On Seeking (Bernard)

Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works Bernard of Clairvaux’s commentary/sermons on the Song of Solomon is allegorical, but it is for sure worth reading.  One reason this commentary is worth reading is because in it Bernard very helpfully describes the biblical “seeking” theme.  Here’s one example from Sermon 84, part 5:

“I have sought,” she says, “him whom my soul loves” (Songs 3:1). This is what the kindness of Him who goes before you urges you to do, He who both sought you first and loved you first (1 Jn 4:10). You would not be seeking Him or loving Him unless you had first been sought and loved. You have been forestalled not only in one blessing (Gn 27:28) but in two, in love and in seeking. The love is the cause of the seeking, and the seeking is the fruit of the love; and it is its guarantee. You are loved, so that you may not think that you are sought so as to be punished; you are sought, so that you may not complain that you are loved in vain. Both these sweet gifts of love make you bold and drive diffidence away, and they persuade you to return and move you to loving response. Hence comes the zeal, the ardor to seek him whom your soul loves, for you cannot seek unless you are sought and now that you are sought you cannot fail to seek.

(Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, ed. John Farina, trans. G. R. Evans, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1987), 276)

This is so very good: “You would not be seeking Him or loving Him unless you had first been sought and loved. …You cannot seek unless you are sought and now that you are sought you cannot fail to seek.”

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

God Never Seeks in Vain (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 5

In Luke 15 Jesus gave a parable about a shepherd that lost one of his one hundred sheep. He asked, “Which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go look for the one that is lost until he finds it?” (Lk 15:4 NET). Among other things, this parable reminds us of how the Lord seeks and saves the lost. Here’s how Augustus Toplady explained it in a sermon on Luke 15:7:

Christ is a faithful and watchful shepherd. He will not suffer [allow] so much as one of his sheep to be finally lost. If an individual saint wanders from the fold, Christ goes after that soul; and never ceases from his labor of love, until that soul is found. If you or I happen to lose anything on which we set a value; we may find it, or we may not: our search may issue in the recovery of the lost object, and it may all prove fruitless and unsuccessful. Herein is a very wide difference between God’s seeking, and man’s seeking. God never seeks in vain. An earthly shepherd may lose many a sheep, and lose them beyond retrieval. But Christ never lost a sheep, which he did not seek; and never sought a sheep, which he did not find.

[The emphasis above is mine. The (sheepish) humor below is Toplady’s:]

And, when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing. He does not suspend the return of the sheep, on the sheep’s own free-will, (which would he very sheepish policy indeed); nor stand expostulating, and giving the sheep, what Arminianism would call, “a gentle pull” by the fleece: but actually lays hold on the wanderer; takes it up in his arms; layeth it upon his shoulders, by main strength; nor lets it go, until he has actually and finally brought it home. 

 Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 3 (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 240–241.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Bible Was My Lifeline

I could not set this book down: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi.  It’s an autobiography of a Pakistani-American man’s leaving Islam to follow Jesus.  Qureshi’s journey was (is!) a long, hard, thought-filled, prayer-filled, journey into the Christian family.  The book is well written, respectful of Muslims, a testimony to Jesus the Son of God, and it strengthened my faith in the truths of Scripture.

There are many excellent parts of this book; here’s one section that has stuck with me.  He wrote it after several years of agonizing over the teaching of Islam and the teaching of Christianity.  His past foundation was crumbling, his world was turning upside down, so he put the Bible and the Quran next to each other.  He first opened the Quran:

“[I was] frantically flipping from page to page, hoping for something, anything that would comfort me.  There was nothing there for me.  It depicted a god of conditional concern, one who would not love me if I did not perform to my utmost in pleasing him, one who seemed to take joy in sending his enemies into the hellfire.  It did not speak to the broken nature of man, let alone directly to the broken man in need of God’s love.  It was a book of laws, written for the seventh century.”

“Looking for a living word, I put the Quran down and picked up the Bible.  I had never read the Bible for personal guidance before [Note: he had read parts of it before this time].  I did not even know where to start.  I figured the New Testament would be a good place, so I opened to the beginning of Matthew.  Within minutes, I found these words: ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’”

“The words were like a current sent through my dead heart, electrifying it once more.  This is what I was looking for.  It was as if God had written these words in the Bible two thousand years prior specifically with me in mind.  It was almost too incredible to believe.  To a man who had seen the world only through Muslim eyes, the message was overwhelming.  ‘I am blessed for mourning?  Why? How?  I am imperfect.  I do not perform to His standard.  Why would he bless me?  And for mourning, no less.  Why?’”

“I continued reading [the Beatitudes] fervently. …I hunger and thirst for righteousness, I do, but I can never attain it.  God will bless me anyway?  Who is this God who loves me so much, even in my failures?  Tears flowed from my eyes once more, but now they were tears of joy.  I knew that what I held in my hands was life itself.  This was truly God’s word, and it was as if I was meeting Him for the first time. …I could not put the Bible down.  I literally could not. …The Bible was my lifeline” (p. 276-7).

Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014).

shane lems