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Reality is . . .

Jan 30, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

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“Among other things, [Jonathan] Edwards challenges the commonsense view of our culture that the material world is the ‘real’ world.  Edwards’ universe is essentially a universe of personal relationships.  Reality is a communication of affections, ultimately of God’s love and creatures’ responses.”

George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, 2003), page 503.

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Preachers who desire nothing but God

Jan 29, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“No, Aleck, no!  The danger of ruin to Methodism does not lie here.  It springs from quite a different quarter.  Our preachers, many of them, are fallen.  They are not spiritual.  They are not alive to God.  They are soft, enervated, fearful of shame, toil, hardship. . . . Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.”

John Wesley, writing at age 87 to Alexander Mather, quoted in Luke Tyerman, The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley (London, 1871), III:632.

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Clever preacher or mighty Savior?

Jan 28, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“No man can give at once the impressions that he himself is clever and that Jesus Christ is mighty to save.”

James Denney, quoted in James S. Stewart, Heralds of God (New York, 1946), page 74.

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How can we tell when God is really at work?

Jan 27, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

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In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Jonathan Edwards pulled out of 1 John 4 the biblical indicators that God is at work, even if the people involved are complicating it with their own imperfections and eccentricities.  And we do complicate it.  In this life, the work of the gospel is never pure, always mixed.  The light of God does not stream in unfiltered by us.  To some extent, we even block it out.  We are sorry for that.  But we do not need to be stuck in analysis-paralysis.  The real work of God is discernible, within all the mess, in four ways:

One, when our esteem of Jesus is being raised, so that we prize him more highly than all this world, God is at work.

Two, when we are moving away from Satan’s interests, away from sin and worldly desires, God is at work.

Three, when we are believing, revering and devouring the Bible more and more, God is at work.

Four, and most importantly, when we love Jesus and one another more, delighting in him and in one another, God is at work.

Satan not only wouldn’t produce such outcomes, he couldn’t produce them, so opposite are these from his nature and purposes.  These simple and obvious evidences of grace are sure signs that God is at work, even with the distractions we inevitably introduce.

Biblical, fairminded discernment keeps our eyes peeled for fraudulence but also frees us, and even requires us, to rejoice wherever we see the Lord at work.  Indeed, that is the real purpose of discernment — not to fasten on whatever is wrong, but to rejoice in and promote whatever is right.  After all, God is at work.

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Weakness has its benefits

Jan 21, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

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“Wherever God’s people have been truly humbled before him, and have been brought deeply to feel their own impotence, and have been willing to be used as mere instruments, and to let him have all the glory, there you will find that a rich blessing has usually been bestowed.”

William B. Sprague, Lectures on Revivals of Religion (Edinburgh, 1978), page 113.

Ben Reynolds, our music leader at Immanuel Nashville, wasn’t there in the early days.  But he said to me not long ago, “Ray, my impression of the original core group at Immanuel is that you guys were so wounded and exhausted and hurting that no one in the group even had the emotional energy for selfish agendas.”  I said, yes, that was probably true.  Then Ben added, “And I think the Lord looked down on that and said, ‘Well, there’s a church I can use.'”

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The archaeology of repentance

Jan 20, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

 

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In a sermon preached during the First Great Awakening, George Whitefield laid bare the four archaeological layers always uncovered in true repentance.  Preaching on “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14), Whitefield said that before we can speak peace to our hearts:

One, “You must be made to see, made to feel, made to weep over, made to bewail, your actual transgressions against the law of God.”  The dawning of realism.  Honesty.  Brokenhearted self-awareness.  “Was ever the remembrance of your sins grievous to you?  Was the burden of your sins intolerable to your thoughts?  Did ever any such thing as this pass between God and your soul?  If not, for Jesus Christ’s sake, do not call yourselves Christians.”

Two, “You must be convinced of the foundation of all your transgressions.  And what is that? I mean original sin.”  We realize that, even when we haven’t acted on our impulses, the very fact that our hearts rise up against God is itself damning.  All self-hope stripped away.  “When the sinner is first awakened, he begins to wonder, ‘How came I to be so wicked?’  The Spirit of God then strikes in and shows that he has no good thing in him by nature.”

Three, “You must be troubled for the sins of your best duties and performances.”  Our righteous self-images start to unravel, our excuses, our rationalizations, our entitlements.  Every self-invented refuge collapses.  “You must be brought to see that God may damn you for the best prayer you ever put up.  Our best duties are so many splendid sins.  There must be a deep conviction before you can be brought out of your self-righteousness; it is the last idol taken out of the heart.”

Four, “There is one particular sin you must be greatly troubled for, and yet I fear there are few of you think what it is.  It is the reigning, the damning sin of the Christian world, and yet the Christian world seldom or never thinks of it.  And pray what is that?  It is what most of you think you are not guilty of, and that is the sin of unbelief.”  Treating God as unreal at a functional level in our hearts and lives and churches and strategies.  “Most of you have not so much faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the devil himself.  I am persuaded the devil believes more of the Bible than most of you do.”

“One more then.  Before you can speak peace to your heart, you must not only be convinced of your actual and original sin, the sins of your own righteousness, the sin of unbelief, but you must be enabled to lay hold upon the perfect righteousness, the all-sufficient righteousness, of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Then you shall have peace.”

Select Sermons of George Whitefield, pages 75-95.

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Henley

Jan 16, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body. Proverbs 18:8; 26:22

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21

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"Kill our children, burn our houses, only spare us _____________"

Jan 15, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

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How to fill in that blank?

“Having heard much of Mr. Rogers of Dedham, [Dr. Thomas Goodwin] took a journey . . . to hear him preach on his lecture day. . . . Mr. Rogers was . . . on the subject of . . . the Scriptures.  And in that sermon he falls into an expostulation with the people about their neglect of the Bible; . . . he personates God to the people, telling them, ‘Well, I have trusted you so long with my Bible; you have slighted it, it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs; you care not to listen to it.  Do you use my Bible so?  Well, you shall have my Bible no longer.’  And he takes up the Bible from his cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it and carrying it from them; but immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, cries and pleads most earnestly, ‘Lord, whatever thou dost to us, take not thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us thy Bible, only take not away thy Bible.’  And then he personates God again to the people: ‘Say you so?  Well, I will try you a while longer; and here is my Bible for you.  I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more . . . observe it more . . . practice it more, and live more according to it.’  By these actions . . . he put all the congregation into so strange a posture that . . . the place was a mere Bochim [Weeping], the people generally . . . deluged with their own tears; and he told me that he himself, when he got out . . . was fain to hang a quarter of an hour upon the neck of his horse weeping before he had power to mount.”

Quoted in J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, 1990), pages 97-98.

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His visits are never far away

Jan 10, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“You have visited me by night.”  Psalm 17:3

“Now, you may be saying to yourself, ‘I have not enjoyed such visits as these.’  Yet you may enjoy them.  If the Father loves you even as he loves his Son, then you are on visiting terms with him. . . . If you long for him, he much more longs for you.  No sinner was ever half as eager for Christ as Christ is eager for the sinner; no saint was ever one-tenth as anxious to behold his Lord as his Lord is to behold him.  If you are running to Christ, he is already near you.  If you sigh for his presence, that sigh is the evidence that he is with you.  He is with you even now; therefore, be glad.”

Charles Spurgeon, Joy in Christ’s Presence (New Kensington, 1997), page 15.

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