Saturday, March 28, 2009

Damnation Taken Lovingly

Scottish Professor of Hebrew, minister and missionary John (“Rabbi”) Duncan (1796 – 1870) is better remembered for his pithy aphorisms than perceptible accomplishments. He took no great pleasure in pen and paper, and thus has left behind no magnum opus to commemorate his contributions to mankind. The library of his legacy lives on, however, in the lasting impressions he made upon the lives of those around him. Many of those memories made their way from mere recollections to permanent records in A Moody Stuart’s biography entitled The Life of John Duncan, published by Banner of Truth.

One such memorable episode was related by a Rev. Robert Boag Watson who was witness to the following incident in the winter of 1864. Dr. Duncan was instructing an assemblage of senior students, pacing and pondering the significance of the Psalmist’s cry “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1)” Suddenly he stopped, as though an arrow from heaven slung from the arm of the Almighty had hit him, and he addressed them thus:

“‘Ay, ay, d’ye know what it was – dying on the cross, forsaken by His Father – d’ye know what it was? What? What?...It was damnation – and damnation taken lovingly.’ And he subsided into his chair, leaning a little to one side, his head very straight and stiff, his arms hanging down on either side beyond the arms of his chair, with the light beaming from his face and the tears trickling down his cheeks he repeated in a low intense voice that broke into a half sob, half laugh in the middle, ‘It was damnation – and he took it lovingly.’”[1]

Damnation taken lovingly. So much said in so few words. I consider this crisp statement as something like Cliff Notes on the cross. It is a succinct summary of our Savior’s sacrifice. It is, if you will, all of redemption reduced to a simple remark. All the Bible uttered in a breath. And yet, for all its brevity, I find it bolder, braver and more benevolent than many of my own far less condensed contemplations upon Calvary. Is it too daring to declare that the death of my dear Savior was more than mere dying…it was damnation? A dysphemism designed to dilate our Lord’s demise? I don’t think so.

Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God…” (Isaiah 53:4)
For He made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us…” (2 Cor. 5:2)
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us…” (Gal. 3:13)

Oh my soul does that designation of “damnation” offend my senses? Do I retreat from such a rigorous remark? Would I prefer a more pleasant painting of this promised punishment? Then I haven’t even begun to see the seriousness of my sin. The salvation of my soul demands the damnation of my sin. God the Judge met God the guilty at Golgotha. It is more than I can grasp. All my enormous wickedness met all God’s eternal wrath there at that place in history when Jesus hung upon that cross.

And He took it lovingly. Oh my soul…can I see just a little glimpse of what Duncan seemed to grasp in this enigmatic event? There upon that grievous lumber the law of God and the love of God agreed. It was not nails that held my Savior to that tree, but His love for sinners like me. I could hardly believe it if God had not said it “He loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). The damnation my every sin deserved…He took it lovingly. The eternal curse of my evil corruption…He took it lovingly. The door to Hell swung open…and He entered lovingly!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul. (Attributed to Alexander Means)

I thank you dearest Duncan for this devotion! And thank you Mr. Stuart for your collection of these quotations, so that “He being dead, still speaks” (Heb 11:4).

[1] The Life of John Duncan, A Moody Stuart

Friday, March 20, 2009

Teacher, we know...

Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth.”
Mark 12:14

O woeful words of foolish flattery! Alas…to think they hear this awful echo in their ears for all eternity! “We know You are true, are true, are true…” Of course, they took no real confidence in this clever confession. In fact they planned a pitfall with pretended praise never knowing in so doing they were digging their own ditch. Jesus knew their iniquitous intentions even before they had begun. “With flattering lips and a double heart they speak (Psalm 12:2).” They came like con-men with a coin, but Jesus showed them a side of its inscription they had never seen. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Mark 12:17).” Their hollow homage made no impression on our Lord.

My soul is troubled and trembles to think that their sarcastic speech will one day be brought out of the record books as evidence against them. But how many more will say the same today about the life of our Lord who never bow the heart or bend the knee? What about you, O my soul, and you dear reader? Have you not acknowledged and admitted much about the person of Christ…and yet have failed to follow through with faith and godly fear?

They titled HimTeacher,” and so He was. But to catalog our Christ as but a teacher is like calling the sun but a spark or the deep blue sea just a drop. He was the most perfect professor that ever hallowed the halls of our humble habitat. Every word He whispered was a witness to His wisdom, every point He made was pure, every discourse was defectless, and every sermon was sublime. Oh my soul, will you sit down at the feet of this sinless scholar? Will you not sue heaven for admission to this school like the Psalmist:
  • Teach me your paths” (Psalm 25:4) and
  • Teach me your way O Lord” (Psalm 86:11) and
  • Teach me your statutes” (Psalm 119:26) and
  • Teach me to do your will” (Psalm 143:10).
Teach me, teach me, teach me Lord!

They told Him He was “True.” “We know that you are true.” But even this admission went a bit amiss. Christ is more than true…He is Truth. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6).” He is the only rod by which we may measure “right” and “wrong.” In every degree that my life leans away from this perfect line it is I that lie for He is always true. Oh my soul…do you sometimes render lip service to the reliability of your Redeemer while your life declares a rather doubtful devotion to His doctrine?

They rightly perceived He was no respecter of persons. “You care about no one.” He never trimmed the truth to make His message more moderate to men. Some sermons preached today would be better used to stuff in pillows than wake a sleepy soul. A message that tickles the ear hardly ever hits the heart. People pleasers have no real power in the pulpit. Jesus pulled no punches even with a Peter when he sought to counsel Christ out of the cross. “Get thee behind me Satan” said our Savior to that ill-advised apostle. “You do not regard the person of men” was true of Christ, but is it true O my soul of you? Can you make this prayer of Elihu your own “Let me not, I pray, show partiality to anyone; nor let me flatter any man? (Job 32:21)”

O reader will you consider carefully these callous and careless words uttered by these ungracious contenders with our Lord? Could they be yours…could they be mine? They who would not learn Christ’s love in life must learn His wrath for all eternity. Those who won’t embrace His untainted truth today must endure their unalterable error forever. And if you will not receive right now an impartial Savior’s forgiveness then you must prepare for an implacable Savior’s justice. “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth.”

Saturday, March 14, 2009

He Knows

He knows your trudging through this great wilderness”
Deuteronomy 2:7

I have occasionally thought to express some opinion upon the point of God’s Omniscience. However, to date I have yet to discover just how long one ought to dig and deliberate to confidently compose a piece upon the spacious subject of infinite understanding. A little longer I imagine. For today I will delay that awesome ascent up the alps of a God who knows all, and content myself with a more humble hike up the hill of a God who knows me. Come to think of it, the idea that an infinite God would so much as notice a mite like me is more than enough to amaze my meager mind. But such is the truth expressed in our text “He knows your trudging through this great wilderness.”

I take comfort that He condescends to know the difficulty of our way. The text calls it our “trudging.” Walking through the wilderness was no simple sojourn. There were no sidewalks in the sand. That we find our journey hard is no surprise. What staggers my soul is the Lord’s awareness and acknowledgment of our struggle. He who spoke the sun and stars into their celestial stations, stoops to know that my flagging feet sometimes sink into the sand. The High and Lofty knows the hurting lowly. He for Whom nothing is hard takes notice of me for whom nothing is easy. “He knows your trudging.” O my soul, when you think that God’s titanic power prevents Him from taking pity on your plight…think on these things.

He knows also the duration of this way in which we walk. It is “through” this great wilderness, not simply “in” in this great wilderness. We’re just passing through. For believers, this life is a toilsome tunnel, a lengthy endeavor; but Christ is the light at the end. We often cannot discern the denouement of this desert. “Oh Lord how long” is our fatigued and frequent plea. But He who measured out the mountains has also determined all our days. He, who knows the number of the grains of sand upon the shore, knows the number of my days within this world. I cannot determine even the decade of my death, but He who made me knows even now the moment of my dying breath. “He knows” I’m going through. What a comfort to have Omniscience my companion in this campaign.

He knows also the dangers of this way we’re walking. It is, says our text, “this great wilderness.” The Hebrew word, midbar, means “that which is beyond.” It is a most perilous and precarious peregrination. The world, the flesh, and the devil never nod in their endless struggle against our eternal souls. Yet these words breathe grace into the heart of this weary wanderer, “He knows.” The wilderness may be beyond the boundaries of safety, security and succor from man, but is never beyond the watchful eyes of El Roi, the God-Who-Sees. “He knows” for God Himself walked within the wilderness for a while, yes “He Himself likewise shared in the same (Hebrews 2:14).” Oh my soul, when all the weight of this wilderness wandering casts a foreboding shadow on your spirit, when you feel lost and lonely in this lowery land, remember the Omniscient Eye of the One who “knows your trudging through this great wilderness.”

Thursday, March 5, 2009

No More Mr. Nice Guy

In a recent blog post, Pastor Derek Thomas commented upon some insights obtained as he closed his series of sermons from the OT book of Nehemiah. Determined to dine upon more than this morsel, I clicked my way to the sermon archive at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS and downloaded the original sermon for myself. The text was Nehemiah 13, and his title: The Cost of Reformation. The blog statement that especially struck my soul was this:

Our model of what a mature believer looks like is above all else, he must be nice (emphasis added).”

In contrast to this modern measure of maturity, Dr. Thomas preached on Nehemiah’s reaction and response to sins which had become acceptable in his absence. He threw - what many teachers today would call - a temper tantrum. Consider the forceful language of his less-than-mellow locution:

“I threw…” (Nehemiah 13:8)
“I contended…” (Nehemiah 13:11)
“I warned…” (Nehemiah 13:15)
“I commanded…” (Nehemiah 13:19)
“I…cursed them” (Nehemiah 13:25)

Try such tactics in modern pulpits and most preachers would be tidily tossed out on their tush. But that is because, Thomas contends, “too many of us have bowed down at the shrine of Mr. Nice Guy.” We expect our contemporary spiritual leaders to tickle our ears not pull out our hair (vs. 25). Nehemiah was no Mr. Nice Guy.

Consider carefully the iniquity that incited his ire. Ask yourself…as I ask myself, oh my soul, if such evil ever has an equal effect upon my emotions. Do I hate what God hates? Does any holy violence ever well up in my heart against the tidal waves of transgressions within me and my brethren? Am I more inclined to expel my sin…or to excuse my sin?

Nehemiah reacted at their irreverence. Eliashib the priest treated the house of God like a hotel for guests. The offerings and oil were moved out so than an enemy of the Lord could move in. Oh my soul…do I get angry when I seem to make room in the temple of my heart for all manner of passing pleasures at the expense of communion with Christ? What about reverence for God’s name? Do we even cringe any longer at the too-casual pronouncement of His name, or today’s briefer blasphemy: “omg”.

Nehemiah took them to task for their failure to tithe. “The portions for the Levites had not been given them (Nehemiah 13:10).” Modern Christians have money enough for material things, but we become strangely stingy on Sunday.

We buy cable TV and buy camel hair coats;
Cell phones with ring tones and 60 foot boats.
Expensive vacations to Disney or Fiji;
A spa day, a new car, a gold studded squeegee.

But after six days of expertly emptying our wallets upon every novelty known to man, we find ourselves strangely na├»ve when the offering plate comes around on Sunday. Maybe we manage a five, or some weeks we throw in a twenty, but should the sermon suggest we tithe…well…that’s a bit too Biblical for our budgets.

Nehemiah severely scolded their Sabbath breaking. “And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions (Nehemiah 13:15).” When is the last time your pastor probed from the pulpit into your Lord’s Day observances? Mine has. And Derek Thomas has, for he said in his sermon “Because our view of the 4th commandment is so tragically small and minimalistic we find it difficult to enter into the level of zeal and passion that Nehemiah has, granted within a different administration under the Old Covenant.” Today…Sunday is fun day. The thought of setting the entire day aside for spiritual concerns, worship, and acts of mercy is as foreign as French to a fish. We say that we “have” to work that day, so we won’t be in worship. Sunday is for sports and friends and shopping and beaches and hammocks and clam bakes…but never for Jesus Christ.

And Nehemiah was mad at the men and their marriages. “…transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women (Nehemiah 13:27).” These unholy and unlawful alliances led to much sin. When Christian men marry outside their faith they do no favors to themselves…or to their feminine friends. We men often mess it up after the marriage as well. And bold pastors worth their weight in wedding bells won’t back down when faced with a handful of husbands behaving like boys.

So…should your shepherd stand before you with a scowl rather than a smile, remember holy Nehemiah’s zeal, and think repentance not resentment. And if this post has left you piqued…well…the title warned you…no more Mr. Nice Guy!
-Richard Baxter, The Saint’s Everlasting Rest

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Pit-iful Post

“Then He is gracious to him, and says, ‘Deliver him from going down to the Pit; I have found a ransom”

Job 33:24

Of all the dreadful description of death, and the unhappy hereafter that awaits the unprepared, none seem to me to provoke so portentous a picture as "The Pit." It is, upon reflection, a most dire and doleful depiction of unredeemed man’s ultimate destination. It rises up in menacing mockery of our far to frequent fantasies of the delightful estate of our dearly departed. We imagine that all transcend to a better place but the Bible says many are in a bitter Pit. “The Pit” repeatedly raises its haunting head upon the pages of the Holy Book, so that we cannot long deny it or dismiss it. Consider the frequency of this foreboding phrase:

“I am counted with those who go down to the Pit…” (Psalm 88:4)
“How you have fallen from heaven…to the lowest depths of the Pit…” (Isaiah 14:12,15)
“Fear and the Pit and the snare are upon you, O inhabitant of the earth…” (Isaiah 24:17)
“They shall throw you down into the Pit, and you shall die the death of the slain…” (Ezekiel 28:8)

The Pit” isn’t popular, and thus this shall not be a popular post…in fact, pardon the pun, but it’s Pitiful. The truth be told I tend to prefer more pleasant pronouncements. But soul surgery requires a sharp scalpel. Sometimes one must cut before one can cure. To promise them peace that shall go to the Pit is the epitome of spiritual malpractice, an execrable sin against eternal souls. “The Pit” is a written warning in a word, a call to caution, a sobering signpost in the Scriptures, so reader take heed how you hear!

Consider, for a moment, what “the Pit” implies:

The pit implies Darkness. “Thou hast put me in the lowest pit, in darkness…” (Psalm 88:6). The Psalmist speaks in a figure of what some shall dwell in forever. Jesus says of those found without faith that they will be “cast into outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12). The pit is an eternal night with no hope morning, twilight without even starlight, and what Jude calls “the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 13). Consider what opportunity is still open before you! “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light (John 12:36).”

The pit implies Deepness. The psalmist says do not “let the deep swallow me up; and let not the pit shut its mouth on me” (Psalm 69:15). There is no escaping the “depths of the pit” (Isaiah 14:15). So great is this gulf it is even called the “bottomless pit” (Rev. 9:1). One might hope to escape from a hole with some help, but this is an excavation made by the arm of eternity, a chasm created by omnipotent power. Oh dear reader…meditate for but a moment upon the irreversible and inescapable destiny of all that exit into this eternal estate of the Pit!

The pit implies Danger. Consider why it is called the “pit of destruction” (Psalm 55:23). Those who saw Korah, Dathan and Abiram get swallowed by the earth for insolence toward God’s servant ran for their lives crying “lest the earth swallow us up also! (Numbers 16:34).” Oh my soul…these enemies of God’s ambassador went “down alive into the pit (Number s 16:33)”…how much more dangerous for those who die the enemies of God Himself (Psalm 68:1). The pit is dangerous! It is awful enough to fall into a pit dug by man: "He himself will fall into his own pit" (Proverbs 28:10). But oh, my friend, what a dangerous and dreadful thing to fall forever into the pit dug out by the hand of God's justice upon sin! Oh what a horrible hole this must be to hold within its walls all of His infinite and holy wrath poured out upon our immeasurable wickedness forever and ever! All of the dangers of our days are nothing compared to this danger that awaits us at death. Everyday evils are only dim echoes of impending doom. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31)."

Dear reader, do you care for your soul? The mouth of the Pit is open wide. It has swallowed millions into its darkness, deepness and danger! You too must go there. Your appointment has already been affirmed, written upon rock with a pen of iron forever. “It is appointed unto man once to die…” (Hebrews 9:27). Appointed dear reader. Appointed! No one escapes this appointment. The Pit will have its prey. What will you do? Where will you go? How will you escape? The bell has begun to toll upon your eternal soul! Your works cannot deliver you. “For by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Galatians 2:16).”

Oh if you will hear me now, listen to the words of our text…"I have found a ransom” (Job 33:24). Only a substitution will stay your eternal execution! “For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).” The Pit cries for its victim, but hear the mightier cry of God “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death (Hosea 13:14).” Repent and believe upon Jesus Christ, escape the pit by God’s gracious provision for your soul, and hear in your heart the angels in heaven rejoice saying “Deliver him from going down to the pit!”