Don’t Give Up On A Sinner! (Spencer)

I was recently reading part of A Pastor’s Sketches again and I found a paragraph I had marked up quite a bit.  Turns out I had blogged on this already (May 2017), so I thought I’d post it again.  Here it is:

Sometime around the middle of the 19th century a woman spoke to Rev. Ichabod Spencer about the things of the Christian faith.  After the discussion, the woman was interested in becoming a Christian.  Spencer met with her many times over the next two years.  Over and over Spencer told her about sin, repentance, faith in Christ, and what it means to be a disciple.  Over and over he showed her the verses about these truths.

For reasons only God knows, she was very slow to believe.  She just couldn’t quite commit.  Spencer had talked to her so many times he became weary of talking to her; he even was tempted to tell her, “I’ve said everything that needs to be said.  Don’t see me anymore.”  It got to the point where he was annoyed when he saw her coming to talk, which made him feel guilty about it.  He never did turn her away simply because he knew the agony she was in.  Spencer noted that he had never spent so much time talking to an unbeliever about the faith.  To make a long two-year story short, by God’s grace the woman finally did come to faith, as did her husband, her sister, and some of her friends.  After telling this story, Spencer wrote this:

“Ministers ought never to despair of the salvation of any sinner.  To despair of any one is just the way to make him despair of himself.  Many have been ruined in this way, probably.  We ought to expect sinners to repent – and treat them accordingly.  Who shall limit the Holy One of Israel?  It took me long to learn the lesson, but I have learned never to give up a sinner.  We must urge the duty of an immediate faith and repentance, as the Bible does so continually; but we must be careful to enjoin this duty in such a manner that, if it is not immediately done, the individual shall not be led or left to cease seeking God.  Many a sinner turns back, when just at the door of heaven.”

Ichabod Spencer, A Pastor’s Sketches, II.III.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Why Does God Make Us Wait?

Quite often waiting is very difficult.  In our instant culture, most of the time we don’t even like waiting one week for a package to come in the mail; we get impatient if our internet is a tiny bit slower than usual or if our data connection isn’t lightning fast.  Waiting can be frustrating!

When it comes to the Christian faith there is a lot of waiting involved.  God’s people are already justified, but not yet fully sanctified.  We have been saved, but we don’t yet have full and complete deliverance.  We have the promise of eternal life but don’t yet experience it.  God promised that he will glorify all of his people, but that’s something for which we still wait.  Christ will come again to make all things new, but we don’t know when.  Therefore we wait and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”  Sometimes in the Christian life, waiting is hard and we get impatient.  We even ask: “Why does God make us wait so long?”

William Gurnall answered this question with another question:

Why does God make any promise at all to his creatures?  This may well be asked, considering that God is free from owing any kindness to his creatures; till, by the mere good pleasure of his will he put himself into covenant bonds, and made himself, by his promise, a debtor to his elect.  This shows that the former question is flippant and over-bold, as if some great rich man should make a poor beggar that is a stranger to him his heir, and when he tells him this, the poor man asks, ‘But why should I wait so long for it?’

Truly, any time is too soon for him to receive a mercy from God that thinks God’s time in sending it is too late.

Gurnall goes on to say that impatience in waiting for God’s promises to come true arises from our selfishness since we prefer our own contentment and satisfaction before God’s glory.  Impatience also arises from ingratitude and forgetfulness (Ps. 106.13).

To combat spiritual impatience, we need to pray for more hope and patience.  Here’s Gurnall again:

“Patience is the back on which the Christian’s burdens are carried, and hope is the pillow between the back and the burden, to make it sit easy.”

God wasn’t obligated to make any good promises to sinners like us.  But in his sovereign and free mercy, he did promise salvation and all the blessings that go with it. Therefore, it’s fitting and right to be patient and to say that his timing is best.  And we put on “the hope of salvation as a helmet,” knowing he will keep his promise (1 Thes. 5:8)!  “And this is what he promised us – eternal life” (1 John 2:25 NIV).

The above-edited quote by William Gurnall is found in volume 2 of The Christian in Complete Armor, p. 151-2.

Shane Lems

Sanctification: A Slow Work of God’s Grace

Faith and Life  The Westminster Larger Catechism, among other things, says that sanctification is “a work of God’s grace” wherein his people “more and more die unto sin and rise unto newness of life” (Q/A 75).  Here’s how B. B. Warfield concludes a sermon on this topic from 2 Thessalonians 5:22-23.  This is an outstanding and much-needed reminder to be patient with God’s process of making us more like Christ.

“Certainly the gradualness of this process ought not to disturb us. It may be inexplicable to us that the Almighty God acts by way of process. But that is revealed to us as His chosen mode of operation in every sphere of His work, and should not surprise us here. He could, no doubt, make the soul perfect in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye; just as He could give us each a perfect body at the very instant of our believing. He does not.

The removal of the stains and effects of sin—in an evil heart and in a sick and dying body—is accomplished in a slow process. We all grow sick and die—though Jesus has taken on His broad shoulders (among the other penalties of sin) all our sicknesses and death itself. And we still struggle with the remainders of indwelling sin; though Jesus has bought for us the sanctifying operations of the Spirit. To us it is a weary process. But it is God’s way. And He does all things well. And the weariness of the struggle is illuminated by hope.

After a while!—we may say; after a while! Or as Paul puts it: Faithful is He that calls us—who also will do it. He will do it! And so, after a while, our spirit, and soul and body shall be made blamelessly perfect, all to be so presented before our Lord, at that Day. Let us praise the Lord for the glorious prospect!”

B. B. Warfield, Faith and Life (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 1990), 372.

rev shane lems

A Pastor Is Not A Tour Guide

Here’s the excellent opening to Eugene Peterson’s great book: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (p. 16-17).

“I don’t know what it has been like for pastors in other culture and previous centuries, but I am quite sure that for a pastor in Western culture at the dawn of the twenty-first century, the aspect of [the biblical word] ‘world’ that makes the work of leading Christians in the way of faith most difficult is what Gore Vidal has analyzed as ‘today’s passion for the immediate and the casual.’  Everyone is in a hurry.  The persons whom I lead in worship, among whom I counsel, visit, pray, preach and teach, want shortcuts.  They want me to help them fill out the form that will get them instant credit (in eternity).  They are impatient for results.  They have adopted the lifestyle of a tourist and only want the high points.”

“But a pastor is not a tour guide.  I have no interest in telling apocryphal religious stories at and around dubiously identified sacred sites.  The Christian life cannot mature under such conditions and in such ways.”

“Friedrich Nietzsche, who saw this area of spiritual truth at least with great clarity, wrote, ‘The essential thing “in heaven and earth” is…that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”  It is this ‘long obedience in the same direction’ which the mood of the world does so much to discourage.”

Peterson goes on to explain that the biblical words and concepts of disciple and pilgrim resist the pull of the world and direct us to Christ and his kingdom.  Indeed, Christians are not tourists at a theme park, but disciples and pilgrims making our way towards the Promised Land (Heb. 12:1-2).

shane lems

Seasons, Harvest, Holiness

 Here’s a good Lord’s Day meditation by Puritan William Gurnall (d. 1679).

“As God makes use of all the seasons of the year for the harvest – the frost and cold of the winter, as well as the heat of the summer – so doth he, of fair and foul, pleasing and unpleasing providences, for promoting holiness.  Winter providences kill the weeds of lusts, and summer providences ripen and mellow the fruits of righteousness.  When he afflicts it is for our profit, to make us partakers of his holiness (Heb 12.10).”

This quote of Gurnall’s is found on page 417 of The Christian in Complete Armor (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002 reprint).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Patience and Providence (Rutherford)

 When Christians are suffering in various ways it is made worse sometimes because we just can’t understand what’s going on – why is God doing what he’s doing?  Samuel Rutherford (d.1661) here reminds Christians that we can usually only see half the picture of providence.  Therefore, we need to be patient and remember that we have a limited view of God’s greater plan – a plan for his glory and the good of his people.

“…We look upon God’s ways and works by halves and pieces; and so, we see often nothing but the black side, and the dark part of the moon.  We mistake all, when we look upon men’s works by parts; a house in the building, lying in an hundred pieces; here timber, here a rafter, there a spar, there a stone; in another place half a window, in another place, the side of a door: there is no beauty, no face of a house here.  Have patience a little, and see them all by art compacted together in order, and you will see a fair building.  When a painter draweth the half of a man; the one side of his head, one eye, the left arm, shoulder, and leg, and hath not drawn the other side, nor filled up with colors all the members, parts, limbs, in its full proportion, it is not like a man.”

“So do we look on God’s works by halves or parts, and we see him bleeding his people, scattering parliaments, chasing away nobles and prelates, as not willing they should have a finger in laying one stone of his house; yet do we not see, that in this dispensation, the other half of God’s work makes it a fair piece.  God is washing away the blood and filth of his church, removing those from the work who would cross it.”

In other words, God’s providence is like a huge painting and we can only see a little here and there.  Sometimes it doesn’t look like a beautiful picture; instead it looks like a mess.  But if we have patience and wait, in time we’ll see more of the picture and it’ll make a lot more sense – if not in this lifetime, then in the one to come.  We need to pray for the faith to remember that God is the sovereign artist and architect who knows exactly what he’s doing. 

Quotes taken from The Trial and Triumph of Faith by Samuel Rutherford, page 28.

shane lems

Binge Resting (a.k.a. Vacation)

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“Our society has adopted a pattern of 48 weeks of work and four weeks of rest.  We overwork for most of the year and then ‘binge rest’ for four weeks.  But this was not the pattern for which we were made.  We ‘need’ holidays because our normal lives are so out of balance.  The sustainable answer is not an annual holiday, but to get back to a biblical pattern of work and rest structured around a week.”

“It’s doubtful if holidays are good for us.  Eight out of ten people work extra hours before going away.  One in three finds the days before a holiday the most stressful of the year.  Most say they feel as stressed as ever by the end of their first week back.  When your pattern is 48 weeks work and four weeks rest then your holiday is everything.  People speak of working for their holidays.  Christmas letters typically consist of holiday itineraries.  That is the sum of people’s lives.  Life has become week after week of toil for two weeks in the sun.”

“We not only spread the work-rest pattern over a year instead of a week.  We spread it over a lifetime.  We overwork for maybe 40 years to set up a retirement of leisure.  Neither the overwork nor the retirement is healthy or godly.  The Bible doesn’t recognize the category of retirement.  Work is to be part of life throughout life.  Clearly the amount of work we can do will decrease as our capacities diminish.  Nor should we equate work with employment.  People may retire from employment, but still have years of active service left to give to the church or community.”

After I read an outstanding book, I’ve often thought, “I wish I had tons of cash so I could  get 100 copies of this book to give to anyone who would read it.”  This book, The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness by Tim Chester is one of those books.  I said it before, and I’ll probably say it again: get this book.  (And yes, if I did have tons of money, I’d give this and other books to our readers!)

shane lems