Monday, August 31, 2009

Prepared To Die

“So David made abundant preparations before his death.”
I Chron. 22:5


What does it mean to be prepared to die? Is it to have ones finances in order, to have a good name with family and friends, to have an inheritance ready to bestow upon ones posterity, or the making of some great mark upon the landscape of history? When is a man or woman truly prepared to die? In our text we find a wise old king making preparations before his death. There was a glorious temple to be built, and although David was not to build it himself, he set about doing all that he could to make it ready for Solomon his son. David knew himself to be a mortal man. He was not deluded with thought of immortality, a common disease amongst the children of men. He knew himself to be no exception to the rule that it is “given unto man once to die” (Heb 9:27) and “what man can live and not see death (Psalm 89:48).”

David now lived fully aware that this day of death was marching toward him. Maybe he remembered times when he was young and was not so wise. Maybe he could recall times when he thought himself above the law of God and beyond the reach of death. Like when he was eager to number the armies of Israel but not careful to number his days. Like when he stole a wife and took a life, but never pondered that one day his own life would be required of him. But such is the grace of God that He grants repentance and today David was a different man. The preparations he was making now were clearly and decidedly “before his death.” His end was on his mind. He knew the silver cord of his life would one day be loosed (Eccl. 12:6). As he said to Solomon in another place “I go the way of all the earth (1 Kings 2:2).”

I think our text tells us, therefore, some of the things that make a soul prepared to die. Let us examine the words in their context and see.

I. First, that soul is prepared to die that is taken up with and concerned most with the glory of God. David’s thoughts were not on his own comfort or even chiefly with his children’s comforts, but with the glory of God. “…the house to be built for the Lord must be exceedingly…glorious.” Oh my soul, is that your goal, your aim, your focus, and your whole heart’s desire? Are you thinking today about the glory of God and how He is to be exalted, worshipped and praised? What is there of God’s glory in your plans today? Should my life be required of me this night, shall I enter eternity knowing my mind was set on heaven all day?

Objection: But must I be all about God’s glory every day? May I not be ready for death, but still grant time to my own pursuits, my own interests, and my own pleasures? Are only those souls ready to die that are entirely focused upon the glory of God?

Answer: 1) First, who gives you breath every moment? Who sustains your life every hour? Who set the sun over your head by day, and the moon by night? What do you own that God has not granted you? By Whose providence are all the events and circumstances of your life directed and planned? If you can truly find one second of life which you can claim as your own, then you may use it as you like. But you cannot. Therefore that holy apostle writes “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).”

2) Second, where you would go is entirely taken up with the glory of God. Shall you prepare for such a place by only giving God some glory now? Heaven’s song is “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever (Rev. 5:13).” How is that soul prepared for heaven that is content to give God but a little glory here on earth?

David made “abundant” preparations in our text. His heart was filled with the thoughts and wonders and delights of the glory of God, and this is how he spent his days before his death. Would you be prepared to die? Then fix your heart upon God’s glory. Consider what you may do to advance His kingdom. Adorn the gospel with good conduct.

II. Secondly, that soul is prepared for death that prefers the worship of God above all else. The temple to be built was a place of worship. There the songs would be sung and sacrifices offered. Thus this “house of the Lord God” is called “the altar of burnt offering for Israel” in this chapter (22:1). David’s final days were not spent extending the borders of his kingdom, enlarging the floor plan of his home, or increasing his own revenue, fortune or fame. He gave his thoughts over to preparations respecting the worship of God. He loved to worship the Lord.

What about you? Is that the bent of your soul this day? Have you met the Lord in private and worshipped Him? Do you look forward to times of public worship with the gathered people of God? Or are such times far from your heart and far from your thoughts? Do you allow every trivial matter to interfere with the worship of God in your life? Do you excuse your regular absence from God’s places of worship? This is nothing new. “But they all with one accord began to make excuses (Luke 14:18).” The problem is not your demanding schedule; the problem is a dead heart.

Question: How do I know if I cherish the worship of God above all else?

Answer: Do not look at man for your standard, for one can always find someone less Godly, less holy, less careful by which to satisfy your soul. Turn your eye upon God’s standard, and chiefly with the first four commandments of the moral law.

You shall have no other God’s before Me.” That soul which cherishes the worship of God will seek to have no other “gods” in his or her life. God alone will be worshipped, God alone will be honored, and God alone will be feared. Take a careful inventory of your life dear reader. Who is your “god?” Where do you spend the majority of your energy and interest and time? Who has your heart?

You shall not make for yourself any graven image.” That soul which cherishes the worship of God and is thus prepared for death is content to worship God in His way, with His means, and His commands. “The heart of man” said Calvin “is a factory of idols.” Do we think we are interested in worship because of our beads, our crosses, our statues? Or what about the idol of your favorite hobby, possession, loved one, family member, religious leader, church denomination, creed, or whatever. Your idol may be a good thing in itself, but it is an abomination in God’s eyes because you put it in the place that belongs to Christ alone. Listen, for example, to what Pastor John Angel James (1785-1859) said to his congregation “And how many parents need the simple exhortation of the old writer, "Beware of the little idols in white frocks." I would not have parental affection diminished…But then I would remind that mother, that she has a God to love, and serve, and please, as well as a child—a God that is in himself, and ought to be to her, infinitely more than that lovely son. And if all her thoughts, and feelings, and purposes, and aims, flow in one undivided current to that child, is he not her idol?”

Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” This commandment asks us this question: “how precious is the name of the Lord to our souls?” According to our text David loved the name of God. He said “it was in my mind to build a house to the name of the Lord my God.” Is God’s name precious to you? Does the abuse of His name, so frequent in our day, wound your spirit? Do you and I, who bear the name of Christ, behave so as to protect the glory of that name? When we play the hypocrite the world looks on, and as Paul said to the Jews in Rome, “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you (Romans 2:24).”

Honor the Sabbath Day.” Here I must cry out against my own sin and the sin of my fellow believers in our day. This day of rest and the setting aside of worldly labor and entertainments has been so forgotten it is shameful. How can any soul claim to be prepared for his eternal rest that will not even try to keep the emblem of that day, the Lord’s Day, right now? We think we have done enough if we have submitted to an hour of public worship in a week. And then we, who claim to have our hearts fixed upon heaven, fill up our Lord’s Day with the world. We think our souls well fit for an eternity of rest in heaven, but should our preacher chide us for our Lord’s Day neglect we call him a legalist, a puritan, a preacher of “works righteousness” and so on. I do not wish to lay any burden on the people of God that does not flow from His law and His Word. But tell me dear ones, does your present practices on the Lord’s Day really flow from His Word…or from your own desires, plans, and interests? Is there not something wrong when we, who claim Christ is our all in all, our hope, our life, our everything…can only bear to engage our souls with Him one hour, and then off to the mall, the beach, the party, the movies, the shop, the yard, etc.?

All of this has been but a brief test upon our hearts, a little examination of our souls, about our love and longing for the worship of God. David would prepare for the temple before his death with diligence, labor, and passion. He said to Solomon “I have taken much trouble” (22:14) with respect to these preparations. Do you dear reader prepare for the Lord’s Day that way? If not, how do we think ourselves ready for heaven?

III. Thirdly, and lastly, our text teaches us that the soul has prepared itself well for death that is most concerned for the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. David was preparing for a temple, but that temple pointed to Jesus Christ. This temple signified the presence of God. But there has never been a dwelling place for God on earth like Jesus Christ. “In Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 1:19, 2:9, John 1:14).” To the temple the sacrificial lambs were brought. But Jesus Christ Himself is the “lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).” David made many preparations for the temple, though it was but a shadow and type of He who was to come.

Dear reader, is your heart taken up with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ? No soul is prepared for death that does not love the message of the gospel and seek to spread it everywhere they can. Who can you tell of Christ before you die? Your time, and mine, is running out. Now is the time to tell your neighbor, your loved one, your friend about all that Christ has done for you.

Oh my soul, and oh dear reader, let us live the boldest and fullest of lives, but let us live them moment by moment for our great Savior and with an eye to heaven. Let me close with the words of Richard Baxter: “Live as those that are going to the grave…spend every day in preparation for death; and in all your business remember, whither you are going and where you must dwell forever."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Thought of God

I find it interesting that Satan’s first assault on man’s soul was not actually intended to discredit the word of God but rather the character of God. He said to Eve “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” His sinful suggestion was a serious slander aimed at their Creator. He was saying, as it were, “Has God put you in the midst of all these delicious fruit trees and then forbidden you from tasting even one? What sort of cruel and callous God is this you serve? Does He sit up there in heaven grinning with pleasure as His creatures are forced to famish in the midst of plenty?”

Our enemy knows he can trip man up more easily with a subtle attack upon the nature of God than a direct assault upon the Word of God. Oh my soul…what are your thoughts of God today? Dear struggling and suffering soul, what think ye of God? Dear tired and lonely soul, what think ye of God? Dear pressured and tempted soul, what think ye of God? Unworthy thoughts of God are the net that the Devil casts to catch souls under the trials and tribulations of life.

Was not this exactly the thinking of the man Jesus describes in the parable of the talents? He was given one talent and he buried it in the ground. When the master returned this miserable servant could only say “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man…” Oh my soul, and oh dear reader, is that your thought of God this day? Are you cherishing harsh thoughts of God? What a strange and sad irony that this servant was so quick to think harshly of his Lord, but so slow to think harshly of his own sin! Oh the deceitfulness of sin and the craftiness of Satan! God Himself is often tried and convicted in the courtroom of our mind, while our own disobedience passes by the judge of conscience without a word.

J.C. Ryle, the English clergyman, once wrote “Let us never allow ourselves to think harsh thoughts of God. Let us never suppose that He can give us anything that is not really for our good. Let us see in every sorrow and trouble of our earthly pilgrimage, the hand of Him who gave Christ to die for our sins.”[1] Dear Christian, let not your heart be troubled nor your soul saddened by severe thoughts toward your Savior. Hear God’s Word through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah “For I know the thoughts I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Our thoughts of God will often influence our thoughts of others also. The elder brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son was sharp and sour toward his sinful sibling. But why? Jesus ends the parable with an insight that explains his hardened heart, and it was harsh thoughts toward his father. “These many years I have been serving you…and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends (Luke 15:20).” He saw himself as a slave, and his father a cruel master. Pastor and theologian Sinclair Ferguson once remarked in a sermon “we are to others, precisely what we believe God has been to us.”

What of you, my unbelieving friend, neighbor or distant reader? What thoughts of God have kept you from trusting in Him and turning from sin today? Do you think His service hard? Jesus said “Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Do you think His wages are unworthy? What of the wages you presently earn? “For the wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Abandon every thought of God that comes not from His Word. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:7).”

[1] Old Paths, p. 386