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What kind of men does God use?

Jun 05, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

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The Bible says, “If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).  This is a big part of the power of the gospel.

Horatius Bonar painted that picture with greater detail after observing the kind of “vessels” God clearly used with divine power.  Writing the preface to John Gillies’ Accounts of Revival, Bonar proposed that men useful to the Holy Spirit for revival stand out in nine ways:

1.  They are in earnest: “They lived and labored and preached like men on whose lips the immortality of thousands hung.”

2.  They are bent on success: “As warriors, they set their hearts on victory and fought with the believing anticipation of triumph, under the guidance of such a Captain as their head.”

3.  They are men of faith: “They knew that in due season they should reap, if they fainted not.”

4.  They are men of labor: “Their lives are the annals of incessant, unwearied toil of body and soul; time, strength, substance, health, all they were and possessed they freely offered to the Lord, keeping back nothing, grudging nothing.”

5.  They are men of patience: “Day after day they pursued what, to the eye of the world, appeared a thankless and fruitless round of toil.”

6.  They are men of boldness: “Timidity shuts many a door of usefulness and loses many a precious opportunity; it wins no friends, while it strengthens every enemy.  Nothing is lost by boldness, nor gained by fear.”

7.  They are men of prayer: “They were much alone with God, replenishing their own souls out of the living fountain, that out of them might flow to their people rivers of living water.”

8.  They are men of strong doctrine: “Their preaching seems to have been of the most masculine and fearless kind, falling on the audience with tremendous power.  It was not vehement, it was not fierce, it was not noisy; it was far too solemn to be such; it was massive, weighty, cutting, piercing, sharper than a two-edged sword.”

9.  They are men of deep spirituality: “No frivolity, no flippancy . . . . The world could not point to them as being but slightly dissimilar from itself.”

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The gift of laughter

Jun 04, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler, the celebrated Brooklyn divine, was visiting the famous London preacher, Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon.  After a hard day of work and serious discussion, these two mighty men of God went out into the country together for a holiday.  They roamed the fields in high spirits like boys let loose from school, chatting and laughing and free from care.  Dr. Cuyler had just told a story at which Mr. Spurgeon laughed uproariously.  Then suddenly he turned to Dr. Cuyler and exclaimed, ‘Theodore, let’s kneel down and thank God for laughter!’  And there, on the green carpet of grass, under the trees, two of the world’s greatest men knelt and thanked the dear Lord for the bright and joyous gift of laughter.”

The Sabbath Recorder, 4 January 1915, page 157.

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Then Christ’s hand reaches out

Jun 03, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“Let us then as Christians rejoice that we see around us on every hand the decay of the institutions and instruments of power, see intimations of empires falling to pieces, money in total disarray, dictators and parliamentarians alike nonplussed by the confusion and conflicts which encompass them.  For it is precisely when every earthly hope has been explored and found wanting, when every possibility of help from earthly sources has been sought and is not forthcoming, when every recourse this world offers, moral as well as material, has been explored to no effect . . . and in the gathering darkness every glimmer of light has finally flickered out, it’s then that Christ’s hand reaches out sure and firm.  Then Christ’s words bring inexpressible comfort, then his light shines brightest, abolishing the darkness forever.”

Malcolm Muggeridge, The End of Christendom (Grand Rapids, 1980), page 56.

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All possibility lies in this

Jun 03, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

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“I am the Almighty God, able to fulfill your highest hopes and accomplish for you the brightest ideal that ever my words set before you.  There is no need of paring down the promise until it squares with human probabilities, no need of relinquishing one hope it has begotten, no need of adopting some interpretation of it which may make it seem easier to fulfill, and no need of striving to fulfill it in any second-rate way.  All possibility lies in this: I am the Almighty God.”

Marcus Dods, The Book of Genesis (New York, 1902), page 161.

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How Whitefield walked through controversy

May 30, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“I hope as I make advances in the spiritual life, I shall show my zeal more and more tempered with true Christian knowledge and prudence.  I would willingly have none of my old wild fire mingled with the sacred fire that comes down from God’s altar.  I desire not only to do things for God, but to do them in the best manner.”

“O let us be meek and quiet!  O let us wait and we shall see the salvation of God.”

“While others are disputing, let us be growing.  This will be the best way to convince those who you find will not be convinced any other way.”

“I lose nothing by being quiet and leaving all to Him.”

George Whitefield’s deepening spirituality as the controversy with John Wesley broke his heart, quoted in Arnold Dallimore’s biography of Whitefield, II:75.

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A mysterious exchange

May 29, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“When we are united to Christ a mysterious exchange takes place: he took our curse, so that we may receive his blessing; he became sin with our sin, so that we may become righteous with his righteousness. . . . On the one hand, God declined to ‘impute’ our sins to us, or ‘count’ them against us, with the implication that he imputed them to Christ instead.  On the other, God has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us. . . . We ourselves have done nothing of what is imputed to us, nor Christ anything of what is imputed to him. . . . He voluntarily accepted liability for our sins.”

John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, 1986), pages 148-149.

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The scoffer

May 29, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“A worthless person, a wicked man,
goes about with crooked speech,
winks with his eyes, signals with his feet,
points with his finger,
with perverted heart devises evil,
continually sowing discord;
therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly;
in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.”  Proverbs 6:12-15

“Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,
and quarreling and abuse will cease.”  Proverbs 22:10

“Those who rebuke the wicked will have delight,
and a good blessing will come upon them.”  Proverbs 24:25

“For lack of wood the fire goes out,
and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.”  Proverbs 26:20

“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”  Titus 3:10-11

It is the responsibility of a church’s elders to encourage a positive conversation in their church.  Sadly, some people just aren’t happy with a positive vibe.  They want something else, something more focused on themselves.  And they are so sure of themselves that reasonable discourse leaves them unsatisfied.  They do not feel that you understand them until you agree with them.  The only acceptable outcome is their outcome, which they pursue relentlessly.  They will misconstrue what you say, including your attempts to be kind, and turn your good efforts into further evidence against you.  They live in a mental world of “king of the hill,” and they will do what they have to, in order to win the game.

There is a reason why the Bible warns us about the scoffer (Proverbs 9:7-8; 13:1; 15:12; 21:24).  He or she might be a highly impressive person outwardly.  A strong personality.  A convincing talker.  And often such a person ends up among the leaders of their church.  But even in little ways (“. . . winks with his eyes”), this person sows discord in their church — small provocations with big impact.

It is the privilege of elders to keep the conversation in their church positive — about Jesus and his glory.  Those elders who courageously follow through will, in the long run, “have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them” (Proverbs 24:25).  To preserve their church in those green pastures and beside those still waters, the elders might have to ask the scoffer to leave.  They will do so reluctantly and carefully, they will do so with an awareness of their own shortcomings, and they will try not to embarrass the offender.  But faithful elders will obey the Bible out of reverence for Jesus, because their blood-bought church belongs to him.

And everyone in their church will breathe a sigh of relief.

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The most important thing, outside the Bible, I have ever read

May 27, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

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“The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us [nor, I would add today, postmodernism or materialistic consumerism or visceral sensualism or whatever].  All these are dangerous but not the primary threat.  The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit.  The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People (Wheaton, 2003), page 66.

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My dad’s five vows

May 27, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

On 19 June 2003 my dad wrote down these five vows that he made before the Lord:

1.  Vow to give God all the glory in all your successes.

2.  Vow to confess your sins and do a thorough job of repentance.

3.  Vow never to say anything slanderous or destructive against any of God’s children.

4.  Vow not to own anything.  Leave all ownership to God.

5.  Vow that while you live you will seek to live with enthusiasm and joy by the Holy Spirit.

Then dad quoted Psalm 56:12, “I am under vows to you, O God.”

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What God will be doing in church tomorrow

May 23, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

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“A spiritual application of the Word of God consists in applying it to the heart, in spiritually enlightening, sanctifying influences.  A spiritual application of an invitation or offer of the gospel consists in giving the soul a spiritual sense or relish of the holy and divine blessings offered, and the sweet and wonderful grace of the Offerer in making so gracious an offer, and of his holy excellency and faithfulness to fulfill what he offers, and his glorious sufficiency for it, so leading and drawing forth the heart to embrace the offer and thus giving the man evidence of his title to the thing offered.”

Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (Edinburgh, 1997), page 153.

This is what the Holy Spirit will be doing to the hearts of people as they hear the gospel preached tomorrow.  It is quiet and invisible, uncaused and unstoppable, for God’s glory.

Have a great Sunday.

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