His people,
not IN their sins, but FROM their sins. Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.
– Charles Spurgeon

What is the reason that some believers are so much brighter and holier than others? I believe the difference,
in nineteen cases out of twenty, arises from different habits about private prayer. I believe
that those who are not eminently holy pray little, and those who are eminently holy pray much.
– J. C. Ryle

Be dogmatically true, obstinately holy, immovably honest, desperately kind, fixed upright.
– Charles Spurgeon

Blind zeal is soon put to a shameful retreat, while holy resolution, built on fast principles,
lifts up its head like a rock in the midst of the waves.
– William Gurnall

The well-defined spiritual life is not only the highest life, but it is also the most easily lived.
The whole cross is more easily carried than the half. It is the man who tries to make the best of both
worlds who makes nothing of either. And he who seeks to serve two masters misses the benediction of both.
– Henry Drummond

“If your religion does not make you holy, it will damn you. It is simply painted pageantry in which to go to hell.
– C. H. Spurgeon

Spiritual Drowsiness, Pt 2

The way to avoid sleeping when poisonous gas fills the room is to run for fresh air and to breathe deeply. We owe it to God and to our salvation to run for fresh oxygen for the soul in this present crisis. What is to stop us all from a radical re-appraisal of our present life-style?

Sleep is a remarkable phenomenon. It is a kind of animated death. In sleep we are
oblivious to the real world. The thief may be at the door, or the fire already running
up the curtains of the bedroom. But when asleep we neither notice, or know, or care.
On the other hand, in the dreams of sleep, we care for what is unreal and delusive.
Men flee from savage beasts, or fall from cliffs, or sail to treasure islands. Our attention
is taken up with what is fictional and fictitious.

Just so is the sleep which comes upon men’s souls in ages when the gospel is weak. Armies of heresies threaten the church and people of God; but the church’s watchmen are so fast in slumber that they neither realise nor care. When here and there a faithful voice is raised in warning, there is a general outcry and a demand for the maintenance of silence. Or there may happen some scandalous abuse which threatens to mar the church’s reputation and her credibility. But when sleep has laid the faculties of the soul to rest, men resent the unpopular question and seek to smother the healthy spirit of enquiry. Nothing is so unwelcome to a sleepy man as the alarm which summons him from his bed.

When soul-drowsiness is widespread, men are all taken up with childish dreams and empty trifles. They make great sound and bluster about small matters of procedure and right order. But they may as easily overlook the great matters of justice, mercy and truth as those Pharisees who ‘strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel’ (Matt. 23:24). The cry is for more sleep, and woe be to him who tries to wake them!

None who is even half-awake needs to wonder what the explanation is for the state of our modern societies. True religion is banished from the schoolroom and from the media. The slaughter of aborted infants proceeds like a daily holocaust, Governments meet to legislate away the Sabbath and to decriminalise sodomy. Leprosy is breaking out in every limb of the body politic and there is no physician to heal us. Scarcely a voice is raised in high places to call us to repentance. Such voices as there are are either not heard or else not heeded. Poor nations! Alas, that so great a civilisation as ours should be so deep in spiritual slumber!

It is not surprising that evangelical Christians at this hour should feel numb with battle fatigue. It is no great miracle if they too, catching the general spirit of drowsiness, are tempted to give in to unresisted slumber at this hour. But this is what we must at all costs refuse to do.

By some means or other Christians must contrive to stay awake and on their feet in these days. If, in order to do so, we must cast out the television set or cut off our right arm, we had better do so. To fall asleep at this hour is treason to Christ and to our own souls. It is to lose our ‘full reward’ (2 John 8), or, worse still, to lose our reward and our soul altogether.

The way to avoid sleeping when poisonous gas fills the room is to run for fresh air and to breathe deeply. We owe it to God and to our salvation to run for fresh oxygen for the soul in this present crisis. What is to stop us all from a radical re-appraisal of our present life-style?

Instead of meeting for merely social purposes, might we not as Christians meet to read good books to one another? The time which we have formerly devoted to easy viewing and listening, might we not devote, in part at least, to secret prayer or family prayer or neighbourhood prayer? The hours which have been spent cruelly criticising the preacher could in future be put to better use in the careful study of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Some of the energy formerly spent in excessive recreation and socialising might be more productively spent visiting the widows in their affliction ( James 1:27) and in comforting the downcast.

Above all others, preachers must cry to heaven for grace to stay awake at this hour. Let them plunge their heads in the cold waters of God’s truth till their dreams of worldly ease are thrown aside. Never did the world more urgently need an awakening ministry than now. Never was there a more crucial hour for lifting high and blowing loud on the gospel trumpet. All heaven watches as we strive to keep awake while all others sleep. It will stand to our eternal credit if we keep at our post. Sooner than we think perhaps may come the dawning of a new and better day. The wakeful servant must one day sit in honor at his Master’s table (Luke 12:37).

— Maurice Roberts

Spiritual Drowsiness

There are not lacking here and there signs that good Christians are suffering from a kind of spiritual mental fatigue. In our fellowships, iron rarely sharpens iron any longer. Much preaching that is orthodox lacks that ring of conviction which is needed to thrust it home into sinners’ consciences. A guilty tameness smothers our zeal. Prayers are hum-drum and predictable. The apostolic fire has died down and looks like dying away. The gospel, even where it is preached at all, is clothed with the impeding garments of excessive politeness and respectability. Our sermons are frequently no more than a gentle homily or a quiet talk about good religious ideas. Slowly and imperceptibly evangelical people are coming to terms, emotionally and intellectually, with the spirit of the age. Though we should not care to say so, we nonetheless betray our inner despair of ever seeing revival, or even a reversal of the present trend downwards.
This weariness of soul is not difficult to explain. A deep-seated disappointment has paralysed many Christian people in our day. Both preachers and hearers are disheartened. The recovery of the doctrines of purer orthodoxy some thirty years ago has not yet been matched by a recovery of spiritual power or influence in society. The world passes by the doors of many excellent churches with as much unconcern today as it did when the old theological liberalism reigned in them, and before new and biblical ministries began in them. Preachers who deserve to be listened to by a thousand have to be content with less than fifty hearers.

The vision which many had only a few years ago has not been realised. The mirage has not yet become a pool of water. The promises of God are seemingly at variance with his providences. A bewilderment and a confusion has come upon us. There is a widespread feeling that something has gone wrong. Meanwhile we all grow older. There is an unspoken agreement that the fight is too hard for us. When shall we be able to withdraw from the scene of battle with at least some semblance of honour?

Spiritual drowsiness is very catching. The air soon becomes heavy with it. Active life and movement, once so noticeable, gradually dies down as one after another succumbs to the spirit of drowsiness. As the voices of young children in a nursery die down one by one at their rest time, so the once active testimonies of God’s people become gradually silent in a sleepy time.

The Bible portrays for us times when the people of God enter into a period of collective sleepiness. The age in which Moses was born was such a time. Israel had settled down in Egypt. Even their hard servitude did not take from them a love of the Egyptian life-style. They were very loath to follow Moses out into the wilderness. They had dreamed too many this-worldly dreams to want to give up the leeks, the onions and the garlic for the uncertain prospect of receiving their ‘Promised land’. Four hundred years in Egypt had sent Israel fast asleep.

The days of the Judges were another period in which the church of God was largely asleep. It is amazing to us as we read the Old Testament to see how flagrantly Israel was disobeying God’s Word at the period of the Judges. They appear to have been blind to the plainest teachings given so recently by God through Moses. Even some of the Judges themselves had serious blemishes in their faith and conduct. ‘Every man did that which was right in his own eyes’. If we require an explanation for the state of life at that time, we must surely put it down to a widespread and almost universal soul-sleep.

One might have hoped better of the church in New Testament times. But it was not to be so. For a thousand years, till Luther woke up with a start in Germany, the European church slept soundly while Bible, gospel and grace lay hidden out of popular sight. Only here and there was there a warning cry from some remote Italian valley or passing Lollard preacher. Europe, however, as a whole slept on. Dark night covered the one continent of mankind which ought to have carried the torch of gospel truth to every corner of the globe.

It is solemn, too, to recall the words of Christ which inform us, evidently, that the very last period of world history will again be characterised by widespread spiritual sleepiness: ‘They all slumbered and slept’ (Matt. 25:5). Not only the nominal church, represented by the five foolish virgins, will be asleep when the Bridegroom returns; but also the true church herself, though certainly prepared, will have sunk down with weariness and drowsiness just before the wedding day dawns.

The above instances – not the only ones we could cite – are evidence enough to remind us that a blanket of sleep may fall across large parts of the visible church in some ages. This is a sheer fact of history and one which the Word of God presents to us for our warning. No doubt there are many who sleep in the best ages of the gospel and under the liveliest of preaching. No doubt society is at best little more than half-awake at any time to the moral and spiritual duties of God’s Word. Nevertheless, it would seem to be a clear lesson of Scripture that some ages are marked by a sleep that is well-nigh universal.

– to be continued

Maurice Roberts

What is Redemption?

Recently, I stood on top of Mount Nebo where Moses climbed his last mountain and looked out on the Jordan Valley and the Promised Land.

It was surreal to think I was in the same area where one of the greatest Old Testament characters was and died. I’ve always wondered about that. Why did God seem so severe with Moses’ indiscretion?

I certainly don’t want to demur the Lord God or insinuate that He has some questions He needs to answer. God doesn’t give an account of Himself to anyone, much less me. But why was Moses not allowed to enter the promise he labored 40 years to achieve? It does make you pause when you think of his illustrious career as a deliverer. He was 80 years old when God called him to redeem the people of God from Egyptian bondage. Moses resisted God’s call as much as he could. He wanted nothing to do with the task. Repeatedly, the people challenged, contested, and rebelled against Moses personally. On a couple of occasions they would have stoned Moses, had not God intervened. Leading hundreds of thousands, if not a million or more, stubborn and unbelieving ex-slaves in a barren wasteland called ‘wilderness’ was not the dream job of any Hebrew man. Here was a person that withstood and brought to its knees one of the greatest civilizations of history. In one of Israel’s rebellions, God had told Moses that He would make a great nation from his descendants. But Moses argued against that privilege, and as a faithful mediator interceded for the deliverance of the people’s sins.

Mount Nebo, Jordan.

When you examine Moses’ infraction, the sin that kept him from entering the Promise Land, you can’t help but think that it seems the penalty doesn’t match the crime.

It wasn’t that Moses opposed doing what God told him, but in a moment of anger with the people’s unbelief and constant complaining, he forgot the method God had prescribed to fetch water out of the rock.

He was told to speak to the rock, but having done this once before, Moses did as he had done years earlier: he struck the rock. And even though Moses didn’t do it exactly as God prescribed, the Lord did not withhold the blessing. He still gave plenty of water to the nomadic nation as a gushing fountain poured out of the rock.

After all the sacrifice, hardship, and grief, Moses was not allowed into the land flowing with milk and honey. He had not obeyed the specific instruction and thus failed to glorify God before the people. All of this flooded my mind as I stood there that day on the summit of Nebo. Why not let old Moses into the land? Where was the hope of redemption for Moses? Who was there to intercede and mediate for his sin? There seems no deliverance for the great deliverer.

The lawgiver of Israel could not enjoy the thrill of entering the land, for this reason: Moses represented the Law, and by the Law, there is no hope of entering the promise of God’s rest. The Law could not grant access because the Law brings no one salvation, not even Moses. The Law cannot save; only by grace through faith are we delivered. Redemption is not the work of the Law; it is the work of grace.

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. –John 1:17

Rule keeping or legal compliance does not produce redemption.

The Bible says if you have kept all the commandments but one, you have violated the entire law. Moses simply did not do what God said and, therefore, he was guilty of breaking all the Law. “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20).

Redemption is by the blood of another, Jesus Christ. He is our Redeemer. But too many of us are not okay with leaving our reclamation totally to someone else. We want Jesus to save us from sin and self and the world. We want Him to rescue us from our problems—sickness, financial ruin, marital storms, rebellious children, stubborn parents, anxiety, and rejection by others. We cry for His help, but His help must come on our terms. Like Moses, we will seek the miracle from the rock, but we will do it our way. Whatever the dilemma we are in, we are not too eager to simply “trust Jesus.” We want Jesus’ power but our control. Yet, the key to redemption, whether the need is liberation from our sin or suffering, is simple faith in our Redeemer.

Once again, Jesus is our Redeemer, or to put it another way, Jesus is our redemption. It is He, and not we, that has done the work of our deliverance. It is not our faith that redeems us but Christ Jesus Himself that redeems His people. Not until we truly believe this can we enjoy the freedom that is ours.

If we could redeem ourselves, then what need was there for Christ to redeem us?

There is only one Redeemer, and He needs no help from us.

What is the essence of redemption? Is it the forgiveness of sin, or is it the prospect of an eternity free of wrath and torment? Surely, both forgiveness and the escape of eternal punishment is involved in redemption; yet redemption exceeds these and takes us to the very heart of God and His presence with us.

If you were kidnapped and held for ransom, then the person who paid your ransom would be your redeemer. The payment would secure not only your freedom from your captors, but it would restore you to the presence of the redeemer. This is the heart of redemption—restoration to the relationships and residence you enjoyed before your abduction.

Sin ripped man away from relationship with holy God and the residence of His glorious presence. While forgiveness is hugely important, it is not the sum of redemption.

The goal of redemption is to be restored to the fellowship and presence of Almighty God in the person of Jesus Christ. 

The Redeemer loved you and desired your presence with Him. But something held us in captivity and kept us reserved for everlasting judgment. That something was God Himself. His pure justice demanded our separation from Him. We stood barred from the life of God. His goodness, which ended up saving us, was the gatekeeper that turned us away as the cherubim’s flaming sword kept Adam and Eve from the garden.

Redeemer Jesus paid not a kidnapper’s ransom but a prison warden’s required payment to set us free and restore us to Himself. No one abducted us; we voluntary were co-conspirators in the vilest coup in human history. We willfully rejected our Creator and Father and renounced His sovereign goodness. To His justice, we were in debt. To His righteousness, we were marked as prisoners eternally incarcerated.

From the portals of Heaven’s throne room, the Son of God came, “born of a woman, born under the law.” He sought us and His pursuit is called the demonstration of love. Unlike the story of the prodigal son, we did not come to our senses and return to the Father. The real Elder Brother found us and carried us away and brought us to the very throne He left, where He robed us with His righteousness, sealed us with His Spirit, and seated us on His throne.

What was His currency? What would He give to ransom the elect bride? What medium of exchange would He use to satisfy Heaven’s integrity? It was “nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

For my cleansing this I see—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
For my pardon this my plea—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

His life’s blood was traded for our presence with Him, restored in communion and love. We are free to come to Him in full acceptance. We enjoy access to Him; it’s no longer barred or banned. Indeed friendship with Jesus is fellowship divine!

All our goodness, rule keeping, and religiosity could not bring us into this land of promise.

Only God’s grace in the person of our Lord Jesus could lead us out of our bondage and sever the flooded waters that kept us out. He has led us into the paradise of His spiritual presence and will soon bring us over into His physical reality. The redeemed restored to the Redeemer in the land of eternal milk and honey. Oh, what a Savior!

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Plough deep in Me: A Puritan Prayer

Lord Jesus, give me a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, and a dread of its approach. Help me to flee it and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be Thine alone.

Give me a deeper trust, that I may lose myself to find myself in Thee, the ground of my rest, the spring of my being. Give me a deeper knowledge of Thyself as saviour, master, lord, and king. Give me deeper power in private prayer, more sweetness in Thy Word, more steadfast grip on its truth. Give me deeper holiness in speech, thought, action, and let me not seek moral virtue apart from Thee.

Plough deep in me, great Lord, heavenly husbandman, that my being may be a tilled field, the roots of grace spreading far and wide, until Thou alone art seen in me, Thy beauty golden like summer harvest, Thy fruitfulness as autumn plenty.

I have no master but Thee, no law but Thy will, no delight but Thyself, no wealth but what Thou givest, no good but that Thou blessest, no peace but that Thou bestowest. I am nothing but that Thou makest me. I have nothing except what I receive from Thee. I can be nothing except what grace adorns me. Quarry me deep, dear Lord, and then fill me to overflowing with living water.