When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man;
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed:
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him

Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks,
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And with every purpose fuses him,
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out—
God knows what He’s about.

– Anonymous

Note: Some years back, in a visit to Justin Taylor’s blog (Between Two Worlds), I happened upon this short summary of John Newton’s teaching about sanctification. As then, so now: It strikes me as wise, true, edifying, and eminently shareable. So here it is again. d

If God Is Sovereign, Why Is My Sanctification So Slow?

If God is sovereign (and he is), and if my sanctification brings him glory (which it does), then why do I continue to struggle so much? Why are there so many set-backs? Why does my Christian walk often seem like two steps forward, one step backward—at best? Why is my sanctification so slow?

In his letters, John Newton, ex-slave trader and beloved 18th century Anglican pastor, sought to address these hard questions, questions that lurk in the heart of many Christians. Here is how he answers:

1. By such experiences God teaches us more truly to know and feel the utter depravity and corruption of our whole nature, that we are indeed defiled in every part.

2. By such experiences God endears to us his method of salvation: We see that it is and must be wholly of grace; and that the Lord Jesus Christ, and his perfect righteousness, is and must be our all in all.

3. By suffering us to endure manifold infirmities, temptations, failures, and enemies, God teaches us that we must draw near to him and cling to him; that we must depend upon him; and that his strength is manifested and perfected in our weakness.

4. In the Christian’s fitful quest for sanctification, Satan is all the more disappointed and put to shame, since he finds that God has set limits to his rage and schemes, limits beyond which he cannot pass; and that those in whom he finds so much to work upon, and over whom he so often prevails for a season, escape at last out of his hands. He casts them down, but they are raised again; he wounds them, but they are healed; he obtains his desire to sift them as wheat, but the prayer of their great Advocate prevails for the maintenance of their faith.

5. By what believers continue to feel in themselves they learn by degrees how to warn, pity, and bear with others. A soft, patient, and compassionate spirit, and a readiness and skill in comforting those who are cast down, is not perhaps attainable in any other way.

6. Finally, there is nothing that more habitually reconciles a child of God to the thought of death, than the wearisomeness of this spiritual warfare. Death is unwelcome to our human nature: But then, and not till then, the conflict will cease. Then we shall sin no more. The flesh, with all its attendant evils, will be laid in the grave. Then the soul, which has been partaker of a new and heavenly birth, shall be freed from every encumbrance, and stand perfect in the Redeemer’s righteousness before God in glory.

(Quotes complied by Justin Taylor, Between Two World Blog.)

For Further Study

1. Newton on the Christian Life, by Tony Reinke (Crossway)

2. Extravagant Grace, by Barbara Duguid (Presbyterian and Reformed)

by

R. S. Sproul

 

God is most free; that is, His freedom is unlimited. He is sovereign. The most frequent objection to His sovereignty is that if God is truly sovereign, then man cannot be free. Scripture uses the term freedom to describe our human condition in two distinct ways: freedom from coercion, whereby man is free to make choices without coercion, and moral freedom, which we lost in the fall, leaving us slaves to the evil impulses of our flesh. Humanists believe that man can make choices not only without coercion but also without any natural inclination toward evil. We Christians must be on guard against this humanist or pagan view of human freedom.

The Christian view is that God creates us with wills, with a capacity to choose. We are volitional beings. But the freedom given in creation is limited. What ultimately limits our freedom is God’s freedom. This is where we run into the conflict between divine sovereignty and human freedom. Some say that God’s sovereignty is limited by human freedom. If that is the case, then man is sovereign, not God. The Reformed faith teaches that human freedom is real but limited by God’s sovereignty. We cannot overrule the sovereign decisions of God with our freedom, because God’s freedom is greater than ours.

Human family relationships provide an analogy. Parents exercise authority over the child. The child has freedom, but the parents have more. The child’s freedom does not limit the parents’ freedom in the way that the parents’ freedom limits the child’s. When we come to the attributes of God, we must understand that God is most free.

When we say that God is sovereign, we are saying something about His freedom, although we tend to think that sovereignty means something quite different from freedom. God is a volitional being; He has a will and makes decisions. When making decisions and exercising His will, He does so sovereignly as the ultimate authority. His freedom is most free. He alone has supreme autonomy; He is a law unto Himself.

Humans seek autonomy, unlimited freedom, desiring to be accountable to no one. In a real sense, that is what happened in the fall. Satan enticed Adam and Eve to reach for autonomy, to become like God, to do whatever they wanted with impunity. Satan was introducing a liberation movement in the garden to free human beings from culpability, from accountability to God. But He alone has autonomy.

“I know your works, that you are neither hot nor cold. If only you were hot or cold!

So then: Because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am poised to spew you out of my mouth.”

Revelation 3:15-16

 

In what is surely the sternest reproof addressed to any of the seven churches in Asia, the Lord directed the words of our text to professing Christians at Laodicea. Was he speaking to born-again believers? Is it really possible that he would spew lukewarm Christians out of his mouth? Can backslidden born-again believers “cross the dead line” and be rejected and lost after all?

To find our answers we must begin by noting carefully that here Christ is speaking to the church as a whole. Early on it doubtless was aflame for him; all together were on fire for the King and his Kingdom. Now, a generation or two later, it has grown lukewarm. Practically speaking, this means that while a few of the Laodicean Christians were surely dining intimately with their Lord (v. 20, 3:4), the vast majority were either badly backslidden or Christians in name only. As a result, the church as a whole was in danger of falling under Christ’s judgment.

What might that have looked like? Strong persecution driving nominal believers into hiding and apostasy? A judicial hardening of hearts, such that many who once professed the faith now suddenly turn against it? Numerous Laodiecean house churches folding altogether? A tiny remnant of true believers (and alarmed back-sliders) forced to start the work of the Kingdom from scratch?

Whatever the Lord had in mind, we meet him here speaking urgently, lovingly, and mercifully, both to the nominal and the backslidden. Standing at the door of the church, knocking, extending a sincere invitation to a fellowship meal with the High King of Heaven, he offers the nominal new birth, and the backslidden renewed fellowship, all on condition of honest repentance and faith. If the nominal spurn his offer, he may indeed spew them out of his mouth, in the sense of finally severing their external connection with the life-giving ordinances of the Church, and so from the Head of the Church as well (John 15:1-7, Col. 2:18-19). As for the backslidden, if they will not repent he may simply take them home (1 Cor. 11:30). Sadly, they will be numbered among those who largely built with wood, hay, and stubble; whose works will be burned up in the judgment while they themselves are saved only as someone who escapes through a fire (1 Cor. 3:12-15). But the Lord will never spew them out of his mouth (Psalm 89:30-37, John 6:37, 10:27-30).

But what of earnest Christians? Are these words meant for them as well? Indeed they are, for here faithful believers learn once again to steer clear of all worldliness, and to dine daily and intimately with the High King, who will gladly warm their hearts and make them hot for the knowledge of God and the work of his Kingdom (v. 15, Rom. 12:11). But if, as they read those words, they find themselves stricken with a fear of rejection, let them swiftly remember the King’s precious promise to his own: “All that the Father gives me will come to me; and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37, 1 John 4:18). Most assuredly, that includes “spew out” as well.

A wonderful old hymn reminding us that our comfort, especially in old age, comes from spying our wise, loving, and all-controlling Heavenly Father in the pages of his trustworthy word. Enjoy!

How Firm a Foundation

How firm a foundation,
You saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in
His excellent Word!
What more can He say
Than to you He has said,
To you who for refuge
To Jesus have fled.

Fear not I am with you,
Oh be not dismayed,
For I am your God
And will still give you aid.
I’ll strengthen you, help you,
And cause you to stand,
Upheld by My righteous
Omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters
I call you to go
The rivers of sorrow
Shall not overflow.
For I will be with you
Your troubles to bless
And sanctify to you
Your deepest distress.

When through fiery trials
Your pathway shall lie,
My grace all-sufficient
Shall be your supply.
The flame shall not hurt you,
I only design,
Your dross to consume and
Your gold to refine
Your dross to consume and
Your gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus
Has leaned for repose,
I will not I will not
Desert to his foes.
That soul though all hell
Should endeavor to shake
I’ll never no never
No never forsake!