Sunday, May 20, 2007

Known Only To God; His Providential Tools - Thank You!

To these two unknown persons; who, at the time, unknown to even themselves, were used by God's providence to bring His word and life to Charles Hadden Spurgeon and Aurelius Augustinus (better known as Saint Augustine of Hippo), I say, "Thank you!"

Who's to say whether one day you, or I, may be used by God to likewise touch the life of one so chosen by Him?!

Charles H. Spurgeon:
"I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. . . . I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache. The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now, it is well that preachers should be instructed; but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was, 'Look Unto Me, And Be Ye Saved, All The Ends Of The Earth.' (Isaiah 45:22) He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. . . . Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, 'Young man, you look very miserable. . . . and you always will be miserable - miserable in life, and miserable in death, - if you don't obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.' . . . I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said, - I did not take much notice of it, - I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, 'Look!' what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him." (C.H. Spurgeon: Autobiography, Vol. I, [Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust: 1962], p. 87)

Thanks to a "stupid" Primitive Methodist layman, Charles H. Spurgeon looked, and was saved.

St. Augustine of Hippo:
"Now when deep reflection had drawn up out of the secret depths of my soul all my misery and had heaped it up before the sight of my heart, there arose a mighty storm, accompanied by a mighty rain of tears. . . . I flung myself down under a fig tree - how I know not - and gave free course to my tears. The streams of my eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to thee. And, not indeed in these words, but to this effect, I cried to thee: 'And thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry forever? Oh, remember not against us our former iniquities.' For I felt that I was still enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries: 'How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?' I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which--coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, 'Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.' Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: 'Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.' By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee. So I quickly returned to the bench where I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: 'Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.' (Romans 13:13) I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away." (Augustine's Confessions, transl. by Albert C. Outler, Ph.D., D.D., Book 8, Chapter 12, Paragraphs 28 & 29)

Thanks to a simple song, sung by a simple child, Aurelius Augustinus heard, and was saved.

Once again, although you did not even know what you were doing, or how you were being used by the sovereign God of the universe, I thank you.

And more importantly, I thank you, Father, for your mighty, providential work of grace and mercy to me and your church!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Amazing Grace; Not Self-Esteem: Living in the Shadow of the Cross

"I have often heard it said, ‘If I had been the only person on the earth, Jesus would still have died for me.’ Although our Lord could have given his life for just one person, it most certainly would not have been because that person was so valuable, but because God was so gracious. Such an occurrence should hardly, therefore, be regarded as a source of pride or self esteem. For me to argue that Jesus would have died for me if I were the only person on earth simply indicates that my sins alone, without the rest of you contributing your share, were sufficient to demand the severe punishment Jesus Christ vicariously assumed in my place. When faced with that reality, we ought to weep for the selfless sacrifice of our Lord instead of finding in it one more opportunity for feeling good about ourselves." (Don Matzat, et al., Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church?, Michael Scott Horton, ed. [Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992], p. 256)

"Jesus did not die on the cross to improve our self-esteem. He died to atone for our sin. And yet the cross does teach us a crucial lesson about our worth: We are each worthy of the wrath of God. As a manifestation of God’s unmerited mercy, the cross reveals the depth and seriousness of our sin." (C.J. Mahaney, The Battle Against Sin, Ch. 4, pg. 41, How Can I Change? [Pursuit of Godliness Series, Sovereign Grace Ministries, 1993)

Unless we understand the nature of sin and how offensive it is to God, we’ll never understand why the cross was necessary. We’ll never be amazed by grace.

"It's when I'm aware of sin, that I appreciate grace the most. " . . . It's when I appreciate the depraved state of my heart that "I invariably lift my eyes to the heavens and express my appreciation for the Savior who hung as my substitute, receiving the wrath that I deserve, and I lift up my voice and express my gratefulness to the one that not only hung on the cross as my substitute, but who rose again from the dead, who has ascended, who is seated at the right hand of the Father, who by his mysterious electing mercy has regenerated my heart. . . . The cross reveals the hight of God's mercy and the depth of our sin. The cross isn't a demonstration of our worth and value; the cross is a manifestation of the mercy of God - the identification of the seriousness of sin. And it should produce in us a passion because we have been forgiven much by the Holy One. . . . This is not to deny we are worthy. We are worthy - we're worthy of the wrath of God." (C.J. Mahaney, The Idol Factory)

Let's compare statements from Robert Schuller, Crystal Cathedral; and the great reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin:

Schuller - "I don't think that anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality, and hence counterproductive to the evangelistic enterprise, than the unchristian uncouth strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition."

Martin Luther - "The main benefit of Christ's passion is that man sees into his own true self and that he be terrified and crushed by this. Unless we seek that knowledge, we do not derive much benefit from Christ's passion. . . . He who is so hardhearted and callous as not to be terrified by Christ's passion and led to a knowledge of self has reason to fear."

John Calvin - "I am not unaware how much more plausible the view is, which invites us rather to ponder on our good qualities than to contemplate what must overwhelm us with shame, our miserable destitution and ignominy. There is nothing more acceptable to the human mind that flattery. . . . Whoever, therefore, gives heed to those teachers who merely employ us in contemplating our good qualities... will be plunged into the most pernicious ignorance."

And finally, "When on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God, and have been so convicted by our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely 'hell-deserving sinners', then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we are astonished we never saw it before." (John R.W. Stott, The Cross of Christ)