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.

24 Points on Piety

Piety in the Ministry

“Piety,” is one of those words I’d love to recover and restore to a prominent place in gospel ministry.

I love how it rolls rhetorically, but my affection for it is ultimately biblical. Paul told Timothy, “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Pastors must be practitioners of piety.

Old Princeton to the Rescue

The founders of Princeton Theological Seminary established the school with the ambition that it be “a nursery of vital piety.” Archibald Alexander embodied this dream in the seminary’s earliest years. He insisted, “Eminent piety should be earnestly sought after and assiduously cultivated.” To help his ministerial students see the treasure of piety, Alexander—in a lecture entitled “Qualifications for Pastoral Office—offered the following advantages of pursuing piety and helps to maintaining piety.

14 Advantages of Pursuing Piety

  1. Some degree of eminence in piety is requisite for our own satisfaction.
  2. The work is so great and sacred, and the consequences so awful, that none will duly feel and act under the responsibilities of the office, but one whose heart is warmed with the fervent love to Christ and the souls of men.
  3. The duties of the ministry will never be faithfully performed by any one but he who is deeply under the influence of divine truth. He will become indolent and careless or will sink into discouragement—or will become entangled with worldly engagements.
  4. He will not be able to converse with edification to the people without this.
  5. It is necessary to preserve the minister from ambition and vain glory.
  6. Necessary to make him speak with confidence of the excellency and comforts of true piety.
  7. Eminent piety is requisite to enable a minister to compose sermons induced with the right spirit. To feed the devotions of the people, etc.
  8. Without a good degree of eminence in piety, the minsters example will not be savory and consistent. it is necessary to preserve him from sin. He should be higher than all the people in spiritual attainments.
  9. It will greatly increase his influence.
  10. Will enable him to bear with patience the persecution of enemies.
  11. It will be better than all rules of rhetoric in the delivery of sermons.
  12. It will make the work of the ministry delightful.
  13. Will prepare for sickness and death.
  14. Eminent piety will diffuse a solemn seriousness, over the manners. Gravity, composure of countenance—dignity of demeanor—propriety in every word, look and gesture.

10 Helps to Maintaining Piety

  1. You should set yourselves to correct your own faults and imperfections.
  2. You should set before you a high standard of moral excellence.
  3. There must be no procrastination of this business.
  4. You must live under the habitual influence of eternal things.
  5. You must be deeply sensible of your own inability to attain this excellence by your own efforts alone.
  6. You must not despond, or despair of success if you seem for a long time to make no progress.
  7. Avail yourself of your imperfections & faults to measure your humility & caution.
  8. Let the good example and spirit of other ministers enrich you but beware of catching from them a worldly spirit.
  9. Read frequently the memoirs of the most devoted & pious servants of Jesus Christ.
  10. Pray without ceasing for aid from above.

In the Spiritual Gym

I say, “Let the recovery and restoration of piety to its place of necessity continue.” Of particular encouragement, for me at least, is Alexander’s realism about the whole endeavor: “You must not despond, or despair of success if you seem for a long time to make no progress.” I often despair, especially at the end of another year, of my small growth in holiness. I find myself in these days freshly stirred to pray fervently for greater holiness in 2016.

Will you join me?

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.

10 Pitfalls in the Pursuit of Purity

Fighting for Purity

On February 1, 1995 John Piper preached a message at Northwestern College’s chapel service on “Avoiding Sexual Sin.” Oh, how needed the message remains 20 years later! Is there any greater fight for the pastor than the fight for purity? For most, it is the fight.

With his usual passion and sagacity Piper gives Christian leaders and pastors “10 Sexual Pitfalls and Strategies for Protection” in hope “that this Biblical expose of the deceitfulness of sin will intensify our vigilance and keep us pure for the greatest work in the world.” They are well worth your meditation and prayer as you labor for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

10 Pitfalls and Protections

1. PITFALL: Falling in love with the present world. “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” (2 Timothy 4:10)

  • PROTECTION: Think long and hard about the deadly poison of world-love and ponder the never-ending delights of the mountain spring of God’s approval and fellowship and beauty.

2. PITFALL: Loss of horror at offending the majesty of God’s holiness through sin. “Nathan said to David, ‘Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? . . . Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and taken the wife of Uriah?'” (2 Sam. 12:7-10).

  • PROTECTION: Meditate on the Biblical truth that all our acts are acts toward God and not just toward man. . . .and that God is so holy and pure that he will not countenance the slightest sin, but hates it with omnipotent hatred. . . .and that the holiness of God is the most valuable treasure in the universe and the very deepest of delights to those whose way is pure.

3. PITFALL: A sense of immunity from accountability and authority. “I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves preeminence, does not acknowledge my authority.” (3 John 9)

  • PROTECTION: Submit yourself to a council of Biblically minded, spiritually wise advisers.

4. PITFALL: Succumbing to itching ears as love of truth evaporates. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own liking, and will turn away from listening to the truth.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)

  • PROTECTION: Cultivate a love for truth, even in its smallest details, and turn a deaf ear to the desires of men to have their ears scratched with vague moralisms that massage them in their sin.

5. PITFALL: A vanishing attention to Scripture. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

  • PROTECTION: Give yourself untiringly to the study, meditation and memorization of Holy Scripture.

6. PITFALL: A growing disregard for the spiritual good of his followers. An Old Testament refrain is that when the king sinned, the people were ruined. “The Lord will smite Israel. . . and give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and which he made Israel to sin.” (1 Kings 14:15-16)

  • PROTECTION: Labor in praying and caring to stir up your heart to love all your people.

7. PITFALL: Disregard for the Biblical mystery of marriage. “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the church.” (Eph. 5:32)

  • PROTECTION: Remind yourself repeatedly that your marriage is a living drama of Christ’s relationship to the church. Let your thoughts about your spouse rise from the ordinary to the extraordinary by faith in the truth of Ephesians 5:32.

8. PITFALL: Compartmentalizing of the leader’s life. In the New Testament the leader’s home life is an essential part of his qualification for church leadership (1 Tim. 3:4,12). In other words, the New Testament will not allow us to compartmentalize our life so that some parts of it are irrelevant to the issue of leadership.

  • PROTECTION: View everything—absolutely everything—as woven together by its relationship to the value of the glory of God.

9. PITFALL: A sense of being above the necessity of suffering and self-denial. “Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 2:3)

  • PROTECTION: Never forget the promise: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). And never forget that the Son of Man had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). And develop a Biblical theology of futility and suffering, especially from Romans 8:17-30.

10. PITFALL: Giving in to self-pity under the pressures and loneliness of leadership. The stronger the impulse of self-pity, the more inclined we are to reward ourselves with unusual treats. The more we pity ourselves for how hard life is the more easily we justify a little extra pleasure —even illicit sexual pleasure.

  • PROTECTION: Embrace the essence of “Christian Hedonism”—the doctrine that no one who suffers the loss of any earthly blessing in the service of Christ will fail to be repaid a hundred-fold now (with persecutions!) and in the age to come eternal life (Mark 10:29-30).

Read all this and more over on Desiring God.

Recent Reads

I love to read. By God’s grace I am a pretty fast reader; I usually read a couple books each week. I find it helpful to summarize my thoughts on each book and I offer those thoughts in the hope that you will be encouraged to either read or pass over the given title.

9780801026980mFor the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship by Daniel Block. I love to see scholars branch out and publish works outside their ordinary discipline. The church needs well-rounded scholars who can speak knowledgeably and winsomely to a whole host of issues. For the Glory of God finds Old Testament scholar Daniel Block employing his formidable exegetical skill on the topic of worship. I’ve always found Block to be a bit iconoclastic at times and that tendency is on display from the earliest pages of this book. He believes, and I’m inclined to agree, that too many of the standards works in the field of worship drive an unfortunate wedge between the two testaments’ instruction on worship. Block reveals greater unity across the canon on all kinds of worship matters. He defines true worship as “reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign in response to his gracious revelation of himself and in accord with his will.” With this definition in place he arranges his material topically, choosing to show how a given issue (such as the object of worship, the ordinances, music, and the proclamation of Scripture) develops across redemptive history. Every chapter is consumed with rigorous exegesis of the relevant texts, but practical application is never lacking as Block consistently offers logical and wise implications for worship in our day. For the Glory of God is one of my favorite reads of the year.

9781433541353mThe Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap Between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness by Kevin DeYoung. Of all the young and popular authors today, DeYoung is probably my favorite. His works are always full of wit, wisdom, and “ruthless Bible-centeredness” (to adjust Piper’s endorsement of this book). I think this is the fourth time I’ve read The Hole in Our Holiness in two years and I’m always challenged afresh in the pursuit of godliness. I love his attention to the breadth and diversity of motivations for holiness, his pastoral sensibility of treasuring a tender conscience, and his exhortation to extraordinary holiness through ordinary means. If you’ve yet to read this book, grab a copy, invite a friend to read it with you, and stir up one another to a joy-filled, purposeful striving after the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

TBBThe Baptized Body by Peter Leithart. Every month I meet with a group of pastors in our county for lunch and some “affectionately contentious fellowship.” One brother whom I particularly enjoy hanging out with is a voluminous reader and never ceases to suggest a title I “must read” on a given topic. A few months ago we were talking about baptism and he said, “You gotta read Peter Leithart and The Baptized Body.” Knowing my skepticism toward all things Federal Vision, he must have assumed I wasn’t going to buy a copy so he sent one in the mail. I thus felt duty-bound to read Leithart’s book-length answer to the question of, “Does baptism do anything to the baptized?” Leithart says, “Yes!” and I agree. We just disagree on what it actually does. Leithart goes father than I’m willing to go by saying the baptized are made partakers of all the benefits of Christ, even if they don’t truly believe in the Lord Jesus. Anyone familiar with Leithart and the Federal Vision hullabaloo of the last decade or so won’t find anything surprising here.

OSAn Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris. Have you heard of the Dreyfus Affair? If not, you are missing out on one of the more fascinating legal and political scandals that rocked the western world at the turn of the 20th century. In An Officer and a Spy the brilliant Robert Harris gives us a historically informed narrative of that most salacious of events. The book cover rightly captures the immense tension by saying, “A whistle-blower.  A witch hunt. A cover-up. Secret tribunals, out-of-control intelligence agencies, and government corruption. Welcome to 1890s Paris.” Alfred Dreyfus has been convicted of treason, sent off to prison on Devil’s Island, and publicly degraded from military rank. Harris focuses his retelling on Georges Picquart, the venerable investigator who lost his reputation and nearly his life in pursuit of the truth about Dreyfus. If you don’t know the history behind this story resist the temptation to look it up on Wikipedia, buy a copy of Harris’ novel, and find yourself enthralled.

9780230710160Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett. Edge of Eternity is the final entry in Follett’s smashingly successful “The Century Trilogy” and it’s also his most ambitious. At the risk of over-generalizing Fall of Giants dealt with World War I era and Winter of the World handled the World War II era. So what’s left for this final volume? The Cold War. While Edge of Eternity covers the swath of 1961-2008, more than 800 of the book’s nearly 1,100 pages are set between 1961 and ’68. Khrushchev, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights, and the Berlin Wall dominate the narrative with occasional forays into rock ‘n roll and the movement of free love. It’s all handled in typical Follett fashion: a unified tale told through the dual lenses of love and heartbreak. The sheer amount of time Follett covers ends up making the book more about breadth than depth, but Edge of Eternity is nevertheless a satisfying conclusion to a brilliant trilogy.

Click here to find other entries in the Recent Reads series.

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.”


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.


  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.


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.


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!

Visible Godliness

Job Title

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.


We don’t know who wrote the book of Job, but whoever did had a very specific intent with the book’s first five verses. The main point of the text is that we see Job’s character is one of unimpeachable integrity. We won’t be able to make sense of what happens in the conversation between Satan and God and then what falls upon Job if we don’t see the fullness of his faithful character. A character which other parts of sacred Scripture herald. In Ezekiel 14:20 Job is mentioned, alongside Noah and Daniel, as “righteous.” Then Jesus’ half-brother James, in a passage we read earlier tonight, commends the steadfastness of Job. Character always counts, uniquely so in this story.


1:1 says, “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.” And this first sentence gives us a few key elements to the story: who and where. The Hebrew literally reads, “A man there was . . .” So this is a story about a human being, who lived in “the land of Uz.” Uz was probably next to Edom, near modern-day Jordan, which was outside the original promised land, reminding us that God is the Lord of all nations. One thing we are not told is when this story takes place. As best we can tell he was a contemporary of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. Which is why many scholars believe that Job was one of the first books in the Bible to be written. So what’s this man like?

Notice how 1:1 continues by saying, “that man was blameless.To say he was “blameless” is not to say he was perfect, but it speaks to personal sincerity and integrity. It’s important for us to grasp, right from the outset, that blamelessness of Job. For a central theme of Job’s worthless counselors will be, “Your suffering is a result of your sin.” What Bildad proclaims as, “God will not reject a blameless man.” But we know something they do not: Job is blameless. So sin can’t be the cause of his suffering.

Additionally, Job is “upright”, a word which is closely related to righteousness and literally means “straight.” It gives us a sense of how he deals with people, fairly and justly.

Thirdly, Job is “one who feared God.” Here is the characteristic above all others, from the earliest of Bible books, which reflects the right tone of a sinner’s relationship to God. The fear of God has always been a preeminent feature of the people of God. It consists of reverence, awe, and submission and acknowledges God as the only supreme sovereign of the universe and thus everything must be done in reference to His greatness. I wonder what lies at the “affectional” center of your relationship with God. Do you have a central place in your life for the fear of God, for affectionate reverence as one old writer called it? If not, might you have lessened the great holiness of our Lord? Or, might you have lessened the heinousness of your sin against which God’s just holiness burns with an all-consuming fire? If that lessening of sin is true, let the final characteristic of Job challenge you, notice how 1:1 ends, Job also “turned away from evil.” To turn away from sin is to repent, so it appears as though Job walked through his days on the two spiritual feet of faith and repentance. Thomas Watson said faith and repentance are the two wings on which we fly to heaven.


This coming Saturday night, Lord willing, Emily and I will head out to Breckinridge, Colorado for our first vacation in about three years. We will head north up to Wichita, Kansas and then head due west for Denver. If you’ve ever driven that way you know western Kansas and eastern Colorado represent little more than the barrenness of Middle American plains. But in time distinguishing mountains burst forth on the horizon letting one know they’ve come to the Rockies.

The same thing is true of our life in Christ. God’s word says there are distinguishing marks of person who has been converted, when you see those marks you know you have come to a life redeemed by God. The genuine religion and righteousness of Job are revealed by his towering life of blamelessness, uprightness, fearing God, and shunning sin. If a good friend or loved one were to look at your life, what characteristics would they say are most prominent? If someone came to our church, what characteristics stick out in our fellowship? May it increasingly be true that they first notice, like we see here in Job, fruits of godliness.

This post is adapted from my recent sermon, “A Servant Named Job,” on Job 1:1-5.

A Series Worth Serious Investment: Vol. 4

Pastors and Reading

A few years ago Joel Beeke and Michael Haykin quietly began editing a series from Reformation Heritage entitled, “Profiles in Reformed Spirituality.” Oh how I wish more people know about this series. Each book is like a stick of dynamite for pastoral piety.


In their introduction to the series the editors write,

Charles Dickens’s famous line in A Tale of Two Cities—“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”— seems well suited to western evangelicalism since the 1960s. On the one hand, these decades have seen much for which to praise God and to rejoice. In His goodness and grace, for instance, Reformed truth is no longer a house under siege. Growing numbers identify themselves theologically with what we hold to be biblical truth, namely, Reformed theology and piety. And yet, as an increasing number of Reformed authors have noted, there are many sectors of the surrounding western evangelicalism that are characterized by great shallowness and a trivialization of the weighty things of God. So much of evangelical worship seems barren. And when it comes to spirituality, there is little evidence of the riches of our heritage as Reformed evangelicals.

As it was at the time of the Reformation, when the watchword was ad fontes—“back to the sources”—so it is now: The way forward is backward. We need to go back to the spiritual heritage of Reformed evangelicalism to find the pathway forward. We cannot live in the past; to attempt to do so would be antiquarianism. But our Reformed forebearers in the faith can teach us much about Christianity, its doctrines, its passions, and its fruit.


One of the series’ greatest assets is how each volume masterfully distills one man’s teaching on and practice of holiness into a bit-size book. In many ways, these titles would be great supplements for morning devotions. There are currently twelve volumes in the series, with more on the way. Here are four titles I’d recommend checking out first; two towering giants of theology and two lesser known, but profoundly gifted pastors.1

asweetflame_front__61096__73835.1294352920.1280.1280A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards. A Sweet Flame introduces readers to the piety of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Dr. Haykin’s biographical sketch of Edwards captures the importance the New England minister placed on Scripture, family piety, and the church’s reliance upon God. The remainder of the book presents 26 selections from various letters written by Edwards, two written by family members at his death, and an appendix drawing upon Edwards’s last will and the inventor of his estate.

habitual_front__18033__88878.1294354106.1280.1280A Habitual Sight of Him: The Christ-Centered Piety of Thomas Goodwin. Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680) was a faithful pastor, Westminster divine, advisor to Oliver Cromwell, and president of Magdalen College, Oxford. In this book, Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones acquaint the reader with Goodwin through an informative biographical introduction. The remainder of the book, 35 selections from across the works of Goodwin, displays Goodwin’s constant attention to Christ in his various theological engagements. You will learn much about the life and works of this influential Puritan, and perhaps, be strengthened with a habitual sight of Christ.

yuille_trading_and_thriving__46266__96212.1294352921.1280.1280Trading and Thriving in Godliness: The Piety of George Swinnock. George Swinnock (1627–1673) was a gifted English Puritan, known for his vivid illustrations of biblical truth. In “Trading and Thriving in Godliness”, J. Stephen Yuille highlights Swinnock’s conviction that godliness is the primary employment of every Christian. Yuille’s introductory essay analyzes the influences on, groundwork for, and expressions of piety in Swinnock’s life and thought. The book also contains fifty selections from Swinnock’s writings, exemplify his teaching on the foundation, door, value, pursuit, nature, means, and motives to godliness.

devoted__59751__88595.1294352920.1280.1280Devoted to the Service of the Temple: Piety, Persecution, and Ministry in the Writings of Hercules Collins. While largely forgotten in modern times, Hercules Collins (1646/1702) was highly influential among the late 17th and early 18th century Calvinistic Baptists of London. Through a biographical sketch and 35 sample selections collected from Collin’s writings, Michael A.G. Haykin and Stee Weaver introduce us to the vibrant spirituality of this colossal figure.

Click here to see previous entries in the “A Series Worth Serious Investment” series.

  1. Book descriptions taken from the publisher.