The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘self-examination

The turn of the year

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The turn of the year is a good time to look back and to look ahead. In times past, many healthy Christians would use significant seasons – the new year, for example, or a birthday, or the anniversary of one’s conversion (if known) – to pause and to ponder the course of their lives. It was for them, and could be for us, a season of searching self-examination. It was a means of doing their souls much good. There are sermons and books by men like Stephen Charnock, Henry Scudder and Jonathan Edwards, designed to prompt and assist in this process.

It is unlikely that you will simply find the time to engage in such activity. You will have to make the time. You will need deliberately to think about your ways and turn your feet back to God’s testimonies (Ps 119.59). I would encourage you to make and take the time necessary, to invest the energy required, in such a season. The following outline might help.

To begin with, there must be review. Those who keep a diary or journal might find that flicking through the entries helps refresh the memory. For others, it might be as simple as looking back over a year of calendar entries. We ought to look beyond a mere record of activity, and think about the ebbs and flows of the year, the spiritual realities that underpin the outward engagement. Where was I? What was I doing? How was I doing? What battles did I fight? What defeats did I suffer or what victories did I win? In what service did I engage? But there are also plans for the future. What lies ahead? Perhaps more of a preview, this, or at least a review of your intentions and expectations. What are the opportunities before you? What distinct challenges or particular privileges do you anticipate? What battles must you fight? Where have you been beaten back but intend to forge ahead?

This element is not mere rehearsal. We must also reflect on our life. We must think over those questions. We must ponder carefully the manner and motives of our walking through this fallen world. What are the high points and the low points? Have we made progress? Are there patterns of sin that have been entrenched or besieged? Will you, in future days, assault such sins? If so, when and how? Are there habits of righteousness that have been strengthened or undermined? Will you, in the coming year, pursue such habits? If so, by what means and with what strength? Like John Newton, we have come through many dangers, toils and snares, and many more lie ahead. What has been and what will be the overall tenor of my life? How has the Lord dealt with me, and how have I dealt with the Lord? How could or should that change, from my side, in the days ahead. Consider that you are a year closer to death, and every day carries you closer to the giving of an account and, for the saints, a reward. Are you stepping, day by day, closer to glory?

With such substance in your heart, you will find much in which to rejoice. It is vitally important that you do so. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Thes 5.16-18). Perhaps it has been a year of serious trials. If so, Christian, God has never left you or forsaken you. You have never been separated from him; you have not fallen out of his hands; he has made all things work together for good for you. Perhaps there have been painful chastisements. If so, believer, it is because God loves you and treats you like a son. If you have been wise, you will have learned God’s statutes through your affliction. No doubt there have been incalculable blessings, measured first against your true deservings. As creatures, you have been given life and breath and all things. As sinners, God has not removed his grace from us. As sons, he has lavished good things upon us in measures that the most generous earthly father cannot begin to match. How good God has been to us! What mercies has he shown to you? What blessings have been poured out? How much pain and sorrow has been withheld from you, how much of pleasure and profit has been dispensed? If you are not a believer, you have been spared death and hell, and – even by virtue of reading such an article as this – have been reminded that the Lord is patient and longsuffering, and now calls all men everywhere to repent, holding out Christ to the repenting sinner.

And we must repent. The finest saint you know is a mass of corruption. Whatever progress you have made this year, you have not attained perfection. Far from it! Your reflective review, if honest, must reveal a host of sins of omission and a horde of sins of commission. By the first, we refer to all those things that you should have done but have failed to do. By the second, we mean all those things you ought not to have done but nevertheless have done. What a fearful catalogue of transgression is the best life! Now is a time to heap up all your sins and iniquities and transgressions and come again to the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, to the cleansing flood which makes the foulest clean. We must come to the God who says that though our sins are scarlet, he can make them as white as snow. It is the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses us from all trangression. Now is a good time for deep and honest soul-searching, to examine ourselves in the mirror of the Word and come humbly and honestly before the Lord, seeking mercy and forgiveness. Such a spirit is itself a test of our spiritual state: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1Jn 1.8–10)

It is also a good season to reorient ourselves. We are fools if we imagine that our sense of eternity is not constantly being eroded in a world which lives for the here and now. A flood of distractions and diversions constantly demands our attention, and we lose sight of the things which are eternal. We hear, each day, countless carnal sermons. The world is badgering us to think, speak and act in a way acceptable to the unconverted crowd. Now is a good time to draw back a little from that rushing tide, to slip into an eddy and ask about the direction of our lives. What principles guide us? What precepts govern us? What patterns do we follow? Again, the psalmist thought about his ways and turned his feet back to God’s testimonies. There was a sense not only that he had, at points, departed from the way, but that he intended to get back into the way. Have you been listening to much to the voices that charm but deceive? By what standards will you now judge and by what system will you now travel?

Then, with all this in mind, resolve to walk with God and work for God. This cannot be a matter of mere human strength. It must be a dependent determination. Think again of how often the poet of Psalm 119 weaves together his absolute dependence on God and his absolute determination in God. Consider some sample statements: “With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!” (v10); “I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart” (v32); “Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth” (v88). Will you blend such elements in your heart and life? Will you cry out to the Lord to make his Word a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (v105), and commit to restrain your feet from every evil way, that you may keep his word (v101)? Too many will enter upon the new year with vague desires that perhaps the Lord will make things better. Many are marked by a pietistic passivity that wishes to be holy but will not work for holiness. The true child of God recognises that without Christ he can do nothing, but that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. We must abide in Christ to bear fruit. We must seek the fruit of the Spirit as we abide in Christ.

You can see that such a process is not the matter of a moment. We need to set aside time for such an engagement, to review from our Bibles our way in and through this world. We must wrestle to look at time – past, present and future – through the lens of eternity. We must be rigorously honest, however painful such honesty might be. We must be profoundly humble, however troubling such humility might be. We must turn again to God in Christ, and gaze upon him until we see things as they are, and not as we or others might wish them to be. If we do this, we should not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2Cor 4.16-18). With such a perspective, we can sing with the old poet, Augustus Toplady,

Kind Author, and Ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defence Thou hast proved;
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally loved!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Sunday 31 December 2017 at 09:43

Posted in Christian living

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John Fletcher’s self-examination

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The Wesleyan preacher and theologian John Fletcher of Madeley drew up a series of questions for self-examination. I found them a helpful stimulus.

  • Did I awake spiritual, and did I keep my mind from wandering?
  • Have I got nearer God this day in times of prayer, or have I given way to a lazy idle spirit?
  • Has my faith been weakened or strengthened this day?
  • Have I this day walked by faith?
  • Have I denied myself in all unkind words and thoughts?
  • Have I made the most of my precious time, as far as I was able to?
  • Have I kept my heart pure?
  • What have I done for God’s people?
  • Have I spent money on myself when I might have used it for the cause of God?
  • Have I governed well my tongue this day?
  • In how many instances have I denied myself?
  • Do my life and conversation adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 24 August 2015 at 08:18

Spurgeon looks within

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Spurgeon, in his autobiography, writes as follows:

I have found, in my own spiritual life, that the more rules I lay down for myself, the more sins I commit. The habit of regular morning and evening prayer is one which is indispensable to a believer’s life, but the prescribing of the length of prayer, and the constrained remembrance of so many persons and subjects, may gender unto bondage, and strangle prayer rather than assist it.

To say I will humble myself at such a time, and rejoice at such another season, is nearly as much an affectation as when the preacher wrote in the margin of his sermon, “Cry here,” “Smile here.” Why, if the man preached from his heart, he would be sure to cry in the right place, and to smile at a suitable moment; and when the spiritual life is sound, it produces prayer at the right time, and humiliation of soul and sacred joy spring forth spontaneously, apart from rules and vows.

The kind of religion which makes itself to order by the Almanack, and turns out its emotions like bricks from a machine, weeping on Good Friday, and rejoicing two days afterwards, measuring its motions by the moon, is too artificial to be worthy of my imitation.

Self-examination is a very great blessing, but I have known self-examination carried on in a most unbelieving, legal, and self-righteous manner; in fact, I have so carried it on myself. Time was when I used to think a vast deal more of marks, and signs, and evidences, for my own comfort, than I do now, for I find that I cannot be a match for the devil when I begin dealing in these things. I am obliged to go day by day with this cry,—

“I, the chief of sinners am,
But Jesus died for me.”

While I can believe the promise of God, because it is His promise, and because He is my God, and while I can trust my Saviour because He is God, and therefore mighty to save, all goes well with me; but I do find, when I begin questioning myself about this and that perplexity, thus taking my eye off Christ, that all the virtue of my life seems oozing out at every pore.

Any practice that detracts from faith is an evil practice, but especially that kind of self-examination which would take us away from the cross-foot, proceeds in a wrong direction.

Amen.

Thanks, Pyros.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 17 May 2011 at 22:09

“I would not put my Christ to shame”

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Hampstead L.M.

I would not put my Christ to shame,
By living with an empty name;
Not lightly with the righteous sit
But prove at last a hypocrite.

[ It’s not the battle that I fear
But secret ties to sins too dear;
Some lust that will not bow the knee
But takes the throne where Christ should be. ]

A rebel heart for sin a womb:
A polished bowl, a whitewashed tomb,
That wears its righteousness outside –
Within the horrors still abide:

A sinful habit not confessed;
A cherished passion much caressed;
A wanton glance of gross desire
That gathers fuel for the fire.

A mind in filthiness immersed;
The path of folly much traversed;
Sin’s passing pleasures not released;
Deep-hid iniquities increased.

[ Here in the secret place you look,
Each human heart an open book,
Each thought and intent of the mind
Is plain to you, though men are blind. ]

So search me, Lord, my actions try,
If sin will not then I must die –
The whole of life a battlefield,
And everything to Jesus yield.

So as I go – within, without –
Let all things show there is no doubt:
No lie, no show, no veil, no sham,
What I profess be what I am:

The true wheat from the holy seed,
And not a damned but gilded weed,
Christ’s striving servant through and through,
And prove at last a Christian true.

©JRW

See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 28 August 2010 at 21:13

For self-examination

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A. W. Pink offers some questions for self-examination with regard to worldliness:

First, what are the objects before your mind in times of recreation? What do your thoughts most run upon?

Second, what are the objects of your choice? When you have to decide how to spend an evening or the Sabbath afternoon, what do you select?

Third, which occasions you the most sorrow, the loss of earthly things, or lack of communion with God?

Which causes greater grief (or chagrin), the spoiling of your plans, or the coldness of your heart to Christ?

Fourth, what is your favorite topic of conversation? Do you hanker after the news of the day, or to meet with those who talk of the “altogether lovely” One?

Fifth, do your “good intentions” materialize, or are they nothing but empty dreams? Are you spending more or less time than formerly on your knees? Is the Word sweeter to your taste, or has your soul lost its relish for it?

A. W. Pink, Profiting from the Word (Banner of Truth, 1970)

I snaffled these from The Reformed Baptist Trumpet.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 13 August 2010 at 20:55

Gardiner Spring on “Christian Character” available again

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Gardiner SpringGardiner Spring’s classic work on The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character is one of the most careful and discerning short works on the marks of true Christianity.  Clearly standing in the tradition of Edwards’ Religious Affections and Alexander’s Thoughts on Religious Experience it remains an outstanding treatment of those things which in and of themselves are no sure indications of having passed from death to life, and those things which invariably mark, in some degree, a true child of God.

Solid Ground Christian Books have recently republished this title.  It has apparently been edited and updated.  To be frank, that does not always improve some of these classics, and it is to be hoped that – in this instance – the editor has done less harm and more good.  As long as all is intact, this would prove an excellent addition to the library of pastors who do not have their own copy, and a very useful means of men and women examining their own souls to know whether or not they have a true hope of heaven.

For more of Spring, including a brief review of elements of this book, see this post on “What is a true Christian?

(By the way, Spring is one of those authors of whom – with my limited knowledge – I would presently say, “If he wrote it, you will not suffer by reading it.”)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 3 November 2009 at 20:31

The touchstone of sincerity

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John FlavelMy father put me on to this.  It is taken from John Flavel writing on “The Touchstone of Sincerity: or, The Signs of Grace, and Symptoms of Hypocrisy,” in The Works of John Flavel (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1968) 5:599.

Flavel says that sincerity lies at the heart of true religion.  However, it is easy for sensitive Christians to torture themselves unnecessarily.  They imagine that they are far worse than they actually are and therefore fail to recognise the grace and sincerity that God has actually worked in them.  Sin remains in the best of the saints.  Every Christian struggles with particular sins; we tend to be slow and dull in fulfilling our Christian duties; fears and doubts perplex us at times; and, hypocrisy and sinful motives still plague us.  John Flavel suggests that many of our problems about discerning whether we are genuine or not would be resolved if we sat down and in a calm spirit gave an honest answer to each of the following six questions.

  1. Do I seek the approval of God as I live out my life, as I pray, as I worship, as I do good works?  Or do I seek principally the approval and applause of men?  Think of Paul whose aim was ‘not as pleasing men, but God’ (1Thes 2.4; Col 3.23).
  2. What restrains me from committing sin?  Is it the fact that my sinning would bring shame and reproach on me now and place my soul in danger and bring me distress in the future?  Or is it because I fear God and therefore hate sin because it is against him?  Think of Joseph (Gen 39.9) and compare with Psalm 19.12-13 or 119.113.
  3. Do I rejoice to see God’s work advancing in the world and his glory promoted by other men and women?  Or do I have reservations and regrets because I have no share in the credit and honour of it?  Again, think of Paul (Phil 1.18).
  4. Although some Christian duties are hard to carry out and require much self-denial, do I nevertheless desire to fulfil those duties?  In my heart do I sincerely desire to do all the will of God, even though I am unable to follow that pattern perfectly?  David was a man whose heart was set on doing all God’s will (Ps 119.4-6).
  5. Am I an ‘all-weathers’ Christian?  Am I sincerely determined to pursue Christ and holiness even if I face opposition and adversity?  Or do I conduct myself in such a way that I am overly-concerned to protect myself and play safe?  Is there a secret reserve in my heart that holds me back from hazarding all for Christ?  This is contrary to the practice of the saints (e.g. Ps 106.3; 44.17-19; Rev. 22.11).
  6. What is my attitude to secret sins and secret duties?  Do I make no conscience of committing secret sins and neglecting secret duties?  Or am I conscientious in following the rules and patterns of integrity laid out in God’s word?  (See Ps 19.12 again and also Mt 6.5-6).

Flavel concludes: “A few such questions solemnly propounded to our hearts, in a calm and serious hour, would sound them, and discover much of their sincerity towards the Lord.”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 28 August 2009 at 23:08

Searching questions

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solitaryLewis Allen lists questions supplied by John Wesley for two or three warm-hearted and close-knit friends to use when in each other’s company as a means of mutual spiritual (self-)examination.

As Martin Downes notes, our answers to these questions should send us to Calvary, not to Sinai.

If you find these stimulating, you might also enjoy this record of the kind of questioning that went on among the Calvinist Methodists of Wales when they gathered together.

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today?
  7. Do I give it time to speak to me every day?
  8. Am I enjoying prayer?
  9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
  10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  12. Do I disobey God in anything?
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  16. How do I spend my spare time?
  17. Am I proud?
  18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican?
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard?  If so, what am I going to do about it?
  20. Do I grumble and complain constantly?
  21. Is Christ real to me?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 4 August 2009 at 10:05

John Newton on the pastoral office

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ministry-on-my-mind-newtonSome time ago I mentioned a little book called Ministry on My Mind transcribed entries from the diaries of John Newton as he wrestled with his call to vocational gospel ministry.  As I wrote then, Michael Haykin put it on the list of books every man aspiring to the pastoral ministry ought to read.

Having now had an opportunity to read it, I would heartily concur.  Honest enough to expose you, short enough to be read and re-read by you, searching enough to humble you, insightful enough to trouble you, sincere enough to shame you, careful enough to illuminate you, blunt enough to shake you.

Reading this record of Newton’s Scriptural consideration and self-examination will strip away a great deal of the fluff and faff that surrounds issues of the call in many mind and hearts.  His accurately high conception of the work of pastoral ministry is something to which every potential pastor needs to be exposed, and his questions and searchings of soul will prompt our own.  I would encourage pastors and prospective pastors to obtain and read this volume either as a reminder of or instructor in what we are to be and do.

To this end, here is a taste of Newton’s thoughts on the question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2Cor 2.16):

Who is able – who has either wisdom or strength for so great a work?  What zeal, courage, diligence, faithfulness, tenderness, humility and self-denial are necessary to fill up all the various parts of the ministerial character.  Whenever I think of a minister, I necessarily suppose such a one (if honoured and useful) must have an extensive knowledge of the scripture, a large stock of divine experience, an eminent degree of discernment and prudence, an ardent thirst for the glory of God, and the salvation of souls, and a readiness and aptitude to bring forth out of his treasures those instructions the Lord has given him, according as circumstances require either for stated or occasional services.  And when such a one has filled up all his public work with propriety, I know he has done nothing, unless by a life of prayer, and waiting upon the Lord, he is continually watering the seed sown and unless his converse and behaviour amongst his hearers, evidently savour of that universal holiness he recommends from the pulpit.  I can easier conceive than express what continual need such a one will have of all the graces of the Spirit, to prevent him pulling down with one hand what he is attempting to build up with the other, while his calls to duty are so numerous and sudden, his temptations so peculiar, his hindrances so many, and corruptions still remaining in him as well as others.  How much circumspection is necessary in him, who is placed in such a point of light, that all his actions pass under constant examination of multitudes, and is sure by every mistake at once to gratify the enemies of religion, offend the consciences of the weak, and grieve the hearts of all that love the Lord and his truth?

john-newtonNor is the labour of this calling to be overlooked.  It requires great strength both of mind and body, or at least extraordinary supplies and supports to each, to be living always upon the expense, to be pressing, warning, beseeching every man, publicly, from house to house, in season, out of season.  To be able to wrestle, with God, to pour forth strong prayers and supplications, in the assemblies, families etc – to improve every opportunity that may offer of an open door to extend the knowledge and savour of the Gospel into adjacent, perhaps into distant places – O it is a most busy life – The Lord preserve me from entering upon it with confined or indolent aims: I cannot think of being a minister as some are, who yet I would hope are good.  And yet when I look back upon what I have written, when I think seriously of what I am desirous to undertake, when I look at home upon what I am, and abroad upon what I am about to rush into, what can I return to the Apostle’s question, Who is sufficient? O Lord do thou answer for me . . .

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 3 March 2009 at 17:03

A throne for Self

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James Henley Thornwell somewhere speaks of the desire to serve the living God with all one’s heart and soul and strength, and then speaks the chilling words: “. . . but self is a powerful idol.”  I recall hearing Pastor Ted Donnelly preaching on justification, and speaking of self-righteousness and self-congratulation, and the horror of finding – even in the very outward act of exalting Christ – a little voice whispering in the minister’s own mind, “Didn’t you do that well?”

I was first and most powerfully struck by this when reading a biography of the Baptist missionary, Adoniram Judson, called To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson (Judson Press).  At one point (382-3), the biographer is seeking to describe a seminal moment in the ministry of Judson, a time of extreme trial (many grievous deaths in his family).  It was his father’s death that brought poignant memories to the missionary of the “glowing ambitions” his pastor father had had for him.  Anderson writes that,

Reliving these memories, Adoniram began to realise that no matter how he had rebelled, his father had succeeded in instilling in him, consciously or unconsciously, a goal of earthly ambition, an intense determination to surpass his fellows.

Judson began to search his heart, and discerned that his fundamental desire in being and doing what he had sought to be and do was not “genuine humility and self-abnegation but ambition . . . [to be] . . . first in his own eyes and the eyes of men.”  Courtney continues thus:

He had always known that his forwardness, self-pride and desire to stand out were serious flaws in his nature.  Now he began to suspect that they were more than flaws.  They made his entire missionary career up to now a kind of monstrous hypocrisy, a method of securing prominence and praise without admitting it to himself.  He had deluded himself.  But he had not deluded God.  Perhaps here was the intention in all these deaths: to teach him true humility. . . . No wonder it took death itself, by wholesale, to teach him better.  For Adoniram’s mission, God had approval; for Adoniram and his self-love, a harsh lesson.

How truly awful to have the pall of such a conclusion hanging over the scene of one’s ministerial labours: “a kind of monstrous hypocrisy, a method of securing prominence and praise without admitting it to himself.”  Such pride and self-elevation is an act of wicked folly on the part of any child of God, but how much more so for one whose very existence calls him to decrease, that Christ might increase?

Few of us need to be taught earthly ambition by our parents; we inherit it from our first parents.  The idol-factory of the heart has a great forge in which is constantly being hammered into shape a fearful throne for that most insistent god, Self.  How often do we need to pause and ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?  What is my true goal?”  Behind the facade of righteous endeavour, of generous effort, do we hide a drive to excel not for the glory of Christ, but for our own reputation?  Are we driven by love to self, or love to God?  How much, how often, we need to examine our hearts, to search our souls, remembering always that “self is a powerful idol” and that God may approve the work but condemn the motive.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 3 October 2008 at 09:49

Searchings, sufferings, storms, and sorrows

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It has been good to renew fellowship with the church here in Coconut Creek, and to meet again some of the friends I met when I first visited last January.  It has also been a busy first weekend.

On Saturday morning, the men met for breakfast, and I then taught a class on self-examination.  We considered the duty, nature and necessity of self-examination, looked at some of its difficulties and dangers, studied the Biblical nature of the it, and – relying heavily on Jonathan Edwards – worked quickly through some of the subjects of self-examination.  Bearing in mind that self-examination is not really an end in itself, but a means to an end, we followed through to what ought to follow self-examination, and then gave some miscellaneous practical counsels.  That was followed by a discussion, in which – not knowing the men asking particular questions and making particular comments – it was not so easy to understand the thrust of their contributions.  Still, it seemed to go well, and I was asked to provide the notes so that those present, and others interested, might consider it all in slower time.  The rest of the day was pleasantly slow, some reading and chatting, with a prayer meeting in the evening, after which I enjoyed dinner with the pastors and their wives, the Diekemas and the Hughes.

On the Lord’s day, I had the adult Sunday School class and preached at the two services.  With the Calvin quincentennial year only a few months away, I gave an outline of Calvin’s life in the Sunday School.  I had to rattle through the early years in order to cover the territory in the time allotted, but was able to slow down and expand a little toward the end.  It was largely a matter of biographical detail, but I was able to make some applications from his character and commitment to Christ’s cause, and to emphasise that Calvinism is characterised primarily by an overwhelming sense of and humble response to the glory of God revealed in Christ.  It is the determination to have God be God.  There were a few minutes available for discussion, and the only question I had opportunity to deal with was about the relationship between church and state in Calvin’s understanding and our own.  Conscious that I speak with a particular perspective and heritage, and from a very different political environment, I sought to be careful and clear.  In the course of the class, I also managed to establish my Baptist credentials by dousing the platform with water.

In the first sermon, I tried to piggyback a hurricane.  In the last few days, the immediate threat from Hurricane Ike has slowly receded, although Cuba has taken a hammering.  I adapted a sermon on 2 Peter 3.10-11 and preached on The coming storm, using the furore created by the hurricane to promote a sense of urgency with regard to the coming day of the Lord.  We considered the nature of the coming day, the certainty of the coming day, the arrival of the coming day, and the effect of the coming day now, as there is no guarantee of any tomorrows.

The evening service was the Lord’s supper, and I preached on Gethsemane‘s agony from Mark 14.32-42.  Observing Christ in Gethsemane, we noted his fearful isolation, in which even those who were most vocal in professing their attachment failed to watch and pray even for an hour.  Then there was his awful burden, as he contemplated the cup of God’s wrath, being gradually pressed to the ground as he began to experience the weight of sin and its accompanying alienation from God enter his soul, leaving him in terrified anguish and deep surprise.  Thirdly, we heard his anguished prayer.  His sinless humanity recoiled from this prospect, and it brought forth a great cry of distress from his holy soul.  The beloved Son contemplates his Father standing not just apart from but against him, and he cries out in broken words of filial familiarity, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup away from me.”  Finally, though, there is his holy resolve: “Nevertheless . . .”  Here we see the love of the Father, as he holds out the cup to his Son and says, “Son, for them, will you?”  Here is the love of the Son, as – in conscious and conscientious submission to his Father – he reaches out and answers, “Father, for them, I will.”  We sought, in some shallow way, to understand what it would mean for a sinner, rather than the sinless Son, to bear the weight of his own sin.  The Christian does not do so, will never do so, for the Sin-bearer has borne it away in himself to and upon the cross.  But the unbeliever must flee now to Christ, lest he experience the full, awful, eternal punishment of his own wickedness in hell.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 8 September 2008 at 14:51

Christian fellowship

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The following excerpt comes from [Some of the] Great Preachers of Wales by Owen Jones (my edition is from Tentmaker Publications).  In the section on Daniel Rowlands, Jones speaks of the societies or church meetings that sprang up as the preaching of these men gripped the souls of God’s people, with the aim of the mutual edification of God’s people.

In the last few days, I have had occasion to consider some of my own shortcomings, and the shortcomings of the church locally and at large, in this respect.  These men drew up guidance concerning the grounds, objects and rules of these societies, providing also hymns to be sung in them.

As I re-read this section, I was once more appalled at the shallowness of my relationships with other saints of God.  How defensive we are!  How high the walls which we build around ourselves!  How slow to confess ourselves creatures, sinners, and servants!  In our day, should a pastor ask these questions in the course of his regular visitation, he might quickly be accused of intrusion.  In a better time, these were the questions that healthy believers were expected to ask of each other.

Are they a little prescriptive?  Yes, certainly.  Do I agree with every sentiment exactly as it is expressed?  No, not necessarily.  Are they instructive?  Yes, absolutely, and we would do well to consider whether or not this kind of transparent soul-deep dealing with one another would not greatly tend to the health of our own hearts, the hearts of those with whom we are in fellowship, and the well-being of the congregations of which we are a part.  Ask yourself these questions first, and prepare to be searched.  And then, as you keep reading, you will realise that the questions that had begun to cause you discomfort and even resentment were not even the questions addressed to the healthiest saints.

John Wesley established his first societies in the year 1739, at Bristol; and he speaks of them in his journal, April 14,1739, in the following way: “In the evening three women agreed to meet together weekly, with same intention as those at London, viz., ‘to confess their faults one to another, and pray one for another, that they may be healed.’  At eight, four young men agreed to meet in pursuance of the same design.  How dare any man deny this to be (as to the substance of it) a means of grace ordained by God?”  These were the first established by John Wesley; those he refers to in London, were societies in the Church of England, formed by pious clergymen, for the same great object of holding “conversations that might tend to mutual edification.”

In the year 1742, a pamphlet was drawn up, entitled: “The Grounds, objects, and Rules of the Societies, or Special Meetings, which have now just begun in Wales.  To which are added some Hymns to be sung in them.  By Men from the Church of England.  Prov. xv. 22; xxiv. 6; xxvii. 17.  Bristol : Printed by Felix Farley, in Castle Green. 1742.”

The preface is addressed “To all who have been made ready to deny themselves, and to take up the cross, and to follow the Lamb ; but more particularly to the Societies from the Church of England.” The authors of this pamphlet were Daniel Rowlands, Howel Harris, and Williams, Pantycelyn.  The grounds of these meetings are drawn from Scripture: “1. The command of the Holy Ghost, through Paul, that we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.  2. If it is our duty to exhort one another daily (Heb. iii. 13), then we ought to come together for that purpose.  3. It was the custom of godly men to assemble together under the Old Testament (Mai. iii. 16) and under the New.  So were the disciples assembled together when Christ appeared unto them after His resurrection, and said, ‘Peace be unto you’ (Luke xxiv. 33 36).  4. Our Saviour has promised to be present where there are two or three assembled in His Name, which promise all who have come together from age to age have received (Matt, xxviii. 20).”  The objects of these meetings were: “1. In obedience to the commandment, to provoke unto love and to good works (Heb. x. 24).  2. To prevent hardness of heart and backsliding when we are weak in grace, and when our corruptions are strong and temptations numerous (1 Cor. iii. 1, 2, 3).  3. In order that we may better understand the devices of Satan (2 Cor. ii. 11), the deceit of our hearts, and the work and growth of grace in our souls (1 Pet. iii. 8).  4. In order to enlighten one another in the Word of God, and in order to establish and build ourselves up on our most holy faith.  5. In order to exhort one another, and to prevent strifes, hatred, evil surmisings, envy, &c. (i Tim. vi. 4)  6. To have regard for the life and conversation, the spirit and temper, of one another, and to bear one another s burdens (Gal. vi. 2).  7. In order to glorify the work of God’s grace, by speaking to one another of what He has done to our souls, after the example of David (Psa. lxvi. 16).  8. In order to become strong against the enemies of our souls the world, the flesh, and the devil; in order to pray for one another, and to impart to one another whatever new we have known about God, His Son, and about ourselves, since our last meeting.”

To arrive at the above objects, three simple rules were fixed upon: “1. That, after singing and prayer (i Tim. ii. i), we open our bosoms to one another, and disclose, in the simplicity of our hearts, all the good and the evil we see within us, according to the help that is given, and as far as this is becoming in the presence of men.  2. In order to remove all things that prevent the increase of love, that we reveal all the suspicions that lurk in our minds about one another, which come from Satan, the accuser of the brethren, or in any other way.  Great is the good we have experienced from this.  To neglect this simplicity has enabled Satan to create such contention and strife (Matt, xviii. 15, 16, 17).  3. That we be examined and questioned by one another; because we are so partial to ourselves, and do not come to the point in examining ourselves (2 Cor. xiii. 5).”

The following are some of the questions for self-examination, briefly given: “1. What is our object in everything we undertake, the glory of God or something else?  2. What inducements and motives do we find in ourselves, the love of Christ or self-love?  3. With what will do we walk, the will of God as revealed in His Word or our own?  Do we deny ourselves in all things?”

All the followers of Christ are taken to be one in all the great essentials, though there may be every shade of difference between them as to non-essentials ; therefore, no one was refused membership in these societies who complied with the above rules, and could answer the following questions satisfactorily: “1. Have you been convinced of your sins by the Spirit of God, so that you see yourself altogether lost?  2. Do you feel that you cannot see anything of the glory of God and His Son without the light of the Spirit?  3. Have you seen that you are altogether sinful and altogether helpless in that condition?  4. Do you believe that we are to be saved through the imputed righteousness of Christ only; and that this is to be received through faith, and that this faith is through the Spirit of God?  5. Has the Spirit of God made you ready to leave all for Christ?  6. Have you been carefully considering the conditions of salvation?  And do you find that the grace of God has enabled you to deny yourself in everything, and submit to the will of Christ?  7. If the Holy Spirit doth not yet witness with your spirit that you are the child of God, do you find that you always seek God with your whole heart?  8. Do you feel that nothing which you have experienced hitherto can give you rest, until you experience Christ within you, and know that you believe in Him; and until you see His righteousness satisfying Divine justice in your behalf, and so kindling a flame of love in your bosom towards Him?  9. Do you believe, and consent to, the fundamental truths – first, about the Trinity; second, election; third, original sin; fourth, justification by faith; fifth, continuance in a state of grace, &c., as they are set forth in the Articles and Homilies of the Church of England?  And in regard to those non-essential things, such as church discipline, ceremonies, the manner and time of baptism, &c., where we do not altogether agree perhaps, – Do you promise that you will not trouble your brethren with respect to them?  10. Do you feel that it is the love of Christ that impels you to join us?  And do you agree to these rules, looking upon us, and we upon you, as members of the same body, as children of the same Father, as one?  And are you willing to keep what you hear in these meetings to yourself; for to speak of these spiritual experiences before the world is to cast pearls before swine?”

These questions were to be asked to those who had entered their names in a previous meeting as wishful to join; and, after having heard the testimony of friends about character, convictions, &c.  Provision is made also for those who could not give clear answers as yet.  They were to be treated as babes.  And in order to meet the requirements of those who were more advanced, who could bear strong meat, a more special meeting still was agreed to; and all who had been in the general society for a length of time, and were of unblemished character, were to be admitted.  In this society within society, a series of deeper questions were given, such as: “Do you know that you believe?  that you are in the faith?  that your sins are forgiven?  that Christ died for you in particular?  and that He now dwells within you?  and that God has loved you with an everlasting love?  Does the Spirit of God witness with your spirit that you are the child of God?  Do you feel more and more sympathy with those that are tempted?  and more pity and consideration and love for all, especially for them that are of the household of faith?  Do you feel an increase of spiritual light in yourself, revealing unto you more of the holiness of God and the spirituality of His law; and more of the deceit and wickedness of your own heart, the evil of sin, and the worth of Christ?  Is your conscience more tender, condemning you for the first beginnings of sin in your mind?  – for every lustful look ? for the beginnings of frivolity and fleshly mirth?  for hypocrisy?  bitter temper?  in their very first beginnings; for idle words?  for forgetfulness of God?  for vain and corrupt imaginations?  What lesson has the Lord taught you since we were here before?  How much more do you see of the evil and deceitfulness of your heart?  of the devices of Satan?  of the depths of the grace of God, and the wonderful work of His grace in yourself?  of spiritual and experiential light in His Word?  Do you see more of the wonder of God s special love towards yourself?  And does this change you to His image?  and make you long more for glorifying His Name, and for seeing Him coming to be glorified in His saints?  Do the sins of others touch you more?  And do you feel that your souls are rooted and grounded more and more in love; so that, notwithstanding your weakness, your corruption and darkness, which caused you pain before, and is still a cause of grief, yet you feel that your full redemption is in Christ; and through the fulness, the might, and the faithfulness of Christ you are still happy in your misfortunes, and can say, when the clouds are darkest, I know whom I have believed ?  Can you say – as you have come to see more clearly, by the witness of the water and the blood – that your names are written in the Book of Life?  and do you know firmly that neither death, nor life . . . nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, is able to separate you from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord; and that no one can pluck you out of His hand, for the Father is greater than all; and when your earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, can you say that you have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, and that the ground on which you rest all this is the everlasting covenant and the immutability of God?”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 3 July 2008 at 10:08

Causes of declension in religion and means of revival #1 Contentment with a superficial acquaintance with the gospel

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One of the most effective and penetrating pieces of writing I can remember reading is a circular letter written by the Baptist pastor Andrew Fuller to the churches of an association to which he belonged.  This responsibility was occasionally assigned to Fuller, and one of the results was the letter which follows.  I still recall the impact of reading this for the first time in Fuller’s Works (a nice three volume edition available from Sprinkle Publications, or a new one volume set from Banner of Truth, but see also here).  Even relative to the quality of much of his writing, this still leapt up and bit me.  That doesn’t mean that it is necessarily so much better than everything else, but it might speak volumes of my spiritual condition.  It is a letter to which I periodically return as a means of self-examination.  As it is quite lengthy, I will post it in sections, beginning below.

Dearly beloved brethren,

Through the good hand of our God upon us we met together according to appointment, and enjoyed the pleasure of an agreeable interview with several of our dear friends and brethren in the Lord.  We trust also that our God was with us in the different stages of the opportunity.  The letters from the several churches, which were attended to the first evening of our meeting together, afforded us matter for pain and pleasure.  Two of the association churches continue destitute of the stated means of grace, others are tried with things of an uncomfortable nature, and most complain of the want of a spirit of fervour and constancy in the ways of God.  Yet, on the other hand, we met with some things which afforded us pleasure.  Many of our congregations are well attended; a spirit of desire after the Word is, we think, upon the increase; nor are our labours, we hope, altogether in vain, as the work of the Lord, in a way of conversion, appears to be carrying on, though not in instances very remarkable.

‘Tis true we have reason to bewail our own and others’ declensions, yet we are not, upon the whole, discouraged.  It affords us no little satisfaction to hear in what manner the monthly prayer meetings which were proposed in our letter of last year have been carried on, and how God has been evidently present in those meetings, stirring up the hearts of his people to wrestle hard with him for the revival of his blessed cause [note: this was the prayer call based on the original Humble Attempt].  Though as to the number of members there is no increase this year, but something of the contrary; yet a spirit of prayer in some measure being poured out more than balances in our account for this defect.  We cannot but hope, wherever we see a spirit of earnest prayer generally and perseveringly prevail, that God has some good in reserve, which in his own time he will graciously bestow.

But while we rejoice to see such a spirit of united prayer, we must not stop here brethren, lest in so doing we stop short.  If we would hope for the blessing of God upon us, there must be added to this a spirit of earnest inquiry into the causes of our declensions, and a heart desire and endeavour for their removal.  When Israel could not go forward, but were smitten by the men of Ai, Joshua and the elders of the people prostrated themselves before the Lord.  In this they did well; but this was not sufficient – “Get thee up,” said the Lord to his servant – “wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?  Israel hath sinned” – “Up, sanctify the people” – and search for the accursed thing!  This, it is apprehended, is the case with us, as well as it was with Israel; and this must be our employment as well as theirs.  With a view to assist you, brethren, and ourselves with you, in this very necessary inquiry, we appropriate the present letter to the pointing out of some of those evils which we apprehend to be causes of that declension of which so many complain, and the means of their removal.

The first thing that we shall request you to make inquiry about is, whether there is not a great degree of contentedness with a mere superficial acquaintance with the gospel, without entering into its spirit and end; and whether this be nor one great cause of the declension complained of.  In the apostles’ time, and in all times, grace and peace have ever been multiplied by the knowledge of God; and, in proportion as this has been neglected, those have always declined.  If we are sanctified by the word of truth, then, as this word is received or disrelished, the work of sanctification must be supposed to rise or fall.  We may give a sort of idle assent to the truths of God, which amounts to little more than taking it for granted that they are true, and thinking no more about them, unless somebody opposes us; but this will not influence the heart and life, and yet it seems to be nearly the whole of what many attain to, or seek after.

We maintain the doctrine of one infinitely glorious God; but do we realize the amiableness of his character?  If we did, we could not avoid loving him with our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength.  We hold the doctrine of the universal depravity of mankind; but do we enter into its evil nature and awful tendency?  If we did the one, how much lower would we lie before God, and how much more should we be filled with a self-loathing spirit!  If the other, how should we feel for our fellow sinners!  How earnest should we be to use all means, and have all means used, if it might please God thereby to pluck them as brands out of the burning!

We hold the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead; but do we cordially enter into the glorious economy of redemption, wherein the conduct of the sacred Three is most gloriously displayed?  Surely if we did, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost would be with us more than it is.

We avow the doctrines of free, sovereign, and efficacious grace; but do we generally feel the grace therein discovered?  If we did, how low should we live!  How grateful should we be!  We should seldom think of their sovereign and discriminating nature, without considering how justly God might have left us all to have had our own will, and followed our own ways; to have continued to increase our malady, and despise the only remedy!  Did we properly enter into these subjects, we could not think of a great Saviour, and a great salvation, without loathing ourselves for being such great sinners; nor of what God has done for and given to us, without longing to give him our little all, and feeling an habitual desire to do something for him.

If we realised our redemption by the blood of Christ, it would be natural for us to consider ourselves as bought with a price, and therefore not our own, “a price, all price beyond!”  O, could we enter into this, we should readily discern the force and propriety of our body and spirit being his, his indeed! dearly bought, and justly due!

Finally, we all profess to believe the vanity of this life and its enjoyments, and the infinitely superior value of that above; but do we indeed enter into these things?  If we did, surely we should have more of heavenly-mindedness, and less of criminal attachment to the world.

It is owing in a great degree to this contentment with a superficial knowledge of things, without entering into the spirit of them, that we so often hear the truths of the gospel spoken of with a tone of disgust, calling them “dry doctrines!”  Whereas gospel truths, if preached in their native simplicity, and received with understanding and cordiality, are the grand source of all well-grounded consolation.  We know of no consolation worth receiving but what arises from the influence of truth upon the mind.  Christ’s words are spirit and life to them who hunger and thirst after them, or have a heart to live upon them; and could we but more thoroughly enter into this way of living, we should find the doctrines of the gospel, instead of being dry, to be what they were in the days of Moses, who declared, “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” (Dt 32.2).  O brethren, may it be our and your concern not to float upon the surface of Christianity, but to enter into the spirit of it!  “For this cause” the apostle bowed his knees “to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” that we might “comprehend . . . the breadth, the length, and depth, and height” of things; and for this cause we also wish to bow our knees, knowing that it is by this, if at all, that we are “filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph 3.14-19).

(work through the whole letter: section 1, section 2, section 3, section 4, section 5)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 21 June 2008 at 18:26

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