wise words

What to Do When Things Are Outside of Our Control

Earlier this year, my father-in-law recommended a book to me I had never heard of before called The Crook in the Lot: God’s Sovereignty in Afflictions (In Modern English). While this version is written in modern English, the original manuscript was written by Thomas Boston, a Scottish church leader who lived during the 1600s.

Little did I know when I started reading it what comfort, conviction, and biblical encouragement it would be to me during the next few months. It is a timeless book with much to offer. I would recommend this if you are struggling with God’s Sovereignty in the current events. Whatever the struggle or the frustration caused by this “pandemic”, from high school and college students all the way up to senior citizens, this provides much needed biblical counsel on bearing under it.

In fact, this counsel is for anyone who is struggling under any crook at all. If you are disappointed in a diagnosis or a relationship or anything else that is completely outside of your control, I know you will find this helpful.

Be sure you read the last paragraph of this excerpt. While I don’t think the pandemic is necessarily the event he is referring to, I thought it was extremely ironic that he refers to a “public crook” to come. Do you realize that there has never been a worldwide event such as this since the Tower of Babel? Perhaps it is the beginning of the end? Only God knows.

Now on to these encouraging words from Thomas Boston–

Therefore, let us set ourselves rightly to bear and walk under the crook in our lot, while God sees fit to continue it. What we cannot mend, let us bear in a Christlike manner. Do not fight against God and thereby kick against the pricks. Instead, bear it:

1. Patiently. Avoid anger, worry, and murmuring (Ps 37:7).30 Though you lose your comfort in the world through the crook in your lot, do not lose the possession of yourself (Luke 21:19).31 The crook in our lot makes us like one who has only a meager fire to warm ourselves at; but impatience scatters it and sets the house on fire around us, exposing us. “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Prov 25:28).

2. With Christian fortitude. Do not sink under discouragement, “nor be weary when reproved by him” (Heb 12:5). Satan’s plan is to use the crook to either bend or break our spirits, often bending them in order to break them. Our work is to continue evenly under it, steering a middle course and guarding against crashing into the rocks on either side. Our happiness does not lie in any earthly comfort, nor will the lack of any of them render us miserable (Hab 3:17-18).32 So, we are to hold to our way resolutely with a holy mindset, regardless of the hardships. “Yet the righteous holds to his way, and he who has clean hands grows stronger and stronger” (Job 17:9).

But you might ask, ‘When are we considered to have fallen into a sinking discouragement from the crook in our lot?’ When it prevails to the extent that you are unfit for your duties—either your particular or Christian calling. We can be sure it has carried us beyond the bounds of moderate grief when it unfits us for the common affairs of life, which the Lord calls us to manage (1 Cor 7:24).33 Such were the practical actions of Abraham recorded for his commendation (Gen 23:3-4).34 At other times, our grief unfits us for religious duties, hindering them altogether (1 Pet 3:7),35 which, in the Greek, means to cut off or cut up, like a tree from the roots. Or, it makes us quite hopeless in them (Mal 2:13).36

3. Profitably. Look to gain some advantage from the crook. “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Ps 119:71). In this way, it becomes our advantage (Rom 5:3-5).37 And it is certainly an ill-managed crook in our lot when we get no spiritual benefit from it. The crook is a kind of spiritual medicine, but medicine is pointless when it alleviates no symptoms; its unpleasant taste and side-effects are endured in vain. So also, the crook is wasted when it is bitterly endured without bettering us. “Therefore by this the guilt of Jacob will be atoned for, and this will be the full fruit of the removal of his sin: when he makes all the stones of the altars like chalkstones crushed to pieces” (Isa 27:9).

–Motivations–

Also, consider the following motivations to bear the crook in your lot in this way:

1. There will be no evening of it while God sees fit to continue it. Let us walk under it as we will and make what attempts we want in our case, but it will continue immovable as if fixed with bands of iron and brass. “But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind” (Job 23:13-14). Is it not wise then to make the best out of what we cannot mend? Make a virtue of necessity. What is not to be cured must be endured with a Christian submission.

2. Resisting makes it worse. A resistant mindset under the crook substantially increases the pain of it. What makes the yoke chafe our necks but that we struggle so much against it? We cannot let it comfortably sit on us (Jer 31:18).38 How often are we like a man who is dashing his head against a rock to remove it! The rock stands unmoved, but he is wounded and exceedingly spent by the struggle. Impatience under the crook lays additional weight on our burden. It makes it heavier and at the same time weakens us and makes us less able to bear it.

3. God uses the crook in your lot to test you. It is the special trial that God has chosen for your assessment (1 Pet 6-7).39 It is God’s fire that He tests what metal men are made of; it is heaven’s touchstone for discovering true and counterfeit Christians. Some may go through a variety of trials and bear them, but the crook in the lot will uncover their disbelief, because by no means can they bear that.40 Therefore, think to yourself, ‘Now, here the is the trial of my state, and by this, I must be proven either as sincere or as a hypocrite.’ Can we be an amiable subject of Christ without being able to submit our lot to Him? Do not all who sincerely come to Christ put a blank check in His hand (Acts 9:6)?41 And does He not tell us that without that mindset we are not His disciples? “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Perhaps you find that you can submit to anything but that, but will not that one thing taint everything (Mark 10:21)?42 Did you ever hear of a sincere commitment to Christ with a condition or exception of one thing where they request to be their own lords?

Question: “Is this disposition a qualification that is required before we believe? And, if so, are we required to obtain it? Can we work it out of our natural abilities?”

Answer: No, this is not the case, but it necessarily accompanies and goes along with believing. It flows from the same saving illumination in the knowledge of Christ, where the soul is brought to believe in Him. Here the soul sees Him as a capable Savior and trusts on Him for salvation. It sees Him as the rightful Lord, the infinitely wise Ruler, and, therefore, submits the lot to Him (Matt 13:45-46).43 In taking Him for a Savior, the soul also takes Him for a Head and a Ruler. It is Christ’s giving Himself to us and our receiving Him that causes us to leave other things for Him, because it is the light that dispels the darkness.

Case: “Alas! I cannot get my heart to freely submit my lot to Him in that point.”

Answer 1: Your submission will not be accomplished without a struggle—the old man will never submit. And when the new man of grace is submitting his lot to Christ, the old man will still be resisting. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal 5:17). But do you sincerely desire and habitually aim to submit your lot to Christ? Do you look away from the difficult struggle with the crook, and turn to the struggle within your own heart to bring it to submission? Do you believe the promise and use the proper means for this task? Are you grieved from the heart with yourself that you cannot submit your lot perfectly? If so, this is actually submitting your lot in the gracious design of the gospel (Rom 7:17,20).44 If you had your choice, would you rather have your heart brought to submit to the crook rather than the crook resolved to your heart’s desire (Rom 7:22-23)?45 And do you not sincerely endeavor to submit your lot despite the reluctance of your flesh?

Answer 2: Where is your Christian self-denial, your taking up of the cross, without submitting to the crook? This is the first lesson Christ puts in the hands of His disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24). Self-denial would achieve a reconciliation with the crook and an acceptance of the cross. But when we cannot bear for our corrupt self to be denied any of its cravings—particularly those which God has seen fit to deny—we cannot bear the crook in our lot; instead, we fight against it in favor of self.

Answer 3: Where is our conformity to Christ when we cannot submit to the crook? We cannot give evidence that we are Christians without conformity to Christ.  “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). There was a continued crook in Christ’s lot, but He submitted to it. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). “For Christ did not please himself,” (Rom 15:3), and so must we, if we will prove ourselves to be Christians (2 Tim 2:12).46

Answer 4: How will we prove ourselves to be the genuine children of God if we are still struggling against our crook? We cannot pray to the Father, “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). No, instead our actions proclaim that we must have our own will because God’s will cannot satisfy us.

4. The trial will not last long here. Although the work is hard, it can be better endured when you know that it will not be long. A few days or years at the most will put an end to it, and you will leave all your trials. Do not say, ‘I will never be eased of it,’ because if you are not eased before, you will be eased of it at death. A serious view of death and eternity might help us to commit to walking well under our crook while it lasts.

5. A Christian mindset eases the burdens. If you decide to bear your crook in a Christian manner, you would find it easier than you imagine. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:29-30). Satan has no better way to achieve his goal than to persuade you that it is impossible that your mind should ever comply with the crook—that it is a burden that is entirely unbearable. As long as you believe this, rest assured you will never be able to bear it. But the Lord does not make a crook in the lot of anyone unless they can acceptably bear it, though not perfectly and not without sin. For there is strength available for this effort that is secured in the covenant (2 Cor 3:5,47 Phil 4:1348), and when we seek it by faith, it will surely come (Ps 28:7).49

6. Your labor is not in vain. If you persevere faithfully under your crook here, your labor is not in vain. But you will get a full reward of grace in the other world through Christ (1 Cor 15:58).50 James pronounces a blessing on the one who endures on this very ground; “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Heaven is the place that receives the approved upon the trial of the crook; “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). When you go there, no remnants of the crook will remain in your lot, neither will you have even the smallest uneasy memory of it. Instead, it will accent your praises and heighten your joy.

7. A failure to persevere has eternal consequences. If you do not persevere faithfully under your crook here, you will lose your soul in the next world. Those who are at war with God in their lot here, God will have war with them forever. If they will not submit to His yoke here and go quietly under it, He will wreathe His yoke about their neck forever with everlasting bonds that will never be loosed (Job 9:4).51

Finally, whatever crook is in the lot of anyone, it is very likely that there will be a public crook in that generation that will be even more trying. This is a day of sinning beyond the days of our fathers. God makes great crooks in the lot of those He loves most, but these seem to foreshadow a general public crook that will affect that entire generation. This will make our private trials seem small in comparison (1 Pet 4:17-18).52 Therefore, commit to walking rightly under the crook in your lot.

Boston, Thomas. The Crook in the Lot: God’s Sovereignty in Afflictions: In Modern English (pp. 68-76). Christian Classics for the Modern Reader. Kindle Edition.

The Sure Road to Happiness

What is the sure road to happiness? This is a worthwhile question because there seems to be so little true happiness in this world. Even church-goers and those who claim Christ do not seem to show any real happiness (as opposed to fleeting merriment).

In my last post I shared with you a portion from Home Truths by J.C. Ryle which was about the counterfeit shortcuts we often try to take to happiness. They are many and we are all–even us Christians–guilty of turning off onto one of these shortcuts on occasion. But Ryle, in the next chapter, tells us about the sure road to happiness.

What he writes may go against all that the world says. It may even go against what the mainstream church is teaching these days. But should we be surprised at that?

One of the things I have often marveled at is that true happiness and true sense of purpose comes from yielding our lives to the Lord. What we most dread doing and often live in rebellion against is the one thing that will give us peace. It is a wonderful thing that what most pleases the Lord is what brings us true happiness! How kind of the Lord to create us in this way. True, unhindered surrender, submission, and obedience brings a very real happiness that no man can take away. This is an amazing truth from God’s Word that is so little spoken of today.

But I am jumping ahead of Ryle. Let’s see what he has to say–

(In order to keep this post from being too long, I had to cut out a bit of it. To read the entire chapter–which I highly recommend–you can purchase the book here. I get no proceeds from any purchases but simply want to let you know where to find it in case you want to read it.)

There is a sure path which leads to happiness, if men will only take it. There never lived the person who travelled in that path, and missed the object that he sought to attain.

It is a path open to all. It needs neither wealth, nor rank, nor learning, in order to walk in it. It is for the servant as well as for the master. It is for the poor as well as for the rich. None are excluded but those who exclude themselves.

It is the one only path. All that have ever been happy since the days of Adam have journeyed on it. There is no royal road to happiness. Kings must be content to go side by side with their humblest subjects, if they would be happy.

Reader, where is this path?

Where is this road? Listen and you shall hear. The way to be happy is to be a real, thorough-going, true-hearted Christian. Scripture declares it. Experience proves it. The converted man, the believer in Christ, the child of God, he and he alone is the happy man. It sounds too simple to be true. It seems at first sight so plain a receipt that it is not believed. But the greatest truths are often the simplest. The secret which many of the wisest on earth have utterly failed to discover, is revealed to the humblest believer in Christ. I repeat it deliberately, and defy the world to disprove it. The true Christian is the only happy man.

What do I mean when I speak of a true Christian? Do I mean everybody who goes to church or chapel? Do I mean everybody who professes an orthodox creed, and bows his head at the belief? Do I mean everybody who professes to love the Gospel? No! indeed! I mean something very different. All are not Christians who are called Christians. The man I have in view is the Christian in heart and life. He who has been taught by the Spirit really to feel his sins—he who really rests all his hopes on the Lord Jesus Christ, and His atonement—he who has been born again, and really lives a spiritual, holy life—he whose religion is not a mere Sunday coat, but a mighty constraining principle, governing every day of his life—he is the man I mean, when I speak of a true Christian.

“What do I mean when I say the true Christian is happy? Has he no doubts and no fears? Has he no anxieties and no troubles? Has he no sorrows and no cares? Does he never feel pain and shed no tears? Far be it from me to say anything of the kind. He has a body weak and frail like other men. He has affections and passions like every one born of woman. He lives in a changeful world. But deep down in his heart he has a mine of solid peace and substantial joy which is never exhausted. This is true happiness.”

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Do I say that real true Christians are equally happy at all times? No! not for a moment. All have their ebbs and flows of comfort; some like the Mediterranean sea, almost insensibly—some like the tide at Chepstow, fifty or sixty feet at a time. Their bodily health is not always the same. Their earthly circumstances are not always the same. The souls of those they love fill them, at seasons, with special anxiety. They themselves are sometimes overtaken by a fault, and walk in darkness. They sometimes give way to inconsistencies and besetting sins, and lose their sense of pardon. But as a general rule, the true Christian has a deep pool of peace within him, which even at the lowest is never entirely dry.[2] The true Christian is the only happy man, because his conscience is at peace. That mysterious witness for God, which is so mercifully placed within us, is fully satisfied and at rest. It sees in the blood of Christ a complete cleansing away of all its guilt. It sees in the priesthood and mediation of Christ a complete answer to all its fears. It sees that, through the sacrifice and death of Christ, God can now be just, and yet be the justifier of the ungodly. It no longer bites and stings and makes its possessor afraid of himself. The Lord Jesus Christ has amply met all its requirements.

Conscience is no longer the enemy of the true Christian, but his friend and adviser. Therefore he is happy.

The true Christian is the only happy man, because he can sit down quietly and think about his soul. He can look behind him and before him, he can look within him and around him, and feel, “all is well.”—He can think calmly on his past life, and however many and great his sins, take comfort in the thought that they are all forgiven. The righteousness of Christ covers all, as Noah’s flood over-topped the highest hills—He can think calmly about things to come, and yet not be afraid. Sickness is painful. Death is solemn. The judgment day is an awful thing. But having Christ for him, he has nothing to fear—He can think calmly about the Holy God whose eyes are on all his ways, and feel “He is my Father, my reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. I am weak. I am unprofitable. Yet in Christ He regards me as His dear child, and is well pleased.” Oh! what a blessed privilege it is to be able to think, and not be afraid! I can well understand the mournful complaint of the prisoner in solitary confinement. He had warmth, and food, and clothing, and work, but he was not happy. And why? He said, “he was obliged to think.”

The true Christian is the only happy man, because he has sources of happiness entirely independent of this world. He has something which cannot be affected by sickness and by deaths, by private losses and by public calamities, the peace of God which passeth all understanding. He has a hope laid up for him in heaven. He has a treasure which moth and rust cannot corrupt.

He has a house which can never be taken down. His loving wife may die, and his heart feel rent in twain. His darling children may he taken from him, and he may he left alone in this cold world. His earthly plans may be crossed. His health may fail. But all this time he has a portion which nothing can hurt. He has one friend who never dies. He has possessions beyond the grave, of which nothing can deprive him. His nether springs may fail, but his upper springs are never dry. This is real happiness.

The true Christian is happy, because he is in his right position. All the powers of his being are directed to right ends. His affections are not set on things below, but on things above. His will is not bent on self-indulgence, but is submissive to the will of God. His mind is not absorbed in wretched perishable trifles. It desires useful employment. It enjoys the luxury of doing good—Who does not know the misery of disorder? Who has not tasted the discomfort of a house, where everything and everybody are in their wrong places, the last things first and the first things last? The heart of an unconverted man is just such a house. Grace puts everything in that heart in its right position. The things of the soul come first, and the things of the world come second. Anarchy and confusion cease. Unruly passions no longer do each one what is right in his eyes. Christ reigns over the whole man and each part of him does his proper work. The new heart is the only really light heart, for it is the only heart that is in order—The true Christian has found out his place. He has laid aside his pride and self-will. He sits at the feet of Jesus, and is in his right mind. He loves God and loves man, and so he is happy. In heaven all are happy, because all do God’s will perfectly. The nearer a man gets to this standard the happier he will be.

Ah! reader, the plain truth is, that without Christ there is no happiness in this world. He alone can give the Comforter who abideth for ever. He is the sun; without Him men never feel warm. He is the light; without Him men are always in the dark. He is the bread; without Him men are always starving. He is the living water; without Him men are always athirst. Give them what you like—place them where you please—surround them with all the. comforts you can imagine—it makes no difference. Separate from Christ, the Prince of Peace, a man cannot be happy.

Give a man a sensible interest in Christ, and he will be happy in spite of poverty. He will tell you that he wants nothing that is really good. He is provided for. He has riches in possession, and riches in reversion. He has meat to eat that the world knows not of. He has friends who never leave him nor forsake him. The Father and the Son come to him, and make their abode with him. The Lord Christ sups with him, and he with Christ. (Revelation 3:20) Give a man a sensible interest in Christ, and he will be happy in spite of sickness. His flesh may groan and his body be worn out with pain, but his heart will rest and be at peace. One of the happiest people I ever saw was a young woman, who had been hopelessly ill for many years with disease of the spine. She lay in a garret without a fire. The straw thatch was not two feet above her face. She had not the slightest hope of recovery: but she was always rejoicing in the Lord Jesus. The spirit triumphed mightily over the flesh. She was happy, because Christ was with her.[3]

Give a man a sensible interest in Christ, and he will be happy in spite of abounding public calamities. The government of his country may be thrown into confusion. Rebellion and disorder may turn everything upside down. Laws may be trampled under foot. Justice and equity may be outraged. Liberty may be cast down to the ground. Might may prevail over right. But still his heart will not fail. He will remember that the kingdom of Christ will one day be set up. He will say like the old Scotch minister who lived unmoved throughout the turmoil of the first French revolution: “It is all right: it shall be well with the righteous.”

Reader, I know well that Satan hates the doctrine which I am endeavouring to press upon you. I have no doubt he is filling your mind with objections and reasonings, and persuading you that I am wrong. I am not afraid to meet these objections face to face. Let us bring them forward and see what they are.

You may tell me that “you know many very religious people who are not happy at all.” You see them diligent in attending public worship. You know that they are never missing at the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. But you see in them no marks of the peace which I have been describing.

But are you sure ‘ that these people you speak of are true believers in Christ? Are you sure that with all their appearance of religion they are born again and converted to God? Is it not very likely that they have nothing but the name of Christianity without the reality, and a form of godliness without the power? Alas! reader, you have yet to learn that people may do many religious acts and yet possess no saving religion. It is not a mere formal, ceremonial Christianity that will ever make people happy. We want something more than going to church, and going to sacrament to give us peace. There must be real vital union with Christ. It is not the formal Christian, but the true Christian, that is the happy man.

You may tell me, that “you, know really spiritually-minded and converted people who do not seem happy.” You have heard them frequently complaining of their own hearts, and groaning over their own corruption. They seem to you all doubts and anxieties and fears. And you want to know, where is the happiness in these people of which I have been saying so much?

I do not deny that there are many saints of God such as these whom you describe, and I am sorry for it. I allow that there are many believers who live far below their privileges, and seem to know nothing of joy and peace in believing. But did you ever ask any of these people, whether they would give up the position in religion they have reached, and go back to the world? Did you ever ask them, after all their groanings, and doublings, and fearings, whether they think they would be happier, if they ceased to follow hard after Christ? Did you ever ask these questions? I am ‘ certain if you did, that the weakest and lowest believers would all give you one answer. I am certain they would tell you that they would rather cling to their little scrap of hope in Christ, than possess the world. I am sure they would all answer, “Our faith is weak, if we have any—our grace is small, if we have any—our joy in Christ is next to nothing at all—but we cannot give up what we have got. Though the Lord slay us, we must cling to Him.” Ah! reader, the root of happiness lies deep in many a poor weak believer’s heart, when neither leaves nor blossoms are to be seen.

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{Now} let me offer a few hints to all true Christians for the increase and promotion of their happiness. I offer these hints with diffidence. I desire to apply them to my own conscience as well as to your’s. You have found Christ’s service happy. I have no doubt that you feel such sweetness in Christ’s peace, that you would fain know more of it. I am sure that these hints deserve attention.

Believers, if you would have an increase of happiness in Christ’s service, labour every year to grow in grace. Beware of standing still. The holiest men are always the happiest. Let your aim be every year to be more holy, to know more, to feel more, to see more of the fulness of Christ. Best not upon old grace. Do not be content with the degree of religion whereunto you have attained. Search the Scriptures more earnestly. Pray more fervently. Hate sin more. Mortify self-will more. Become more humble the nearer you draw to your end. Seek more direct personal communion with the Lord Jesus. Strive to he more like Enoch, daily walking with God. Keep your conscience clear of little sins. Grieve not the Spirit. Avoid wranglings and disputes about the lesser matters of religion. Lay more firm hold upon those great truths, without which no man can be saved. Remember and practise these things, and you will be more happy.

Believers, if you would have an increase of happiness in Christ’s service, labour every year to be more thankful. Pray that you may know more and more what it is to “rejoice in the Lord.” Learn to have a deeper sense of your own wretched sinfulness and corruption, and to be more deeply grateful, that by the grace of God you are what you are. Alas! there is too much complaining and too little thanksgiving among the people of God. There is too much murmuring and poring over the things that we have not. There is too little praising and blessing for the many undeserved mercies that we have. Oh! that God would pour out upon us a greater spirit of thankfulness and praise!

Believers, if you would have an increase of happiness in Christ’s service, labour every year to do more good. Look round the circle in which your lot is cast, and lay yourself out to be useful. Strive to be of the same character with God. He is not only good but “doeth good.” Alas! there is far too much selfishness among believers in the present day. There is far too much lazy sitting by the fire, nursing our own spiritual diseases, and croaking over the state of our own hearts. Up! and be useful in your day and generation! Is there no one in all the world that you can read to? Is there no one that you can speak to? Is there no one that you can write to? Is there literally nothing that you can do for the glory of God, and the benefit of your fellow men? Oh! I cannot think it, I cannot think it. There is much that you might do, if you had only the will. For your own happiness sake, arise and do it without delay. The bold, outspeaking, working Christians are always the happiest. The more you do for God the more God will do for you. Reader, I ask you to ponder the things I have been saying. May you never rest till you can give a satisfactory answer to my question, ARE YOU HAPPY?

Reader, if you are able to answer my question satisfactorily, I ask you never to forget that great decision in Christ’s service is the secret of great happiness. The compromising, lingering Christian must never expect to taste perfect peace. THE MOST DECIDED CHRISTIAN WILL ALWAYS BE THE HAPPIEST MAN.

 

 

Ryle, J.C. . Home Truths. E4 Group. Kindle Edition.

Counterfeit Shortcuts to Happiness

I recently came upon a .99 Kindle book called Home Truths that compiles eleven of J.C. Ryle’s tracts. Ryle lived from 1816-1900, so his tracts were not the kind you think of today but were more like little booklets that were fairly popular among believers back in the day.

If you have been around Growing4Life for any length of time, you will know that J.C. Ryle is, by far, one of my favorite writers. Even though he lived so many years ago, his gift of writing in a clear, easy-to-understand, and concise manner regarding Christian living is–in my opinion–unparalleled.

In the first chapter of this little booklet that is entitled “Are You Happy?”, he offers this wise counsel regarding finding happiness–

“To be truly happy a man must have sources of gladness which are not dependent on anything in this world. There is nothing upon earth which is not stamped with the mark of instability and uncertainty. All the good things that money can buy are but for a moment. They either leave us, or we are obliged to leave them. All the sweetest relationships in life are liable to come to an end. Death may come any day and cut them off. The man whose happiness depends entirely on things here below, is like him who builds his house on sand, or leans his weight on a reed.”*

And then in chapter 2, he goes into the roads we are so often tempted to travel as we search for happiness. As I read this chapter, I just knew that I had to share this here. I believe that almost all of us will find one or two of these that will be our weak spot(s). They will be the things that tempt us most to take a shortcut to happiness. And all of these–no matter which road we choose–inevitably leads us to emptiness. Just like a mirage in the dessert, we travel that road, get to the end, and then find ourselves standing by our tired and thirsty camels, staring at the hot, dry sand, and longing for fresh water more than ever.

I hope that this piece by Ryle challenges and encourages you. I actually had to cut a bit of it out because it was too long (hence the break-line) but if you want to read the whole thing, you can buy the Kindle book here. Some of the spelling is different because he lived in England in the 1800’s, so just keep that in mind, as well. And, so, without any further words from me, here are some very wise words from J.C. Ryle regarding the subject of finding happiness–

 

“There are several roads which are thought by many to lead to happiness. In each of these roads thousands and tens of thousands of men and women are continually travelling. Each fancies that if he could only attain all he wants he would he happy. Each fancies, if he does not succeed, that the fault is not in his road, but in his own want of luck and good fortune. And all alike seem ignorant that they are hunting shadows. They have started in a wrong direction. They are seeking that which can never be found in the place where they seek it.

Suffer me, reader, to mention by name some of the principal delusions about happiness. I do it in love, and charity, and compassion to your soul. I believe it to be a public duty to warn people against cheats, quacks, and impostors. Oh! how much trouble and sorrow it might save your heart, if you would only believe what I am going to say.

It is an utter mistake to suppose that rank and greatness alone can give happiness. The kings and rulers of this world are not necessarily happy men. They have troubles and crosses, which none know but themselves. They see a thousand evils, which they are unable to remedy. They are slaves working in golden chains, and have less real liberty than any in the world. They have burdens and responsibilities laid upon them, which are a daily weight on their hearts. The Roman Emperor Antonine often said, that “the imperial power was an ocean of miseries.” Queen Elizabeth, when she heard a milk-maid singing, wished that she had been born to a lot like her’s. Never did our great Poet write a truer word, than when he said,

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

It is an utter mistake to suppose that riches alone can give happiness. They can enable a man to command and possess everything but inward peace. They cannot buy a cheerful spirit and a light heart. There is care in the getting of them, and care in the keeping of them, care in the using of them, and care in the disposing of them, care in the gathering, and care in the scattering of them. Oh! he was a wise man who said that “money” was only another name for “trouble,” and that the same English letters which spelt “acres” would also spell “cares.”

It is an utter mistake to suppose that learning and science alone can give happiness. They may occupy a man’s time and attention, but they cannot really make him happy. They that increase knowledge often increase sorrow. The more they learn, the more they discover their own ignorance. It is not in the power of things on earth or under the earth to “minister to a mind diseased.” The heart wants something as well as the head. The conscience needs food as well as the intellect. All the secular knowledge in the world will not give a man joy and gladness, when he thinks on sickness, and death, and the grave. They that have climbed the highest, have often found themselves solitary, dissatisfied, and empty of peace. The learned Selden at the close of his life confessed, that all his learning did not give him such comfort as four verses of St. Paul. Titus 2:11-14.

It is an utter mistake to suppose that idleness alone can give happiness. The labourer who gets up at five in the morning, and goes out to work all day in a cold clay ditch, often thinks, as he walks past the rich man’s door,” what a fine thing it must be to have no work to do.” Poor fellow! he little knows what he thinks. The most miserable creature on earth is the man who has nothing to do. Work for the hands or work for the head is absolutely essential to human happiness. Without it the mind feeds upon itself, and the whole inward man becomes diseased. The machinery within will work, and without something to work upon, will often wear itself to pieces. There was no idleness in Paradise. Adam and Eve had to “dress the garden and keep it.” There will be no idleness in heaven. God’s “servants shall serve Him.” Oh! be very sure the idlest man is the man most truly unhappy.

It is an utter mistake to suppose that pleasure-seeking and amusement alone can give happiness. Of all roads that men can take in order to be happy, this is the one that is most completely wrong. Of all weary, flat, dull, and unprofitable ways of spending life this exceeds all. To think of a dying creature, with an immortal soul, expecting happiness in feasting and revelling—in dancing and singing—in dressing and visiting—in ball-going and card-playing—in races and fairs—in hunting and shooting—in crowds, in laughter, in noise, in music, in wine! Surely it is a sight that is enough to make the devil laugh and the angels weep. Even a child will not play with its toys all day long. It must have food. But when grown up men and women think to find happiness in a constant round of amusement, they sink far below a child.

Reader, I place before you these common mistakes about the way to be happy. I ask you to mark them well. I warn you plainly against these pretended short cuts to happiness, however crowded they may be. I tell you that if you fancy any one of them can lead you to true peace, you are entirely deceived. Your conscience will never feel satisfied. Your immortal soul will never feel easy. Your whole inward man will feel uncomfortable and out of health. Take any one of these roads, or take all of them, and if you have nothing besides to look to, you will never find happiness. You may travel on and on and on, and the wished for object will seem as far away at the end of each stage of life as when you started. You are like one pouring water into a sieve, or putting money into a bag with holes. You might as well try to make an elephant happy by feeding him with a grain of sand a day, as try to satisfy that heart of your’s with rank, riches, learning, idleness, or pleasure.

Do you doubt the truth of all I am saying? I dare say you do. Then let us turn to the great book of human experience, and read over a few lines out of its solemn pages. You shall have the testimony of a few competent witnesses on the great subject I am urging on your attention.

A king shall be our first witness; I mean Solomon king of Israel. We know that he had power, and wisdom, and wealth, far exceeding that of any ruler of his time. We know from his own confession that he tried the great experiment, how far the good things of this world can make man happy. We know from the record of his own hand the result of this curious experiment.

He writes it by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, for the benefit of the whole world, in the book of Ecclesiastes. Never, surely, was the experiment tried under such favourable circumstances. Never was any one so likely to succeed as the Jewish king. Yet what is Solomon’s testimony? You have it in his melancholy words, “all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)

———————–

Reader, I think it very likely that you do not believe what I am saying. I know something of the deceitfulness of the heart on the subject of happiness. There are few things which man is so slow to believe, as the truths I am now putting forth about the way to be happy. Bear with me then, while I say something more.

Come and stand with me some afternoon in the heart of the city of London. Let us watch the faces of most of the wealthy men, whom we shall see leaving their houses of business at the close of the day. Some of them are worth hundreds of thousands. Some of them are worth millions of pounds. But what is written in the countenances of these grave men whom we see swarming out from Lombard Street and Corn Hill, from the Bank of England and the Stock Exchange? What mean those deep lines which furrow so many a cheek and so many a brow? What means that air of anxious thoughtfulness which is worn by five out of every six we meet? Ah! reader, these things tell a tale. They tell us that it needs something more than gold and bank notes to make men happy.

Come next and stand with me near the Houses of Parliament, in the middle of a busy session. Let us scan the faces of peers and commoners, whose names are familiar and well-known all over the civilized world. There you may see on some fine May evening the mightiest statesmen in England hurrying to a debate, like eagles to the carcass. Each has a power of good or evil in his tongue which it is fearful to contemplate. Each may say things before to-morrow’s sun dawns which may affect the peace and prosperity of nations, and convulse the world. There you may see the men who hold the reins of power and government already. There you may see the men who are daily watching for an opportunity of snatching those reins out of their hands, and governing in their stead. But what do their faces tell from their care-worn countenances? What may be read in many of their wrinkled foreheads, so absent-looking and sunk in thought? Ah! reader, they teach us a solemn lesson. They teach us that it needs something more than political greatness to make men happy.

Come next and stand with me in the most fashionable part of London, in the height of the season. Let us visit Regent Street or Pall Mall, Hyde Park or May Fair. How many fair faces and splendid equipages we shall see! How many we shall count up in an hour’s time, who seem to possess the choicest gifts of this world—beauty, wealth, rank, fashion, and troops of friends! But alas! how few we shall see who appear happy! In how many countenances we shall read weariness, dissatisfaction, discontent, sorrow, or unhappiness, as clearly as if it was written with a pen. Yes! it is a humbling lesson to learn, but a very wholesome one. It needs something more than rank, and fashion, and beauty to make people happy.

Come next and walk with me through some quiet country parish in merry England. Let us visit some secluded corner in our beautiful old father-land, far away from great towns, and fashionable dissipation, and political strife. There are not a few such to be found in the land. There are rural parishes where there is neither street, nor public house, nor beershop—where there is work for all the labourers, and a church for all the population, and a school for all the children, and a minister of the Gospel to look after the people. Surely, you will say, we shall find happiness here! Surely such parishes must be the very abode of peace and joy!

Go into those quiet-looking cottages one by one, and you will soon be undeceived. Learn the inner history of each family, and you will soon alter your mind. You will soon discover that backbiting, and lying, and slandering, and envy, and jealousy, and pride, and laziness, and drinking, and extravagance, and lust, and petty quarrels, can murder happiness in the country quite as much as in the town. No doubt a rural village sounds pretty in poetry, and looks beautiful in pictures. But in sober reality human nature is the same evil thing everywhere. Alas! it needs something more than a residence in a quiet country parish, to make any child of Adam a happy man.

I know these are ancient things. They have been said a thousand times before without effect, and I suppose they will be said without effect again. I want no greater proof of the corruption of human nature than the pertinacity with which we seek happiness where happiness cannot be found. Century after century wise men have left on record their experience about the way to be happy. Century after century the children of men will have it, that they know the way perfectly well, and need no teaching. They cast to the winds our warnings. They rush every one on his own favourite path. They walk in a vain shadow and disquiet themselves in vain, and wake up when too late to find their whole life has been a grand mistake. Their eyes are blinded. They will not see that their visions are as baseless and disappointing as the mirage of the African desert. Like the tired traveller in those deserts, they think they are approaching a lake of cooling waters—Like the same traveller, they find to their dismay that this fancied lake was a splendid optical delusion, and that they are still helpless in the midst of burning sands.

Reader, are you a young-person? I entreat you to accept the affectionate warning of a minister of the Gospel, and not to seek happiness where happiness cannot be found. Seek it not in riches. Seek it not in power and rank. Seek it not in pleasure. Seek it not in learning. All these are bright and splendid fountains. Their waters taste sweet. A crowd is standing round them, which will not leave them. But, Oh f remember that God has written over each of these fountains, “He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again.” Remember this, and be wise.

Reader, are you poor? Are you tempted to fancy that if you had the rich man’s place you would be quite happy? Resist the temptation, and cast it behind you. Envy not your wealthy neighbours. Be content with such things as you have. Happiness does not depend on houses or laud. Silks and satins cannot shut out sorrow from the heart. Castles and halls cannot prevent anxiety and care coming in at their doors. There is as much misery riding and driving about in carriages as there is walking about on foot. There is as much unhappiness in ceiled houses as in humble cottages. Oh! remember the mistakes which are common about happiness, and be wise.”**

 

Don’t you find his words ring so very true?? So, of course, the question that begs to be asked by the world is: So what road do I take to happiness? We Christians should know this answer already, but I fear we still often find ourselves on one of the counterfeit shortcuts, despite our knowledge. Next time, I will share a bit of what Ryle has to say about where to find true happiness.

 

*Ryle, J.C. . Home Truths (Kindle Locations 111-116). E4 Group. Kindle Edition.

**Ryle, J.C. . Home Truths (Kindle Locations 141-286). E4 Group. Kindle Edition.

Learn to Discern: What Is Biblical Christianity?

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

We really cannot learn to discern before we have a biblical definition of Christianity. There are so many warped, perverted, and bizarre religions out there taking on the name of Christ that it is almost unimaginable. But which is the true religion? As believers, we know that the Bible teaches that there is only one way for us to be reconciled to God (John 14:6). And we know that the Bible–from Genesis to Revelation–tells us the beautiful story of God’s redemption of man and that it gives us all we need to live a righteous and godly life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So what does God’s Word have to say about believers? How does Christ define a true Christian?

Please, please keep in mind as you read the essay below that these are the things true Christians desire. They will never be perfected on this side of heaven, but growth will take place and be evident in believers as we mature in Christ. As John MacArthur says–it is about direction and not perfection.

This essay is in direct opposition to much of the popular religion called “Christianity” today. I am well aware of that. But, as usual, while I hate to make people upset or angry, I am loyal to the Word of God, first and foremost. And this is what the Word of God teaches about Christianity.

This post is written by my brother, Pastor Dean. I will write a bit more about him after the essay, for those that are interested. Now here is his guest post–

 

TRUE CHRISTIANITY

Who is a Christian? A quick Google search will tell us that the leading world religion is Christianity, numbering 2.1 billion people. Since the world population is 7.5 billion, almost one in three is classified as a Christian. But I am reminded of the words of Jesus who said many will say to me in that day Lord, Lord . . . and then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 7:22-23). The important point here is that self-classification is not the determining factor in answering the question who is a Christian? So perhaps we should ask who is a true Christian? Or rather, who does Christ classify as a Christian? That is the determining factor. Jesus said two things in the above quotation about false professors: (1) I never knew you; and (2) you work iniquity. No ungodly person unacquainted with the new birth will ever enter heaven. But let us consider positively what defines, according to Christ, a true christian.

(1) A TRUE CHRISTIAN HEARS THE WORD OF CHRIST – Jesus said: Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice (John 18:37); My sheep hear my voice (John 10:27); He that is of God, hears God’s words (John 8:47). This is the most basic attribute of a true Christian. He receives, believes, trusts, obeys, and delights in God’s Word, namely the Scriptures (Psalm 1:2; Psalm 119; Matt. 7:24-27; John 8:31-32; 17:8; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Thess. 2:13; James 1:21). This is called faith. The person who is apathetic, defiant, or careless toward Scripture is not a Christian according to Christ.

(2) A TRUE CHRISTIAN BELIEVES IN CHRIST – Jesus said: This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom he hath sent (John 6:29); He that believes on me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life (John 6:47-48). In view of the context of these verses, to believe on Christ is to believe at least two things about Christ. First, it is to believe that he is the Son of God, sent from the Father, and second, that he is the one who laid down his life, as the spotless Lamb of God, as an atonement for our sins. A Christian is one who has trusted in Christ alone for the forgiveness of his sins. He has been justified (declared righteous) by grace, through faith in the blood of Christ. He has been reconciled to God and, as a result, is at peace with God (Acts 13:38-39; Rom. 3:10-26; 5:1; Col. 1:20-23). Anyone who has not called upon the Lord for the forgiveness of his sins, through the blood of Christ, is not a Christian.

(3) A TRUE CHRISTIAN FOLLOWS CHRIST – Jesus said:  My sheep hear my voice . . . and they follow me (John 10:27). In another place he said:  If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it (Matt. 16:24-25). Jesus said these words immediately after rebuking Peter for denying that he (i.e. Christ) must suffer and die. It is as if Jesus said, Not only must I go to the cross, but so must you. These words of Jesus are not a call to asceticism or martyrdom, but rather a call to regeneration. In order to live, you must die –to yourself, to sin, to your own desires. This saying of Jesus is closely related to Paul’s words in Gal. 2:20: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. You cannot be a Christian without dying to yourself.  When we were born again, we died with Christ and arose with Christ (Rom. 6:2-4), therefore we are no longer slaves of sin but slaves of God (Rom. 6:22). We now live to please God in everything we do, say, and think. A Christian does not do this perfectly, but it is his desire. The person who is fundamentally living for himself, following his own dreams, pursuing his own pleasure is not a Christian, according to Christ.

(4) A TRUE CHRISTIAN HAS THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST – Jesus said:  I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you (Jn. 14:16-17). Paul wrote:  Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his (Rom. 8:9). A  true Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit and where the Holy Spirit dwells there will be evidences. The Spirit produces holiness in the life. By holiness I do not mean merely morality. Many unbelievers are at some level moral. Holiness is an inward delight in God, his Word, his will, his plan, and his people. This holiness can further be described as the fruit of the Spirit: love,  joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Gal. 5:22-23).  Of course a true Christian is by no means perfect in regard to these qualities and in fact he daily struggles with sin in his own heart. But where this holy character is fundamentally lacking we can be certain the Holy Spirit is not present. Such a person, according to Christ, is not a Christian.

(5) A TRUE CHRISTIAN LOVES THE BODY OF CHRIST – Jesus said: By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another (Jn. 13:35). Jesus was not merely speaking of a general love for people. He was referring to love within the body of Christ. A  defining mark of a Christian is love for fellow-believers. John wrote: We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren (1 Jn. 3:14). A true Christian serves the church of Jesus Christ. He bears the burdens of fellow-believers. He attends upon the preaching of the Word and the Christ-ordained ordinances in the context of the local church. A person who does not delight in God’s people and forsakes the gathering of the saints, is not a Christian by Biblical standards.

 (6)  A TRUE CHRISTIAN PERSEVERES IN CHRIST – Jesus said: If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed (John 8:31). There are many who seem to follow Christ for a time. This was true in Christ’s day (John 2:23-25; 6:66), it was true in the Apostle John’s experience (1 John 2:19), and it is true today. There are many who ostensibly receive the Word with much joy, but then wither at the first sign of persecution, or become, over time, utterly choked out by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches (Matt. 13:18-22). Such are not true Christians. They make take the name, but they are not classified as Christians by Christ. A true Christian perseveres through trials, difficulties, failures, temptations, and struggles. He may fall down a thousand times, but by the grace of God, he keeps following Christ.

Jesus said that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven we must enter by the narrow gate and walk by the narrow way (Matt. 7:13-14). We are told that we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Jesus said that many will seek to enter the kingdom but will not be able (Luke 13:24). These are sobering words. Yet his promises are as sure as they have ever been. He has given us everything we need in his Word for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4). Let us be prayerful, humble, diligent, trembling, faithful, believing, obedient,  life-long students of the Word of God, for this is the means by which God keeps his children (Proverbs 2:1-22). This is how we look to Christ.

Finally, a Christian is one who loves Christ. We love him because we know that whatever good is in us is the result of his work. If left to myself, I would be lost. But Jesus saved me. This is a true Christian.

 

Dean Good is pastor of a congregation in Ohio, where he lives with his wife and teen-aged daughter. I have known Pastor Dean his whole life, being his older sister (by just 17 months!) Aside from a few rough junior high years, he has been one of my best friends for my whole life. But the thing that sets Pastor Dean aside from almost anyone I know is his love for the Word of God. Even as a boy, he demonstrated a love and loyalty to the Word that was remarkable. Since that time, his knowledge and love have only grown greater. He is not perfect–he would be the first to tell you so–but he is very dedicated to the preaching of the Word. I am so thankful for his willingness to help with this series. If you would like to listen to any of his sermons you can find them here.

 

You can find all the Learn to Discern posts here on this page.

A Battle You Can’t Afford to Lose

battle

People can be placed into so many different categories. Are you Type A or Laid Back? Are you Extroverted or Introverted? Are you a Half Full or Half Empty type of person?

Are you Proud or are you Humble?

The other day I was doing a Bible Study on the Repentant Woman in Luke 7:36-50. It’s so interesting to me how I can read a chapter many times and yet not quite get its meaning until I really take the time to study it. I always thought this passage was about the repentance of the woman, who, weeping, washed Jesus’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. And so it is. Sort of.

But what I realized as I studied is that it is just as much about the proud Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner. The two people –the Pharisee and the Woman are about as opposite as they can be. One is proud and one is humble. And since we cannot be reconciled to God or saved from our sin without repentance, and since there can be no repentance without humility, we know that only one of them will find peace with Jesus (unless, of course, that Pharisee changed after this passage. It is never too late!)

I have often wondered how people can say things like “I read my Bible every day” or they declare to know God in a most intimate way through personal experiences and yet they remain so far from true, biblical faith. How can this be? I see people who go to solid churches every Sunday and yet their lives show no power or obedience or submission to God. How can this be? I see people who follow the rules. They don’t drink, watch bad movies, dance, play cards, or swear and yet they are miserable, joyless creatures. How can this be?

These are all because of pride.

Since God created Adam and Eve, pride has been a fierce enemy of mankind. It has propelled millions upon millions to seek salvation through their own works and merit. It has kept millions upon millions in rebellion against God.

But for those of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, pride becomes the enemy that demands a fierce battle almost every day of our lives. It requires our constant attention, as it will seep into our hearts and minds relentlessly.

Our definition of pride, along with so many other definitions, has become severely damaged in this postmodern age. One would tell you that it is prideful to declare anything as true without wavering. That to be dogmatic about your beliefs is nothing but pride. And, yet, when we read the Bible we see there that truth was always spoken with conviction–from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament apostles to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And so we know that speaking the truth (in love!) that we find in God’s Word without apology is not prideful. Once again, how thankful I am for the Word of God–our only anchor. Praise be to God for His Word!

But we Christians often struggle with this sin of pride. So where do we get derailed? I believe that, first and foremost, it comes from a heart of rebellion that leads to this sin of pride. We don’t want to bow our will to the Father’s but, instead, want to do things our way. We don’t want to obey the Word of God, so instead will pick and choose and take out of context what is there to manipulate it to our viewpoints.

Until we can submit to God and obey His Whole Word, we will have a lifetime struggle with this sin of pride. When we think we know best, this is when we fall (Proverbs 16:18). But when we recognize our weakness, this is when we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:11).

I know you are thinking of someone you know right now. You are thinking “I wish so-and-so would read this post”. But stop for just a moment and examine your own heart. Where in your life has pride raised its ugly head? Ask God to show you. I will be doing the same thing.

An honest, humble examination of our hearts is the only way to be on the winning side of our battle with pride. And if we aren’t winning the pride battle and approaching all of life with a deep, abiding humility, there is grave danger that we will not interpret the scriptures correctly, that we will destroy relationships, and that we will be rendered useless for God’s eternal kingdom. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose!

I leave you today with these wise words from Jonathan Edwards–

Remember that pride is the worst viper in the heart–and the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ. Pride was the first sin that ever was. Pride is the most difficult sin to root out. It is the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts. It often insensibly creeps into the midst of religion, and sometimes under the disguise of humility!

 

 

If I Eat, Let Me Eat What is Good

watermelon-846357_1920

The last time you were at the grocery store, I imagine you saw the words “organic” and “natural” more often than not. Recently, people have become very passionate about having food that is free from pesticides and poisons. Food that is in its purest form and hasn’t been processed or changed.

Somewhere around the middle of last century, food changed. As we turned from an agricultural-based society where we all grew our own vegetables and baked our own bread to a more industrial society, we became a society eating things like wonder bread and boxed mac and cheese. As shelves at the stores filled with processed, genetically modified, and prepackaged foods we became unhealthier as a nation. As we filled ourselves at fast food chains, we grew fatter and wider.

However, in the recent years there has been a real push to stop feeding people food like this. Some of the biggest industries have been taken on and challenged to change things. Big name restaurants and corporations are doing their best to offer healthier options, while still making a hefty profit. The two don’t generally go hand in hand, so I am sure this has been a bit of a struggle for them.

When my kids were little and I was homeschooling, I remember that we could all eat lunch at McDonald’s for $6. This would be a treat for an especially trying day or on the way home from a field trip. Now many of us won’t touch McDonald’s. If we do, it is with a huge sense of guilt and we don’t do it often. When we go to the store, many of us examine ingredient lists closely as we look for the healthiest options possible. And we try to feed our kids the most organic, pure versions of food available. Even baby food has become suspect and many moms make their own at home. It is amazing how the world has changed in just 15 short years in regards to this. For me, personally, I have become much more conscientious about the food I feed to myself and my family. We have always gardened and we never ate a lot of processed foods, but we eat even less now and, except for an occasional trip to Chick-Fil-A, we rarely go to fast food restaurants anymore.

So why am I talking about food on a blog about spiritual growth?

Because I believe that our passion to feed our bodies and our children pure food should be matched–or even surpassed–by a passion to feed our minds and our children’s minds pure spiritual food.

We are all worked up about making sure we don’t poison and contaminate our bodies–something that is temporal and is going to end up old and shriveled eventually, no matter what we eat. And yet so many of us don’t worry even a second about what we are feeding our souls. We don’t give any thought to if we are poisoning and contaminating our minds.

And, wow, let me tell you–there is so much available that will contaminate and poison our minds and to move us far from a biblical viewpoint. It is unbelievable how unraveled Christianity has become as we have moved far from the Word of God and have turned instead to mysticism and psychology.

I receive an email each day with “Christian” books that are on sale for Kindle at Amazon. I normally will glance through it, looking for classics and authors I trust. I would say that on any given day about 10% of the books in that email are written by authors I trust. Another 40% look like they could be okay, judging by the title, forward, or author’s name but I couldn’t recommend them without reading them first. But at least 50% are pure rubbish. Books that have nothing to do with scripture and everything to do with twisting and mangling the Gospel and biblical truth. In fact, the telltale sign for most of them are their titles. You can also tell a lot by who writes the forward or recommends the book.

Books and music are very powerful. Just like food changes the composition of your body, so, too does Christian literature and music change your composition spiritually. We need to do all we can to keep our minds pure from poisons.

You may be thinking that you don’t know how to discern. If that’s the case, please read this post, where I give five steps to help you get started in this area of discernment.

Of course, being dedicated to purity in Christian resources is not met with such accolades as being dedicated to purity in our food sources. While people understand why we want to feed our bodies and our children pure and organic foods, they do not understand our passion to feed our minds and our children’s minds pure and organic spiritual food. And, so, this move towards purity does not come without its challenges.

Prepare to be called narrow-minded and harsh and judgmental. Prepare to lose some friends and to be ostracized. Just by commenting to a group of friends that you are not reading a certain book because it isn’t biblical or that you don’t allow your child to listen to a certain music group because they aren’t biblical will leave you open to ridicule and criticism. Eating organic food is not cheap, is it? Neither is eating pure spiritual food. While it won’t cost you in dollars and cents, it may cost you in reputation and friendships. We are not in a Christian culture that values discernment.

But what do you get in return? You get a healthy spiritual heart and mind. You get kids who know that scripture is their final authority and go to the Word to discern. This isn’t a guarantee, of course, but God does honor your desires to keep your family pure from worldly and vain philosophies and false teaching. And God fills in the gaps and meets your needs, making anything you may have to sacrifice worth the sacrifice as you step out in dedication to God’s Word and to run everything through its grid of Truth.

We tend to believe this is a new issue for this day and age, but it isn’t. Satan has always been busy trying to get Christians to read and listen to things that are either subtly twisted or in complete opposition to the Gospel. Of course, Spurgeon can say this so much better than I can, so I will conclude with this portion from one of his sermons called The Soul’s Best Food–

Now, dear Friends, I am sure that the topic on which I have been speaking is a very important one, yet it is a very neglected one. A great many young Christians and, I am afraid, some old Christian people, especially women, read no end of tales and novels. That is not eating that which is good—it is doing that which is worse than useless! There is no spiritual nutriment and little if any mental food in most of the stories that come out nowadays. We used to keep our tales for our children—our babies—but, now, the stories are written for grown-up people—and newspapers and magazines sell best if they contain pretty stories for the great babies of the present day. Nothing will suit them but stories. “Eat what is good.” But they eat ashes! They feed upon the wind—that is their spiritual meat. Sometimes we complain of present-day Christians that they have no backbone, no stamina, no strength compared with the Christians of past ages. I should think so—they do not eat the food out of which spiritual manhood can grow. They eat what would not nourish a mouse and then hope that they may be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.”

 

And, then, how common is the neglect of reading the Word of God itself! A great many persons take all their religion secondhand. They never go to the good old Book themselves. Years ago it was a very difficult thing to get milk—it was not milk that was called by that name. The only way to be sure of having milk was to keep a cow—and I recommend everybody to ensure getting the unadulterated milk of the Word of God by keeping his own cow, that is, by reading the Bible for himself. If you want to get pure water, go to the fountainhead. I was once going over the mountains in Northern Italy and I wanted to drink from a little stream, but my guide would not allow me to taste of it. I did not understand why, but he went on some considerable distance and then he allowed me to drink as much as I liked. And I noticed that I was drinking at a spring just where the water flowed out, but, the time before the stream had been running down the mountainside and was full of all sorts of impurities and, besides, it had lost its freshness and sweetness by travelling over the earth in the warm sun. The guide wanted me to have water that was worth drinking—to drink that which was good. And so I would advise you, my Friends, to take no notice of anything I say that is not according to the Word of God!

 

Put it away among the lumber,  for it is good for nothing—and whoever it is that preaches and whatever book you read—if it is not according to this Book, say to yourself, “Well, I have not any time to try experiments. If I do eat, I want to eat that which is good. And if I do delight myself, I want to delight myself in what God calls fatness.” There is plenty of carrion about—plenty of religious carrion, I mean—tainted through and through with false doctrine. And unhappy is that man who has a taste for it—it looks as if he were no true child of God.

 

The Four Missing Elements

MissingElements

If reading about the lives and faith of those who have gone on before has taught me anything, it has most certainly taught me that there is nothing new under the sun. Satan has been working feverishly for thousands of years now to keep people off the path of true, biblical faith. And he has had great success.

One of the ways we see him currently working in the church today is through a false, mystical faith that relies on experience for the assurance of salvation. The only thing that matters in many churches or the lives of many “Christians” is that there has been some sort of spiritual experience that one can look to as the moment of salvation.

I thought this was a new thing. But in reading the biography of Jonathan Edwards by Iain Murray, I see that this trick has been around for many, many years. This biography has required great thought and effort to read (I am still working on it!), but I am learning so much.

If you don’t mind, I am going to just give a really brief paragraph of history before moving on to what Edwards had to say about experiential faith. (If you aren’t interested in the history part of it, feel free to skip the following paragraph.)

From the mid 1730s to about 1743, there came a revival to America which was called the “Great Awakening”. You may have heard about it. George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards were both a big part of this exciting time in America. About halfway through the revival, Edwards noticed that the revival was taking on a distinctly emotional leaning. People were much more wrapped up in their experiences than they were in living for Christ. This led Edwards to write A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, a book that is still in print today. This is Edwards’ first paragraph, explaining the reason he is writing this particular book–

There is no question whatsoever, that is of greater importance to mankind, and that it more concerns every individual person to be well resolved in, than this: What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards? Or, which comes to the same thing, What is the nature of true religion? And wherein do lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue and holiness that is acceptable in the sight of God? But though it be of such importance, and though we have clear and abundant light in the word of God to direct us in this matter, yet there is no one point, wherein professing Christians do more differ one from another. It would be endless to reckon up the variety of opinions in this point, that divide the Christian world; making manifest the truth of that declaration of our Savior, “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, that leads to life, and few there be that find it.” The consideration of these things has long engaged me to attend to this matter, with the utmost diligence and care, and exactness of search and inquiry, that I have been capable of. It is a subject on which my mind has been peculiarly intent, ever since I first entered on the study of divinity. But as to the success of my inquiries it must be left to the judgment of the reader of the following treatise.

I have not read the Treatise of Religious Affections (at least not yet) but Murray shares portions from this book and other writings of Edwards that I have found most helpful in establishing what the Bible teaches about the assurance of salvation. Edwards felt it necessary to respond to the problem of experience-based (and false) faith that had grown like a giant tare in the midst of the true revival. I was most astonished to find this problem to be a very old one. And I am most grateful to Jonathan Edwards for expounding biblically on this very hot and current topic of today.

Jonathan Edwards uses this illustration, that seems so very applicable–

It is with professors of religion, especially such as become so in a time of outpouring of the Spirit of God, as it is with blossoms in the spring; there are vast numbers of them upon the trees, which all look fair and promising; but yet many of them never come to anything….It is the mature fruit which comes afterwards, and not the beautiful colors and smell of the blossoms that we must judge by.*

So, how do we know if we ourselves and those we love are practicing true and saving faith? What are the distinguishing marks of a true believer? How do we have genuine assurance of our salvation? This is no small question, as we all long to be right with God and spend eternity in heaven.

Someone I know recently had a conversation with a co-worker about where she would go when she dies. She stated that she was sure she was going to heaven because she was a good person. When pressed a bit, it was made clear that this woman wasn’t basing her belief on anything but her own desire to be in a good place when she dies. But beliefs do not save us. And, while I most certainly recognize that this will step on some toes, I also recognize the importance of getting a message of biblical salvation out to as many people as will hear it! Eternal life and damnation hang in the balance. How important that we know what the Bible says about these things.

Edwards, in response to this mystical, experiential religion and the aftermath of the revival, gives four missing elements in the lives of those who have no true grace. In other words, those who have had an experience but aren’t truly saved. (Keep in mind, that Edwards is assuming the reader’s high view of scripture. His readers–and even the general population–would have generally viewed the Bible as the true, inerrant, and complete Word of God and the basis for all morality. This is definitely missing from our current culture.)

1. Humility is missing. I have been thinking of this one now for a good, long while. We cannot even come to know true salvation without humility. How can we ever see ourselves as the sinners we are without it? Pride is a most dangerous and deadly sin.

2. An abiding sense of sin is missing.True saints are spoken of in Scripture not only as those that have mourned for sin, but as those that do mourn, whose manner it is still to mourn (Matthew 5:4)’ Repentance and confession are not once and done, but a continual part of a true believer’s life.

3. Reverential fear is missing. Yes, God is our friend, but He is also the most holy, omnipotent God. He is not to be treated casually, as we are so wont to do in this current casual culture. Being too familiar with God means that we don’t truly understand who He really is.

4. True balance is missing. Edwards explains balance in this way: “The real Christian, enjoying assurance of salvation, has ‘holy boldness’ but he also ‘has less of self-confidence and more modesty…He is less apt that others to be shaken in the faith, but more apt than others to be moved with solemn warnings, and with God’s frowns, and with the calamities of others. He has the firmest comfort but the softest heart. Richer than others, he is the poorest of all in spirit: the tallest and strongest saint, but the least and tenderest child among them.” *

Murray wraps Edwards’ helpful work up in one sentence: “Edwards basic and recurring theme is straight forward enough. The love and the pursuit of holiness is the enduring mark of the true Christian.”

Of course, as always, let me clarify something of great importance: True believers may be weak in one of these areas or growing in them, so lacking one or two of these elements does not mean a lack of salvation. However, I would add that if all four are missing it is a very ominous sign. I would also add that if the first one is missing it is also a rather ominous sign. There is really no way to be truly saved without the humble admission of sin and guilt.

Edwards talks about baby Christians in this manner: While the experience of a young Christian may be like a confused chaos, he will follow holiness, and true religious affections differ from false affections in that the true are always related to holiness.*

He also goes on to say this about the differences between true and false faith–

Individuals, once confident that they are converted, have no more earnest longings after light and grace….they live upon their first work, or some high experiences that are past, and there is an end to their crying and striving after God and grace. But the holy principles that actuate a true saint have a far more powerful influence to stir him up to earnestness in seeking God and holiness…The Scriptures everywhere represent the seeking, striving, and labor of a Christian, as being chiefly after his conversion, and his conversion as being but the beginning of his work. And almost all that is said in the New Testament, of men’s watching, giving earnest heed to themselves, running the race that is set before them, striving and agonizing, wrestling not with flesh and blood but principalities and powers, fighting, putting on the whole armour of God, and standing, pressing forward, reaching forth, continuing instant in prayer, crying to God day and night; I say, almost all that is said in the New Testament of these things, is spoken of and directed to the saints. Where these things are applied to sinners’ seeking conversion once, they are spoken of the saints’ prosecution of the great business of their high calling ten times.*

True Christianity is a beautiful thing. The Gospel message not only saves us, it transforms us. The counterfeit that we see today–embodied by men and women following after their own worldly lusts and dreams, claiming Christ all the while, is not true Christianity. And while I would never, ever judge an individual’s salvation (who am I to know a person’s heart or where they are at with God?) these thoughts by Edwards do give us a litmus test by which to judge church movements and revivals and the current church age. They also cause us to be more earnest in prayer for the spiritual growth (or perhaps even conversion) of those who are not manifesting the elements of true faith. And, finally, the words of Jonathan Edwards should cause us to examine our own lives, in search of these elements of true, biblical faith.

Please NOTE: One of my greatest fears in writing a post such as this one is misrepresenting an author. I have not read all of Edwards works and I am only becoming acquainted with the Great Awakening and the dynamics surrounding it. If you have anything helpful to add or have any corrections to the information I have given, it will be most welcome. I generally stay away from this type of post, but felt this topic to be of particular importance and relevance to the current church culture we live in.

*This quote and all following come from Banner of Truth Trust‘s The Religious Affections, Select Works of Jonathan Edwards.  This organization has done a wonderful job in bringing the works and biographies of great men and women of the faith back into print.

The great god Entertainment

Entertainment2

Entertainment surrounds us. It has become the lifeblood of our communities, our homes, and our churches. Sometime in the not too distant past, life became more about being entertained than it did about living a good, moral life. Life became more about playing and less about working. And the ramifications of this in the church are quite sobering.

I subscribe to a newsletter from Grace Gems. They send me all kinds of really good quotes and excerpts written by godly Christians already in glory. When I share any of these with my readers, it is generally on my Facebook page. However, this particular passage–written in 1955 by Tozer–is so perfect, so applicable, and so accurate that I wanted to share it with all my readers.

We need to see entertainment for what it is–an idol that has stolen the hearts of many and threatens to steal even our own hearts. It is a bit uncanny just how right Tozer is here and what he could see happening to the church even in the middle of last century. He was a very wise man.

(A.W. Tozer, 1955)

The great god Entertainment is ardently worshiped by many. There are millions who cannot live without amusement–life without some form of entertainment for them is simply intolerable. They look forward to the blessed relief afforded by professional entertainers and other forms of psychological narcotics–as a dope addict looks to his daily fix of heroin. Without them, they could not summon courage to face existence.

No one with common human feeling will object to the simple pleasures of life, nor to such harmless forms of entertainment as may help to relax the nerves and refresh the mind exhausted by toil. Such things, if used with discretion, may be a blessing along the way. That is one thing. But the all-out devotion to entertainment as a major activity for which men live, is definitely something else. The abuse of a harmless thing is sin.

The growth of the amusement phase of human life to such fantastic proportions is a portent, a threat to the souls of modern men. It has been built into a multimillion dollar racket with greater power over human minds and human character, than any other educational influence on earth. And the ominous thing is, that its power is almost exclusively evil, rotting the inner life, and crowding out the eternal thoughts which should fill the souls of men. The whole thing has grown into a veritable religion which holds its devotees with a strange fascination–and a religion, incidentally, against which it is now dangerous to speak.

For centuries the Church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was–a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from accountability to God. For this, she got herself roundly abused by the sons of this world. But of late she has become tired of the abuse, and has given up the struggle. She appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment–she may as well join forces with him and make what use she can of his powers.

So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called Christians. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God. Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders, who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it!

The great god Entertainment amuses his devotees mainly by telling them stories. The love of stories, which is a characteristic of childhood, has taken fast hold of the minds of the retarded saints of our day–so much so that many manage to make a comfortable living by spinning yarns and serving them up in various disguises to church people. What is natural and beautiful in a child, may be shocking when it persists into adulthood, and more so when it appears in the sanctuary and seeks to pass for true religion!

Is it not astonishing that, with the shadow of atomic destruction hanging over the world and with the coming of Christ drawing near–the professed followers of the Lord should be giving themselves up to religious amusements? That in an hour when mature saints are so desperately needed–vast numbers of believers should revert to spiritual childhood, and clamor for religious toys?

 

Our Most Treacherous Enemy

TakeUpYourCross

There are few things that affect our love for God and our growth as a believer more than our love for self. For out of that many (if not all) sins are born. The world and even the church are telling us these days just how important it is that we love ourselves. We are told that we cannot experience success in any area of life unless we do.

And, yet, is this what the Bible teaches?

Of course not. In fact, if we are a true believer, we recognize that we are our own worst enemy, no matter what the world (and worldly preachers) tell us. But if we have been in the faith for awhile, we may begin to think that we are winning our battle against self-love. We compare ourselves to the world around us and, in comparison to that, we look pretty good. But therein is the issue, is it not? We are to compare ourselves to the Word of God, not to sinners around us.

If you prefer to continue believing that you are winning your battle against self, then I’d encourage you to stop reading now. The essay below, written by Richard Baxter, a puritan from the mid-1600s, will quench that thought in a heartbeat. I share it here to challenge and convict. To cause you to think and to grow. I was dismayed to realize just how very selfish I still am, but also encouraged to know that I am less selfish now than I was twenty years ago. And I guess that’s how life is, isn’t it? No perfection this side of glory, but slow and steady progress as we work our way there. I hope that you are challenged–but also encouraged–by this essay–

SELF-DENIAL

“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23

You hear ministers tell you of the odiousness and danger and sad effects of sin; but of all the sins that you ever heard of, there is scarce any more odious and dangerous than selfishness; and yet most are never troubled at it, nor sensible of its malignity. My principal request therefore to you is, that as ever you would prove Christians indeed, and be saved from sin and the damnation which follows it—take heed of this deadly sin of selfishness, and be sure you are possessed with true self-denial; and if you have, see that you use and live upon it.

And for your help herein, I shall tell you how your self-denial must be tried. I shall only tell you in a few words, how the least measure of true self-denial may be known: wherever the interest of carnal self is stronger and more predominant habitually than the interest of God, of Christ, of everlasting life, there is no true self-denial or saving grace; but where God’s interest is strongest, there self-denial is sincere. If you further ask me how this may be known, briefly thus:

1. What is it that you live for? What is that good which your mind is principally set to obtain? And what is that end which you principally design and endeavor to obtain, and which you set your heart on, and lay out your hopes upon? Is it the pleasing and glorifying of God, and the everlasting fruition of Him? Or is it the pleasing of your fleshly mind in the fruition of any inferior thing? Know this, and you may know whether self or God has the greatest interest in you. For that is your God which you love most, and please best, and would do most for.

2. Which do you most prize—the means of your salvation and of the glory of God, or the means of providing for self and flesh? Do you more prize Christ and holiness, which are the way to God—or riches, honor, and pleasures, which gratify the flesh? Know this, and you may know whether you have true self-denial.

3. If you are truly self-denying, you are ordinarily ruled by God, and His Word and Spirit, and not by the carnal self. Which is the rule and master of your lives? Whose word and will is it ordinarily that prevails? When God draws, and self draws—which do you follow in the tenor of your life? Know this, and you may know whether you have true self-denial.

4. If you have true self-denial, the drift of your lives is carried on in a successful opposition to your carnal self, so that you not only refuse to be ruled by it, and love it as your god—but you fight against it, and tread it down as your enemy. So that you go armed against self in the course of your lives, and are striving against self in every duty. And as others think—it then goes best with them, when self is highest and pleased best; so you will know that then it goes best with you—when self is lowest, and most effectually subdued.

5. If you have true self-denial, there is nothing in this world so dear to you, but on deliberation you would leave it for God. He who has anything which he loves so well that he cannot spare it for God, is a selfish and unsanctified wretch. And therefore God has still put men to it, in the trial of their sincerity, to part with that which was dearest to the flesh. Abraham must be tried by parting with his only son. And Christ makes it His standing rule, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).

Yet it is true that flesh and blood may make much resistance in a gracious heart; and many a striving thought there may be, before with Abraham we part with a son, or before we can part with wealth or life; but yet on deliberation, self-denial will prevail. There is nothing so dear to a gracious soul, which he cannot spare at the will of God, and the hope of everlasting life. If with Peter we would flinch in a temptation—we should return with Peter in weeping bitterly, and give Christ those lives that in a temptation we denied Him.

6. In a word, true self-denial is procured by the knowledge and love of God, advancing Him in the soul—to debasing of self. The illuminated soul is so much taken with the glory and goodness of the Lord, that it carries him out of himself to God, and as it were estranges him from himself, that he may have communion with God. This makes him vile in his own eyes, and to abhor himself in dust and ashes. It is not a stoical resolution, but the love of God and the hopes of glory—which make him throw away the world, and look contemptuously on all below, so far as they are mere provision for flesh.

Search now, and try your hearts by these evidences, whether you are possessed of this necessary grace of self-denial. O make not light of the matter! For I must tell you that self is the most treacherous enemy, and the most insinuating deceiver in the world! It will be within you when you are not aware of it and will conquer you when you perceive not yourselves much troubled with it. Of all other vices, selfishness is both the hardest to find out and the hardest to cure. Be sure therefore in the first place, that you have self-denial; and then be sure you use it and live in the practice of it.

Published by gracegems.org. If you have enjoyed this (and others like it that I have shared on the Growing4Life Facebook page), then I encourage you to get on their e-mail list.

The Greatest Miracle of All

aniwa

When we think about the word “miracle”, our minds tend to think of miracles having to do with a person’s health, wealth, or welfare. Things like miraculous cancer recoveries, disappearing tumors, or an unexpected check in the mail or bag of groceries on the porch. While these miracles are certainly amazing to witness and demonstrate just how personally and deeply God cares for His children, I would like to submit to you that the greatest miracle of all is a heart deadened in sin that is awakened to new life in Jesus Christ.

I just finished a wonderful book called The Story of John Paton or Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. As many of you already know, I love reading missionary biographies. They have changed me, because they change my perspective of Christianity. You see, when we are in our comfortable homes with all our modern conveniences and plenty to eat, we can forget what many people give up to tell others about Jesus. It can slip our minds that our faith in Christ is to transform our lives and push us to share the gospel with fervor and zeal.

As I read this book, I was once again reminded of these things. Mr. Paton’s autobiography, which takes place on the New Hebrides Islands (now called Vanuatu) in the mid to late 1800s, includes miraculous escapes, nail-biting journeys, and many testimonies of saved souls. There are so many excerpts I would love to share from this book with you, but I decided to narrow it down to this one testimony of a young chief, troubled and antagonistic, miraculously saved from sin by God’s outpouring of grace on his life. Yet another evidence that the greatest miracle of all is a changed heart.

I hope you enjoy reading this short excerpt and that it will move you to pick up the book and start reading it. The chapter is entitled–

THE CONVERSION OF YOUWILI

THESE events suggest to me another incident of those days, full at once of trial and of joy. It pertains to the story of our young Chief Youwili. From the first, and for long, he was most audacious and troublesome. Observing that for several days no Natives had come near the Mission House, I asked the old Chief if he knew why, and he answered, “Youwili has tabooed the paths, and threatens death to any one who breaks through it.”

I at once replied, “Then I conclude that you all agree with him, and wish me to leave. We are here only to teach you and your people. If he has power to prevent that we shall leave with the Dayspring.”

The old Chief called the people together, and they came to me, saying, “Our anger is strong against Youwili. Go with us and break down the taboo. We will assist and protect you.”

I went at their head and removed it. It consisted simply of reeds stuck into the ground, with twigs and leaves and fiber tied to each in a peculiar way, in a circle round the Mission House. The Natives had an extraordinary dread of violating the taboo, and believed that it meant death to the offender or to some one of his family. All present entered into a bond to punish on the spot any man who attempted to replace the taboo or to revenge its removal. Thus a mortal blow was publicly struck at this most miserable superstition, which had caused bloodshed and misery untold.

One day, thereafter, I was engaged in clearing away the bush around the Mission House, having purchased and paid for the land for the very purpose of opening it up, when suddenly Youwili appeared and menacingly forbade me to proceed. For the sake of peace I for the time desisted. But he went straight to my fence, and with his tomahawk cut down the portion in front of our house, also some bananas planted there—the usual declaration of war, intimating that he only awaited his opportunity similarly to cut down me and mine. We saw the old Chief and his men planting themselves here and there to guard us, and the Natives prowling about armed and excited. On calling them, they explained the meaning of what Youwili had done, and that they were determined to protect us. I said. “This must not continue. Are you to permit one young fool to defy us all, and break up the Lord’s work on Aniwa? If you cannot righteously punish him, I will shut myself up in my house and withdraw from all attempts to teach or help you, till the vessel comes, and then I can leave the island.”

Now that they had begun really to love us, and to be anxious to learn more, this was always my most powerful argument. We retired into the Mission House. The people surrounded our doors and windows and pleaded with us. After long silence, we replied, “You know our resolution. It is for you now to decide. Either you must control that foolish young man, or we must go!”

Much speech-making, as usual, followed. The people resolved to seize and punish Youwili; but he fled, and had hid himself in the bush. Coming to me, the Chief said, “It is left to you to say what shall be Youwili’s punishment. Shall we kill him?”

I replied firmly, “Certainly not! Only for murder can life be lawfully taken away.”

“What then?” they continued. “Shall we burn his houses and destroy his plantations?”

I answered, “No.”

“Shall we bind him and beat him?”

“No.”

“Shall we place him in a canoe, thrust him out to sea, and let him drown or escape as he may?”

“No! by no means.”

“Then, Missi,” said they, “these are our ways of punishing. What other punishment remains that Youwili cares for?”

I replied, “Make him with his own hands, and alone, put up a new fence, and restore all that he has destroyed; and make him promise publicly that he will cease all evil conduct towards us. That will satisfy me.”

This idea of punishment seemed to tickle them greatly. The Chiefs reported our words to the Assembly; and the Natives laughed and cheered, as if it were a capital joke! They cried aloud, “It is good! Obey the word of the Missi.”

After considerable hunting, the young Chief was found. They brought him to the Assembly and scolded him severely and told him their sentence. He was surprised by the nature of the punishment, and cowed by the determination of the people.

“To-morrow,” said he, “I will fully repair the fence. Never again will I oppose the Missi. His word is good.”

By daybreak next morning Youwili was diligently repairing what he had broken down, and before evening he had everything made right better than it was before. While he toiled away, some fellows of his own rank twitted him, saying, “Youwili, you found it easier to cut down Missi’s fence than to repair it again. You will not repeat that in a hurry!”

But he heard all in silence. Others passed with averted heads, and he knew they were laughing at him. He made everything tight and then left without uttering a single word. My heart yearned after the poor fellow, but I thought it better to let his own mind work away, on its new ideas as to punishment and revenge, for a little longer by itself alone. I instinctively felt that Youwili was beginning to turn, that the Christ-Spirit had touched his darkly-groping soul. My doors were now thrown open, and every good work went on as before. We resolved to leave Youwili entirely to Jesus, setting apart a portion of our prayer every day for the enlightenment and conversion of the young Chief, on whom all other means had been exhausted apparently in vain.

A considerable time elapsed. No sign came, and our prayers seemed to fail. But one day, I was toiling between the shafts of a hand-cart, assisted by two boys, drawing it along from the shore loaded with coral blocks. Youwili came rushing from his house, three hundred yards or so off the path, and said, “Missi, that is too hard for you. Let me be your helper!”

Without waiting for a reply, he ordered the two boys to seize one rope, while he grasped the other, threw it over his shoulder and started off, pulling with the strength of a horse. My heart rose in gratitude, and I wept with joy as I followed him. I knew that that yoke was but a symbol of the yoke of Christ, which Youwili with his change of heart was beginning to carry! Truly there is only one way of regeneration, being born again by the power of the Spirit of God, the new heart; but there are many ways of conversation, of outwardly turning to the Lord, of taking the actual first step that shows on whose side we are.

Like those of old praying for the deliverance of Peter, and who could not believe their ears and eyes when Peter knocked and walked in amongst them, so we could scarcely believe our eyes and ears when Youwili became a disciple of Jesus, though we had been praying for his conversion every day. His once sullen countenance became literally bright with inner light. His wife came immediately for a book and a dress saying, “Youwili sent me. His opposition to the Worship is over now. I am to attend Church and School. He is coming too. He wants to learn how to be strong, like you, for Jehovah and for Jesus.”

Oh, Jesus! to Thee alone be all the glory. Thou hast the key to unlock every heart that Thou hast created.

 

Paton, John Gibson (2012-05-16). The Story of John G. Paton Or Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals. Kindle Edition.

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