Psalm 119: The Breath of the New Heart (McCheyne)

Memoir & Remains of Robert Murray M'Cheyne Bonar, Andrew cover image

Psalm 119 has always been one of my favorite Psalms. I love how the Psalmist talks about the beauty and power of God’s word, precepts, commands, and laws. Speaking of Psalm 119, Robert Murray MCheyne called it “the breathing of the new heart” in a sermon on Romans 7:22-25. After mentioning how an unbeliever has no delight in God’s law (e.g. Rom. 8:7), MCheyne explained what it means when a believer does delight in God’s law:

When a man comes to Christ, this [hatred for the law] is all changed. He can say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” He can say with David, “O how I love Thy law: it is my meditation all the day.” He can say with the Lord Jesus in the 40th Psalm, “I delight to do Thy will, O God, yea, Thy law is within My heart.” There are two reasons for this:

First, the law is no longer an enemyIf any of you who are trembling under a sense of your infinite sins, and the curses of the law that you have broken, flee to Christ, you will find rest. You will find that He has fully cancelled the demands of the law as a Surety for sinners, that He has fully borne all its curses. You will be able to say, “Christ hath redeemed me from the curse of the law, being made a curse for me, as it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13). You have no more to fear, then, from that awfully holy law; you are not under the law, but under grace. You have no more to fear from the law, than you will have after the Judgment Day. When that awful scene is past-when the dead, small and great, have stood before the Great White Throne—when the sentence of eternal woe has fallen upon all the unconverted, and they have sunk into the lake whose fires can never be quenched; would not that redeemed soul say, I have nothing to fear from that holy law; I have seen its vials poured out, but not a drop has fallen on me? So may you say now, O believer in Jesus! When you look upon the soul of Christ, scarred with God’s thunderbolts, when you look upon His body, pierced for sin, you can say-He was made a curse for me; why should I fear that holy law?

Second, the Spirit of God writes the law on the heart. This is the promise: “After those days, saith the Lord, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer. 31:33). Coming to Christ takes away your fear of the law, but it is the Holy Spirit coming into your heart that makes you love the law. The Holy Spirit is no more frightened away from that heart. He comes and softens it. He takes out the stony heart and puts in a heart of flesh; and there He writes the holy law of God. Then the law of God is sweet to that soul: he has an inward delight in it. “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” Now he unfeignedly desires every thought, word, and action, to be according to that law. “Oh, that my ways were directed to keep Thy statutes: great peace have they that love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them.” The 119th Psalm becomes the breathing of that new heart. Now also he would fain see all the world submitting to that pure and holy law. “Rivers of water run down mine eyes because they keep not Thy law.” Oh that all the world but knew that holiness and happiness are one. Try yourselves by this. Can you say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man?” Do you love it now? Do you long for the time when you shall live fully under it—holy as God is holy, pure as Christ is pure?

Robert Murray MCheyne, Memoirs, p. 274-275

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Why Does God Allow Sin to Remain in His Children? (Boston)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston (12 vols.) (This is a re-post from May 2016).

“Why do I keep struggling with the same sinful thoughts?”  “Why can’t I just gain victory over lust and pride?”  “Why in the world does God allow sin to remain in his people?”  These are questions Christians ask from time to time.  We think of how nice it would be if we didn’t have to struggle with sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.  But, in his sovereignty, God has a reason for allowing sin to remain in his children.  Thomas Boston (d. 1732) gave some helpful answers to the question of why God allows sin to dwell in his elect while on earth.  Here are some of Boston’s answers (which I’ve edited and summarized):

  1. God has ordered the matter of the believer’s sanctification, that sin is left to be active in their souls while here on earth, for their further humiliation.  For example, God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh to keep him low.  And so we find David, after his grievous fall, grows in the grace of humility.
  2. The Lord allows sin to remain in his people so they are stirred to the frequent exercise of prayer.  The soul feels the continual need of pardon, and therefore must be much lying at God’s footstool.  When his children grow remiss in their duty, the Lord sometimes allows them to fall into some grievous sin to awaken them and wound their conscience, so they cry to Him like a child who falls into a small fire.
  3. The sin left in us makes us more watchful of our hearts which still are prone to wander.  When a prisoner escapes, and they catch him, they will put him in more close custody than before.  We walk through a world filled with many snares; if we were not watchful, we would be caught in them.
  4. Just like God allowed some Canaanites to remain in the land to try his people, so he has left remains of natural corruption in them for their exercise and trial.  Therefore Christ’s soldiers know whom they fight against, and by whose strength they may overcome.  God gives his people armor at their conversion; is it reasonable that it should lie beside them rusting?  Indwelling sin makes us lean on Christ’s strength and use God’s armor in the battle.
  5. Through sin left in us, we are made more and more to feel our need for Christ, and his precious blood for the removal of our guilt daily contracted anew, and for the strengthening of our souls in our Christian course, so that we come out of the wilderness resting upon our Beloved.  So we see that our security is not in our hand; if it were, we would be quickly lost.
  6. It is God’s ordinary way to bring about a great work by degrees – including the great work of the believer’s sanctification.  God could have created all things in one moment; instead, he was pleased to take six days to do it.  He could have sent Christ immediately after Adam fell, but he instead let thousands of years pass.  He could have brought Israel to the Promised Land immediately; instead it pleased him that they should wander in the wilderness for forty years.  So it is with sanctification.
  7. Finally, through the indwelling sin that remains, Christ is glorified.  While the enemy (sin) does dwell in us, Christ’s grace and Holy Spirit are at work in us so that the enemy cannot overcome, domineer, or destroy us.  Because of indwelling sin we know that we cannot justify ourselves, but can only be justified by the perfect obedience of Christ, which we lay hold of by faith.  In this, Christ is glorified.

After noting these seven points, Boston wrote, “To see how God makes such an excellent medicine of such poisonous ingredients cannot be but very delightful.”  The struggle against indwelling sin is difficult for sure.  But when we remember God’s sovereign use of indwelling sin in his people for their good and his glory, it helps us press on in the faith with our eyes fixed on Jesus.  He will one day graciously give us the full victory over sin.

Near the end of the treatise, Boston wrote this:

“Finally, to summarize all; it is plain, that the more difficulties the work of man’s salvation is carried through, the free grace of God is the more exalted; our Lord Jesus, the author of eternal salvation, hath the greater glory: but in this way it is carried on over the belly of more difficulties, than it would have been, if by the first grace the Christian had been made perfect.”

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sermons and Discourses on Several Important Subjects in Divinity, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 6 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1849), 124.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Sanctification: Not Sitting Back (Letham)

Systematic Theology Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God sanctifies the ones he calls out of darkness into his marvelous light.  But we who are called out of darkness and given the Holy Spirit are also responsible for growing in faith and obedience.  I appreciate how Robert Letham summarizes this:

Paul writes of us having been predestined to sanctification by the Father (Eph. 1:4-5).  Elsewhere he speaks of it being the will of God (1 Thess. 4:3), and of our receiving the Holy Spirit for that purpose (John 17:17, 19; Eph. 5:25, 27; 1 Thess. 4:7-8; 5:23; etc.). Specifically, sanctification is appropriated to the Spirit (Rom. 8:13-14; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:1-2). He indwells the people of God. Scripture is silent as to how the Spirit operates, for this is beyond our understanding, as Jesus points out in John 3.

Notwithstanding, sanctification requires our fullest effort as well.  It is not a case of sitting back and letting the Holy Spirit take over, for the Spirit works through our own responsible engagement.  Here Romans 8:12ff is important to grasp.  We are obliged to put to death the deeds of the flesh.  However, it is by the Spirit that this is done.  Again, in Philippians 2:11-12, Paul writes that we are to work out our salvation; but it is God who puts this desire in us and brings it to effect.  Similarly, Paul can say that the grace of God was evident in his life, since he worked harder than anyone else (1 Cor. 15:10).

Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, p. 734-735.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Union, Justification, Sanctification, Glorification (Horton)

Justification: Two-Volume Set (New Studies in Dogmatics) Horton, Michael ; Michael Allen, Swain, Scott R. cover imageI appreciate the following selection from Michael Horton’s Justification (Vol 2).  It’s about union with Christ, justification, sanctification, and glorification:

Union is not a goal but the source of our life.  Chosen in him [Christ], redeemed by him, and crucified, buried, and raised with him, we share in Christ’s pioneering journey in an ‘already’ and ‘not-yet’ manner.  Justification is the fundamental turning point in the sinner’s status before God, while sanctification is the turning point in the sinner’s condition, and glorification will be the turning point in the whole existence of the saints.

Although we will be all that he is in his glorified humanity, we are not yet raised bodily.  Yet we have been raised from spiritual death, justified and definitively renewed. We are being conformed to the image of Christ daily, suffering in the joy of the prize that has already been won for us. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1).  Although we still struggle mightily against Satan, sin, and the realities of a fallen world, Christ has already subdued Satan.  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet’ (Rom 16:20).

Union with Christ (or the ‘great exchange’) is the braoder intersection where rival perspectives demand a fork in the road – the false choices that we have met frequently along the way – but where, in a more integrated account, they meet without any contradiction. Covenantal and apocalyptic, personal and corporate, soteriology and ecclesiology, the historia salutis and the ordo salutis, forensic justification and transforming renewal, faith and works all find unity without conflating one with the other.

Michael Horton, Justification, Vol 2, p. 451.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

On The Proper Use of Sickness (Pascal)

The Harvard Classics, vol. 48: Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works In a written prayer called “To Ask God the Proper Use of Sickness,” Blaise Pascal (d. 1662) reflected on health and sickness in the Christian life.  More specifically, Pascal confessed that when he was healthy, he didn’t thank God for it and use his health to serve Him.  When he became ill, Pascal prayed that God would use the illness to help strengthen his faith.  While I don’t agree with every aspect of this prayer, parts of it are quite good and edifying.  Here are a few sections I appreciate:

Thou gavest me health to serve thee, and I made a profane use of it. Thou sendest me sickness now to correct me; suffer not that I use it to irritate thee by my impatience. I made a bad use of my health, and thou hast justly punished me for it. Suffer not that I make a bad use of my punishment.

To whom shall I cry, O Lord, to whom shall I have recourse, if not to thee? Nothing that is less than God can fulfil my expectation. It is God himself that I ask and seek; and it is to thee alone, my God, that I address myself to obtain thee, Open my heart, O Lord; enter into the rebellious place which has been occupied by vices. They hold it subject. Enter into it as into the strong man’s house; but first bind the strong and powerful enemy that has possession of it, and then take the treasures which are there. Lord, take my affections, which the world had stolen; take this treasure thyself, or rather retake it, since it belongs to thee as a tribute that I owe thee, since thy image is imprinted in it

…Grant me the favor, Lord, to join thy consolations to my sufferings, that I may suffer like a Christian. …But I ask, Lord, to feel at the same time both the sorrows of nature for my sins, and the consolations of thy spirit through thy grace; for this is the true condition of Christianity. Let me not feel sorrow without consolation; but let me feel sorrow and consolation together, that I may come at last to feel thy consolation without any sorrow.

…Thou alone knowest what is most expedient for me: thou art the sovereign master, do what thou wilt. Give to me, take from me; but conform my will to thine; and grant that in humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence, I may be disposed to receive the orders of thy eternal providence, and that I may adore alike all that comes to me from thee.

Blaise Pascal, The Harvard Classics 48: Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works, ed. Charles W. Eliot, trans. W. F. Trotter, M. L. Booth, and O. W. Wight (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1910), 369-377.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015