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Assessing doubt: a consideration

Feb 10, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

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“The question is not merely whether we can rest in our faith, but whether we can rest in the doubt that is the necessary alternative of faith.  It is all very well to toy with the thought of a Christless world, but when we once imagine ourselves living in it we see that really . . . we have not given up our Savior after all. . . . We ought to distrust our moods. . . . Faith is often diversified by doubt, but a man should not desert the conviction of his better moments because the dark moments come.”

J. Gresham Machen, quoted in C. Allyn Russell, Voices of American Fundamentalism: Seven Biographical Studies (Philadelphia, 1976), page 138.

HT:  Justin Taylor

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Psalm 1, a reverse translation

Feb 06, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

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Blighted is the man
who doesn’t stick his neck out,
doesn’t think for himself,
doesn’t revere anything.
But he laughs on cue
while watching TV day and night.
He is like everybody else.
In all that he does, he gets by.
The believers are not so,
they don’t move with the times.
Therefore, the godly will not stand
in the court of human approval,
nor the Christlike at the best parties in town.
For who’s to say what is right?
And doesn’t everybody go to heaven?

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Quietness vs. prominence

Feb 03, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

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I have calmed and quieted my soul.  Psalm 131:2

How did David get into that quiet place before God?  He forsook ambition.  “My eyes are not raised too high,” he wrote.  He checked that restless impulse of ingratitude and the itch of attention-seeking.  He settled into the role and place God had assigned to him, because he trusted in the wisdom and goodness of God’s providential care.

“Like a weaned child is my soul within me.”  No longer fretful, demanding, impatient, infantile, David’s heart came to rest with a sense of God’s plan, God’s nearness.

The upward glance to the higher place of visibility and recognition destroys quietness of heart.  Francis Schaeffer, in his sermon “No little people, no little places,” counsels us to look by faith beyond our place, wherever it may be, into the greater battle raging in the heavenlies today, the real battle of our generation that bears no necessary relation to the seeming prominence or obscurity of the soldiers involved, and trust that the Lord of hosts is deploying each of us most effectively right where we are, moment by moment.  Human appearances can be false.  Divine strategies are unfailing.

Unless I am extruded (Schaeffer’s wonderful word) into the higher place by the force of God’s own hand, my life ends up counting for less than before, not more, no matter how impressive my promotion may appear.

Quietness of heart before God is more powerful than prominence of position among men.

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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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