Friday, July 31, 2015

Pray On!

Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote:
"Never give up praying, even when Satan suggests that prayer is in vain.  Pray in his teeth!  "Pray without ceasing," (I Thess. 5:17).  If the heavens are brass and your prayer only echoes above your head, pray on! 
If month after month your prayer appears to have miscarried, if you have had no answer, continue to draw close to the Lord. 
Do not abandon the mercy seat for any reason.  If it is a good thing that you have been asking for, and if you are sure it is according to the divine will, wait, tarry, pray, weep, plead, wrestle, and agonize until you get what you are praying for.

If your heart is cold, do not wait until your heart warms.  Pray your soul into heat with the help of the ever-blessed Holy Spirit, who helps our weakness, who intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom. 8:26).

Never cease prayer for any reason.  If the philosopher tells you that every event is fixed and that prayer cannot possibly change anything, go on praying. 
If you cannot reply to every difficulty that man suggests, resolve to be obedient to the divine will.
"Pray without ceasing."  Never, never, never renounce the habit of prayer or your confidence in its power."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Psalm 116:15

"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones."

Scotland in the late 1600's was a place of intense persecution for those who stayed true to the truth that the Lord Jesus is the Head of His church, regardless of the claims of an earthly king on his throne. 

Jock Purves, in his excellent work, "Fair Sunshine" chronicles the stories of 13 Covenanters, believers who overcame the enemy by "the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death," (Rev. 12:11).  The following is the account of one of the godly ones whose death was precious in the sight of the Lord.

"John Brown was the very close friend of both Richard Cameron, the Lion of the Covenant, and Alexander Peden, 'Puir Auld Sandy', the Prophet of the Covenant.  When Brown fell, Peden referred to him as 'a clear shining light, the greatest Christian I ever conversed with.'  In 1682, he had performed the marriage ceremony of Brown to Isabel Weir, and after the simple Puritan ceremony had said to Isabel, 'Ye have a good man to be your husband, but ye will not enjoy him long; prize his company, and keep linen by you to be his winding sheet, for ye will need it when ye are not looking for it, and it will be a bloody one.'  A Covenanting wedding!  The Covenanter's deepest joys ever carried the shadow of the Cross.

John Brown of Priesthill was poor.  Till the day he died he never owned much more than twenty sheep and a cow.  His small crofting cottage is now no more.  On every side stretch miles upon miles of melancholy moorlands with the heather creeping lovingly around his memorial stone. 

By all accounts he was rarely gifted, and carried a brilliant intellect yielded to Christ.  He had his own rustic school of theology, and his classes were attended by youths from miles around.  Three of these class members sealed their testimonies with their blood, and their leader had oftentimes to flee.  An impediment in his speech had made him give up the thought of being a Covenanting minister, but here was his own Bible School where he taught youth to resist unto blood, striving against sin.  In the summer time they held their classes in the sheepfold, and in the winter they sat around the peat fire in the kitchen.  We rightly look upon John Brown of Priesthill as being one of our first founders of Bible Classes and Sunday Schools.
The year 1685 was a terrible year in a terrible era.  The Killing Time reeked reddest then.  Long is the roll of the names of the martyrs - the lashed to the hooks, the burned by the match, the redhot iron branded, the starved to death, the bone mangled and crushed, the earclipped, the banished, the wounded and torn by bullet and knife. 

Claverhouse, chief tool of the king's plan to eradicate the Covenanters, led three troops of horse to Priesthill in May of that year, ransacking Brown's cottage and finding so-called treasonable papers.  Brown was questioned.  His stammering disappeared, and he answered every question so solidly and distinctly that Claverhouse asked his base guides if ever they had heard him preach.  'No, no,' they said, 'he was never a preacher.'
'Well,' said he, 'if he has never preached, much has he prayed in his time.  Go to your prayers,' he shouted, 'for you shall immediately die.'  The peasant went to his knees and began to pray, but three times Claverhouse interrupted him, and then completely stopped him as John Brown interceded, asking God to spare a remnant. 
'I gave you leave to pray,' he bawled, 'and you begin to preach!'  The Covenanter turned on his knees, 'Sir,' he said, 'you know neither the nature of preaching nor praying that calls this preaching,' and, looking to God, finished his last prayer. 

Isabel Brown was standing by with her child in her arms, and another child of John Brown's first wife by her side.  He came to her saying, 'Now, Isabel, the day is come that I told you would come when I spoke to you first of marrying me.'  She said, 'Indeed, John, I can willingly part with you.'  'That is all I desire,' he replied.  'I have no more to do but to die.  I have been in happy case to meet with death for many years.'  He kissed her and his children, saying that he wished Blood-bought and gospel-promised blessings to be multiplied upon them, and Claverhouse roughly broke in, ordering six dragoons to shoot him.

As he stood before them, their hearts were moved;  they lowered their muskets and refused to fire.  But the killer of many unbelted his pistol, and hastily walking up to John Brown, placed it to his head, and blew his brains out, scattering them upon the ground. 
Looking at his ghastly work with a sardonic smile, he turned to Isabel saying, 'What do you think of your fine husband now?', and through her sad tears she bravely answered, 'I ever thought much good of him, and more than ever now.'

'It were but justice to lay you beside him,' he returned.  Said she, 'If you were permitted, I doubt not but your cruelty would go to that length.  But then, how will ye answer to God for this morning's work?' 
Arrogantly, he blustered, 'To man I can be answerable.  And as for God, I shall take Him into my own hand!'  He then mounted his horse and haughtily rode off at the head of his troops.  He later confessed that if he gave himself liberty to think of it, he could never forget John Brown's prayer.

Isabel Brown set her child upon the ground, gathered up her husband's brains, tied up his head, straightened his body, and covering it with a plaid, sat down and wept.  Thus was she found by widow Jean Brown, whose own husband and two sons had been slain in the same great cause. 

Thus it was that Isabel offered up the priceless jewel of her life, John Brown her husband.  He went swiftly to company he had often longed for, where he would be much at home.  She lived on in brave, godly, covenanting widowhood, bringing up her children, succouring the godly, and comforting the mourner with the comfort with which she herself was comforted by God."


Monday, April 6, 2015

Luke 23:50-54

"And behold, a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 
And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain.  And it was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin."

Time was of the essence.  Someone had to act!  If no one intervened, the Lord Jesus' body would be flung onto the garbage heap in the valley of Hinnom.  Such a thought was simply too much for Joseph of Arimathea.

Described as a "good and righteous man...waiting for the kingdom of God," Joseph had the boldness to oppose the plan and action of the Sanhedrin, which carried the risk of disgrace and even death.  And he was willing to be identified with the "cursed" One who had changed his life.

He had come to faith we know not when.  As one of the religious leaders, surely he had been present when conversations with Jesus took place.  He watched and listened, observing the uniqueness of the young Rabbi from Nazareth.  Maybe he came to embrace Him as he sensed the authentic purity of His person, reflected in His powerful words and deeds.  Perhaps it was the way He died that sealed it.  Whatever the means, he was granted saving grace and faith by the Father. 

In the urgency of his spontaneous boldness, Joseph defiled himself (as far as the other leaders were concerned) in approaching Pilate to ask for the Savior's body.  The intensity of his love ignored such superstition, in order to care for his Lord.  He also risked arrest by identifying with the followers of Christ, but "perfect love casts out fear," and he pressed on. 

In his compassionate generosity of offering the use of his family vault, Joseph actually fulfilled biblical prophecy (Isaiah 53:9).  Even the Lord Jesus' burial was sovereignly supervised by the living God to validate His Son as Messiah. 

There is much encouragement in the bold initiative of Joseph's actions.  A thousand rationalizations could have kept him from openly identifying with the crucified Teacher, yet he swept them all aside and provided the venue for his Lord's resurrection.  May we be equally usable, and used by our risen Lord.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Acts 13:42-49

"And as Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath.  Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God," (vs. 42, 43).
This is the Word desired.  Following a sermon by Paul in which he rehearsed an abbreviated history of God's dealings with Israel, the people wanted to hear more.  We're not given their motive for this desire; no doubt some were curious without thought of commitment, while others were genuinely impacted by the truth.  For the opposing Jews, the seven intervening days would be time to rouse those willing to attack both the messengers and the message.

"And the next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of God," (v. 44).  The Word draws.  Reminiscent of the Lord Jesus' ministry, when the common people heard Him gladly, the purity and authority of God's truth was winsome, drawing multitudes to hear it proclaimed. 
Our Lord's parable of the soils (Luke 8) reminds us of the difference there can be between initial response and authentic results.  The Lord Himself knew better than to trust men, for He knew what was in their hearts (John 2:24, 25).  Hence, the presence of large crowds must be seen in perspective:  many are called, few chosen.

"But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming," (v. 45).  The Word divides.  The gospel truth, spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit, always confronts and forces a decision: either rejection or acceptance.  The Lord Jesus declared, "he who is not with Me is against Me..." (Matthew 12:30a). 
These Jews decided to reject Messiah, His message, and His messengers.  Incensed by the popular reception from the Gentiles (whom they considered to be dogs), as well as the proselytes (Gentiles who converted to Judaism), these legalistic religionists actually spoke evil of the very God they claimed to adore in the course of their vehement objections to Paul's preaching.

"And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, 'It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.  For thus the Lord has commanded us, 'I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT TO THE GENTILES, THAT YOU SHOULD BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.' " (vs. 46, 47).
This is the Word determined.  Rather than being thwarted by the frantic efforts of the unbelieving Jews to discredit their message of truth, Paul and Barnabas became all the more determined and bold in their delivery.   As Proverbs 28:1 states, "...the righteous are bold as a lion."  Such a stance in the face of fierce opposition speaks strongly to the Holy Spirit's anointing that was upon the two men. 
Note: see the human responsibility aspect of salvation here.  In repudiating the word of God spoken by these servants of the living God, the Jews judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.  Their damnation was deserved in the light of such privileged exposure to God's truth, their unbelief the root of their judgment. 
By quoting Isaiah 49:6, Paul was employing a messianic passage that describes the heart of God's commitment to non-Jews.  Although the Jews considered salvation for the Gentiles unthinkable, God was revealing His determined will through Paul's declarations.

"And when the Gentiles heard this, the began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord;  and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed," (v. 48).  This is the Word pre-determined.  Luke would have us understand that salvation is a sovereignly-initiated work of grace which the living God orchestrated before the foundation of the world.  Paul speaks of our salvation as being "according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity," (II Timothy 1:9).  Paul tells the Ephesian believers that God the Father "chose us in Him (the Lord Jesus) before the foundation of the world..." (Eph. 1:4).  Thus, the "had been appointed" (or ordained) speaks of eternity past as its origin. 
Someone has wisely warned that we are not to invert the order of the verse:  as many as believed, were appointed to eternal life.  No, God does not see who will be saved and then decide they are elect.  Such a view is counter to Scriptures quoted here, as well as the biblical picture of man's complete and total spiritual helplessness.  Were it not for God's gracious initiative in predestinating the elect from eternity past, no one would be saved at all (Romans 3:10-12). 

"And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region," (v. 49).  This is the Word disseminated.  With the salvation of great numbers of Gentiles, testimonies as to the change the Lord Jesus makes in one's life spread rapidly and widely.  That aspect of Christ's great commission "even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8) was being carried out through the apostles' obedience. 

An important concluding thought:  from beginning to end of this episode of evangelism in the early church, the central focus is the word of God.  Paul and Barnabas did not lecture on the psychological basis of conversion, or societal ills, or the politically adverse landscape related to Roman oppression. 
Rather, the tremendous life-changing impact altering the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people stemmed from the word of God anointed by the Spirit of God according to the gracious will of the living God.