Marks of the Christian Life

following jesus1

In 1872, Horatius Bonar published Light & Truth, a collection of his sermons and articles. One of my favorite entries is, “The Model of a Holy Life.

Bonar begins by considering four Bible passages:

  • “These are those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”—Revelation 14:4
  • “Follow me!”—John 11:22
  • “Leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps.”—2 Peter 2:21
  • “I Paul myself beseech you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.”—2 Corinthians 10:1

He then writes, “These four passages point more or less to our responsibility for a holy life—and to Christ as the true model of that life. We are redeemed—that we may be holy. We are freely pardoned—that we may be holy. We look to Jesus—that we may be holy. We are filled with the Spirit—that we may be holy. The true religious life rises out of redemption—and is a copy of Christ’s walk on earth. Beholding Him—we are changed into His image, from glory to glory.”

Bonar proceeds to meditate on the mark of a growing Christian life. Each trait was found in Christ, and so should be found in us, for “a Christian, then, is a copy of Christ. His inner and outer man are to be copies of Christ. It is Christ’s footsteps he is to walk in. It is Christ’s image that he is to reflect. It is not Paul, nor Peter, nor Luther, nor Calvin, nor Rutherford that he is to copy—but Christ Himself. Other models may illustrate this, and so help in the imitation of Christ; but only as doing this are they useful; otherwise they are dangerous.”

What then is a Christian man?

Bonar answers that question in six ways. I read these yesterday afternoon and found much cause for conviction, encouragement, and prayer. May they do the same for you.

I. He is a man of FAITH. It was by giving credit to God’s word that he became a Christian man; for it is by faith that we become sons of God. And his whole life is to be a life of faith. As Christ lived by faith on the Father, so does he. Christ is his model as a believing man. The more that he understands of Christ’s life, the more will he see the faith that marks it, and will learn to copy it, to live, act, speak, and walk by faith.

II. He is a man of PRAYER. In this too he follows Christ. Christ’s life was a life of prayer. In the morning we find Him praying a great while before day. All night we find Him praying more. No one, we would say, needed prayer less—yet no one prayed more. And the disciple herein imitates the Master. He prays without ceasing. He is instant in supplication. His life is a life of prayer—constant communion with God.

III. He is a man of HOPE. Christ looked to the joy set before Him—and so endured the cross. He anticipated the glory, and so was a man of hope. There is the hope, the same glory, the same joy for us. The things hoped for are the things we live upon and rejoice in. Our prospects are bright—and we keep them ever in view. The kingdom, the crown, the city, the inheritance—these are before our eyes. They cheer, and sustain, and purify us! Were it not for the hope, what would become of us? What would this world be to us? Learn to hope as well as to believe.

IV. He is man of HOLINESS. He is the follower of a holy Master. He hears the voice—Be holy, for I am holy. He knows that he is redeemed to be holy—to do good works—to follow righteousness—to be one of a peculiar people. He is not content with merely being saved—he seeks to put off sin, lust, evil, vanity—and to put on righteousness, holiness, and every heavenly characteristic. He seeks to rise higher and higher—to grow more unlike this world—more like the world to come. He marks Christ’s footsteps, and walks in them. He studies the Master’s mind, and seeks to possess it; mortifying his members and crucifying the flesh. He aims at shining as He shone, and testifying as He testified.

V. He is a man of LOVE. He has known Christ’s love, and drunk it in, and found his joy in it. So he seeks to be like Him in love—to love the Father, to love the brethren, to love sinners—to show love at all times, in word and deed. His life is to be a life of love, his words the words of love, his daily doings the outflow of a heart of love. He is to be a living witness of the gospel of love. Love—not hatred, nor coldness, nor malice, nor revenge, nor selfishness, nor indifference—love such as was in Christ—that he endeavors to embody and exhibit.

VI. He is to be a man of ZEAL. ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten me up,’ said Christ. His life was one of zeal for God—zeal for His Father’s honor and His Father’s business. So is the disciple to be ‘zealous of good works.’ Zeal steady and fervent—not by fits and starts; not according to convenience, but in season and out of season; prudent, yet warm and loving; willing to suffer and to sacrifice; no sparing self or the flesh, but ever burning; zeal for Jehovah’s glory, for Christ’s name, for the Church’s edification, for the salvation of lost men—this is to give complexion and character to his life.

These things are to mark a Christian man. He is not to be content with less. He is to grow in all these things—not to be barren, not to stagnate, not to be lukewarm—but to increase in resemblance to his Lord—to be transformed daily into His likeness, that there may be no mistake about him—as to who or what he is.

What Brings Revival

James-W.-Alexander-Frontispiece-from-Vol.-1-of-his-Memoirs-by-Hall-7-28-20151James Waddell Alexander (1804–1859) was the eldest son of the legendary Archibald Alexander, first professor at Princeton Seminary. James himself was a formidable force for Christ’s kingdom. He pastored the famous Duane Street Presbyterian Church in New York City and was eventually appointed Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government at Princeton.

He was an enthusiastic proponent of and participant in revival. But not the kind Charles Finney advocated—a spiritual stirring based on human engineering. Alexander once wrote about the necessary conditions for true revival. He said,

For my own part, I believe that revivals depend not so much, as is thought, upon phases of doctrine, or petty arrangements, as upon the ardent piety and zealous labours of humble Christianity, apart from all these things.

Do you want to see a revival in your ministry? Alexander would say pursue an ordinary ministry. Love Christ enough to prize holiness. Love Christ enough to proclaim Him zealously in every place. Leave the rest to our Sovereign King.

Book to Look For: On Sanctification

I consider Sinclair Ferguson the greatest living guide for pilgrims on the way to heaven—at least when it comes to biblical/theological books. His publishing output is broad and comprehensive. Rarely does a year go by without another contribution from the Scotsman. In late October he’ll published Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. It surely will be a candidate for book of the year.

devoted7a-810x1280According to the Trust

The Banner writes:

Christians are transformed by the renewing of their minds. They understand that in large measure how they think about the gospel will determine how they will live for God’s glory. They learn to allow the word of God to do its own work, informing and influencing the way they think in order to shape the way they live.

In a series of Scripture-enriched chapters Sinclair B. Ferguson’s Devoted to God works out this principle in detail. It provides what he describes as ‘blueprints for sanctification’—an orderly exposition of central New Testament passages on holiness. Devoted to God thus builds a strong and reliable structural framework for practical Christian living. It stresses the foundational importance of fundamental issues such as union with Christ, the rhythms of spiritual growth, the reality of spiritual conflict, and the role of God’s law. Here is a fresh approach to an always relevant subject, and a working manual to which the Christian can turn again and again for biblical instruction and spiritual direction.

According to Ferguson

Here’s what Ferguson himself had to say about the book in an interview with Fred Zaspel:

Zaspel:
Do you have any new books in the works that we can expect?

Ferguson:
Thank you for asking, Fred. The Lord willing, yes. The next one is entitled Devoted to God, and is a treatment of sanctification. I realize there are excellent books on the theme of holiness (Walter Marshall’s classic, Ryle’s great work, and more recently Kevin de Young has written on the subject)—so obviously one needs to “justify” writing another one. The subtitle is Blueprints for Sanctification and the book begins with a somewhat different “take” on what “holiness” means. If there is a distinctive feature that justifies another book on the theme (can we have too many?) it probably lies in the approach. I have tried to focus on a selection of central New Testament passages that provide the groundwork for sanctification (“blueprints”) and work through them in a progressive and cumulative way. If readers know George Smeaton’s two great classic volumes on the atonement, Devoted to God is a kind of more modest (and doubtless very inferior!) attempt to do something similar with sanctification. In harmony with the principles of our Lord’s prayer in John 17 that sanctification takes place through his word, my aim has been to draw the blueprints for sanctification from within both the context and the atmosphere of the text of Scripture itself. I think the book is due out by the Summer of this year.

Tolle lege!

Let It Be Said of Us

“Even more influential . . . was his personal religion, evinced especially in his famous Sunday afternoon conference addresses. He real and vital apprehension of the love of God in Christ, wrought his most characteristic work upon students.” – Said of Charles Hodges, quoted in Adam, Hearing God’s Words, 36.

Cultivating Biblical Godliness

Reformation Heritage is quietly putting together a wonderful little series of booklets on the theme of “Cultivating Biblical Godliness.” You might consider buying a few of these slim volumes for your church’s bookstore.

Here’s what RHB has to say about the series:

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “The world today is looking for, and desperately needs, true Christians. I am never tired of saying that what the Church needs to do is not to organize evangelistic campaigns and attract outside people, but to begin herself to live the Christian life. If she did that, men and women would be crowding into our buildings. They would say, ‘What is the secret of this?’”

Many people who are new to the church need instruction in the most basic aspects of godly living. Even where churches are engaged heavily in discipleship, visitors and members often have gaps in their understanding and practice. One of the greatest needs of our time is for the Spirit of God to cultivate biblical godliness in us in order to put the glory of Christ on display through us, all to the glory of God the Father.

For these reasons, Joel Beeke and Ryan McGraw are coediting a series of booklets titled Cultivating Biblical Godliness. These booklets treat matters that are vital to Christian experience, and each contribution aims to address a wide variety of people and circumstances at a fundamental and introductory level. This includes teaching people what to believe in order to practice personal holiness as well as specific directions on how to cultivate biblical godliness in relation to issues that are common to God’s people.

The distinctive feature of this series is its experiential tone. While some booklet series aim to enlighten the mind, these booklets aim to warm the affections as well. The goal is to promote communion with the triune God and to transform the entire person in thought, speech, and behavior. To this end, we intend to include a wide range of authors whom the Spirit has blessed to skillfully stir up the church to personal holiness and affection to Christ through their preaching and writing ministries.

We need a Christianity that puts the transformative power of God in the gospel on display through developing a communion with God that is visible to the world. Our prayer is that through this series, the Lord would revive His church by producing Christians who are full of love for Christ, who deny themselves in order to follow Him at great personal cost, and who know the joys of walking with the triune God. This is the kind of Christianity that we need. This is the kind of Christianity that the triune God has used to turn the world upside down. May He  be pleased to do so again.

Current Titles

cultivating__43265.1411578436.1280.1280What is a Christian? by Ryan McGraw. What is a Christian? This is a truly vital question because never-ending happiness or everlasting horror hinges upon understanding the correct, biblical answer to it. Yet few questions have provoked so much confusion. Ryan McGraw lays out what it means to be a Christian in terms of what one believes, what one experiences, and what one does—a full-orbed Christianity of head, heart, and hands. If you are investigating what it means to follow Jesus Christ, if you are wrestling with the question of whether you are truly saved, if you desire to grow as a Christian by getting back to the basics, or if you are seeking to help others, here are simple and clear answers from the Holy Scriptures.

cultivating_3__88370.1411577452.1280.1280What Does it Mean to Love God? by Maurice Roberts. How do you love a person you cannot see? What do you give to someone who has it all? Why is it so important to love the Creator of the galaxies? What does it mean to love God? Jesus taught us that the greatest commandment given to mankind is to love the Lord with all our mind, heart, and strength, and yet what it means to love God can be a profound mystery. Maurice Roberts explains the biblical meaning of love for God and shows how such love moves us to do many things, from thirsting for God to praying for our neighbor’s salvation. He shows that love for God is like a sweet fire that must lift all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength in a holy flame toward God.

cultivating_4__85970.1411574472.1280.1280How Do I Kill Remaining Sin? by Geoff Thomas. Are you dying? If not, then you have not yet begun to live. The Bible teaches us that when God forgives a person by the death of Jesus Christ, He starts a process in him of dying daily—putting his sinful habits to death as he lives in union with Christ. Though being born again brings fundamental changes in a person’s soul, every Christian has sin remaining in him. Pastor Geoffrey Thomas explains how Christians can fight and conquer sin in their lives by the grace of Christ so that they grow to be more like Jesus, living wholeheartedly for the Lord one day at a time.

9781601783677__48505.1414713222.1280.1280How Do Preaching and Corporate Prayer Work Together? by Ryan McGraw. In John 14:12–14, Jesus declares that His people would accomplish “greater works” than His. What are these greater works the church would accomplish, and how could they be even greater than Christ’s miracles? With biblical insight, author Ryan McGraw takes a closer look at this passage, along with the book of Acts, and explains that these greater works are connected to corporate prayer and faithful preaching, which are vital to the life of every local congregation. How Do Preaching and Corporate Prayer Work Together? affirms the priority of prayer and preaching in the church and offers practical instruction for effective corporate prayer that, by God’s grace, will bear fruit in preaching.

9781601783653__67133.1414712951.1280.1280How Should Men Lead Their Families? by Joel Beeke. God’s Word teaches us that Jesus Christ was ordained by God and anointed by the Spirit for His work as prophet, priest, and king of His children. Those who are in union with Him share His offices in a limited but important way. In this booklet, Joel Beeke explains how husbands and fathers should lead their families as prophets, priests, and kings. Filled with biblical wisdom and practical application, How Should Men Lead Their Families? is a helpful guide for men who desire to bear the image of the Father of glory and of the heavenly Husband as they lead, teach, love, evangelize, protect, and rule over their wives and children.

cultivating_6_front__59035.1416344107.1280.1280What is Experiential Calvinism? by Iain Hamilton. “There is no such thing as ‘dead Calvinism,’” writes author Ian Hamilton. Calvinism, simply put, is biblical Christianity. No mere human devised theological system, Calvinism is rooted in and shaped by God’s revelation in Holy Scripture. Hamilton asserts that Calvinism is “natively experiential.” In What Is Experiential Calvinism?, the author shows us that Calvinism is far richer and more profound than five points and helps us see that the lives and ministries of those who are true Calvinists pulse with living, Spirit-inspired, Christ-glorifying, God-centered truth.

Why_Fast__19156.1421871688.1280.1280Why Should I Fast? by Daniel Hyde. Today, the church seems to have forgotten about the spiritual discipline of fasting. Most of us have never heard a sermon about it, and few of us have ever practiced it. We think of fasting as an antiquated relic of the past. So why should we fast in an age of fast food? Pastor Daniel R. Hyde argues that “fasting is actually a basic biblical teaching and practice, one that is vital to cultivating godly living in an ungodly generation.” Fasting is a means to the end of abiding, deep, and personal communion with the triune God through prayer. The author explains what fasting is, provides biblical examples of it, reminds us of what Jesus taught regarding it, and tells us how to go about it.

cultivating_2__61953.1411576007.1280.1280How Should Teen Read the Bible? by Joel Beeke. Most Christians know that they should read the Bible, and many have tried, but it is not unusual for people to get stuck, get lost, or get discouraged. Here is a booklet that lays out wise guidelines for how to read the most important book in the world and not give up. Joel Beeke offers many helpful tips on how to benefit from the Scriptures with the constant awareness that our attitude is crucial. Written especially for young people, How Should Teens Read the Bible? Is an extremely practical resource for anyone who wants to read the Scriptures with regularity, joy, and delight.

14 Prayers for Godliness

Pray Persistently

For well over a year Willem Teellinck’s The Path of True Godliness sat patiently on my shelf waiting to be read. Earlier this week Teellinck’s treatise finally got the nod and so far the book is outstanding.

In his introduction to Teellinck’s life and ministry Joel Beeke writes, “People were drawn to his ministry by his sincere conversation and preaching, faithful visiting and catechizing, godly walk and selfless demeanor, and simple practical writings. He demonstrated the conviction that a pastor ought to be the godliest person in the congregation.” That final sentence resonates with me:

“The pastor ought to be the godliest person in the congregation.”

HOLY ASPIRATION

I don’t worry so much about whether or not the pastor is the godliest person in the congregation, but if he aspires and strives for supreme holiness in all things. As M’Cheyne famously said, “A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hands of the Lord.” I so desperately want to be an sharp sword or pointed arrow with which God assaults his vaunted foes fortress of darkness.

An ordinary overflow of that aspiration should be a life of prayerful pleading for God to increase one’s holiness. I am therefore always on the lookout for anything that provides new and specific fervor to my prayers for holiness. Teellinck’s book has already given me a plethora of new points in my prayers for godliness.

In “Book 1” he gives fourteen aspects of godliness’ true character. Simple, yet profound, these point were great encouragements to me, so I ended up personalizing them into items of prayer. Maybe they will be of help for your ministry and life of prayer.

PRAYING FOR GODLINESS

  1. Help me to increasingly believe in You and Your Son; to fear You, love You, and cling to You.
  2. Compel me to pray persistently, read Your Word diligently, to meditate on it, to keep it in my heart, to speak about it, and to glorify You and praise You in song.
  3. Make me meek and patient in everything You have me do.
  4. Let me remember and keep your holy day of rest.
  5. May I love the regular assembling of Your church.
  6. Give me a heart for the concerns and causes of Your people.
  7. Let my heart be one of humility, one that mourns for not only my own sins but also for those of the nation and to rejoice greatly we Your Spirit moves in powerful progress.
  8. Guide me to show love to my neighbors, to support the needy, visit the sick and prisoners.
  9. May I not return evil for evil, but do good to those who cause me grief and bless those who curse me.
  10. Make me humble, modest, pure, wise, and sincere in all manner of life.
  11. Help me be diligent, prudent, and upright in the pursuit of my calling.
  12. May my words be seasoned with salt, ones that defend the innocent, and may I always shame and despise an evil tongue.
  13. Fill my heart with many holy desires, give me hunger and thirst for righteousness, and long for the Spirit’s gifts.
  14. In short, may I practice “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, [help me] think about these things.”

Book Recommendation: For Pastoral Piety

0852346298mDr. Joel Beeke is the gentle giant of Reformed publishing. He is the edi­tor of Ban­ner of Sov­er­eign Grace Truth, edi­to­r­ial direc­tor of Ref­or­ma­tion Her­itage Books, pres­i­dent of Inher­i­tance Pub­lish­ers, and vice-president of the Dutch Reformed Trans­la­tion Soci­ety. He has writ­ten, co-authored, or edited sev­enty books, and over 2,000 to Reformed books, jour­nals, peri­od­i­cals, and ency­clo­pe­dias.

On top of all this Beeke is President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and a pastor at Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids. I often wonder how the man sleeps!

Today I want to point you to an oft-neglected treasure in The Trove of Beeke: Puritan Reformed Spirituality.

A PERPETUAL NEED

The older I get the more I am convinced, alongside Bonar and M’Cheyne, it’s not great talents God blesses as much as great likeness to Jesus Christ. If local churches are to see revival in our time what we need is ordinary pastors who are passionate about the means of grace and personal holiness. More than visionaries, pioneers, and innovators, the church needs pastors who walk in deep humility, love, and reverence before God.

We thus need, alongside the word and prayer, weapons for our pursuit of godliness. And it’s here that Puritan Reformed Spirituality steps up to the stage.

BIBLICAL SPIRITUALITY DONE RIGHT

In the foreword Beeke says,

The problem with most spirituality today is that it is not closely moored in Scripture and too often degenerates into unbiblical mysticism. In contrast, Reformed Christianity has followed a path of its own, largely determined by its concern to test all things by Scripture and to develop a spiritual life shaped by Scripture’s teachings and directives. Reformed spirituality is the outworking of the conviction that ‘all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness’ (2 Tim. 3:16). In dependence upon the Holy Spirit, it aims to achieve what John Murray called ‘intelligent piety,’ wedding scriptural knowledge and heartfelt piety.

Amen. Intelligent piety is our target and Puritan Reformed Spirituality will help you see how spiritual giants of days gone by have aimed for and hit that target’s bull’s-eye.

This book something of a “Best of Beeke” as most of the chapters were previously published in various edited volumes or journals. Therefore, you can read at random and will not lose anything by way of flow or argument. Read all of it, but I’ve found the following chapters unusually challenging:

  • “Calvin on Piety”
  • “The Puritan Practice of Meditation”
  • “The Life and Writings of John Brown of Haddington”
  • “Willem Teellinck and The Path of True Godliness
  • “Cultivating Holiness”
  • “The Lasting Power of Reformed Experiential Preaching”

In these pages you will also learn at the feet of William Ames, Thomas Boston, the Erskine brothers, Witsius, and Frelinghuysen. Beeke’s book is a model of how to wed historical theology to practical ministry. Tolle lege!