Sunday, September 22, 2013

To Live is Christ - George Swinnock on the Advantages of Holiness

"Oh the gain of godliness, the profit of piety!  Surely the price of this pearl is scarce known in the world!"

-George Swinnock 

We're living in days that have more counterfeit currency circulating as true Christianity than ever before.  And typically it is only this counterfeit form that the world ever sees.  Thus they conclude, and we can hardly blame them, that all Christianity is a fraud.  Maybe that is what you have concluded too.  You watch the way "so called" Christians live and you hardly notice a difference between them and those who claim no such spiritual investments. 
We are often told in Christian circles that there are really only 2 types of people in the world:  the saved and the unsaved.  In a sense, that is very true.  But in another sense it misses the mark, and fails appreciate another way of looking at things.  This other approach matches more closely with what the Word of God says in its warning about false piety and counterfeit Christianity. 
I prefer to say there are 3 types of people in the world.  There are (1) the double-losers, the (2) half losers and (3) the double winners.

The Double Losers

False Christians, who are merely professors of religion, but who have no real heart for Christ, are double losers.  They lose this life by failing to take advantage of its (albeit temporary) joys and pleasures, and they lose the next life because they never were truly born again.  They denied themselves here - but to no avail.  What did all their church-going and do-gooding profit them in the end?  They are self-deceived and the most to be pitied.  They have lost it all.  They have thrown away the only chance at pleasure they will ever have and gained eternal unhappiness as well.  If ever there were souls to be sorry for, it is them.

The Half Losers

Unbelievers, atheists, agnostics are half losers.  By "half" we don't mean that strictly speaking of course.  A few short years compared to eternity is hardly half.  But when considered in terms of our only two possible lives, this one and the next, they have lost half.  They have operated on the assumption that this life is all there is, and have therefore sought to maximize their own happiness here.  There are various ways this is done.  Some do so by living lives they consider virtuous, and other by living lives most regard as vile.  But in both cases they have sought their own happiness and have done their best to achieve it.  They will, of course, sadly inherit eternal misery, just as the first group.  But they will have had their pleasure here. 


The Double Winners

And this brings me to the topic of George Swinnock (1627-1673) treatise entitled "Heaven and Hell Epitomized."  It is from Volume 3 of his published works.  His text is Paul's words "for me to live is Christ and die is gain."  The great theme is to point out that the Christian man or woman has the best of both worlds.  He argues extensively and conclusively that Christians are winners in life and winners in death. 
What I found particularly refreshing were his words in chapter 19 which begins "motives to encourage thee to a laborious endeavoring after it [i.e. the 'spiritual' or 'holy' life]."  He reminds Christians of their present advantages which exceed the advantages even of those who are living only for pleasure.  He shows by logical argument that the Christian life is the most honorable, most comfortable and ultimately the most profitable life. 
We're prone to forget this.  It is easy to see the difficulties and miss the delights.  We focus on the pain, and we forget the promises.  He quotes Luther who  said "If I had my wish I would choose the homely work of a rustical Christian before all the victories of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar." 


I confess I often don't live this way.  Too often my focus is merely upon the gains to come, and upon the sacrifices presently endured.  I've missed the "to live is Christ" and only considered the "to die is gain.
"To live is Christ" does not mean the Christian becomes a stoic, immune to and ignorant of the true sorrows and pains of this life.  It does mean that he or she sees them differently.  Yes, he suffers.  Yes, she suffers.  But they suffer as sons or daughters of the King.  They suffer not upon the shifting sands of fate or luck, but upon the solid promises of Jesus Christ.  To live is truly Christ. 
That's how I want to live.  God grant the grace to see our lives this way.
And for those who have drawn their conclusions about Christianity only from its imposters, I commend you to look to God's Word for yourself.  You wouldn't want to be judged based upon the behavior of someone else who happened to share your name.  Don't judge the truthfulness of Christianity merely on the basis of its professors.  Read the Bible.  See what it says.  Then determine for yourself if what it says is true, that " gain."   


Sunday, September 8, 2013

5 Reasons For Slow Obedience to Christ

This morning I was reading in 2 Chronicles 24.  The chapter begins by praising the life and obedience of Joash, king of Judah.  Well, sort of.  The commendation heaped upon him comes with a hint of foreshadowing.  It said that Joash "did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoida the priest."  That last part is suggestive of a future decline, which in fact occurs toward the end of the chapter.  Sometimes our godliness is only the product of our company, not the result of true grace.  

But the words from the chapter that caught my eye today were the words concerning the priests whom Joash commanded to gather a collection and repair the house of the Lord.  He told them what to do, concluding with this express direction to "see that you do it quickly."

The very next verse begins, "however the Levites did not do it quickly."

Why not?  The text actually doesn't say.  It simply goes on to say that Joash brought the Levites in, reprimanded them, and sent them back to do the work which they then proceeded to do.  

But I wonder about their initial delay.  I wonder because I see in my own heart that sinful inclination to be sinfully slow in response to the Lord's command.  Why is this?  What is at the heart of delayed-obedience?  We tell our kids "to delay, is to disobey."  That is true.  But why is it that we are often so terribly slow to make the changes in our lives that the Lord clearly sets forth in His Word?

Here, I think, are 5 reasons:

1)  The fear of man.  

The Bible says that the "fear of man brings a snare (Proverbs 29:25)."  Maybe the Levites were afraid that the people would reject or revolt against their request for an offering to repair the house of God.  Maybe you and I are afraid what radical obedience will mean in terms of our relationships with friends or family.  We worry what others might think.  We worry what they might say.  And so, in spite of Christ's clear call upon us to do this or that, we delay.  We "do not do it quickly."  

2)  The love of sin.  

We delay because we are loathe to give up the very sin that God commands us to kill.  We know it is sin. We know it displeases the Lord.  But it provides a certain amount of pleasure in our life that we are unwilling to utterly forsake.  So we are slow.  We don't hate sin as we should.  The Psalmist says "All you who love the Lord, hate evil (Psalm 97:10)."  But because we refuse to view sin from the Lord's perspective, we "do not do it quickly."

3)  Excuses.  

Another reason for our delayed obedience is that we excuse or justify our delay on the basis of our circumstances or situation.  We may think "yes, this thing is wrong, and does not belong in my life....BUT right now my situation is unique and therefore I cannot do it just yet."  This, I believe, is our most subtle weapon against obedience to Christ.  We are masters of "exceptions."  Like the Pharisees we can see the splinter in the eye of another, but we ignore and excuse the plank in our own.  It is helpful to remember that no excuse will stand on judgment day when "every mouth will be stopped."  

4)  Imagination.  

Our imagination is a wonderful gift.  It has produced creative solutions to countless problems.  Einstein called imagination the "preview of life's coming attractions."  But imagination can work against us too.  Let me explain.  We can easily be tempted to imagine a "tomorrow" in which we are being obedient to the Lord. We can see clearly to that day in which our life and God's Word align.  All the pieces have fallen into place. The situation is perfect.  And we are happily doing what God requires.  Some day.  Just not yet.  Not today at least.  The problem with this is that God doesn't want our imagined obedience He wants our immediate obedience.  The author of Hebrews, quoting the Psalms, says "TODAY if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts...(Heb 3:15)."

5)  An insufficient love of Christ.  

Here is the root of all delays in dealing with our sins.  We do not love Jesus Christ enough.  To quote Jesus Himself, "the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12)."  We have not spent sufficient time contemplating His great love for us.  We have not stirred up our affections with the thoughts of His beauty and grace.  We have filled our hearts with worthless and temporary things, rather than the immeasurable glory and majesty of the King of Kings.  We need to hear the words of Christ to Peter, "do you love Me?"  And with weeping and repentant tears we need to confess our lack of love to Him "who loved us, and gave Himself for us."


These, I believe, are the reasons we delay and are slow to obey the Lord.  The good news is that NONE of them needs to continue a moment longer.  Not one.  Nothing but our own sin stands between us and immediate obedience to Jesus Christ.  The Levites "did not do it quickly."  But upon hearing the rebuke of Joash, they made a change.  So can you.  The result, in their case, was to "restore the house of God to its original condition and reinforced it (2 Chronicles 24:13)."  That is precisely what God is up to in the Christian's life.  He is restoring us into HIS image, and the image of His Son.  By His grace it can be done and will be done.  For He "who has begun a good work in you will complete until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6)."