Weakness has its benefits

Jan 21, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


“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



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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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


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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Church membership

Jan 05, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


“We have in our day started by getting the whole picture upside down.  Starting with the doctrine that every individual is ‘of infinite value,’ we then picture God as a kind of employment committee whose business it is to find suitable careers for souls, square holes for square pegs.  In fact, however, the value of the individual does not lie in him.  He is capable of receiving value.  He receives it by union with Christ.  There is no question of finding for the individual a place in the living temple which will do justice to his inherent value and give scope to his natural idiosyncrasy.  The place was there first.  The individual was created for it.  He will not be himself until he is there.”

C. S. Lewis, “Membership,” in The Weight of Glory (Grand Rapids, 1974), pages 41-42.

No wonder, then, that when we join a healthy church, we feel refreshed, reinvigorated, more alive.  We may have looked for our church as if we were shopping, like consumers.  But God is better than that and was up to something deeper.  He was fitting us into his temple as living stones.  It is in discovering the larger reality for which we were created that we come alive.  Not by getting our own way, but by fitting into something sacred, ancient and massive.

Church membership is glorious.

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The disturbing toll

Jan 02, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


“Beyond Whitefield’s methods of preparation, Cornelius Winter emphasized the remarkable atmospherics of Whitefield’s oratory: ‘It would be only by hearing him, and by beholding his attitude and his tears, that a person could well conceive of the effect . . . He had a most peculiar art of speaking personally to you, in a congregation of four thousand people.’  With a style polished by decades of practice, Whitefield almost never stumbled upon a word, and he exhibited deep emotion, often lifting his hands high, stamping his feet, and weeping.  Critics saw the tears as stagecraft, but Winter thought this unfair.  Sometimes he wept so bitterly that the audience wondered whether he could regain his composure, but he always did.  Winter also noticed the disturbing toll that preaching took on Whitefield in his later years; he routinely vomited ‘a vast discharge from the stomach, usually with a considerable quantity of blood,’ after stepping down from the pulpit.”

Thomas S. Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (New Haven, 2014), pages 240-241.

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Lambs in the midst of wolves

Dec 31, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.  Luke 10:3

“He does not keep back from them the dangers and trials which are before them.  He does not enlist them under false pretenses, or prophesy smooth things, or promise them unvarying success.  He tells them plainly what they must expect.”  J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke (Grand Rapids, n.d.), page 346.

There is a reason why the Lord said what he said in Luke 10:3.  Some people are wolf-ish.  They will never accept a minister of the gospel, because they do not love the Lord of the gospel.  They join our churches.  They even become leaders.  But their nature within is wolf-ish – hungry, cunning, attacking.

Some pastors reading this post are encircled by wolves.  My brother, here are three things to remember right now.

One, if the prospect of encountering a harmful person deters us from following the call of Christ, then we are not true pastors: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd . . . sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees” (John 10:12).  A true pastor accepts what the Lord said in Luke 10:3 and stays true to the call.

Two, some people are unsatisfied, because they are unsatisfiable.  Their heartburn about you isn’t about you.  The problem is this.  As you preach the glory of Christ, they sense his claims encroaching on their claims in “their church.”  They criticize you for this and for that.  And maybe they have a point.  But your real crime is that Christ is at work through your ministry: “We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.  Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).

Three, the Lord is with you.  He who warned you is also committed to you: “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.  So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.  The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.  To him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen” (2 Timothy 4:17-18).

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My all-time favorite post

Dec 29, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

Gospel + safety + time.  It’s what everyone needs.  A lot of gospel + a lot of safety + a lot of time.

Gospel: good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit.  Multiple exposures.  Constant immersion.  Wave upon wave of grace and truth, according to the Bible.

Safety: a non-accusing environment.  No finger-pointing.  No embarrassing anyone.  No manipulation.  No oppression.  No condescension.  But respect and sympathy and understanding, where sinners can confess and unburden their souls.

Time: no pressure.  Not even self-imposed pressure.  No deadlines on growth.  Urgency, but not hurry, because no one changes quickly.  A lot of space for complicated people to rethink their lives at a deep level.  God is patient.

This is what our churches must be: gentle environments of gospel + safety + time.  It’s where we’re finally free to grow.

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