The Grace to Read God’s Book of Creation

While most are quite familiar with the hymn Amazing Grace by John Newton, many are less aware of his many other hymns. Below is one that has blessed my heart today and made me so thankful, once again, for God's abundant grace toward those who are His.

The Book of Creation (Hymn 81)

The book of nature open lies, With much instruction stor’d;
But till the Lord anoints our eyes, We cannot read a word.

Philosophers have por’d in vain, And guess’d from age to age:
For reason’s eye could ne’er attain To understand a page.

Though to each star they give a name, Its size and motions teach;
The truths which all the stars proclaim, Their wisdom cannot reach.

With skill to measure earth and sea, And weigh the subtile air;
They cannot, Lord, discover thee, though present ev’rywhere.

The knowledge of the saints excels The wisdom of the schools;
To them his secrets God reveals, Though men account them fools.

To them the sun and stars on high, The flowers that paint the field,
And all the artless birds that fly, Divine instruction yield.

The creatures in their senses press, As witnesses to prove
Their Saviour’s power and faithfulness, His providence and love.

Thus may we study nature’s book, To make us wise indeed!
And pity those who only look At what they cannot read.

The Gracious Providence of Godly Parents

 Today the words of John Flavel (1628-1691) have once again brought forth a great ocean of sweet thoughts to bless my heart and elicit prayers of thanksgiving to our great God.  As you read the following excerpt from Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence, may your heart swell to greater heights of gratitude, whether by the grace of God you are in the first or the fiftieth generation of a family of faithful believers.

O, it is no common mercy to descend from pious parents. Some of us do not only owe our natural life to them, as instruments of our beings, but our spiritual and eternal life also. It was no small mercy to Timothy to be descended from such progenitors (2 Tim. 1. 5), nor to Augustine that he had such a mother as Monica, who planted in his mind the precepts of life with her words, watered them with her tears, and nourished them with her example. We will a little more particularly inspect this mercy, and in so doing we shall find manifold mercies contained in it.

What a mercy was it to us to have parents that prayed for us before they had us, as well as in our infancy, when we could not pray for ourselves? Thus did Abraham (Gen. 15. 2) and Hannah (1 Sam. 1. 10, 11), and probably some here are the fruits and returns of their parents’ prayers. This was that holy course they continued all their days for you, carrying all your concerns, especially your eternal ones, before the Lord with their own; and pouring out their souls to God so affectionately for you, when their eye-strings and heart-strings were breaking. O put a value upon such mercies, for they are precious. It is a greater mercy to descend from praying parents than from the loins of nobles. See Job’s pious practice (1. 5).

What a special mercy was it to us to have the excrescences of corruption nipped in the bud by their pious and careful discipline! We now understand what a critical and dangerous season youth is, the wonderful proclivity of that age to every thing that is evil. Why else are they called youthful lusts (2 Tim. 2. 22)? When David asks: ‘Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?’ it is plainly enough implied in the very question that the way he takes lies through the pollutions of the world in his youth (Ps. 119. 9). When you find a David praying that God would ‘not remember the sins of my youth’ (Ps. 25. 7), and a Job bitterly complaining that God ‘made me to possess the iniquities of my youth’ (13. 26), surely you cannot but reflect with a very thankful heart upon those happy means by which the corruption of your nature was happily prevented, or restrained in your youth.

And how great a mercy was it that we had parents who carefully instilled the good knowledge of God into our souls in our tender years? How diligent was Abraham in this duty (Gen. 18. 19), and David (1 Chron. 28. 9)! We have some of us had parents who might say to us, as the apostle: ‘My little children of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you’ (Gal. 4. 19). As they longed for us before they had us and rejoiced in us when they had us, so they could not endure to think that when they could have us no more, the devil should. As they thought no pains, care or cost too much for our bodies, to feed them, clothe and heal them; so did they think no prayers, counsels, or tears, too much for our souls, that they might be saved. They knew a parting time would come between them and us, and did strive to make it as easy and comfortable to them as they could, by leaving us in Christ and within the blessed bond of His covenant.

They were not glad that we had health and indifferent whether we had grace. They felt the miseries of our souls as much as of our bodies; and nothing was more desirable to them than that they might say in the great day: ‘Lord, here am I and the children which thou hast given me.’

And was it not a special favour to us to have parents that went before us as patterns of holiness, and beat the path to heaven for us by their examples? They could say to us: ‘those things ye have heard and seen in me, do’ (Phil. 4. 9); and ‘be ye followers of me, as also I am of Christ’ (1 Cor. 11. 1). The parents’ life is the child’s copy. O. it is no common mercy to have a fair copy set before us, especially in the moulding age; we saw what they did, as well as heard what they said. It was Abraham’s commendation, ‘that he commanded his children, and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord.’ And such mercies some of us have had also....

If any shall say this was not their case, they had little help heavenward from their parents, so such I reply as follows.

If you had little furtherance, yet own it as a special providence that you had no hindrance; or, if you had opposition, yet admire the grace of God in plucking you out by a wonderful distinguishing hand of mercy from among them and keeping alive the languishing sparks of grace amidst the floods of opposition. And learn from hence, if God give you a posterity of your own, to be so much the more strict and careful of family duties, by how much you have acutely felt the want of it in yourselves....

Should you wish to read more, Flavel’s work is available online at http://www.reformedliterature.com/flavel-the-mystery-of-providence.php.

Simple Joshua 1:8 Goals

“Do not let this Book of the law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”  Joshua 1:8

Over the years I have not always been consistent to give priority time to God in disciplined reading, prayer and meditation on the Bible.  Some recent questions from some other seminary wives have driven me back to God’s word for some goals/ideas/ways to grow in this discipline.  For whatever they are worth, here are some thoughts that were shared (and this is NOT all-inclusive. . .just some ideas!).

Simple Goals for Growing in Personal Time with God

  1. Avoid legalism (especially about format, time, location, etc) but be compelled by love to spend more time with God (1 John 4:19)

  2. Try something and do what works (1 Thess. 5:21)

  3. Look for idle/idol spent moments (things that waste time, or things that you would rather do than read your Bible or pray) and change how you spend them or don’t do those things until you have spent time with God (1 Thess. 5:14)

  4. Read, meditate, pray and apply (James 1:22-25 and Psalm 1) Allow God to CHANGE you by going that tiny step further by meditating and applying what you read.

  5. Ask God for hunger, thirst and a willing spirit (James 1:5, Mt. 5:6 and Psalm 51:12)

  6. Meditate on God’s love, character and works - this can make you long for more  (Ps. 103, 116, 111, Isaiah 55, if you need a place to start)

  7. Ask yourself if you have made a habit of starving yourself so badly by neglecting time with God that you don’t even know what you are missing anymore.  Reverse the pattern and make yourself hungry  by reintroducing spiritual food.

  8. Seek godly accountability (Proverbs 13:20, Eccl. 4:9-12)

Two sides of creatureliness

For quite some time I’ve really appreciated the idea of creatureliness.  I’m not sure where I first heard the term;  I don’t recall ever seeing the idea discussed in print, though I suppose I may have–my memory is not the best.  However, I DID see the word this morning as I was reading The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul (a good book–I recommend it).  He has some good thoughts about the idea of creatureliness…some of which I had not previously considered in the way he does.  In fact, I would sort of say that, while I had previously understood one aspect of creatureliness, he presents a different but very important way of thinking about this concept.  Here, then, is a brief discussion of creatureliness, in two parts.

Part 1 (the part of creatureliness I previously understood):

God created all things in the way that He chose.  When created things (i.e. creatures) live according to the way He designed, we not only bring glory to Him but also find blessedness, peace, and fulfillment.  One way we live according to God’s design is by flourishing and growing in the places He puts us and the ways He tells us we should.  For instance, we can:

  • pursue wisdom

  • pursue the knowledge of Him

  • pursue spiritual growth

  • be fruitful and multiply

  • love and serve others

  • be creative

  • MANY more!

Another way we live according to God’s design is by accepting–even embracing–our limitations.  This means that we can bring glory to God and rejoice in doing things that we might not otherwise think about in that way:

  • going to sleep on time and resting our bodies properly (side note: C. J. Mahaney’s book Humility: True Greatness has a brief but very good discussion of this.)

  • stopping work for rest, food, and of course worship

  • taking care when we are sick

  • not trying to take on more work than we can handle, and not thinking of our work as over-important (i.e. limiting self-imposed stress)

In these ways, recognizing and embracing our creaturely status can help us to live well in the ways that God intended for us.  It brings Him glory because by doing these things, we demonstrate that we recognize His wisdom in giving us all that we need for life and godliness. It brings us peace because we are rejoicing in what God has given us to do, and not attempting to reach beyond our limits.  (Of course, I do not mean we must settle for complacency and mediocrity!  We can reach far, and pursue true human greatness while still recognizing the bounds of our humanity!)  There are a variety of exciting implications for recognizing and living according to our creaturely status.    

Part II (another side of creatureliness):

After reading Sproul, I think the above understanding of creatureliness, while important and correct, is just a little bit too one-sided.  Even though it acknowledges God as creator, it focuses on us:  what we do (or should do), and why we can rejoice in our limitations.  Yet our understanding of creatureliness should begin not with the creature, but with the Creator.  Sproul writes:

…the clearest sensation that human beings have when they experience the holy is an overpowering and overwhelming sense of creatureliness.  That is, when we are aware of the presence of God, we become most aware of ourselves as creatures.  When we meet the Absolute, we know immediately that we are not absolute.  When we meet the Infinite, we become acutely conscious that we are finite.  When we meet the Eternal, we know we are temporal.  To meet God is a powerful study in contrasts

 

Being reminded that we are creatures is not always a pleasant thing.  The words of Satan’s original temptation are hard to erase from our minds. “Ye shall be as gods” (Gen. 3:5, KJV).  This ghastly lie of Satan’s is one lie we would dearly love to be able to believe…

Death reminds us that we are creatures.  Yet as fearsome as death is, it is nothing compared with meeting a holy God.  When we encounter him, the totality of our creatureliness breaks upon us and shatters the myth that we have believed about ourselves, the myth that we are demigods, junior-grade deities who will try to live forever.  (R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, 2nd edn.  Tyndale, 1998, 54-55)

Thus, understanding God and His holiness implicitly makes us understand our creatureliness.  This is good and right–but not easy!  It is easier, I think, to start with our lack and then think about ways we can excel.  Yet when our focus is on God, it still brings the peace and joy of creaturely living that I described above in Part I–but, I would say, it brings that peace and joy more fully because the joy is not in our life, but in God’s power and our participation in His plan for all things.I am sure there is more to be said about creatureliness.  But perhaps this is a good start.  May God grant that we see His holy transcendence and have a correct estimate of ourselves in comparison–nevertheless rejoicing because He has bountifully given us His favor and an inheritance forever with Him through His Son.

Of Love and Adoption

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.

In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.”

Ephesians 1:3-6

Dave and Stacey (friends of ours) recently adopted a little girl from China.   For many months now, we have had the privilege of praying for them as they have sought the Lord’s will for their family, completed all the paperwork, and waited patiently for the time to come when they would make the trip to China, meet two-year-old little Anna for the first time, and bring her home as their daughter.  When the time arrived, friends and family were kept up-to-date through a blog set up to chronicle their 17-day trip.  We read of their first meeting:

"We arrived to a very crowded building and they brought Anna in.  As soon as they said her name, she started screaming and arching her back-she clearly understood part of what was happening.  I picked her up and she continued to scream louder and smack me with her sunglasses several times…   She refused to eat anything…  She’s also refused drinking anything…  So much for a 2 year old to comprehend-it’s heart breaking to see how hard it is on her and how she clings to a cheap pair of sunglasses-it’s all she has now…   Oh what love God has given us for her-she is beautiful in our eyes.  I am anticipating the day when we can calm her tears and fears, but that will take time.  For now, we comfort and hold her and try to show her we love her as much as we can.”

We read of their days of getting to know one another:

"Today we went to a local park…  She ran and ran.  The problem is that she thinks it’s funny to run away from us…  She is learning not to hit even though she means it to be funny.  Also we got a kiss on the cheek today…  Grossest moment of the day was this afternoon-we went to get her passport processed at the Police Department.  She thought it was funny to run and grab and then, gulp, eat those little white pebbles that sit on top of the cigarette discarder.  She is not a picky eater by any means.”

We read of the culmination of all their plans and prayers:

"It’s official-Anna is (our daughter)…We will receive Anna’s visa in a sealed envelope tomorrow.  Then, she will be a US citizen when the plane touches US soil.”

In many very powerful ways, Anna’s adoption is a picture of God’s adoption of us.  This became even more clear to me as I made a list of all the ways Dave and Stacey set their love on a little girl that didn’t even know them.

  • They chose her before she ever knew them
  • They pursued her (adoption papers, forms, airline tickets)
  • They prayed for her (physical needs and spiritual needs)
  • They planned for her, preparing not only for her adoption, but also her arrival in their home
  • They waited eagerly for the time of her adoption
  • They thought about her (wondering what her little toes and hands looked like, anticipating her first smile)
  • They made known their love for her
  • They wrote letters to her, even before they had met
  • They sacrificed for her: Money, Time, Personal comfort (Dave does not enjoy flying!)
  • They anticipated and lovingly bore her anger and abuse (hitting, screaming, kicking, crying)
  • They were patient with her (long-suffering)
  • They fully committed to her (entering into a forever commitment)
  • They visited the orphanage where she had stayed and the place where she was abandoned (helping them to know, understand and sympathize with her)
  • They desired for her to know them (time with her, pictures and videos from other family members)
  • They provided her with earthly comforts (a bed, shelter, food, clothing)
  • They gave her gifts (a new hat, new pajamas)
  • They helped her feel secure (carrying, rocking and holding her)
  • They provided things to give her joy…and delighted in her smiles and laughter
  • They experienced life together (Dave and Stacey never leaving her, always watching over her, as they explored the world together)
  • They desired to communicate with her (teaching her new words, listening to her sing in her own language, telling and showing her about the greatest love:  the love of God in Christ)
  • They took care of her physical health (medical appointments, caring for her when she was sick)
  • They kept her safe (pursuing her when she ran away from them, warning her of danger, keeping her from eating foul things)
  • Their heart experienced great joy when she made known her love for them (by way of kisses and smiles)
  • They acted on her behalf, giving her a future and a hope (a future which she did not have and had no way of attaining)
  • They were willing to cause her temporal and temporary pain in order to give her future happiness and security
  • They recorded her tears (hating to distress her, but willing to do so for her good)
  • They sealed the adoption (making it official, legal and binding)
  • They welcomed her into their home
  • They gave her an inheritance (which she will only slowly begin to know and appreciate)
  • They involved others in her adoption (particularly in praying for her)
  • They openly loved and appreciated each other (giving a solid foundation for the family)
  • They continually intercede for her before the throne of God

The point is this:  As astounding as it is, the love parents display in adopting a child is but a small illustration of the amazing love God displays in adopting us as His children.  Anna is not yet in a position to give thanks for the abundant love that has been shown to her.  We are.

 

Well Supplied

Isaac Watts (1674-1748), who wrote  such beloved hymns as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “Joy to the World,” also wrote hundreds of hymns which are virtually unknown.Three of his lesser-known hymns are based on the well-known Psalm 23…and each one is a precious reminder of the wonder of having the Lord God as our Shepherd.  Below are the first stanzas from each of these three hymns.  Given the uncertainty of the world in which we live, and both the physical and spiritual needs we all have, these are stanzas well worthy of our contemplation!  I have bolded the wording which has had the greatest impact on my heart today. The phrase in italics comes in a close second.  The result:  Greater stillness of heart and trust in God’s care.

My Shepherd is the living Lord; Now shall my wants be well supplied; His providence and holy word Become my safety and my guide. My Shepherd will supply my need, Jehovah is his name; In pastures fresh he makes me feed, Beside the living stream. The Lord my Shepherd is, I shall be well supplied; Since he is mine and I am his, What can I want beside?

The Sea of God's Mercies

With spring Bible study classes complete and conferences past, I have recently had some time to spend in the works of some of my favorite Puritan authors.  Upon reading portions of The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs, I was once again struck by this thought which I had long ago marked in the margin.

It is a saying of Luther:  ‘The sea of God’s mercies should swallow up all our particular afflictions.’  Name any affliction that is upon you:  there is a sea of mercy to swallow it up.  If you pour a pailful of water on the floor of your house, it makes a great show, but if you throw it into the sea, there is no sign of it.  So, afflictions considered in themselves, we think are very great, but let them be considered with the sea of God’s mercies we enjoy, and then they are not so much, they are nothing in comparison.

How grateful I am for these faithful believers who have come before us, and for God’s grace in preserving their thoughts…for a heart such as mine in a time such as ours!

A Needed Reminder

This evening as I was reading chapter two of a new book entitled Helpful Truth in Past Places written by Mark Deckard, I encountered a series of principles he quotes from a lecture given by Sinclair Ferguson.  Although all of these principles are well known to me and established in my heart through many scriptural passages and examples, I found myself thinking how quickly and easily these truths can fade from conscious thought.  And so, to help me reestablish these truths…and hopefully, to also encourage you…here are ten of Ferguson’s thoughts:

  • God is in control of his universe.
  • God is working out his perfect purposes.
  • God is not my servant.
  • God’s ways are far more mysterious and wonderful than I can understand.
  • God is good–all of the time; I can trust him–all of the time.
  • God’s timetable is not the same as mine.
  • God is far more interested in what I become than in what I do.
  • Freedom from suffering is not part of the promise of the Christian gospel.
  • Suffering is an integral part of the Christian life.
  • God’s purposes, not mine, are what bring him glory.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.  Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.  Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. 

Let the favor of the LORD our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands…yes, establish the work of our hands!

Psalm 90:14-17

 

 

Fear not.

Today I read some comforting words from Scottish minister Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), from a sermon on Isaiah 41:14-16.  That text says, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel…”Yet why shouldn’t we fear when we are faced with enemies and many fearful things?  Only because our trust is in the One who is strong enough to defend us.  Because of His great power, we know we have security in His care…and that unfailing care motivates us to act boldly and live fearlessly.  Rutherford explains:”‘I will help thee, saith the Lord…’  What ground of comfort were this if it were said by one that could not help?–but the Lord says it.”…He is a king of His word.  He helps indeed where He promises.  When God says ‘Fear not,’ albeit thou wert compassed about [even if you were surrounded] with enemies on all sides, and there were as many devils round about you as there are piles of grass upon the earth…thou needst not to fear; thou may go through the sea then, and the sea shall not drown you; thou may’st dance on the grave, for the grave shall not rot you.  And so this is a well-fard [well-favoured] word: ‘I will keep thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.’”

From Quaint Sermons of Samuel Rutherford (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1999), 2, 13.

Who can compare?

Yesterday was a wonderful day. . .so wonderful that I’ve had a hard time deciding which was the REAL highlight of my day: reuniting with some of our church family from South Carolina, hearing RC Sproul and Mark Dever speak, or noticing some lilies of the valley (our wedding flowers) blooming out my window!!

lilies.jpg


Jeremy and I have been married 12 years and I’ve tried growing these flowers before, and it has just never worked. We’ve lived seven different places, and this location is, by far, the worst location of those seven, when it comes to nature (we are in the city in a tiny apartment). But outside my little kitchen window I can see a mass of these beautiful flowers, just growing wild on a CLIFF pushing through wild ivy and other stuff!  It feels like a special gift straight from the God who made me and knew I would see it as a personal gift from HIM (Matthew 6:25-34).  RC Sproul and other great men spoke to over 7,000 people today, BUT God, HIMSELF speaks straight to me. . . how can that compare???  My heart worships more humbly tonight.