Growing in Holiness

A brief summary of Thomas Brooks’ The Crown and Glory of Christianity, on the chapter “Eight means, helps, and directions for progress in holiness“.  If ever we would attain to higher degrees of holiness, he encourages us to:

  1. Labour to be more and more sensible of your spiritual wants and deficiencies of grace and holiness.
  2. Set the Lord always before your eyes, set yourselves always as in his presence, under His all-seeing eye, Ps. 41:12; 1 Sam. 2:1,3.
  3. Be most in with them that are most eminent and excellent in holiness.  Let the delight and joy of your hearts run most out to them who are still adding to their stock of holiness.  The prayers, the conferences, the counsels and all the carriages of a man eminent in holiness, will mightily help on the work of holiness in their hearts, where the streams of holiness runs but low.
    • Thomas Watson said, “Association begets assimilation.”
  4. Let those be thy choicest companions who have made Christ their chief companion.
    • As young plants will not thrive under dropping trees, such as are weak in holiness will never thrive so long as they only associate themselves with those that are weak . . . Look not so much at their external garb as at their internal worth; and always make them your choicest and your chiefest companions, who do most excel in grace and holiness.  Their tongues, their lips, their lives, will still be a-dropping divine marrow and fatness, and therefore be sure to keep most in with them.
  5. Be much in the exercise and actings of that holiness you have . . . as the frequent actings of sin is the strengthening of sin, so the frequent actings of holiness is the strengthening of holiness.
    • Look, as the non-exercise of holiness brings upon the soul a decay of holiness, so the exercise breeds in the soul an increase of holiness.  Holiness is always made more and more perfect by acting.
    • Look, as the running water is the best and sweetest water, so the active Christian is the best and sweetest Christian.
    • That musical instrument always makes the sweetest melody that is most frequently used, and so doth that Christian that is most frequent in the exercise of grace and holiness.  (e.g. fire being preserved and maintained by blowing and stirring of it up, so holiness is preserved and maintained in the soul by being stirred and blown up in the soul.)
  6. Be much in secret prayer, be much in closet duties, Matt. 6:5,9.
  7. Fall with all your might upon subduing and crucifying your most raging corruptions, and your most daring lusts.
  8. Dwell much upon the holiness of God . . . always keep a fixed eye upon the infinite and most glorious holiness of God.
    • God is essentially holy, unmixedly (pure) holy, universally holy (in all his ways and works), eminently holy, and originally, radically, and fundamentally holy, independently holy, constantly holy, exemplarily holy.

Matthew Henry on the New Year

On the first day of January 1713, Matthew Henry wrote the following words that is applicable as we recently entered 2017:

Firmly believing that my times are in God’s hand, I here submit myself and all my affairs for the ensuing year to the wise and gracious disposal of the divine providence.  Whether God appoint for me health or sickness, peace or trouble, comforts or crosses, life or death, his holy will be done.

All my time, strength, and service, I devote to the honor of the Lord Jesus; my studies and all my ministerial labors, and even my common actions.  It is my earnest expectation, hope, and desire, my constant aim and endeavor, that Jesus Christ may be magnified in my body.

In everything wherein I have to do with God, my entire dependence is upon Jesus Christ for strength and righteousness.  And whatever I do in word or deed, I desire to do all in his name, to make him my Alpha and Omega.  I have all by him, and I would use all for him.

If this should prove a year of affliction, a sorrowful year upon my account, I will fetch all my supports and comforts from the Lord Jesus and stay myself upon him, his everlasting consolations, and the good hope I have in him through grace.

And if it should be my dying year, my times are in the hand of the Lord Jesus.  And with a humble reliance upon his mediation, I would venture into another world looking for the blessed hope.  Dying as well as living, Jesus Christ will, I trust, be gain and advantage to me.

Oh, that the grace of God may be sufficient for me, to keep in me always a humble sense of my own unworthiness, weakness, folly, and infirmity, together with a humble dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ for both righteousness and strength.

Matthew Henry’s writing excerpted from J. B. Williams’ Memoirs of the Life, Character, and Writings of the Rev. Matthew Henry.


Be Not Vexed

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.


Of Two Moral Evils Choose Neither

“. . . Instead of being fixed by their favourite poster, ‘of two evils choose the least,’ I say . . . when you give me the choice of two moral evils, I can choose neither of them.  If I have the choice of two physical evils, I will choose the least.  If I am asked whether I would choose to lose a toe or a leg, I would choose to part with a toe; but if I am asked whether I would desecrate the Sabbath by steam or by horse power, I say I would do neither.  There is a dangerous and deadly fallacy lurking beneath this common maxim, against which I would warn all; for of two moral evils we must choose neither–we are not at liberty to do evil that good may come.”  —William Symington, Speech of the Rev. Dr. Symington at the great meeting, for protesting against the desecration of the Sabbath by the running of trains on the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway on the Lord’s day, held in the City Hall, Glasgow, February 26, 1842


Keep the Heart as Keeping a Garden

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.


James Durham on Providence

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


Ways in Which I Want to be Like Salt

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.

salt3First, 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.

saltshakerSecondly, 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.

fishThirdly, 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.

iceFourthly, 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.


On Temptation and Sin

I love the Puritans, lists (of all kinds), and pithy quotations.  So it was only natural to combine these three favorite things together from my reading.

This list is a great encouragement to mortify sin daily, yet at the same time reminds me of how I’ve fallen woefully short of God’s standard in my daily battle against sin.  But thanks be to God for His mercy and Christ’s imputed righteousness, that I (who is inherently unrighteous) may approach His throne of grace by faith and be declared positionally “righteous” on the basis of Christ’s perfect merits.

  1. The great wisdom and security of the soul in dealing with indwelling sin is to put a violent stop unto its beginnings, its first motions and actings.  Venture all on the first attempt.  Die rather than yield one step unto it.  –John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Vol. 6, The Nature of Indwelling Sin in Believers
  2. Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes.  He who hath once smitten a serpent, if he follow not on his blow until it be slain, may repent that ever he began the quarrel.  And so he who undertakes to deal with sin, and pursues it not constantly to the death.  –John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Vol. 3
  3. The belief that God is everywhere should persuade us to sin nowhere.  –Richard Steele, A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in Worship
  4. The Christian’s armour decays two ways: either by violent battery, when the Christian is overcome by temptation to sin; or else by neglecting to furbish and scour it with the use of those means which are as oil to keep it clean and bright.  –William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour
  5. When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion.  –John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Vol. 6, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers
  6. We must be exercising [mortification of sin] every day, and in every duty.  Sin will not die, unless it be constantly weakened.  Spare it, and it will heal its wounds, and recover its strength.  –John Owen
  7. A great motive to provoke you to the mortifying of your darling sins … consider, that the conquest and effectual mortifying of one bosom sin, will yield a Christian more glorious joy, comfort, and peace, than ever he hath found in the gratifying and committing of all other sins.  The pleasure and sweetness that follows victory over sin is a thousand times beyond that seeming sweetness that is in the gratifying of sin.  –Thomas Brooks
  8. The indulgence of one sin opens the door to further sins.  The indulgence of one sin diverts the soul from the use of those means by which all other sins should be resisted.  –John Owen
  9. When sin is your burden, Christ will be your delight.  –Thomas Watson
  10. There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.  –Richard Sibbes
  11. If the guilt of sin is so great that nothing can satisfy it but the blood of Jesus; and the filth of sin is so great that nothing can fetch out the stain thereof but the blood of Jesus, how great, how heinous, how sinful must the evil of sin be.  –William Bridge
  12. The way to avoid temptation is not always to apply a salve directly pertinent to the temptation; but turn off your mind and your thoughts to some other good object, and by that time your mind is settled upon other objects, you will be easily able to meet with the temptation.  –William Bridge
  13. A regenerate person abhors sin not only for the curse but for the contagion.  He hates this serpent not only for its sting but for its poison.  He hates sin not only for hell but as hell.  –Thomas Watson
  14. Sin is a plague, yea, the greatest and most infectious plague in the world; and yet, ah! how few are there that tremble at it, that keep at a distance from it!  –Thomas Brooks
  15. Take heed of secret sins.  They will undo thee if loved and maintained: one moth may spoil the garment; one leak drown the ship; a penknife stab can kill a man as well as a sword; so one sin may damn the soul; nay, there is more danger of a secret sin causing the miscarrying of the soul than open profaneness, because not so obvious to the reproofs of the world.  –Jeremiah Burroughs
  16. The Christian soldier must avoid two evils—he must not faint or yield in the time of fight, and after a victory he must not wax insolent and secure.  When he has overcome, he is so to behave himself as though he were presently again to be assaulted. For Satan’s temptations, like the waves of the sea, do follow one in the neck of the other.  –George Downame
  17. The wisdom of God is seen in this, that the sins of men shall carry on God’s work; yet that He should have no hand in their sin. The Lord permits sin, but doth not approve it. He hath a hand in the action in which sin is, but not in the sin of the action.  –Thomas Watson
  18. The pleasure of sin is soon gone, but the sting remains.  –Thomas Watson
  19. Go where you will serve best and sin the least.  –Richard Baxter
  20. If you wish to stand firm in the midst of suffering, forewarn yourself of this fact: Temptation is never stronger than when relief seems to dress itself in the very sin that Satan is suggesting.  –William Gurnall
  21. Do you mortify [sin]?  Do you make it your daily work?  Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you. –John Owen
  22. And the longer you delay, the more your sin gets strength and rooting.  If you cannot bend a twig, how will you be able to bend it when it is a tree?  –Richard Baxter
  23. By delay of repentance, sin strengthens, and the heart hardens.  The longer ice freezeth, the harder it is to be broken.  –Thomas Watson
  24. The wicked do but weep for their sins past, but the godly purpose to sin no more.  –Henry Smith
  25. If an unregenerate man should leave off sin under fear of death or hell, it would not be out of hatred to sin, but out of the fear of the punishment, as the bird is kept from the bait by the scarecrow.  –Thomas Manton
  26. It is an old saying, Repentance is never too late; but it is a true saying, Repentance is never too soon.  –Henry Smith
  27. The bird is easily killed in the egg, but when once hatched and fledged, we may kill it when we can catch it.  A frequent reckoning with ourselves will pluck sin up before it is rooted in the soul.  –George Swinnock
  28. If you yield to Satan in the least, he will carry you further and further, till he has left you under a stupefied or terrified conscience: stupefied, till thou hast lost all thy tenderness.  A stone at the top of a hill, when it begins to roll down, ceases not till it comes to the bottom.  Thou thinkest it is but yielding a little, and so by degrees are carried on, till thou hast sinned away all thy profession, and all principles of conscience, by the secret witchery of his temptations.  –Thomas Manton
  29. Temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what was in him before.  –John Owen
  30. Our great Pattern hath showed us what our deportment ought to be in all suggestions and temptations.  When the devil showed Him “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them,” to tempt Him withal, He did not stand and look upon them, viewing their glory, and pondering their empire … but instantly, without stay, He cries, “Get thee hence, Satan.”  Meet thy temptation in its entrance with thoughts of faith concerning Christ on the cross; this will make it sink before thee.  Entertain no parley, no dispute with it, if thou wouldst not enter into it.  –John Owen
  31. Satan gives Adam [a fruit], and takes away Paradise.  Therefore in all temptations let us consider not what he offers, but what we shall lose.  –Richard Sibbes
  32. The mighty streams of the evil thoughts of men will admit of no bounds or dams to put a stop unto them. There are but two ways of relief from them, the one respecting their moral evil, the other their natural abundance. The first is by throwing salt into the spring, as Elisha cured the waters of Jericho—that is, to get the heart and mind seasoned with grace. … The other is, to turn their streams into new channels, putting new aims and ends upon them, fixing them on new objects: so shall we abound in spiritual thoughts; for abound in thoughts we shall, whether we will or not.  –John Owen
  33. The devil desires to winnow Peter, not Judas.  The more faithful servants of God we be, the more doth Satan bruise us with the flail, or grate us with the fan.  The thief does not break into an empty cottage, but into some furnished house or full granary, where the fatness of the booty is a fitness to his desires.  The unclean spirit finds no rest in an atheist, usurer, drunkard, swearer, etc.  He knows a canker has overrun their consciences already; and that they are as sure as temptation can make them.  What need he tempt them that tempt themselves? –Thomas Adams
  34. Satan doth not tempt God’s children because they have sin in them, but because they have grace in them.  Had they no grace, the devil would not disturb them. … Though to be tempted is a trouble, yet to think why you are tempted is a comfort.  –Thomas Watson
  35. None can better discover Satan’s sleights and policies, than those who have been long in the fencing-school of temptation.  –Thomas Watson
  36. Such a man as opposes nothing to the seduction of sin and lust in his heart but fear of shame among men or hell from God, is sufficiently resolved to do the sin if there were no punishment attending it.  –John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Vol. 6, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers
  37. Satan tempts to sin gradually.  As the husbandman digs about the root of a tree, and by degrees loosens it, and at last it falls.  Satan steals by degrees into the heart: he is at first more modest.  –Thomas Watson, Heaven Taken by Storm
  38. Satan doth sow most of his seed of temptation in hearts that lie fallow.  When he sees persons unemployed, he will find work for them to do.  –Thomas Watson, Heaven Taken by Storm
  39. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year.  –Jonathan Edwards, Resolutions
  40. More are hurt by lawful things than unlawful, as more are killed with wine than poison.  Gross sins affright, but how many take a surfeit and die, in using lawful things inordinately.  Recreation is lawful, eating and drinking are lawful, but many offend by excess, and their table is a snare.  Relations are lawful, but how often does Satan tempt to overlove!  How often is the wife and child laid in God’s room.  Excess makes things lawful become sinful.  –Thomas Watson
  41. A sin is two sins when it is defended.  –Henry Smith
  42. Secret sins are more dangerous to the person in some respects than open sins.  For a man doth, by his art of sinning, deprive himself of the help of his sinfulness.  Like him who will carry his wound covered, or who bleeds inwardly, help comes not in because the danger is not decried nor known.  If a man’s sin breaks out there is a minister at hand, a friend near, and others to reprove, to warn, to direct; but when he is the artificer of his lusts, he bars himself of all public remedy.  –Obadiah Sedgwick
  43. It is Satan’s custom by small sins to draw us to greater, as the little sticks set the great ones on fire, and a wisp of straw kindles a block of wood.  –Thomas Manton
  44. God had but one Son without corruption, but he had none without temptation.  Such is Satan’s enmity to the Father, that the nearer and dearer any child is to him, the more will Satan trouble him, and vex him with temptations.  None so well-beloved as Christ; none so much tempted as he.  –Thomas Brooks
  45. If we do not abide in prayer, we will abide in temptation.  Let this be one aspect of our daily intercession: “God, preserve my soul, and keep my heart and all its ways so that I will not be entangled.”  When this is true in our lives, a passing temptation will not overcome us.  We will remain free while others lie in bondage.  –John Owen
  46. The best course to prevent falling into the pit is to keep at the greatest distance; he that will be so bold as to attempt to dance upon the brink of the pit, may find by woeful experience that it is a righteous thing with God that he should fall into the pit.  –Thomas Brooks
  47. In the strength of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit, set roundly upon the mortifying of every lust.  Oh, hug none, indulge none, but resolvedly set upon the ruin of all!  One leak in a ship will sink it; one wound strikes Goliath dead as well as three-and-twenty did Caesar; one Delilah may do Samson as much spite and mischief as all the Philistines; one broken wheel spoils all the whole clock; one vein bleeding will let out all the vitals as well as more; one fly will spoil a whole box of ointment; one bitter herb all the pottage.  …  Ah, Christian!  dost thou not know what a world of mischief one unmortified lust may do? and therefore let nothing satisfy thee but the blood of all thy lusts.  –Thomas Brooks, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod
  48. Though He leaves us for a time, yet doth He not forsake us for ever, no more than a nurse doth the weakling child.  She maketh use of one fall to keep the child from many, and God doth make use of our sinning to make us see how prone we are to sin, and so prevent us for the future.  –John Lightfoot

Resolutions

resolveAs the new year approaches, I’ve been hearing the phrase “New Year Resolutions” uttered in recent days.   The best list of Resolutions I’ve ever read was written almost 300 years ago by the great preacher/author/theologian Jonathan Edwards when he was around 20 years of age.  His was a list of 70 Resolutions or “purpose statements” that will have guided the rest of his life.

I like the practicality of his list and its transparency to the reality of the human nature and frailties.  It permeates every area of life–the use of time, eating and drinking, conversations, relationships with family & others, prayer, etc. (I Cor. 10:31)

Some of my favorites among his list:

Jonathan Edwards

24.  Resolved, Whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then, both carefully endeavour to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

30.  Resolved, To strive every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

36.  Resolved, Never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call to it.  Dec. 19, 1722.

37.  Resolved, To inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent,—what sin I have committed,—and wherein I have denied myself;—also, at the end of every week, month, and year.  Dec. 22 and 26, 1722.

41.  Resolved, to ask myself, at the end of every day, week, month, and year, wherein I could possibly, in any respect, have done better.  Jan. 11, 1723.

46.  Resolved, Never to allow the least measure of any fretting or uneasiness at my father or mother.  Resolved, to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eye; and to be especially careful of it with respect to any of our family.

47.  Resolved, To endeavour, to my utmost, to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented and easy, compassionate and generous, humble and meek, submissive and obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable and even, patient, moderate, forgiving, and sincere, temper; and to do, at all times, what such a temper would lead me to; and to examine strictly, at the end of every week, whether I have so done.  Sabbath morning, May 5, 1723.

52.  I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, That I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.  July 8, 1723.

54.  Resolved, Whenever I hear anything spoken in commendation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, that I will endeavour to imitate it.  July 8, 1723.

56.  Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57.  Resolved, When I fear misfortunes and adversity, to examine whether I have done my duty, and resolve to do it and let the event be just as Providence orders it.  I will, as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin.  June 9, and July 13, 1723.

58.  Resolved, Not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness, and benignity.  May 27, and July 13, 1723.

60.  Resolved, Whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination.  July 4 and 13, 1723.

63.  On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true lustre, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, To act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time.  Jan. 14, and July 13, 1723.

67.  Resolved, After afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them; what good I have got by them; and, what I might have got by them.

69.  Resolved, Always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it.  Aug. 11, 1723.

70.  Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.  Aug. 17, 1723

The printable version which grouped the list of Resolutions into several subheadings.