A Picture of the Fruit of Killing Sin

“Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” John Owen

“But that is not the way you learned Christ – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:20-24

This post is a picture of my own progress in killing sin, what theologians call mortification. It should be a daily thing, a daily dying, a daily starving of the sins the Spirit convicts you of and a cutting off of what feeds those sins. Do you know what feeds those sins that so easily entangle you? Do you know how to fight? (Read here to learn more.)

I live in a relatively wealthy suburb of Atlanta. Many here can afford the most expensive cars, houses, and private schools. We are not those people, and it’s been very easy for me to slip into a silent but persistent kind of envy and discontent. I’ve done a lot of work of trying to starve these sins, both with subtracting and adding (the putting off and putting on that Paul talks about above). I’ve added more gratitude and praise and I’ve taken away certain things on social media. By the power of God’s grace in me through Christ, I have fought and chipped away, seeing very little progress sometimes, but continuing to come back to the Cross, repenting and renewing my faith in Christ who has promised to finish his good work in me. (Phil. 1:6)

One day I experienced a kind of progress in this fight against these sins that stunned me. It was like I had reached what the hymn writer called a higher ground. I was driving over to a friend’s house to deliver dinner. As I drove down the road, glancing sideways at the beautiful new housing developments with their McMansions and perfectly manicured lawns, I felt something different. The envy and discontent that so easily came into my mind and bubbled up in my heart wasn’t there. It was not the default. It wasn’t a complete victory, and the battle continues to this day, but the foe had been dealt a blow. Not because of me, but because of Christ in me. Where these sins had once shouted, they were now whispering. Envy had been like a gnawing hunger but now it was like a faint aroma more easily ignored and replaced with gratitude. This was the power of grace. This was the fruit of putting sin to death. And I pray for the grace and strength to continue in this battle for his glory, for it is his work in me.

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Puritan Sundays: John Owen

If you’ve never heard of John Owen, you may have heard this famous quote:

“Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”

These words come from John Owen’s works on indwelling sin and temptation in the believer. When people come to faith in Christ and are born again, there is still a battle to be fought over the remaining sin in our flesh. Paul speaks about this using the language of the old self and the new self. (see Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3 for examples). Even while we rejoice at being justified and made righteous in Christ, there’s still a war to be waged, by the Spirit’s power in us, with the sins and temptations that come from the world, our flesh, and the devil.

What is that war like, and how do we wage it? John Owen’s works – especially on sin and temptation – are the best handbook I’ve read for this discipline. Fair warning though – Owen is not an easy read. It takes a while to get used to the 17th century English and what J.I. Packer described as his ‘lumbering literary gait’. But it is so worth it. And today we have help from some fine and gracious editors who’ve given us an updated edition of his three classic works on sin and temptation in the believer – Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It, and Indwelling Sin. Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic have done a wonderful job of making these three works more accessible and more understandable to a modern audience by combining all three works into one book called Overcoming Sin and Temptation.

It took me a long time to read this book but that’s how it should be read. Some books are meant to be chewed on and digested slowly. I decided to use it as a kind of devotional before I did my Bible reading. I took notes in the margins, paraphrased his ideas, and looked up words I didn’t know in the dictionary. Many years on, I can see the fruit the Lord has worked in my own heart and life from taking one or two pages at a time and allowing the Spirit to work in me. It has been a picture of the synergy of sanctification that Paul speaks of in Philippians 2:12-13 – “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Have I arrived, so to speak? Absolutely not. While justified and declared righteous in Christ, I still wage war with my sin on a daily basis by the Spirit’s power. Some battles are won and many are lost, and some are still to be fought. But with John Owen’s help, I better understand the nature of this battle and the necessity of fighting it. Let me leave you with a couple quotes from this edition of Owen’s three works. The first is from the Forward by John Piper:

“As I look across the Christian landscape, I think it is fair to say concerning sin, ‘They have healed the wound of my people lightly’ (Jer. 6:14; 8:11, ESV). I take this to refer to leaders who should be helping the church know and feel the seriousness of indwelling sin (Rom. 7:20), and how to fight it and kill it (Rom. 8:13). Instead the depth and complexity and ugliness and danger of sin in professing Christians is either minimized – since we are already justified – or psychologized as a symptom of woundedness rather than corruption. This is a tragically light healing.”

And now from Owen:

“Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and you will die a conqueror; yea, you will, through the good providence of God, live to see your lust dead at your feet.”

You may not have the time or energy to read Owen right now. I certainly don’t. But there are many modern day authors who’ve been tremendously influenced by Owen who write in a more practical and readable style. One that immediately comes to mind is Jerry Bridges. He passed away some years ago, but his works on holiness and sanctification are nearly as convicting as Owen’s. Plus, from all accounts, he strived to live what he wrote. And if you’d like to read of one woman’s practice of ‘killing sin’, click here.

Have you read Owen? What has been your experience? And if you haven’t read him and do have the time and energy, I urge you to give him a try. You won’t be disappointed.

God Always Knows What He’s Doing

Those are the words someone told me after I went to chemotherapy the first time. The room was full and I was led to a spot in the corner for my first infusion. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know anyone else in the room. But this woman across from me immediately introduced herself and offered advice on handling side effects. We became friends on Facebook and I quickly discovered she was a believer in Christ. When I messaged her later, marveling at how God arranged for me to be right next to her at my first infusion, she said, “God always knows what he’s doing.”

And he does, but I don’t believe it most of the time. I believe the lie that I have to help God out, with everything, or else it won’t get done correctly or on time.

There is a correct understanding of sanctification that properly balances the work I do empowered by God’s work (Philippians 2:12-13) but I don’t think it includes a kind of low level anxiety where I am constantly worried about doing my part or else God won’t do his part.

I have always liked to take notes during sermons. I don’t usually go back and read them, but I believe writing down my own notes helps me think more clearly and take in more truth. During this cancer journey, I haven’t had the strength or focus to take notes and the first time I realized that I felt a kind of spiritual FOMO (fear of missing out) that went like this:

“What if I miss something God wants to teach me?”

But God isn’t dependent on me taking notes to work his will in me. God always knows what he’s doing and he’s doing it even if I’m not taking notes during a sermon. He’s working out his will in my life in ways I am completely unaware of. Do I believe that? Not usually.

I get it backward. He is in charge of my sanctification. I am dependent on him, not the other way around. I don’t need to panic, trying to make sure I learn all the lessons I think God is trying to teach me. I need to abide in him and cling to him as the branch clings to the vine (John 15), staying close like the tree planted by streams of water. (Psalm 1) The branch doesn’t panic, neither does the tree. They both stick close to the source of life.

God always knows what he’s doing, both in the world and in my heart. He won’t let me miss out.

“I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” Psalm 57:2

“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” Psalm 138:8

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

God Cares for Us Moms!

This post is a continuation of what I’ve written before about God and moms. You can find that here.

Moms do. They forgo sleep in order to bathe and clean, bandage and cook, care for and soothe. Moms desire peace in their homes and families. Sometimes they can encourage that kind of peace, at least outwardly, but sometimes they can’t, especially inwardly, and as their children get older, they really shouldn’t try to fix everything for their children. Easy, pain-free lives don’t prepare children for the world they will enter as adults.

We don’t know a lot about Mary, but I’m sure she was a lot like us regular moms. But we should also pay more attention to the particularly special role she played in the story of redemption. Those of us who are Protestants should probably think more about this special role. Only one woman was chosen to bear the Son of God. Only one woman experienced all that went with the incarnation and birth of Jesus Christ. She didn’t understand everything, but Scripture tells us she hid everything in her heart, pondering all that was said about Jesus and done by Jesus, faithfully following him her whole life.

Jesus entered public ministry around the age of 30. We don’t know a lot about what Mary thought of this. We have the scene at the wedding in Cana, but we also see Jesus’ half brothers scoffing at him. Did she try to fix that and explain to her other children who their brother really was? When did she fully realize it? Did she spend nights agonizing in prayer as her son faced opposition from the religious leaders? At one point, Mary and her family went to look for Jesus. (see Mark 3:31-35) The crowd around him pointed out their presence but Jesus seems to separate himself from them, declaring that anyone who believes in him and does God’s will is a part of his family. Was Mary hurt by this? Did she feel like somehow Jesus didn’t care about her?

At the time of the crucifixion, it seems that Mary had become a widow. To be a widow in those days was a scary proposition. God had instructed his people on how to care for widows. They were to be provided for by their sons. But where were Mary’s other sons? We don’t know. The only son she could look to was dying on a Roman cross. Many things in her life hadn’t gone according to the plan she had in mind ever since she received that message from Gabriel. Again, we’re not told a lot about Mary’s life as a mother after Jesus was born, or of her particular struggles, but she probably did what normal mothers do – she served, loved, prayed, pondered, agonized and tried to fix. But as she looked on her son, the Son of God, nailed to a cross, she couldn’t fix that. Did she understand what Jesus was doing? Was she frightened and worried at the prospects for herself, a widow whose oldest son was dying before her eyes?

In that moment, we’re not told what was going on in Mary’s heart and mind. But we are told what her oldest son, the very Son of God, does for her right before he breathes his last breath.

“When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”  John 19:26-27

Mary’s other sons seem to have abandoned her, but Jesus provides another to care for her – John. The mother who had borne more than any other mother, the mother who had cared and soothed, prayed and pondered, the mother who now found herself abandoned, was provided for. And not just physically and materially. Yes, in instructing the apostle John to take Mary into his home, she would find safety and provision. But what neither Mary nor John fully realized was that Jesus Christ was providing for both of them in the most important way. In bearing the penalty of their sin as their substitute, in being buried in that tomb then rising again on the third day, then ascending to the right hand of his Father to ever intercede on their behalf, and finally pouring out his Spirit on Pentecost, Jesus Christ – the Son of God – was providing for ALL their needs.

As Mary looked to her dying son, most likely a weary and broken woman, a devastated and confused mother, that son was caring for her in every way she would need. And in every way all of us would need.

There was only one Mary, but all moms can relate to her weariness, confusion and brokenness. We wonder how our children will be cared for and who will care for us. We spend hours praying and pondering, trying to fix things and bring peace, wondering how we’ll get through the next day, the next month, the next year. But take heart! If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, he is now your Savior, your Brother and your Friend, the One upon whom we’re exhorted to cast all our cares. Why?

Because He cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7)

A Daily Prayer

This prayer comes from others (like Tim Challies, John Piper, and Amy Carmichael), from Scripture and includes a little bit of my own editing. I pray you’ll be blessed in using it and see lots of fruit in your own life.

Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.

Fill me with your wisdom so I may know what the next thing is, and only the next thing, trusting you for everything else.

Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you according to the grace and strength that is in me because I am in Christ.

Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Pour through me now; I yield myself to you. O Love, blessed Love, equip me with everything good to do your will and work out your will in and through me for your glory alone and my good so that I am fully satisfied in your steadfast love and your faithfulness.

Puritan Sundays: Richard Sibbes

If you’re on Twitter, and hang around in what is sometimes called ‘Christian Twitter’ I guess, you may have noticed some tension, especially among those who like to engage in theological skirmishes. Words can easily fly from the head to the thumbs and onto the Internet and pretty soon, accusations are made and slander can ensue.

What do the Puritans have to do with Twitter though? A lot actually, if we pay attention. Take Richard Sibbes as an example. Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) was one of the most influential persons in the Puritan movement. Martyn Lloyd-Jones found great comfort in reading the works of this man known as “The Heavenly Doctor Sibbes”. If you’re new to the writings of the Puritans, Sibbes’ book, The Bruised Reed, is a good place to start. The book is based on Isaiah 42:1-3 which says:

“Behold my servant whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”

The servant in Isaiah is Jesus Christ, and Sibbes begins his book by describing how Christ fulfills this Scripture, this beautiful picture of compassion. He will not break the bruised reed or quench the faintly burning wick. It’s the gentleness of Christ that Sibbes highlights, and how we also should imitate him in how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Read these excerpts and see how powerfully they apply to us now in our quick-to-assume, quick-to-tweet, social media atmosphere, even in the church. Under the heading We Are Debtors to the Weak, Sibbes makes three points:

“Let us be watchful in the use of our liberty, and labour to be inoffensive in our behaviour, that our example compel them not…Looseness of life is cruelty to ourselves and to the souls of others. Though we cannot keep those who will perish from perishing, yet if we do that which is apt of itself to destroy the souls of others their ruin is imputable to us.”

‘Let men take heed of taking up Satan’s office, in misrepresenting the good actions of others, as he did Job’s case…or slandering their persons, judging of them according to the wickedness that is in their own hearts.

“Among the things that are to be taken heed of, there is among ordinary Christians a bold usurpation of censure towards others, not considering their temptations. Some will unchurch and unbrother in a passion.”

Sibbes’ point here is that if Christ treats his own weak children with mercy and gentleness, then we too should thus incline our own hearts towards our brothers and sisters for whom Christ died.

I’d love to write more about this, especially how to balance gentleness with a zeal for doctrinal purity, but I’ll save that for another post. For now, I encourage you to pick up A Bruised Reed. If you’ve read Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund, you’ll really like this book.

Daily Dying to Self

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

The Cross was an instrument of death. On it our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was sacrificed, bearing the wrath for our sins. But what does it mean for us to take up our cross? In giving this command, our Lord is calling us to a less monumental task, but still difficult. I believe Paul may have been thinking of this command of Jesus when he wrote in Romans 12:1-2:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

I think taking up our cross can be compared to offering ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. Many of us have heard and read these words of Jesus and Paul dozens if not hundreds of times. But still, we’re confused as to what this looks like on the hectic Monday morning or the lazy Saturday afternoon. Perhaps we think on too grand a scale, conjuring up pictures of martyrs and missionaries. What does it look like to be a living sacrifice in the humdrum of daily life? That’s harder to get our heads around. But let me share a few things it’s meant for me lately.

I am not in charge of my life

Whether you’re facing cancer, like myself, or Covid, all of us have come face to face these past two years with the fact that we can’t control the diseases that quietly grow within us, and the viruses that float around in the air. Many have thought they’ve done everything right only to find themselves with a positive Covid test. I certainly never thought I’d have cancer. I was a healthy marathon runner with no family history.

Taking up my cross in this situation has meant accepting what the Lord has given, knowing he is good and confident that he is wiser than me and knows exactly what he’s doing. There’s been a death to my plans and my expectations. I can’t do the things I want to do.

I don’t know everything and it’s not wise for me to know everything.

When I was about to get my port placed for chemotherapy, I thought it would be good to do some research. As I peered over the black hole that is YouTube I quickly realized that wasn’t a good idea. It made me more anxious. So I’ve taken my doctor’s advice. I can do all the research and watch all the videos and talk to all the people I know who’ve had cancer, but in the end, I am an experiment of one and there’s no way of predicting how I will respond to chemo. Meredith will respond the way Meredith responds. Yes, being fit and healthy going into the process helps immensely, and talking to some people is good, but I’m learning, in this situation and many others, that more knowledge isn’t always good.

I have always been the kind of person who wants to be in the know about many things – just ask my husband about all the sports trivia that lives in my head! But dying to myself means that I need to accept my limitations and realize that more knowledge isn’t always good for me. I must trust the one who knows all.

I cannot control what people think of me.

There’s a little book by Tim Keller called The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. In it he takes a passage from 1 Corinthians 4 where Paul speaks about how futile it is for him to worry about what the Corinthians think of him and even what he thinks of himself. It is only God’s judgment that matters and because of Christ, he has already been judged righteous.

Ever since I was diagnosed with cancer, I’ve struggled with how to tell people, when to tell them, how much to share and many other things. I quickly realized though that each person processes their cancer differently. Some want to be private and only involve close friends and family while others join support groups or throw themselves into fundraising.

I am a chronic overthinker and one way I overthink is in thinking about what other people think of me and more importantly what I think of myself. My reputation can be the greatest idol I bow down to. But with God’s help I am experiencing more and more freedom from that kind of bondage. Dying to myself means letting go of what others may be thinking and spending less and less time building or protecting my own reputation. I am in Christ, free from all condemnation. Isn’t that enough?

Look at the words of Jesus again. He doesn’t just say to take up your cross and follow him. Notice the promise he gives. Whoever loses their lives for his sake will find it. Amazing! Many of us read these words and think only of what we’ll lose if we take up our cross and follow Jesus. But look at what we gain! We will find our lives! True life, eternal life is found in Jesus. There really is no downside to taking up our cross and dying to ourselves. For as Paul said in Colossians 3:1-4, if we have been raised with Christ, our life, our real life, is hidden with him in God.

The Inner Life and Exercising Faith

The words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones have had a significant impact on my life. Years ago, I heard John Piper quote him in one of his sermons where he speaks about the concept of preaching to yourself, and that has revolutionized my inner life. I encourage you to watch an excerpt here. Jerry Bridges took the same concept and wrote about preaching the gospel to yourself in his many books, including Respectable Sins, and that equipped me even more.

What is the inner life? It’s the territory that exists between our ears but also in the crevices of our own hearts. It’s where we listen to our own silent accusations and become paralyzed by the inner dialogue. When my eyes were opened to this and I realized I didn’t have to blindly accept these accusations, my own inner life started to radically change. See, I thought that voice that talked to me when I first woke up in the morning was the boss. I didn’t know I had the permission, the ability, and the responsibility to critically evaluate those thoughts and talk back to them, and more powerfully, use Scripture to combat the lies and doubts that came at me throughout the day.

The concept of the inner life and learning how to preach to yourself is woven throughout Lloyd-Jones’ book, Spiritual Depression, which is a collection of 21 sermons. I’ve been slowly making my way through the whole book and have been greatly strengthened as I read Lloyd-Jones urging his listeners to take themselves in hand and correctly diagnosis their spiritual maladies. In his sermon, Where is Your Faith, he takes a familiar scene from Luke 8 in which the disciples panic during a storm at sea while Jesus remains asleep, seemingly unconcerned. After calming the storm with a word, Jesus asks one question: “Where is your faith?”

Lloyd-Jones uses this question to make several points about what faith is, and what faith is not. But underneath his exposition, he also adds several exhortations to preach to yourself. Like the skilled doctor that he was, he puts his finger on not just the sickness but the cure.

Faith isn’t a matter of feeling.

“A Christian is not meant to be dejected when everything goes wrong. He is told to ‘rejoice’. Feelings belong to happiness alone, rejoicing takes in something much bigger than feelings; and if faith were a matter of feelings only, then when things go wrong and feelings change, faith will go.”

If faith were only a matter of how we feel, we’d be in a sad state. Anyone who’s lived more than a minute knows how quickly our feelings can change. Dejection is the sickness L-J has diagnosed. He then goes on to write the prescription, focusing on the nature of faith and how it operates.

Faith does not act automatically.

“Many people, it seems to me, conceive of faith as if it were something similar to those thermostats which you have in connection with a heating apparatus, you set your thermostat at a given level, you want to maintain the temperature at a certain point and it acts automatically.”

The prescription is faith, but faith doesn’t mean do nothing. Faith does not work automatically. The disciples in the boat with Jesus may have believed that because Jesus was in the boat, he would take care of things without them having to ask. And many of us think that once we’ve placed our faith in Christ for salvation, there’s nothing more to be done. Faith is something we relegate to our past, not something we must put into action every day. And act we must! But how?

Faith is something we must bring into operation.

“How then does one put faith into operation? What do I mean by saying that faith is something we have to apply? I can divide my answer in this way. The first thing I must do when I find myself in a difficult position is to refuse to allow myself to be controlled by the situation.”

The disciples allowed their circumstances to control them. They became overwhelmed by the storm and the waves crashing into the boat. And so do we! When the storms of life come at us, we seem to be hardwired to glue our eyes on how bad the situation is and allow that to control us. But faith doesn’t do that.

Faith is a refusal to panic.

“Faith is a refusal to panic, come what may. Browning, I think had that idea when he defined faith like this: ‘With me, faith means perpetual unbelief kept quiet, like the snake ‘neath Michael’s foot’.”

I love that imagery. L-J is saying here that faith is activated first of all by not allowing ourselves to be panicked. The disciples allowed themselves to panic even though the Lord of Creation was in the boat with them! And we panic also, don’t we? We act just like the disciples and assume, in the midst of trouble, that the Lord isn’t there and the Lord doesn’t care. But L-J is telling us to activate our faith. He says we must take charge of ourselves and not allow our circumstances to drive us. But what’s next?

Faith reasons.

“Having taken that first step, having pulled yourself up, you then remind yourself of what you believe and what you know. That again is something these foolish disciples did not do. If only they had stopped a moment and said: ‘Now then what about it? Is it possible that we are going to drown with Him in the boat? Is there anything He cannot do? We have seen His miracles, He turned the water into wine, He can heal the blind and the lame, He can even raise the dead, is it likely that He is going to allow us and Himself to be drowned in this way? Impossible! In any case He loves us, He cares for us, He had told us that the very hairs of our head are all numbered!’ That is the way in which faith reasons. It says: ‘All right, I see the waves and the billows but’ – it always puts up this ‘but’. That is faith, it holds on to truth and reasons from what it knows to be fact. That is the way to apply faith.”

I really can’t add anything to this. It is pure L-J medicine for the soul, drawn straight from the Scripture. Faith puts up a fight, takes what it already knows about God from what the Scripture has said, and applies those truths to the situation. This is what preaching to yourself looks like! And I love the way he writes this because he describes faith as a muscular thing, a thing that argues, reminds and applies itself.

Faith is not some ephemeral mood that we have to try to conjure up from time to time. It is a spiritual muscle that needs to be continually fed from the Word and flexed in our daily lives.

I thoroughly commend this book to you, Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. His insightful way of diagnosing the maladies of our inner lives and prescribing the cure has done wonders for me.

Puritan Sundays: Thomas Brooks

Not much is known about Thomas Brooks. He lived from 1608-1680 and was a minister in London. The Puritans had a way with book titles. No punchy alliteration for them. Nope. They liked really long titles and sometimes alternative titles. The book I want to introduce you to today is called An Ark for All God’s Noahs in a Gloomy Stormy Day. Great title, huh? I love the imagery. But Brooks gave us some alternative titles: The Best Wine Reserved till Last or The Transcendent Excellency of a Believer’s Portion Above All Earthly Portions Whatsoever, etc.

I’ll stick with the original title because I love the imagery that connects with Brooks’ chosen text. Brooks does what a lot of Puritan authors do – he takes one verse and wrings all the gospel sweetness out of it. So what is this Scriptural “ark” Brooks has chosen? It’s Lamentations 3:24.

“The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.”

A portion is the part that belongs to someone. Noah was told to build the ark to save him from the impending flood and destruction. We also were facing impending judgment if not for God’s grace to us in Christ. As a result, we have all of God’s promises secured for us, and this one in Lamentations is loaded with gracious treasure. Let me share a quote with you from the first part of the book where Brooks describes the all-sufficient nature of God being our portion:

O Christians! God is an all-sufficient portion: his power is all-sufficient to protect you; his wisdom is all-sufficient to direct you; his mercy is all-sufficient to pardon you; his goodness is all-sufficient to provide for you; his word is all-sufficient to support you and strengthen you; and his grace is all-sufficient to adorn you and enrich you; and his Spirit is all-sufficient to lead you and comfort you; and what can you desire more?

Amen. What can we desire more?

Puritan Sundays: Jeremiah Burroughs

I’ve benefited immensely from the Puritans, those English Protestant writers from the 16th and 17th centuries, the ones I lovingly call “the good old dead guys”. But I realize that not everyone knows about these authors and not everyone has the patience to read them. The language takes a while to get used to. So what I want to do is take every Sunday to introduce you to some of them. I haven’t read extensively, but I’ve read enough of them to know that more people need to be taking up these old books. There is a depth of understanding and an intensity of affection for the things of God that no modern writer can measure up to.

Today’s Puritan of choice is Jeremiah Burroughs. He lived from 1599-1646. Think about that. Only 47 years of life. But there was so much wisdom in all he wrote. The book I want to share with you today is called Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. It is an extended treatise on Philippians 4:11 which says, “I have learned to be content in whatever state I am.” The more you read the Puritans the more you’ll recognize their style. They like to take one verse or a few verses and write a whole book on them, sometimes in the style of an outline. It seems like overkill, and maybe sometimes it is, but most of the time you end up being overwhelmed by all the sweetness they can squeeze out of such a small portion of Scripture.

Here is a short quote from the beginning of Rare Jewel:

“I offer the following description: Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition. I shall break open this description, for it is a box of precious ointment, and very comforting and useful for troubled hearts, in troubled times and conditions.

I. Contentment is a sweet, inward heart-thing. It is a work of the Spirit indoors. It is not only that we do not seek to help ourselves by outward violence, or that we forbear from discontented and murmuring expressions with perverse words and bearing against God and others. But it is the inward submission of the heart…Not only must the tongue hold its peace; the soul must be silent. Many may sit silently, refraining from discontented expressions, yet inwardly they are bursting with discontent. This shows a complicated disorder and great perversity in their hearts. And notwithstanding their outward silence, God hears the peevish, fretful language of their souls. A shoe may be smooth and neat outside, while inside it pinches the flesh. Outwardly there may be great calmness and stillness, yet within amazing confusion, bitterness, disturbance and vexation.”

I hope you can perceive already the depth of insight Jeremiah Burroughs had into the heart. His illustrations can cut deeply and reveal the true condition of our souls. I will never think of an uncomfortable shoe the same way! I encourage you to pick this book up. It’s deep and it may require you to read only a couple pages at a time, but it is worth it. If you truly desire to learn contentment as Paul did, I can think of no better tutor in this art than Jeremiah Burroughs.