Obeying God without having a nervous breakdown

To my nervous, insecure, tender-conscience Christian friend, always wondering if you are doing something wrong, or disappointing God, doubting if you are hitting the mark, feeling like a failure as you try your best to please him . . .  Richard Baxter can help you:

Another temptation to confound you in you religion, is, by filling your heads with practical scrupulosity; so that you cannot go on for doubting every step whether you go right; and when you should cheerfully serve your Master, you will do nothing but disquiet your minds with scruples, whether this be right or wrong.

Your remedy here, is not by casting away all care of pleasing God, or fear of sinning, or by debauching conscience; but by a cheerful and quiet obedience to God, so far as you know his will, and an upright willingness and endeavour to understand it better; and a thankful receiving of gospel pardon for your failings and infirmities.

Be faithful in your obedience; but live still upon Christ, and think not of reaching any such obedience, as shall set you above the need of his merits, and a daily pardon of your sins.

Do the best you can to know the will of God and do it: but when you know the essentials of religion, and obey sincerely, let no remaining wants deprive you of the comfort of that so great a mercy, as proves your right to eternal life.

In your seeking further for more knowledge and obedience, let your care be such as tendeth to your profiting, and furthering you to your end, and as doth not hinder your joy and thanks for what you have received: but that which destroyeth your joy and thankfulness, and doth but perplex you, and not further you in your way, is but hurtful scrupulosity, and to be laid by.

When you are right in the main, thank God for that, and be further solicitous so far as to help you on, but not to hinder you. If you send your servant on your message, you had rather he went on his way as well as he can, than stand scrupling every step whether he should set the right or left foot forward; and whether he should step so far, or so far at a time, &c.

Hindering scruples please not God.

Richard Baxter, Christian Directory, 53.

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Who is that blessed man of Psalm 1?

I was very much impressed, a number of years ago, listening to Joseph Flacks tell of his visit to Palestine. When he was in the city of Jerusalem he was given the opportunity of addressing quite a gathering of Jews and Arabs. They were presumably unconverted. He took for his text Psalm 1. Of course he could repeat t to them in their own language, in the Hebrew. He dwelt upon the tenses as I have given them to you, “Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful,” and he said to them, ‘Now, my brethren, who is this blessed Man of whom the Psalmist speaks? Notice this happy Man is a man who never walked in the counsel of the ungodly; He never stood in the way of sinners; He never sat in the seat of the scornful. Who is this blessed Man?’ Nobody spoke, and Joseph Flacks said, ‘Shall we saw He is our great Father Abraham? Is is Father Abraham that the Psalmist is speaking of here?’

One old Jew said, ‘No, it cannot be Abraham, for he denied his wife; he told a lie about her.’

‘Ah,’ said Joseph Flacks, ‘it does not fit, does it? Abraham, although he was the father of the faithful, yet was a sinner who had to be justified by faith. But my brethren, this refers to somebody; who is this Man? Could it be our great lawgiver, Moses?’

‘No, no,’ they said, ‘it cannot be Moses. He killed a man and hid him in the sand.’ And another said, ‘And he lost his temper at the water of Meribah.’

‘Well,’ Joseph Flacks said, ‘my brethren, who is it? There is some man here that the Spirit of God is bringing before us. Could it be our great King David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel who perhaps wrote this Psalm?’

‘No, no,’ they cried, ‘it cannot be David. He committed adultery and had Uriah slain.’

‘Well,’ he said, ‘who is it; to whom do these words refer?’

They were quiet for some time, and then one Jew arose and said, ‘My brethren, I have a little book here; it is called the New Testament. I have been reading it. If I believe this book, if I could be sure that it is true, I would say the Man of the first Psalm was Jesus of Nazareth.’

H. A. Ironside, Studies on Book One of the Psalms (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1952), 9–10.

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Spurgeon on deacons

The Church owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to those thousands of godly men who study her interests day and night, contribute largely of their substance, care for her poor, cheer her ministers, and in times of trouble and prosperity, remain faithful at their posts.

From Autobiography (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2005), 1:221.

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John Wesley’s Directions for Singing

This Southern Baptist has got lots and lots of love for the early Methodists. Here are John Wesley’s directions for how they were to sing in their fellowship:

1. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.

2. Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, then when you sing the songs of Satan.
3. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
4. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
5. Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
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On the borders of Heaven


It was said of the Puritan Richard Sibbes, “Heaven was in him, before he was in Heaven.” Have you ever known a godly man or woman who, nearing the end of their lives, had such peace, assurance, and quiet joy, that they seemed almost to be walking with the Lord in Heaven before they got there?

John Bunyan describes this beautifully in the Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian and Hopeful have made it through the worst of their journey, and are finally drawing near to the gates of the Celestial City. As they do, they enter a country called ‘Beulah:’

Now I saw in my dream that by this time the pilgrims were got over the Enchanted Ground, and entering into the country of Beulah, whose air was very sweet and pleasant; the way lying directly through it, they solaced themselves there for a season. Yea, here they heard continually the singing of birds, and saw every day the flowers appear in the earth, and heard the voice of the turtle dove in the land.

In this country the sun shineth night and day; wherefore; wherefore this was beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and also out of the reach of Giant Despair; neither could they from this place so much as see Doubting Castle. Here they were within sight of the City they were going to, also here met them some of the inhabitants thereof. For in this land the Shining Ones commonly walked, because it was upon the borders of Heaven.

In this land also the contract between the bride and bridegroom was renewed. Yea here, ‘as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so did their God rejoice over them.’ Here they had no want of corn and wine; for in this place they met with abundance of what they had sough for in all their pilgrimage. Here they heard voices from out of the City, loud voices, saying, ‘Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold thy salvation cometh, behold his reward is with him.’ Here all the inhabitants of the country called them, ‘The holy people, the redeemed of the Lord, sought out, etc.

So, have you known someone who has walked the country of Beulah, on the very ‘borders of Heaven’? You can. Join a local church. Cherish your older brothers and sisters there who are nearing the end of the journey. Observe them as they approach the Celestial City. And may your faith be strengthened as you follow Christ through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, past Doubting Castle, and into battle with Apollyon.

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You must go against wind and tide

The truth about discipleship, from Christian to By-ends in Pilgrim’s Progress:

If you will go with us you must go against wind and tide, the which I perceive is against your opinion; you must also own religion in in his rags, as well as when in his silver slippers, and stand by him too when bound in irons, as well as when he walketh the streets with applause.

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The Lord’s Supper proclaims the forgiveness of sin

Yes, the Lord’s Supper should remind us of the seriousness of our sin, and our urgent need to repent and flee from from it. But for repentant sinners, the dominant note at the Lord’s Table is not fear, guilt, or condemnation. It is assurance that though we are great sinners, Christ is a greater Savior, and in him we have full forgiveness of all our sin. Dr. Ray Van Neste says it so well:

The Supper is not for those who have it all sorted out. In fact, it is for sinners only. By taking the elements we confess we are sinners in need of a Savior, and we confess again that we take Christ, with his work at the cross, as our Savior. Among the many benefits of this practice is that it keeps us from even sounding legalistic and after the rebuke of sin allows us to close on the note of sins forgiven. People deeply struggle to believe that God loves them, to receive the amazing word that in Christ all our sins are forgiven. In Communion we have the truth of Christ’s redeeming love portrayed, showing us that His forgiveness is so real we can taste it.

One of many golden selections from Ray Van Neste’s chapter, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church,” in The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 389. If you want to find someone at the Lord’s Table treating sin with the utmost seriousness, and at the same time applying the soul-strengthening truth of the Gospel, this is your resource. 

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The thistle and the cedar

After Amaziah, king of Judah, had defeated the armies of Edom, he went to pick a fight with Jehoash, king of Israel (2 Kings 14:8). Here is Jehoash’s wise reply:

A thistle on Lebanon sent to a cedar on Lebanon, saying, ‘Give your daughter to my son for a wife,’ and a wild beast of Lebanon passed by and trampled down the thistle. You have indeed struck down Edom, and your heart has lifted you up. Be content with your glory, and stay at home, for why should you provoke trouble so that you fall, you and Judah with you (2 Kings 14:9-10)?

Amaziah didn’t listen. He went to war, and was soundly defeated by Jehoash. A few brief reflections that my heart needs as I consider this passage:

1) Our hearts are easily lifted up. It doesn’t take much success for us to be impressed with ourselves. Soon, we have a skewed self-perspective: we think we are a cedar of Lebanon when in fact we are a thistle. We think we can do more than we really can; we think we deserve more than we really do; we forget that we are utterly dependent on God for all things. We need help maintaining an accurate assessment of ourselves before God and others.

2) We are restless for personal glory. We want others to think as well and as highly of us as we think of ourselves, and this often drives us to take foolish, destructive action to seize that recognition and honor. We need help staying focused on directing others to God’s glory rather than our own, and being content with whatever measure of recognition we might receive along the way that God deems helpful for us.

3) Our unchecked pride brings trouble to ourselves and to those who depend upon us. Amaziah’s inflated view of self led not only to his downfall, but to Judah’s, as the rest of the narrative tells us. The family I lead, the church I serve, and the friends who count on me will also suffer consequences from my selfish pride. We need help remembering that many other people are impacted by our growth in humility and godliness (and lack thereof).

4) Those who help us see ourselves rightly are our friends. Being compared to a thistle, rather than a cedar, is not pleasant – it wounds my pride. But Jehoash was being kind to Amaziah, trying to prevent his own self-destruction. We need help remembering that those who help us see ourselves rightly – including our weaknesses and personal propensities to sin – are our friends.

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Up the Hill Difficulty

The further I go in the Christian life, the more I treasure this section from The Pilgrim’s Progress, where John Bunyan describes Christian’s necessary climb up the Hill Difficulty. So many strong, Bible truths here that will brace us for our own uphill climbs, if we will meditate on them:  

“I beheld, then, that they all went on till they came to the foot of the Hill Difficulty; at the bottom of which was a spring. There were also in the same place two other ways besides that which came straight from the gate; one turned to the left hand, and the other to the right, at the bottom of the hill; but the narrow way lay right up the hill, and the name of the going up the side of the hill is called Difficulty.

Christian now went to the spring, and drank thereof to refresh himself (Isa 39:10), and then began to go up the hill, saying –

‘The hill, though high, I covet to ascend,
The difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
Come, pluck up heart, let’s neither faint nor fear;
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.’

The other two came also to the foot if the hill; but when they saw that the hill was steep and high, and that there were two other ways to go; and supposing also that these two ways might meet again, with that up which Christian went, on the other side of the hill; therefore they were resolved to go in those ways. Now the name of one of those ways was Danger, and the name of the other Destruction. So the one took the way which is called Danger, which led him into a great wood, and the other took directly up the way to Destruction, which led him into a wide field, full of dark mountains, where he stumbled and fell, and rose no more.

I looked, then, after Christian, to see him go up the hill, where I perceived he fell from running to going, and from going to clambering upon his hands and knees, because of the steepness of the place.”

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How Christian pilgrims talk about their King

Now I saw in my dream that thus they sat talking together until supper was ready. So when they had made ready they sat down to meat. Now the table was furnished with fat things and with wine that was well refined, and all their talk at the table was about the Lord of the Hill; as namely about what he had done, and wherefore he did what he did, and why he had builded that House; and by what they said I perceived that he had been a great warrior, and had fought with and slain him that had the power of death, but not without great danger to himself, which made me love him the more.

For, as they said, and as I believe (said Christian) he did it with the loss of much blood; but that which put the glory of grace into all he did was, that he did it of pure love to his country. And besides, there were some of them of the household that said they had seen, and spoke with him since he did die on the Cross; and they have attested that they had it from his own lips, that he is such a lover of poor pilgrims that the like was not to be found from the east to the west.

John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

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