I have found this to be a great encouragement (and, at times, a gentle rebuke). This also serves as a good prelude to my series on Hermeneutics and the Doctrine of Scripture. I am finalizing the first post and will have it out soon. Happy reading!
A sermon delivered in 1879, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, and first
published in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 25 (London, 1880) entitled How to Read the Bible.
…the diligent reading of the word of God with the strong resolve to get at its meaning often begets spiritual life. We are begotten by the word of God: it is the instrumental means of regeneration. Therefore love your Bibles. Keep close to your Bibles. You seeking sinners, you who are seeking the Lord, your first business is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; but while you are yet in darkness and in gloom, oh love your Bibles and search them! Take them to bed with you, and when you wake up in the morning, if it is too early to go downstairs and disturb the house, get half-an-hour of reading upstairs. Say, “Lord, guide me to that text which shall bless me. Help me to understand how I, a poor sinner, can be reconciled to thee.” I recollect how, when I was seeking the Lord, I went to my Bible and to Baxter’s “Call to the Unconverted,” and to Alleine’s “Alarm,” and Doddridge’s “Rise and Progress,” for I said in myself, “I am afraid that I shall be lost but I will know the reason why. I am afraid I never shall find Christ but it shall not be for want of looking for him.” That fear used to haunt me, but I said, “I will find him if he is to be found. I will read. I will think.” There was never a soul that did sincerely seek for Jesus in the word but by-and-by he stumbled on the precious truth that Christ was near at hand and did not want any looking for; that he was really there, only they, poor blind creatures, were in such a maze that they could not just then see him. Oh, cling you to Scripture. Scripture is not Christ, but it is the silken clue which will lead you to him. Follow its leadings faithfully.
When you have received regeneration and a new life, keep on reading, because it will comfort you. You will see more of what the Lord has done for you. You will learn that you are redeemed, adopted, saved, sanctified. Half the errors in the world spring from people not reading their Bibles. Would anybody think that the Lord would leave any one of his dear children to perish, if he read such a text as this,—“I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand”? When I read that, I am sure of the final perseverance of the saints. Read, then, the word and it will be much for your comfort.
It will be for your nourishment, too. It is your food as well as your life. Search it and you will grow strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.
It will be for your guidance also. I am sure those go rightest who keep closest to the book. Oftentimes when you do not know what to do, you will see a text leaping up out of the book, and saying, “Follow me.” I have seen a promise sometimes blaze out before my eyes, just as when an illuminated device flames forth upon a public building. One touch of flame and a sentence or a design flashes out in gas. I have seen a text of Scripture flame forth in that way to my soul; I have known that it was God’s word to me, and I have gone on my way rejoicing.
And, oh, you will get a thousand helps out of that wondrous book if you do but read it; for, understanding the words more, you will prize it more, and, as you get older, the book will grow with your growth, and turn out to be a greybeard’s manual of devotion just as it was aforetime a child’s sweet story book. Yes, it will always be a new book—just as new a Bible as it was printed yesterday, and nobody had ever seen a word of it till now; and yet it will be a deal more precious for all the memories which cluster round it. As we turn over its pages how sweetly do we recollect passages in our history which will never be forgotten to all eternity, but will stand for ever intertwined with gracious promises. Beloved, the Lord teach us to read his book of life which he has opened before us here below, so that we may read our titles clear in that other book of love which we have not seen as yet, but which will be opened at the last great day. The Lord be with you, and bless you.
This is an excerpt from G. K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. He is speaking about the development of biblical theologies and their relationship to the Christian life:
A proper understanding and development of OT and NT theology reveals that theology is not only descriptive but also prescriptive. That is, the mere development of a theology of either Testament is a descriptive task, but the content of that theology manifests an imperative for God’s people to follow and obey. (pg. 5)
Unfortunately, this presupposition (and a good one to have) is easily lost on students of theology. Ultimately, the God of the Bible and the theology that can be derived from the Bible calls the church to faith and obedience. It calls Christians to live holy lives for the glory of God. Without that, the study of theology is nothing more than an academic exercise that is best left out of the church and in the halls of liberal academia.
For what can be known about God is plain to them…For although they knew God…(Romans 1:19, 21)
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God… (1 Corinthians 1:21)
…the Gentiles who do not know God… (1 Thessalonians 4:5)
Do you notice the what apparently looks like a discrepancy? In Romans, Paul tells us that God can be known. He goes as far as to say that it is “plain”, uncovered, there, right in front of your face. You can point to it. That’s how plain it is. Later in the same chapter of Romans Paul tells us that humanity is “without excuse.” (1:20b) But in the first letters to the Corinthians and the Thessalonians, he says that the world and Gentiles do not know God. In other words, there is no reason for humanity to not know God, but they do not know Him. Why is that? Let’s explore and see if we can come up with the answer.
So, with all of this, why does man not know God? Why don’t they see His glory?
I would suggest the reason is hardness of heart. (Ephesians 4:18) The problem is that man in his fallen state cannot see the glory of God even though it is staring him in the face and bearing witness to his soul. The hardness in their hearts won’t let them see. But its more than that. That hardness of the heart is maintained by a love for darkness (1 John 3:19) People love the sin they live in; there is a greater love for that which antithetical to all that God represents than there is for the light of Christ in all His purity and glory. Their self-exaltation and narcissistic tendencies cloud their vision. The enemy of our souls, the Devil, has exploited this and enslaved mankind (2 Cor. 4:4) The natural mind of man, filled with their many idols, hears the gospel and considers it “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Man wants to be God, and blindly, ignorantly, and foolishly thinks he can be. William Collin, a Particular (Reformed) Baptist pastor in the late 17th century, clearly states the plight of man in his Baptist Catechism:
Q. 22: What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
All mankind by their fall lost communion with God¹, are under His wrath and curse², and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever³.
¹ Genesis 3:8, 10, 24
² Ephesians 2:2, 3; Galatians 3:10
³ Lamentations 3:39; Romans 6:23; Matthew 25:41, 46
This is why man is utterly helpless unless God steps in and rescues him. God must powerfully break in and shine His divine glory into our hard hearts (1 Corinthians 4:6), grant truth and repentance (2 Timothy 2:25), and give us the grace of faith in Christ (Philippians 1:29). In doing so, the blinders fall off, the stony heart is exchanged for one of flesh ready for molding by the Potter, and the eyes of the heart are enlightened (Ephesians 1:18). We are raised from the dead and experience the new birth. Our sins are forgiven and we stand no longer before a wrathful, righteous Judge, but before a gracious and merciful Father, the Giver of good gifts. (James 1:17) “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) Then, and only then, will we see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4: 4).
For the last several decades there has been a significant decline in the church’s understanding of how our efforts in progressive sanctification play a role in the Christian life. When I use the term “progressive sanctification” I mean the Christian’s growth in grace towards Christlikeness in this life. This is a Spirit-wrought process whereby we are becoming more like Jesus in our thinking, words, and actions. On the other hand, we also believe the Bible teaches that there is positional sanctification that is enjoyed by believers. This is the Christian’s position as one who has been united to Christ in His death, resurrection, and current reign in Heaven (Rom. 6:5; Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). There is no progress to be made here. It is our current standing before God as blood-bought, Spirit-sealed children of God (Eph. 1:13). At some point in our personal history we belonged to the kingdom of darkness, but, at the moment of salvation by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone, we were transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col. 1:13; 1 Pet. 2:9; 1 Thess. 5:4, 5).
What I would like to touch on is the progressive sanctification of the believer and the role of work (not “works”). The idea that Christians must work or put forth effort as part of their maturity in the faith has fallen on hard times in many evangelical circles. Some believe that it is enough to simply recognize and believe that they are “in Christ”. This belief will be all that is necessary for the Christian to cease from sinning. The struggle with particular sins will come to an end if we simply believe and preach the gospel to ourselves on a daily basis. This line of thinking leads to a “resting in Christ” that will somehow cause all of our battles to result in victory over sin.
There is no doubt that the Bible teaches us that we are in Christ, that we have been transferred to the kingdom of light, that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. But that’s not all it teaches. The reality is that for the Christian to grow there is genuinely hard work involved in growing in holiness. There is blood to be spilled, sweat to be had, and tears to be shed in fighting the good fight. Here are a few passages that address this very issue:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Cor. 15:10)
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13)
Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (Col. 3:1)
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (1 Pet. 1:5-7)
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)
Paul, Peter and the author of Hebrews made it very clear that Christian growth does not happen by osmosis. It isn’t just something that happens to you while you take a passive role. It happens when we take the Word of God, understand what it says, and seek to intentionally apply its principles and commands to our lives day in and day out.
Our position in Christ as those who are united to Him by faith serves as the foundation for our on-going struggle with sin. This is WHY we can engage in the battle for holiness “without which no one will see the Lord.” Our position in Christ affords us the power to conduct a persistent campaign against the remaining sinfulness that we are to mortify because we are indwelt by the third Person of the Triune God, the Holy Spirit Himself. Our confidence in prayers for victory over sin comes from knowing that the Spirit of Christ helps us in our prayers and gives us the strength to do battle. Make no mistake about it: We are called to fight, to put forth effort in our daily struggle towards holiness. Our positional sanctification (being in Christ) serves to empower our progressive sanctification (being Christlike).
Dear Christian, do not rob yourself of victory in Jesus and do not disparage the glory of Christ by refusing to “work out your salvation” under the guise of not wanting to be legalistic. Instead, avail yourself of the power of the Spirit of the living God that dwells within you due to your position in Christ and seek holiness. This is not about meriting and seeking favor with God. You already have His favor, love and acceptance. You have already been justified and reconciled to God by the cross. Christ already took care of that. But the call of the Christian does not stop there. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8) The call is to mortify sin, grow in holiness, and persist till the end, by the grace of God in Christ.
I found this panel session at the 2014 Together for the Gospel conference to be very helpful. Although it is geared toward preachers, I found that it would be helpful for all believers.