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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Why do you want to go to Heaven?

This was the question the girl Prudence asked the pilgrim named Christian, in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. His answer:

Why, there I hope to see him alive, that did hang dead on the Cross; and there I hope to be rid of all those things that to this day are in me an annoyance to me; there they say there is no death, and there I shall dwell with such company as I like best. For to tell you truth, I love him, because I was by him eased of my burden, and I am weary of my inward sickness; I would fain be where I shall die no more, and with the company that shall continually cry, ‘Holy, holy, holy.’ 

That’s a good answer.

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The eternal value of holiness

The pursuit of holiness can be discouraging sometimes: the fight against sin is hard, and our progress sometimes seems so small. This passage from John Owen deeply encouraged me this morning, reminding me that every effort toward sanctification will matter for eternity:

We must also consider that holiness is not confined to this life, but passeth over into eternity and glory. Death hath no power to destroy it or divest us of it; for its acts, indeed, are transient, but its fruits abide forever in their reward. They who ‘die in the Lord rest from their labours, and their works do follow them’ (Rev 14:13). ‘God is not unrighteous to forget their labour of love (Heb 6:10).’

There is not any effect or fruit of holiness, not the least, not the giving of a cup of cold water to a disciple of Christ in the name of a disciple, but it shall be had in everlasting remembrance, and abide forever in its eternal reward. Nothing shall be lost, but all the fragments of it shall be gathered up and kept safe forever. Everything else, how specious soever it be in this world, shall be burnt up and consumed, as hay and stubble; when the least, the meanest, the most secret fruit of holiness, shall be gathered as gold and silver, durable substance, into God’s treasury, and become a part of the riches of the inheritance of the saints in glory.

Let no soul fear the loss of any labour, in any of the duties of holiness, in the most secret contest against sin, for inward purity, for outward fruitfulness; in the mortification of sin, resistance of temptations, improvement of grace; in patience, moderation, self-denial, contentment; –all that you do know, and what you do not know, shall be revived, called over, and abide eternally in your reward. Our Father, who now ‘seeth in secret,’ will one day reward openly; and the more we abound in these things, the more will God be glorified in the recompense of reward.

John Owen, Works, III, 375.

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The cross produces obedience

When love to the Savior grows cold, we should repair to the cross, and fix our thoughts on the exhibition of love there presented. And when we feel our hearts melt, the recollection that the suffering Savior is God over all, must produce a full purpose to yield to him the obedience of all our powers during our whole existence. From the cross we come forth to be Christ’s, resolved to glorify him with our bodies and our spirits, which are his. 

– John Dagg, Manual Of Church Order (1858. Reprint: Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle, 1981), 10.

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A sure sign of revival…

…is God’s people treasuring God’s Word:

While God was so remarkably present among us by his Spirit, there was no book so delighted in as the Bible; especially the Book of Psalms, the prophecy of Isaiah, and the New Testament. Some by reason of their esteem and love to God’s Word, have at some times been greatly and wonderfully delighted and affected at the sight of a Bible . . .

Jonathan Edwards, A Faithful Narrative (Yale), 184.

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