Agonizomai: January 2006

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 29/06
Covet the Giver, not the gifts. Then you will discover that the Giver is the gift.

Harlan Ames - Gleanings 9.333
It is finished! Almost 6 months of blogging and more than 300 posts have found their way into this blog since I first started at the end of August last year.

The following entry, which concludes the commentary on Jonah, will be my last for the forseeable future. I will leave the blog open for a while in case there's anything that might be of interest to someone stumbling in here. But I am done.

God bless all who read this,

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans
Jonah 4:10-11 - Conclusions
10-11 And the LORD said, "You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night, and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?"

The Hebrew word translated "pity" here is often translated "spare". Jonah would have spared the plant if he could. He had a selfish motive, of course. But the point is that he neither planted nor tended the gourd and his motive in preserving it would have been entirely selfish. It was a thing that was made for the oven - raised up in one night and gone the next day. It was a thing of transitory significance.

But what is God’s motivation with Nineveh, the people of which He made, and has cared for - and whose lives have eternal consequences that start at their deaths? If Jonah can care for a worthless gourd that gave him transitory comfort how much more does God care about these people, one of whose souls is worth more than a whole world?

And seemingly the greatest reason of all for God’s mercy is the existence of 120,000 children in this city that are under 2 or 3 years old. They have no conscious sin, though they have a sin nature and the imputed sin of Adam. And though...
" sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned..." {Ro 5:12}
yet we bear also in mind that...
"The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin..." {De 24:16}
If the city had not repented and God had not shown mercy then the children would undoubtedly have suffered in the same catastrophe as the older citizens. Their eternal end would simply not have been the same. This is the best verse I have so far found in the Bible for the special treatment of infants of unaccountable age. It is arguable, but it is far better than the one most often quoted in 2Sa 12:22-23.

There are those who would blame God for His mercy. How could God forgive such and such and not another? How could God save a murderer on death row and not a little old grandma on the porch, after a life of hard work and good deeds?

Christians had better get it through their heads what the Bible says everywhere about God’s mercy, but what has been all but effaced from the true gospel wherever you go today. Today we have a God Who is regarded as One obliged to show mercy to all. It is a contradiction in terms rendered palatable by inches to an unsuspecting world. This gospel comes disguised as universal saving love, stripped of the universal condemnation and wrath of God’s offended and perfect holiness.

The message of Jonah is that God is merciful. That God has mercy upon whom He will have mercy. It is that when God shows saving mercy it is filled up, pressed down and overflowing towards the recipients. Grace upon grace. It is a lesson for Jonah, for Israel, for Nineveh, for a Mediterranean sailing crew and for us today. Do we get the message? Does it humble us – or do we still go around with the inner attitude that God must save the people we want, because He’s good? Do we slack off in presenting the gospel because we think God is going to be merciful anyway? Do we present the message at all? Do we become God’s very own means of showing love and mercy through the delivery of the message? Do we present the message God gave us to give, or do we present the message according to our own wisdom?

Our warrant is to preach the universal corruption and lostness of the human race, and God’s wrath and His impending judgment upon their individual sin; to call all men to repentance for sin, and to present them God’s free offer of salvation in Jesus Christ in a spirit of love and mercy – being fully conscious that we ourselves are the recipients of mercy and the beneficiaries of God’s elective grace in Christ.

And our charge beyond that is to be transformed by the power of God, through the obedience of faith, into the image of Christ, and to give ourselves to the building up of the body of Christ in the most holy faith. Let’s not be Neo-evanglicals. Let’s not stop at “receiving Jesus” – at “making a decision for Christ” – let’s go on to lives of sanctification, separation and holiness, God helping in all things.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 28/06
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

Samuel T. Francis
Jonah 4:9 - Amazing Grace at Work
9 But God said to Jonah, "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" And he said, "I do well to be angry, angry enough to die."

The question God asks is whether Jonah is angry at God for removing the plant. It has nothing to do with Jonah having compassion on a bit of greenery. God had asked in verse 4 if Jonah did well to be angry about His mercy towards Nineveh, but Jonah had made no reply. This time he did. His churlishness and disrespect of God by fretting in his anger and by despising his life was astounding. We like to think that we could never be so nasty to God. How little we know ourselves! God has given us a peek into Jonah’s heart – do you ever wonder what would be seen if He truly drew back the curtain on yours?

Again, the truly amazing thing here is the forbearance of God for Jonah who, in his own way, is a worse case than Nineveh. Jesus came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance, and Jonah is proving the point. God does not save any person based on how good he is. And God’s righteousness in justifying a person (thus saving him) is never imparted to that person, but only imputed to him. Sanctification and glorification are rendered to those who are justified; sanctification by process and final glorification by fiat. God does not set His hand to the plow and turn back. We read Paul’s words...
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. {Ro 8:28-30}
Also, God does not use people based on how perfect they are, either. I’m not advocating that we strive for imperfection nor that we lay indolently in it – I’m only saying that if God waited to use only perfect people then Christ came in vain. The glory of God is that He accomplishes all His will through those who are in rebellion against Him, and through those saints of His who stumble and falter along the way. And we all stumble and falter. And a part of God’s will is that we be sanctified by His grace through faith, which He does in us while He works through us. Astounding!

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Friday, January 27, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 27/06
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7
Jonah 4:7-8 - Ingratitude
7-8 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm which attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a sultry east wind, and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah so that he was faint; and he asked that he might die, and said, "It is better for me to die than to live."

Like all of God’s graces, they are graces and not rights. The only rights men have is the right to their just punishment for rebellion against God. And so, God removes the grace of the shady vine from Jonah. Not only this, but He causes a particularly nasty hot sultry wind to spring up to add to the shock to Jonah’s system. Like Jonah, when we have enjoyed mercies and graces, we are ever so likely to complain when they are removed - even though we never deserved them to begin with. See the self-deceit in the human heart and its readiness to grasp at ingratitude? But we are reminded of Paul’s words...
Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. {Php 4:11-12}
Make no mistake, Jonah was in great discomfort - so much so that he asked to die. I like the fact that he asked. That shows that, like Job, he knew Who gives and Who takes away. I have never been exposed to such heat, but I have had a similar experience with cold - where I lay in the snow on a deserted street and just wanted it all to be over (or thought that I did).

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 26/06
Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the fields should wither,
Nor flocks or herds be there
Yet, God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice;
For, while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

William Cowper
Sometimes a Light Surprise (v4)
Jonha 3:5-6 - A Lesson on Grace Begins
5-6 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 And the LORD God appointed a plant, and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.

Whether Jonah already knew of God’s relenting before the 40 days were up is not clear in this verse. But it seems to me that when Chapter 3:10 says that God relented and did not do what He had said He would do to Nineveh, then the 40 days must have come and gone. Otherwise God would have had to promise not to do what He had said. But it clearly states that He did not do it.

So when Jonah makes a booth and settles down to see what will become of the city is he hoping God will change His mind again? Is he betraying his real motivation right there? Is he hoping Nineveh’s repentance will be a short-lived one, or that at least some chastisement might be visited upon the city, if not a full overthrow? Perhaps something similar to the promised chastisement of David in 2Sa 12:10-14?

We can’t be sure of any of this. But we can be sure that God is teaching Jonah (and us) something about His nature.

The lesson starts when God causes a leafy plant to grow up and give shade to Jonah from the heat of the mid-Eastern sun. It is a mercy. It is grace shown to one not deserving of it. Jonah is glad of it, as we all are when God’s mercy brings some grace into our lives.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 25/06
My healing is not to be found in seeking my healing – not even from the Lord that heals me. It is simply to be found in seeking the Lord.

Harlan Ames - Gleanings 6.218
Jonah 4:3-4 - God's Exquisite Forbearance
3-4 ..."Therefore now, O LORD, take my life from me, I beseech thee, for it is better for me to die than to live." 4 And the LORD said, "Do you do well to be angry?"

Why would Jonah rather die than live when God spares Nineveh? Is it because Nineveh is a growing threat to the surrounding nations and he is concerned for Israel?

Or is it because, having said, "Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overcome," he must now look like a bit of a ninny because it didn’t happen. Is it pride that bothers him? Is it what people will say about the failure of his prediction that so galls him? Ah, the depravity of the human heart - all human hearts, including those who are being saved by grace.

God does not call us to look good to people. He calls us to obey Him regardless of how it looks. If, by doing God’s will people will think or call us fools, liars, cheats, churls or anything else then what is that to us...
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you." {Mt 5:10-12}
So often we will find that so-called saints are no better – in fact they are worse than those in the world. God takes us where he finds us and then proceeds to form Christ in us. Some of us are pretty far gone when we’re found - so we don’t look like saints to the casual glance. If you look at all the main characters in the Bible but Christ, you will find at least one prepossessing flaw that will make you shake your head - that is, until you begin to know yourself.

Abraham tried to shortcut God with Hagar - producing Ishmael, whose line has been a blight to Israel ever since. Moses struck the rock twice in anger and forfeited his chance to enter Canaan. David was an adulterer and a murderer who, by his lapses forfeited the moral high ground in the discipline of his own children, with results that need no explanation. Jonah was a narrow, bigoted, disobedient, petulant whiner - whom God was sanctifying by His grace through discipline and correction, having justified him through faith.

But now see the same forbearance and love that God showed to the sailors, to Nineveh and to Jonah when he ran – shown again in the remarkably gentle rebuke by God, and in the lesson about to be taught. "Do you do well to be angry?" is God’s exquisitely forbearing and gentle question.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 24/06
If my eyes are always upon God then there is no opportunity for me to judge another – because I am gazing upon the One who is the judge not only of my brother, but also of me.

Harlan Ames - Gleanings 6.215
Jonah 4:1-2 - Blindness and Petulance
1-4 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, "I pray thee, LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repentest of evil..."

It seems that Jonah had an excuse after all, before he ran at the outset. He wouldn’t give Nineveh the message because he knew God would be merciful anyway. He was wrong. Jonah's preaching was the ordained means by which God’s mercy was expressed to Nineveh, and by which God brought them to repentance. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (or the preaching of Christ). {Ro 10:17} Wrong thinking springs from wrong premises. God uses means to achieve His ends. Jonah was off base to begin with.

How if we never preached to anybody because God is a merciful God and will forgive them anyway? We might just as well fold our tents and go home. It’s a shortcut to universalism. God’s mercy is in the preaching. Repent and believe the gospel was the first cry of John the Baptist and the first cry of Jesus Christ.

The big question is, "Why was Jonah really so upset and so angry that God spared Nineveh?" To get to this one must see the message that was given through Jonah which, to remind us, was, "Yet 40 days and Nineveh will be overthrown." - period. The message wasn’t, "Nineveh will be overthrown in 40 days unless they repent."

Now, though in some ways (just like us all) Jonah was a poor excuse for a believer, yet he knew enough not to add to what God had given him to say. He was a true prophet of the Lord and not a false one. He was the bearer of God’s Word, He was responsible for delivering it without distortion, addition or subtraction. I believe he did just that. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and to cry against it on account of its great wickedness. {see Jon 1:1-2} There was no mention in his commission of calling them to repentance, but only of impending judgment.

It also bears remembering that Jonah fled from the Lord’s command to go and preach there at first. Was his reluctance truly in the thought that God would relent anyway? Or was it found in a hatred for Nineveh, a growing threat to the security of Israel? Did Jonah want to see Nineveh overthrown so that they would cease to be threat to his own nation? It was after only a single generation following this great repentance of Nineveh’s that they themselves overthrew Israel. This seems like a supreme irony.

Yet it is not so ironic. What greater way for God to preach to apostasizing Israel than by the example of Nineveh. Nineveh had none of Israel’s advantages. They were not a part of God’s chosen nation. They weren’t bearers of the covenant signs or trustees of God’s Law. Yet even these people repented and were shown mercy. Yet Israel, so many times turning away from God’s grace, so often despisers of His precepts and commands, had come to within an ace of their own judgment through enslavement to Assyria. 40 more years or so and it would come. This book of Jonah is itself a call to Israel for their own repentance.

And Jonah is the perfect picture of blind Israel. Religious after their own fashion. Obedient when coerced, but rebellious when blessed. Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Israel had by this time almost completely externalized religion. It was about nations and victory and wealth and success and worldly peace and prosperity. It was about defeating the enemies of the nation and entering the reign of God. It was about man subduing the world using the name of God for his own ends. It was worldliness in a spiritual cloak. It’s no different today.

Israel had missed the point entirely – had lost the point – that it’s all about a spiritual relationship with God and not about making a way through the world. Our passage through this world is what happens while we are striving to abide in Him. They had the lessons in the very texts they ignored. They knew how God had protected them when they honoured and sought Him, and how their defeats had come about on account of their willful sins. But they were so far from that as a nation that even a prophet like Jonah had a twisted understanding of godliness.

This attitude of Israel is a model of the problems in today’s neo-evangelical churches. Neo-evangelicals have all the right doctrines on paper, just as Israel had all of the laws and precepts of God tucked away in scrolls and tablets – but in practice they ignore or minimize important doctrines of separation and holiness, just as Israel polluted itself by mixing with the nations, their practices, their customs and their gods.

Now do we truly think that Jonah was pouting because he knew God would be gracious and merciful despite the message he had been given to deliver? Was it only that he hoped that God wouldn’t be that way? Was he preaching one thing and hoping for another? Or was he simply preaching from a wrong motive?

Well, Jonah had direct personal experience of the mercy of God towards disobedience when it was repented of. It had happened to him, hadn’t it? He had disobeyed a direct command of the God of his fathers and his country – of the God he knew to be the sovereign Lord of all – and had been spared from a raging ocean, kept in the belly of a fish until he repented, and delivered alive onto dry land after 3 days.

With this experience, you would think that Jonah understood mercy, wouldn’t you? But he still hadn’t grasped the concept that since God has forgiven us so much the we ought to have an attitude of loving forgiveness towards all men – even and especially our enemies. Yet he still thought mercy for him and for Israel was a fine thing, but that mercy for any anybody else was something different. But God says, "I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy..." {Ex 33:19 Ro 9:15}

Now let’s be clear here. God does not show redemptive mercy to all. He shows common grace to all. And His mercies fall upon the just and the unjust alike. But it is entirely up to God to decide how, when and to whom His saving mercy will be shown. Jonah does not teach universal election or universal salvation, or even a universal "offer" of salvation. Jonah teaches that when God decides to be merciful man has no right to question it. It teaches that mercy is the only means by which anyone is saved at all.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 22/06
Here (in God's Word) there is milk for babes, whilst there is manna for angels; truth level with the mind of a peasant; truth soaring beyond the reach of a seraph.

Rev. Hugh Stowell
Jonah Chapter 3 - Afterthought

Drawing lessons from the Bible is akin to writing a book. The writer is never satisfied that his manuscript is quite right. There is always something that needs refinement, improvement, revision etc. But because "of the publishing of books there is no end" - authors must somehow manage to overcome their perfectionism (thanks to editors, one assumes).

Now, no person can ever exhaust the Bible of meaning. The same passage will yield many different applications to a single reader (though there is only one true exegetical meaning) - never mind the fact that there are numberless readers.

In the interests of clarity and self-control I would normally keep my secondary or subsequent applications to myself. One message at a time. But my dear friend, Peter, who has the purest and simplest faith of any person I know - in his own inimitable fashion and with only a fraction of the verbiage I use - came up with something I cannot let pass.

The warning to Nineveh was as follows:
Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
My understanding of this solely as a threat (even though designed to bring about repentance) led to much discussion in the Sunday School class about whether this was the whole message because people wanted to see the "softer" side of God, even in a passage that clearly does not show it.

Enter Peter. He saw the statement not as a threat but as prophesy. God did overthrow Nineveh within 40 days, just as He promised. But the overthrow was by His Spirit, through His word out of the mouth of His prophet. The whole city was indeed overthrown - but by repentance and faith at the instigation of God.

In just the same way, God overthrows each human heart that He saves. When we look at the story of Nineveh we see the outward things. We see wickedness and idolatry followed by repentance and faith. But what we are seeing in the outward behaviour of these people is merely the evidence of the the work of the Spirit of God upon the heart, changing the nature from which all volitions flow. You must be born from above!

And this itself gives rise to numerous lines of thought that there is not room to develop here. Nevertheless, I am so grateful that in the body of Christ there are brothers and sisters who see things differently from me - and that, through loving and peaceful fellowship, their insights can be not only God's means of keeping me from becoming dogmatic and ossified about my own thoughts - but also a source of great enrichment and blessing.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 21/06
But I say also, there is no inconsistency between spiritual joy in Christ and godly sorrow for sin; yea, no man in this life shall ever be able to maintain solid joy in his heart, without the continual working of godly sorrow also; yea, there is a secret joy and refreshment in godly sorrow, equal unto the chiefest of our joys, and a great spiritual satisfaction.

John Owen
Evidences of the Faith of God's Elect, Part IV
Jonah 3:10 - Anthropomorphism
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it.

This must mean that Jonah stuck around for 39 or so days after delivering his message, else he could not know that God had abated His threat. However long it was, it seems clear that whole city was in abject repentance and all commerce stopped while they pleaded for mercy. But we have cause to suspect Jonah’s motives for waiting around as we shall see.

This whole verse is an anthropomorphism. It is put in such a way that we can understand it as human beings. But we must be careful not to limit God to what we are like, even though He uses our faculties as an illustration. God is not a man that He should change His mind. Every thought that comes to the Divine mind is necessarily perfect the moment it springs forth. And God is not tempted with evil, neither does He tempt any man – so God was not bringing evil upon the Ninevites in the sense of He being the source of it.

I do not believe we can change God’s mind, but I believe that we can appear to do so. Prayer – like the prayer of the Ninevites – is not bringing God to do something He never intended to do in the first place, but rather the alignment of the human will with the Divine purpose. God meant to save Nineveh, and all else was the means by which He did it. Preaching, repentance, prayer – all are God’s ordained means by which salvation comes to the people whom God is saving.

At some time or another you will run into a particular sort of doubter or disbeliever who uses verses like this to belittle the faith and to impugn the Omnipotence and Sovereignty and Holiness of God. If they will not listen to the broader explanation then don’t cast your pearls before swine. They will often consider the need to balance one scripture with another as proof of the fallibility of the Bible, instead of the wisdom of God at work. {Lu 7:32}

In this case, however you choose to regard it, the good news is that God showed mercy to Nineveh. Next we shall see how God deals with Jonah’s reaction to His grace upon others.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Friday, January 20, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 20/06
In this fort doth the Law work in mankinde either presumption or despair; yet nevertheless, the Law must bee preached and taught; for if wee preach not the Law, then people grow rude and secure; but if wee preach it, then wee make them afraid.

Martin Luther - "Table Talk"
Jonah 3:9 - The Beginning of Wisdom
9 ..."Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?"

Without the promise that God will change His mind, and with only the promise of impending judgment, the King nevertheless leads the whole people in supplicating for mercy. See how they have been brought to understand that God saves through mercy and not human self-justification. Here they stand, condemned already and without even the promise of hope – yet they hope against hope for mercy, and find out what the true nature of God is. God thunders from mount Sinai and God reconciles from mount Calvary, as I said earlier. God threatens the coming judgment in order to bring the proud and wicked human heart to the place of humble supplication for the grace and mercy that He willingly holds forth in outstretched arms all the day long.

And what is found as soon as the heart takes its proper posture? The very grace and mercy that was sought is found. “And he that comes to me I will in not turn away.” This snapshot of the fallen hearts of the Ninevites is the most wonderful illustration of where we ought to be. We agree that we deserve the coming wrath. We see that there is no hope for deliverance but God – and we plead for it, hoping we shall find that God is merciful and gracious and we find out that He is just that.

When all hope in self is gone, when we agree with God about sin and about our sin in particular, when we see that only unmerited favour can possibly save us – then we find the way God has made where there was no way. Here it is that the fear of God actually becomes the beginning of wisdom to us.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 19/06
The nature of Christ’s salvation is woefully misrepresented by the present-day "evangelist". He announces a Saviour from Hell, rather than a Saviour from sin. And that is why so many are fatally deceived, for there are multitudes who wish to escape the Lake of fire who have no desire to be delivered from their carnality and worldliness. The very first thing said of Him in the N.T. is, "thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people (not "from the wrath to come," but) from their sins" (Matthew 1:21)

A.W. Pink - "Saving Faith"
Jonah 3:7-8 - Speaking the Truth in Love
7-8 And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh, "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God; yea, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands..."

John Knox speaking the truth in loveThe decree of the King was not what turned the Ninevites. It wasn’t "follow the leader, whether you agree or not". It was the leader hearing that the people had believed the preaching of Jonah about impending judgment and showing leadership as to how they might all demonstrate their contrition.

See how the awareness of sin came to the fore with the command from the King that "every one turn from the violence which is in his hands." It is exactly the same word as used in Ge 6:11,13 where "the whole world was filled with violence." The word carries the sense not just of physical violence, but also of all sorts of wrong, cruelty and injustice. There is a sense in which people always know they are doing wrong, but we know from scripture that we harden our own hearts and go against our consciences until we no longer hear much at all. But there is a sense in which the conscience is aroused by the Word of God and the guilt of sin is brought to the fore.

This is true preaching. Preaching to the perishing must include an element of "repent and believe the gospel" so that people will wish to be saved from and the wrath of God, against Whom their sin offends. The message to the Ninevites was not "God loves you," but "God is offended with your sin and (unless you repent) He will destroy you; judgment is coming!" In fact, repentance wasn’t mentioned, but simply that judgment was coming.

(As an exercise, go and read the sermons in Acts chapters 2,5 and 7 - and look for the form that is used. It is the same. There is no mention of love at all.)

People with deadened consciences and hardened hearts are often much more apt to hear a warning than an overture. It is language they understand. But the motive behind the warning is love. Preaching is itself an act of love. The preacher abides in God’s love and that love overflows through him to the hearers. But never confuse love with sentiment. God is love; God is compassionate; God is longsuffering but God is not, never was and never will be sentimental. He always did hate sin and He will always do so. It wasn’t sentiment that sent the Son, that held Him nailed upon a cross, that turned away from Him in thunderous anger. It wasn’t sentiment to the Ninevites, nor to the hearers in Acts. He merely said it like it was.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 18/06
My salvation and my sanctification are both God’s gift to me in Christ – one might almost say it is God’s gift to me of Christ. May I never fall into the trap of thinking that they are my gift to God on account of His gift of Christ.

Harlan Ames - Gleanings 6.219
Jonah 3:5-6 - Fruit of Regeneration
5-6 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6 Then tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

The language here is exactly that which is used of Abraham. "Abraham believed God (and it was counted unto him for righteousness)." Is God the God of the Jews only? Or is He also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, and of all mankind. So let’s be clear here that God’s requirement for salvation to the Jews, the Gentiles and to those in the age of grace is to believe in the Word of God. The promise given and the promise fulfilled.

New life - without which no-one can know GodIt wasn’t because of the sackcloth and ashes that God relented. It was because they believed His word. It wasn’t even because they repented – because their repentance was a result of first believing. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (or, by the preaching of Christ). Faith is sometimes called a mystery. How one person believes and another does not when hearing the same word is wrapped up in the counsels of God. But it is God Who regenerates according to His will - and it is as a result of this regeneration that men believe and repent. It would be a grave error to conclude that the one who believed did so because he was humbler/smarter/better than the other. We must ask the question, "Who makes one to differ from another?" {1Co 4:7} As the Bible in Basic English has it...
For who made you better than your brother? or what have you that has not been given to you? but if it has been given to you, what cause have you for pride, as if it had not been given to you?
What happened with Nineveh was what might have happened with all of the surrounding nations. Israel was equipped to take the Word of God to the world, but two things went wrong.

Firstly, Israel constantly apostasised to the point where the name of God was a made byword among the heathen. Who would want a God Whose people were hypocrites, and who differed only in what they said, and not what they did, from the wicked and heathen practices that surrounded them on all sides?

Secondly, the Jews did not see God as loving anyone but them. Their understanding of themselves as a chosen nation was correct – but their conclusion that their election as a nation meant that God either did not have others outside, or that He did not care for the others was a slanderous caricature of the truth.

It is still the same with election today. The true church is indeed elect of God from the foundation of the world, but those who receive Him (thus proving themselves to be elect) had better not get the idea that they are better than those who are unsaved. And we had better not treat unsaved people unlovingly as if the God Who has saved us didn’t care. He cares. And if the God Who saved us by grace alone cares about the perishing even though He knows which ones will never be granted repentance (which we don’t), then who are we to have a different attitude?

I don’t want to create the impression, however, that Israel ought to have been proselytizing ceaselessly to the darkest corners of the earth. Israel ought to have been doing what God commanded and led them to do as circumstances revealed. Here, Jonah preaches to Nineveh not because they are lost (though they seem to be) – not out of some vague imperative, but because God specifically told Jonah where to go, who to speak to and when to do it. He was not going about so called "Christian work" - the busyness of doing things "because something had to be done." He was being led by the Spirit of God to do a specific thing consistent with God’s generally revealed truth.

So here we have the Word preached in accordance with the specific will of God and we see the effect of the preaching of the Word upon the hearers. And what a lesson for us! You just never know who will hear. Who would have thought that Nineveh, from the least to the greatest would have believed and repented? Who but God? The God Whose word always accomplishes the purpose for which He sent it. And so we must conclude that God sent the message in order to bring about the change of heart in the Ninevites. Not in the hope that they would turn - but because He had determined that they would receive grace.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 17/06
Truth without Love is harshness. Love without Truth is Heresy.

Jonah 3:3-4 - Hard Truths and Loving Hearts
3-4 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he cried, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"

This time God spoke and Jonah obeyed. He obeyed because God brought him to obedience through loving chastisement. As we shall see, his heart was not utterly in it all, but God was teaching Jonah (and all who have ears to hear) what preaching the truth in love is all about. Jonah is, at the moment, happy to preach hell and damnation to the Ninevites because that is what he hopes will be their end. It is an ugly motive, but let us hold up the mirror to ourselves before we judge ugly motives in another. Remember, God is concerned with the heart, and with forming Christ in His people.

So in God’s dealing with Jonah He is teaching and actually forming compassionate and non-judgmental attitudes. But don’t confuse what God is doing in Jonah with what God is doing in the Ninevites. In other words, speaking the truth in love must be the motive of all good preaching (and Jonah presently lacks the love part) – but the Truth is precisely what the Ninevites need to hear – and the Truth often sounds hard and unloving.

At various times preachers have wandered into one error or the other. Either they speak only the love of God and sell the truth short, or they delight a little too much on the hard consequences of rejecting the truth and neglect compassion and mercy. If we have ears, even as we ourselves preach the Word, God will speak to our own hearts, just as He uses our deeds though they be wrought out of flawed motives. This is grace upon grace, and is not to be presumed upon. All who open their mouths ought to be taught out of them.

But we have gone on ahead. Jonah is preaching the dire consequences of sin to the Ninevites - and quite rightly so! They are sinners under the condemnation of God and under His wrath are liable to His judgment. It needed to be said and it even needed to be said in the way it was said. They were so far gone that they simply would not hear the gentle voice. They had hardened their own hearts. Though God will never break a bruised reed nor quench a smoking flax there must first be both bruising and smoke. If there is not fire at all, then no amount of fanning will produce flame. There can only be smoke where there is first fire.

Like Jonah, we need to say the hard things to some people - especially the lost, but unlike Jonah we need to say them out of a heart of love, mercy and grace. We need to examine ourselves. Are we so caught up in love that we neglect to scream "Fire!" when it is called for? Or are we so looking forward to a bonfire that there is no love in hearts as we give the warning?

Though Jonah’s inner motives are not pure, yet his obedience to God has been strongly formed. He is about to deliver a message that might well result in his own demise but he goes a whole day’s journey into the city before speaking the Word. There will be no possible escape if things go sour. He will be surrounded by hostility. This face of faith is wonderful. "Though he slay me yet will I trust Him!" "We must obey God rather than men." "Fear not those who kill the body - rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

Of course we have no real record of what Jonah was thinking. He might have gone so deep because he was afraid that he might run, and so he cut off his own escape deliberately. He might have wanted to reach as many as possible with the message. We don’t know because the Bible doesn’t say. What we do know is that he did it.

I suppose that for some the question will arise as to whether God actually changes His mind. Some might just accept that He does based on passages like this, that seem to state that fact clearly. If that’s all you have and all you can accept then I won’t stand in judgment on it. But for me Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the Lord Who changes not. He is the God Who will accomplish all that He purposes to do. I don’t believe that God changes His mind in the same sense that we do, and I don’t believe the Bible taken as a whole actually teaches that. We are bounded by sequential events in time. But God IS the Alpha and the Omega. He knows the end from the beginning because He is both.

Here is a deep question, "Why preach at all - why warn people at all - if God is going to save Whom He wills anyway, and if His mind is already made up?" Paul’s advances such questions hypothetically in Romans Chapter 3, to which I refer you for study. Jonah has been nursing a similar question, which is soon to be revealed in Chapter 4. But the main thing to recognize is that preaching is the main means which God has ordained by which people will be saved. Those who belong to Christ come to Him through the preaching of Christ. Repentance comes upon the warning of punishment, which produces the fear of God in some. That fact testifies to our own hard and sinful hearts much more than to any hardness in God.

So when Jonah preaches that Nineveh will be overthrown in 40 days you might think that it is implied..."unless you repent..." But it doesn’t say that. Perhaps the very lack of any hope given up front is what actually drives the Ninevites to humility before God. Again, we don’t know. But like Jacob sending flocks ahead in the hope of appeasing Esau that "perhaps he will accept me" {Ge 32:20} so men in fear of God and realizing that they are already under condemnation may cry out for the only salvation there is and which is found only in the grace and mercy of God. The hard preaching – the fear it engenders – is the very thing that produces the tender and humble heart that is ready to accept God’s salvation on God’s terms. By grace alone, through faith alone, in God the Saviour alone.

In other words - it looks to us as though God changes His mind, but it is actually God changing our hearts through the preaching of the Word that adjusts our perception. It seems to us that the preaching of hard truths is not loving, but they are the means by which the true love of God is opened up to stony hearts. God thunders from mount Sinai but He bleeds and saves from mount Calvary.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Monday, January 16, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 16/06
God is so far above, so infinite, so vast that I am tempted to try to be bigger in order to take in more of Him. What I should be doing is becoming smaller and letting His vastness take me in.

Harlan Ames - Gleanings 3.106
Back to Jonah and Restoration
Today it's on to Jonah Chapter 3 in which Jonah finds restoration following his repentance, and brings God's message to Nineveh.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans
Jonah 3:1-2 - Made Willing
1-2 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you."

Jonah has not been forced to do that which he did not want to do. This is not what God is like. Force is not generally how God’s sovereign will overarches man’s own. But Jonah has nevertheless been made willing by God. We are reminded of in Ps 110:3 "Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power..." (shall be "willingness" or a "freewill offering" - see Ro 12:1) And the means by which they are made willing do indeed include some very hard things. Did God bring these hard things upon Jonah out of dictatorial glee, or was it out of love? And so, are not the hard things in our own lives also brought in love from God? And ought we not to receive them as such? In fact, aren’t the hard things often simply God allowing us to suffer, for a while, the consequences of our own sin, before reviving us? Doesn’t He simply turn our evil to our good? And aren’t we tempted to slanderously blame Him instead of ourselves – to complain instead of giving thanks?

Some might just see this incident in Jonah’s life as just a human response to discipline - which it certainly is. But it is also the sovereign power of God bringing about His purposes through a man, without violating his will, but rather by making that man willing. You cannot logically believe in a sovereign God Who is unable to do such things. He is either infinitely reactive to the whims of all men (effectively making men themselves in charge of events, and thus gods), or He is mysteriously able to guide all wills and events to achieve His predetermined ends. Jonah has been made willing.

And so we see God has blessed Jonah by bringing him to obedience. The Ninevites will hear the Word of God through Jonah – not because of Jonah, but because of God’s bringing Jonah to submission to His perfect will. God alone is the prime source and cause of all mercy and goodness, though He often wonderfully chooses to display it through broken earthen vessels. Remember the verse...
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. {2Co 4:7}
Jonah will now obey willingly, but he will do so by the grace of God. This is how we should all see our obedience; not as something we cough up out of our own goodness and offer to God (sacrifice), but as something God has worked in us by His grace (mercy).
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. {Ho 6:6}
And it is grace that has revived Jonah so that grace may be brought to Nineveh. Christ is in all and through all. What care and mercy we see that God revives Jonah and restores him to ministry in the task in which he had failed. Yet this does not mean that Jonah is now perfect in his obedience and motivation. Some will argue that it is possible for saints to attain to that – but, as long as we dwell in mortal flesh alongside our old carnal nature, there will always be something in need of the grace of God to overcome it.

It is never we who become righteous, but we who abide in the righteousness of Christ. Unless we understand this we shall ever be waiting until we are "good enough" before we act. It is only when we remember that we can not ever be good enough that we lean on Christ and He is made perfect strength in our weakness. Christ came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance {Mt 9:13} and we saints are sinners who are justified by, and are being sanctified by, grace.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 14/06
It is shallow nonsense to say that God forgives us because He is love. When we have been convicted of sin we will never say this again. The love of God means Calvary, and nothing less; the love of God is spelt on the Cross and nowhere else. The only ground on which God can forgive me is through the Cross of my Lord. There, His conscience is satisfied.

Oswald Chambers - "My Utmost for His Highest" - November 19th
For God So Loved The World
When I look at a disarming little baby cooing and gurgling with innocence, when I see those cute little corners of its mouth curled upwards in a gummy grin, when those huge wet eyes sparkle at me from that oversized head - then something stirs deep within me. I melt inside and my own eyes become teary. It feels as though something in my chest is aching and straining to envelop that pristine little life form with a flood of protective love. I fall in love for a second or two with helplessness, and I let another being into my soul. Do you feel that way? I’ll bet you do. And there would be precious few who would feel otherwise.

It is a luxury that all bystanders have. They don’t need to be objective - they can bask in their own subjective feelings. It’s an indulgence that few would want to deny themselves, least of all me. I am a grandfather. Being a grandparent is its own form of revenge. We get to spoil our grandchildren rotten and then wave goodbye as their parents bundle them into the car, drive away and have to live with the consequences for the next 20 years.

The parents, on the other hand, have made a commitment that goes far beyond mere sentiment. They have undertaken to get out of bed in the wee hours to feed the infant; to listen to colicky screaming at all watches of the night from a set of lungs that know no reason, and refuse to be comforted - and which have a strength beyond their size; to change smelly diapers which would trigger the gag reflex in a wart hog. They have the honour to suffer through the tantrums of the terrible twos, the whines and incessant questions of seven year-olds, and the out and out rebellion of hormone crazed teens.

To hold fast in love in the midst of such warfare is not a feeling at all - it is a covenant of self-denial, self-sacrifice and "death". But it is out of this covenanted action that feelings of love are reprised. No parent who is hovering on the brink of choking the life out of the kid who just took the car without permission, and then wrecked it, would ever claim to be feeling love at that moment. But the choice to love would be the reason for their restraint, and is the basis upon which a deeper bond might be formed later, when a little time had passed, and after some growing had been done.

I wonder, then, what it means to be loved by God? Do you think He looked down from on high and thought how cute we were, how needy, how helpless and was touched so much by us that He decided to sacrifice His Own Son to offer us all a way of salvation? It’s a nice picture and one with which it is easy for us to identify because it is so human. It’s what we would like to think we would do if we were God.

Or is God more like the parent who has undertaken to do whatever is necessary, to suffer any and all pains in order to complete the job of bringing a new life to maturity. Did God start with the decision to love rather than the feeling of love? And if that is the case then how should love be manifested in us? Should it always await the feeling before acting? Or should it act selflessly regardless of how it feels?

When God so loved the fallen, sinful, rebellious, hateful world that He sent His only-begotten Son, do you think He was responding to something adorable in us? Were we the cause of His wet-eyed wonder? Or had He already committed to love us by saving us despite ourselves. Did He find us lovable or did He set His love upon us? When we had all gone astray and turned, every one, to our own way, when none of us sought after God, when every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts was only evil continually, did He see something worth saving in all of us? In some of us? In any of us?

Some modernists seem to think so. But I don’t think that God’s love originates in a feeling at all. I think it springs from His nature. It springs from a Being Who is the source of all love. It springs from a Being Who is also the source of all justice, holiness, mercy and faith. It is evidenced in the fact that while we were still rebels and God-haters, Christ died for us. He decided to love us because His nature is love. There was nothing lovable in us. Nothing cute, nothing endearing, nothing worthy. That needs to sink in with me. Maybe it does with you, too.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Friday, January 13, 2006

No Blogpost Today
Sorry - I was just too tired to post today. Tomorrow, God willing, I'll post a "spacer" article before getting into Jonah Chapter 3 to start the week.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 12/06
We are all sons and daughters of the Amorites and the Hittites and we differ not a jot from the world except in what He has done for us and in us. (Ezekiel 16)

Harlan Ames - Gleanings 6.208
Jonah 2:10 - Abiding Through the Trial
(Bearing God's Chastisement with Patience and Thanksgiving)

10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.

One more time – when did Jonah render thanksgiving to God? Was it during his chastisement and before God’s gracious delivery of him? Or did Jonah wait to see if God would do what he wanted Him to do before rendering thanks? "Give thanks in all circumstances" is the message. "Go through the ordeal" is the message. Don’t always be expecting deliverance from your circumstances, but rather thankfully and humbly ask for the grace to go through them. By all means ask for deliverance with the proviso "if it be God’s will." But It may not be. Be ready and thankful either way. Jonah was thankful both in the belly of the fish and after his deliverance.

When we give thanks in all things then the burden is truly light, as the Saviour promised it would be. Though we may still have to go through the trial - or more likely as in this case, the chastisement - yet He is with us and that is just as good as if we had been spat out unharmed on the other side the trouble. Again, wasn’t it Christ Who promised that not a hair of our heads would perish? It won’t. All we have to do is to abide, trust, endure, remain and keep on in faith until the end. I say “all”, but this "all" would itself be impossible but for He Who is in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.

The end is always only as far away as your next breath. With each breath God is saying to you "Abide, watch and wait until I come for you." With each breath we reply "Amen, come quickly, Lord Jesus nevertheless not our will, but yours be done." We are but sojourners upon the earth as Jonah sojourned in the belly of the fish – as indeed Christ sojourned both in the earth and in the belly of the earth. The devil could not trip Him. The world could not corrupt Him. The grave could not hold Him. And as we abide in Him we will see more and more that these things are also His gift to us. But we must abide in Him.

So, let us think and act as sojourners – as if our home was elsewhere. By the grace of God we will, as by the grace of God Jonah did – and as, by the God of grace, our Lord did in His sojourn upon the earth. Do we begin to see the deep and abiding Truth in that simple statement of our Lord’s that, "This is the will of God – that you believe in Him Whom He has sent.?" All else springs from Him through our abiding faith. The works are what spring not from our decision to do something for God, but as the fruit of our struggling to believe and abide in Christ in all things.

When we struggle to abide in His love then His love overflows in us towards others. But if we struggle to express our love in a merely carnal imitation of Christ, we shall find that we have no love to give. And worse – that which we think of as our love is not only of no avail, but is actually harmful.

And here is Jonah – disobedient, illogical, sinning Jonah – a human being with warts and all, just like every single one of God’s saints in both the Old and the New Testaments – brought by grace to repentance, giving thanks to God, even in desperate circumstance of his own making, and receiving the mercy of being delivered – restored from rebellion unto service, as we shall see.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 11/06
Salvation is by grace through faith - but not because of faith.

W. R. Downing
Jonah 2:9 - Salvation by Grace Through Faith
9 "But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to thee; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance (salvation) belongs to the LORD!"

The Lamb of God PrefiguredIs it the vow of thanksgiving that causes God to deliver Jonah? No! The vow of thanksgiving is Jonah’s response to God’s mercy and deliverance. It is by definition giving thanks for something already bestowed. This is the principle throughout the Bible. It is at the root of Habakkuk’s and of Paul’s statements (Romans and Galatians) that the just shall live by his faith and that salvation, which belongs to the Lord is by faith alone, apart from works of the law – apart from any works at all. God has made it so that all we can do is render thanks; thanks with our whole being, substance, heart and will. (With all our heart and with all or mind and with all our soul and with all our strength). If He had not done so then we would glory in our "part".

And here is the very centre of the faith that hopes in God alone – the belief that salvation belongs to God. Deliverance is God’s to give, and is hoped in through the faith we have been given. Our trust is in the Lord, even when the darkness surrounds us – even when there is no apparent hope; like Abraham, our father in faith, against hope we believe in hope. {Ro 4:17-18} This is all we have, but it is more than enough. The work of God is to believe in the One He has sent. Whatever is not of faith is sin.

The best Biblical illustration is surely the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had no outward assurance that they would not be consumed. They were ready to be consumed. They might well have been consumed, as other prophets and saints have been in one way or another. But their focus is not upon whether they will die or not – it is upon the God of all Truth and holiness – the judge of all the earth Who will always do right, whether that right requires their deaths or not.

The faith that trusts in the righteousness of God from the very depths of the pit is that which our Lord displayed when he suffered the burning anger of the Father and the utter loss of His fellowship for the only time in all eternity. To be in the bosom of the Father eternally, and then to be cast from it is an unimaginable horror that only Christ could know. Satan and the demons could, perhaps, understand better than we. We haven’t the faintest inkling, except perhaps when our sin grieves the Holy Spirit and we lose the sense of fellowship. But this, though grievous, is a light thing compared that loss in One upon Whom the Spirit dwelt without measure. Our fellowship in the Spirit with God is but a shadow of the Son’s and so its loss is also but a shadow.

People may watch movies like Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" and see the physical torments of Christ. But do we see a man? Or do we see the eternal Son of God in human form? And do they see only His body bruised for us, or do we know of the invisible emotional torments of separation from His Father, and the lash of His infinite and eternal anger?

Get a glimpse in Jonah of the prayer of the heart of Christ from amidst the agonies of the cross and from under the wrath of God. He suffered these that we might never do so. We, like Jonah, have only the chastening of correction – Christ was punished in fierce wrath that ought to have been for us.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 10/06
There is a vast difference between being familiar with the Holy Spirit and being wholly with a familiar spirit. The tragedy is that, in these last days, some people are unable to tell the difference.

Harlan Ames - Gleanings 9.326
Jonah 2:8 - Self, Idols and Demons
8 "...Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their true loyalty.

Jonah never bowed to a vain idol – except that of his own will – except that of despising the Ninevites – except that of his own thoughts. I don’t think of Jonah referring here to the sailors, and them praying each to his own god aboard the foundering ship. Didn’t these men hear of the One True God and fear Him? Didn’t they make vows to Him? Is it supposed that, when the peril had passed, the sailors went right back to their old ways? We aren’t told. We only have the examples of human nature so vividly portrayed to us in the history of the Israelite nation. And we know that within 40 years of this book Assyria itself overthrew Israel, whose God had saved a prior generation of their people.

We have the universal testimony of the Word of Truth that the true loyalty of every person belongs to God because all things are from Him and through Him and to Him. As creator He has written upon our hearts His immutable and holy Law, to which our consciences bear testimony..."Thou shalt... and thou shalt not..." only confirm to us what we already know inside. But we all give our attention to empty idols, behind all of which are the demons of hell, ruled over by the prince of this world, Satan.

The pure truth is that the true loyalty of all men everywhere belongs to God. And the pure truth is also that there is none that seeks after Him, none that does good and that all are together gone astray. As Christians, whenever we do our will in place of God’s we are paying regard to an empty idol, and forsaking our true loyalty. The lost do it. The saved do it. The difference between them is only the grace of God displayed in the perseverance of saving faith at work in the sons of obedience. The story of Jonah is proof of this.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Monday, January 09, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 9/06
It is true the believer many fall into sin, gross sin; but he cannot reflect on it without shame and sorrow. There will come, as a result, a determination to guard against the commission of sin in the future. He cannot consent to sin. It is against his will that he sins. There will be a universal and particular opposition to sin; the former is hatred of all sins, the latter is a determination to rule out every false way. A new creature in Christ cannot live in the old life. He has received a heavenly birth which delights in the source of its life.

Ferrell Griswold - "Regeneration"
Jonah 2:2-7 - Descent into the Pit
1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish...

2-7 saying, "I called to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and thou didst hear my voice. 3 For thou didst cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood was round about me; all thy waves and thy billows passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I am cast out from thy presence; how shall I again look upon thy holy temple?’ 5 The waters closed in over me, the deep was round about me; weeds were wrapped about my head 6 at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever; yet thou didst bring up my life from the Pit, O LORD my God. 7 When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer came to thee, into thy holy temple."

It was while Jonah was still in the belly of the fish that he called and God answered him. Jonah didn’t consider the answer to be his deliverance from his situation, because the fish did not vomit him up on the beach until the end of three days and nights; but the text here says he called to God from the belly of the fish and God answered.

So how did Jonah deem God to have answered if it was not by delivering him from the situation? We must move ahead to verse 7 where we read...
"When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer came to thee, into thy holy temple."
It was when Jonah remembered the LORD that the peace came. Until then he was fainting – the weeds were entangling his head and he was pressed down to the base of the mountains at the bottom of the deep – into the depths of the pit. Have you been there? Have you sinned so badly that you almost forgot the God of grace and mercy that called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light? God granted Jonah the remembrance of His grace and mercy and gave him repentance.

A friend of mine had a lifelong buddy who was dying. His buddy was an unbeliever. For a year my friend prayed to God that his friend would come to the Lord but never heard anything. Then his friend died and he learned that some months before the man had accepted the Lord and been baptized. My friend was angered that his buddy had not told him. Then he complained to God that all the time he had been praying for the man’s salvation when he had been saved could have been spent praying for the man to be healed. And God said to my friend, "Is my salvation not enough?"

This is Jonah in the belly of the fish. Knowing the God of love and mercy, and that He is the LORD is enough in itself. Knowing that He is, and that He has shown Himself to him is enough. If you have seen Him then nothing else compares. Nothing else matters. To be one of the eternally saved in Christ is to be assured that whether we live, we live unto Christ – or whether we die, we die unto Him. In essence whether we live or die it is God’s will for us and it is therefore perfect.

Jonah remembered God as the psalmist had...
In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. {Ps 18:6}
He had considered himself to have been cast out from God’s presence (v.4). This is worth noting. Jonah’s concept of God’s presence was apparently not the best. He had tried fleeing from Him (an impossibility) and now he presumed he was out of God’s presence - another impossibility for we read of God...
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there! {Ps 139:8}
This is the illogicality of the sinful mind. God is not like we might sometimes think when we see Him as we are. He is not vindictive. We again join the Psalmist who says...
If thou, O LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. {Ps 130:3-4}
God never abandons those who belong to Christ. In fact, Christ has prayed for all those that are His – that the faith they had been given through hearing would not fail, {Joh 17:7-10} and so it can never do so. Elsewhere, Christ thanked the Father that He always heard Him. {Joh 11:41-42}

Yet it serves us well, in a sense, to believe that we have gone too far. Surely it is God Who says to us, "Thy sins are forgiven," and not we ourselves. It is God that says to us, "Friend, come sit a little higher," and not we who presume to take the best seat at the table. It is when we see our utter impotency to perform acts of goodness of ourselves that we know Who it is that alone is truly good. It is when we are emptied of all that we have imagined ourselves to be that we finally discover that all true worth is in Christ Himself.

And why is this so clear? Because Jonah’s consignment to the depths of the sea, where the bars closed upon him forever and where he was in the very depths of the Pit, is a picture of the descent of the Lord into the Pit, which He did on our behalf to unlock the bars of our eternal condemnation for sin. In it is the cry of Christ our Saviour Himself praying to His God (the Father) out of the depths of the sin of his people, and for His people. "Eloi, Eloi - lama sabachthani," was a cry of one abandoned and drowning in the depths of the sea – in the very depths of the Pit. Not overcome by sin, but overcome by the horror and consequences of bearing it.

And those who were in Christ in that watery pit of His death are also in Him on the dry land of His resurrection. Whosoever died with Him and in Him is raised in Him to newness of life. When He cried from the depths it was a cry for all who would believe – for all who are in Him for all eternity, because He purposed it to be that way from all eternity.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 8/06
My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.

Hebrews 12: 5b-6
Jonah 2:1- Sin, Chastisement and Repentance
1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish…

For nothing is impossible with God - even the forgiveness of the sins of the saints
Jonah had rebelled and refused to do God’s clear bidding, though he knew better. This is what all sin is like. It is rank disobedience to the clear wishes of God. It is defiance in the face of Omnipotence. It is preferring evil over the goodness and purity of God. It is forsaking the fountain of living waters and hewing out broken cisterns. It is preferring the darkness to the light.

But we make excuses – we like to take the edge off our sin by couching it in soft terms, but using alternate words that make it seem "not so bad." We have "gotten off track;" we have "made a mistake;" we have "been bad".... No we haven’t! We have sinned against the God of Heaven, and we have done this sin in the light because we know Who it is that we have offended.

But see – Jonah prayed to HIS God from the belly of the fish. Jonah is a believer – one of God’s own – a prophet of the Lord. So we see that saints sin. It is very important to acknowledge this in more than just a cursory way. Saints sin in the light. The best of them. And the reason for it is that we are sinners saved by grace and being sanctified by Almighty God through the obedience of faith, which He works in every one who truly belongs to Him.

He paid the price for all the sins we committed and all the sins we will commit until we come to glory. There is now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. Jonah is in Christ Jesus. We are in Christ Jesus, if we truly believe. But if we are not in Christ Jesus we will take this wonderful truth and twist it in order to justify our continuation in sin – which nobody who truly knows Him would ever do. No Christian would ever say. “Let us sin the more that grace may abound,” but is, rather, mortified – even horrified – that he has gone against his Lord.

True Christians are deeply grieved by their sins. They are at war with the flesh, putting it to death daily – taking up the whole armour of God against the evil one. Every child of God will struggle against sin and will sometimes fall, yet every true child of God will always get back up when he falls. It may take time – but it will always happen. Why? Because God is at work in him to bring this about, as He has been in Jonah. Jonah sinned by running – God brought the storm that chastised and prevented him. Jonah commanded his own death in the sea – God prepared a great fish to keep him for three days and nights. As we shall see, there were also other problems with Jonah – but God was working in those, too, in order to sanctify him in the truth.

Meanwhile, in the following verses does Jonah repent because he is good/smart/righteous of himself? Or does he repent because God is at work in all things for His good, and so moves nature, events and people in his life that he comes to the place of repentance? And has not God undertaken to complete in every one of His saints that good work that He started unto the Day of Jesus Christ?

The key word in this verse, then, is that it is HIS God that he prays to. Jonah’s sin has not removed him from God’s love. It is not a sin unto death. Christians are often warned about such things, but the warning itself is the very means by which all of God’s children are steered into the right way. His sheep hear His voice.

The very first thing we feel when we sin is that we cannot go to God because He will hate us for what we have done. But that is the flesh and the devil, speaking the age-old lie about God. There is but one sin that cannot be brought to God for forgiveness and only one, namely blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – and if you had committed it you wouldn’t be coming to God at all. All others sins are forgivable, without exception. For the professing Christian to think his sin is unforgivable is to make God a liar. If Christ bought us out of perdition when we were His enemies, and we have now believed on Him, then how can we think He will not forgive us our transgressions now that He has redeemed us?

Jonah committed a great sin of disobedience – but by the grace of God he was brought to the place where he repented and, though he fell, he never lost the faith in God by which his God had justified him. It was HIS God that he prayed to out of the depths of a watery hell. A hell of his own making, but a hell that the grace of God had turned to Jonah’s benefit. When we repent as believers, then God resumes our intimate walk with Him from that place where he found us humbled by our own repentance. There is no more any obstacle – no divine grudge – no price to pay for the restoration of fellowship. There may, however, be consequences to our sin that we must endure for our good and for God's glory.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 7/06
"The papist works that he may merit Heaven. The Pharisee works that he may be applauded, that he may be seen of men, that he may have a good esteem with them. The slave works lest he should be beaten, lest he should be damned. The formalist works that he may stop the mouth of conscience, that will be accusing him, if he do nothing. The ordinary professor works because it is a shame to do nothing where so much is professed. But the true believer works because he loves. This is the principal, if not the only motive, that sets him a-work. If there were no other motive within or without him, yet would he be working for God, acting for Christ, because he loves Him; it is like fire in his bones"

David Clarkson
Change of Pace
Here's a slight change of pace from Jonah before starting on Chapter 2, where we find repentance and submission for the prophet.

The following piece explores the nature of saving faith. Is it a work of man - mere human belief - or is it a supernatural gift of God Himself - and how is faith portrayed in much of the church today?


My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans
Work and Saving Faith
John 6:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

Blackburn - 'Man with a Load'Can faith ever become a work? It seems like a silly question but I don’t think it is. If there is any possibility that it can, then there is a whole class of people out there who are going down into the pit without realizing it.

I suppose the real question is to define what is meant by faith. If one means "saving faith" then that can never become a work because, if one is being saved through faith one does not rely on works. But there is a mindset that thinks that faith is the act of believing performed in the strength of the flesh. In that view, faith is a conscious, deliberate effort to make oneself acceptable to God by believing, which is worked out through acts of "obedience" performed in a desire to be perfect before Him. It is, in fact, works in disguise.

There is a remnant of such works-related faith, even in the true elect. It is human nature to seek to justify oneself instead of relying on the justification provided by another. One struggles sometimes to remember that salvation is the gift of God’s grace, which is simply worked out through faith. It is hard not to think that the more faith we "show" the more sure will be our salvation. But though it may be hard, it is also essential. Whatever remains within us of that insidious deception of thinking that we can contribute in any way to our salvation must, at all costs, be eradicated. We must come to the full and complete rest of realizing that, as Spurgeon said, salvation is "all of grace."

It is one of the apparent paradoxes contained in the supernatural wisdom of God’s revealed plan that we are saved and sanctified, not by what we do, but by what He has done and is doing in us. Yet, at the same time, through the exercise of faith in the finished work of Christ, we actually labour to lay hold of that for which we were laid hold of by Him. It is a “partnership” in which one of the partners is silent - or struggles to be so. Our contribution is actually not to try to contribute to justification. Doing that is the hard work. It is the process of mortifying the flesh and all of its self-justifying propensities. It is the process of actually being saved from sin, as C.D. Cole would say, and not merely from hell - as the perishing may sometimes want.

Salvation from sin is the hardest thing in heaven and earth. Only the death of God’s Son could provide the means. Only our own death in Him could lay hold of that means. Only in the complete death of our flesh could we comprehend that we can contribute absolutely nothing to our own salvation - and that our sanctification is merely the process of getting out of His way, so to speak, so that He can make us what we will be. We are saved through faith - not by faith.

"But what of obedience?" someone may say, "Isn’t obedience in faith of some value to God, in our sanctification at least?" No. But it is of immense value to us. Obedience is nothing more than doing His will instead of our own. Doing His will requires nothing less than abiding in the loss our lives for His sake, or putting to death the deeds of the flesh. Unless He had first put a new heart within us, we should never even want to commit such suicidal sacrifice, let alone run headlong to do it, with joy in our hearts. How could we? What natural man would abandon all that he is in the hope of becoming all that he is not after he is “dead”?

Yet, so insidious and vile is sin that, even in believers, it clings with a tenacity which only Christ can release for us. Sin is a disease that runs through and through our entire being. In the same way that the body’s cells are totally replaced every seven years, so in our sanctification we must be totally replaced with something made by Christ. That He partially does this while we are living on earth, without us losing our actual identity, is something that testifies to His power of creative Deity.

Do I work out my salvation? Yes. Is there any contribution to it from my work? No. My salvation is entirely the work of Jesus Christ, including the ability to believe in Him and the will to follow Him. My work is the process of mortifying my sinful members so that I can actually see the wonders of His glory in my own salvation. And only by my believing in Him with the faith He has given me can the fruit of this gift be manifested. It is my only work. It is not really a work. It is the grateful recognition of the work of Another.

My moniker - that's John Henry to Americans

Friday, January 06, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 6/06
Within that awful volume lies
The mystery of mysteries!
Happiest they of human race,
To whom God has granted grace
To read, to fear to hope, to pray,
To lift the latch’ and force the way;
And better had they ne’er been born,
Who read to doubt, or read to scorn.

Jonah 1:17 - Life from the Dead
17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

From a woodcut by Barry MoserThis is the part of the story that often gives rationalizers trouble. Never mind the fact that Christ our God and Saviour referred to this historical event during His ministry (as well as to Noah and to Adam) – some people still have problems with it. It is true that Christ never specifically said it was history – but neither did he say it was "myth". These things are much too serious for the Lord to leave in doubt; so let us use the rules of sound hermeneutics and receive this whole story as literal historical truth, because that is how it presents itself.

Furthermore, we can read that there was indeed such an historical figure as Jonah, son of Amittai, as we read in 2 Kings where he is unmistakably mentioned by name...
He (King Jereboam II of Israel) restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. {2Ki 14:25}
...and I believe that God deliberately included this single reference in 2 Kings to confute those who would seek to throw doubt upon the historicity of the Jonah of this book, and his story.

There is only one way that anyone can be in the belly of a fish under fathoms of water for three days and nights without being stone dead, and that’s by a miracle. The same miracle power that kept Jonah alive and conscious under such conditions can reconstitute our bodies in the final day.
"Though after my skin worms destroy this body yet in my flesh shall I see God." {Job 19:26}
It is the same power that kept Jesus’ body from corruption and raised it to life again.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Quote of the Day - Jan 5/06
I believe there is not a child of God, when in a good frame, but has prayed for great humility; they have prayed for great faith, they have prayed for great love, they have prayed for all the graces of the Spirit: Do ye know, when ye put us these prayers, that ye did also say, Lord send us great trials: for how is it possible to know ye have great faith, humility and love, unless God put you into great trials, that ye may know whether ye have them or not.

George Whitefield - "Marks of a True Conversion"
Jonah 1:16 - Reverent Fear
16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

Now do we see the truth in the Psalmist’s words...
"If thou, O LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared." {Ps 130:3-4}
Whereas before the sailors feared the elements, now they fear the God of the elements, whom they know to be the God of Jonah. Before salvation people are afraid of God because of His wrath against their sin - but after they come into His forgiveness in Christ and begin to know that His wrath against them has gone, they are afraid in a deeper and more reverent way. Who would not fear a God that could conceive and execute such a plan of salvation? What wisdom, and courage and truth and grace and love and mercy; what power and steadfastness and faithfulness and humility! How it exceeds our grasp and our ability and even our understanding! Yet we know it to be true of Him because His indwelling Spirit testifies to the Truth, as Job knew...
"I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." {Job 42:2-6}
It is God’s wrath that drives men to Christ, but once they have obeyed God’s command to believe in the One Whom He has sent {Joh 6:29} it is His grace and love they abide in. Passing from death to life is passing from wrath to peace, from God’s fierce hatred to His abiding love.

The modern church has all but omitted reference to God’s just and abiding anger upon the sin of all mankind. As a consequence, many have no concept of the magnitude of His grace and love. The story of Jonah reminds us what it is that we are saved from - thereby making God’s salvation that much more glorious.

And see that, while it was God that delivered the sailors from the tempest, it was as a result of His deliverance that the men made vows and committed their lives to Him. Don’t get the cart before the horse. Until God is known in the heart a man will not follow Him. And it is God alone who can do this. But also know that, if God has truly done a work in your heart and you are born again, then you will make a vow to Him and commit all that you are and have in obedience to His Lordship.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans