Sunday, 26 January 2014

Beholding the Glory of Jesus

The apostle John informs his readers that he and his fellow disciples had the great privilege of beholding the glory of Jesus (John 1:14). What did he and they see? Here are some suggestions.
It was the glory of God that was seen. I think this is an important point to stress. We are used to the language of Christ veiling his glory when he became a man. And no doubt that is true. The disciples did not see the glory of God that appeared to Moses, for example. But the incarnation was also a means of revealing the glory of God in one sense while it hid it another. John is referring to a genuine, real observation of the glory of God.
It was the glory of God seen in a man. John is very blunt when he says that ‘the Word became flesh’. The word ‘flesh’ means human nature at its weakest. All flesh is like grass. The same idea may be present in the word translated ‘dwelt’ which literally means ‘pitched his tent ’, and as we know a tent is not a strong or robust thing. Glory in human terminology is normally associated with strength, say with heroes in war or with sportsmen who defeat their opponents. But John saw glory in a weak man. John tells us that Jesus was tired: he was tired at the well of Samaria, he was tired in the boat in the storm – but these incidents showed his glory
It was the glory of God seen in a humble man. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:6-8 that Jesus was humble. The places where John saw Jesus’ glory was not in the halls of fame, not in the buildings of the significant, not at the banquets laid on by the prominent and the important. He did not have where to lay his head. Jesus’ glory was revealed on the hillside where he used the provisions of a poor boy to feed the hungry multitude, in little villages in talking to poor men and women and children, and in the temple courts where the common people gathered.
Leon Morris has summarised it well when he writes of Jesus: ‘When people needed help he helped them. Where they were sick he healed them. Where they were ignorant folk he taught them. Where there were hungry people he fed them. He was not found in the high places of the earth. All of his life he was among God’s little people, those who in way or another felt their need. And wherever there was need he was found doing lowly service. And that is glory.’
Remember it is also John who describes the incident in which Jesus stripped himself and put on a towel and washed his disciples’ feet. He did not have to do it; he could have asked Peter and John to do it. But it is glory when the One who did not have to do it did it.
It was the glory of God seen in a risen man. John closes his account of the life of Jesus with the incident of the risen Christ restoring Peter to his service. John here in verse 14 says that the Christ who revealed God revealed he was full of grace and truth. Throughout his life Jesus had shown grace and truth: to Nicodemus the pompous teacher who became his loyal follower when no-one else did; to the woman of Samaria who became an effective witness; and to may others. And after his resurrection he showed grace and truth to Peter who had denied him.

It was the glory of God seen in a man who was their friend. These disciples had lived with him for three years. He had called them his friends. In John 1 we are told of how the friendship began. He entered into their lives and changed them. As they watched him, listened to him, and followed him their lives too were changed.

Today is a good day to see his glory.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Old Paths by J. C. Ryle

J. C. Ryle, who was the first Bishop
 of Liverpool, was a leading British 
Evangelical in the nineteenth 
century. He was aware that the country was going through dramatic cultural and societal changes and that the church had to find ways of communicating the gospel to the vast numbers, especially in the towns and cities, who had not heard it. Therefore, he oversaw various developments within his own diocese to bring the gospel to the unchurched.
Ryle also realised the value of literature in bringing Christian truths before the minds of churchgoers and others. He therefore produced short papers on important Christian doctrines and explained them in clear and crisp English that was easy to understand and inspiring to read. It is not surprising that his writings are still read today. He realised the essential point that one does not have to use a lot of words in order to explain the truth. What matters is that authors use the right words and do so in a balanced and interesting way. Ryle always goes straight to the point and doesn’t lead readers down unnecessary diversions. Reading one of his explanations inevitably is helpful.
In this volume, reprinted in 2013 by the Banner of Truth, nineteen of his papers have been brought together. They are mainly on topics connected to becoming and being a Christian. There are also some on basic doctrines such as the inspiration of the Bible and the doctrine of justification by faith, both of which have been under attack in recent years, and each is explained simply and fully. The book is a reminder of the essentials of salvation and will help readers assess whether or not they are genuine Christians, which after all is the crucial matter for all of us.
One suspects that Ryle’s writing style was similar to his preaching style. While methods of communication have moved on since Ryle’s day, it is interesting to note the ways he draws readers into his presentations, especially with his use of direct questions, and also in his strong confidence that what he has to say is for their benefit. While no one wishes to be a pulpit clone, contemporary preachers can learn from Ryle’s directness how to communicate to today’s listeners.
So this volume containing material for readers in the nineteenth century will be helpful to readers in the twenty-first. 

This review appeared in the October 2013 Record of the Free Church of Scotland.

George Muller - How to Become a Successful Labourer in Christ’s Vineyard

In the first prayer this evening there was the following expression: ‘Use thy servants, and let them see fruit, as they are able to bear it.’ I desire to say a few words on this, especially the latter part. It has in a lively way brought to my remembrance my own experience.

It was forty-four years ago, on the 17th of this month, that I began to preach in my own country; but I saw very little fruit from my preaching. I preached in the parish churches – I loved to preach, there was a real earnestness in my preaching, and a real desire to do good – unquestionably so. And yet I never met with a single instance in which I could say I had been used as God’s instrument in the conversion of a sinner, though sometimes I preached to a thousand people, or more. I do not say that persons may not have been converted; but I never met with one single instance of conversion.

It did, however, please God, in a few instances – when I did not expect it – to use me in the conversion of sinners; but this was quite apart from the preaching. I once visited a poor tailor and expounded the Scriptures at his house, and a person was brought to the knowledge of the truth through this exposition. Two of my fellow-students, my former companions in sin, were converted simultaneously whilst I was speaking to them. So that in a few cases, where I expected nothing, I was made an instrument of blessing; but where I expected great things, there was nothing at all.

In course of time I came to this country, and it pleased God then to show to me the doctrines of grace in a way in which I had not seen them before. At first I hated them, and said, ‘If this were true, I could do nothing at all in the conversion of sinners, as all would depend upon God and the working of his Spirit.’ But when it pleased God to reveal these truths to me, and my heart was brought to such a state as that I could say, ‘I am not only content simply to be a hammer, an axe, or a saw, in God’s hands; but I shall count it an honour to be taken up and used by him in any way; and if sinners are converted through my instrumentality, from my inmost soul I will give him all the glory,’ the Lord gave me to see fruit in abundance. Sinners were converted by scores; and ever since God has used me in one way or other in his service.

I delight to dwell on this, especially for the benefit of my younger fellow-believers. We must be really willing to give God all the glory. We may say, ‘God shall have all the glory,’ but the point is, do we mean it? We must aim after this – to be content to be nothing but the instrument, giving God all the glory. We must not say, ‘God shall have ninety-nine parts of the glory, and the one-hundredth part shall be ours.’ No, we must give him all, we must not take the one-hundredth part; he is worthy to have it all.

Let us aim after this, and assuredly God will take us up; for he can then use us. Our adorable Lord Jesus, during all his life on earth, had one single aim – to seek glory for the Father. Well, as we are enabled to get glory for the Master, not for the servant, so he, whom we seek to honour, will see to it that honour is bestowed on the servant.

I affectionately, as an elder brother, lay it upon the hearts of my beloved young brethren, whether engaged as preachers, Sunday-school teachers, tract distributors, district visitors, or in any other way working in the Lord’s service, if they desire to see fruit resulting from their labours, that they primarily aim after this – that not only with the lip, but with the heart, they will give all the honour and glory to God, if he should condescend to use them as instruments in his service.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Satisfied Saviour

In the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7), Jesus relates how the shepherd, when he arrived home, arranged for a get-together with his friends and neighbours in order to celebrate the rescued sheep. This is obviously a picture of heaven.

There are many sources of joy in heaven. There is the joy that comes from beholding the beauty of God. There is the joy that arises from seeing the exalted Saviour, crowned with glory and honour. But there is also the joy of sharing with Jesus his delight in sinners being converted. And there will the endless joyful experience of being with the exuberant Saviour forever.

He and I, in that bright glory,
One deep joy shall share;
Mine to be forever with him,
His that I am there.

The joy of Jesus is a wonderful thought to contemplate. The Bible often refers to the Saviour’s joy. We read in Psalm 22 of the fact that the Saviour himself sings in the presence of his people in heaven: ‘From you comes my praise in the great congregation.’ Jesus is the leader of the heavenly praise and one aspect of that praise is the success of the gospel on earth as the nations remember and turn to the Lord. The Saviour today is satisfied with those who turn to him in repentance and faith.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

We have a strong Saviour

Jesus told a parable in Luke 15:1-7 about a shepherd and a lost sheep that he went to look for until he found it. When he did, he carried it home. In the description of the shepherd carrying the sheep on his shoulders we have a picture of the Christian life. From the moment Jesus extends his arms and lifts us on to his shoulders, which occurs at conversion, he does not let us go until he takes us to heaven. There are many dangers ahead of each believer and if it were not for the presence of the strong Saviour these dangers would overpower us. These dangers include indwelling sin, worldliness, Satanic opposition and death itself. How thankful we should be that our Saviour is mighty to save.

In the posture of the sheep lying on the shoulders of the shepherd we have an illustration of faith in Christ. The whole weight of the sheep was on the shepherd’s shoulders. Similarly, faith leans the entire weight of one’s soul on Christ for salvation. Now, the comfort of faith will depend on what the saved sinner looks at. If the sheep was to look down from the shepherd’s shoulders at the rough road or at the wild animals, then it would sense fear. But if it looked at the strong shoulders of the shepherd, saw the ease with which he travelled along the road, and saw the dread he brought to its enemies, then its faith would be strengthened. In both situations the sheep was secure, but in the second he had the comfort and confidence that comes from looking to Christ.

Similarly, if the sheep was to listen to the shepherd rather than listen to the noise of its enemies, it would hear what would further strengthen faith, for he would hear the rejoicing of the Saviour. The Saviour’s joy began before he came into the world (his delights were with the sons of men), but he also expresses it to the sheep as he carries it along each step of the way. The sheep is not a heavy burden on his shoulders, he is delighted to carry it. Jesus expresses his pleasure to his people continually, telling them of how beautiful he sees them to be, of how glad he is that he can protect them, but often we do not hear his voice because we are listening to other voices.

In a real sense, the Christian life is lying on Christ’s shoulders, listening to his joyful voice expressing his delight in his people.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Seeking Saviour

It is a well-known fact that Jesus taught in parables. The reason for this is fairly obvious – most people think in images rather than in words; indeed it is very difficult for us to relate to others without using word pictures. Thomas Guthrie commented that each person is ‘possessed of reason, of affection, and of imagination’ and suggested that a sermon involves ‘proving, painting and persuading’. Jesus used earthly situations to illustrate heavenly or spiritual truths. Because of this, the common people heard him gladly.

A well-known parable is that of the lost sheep told by Jesus in Luke 15:1-7. In this parable, we have Jesus portrayed as the seeking Saviour searching for a lost sinner. The illustration of a lost sheep is an accurate picture of a Christless life. The lost sheep has wandered away into a place of danger, where wild animals may destroy it. This is a picture of each of us, for all of us have sinned and wandered away from God. The wandering may have been unclear to begin with, but gradually we have gone further and further away. This desire to wander is both voluntary and intense, we don’t want to resist it and we cannot resist it. And we face the danger of being lost forever in endless punishment for our sins.

Looking round, we may ask, Is there anyone to help? The answer is, Yes, the Son of God cares. He knew all about the problems and the dangers and still he came to the rescue. He became a man so that he could go to Calvary where he would bear the punishment for sin.

Having paid the penalty for sins, Jesus has been raised from the dead and has sent his messengers into the world to tell sinners about what he has done and to invite each of them to come to him for salvation. Through them, be they ministers of laypeople, he seeks the lost sheep. Further, Jesus has also sent the Holy Spirit to join in this search and to work in the hearts and minds of sinners, reminding them of what Jesus has done, and repeating to them that they are welcome to trust in Jesus Christ.

The question for us is, ‘Has he found us?’ If he has not, it means we are resisting his invitations. If he has, we are starting a journey together with him that will last forever.