Drawing of Charles Spurgeon reading The Pilgrim’s Progress.
This quotation by a 17th-century pastor, Willem Teellinck, is encouraging in light of today’s news and event (from Redeeming the Time, p. 36):
When you begin to consider the things which are happening all over the world, always remember that the Lord is working in them. He who can bring light out of darkness, will yet from the completed and combined work bring forth something glorious. Be not therefore too much vexed that there appears somewhere to come an ill stroke in your own affairs, or in the affairs of God’s people in your day, as is now the case; for the Lord would not permit this to take place, did He not mean to use it as a background to give the whole work a more beautiful lustre.
From Thomas Watson’s Sermon, The Spiritual Watch:
Keep your heart as you would keep a garden. Your heart is a garden (Song of Solomon 4:12); weed all sin out of your heart. Among the flowers of the heart, weeds will be growing—the weeds of pride, malice, and covetousness: these grow without planting and cultivating. Therefore be weeding your heart daily by prayer, examination, and repentance.
Weeds hinder the herbs and flowers from growing; the weeds of corruption—hinder the growth of grace. Where the weed of unbelief grows—it hinders the flower of faith from growing.
Weeds spoil the walkways. Christ will not walk in a heart overgrown with weeds and briars. Christ was sometimes among the lilies (Song of Solomon 6:3)—but never among the thistles.
Reading a troubling news yesterday made this quotation poignant to me:
“And therefore: Let us stay our faith here, that our Lord is still working in all these confusions. And when matters are turned upside down to human appearance, our blessed Lord is not nonplussed and at a stand when we are; he knows well what he is doing, and will make all things most certainly, infallibly, and infrustrably to work for his own glory, and for the good of his people.” –James Durham, Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53, Sermon 34 (on Isa. 53.9), p. 358
Bishop Joseph Hall, Meditation on the Sight of a Large Library:
What a world of wit is here packed up together! I know not whether this sight doth more dismay or comfort me. It dismays me to think that here is so much that I cannot know; it comforts me to think that this variety affords so much assistance to know what I should. There is no truer word than that of Solomon; There is no end of making many books. This sight verifies it. There is no end: indeed it were a pity there should . . . What a happiness is it that, without the aid of necromancy, I can here call up any of the ancient Worthies of Learning, whether human or divine, and confer with them upon all my doubts; that I can at pleasure summon whole synods of reverend Fathers and acute Doctors from all the coasts of the earth, to give their well-studied judgments in all doubtful points which I propose! Nor can I cast my eye casually upon any of these silent masters but I must learn somewhat. It is a wantonness to complain of choice. No law binds us to read all; but the more we can take in and digest, the greater will be our improvement.
Blessed be God who hath set up so many clear lamps in his church: now, none, but the wilfully blind can plead darkness. And blessed be the memory of those, his faithful servants, who have left their blood, their spirits, their lives, in these precious papers; and have willingly wasted themselves into these enduring monuments to give light to others.
From John Flavel’s Epistle to the Reader in preface to The Righteous Man’s Refuge:
If Heinsius, when he had shut up himself in the library at Leyden, reckoned himself placed in the very lap of eternity, because he conversed there with so many Divine souls, and professed, he took his seat in it with so lofty a spirit and sweet content, that he heartily pitied all the great and rich men of the world, that were ignorant of the happiness he there daily enjoyed: How much more may that soul rejoice in its own happiness, who hath shut himself up in the chambers of the Divine Attributes, and exercise pity for the exposed and miserable multitude that are left as a prey to the temptations and troubles of the world.
I came across a one-year reading plan of William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armour. It could seem a bit intimidating to tackle this unabridged volume of 1,100+ pages. The grand theme of this book is spiritual warfare and how the Christian can furnish with ‘spiritual arms for the battle’ against the Satanic foe.
Sin never relaxes. It never takes a vacation. Our indwelling sin doesn’t lie down and wake up the next moment. The Puritan John Owen wrote that sin may be most active when it seems to be the most dormant to us, hence we must be vigilant and vigorous against it in our spiritual warfare at all times and in all conditions, even when there is least suspicion.
The reading plan (page 1, 2, 3) breaks it down into manageable chunks of reading only a few pages per day (thanks to this webpage). Because it is a 5-day-a-week reading plan, it allows two days within the week to catch up if needed or to reflect on what has been read throughout the week.
If I were to pick any Baptist preacher in Church history whom I’d like to meet, the beloved “Prince of Preachers” Charles Spurgeon would be amongst the top of my list. I was often blessed upon reading his sermons, for he has a way with words that can encourage the soul. He provides concrete examples with which his layman audience could easily understand. His diction and delivery are inspirational; they enhance the beauty and force of his message. After reading Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold Dallimore, I’ve come to appreciate also his character, wit, and humor, for Spurgeon showed with his ready humor how it is possible for the highest spirituality to be exemplified in the cheeriest character. His wit is as abundant as his wisdom.
Some favorite sayings and writings of Spurgeon which I find rather memorable (some are funny, and others edifying)…
Spurgeon was well-known as a cigar smoker, mostly for medicinal reasons as he faced certain health problems in his life. He didn’t view cigar smoking as intrinsically wrong, if not in excess, and said he would quit if he finds himself smoking too much. One time someone, who was particularly critical of Spurgeon, asked him how much is “too much”; to which Spurgeon replied, “Two at a time, of course.” 🙂
On head of family:
One time, in speaking to a couple getting married, he encouraged that they would both be “dearly-beloved” not only at the beginning of their marriage, but all through the end; and that, while their sorrows would be mutually shared, their joys would all be multiplied. Referring to Ephesians 5:23, he addressed the bride and said:
“According to the teaching of the apostle, ‘The husband is the head of the wife.’ Don’t you try to be the head; but you be the neck, then you can turn the head whichever way you like.”
On his age:
Spurgeon had incredible oratory skills. On his first effort at preaching in the pulpit, an elderly woman, who was enthusiastic of his preaching, cried out, “Bless your heart, how old are you?” He replied that there should not be interruption in the service. After the last hymn was sung she asked the same question again. He replied, “I am under sixty.” “Yes, and under sixteen!” the lady replied. The congregation asked him to come and preach to them again as soon as possible.
On the truly Christian marriage:
From his sermon titled “The Saint One With His Savior” in which he beautifully describes a happy marriage and the true wife, all the while describing his beloved wife Susannah:
Sometimes we have seen a model marriage, founded on pure love, and cemented in mutual esteem. Therein, the husband acts as a tender head; and the wife, as a true spouse, realizes the model marriage-relation, and sets forth what our oneness with the Lord ought to be. She delights in her husband, in his person, his character, his affection; to her, he is not only the chief and foremost of mankind, but in her eyes he is all-in-all; her heart’s love belongs to him, and to him only. She finds sweetest content and solace in his company, his fellowship, his fondness; he is her little world, her Paradise, her choice treasure. At any time, she would gladly lay aside her own pleasure to find it doubled in gratifying him. She is glad to sink her individuality in his. She seeks no renown for herself; his honor is reflected upon her, and she rejoices in it. She would defend his name with her dying breath; safe enough is he where she can speak for him. The domestic circle is her kingdom; that she may there create happiness and comfort, is her lifework; and his smiling gratitude is all the reward she seeks. Even in her dress, she thinks of him; without constraint she consults his taste and considers nothing beautiful which is distasteful to him.
A tear from his eye, because of any unkindness on her part, would grievously torment her. She asks not how her behavior may please a stranger, or how another’s judgment may approve her conduct; let her beloved be content, and she is glad. He has many objects in life, some of which she does not quite understand; but she believes in them all, and anything she can do to promote them, she delights to perform. He lavishes love on her, and, in return, she lavishes love on him. Their object in life is common. There are points where their affections so intimately unite that none could tell which is first and which is second. To watch their children growing up in health and strength, to see them holding posts of usefulness and honor, is their mutual concern; in this and other matters, they are fully one. Their wishes blend, their hearts are indivisible. By degrees, they come to think very much the same thoughts. Intimate association creates conformity; I have known this to become so complete that, at the same moment, the same utterance has leaped to both their lips.
Happy woman and happy man! If heaven be found on earth, they have it! At last the two are so welded, so engrafted on one stem, that their old age presents a lovely attachment, a common sympathy, by which its infirmities are greatly alleviated, and its burdens are transformed into fresh bonds of love. So happy a union of will, sentiment, thought, and heart exists between them, that the two streams of their life have washed away the dividing bank, and run on as one broad current of united existence, until their common joy falls into the main ocean of felicity.
A gentleman said to Spurgeon, “Ah! Mr. Spurgeon, I don’t agree with you about religion; I am an agnostic.” Spurgeon replied, “Yes! That is a Greek word, and the exact equivalent is ignoramus; if you like to claim that title, you are quite welcome to.”
On God’s providence:
From Spurgeon’s Evening by Evening; Or, Readings at Eventide for the Family or the Closet (p. 318):
Believer, if your inheritance be a lowly one, you should be satisfied with your earthly portion; for you may rest assured that it is the fittest for you. Unerring wisdom ordained your lot, and selected for you the safest and best condition. A ship of large tonnage is to be brought up the river; now, in one part of the stream there is sand-bank; should some one ask, “Why does the captain steer through the deep part of the channel, and deviate so much from a straight line?” his answer would be, “Because I should not get my vessel into harbor at all if I did not keep to the deep channel.” So, it may be, you would run aground and suffer shipwreck, if your divine Captain did not steer you into the depths of affliction, where waves of trouble follow each other in quick succession. Some plants die if they have too much sunshine. It may be that you are planted where you get but little; you are put there by the loving Husbandman, because only in that situation will you bring forth fruit unto perfection. Remember this: had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had the choosing of your lot, you would soon cry, “Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows.” Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God. Down, busy self and proud impatience; it is not for you to choose, but for the Lord of Love!
In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian goes through trials, temptations, and triumphs on his pilgrimage in a fallen world to the Celestial City. Sin makes this world a dry and weary land. I’m reminded through Pastor Rob McCurley’s sermon recently, that although the road to the Heavenly City is always an ascent (Psalm 24:3), the Lord Jesus Christ is a place of Shelter. He is a large Rock that is higher than us (Psalm 61:2) in the wilderness, casting a shadow and providing coolness from the blistering heat of the sun. He is the Shade upon which I may take refuge. Anything else is a tree of broken branches with no leaves, leaving us exposed. Christ is the cool, clear Water which I may drink to the satisfaction of my parched soul. He is the Shelter from the storm of affliction and rain.
In a gathering I attended, each person was to answer this question for fun: if you were to be like one particular thing, what would that be and why?
I was unsure what to answer, and thus glad that my turn came almost toward the end. After pondering, I finally answered that I wish to be like salt. Salt has certain characteristic traits found in the kind of person I wish to become. And ever since that gathering, I have been able to learn more of the other uses of salt.
First, salt causes a thirst. I’d like my conversation to cause others to thirst for God. I wish to help others realize their need for the Living Water—Jesus Christ. I’m reminded that Jesus said, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-14) Some try to quench their “thirst” by turning to alcohol, money, drugs, fame, etc., though it only lasts for a season. Therefore, I need to continually remind myself never to “water down” (compromise) my message, so that it may not lose its “saltiness” and impact.
Secondly, salt seasons food, enhances flavor, and makes things taste better. Matthew 5:13 says, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” When I cook without it, the dish tastes bland and appeals less to the appetite. The Bible tells us, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Colossians 4:6) Growing up when I read this verse, I didn’t know what it means. However, I’ve since learned that when I share a message of God’s love to others or answer questions about my faith, I want to uncompromisingly communicate the Christian faith in a way that is palatable—that is, in a reasonable, judicious, and winsome way. My conversation should be “seasoned with salt,” that it not only causes others to thirst for more of God, but also makes an otherwise bland conversation come alive when possible.
Thirdly, salt is a preservative. It can be used as a means to preserve food from spoiling. By absorbing water from foods, salt makes the environment too dry for bacteria or mold to grow. Salting is one of the ways to preserve fish, for example. I hope my conversation can be used as a “preservative” to encourage others during discouragement or trial, and thus to persevere in “running the race” of life.
Fourthly, salt can also be used to melt snow. This is why some people pour salt over the snow on their driveway. I wish to be able to help others in the ways of the Lord, so that He may soften their cold stony hearts and mold them to His will.
I have much to learn and am in a lifelong process of learning to be the “salt of the earth.” Meanwhile, though, I don’t think I would look at salt in the same way again.
I read Out of the Tiger’s Mouth, a biography of the late Reformed theologian Dr. Charles H. Chao, several years ago and came across something I wrote of it again just this week. Being of Chinese ethnicity, I was so intrigued to learn more about his life, as he was among the first to ever translate and publish Reformed and Puritan literature into the Chinese language. Having Chinese-speaking family members, I was very excited that such works are made accessible.
This book shares the story of Dr. Chao’s geographical journey from the East to the West, as well as his spiritual pilgrimage from his Christian conversion in China to his ordination as a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA).
Despite persecution from Chinese Communists, Dr. Chao narrowly escaped from prison and death. On one occasion, he (along with other unarmed men) was rounded up by Chinese Communists, to march as a living shield in front of Communist soldiers while they attack the Nationalist soldiers. In His providence, the Lord provided a way for him to hide and flee for his life.
I also learn of the Lord’s providence in crossing Dr. Chao’s path with that of other theologians who were influential in shaping his theological persuasions, such as Dr. Loraine Boettner and the Rev. J. G. Vos. He was profoundly influenced by the teaching of Dr. Vos, when Dr. Vos and family went to China as missionaries. In the words of Dr. Boettner, Dr. Chao was “a man of God—with untiring devotion.”
Another interesting part was how he and Dr. Samuel Boyle co-founded the Reformation Translation Fellowship, which translates and distributes literature consistent with Reformed theological perspective into Chinese, in Mainland China. (Some of the works are available via CrtsBooks.net).
The Lord called Dr. Chao home in 2010 at the age of 94. In reading his life story, I’m reminded and encouraged by God’s faithfulness and sovereignty in using Dr. Chao as a vessel to proclaim the good news of His sovereign grace in the midst of life-threatening events, trials, and persecution of communist China; and in how He used him to minister to Chinese-speaking people through sound literature.