Judge Not the Lord by Feeble Sense (Feelings and Faith)

 The way we react or respond to the gospel is not the gospel.  My feelings and emotions about Christ are not good news.  The empty tomb does not depend upon how much I treasure Jesus.  My delighting in Christ is not at the heart of the apostolic preaching of the cross.  The level of my satisfaction in Jesus doesn’t affect the historical facts that he died and was raised.

Why are these things worth mentioning?  Well, for one thing, they have to do with assurance of salvation.  If a Christian thinks his response to the gospel is part of the gospel, his assurance will be like a roller coaster that rises and falls with his feelings.  If a believer thinks her delighting in Christ or finding satisfaction in Christ is part of the good news, her assurance will ebb and flow with her emotional state.  In other words, if I think my feelings and emotions are part of the gospel, my assurance will quickly decline on days I’m not treasuring Christ above all.

I appreciate how Thomas Brooks discussed this in his book The Unsearchable Riches of Christ.  When talking to Christians about growing in grace, one bit of counsel he gives is this: “Take heed of making sense and feeling a judge of your condition.”

Though there is nothing more dangerous, yet there is nothing more ordinary, than for weak saints to make their sense and feeling the judge of their condition. Ah, poor souls, this is dishonorable to God and very disadvantageous to yourselves.  Sense is sometimes opposite to reason, but always to faith.  Therefore do as those worthies did, ‘We walk by faith, and not by sight’ (2 Cor. 5.8-9).

Brooks then lists many emotional worries a Christian may have, like not feeling God’s “enlivening presence” or not being “melted” or “enlarged” as earlier in his Christian life.  A Christian might not feel God’s nearness or perhaps not find prayer as sweet as before.  Brooks writes,

If you will make sense and feeling the judge of your state and condition, you will never have peace or comfort all your days.  Your state, O Christian, may be very good, when sense and feeling says it is very bad.  …The best of Christian men have at times lost that quickening, ravishing, and comforting presence of God that once they have enjoyed.  And verily, he that makes sense and carnal reason a judge of his condition, shall be happy and miserable, blessed and cursed, saved and lost, many times in a day, yes, in an hour.

The counsel that I would give to such a soul that is apt to set up reason [or feeling] in the place of faith is this: Whatsoever your state and condition is, never makes sense and feeling the judge of it, but only the word of God.  …It will never be well with you as long as you are swayed by carnal reason, and rely more on your five senses than the four evangelists.  Remember Job was famous for his confidence as for his patience: “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him” (Job 13:15).

I don’t always feel like a good Christian.  I sometimes don’t think about satisfaction in Christ.  Other times I feel quite close to the Lord and am abundantly thankful for his blessings.  However, no matter how I feel, no matter what emotional state I’m in, I know that the gospel is still true.  The blood of Jesus that he shed on the cross still cleanses me from all my sin.  The tomb is still empty even if at the moment I’m not emotionally moved by that awesome truth.  My assurance stands firm because my faith rests in facts, not feelings.  Feelings come and go, but facts stay put.  As the old hymn says, “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust him for his grace.”

The above quote by Brooks is found on pages 94-95 of his Works, Volume III.

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

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No Reason to Complain (Brooks)

When we face trials and afflictions, sometimes we complain.  We grumble why such and such is happening to us, we complain that other people deserve the trial, or we murmur at the pain and hardship of it all.  Even mature Christians sometimes grumble when trials come.  If the trial is really difficult, it’s hard not to complain!  Thomas Brooks (d. 1680) talked about this in the middle of his book written to those suffering trials and affliction (The Mute Christian under the Smarting Rod):

“[Dear Christian], of all men in the world, you have least cause, yea, no cause to be murmuring and muttering under and dispensation that you meet with in this world.  Is not God your portion?  Chrysostom asks this question, ‘Was Job miserable when he had lost all that God had given him?’ and gives this answer, ‘No, he still had the God that gave him all.’  Is not Christ thy treasure?  Is not heaven your inheritance – and will you murmur?  …Has not God given you a changed heart, a renewed nature, and a sanctified soul, and will you murmur?  Has not God given himself to you to satisfy you?  Has not he given his Son to save you, his Spirit to lead you, his grace to adorn you, his covenant to assure you, his mercy to pardon you, his righteousness to clothe you, and will you murmur?”

“Has not God often turned your water into wine, your brass into silver, your silver into gold?  When you were dead in sin, did he not quicken you?  When you were lost, did he not seek you?  When you were wounded, did he not heal you?  And when you were falling, did he not support you?  And when you were down, did he not raise you up?  And when you were staggering, did he not strengthen you?  And when you were erring, did he not correct you?  When you were tempted, did he not help you?  And when you were in danger, did he not deliver you? And will you murmur?

It may seem a bit harsh to rebuke someone for complaining while they are going through a difficult trial.  But we have to remember that grumbling is a serious sin (Num. 14).  Furthermore, even through trials Christians should want to avoid sin and do what is right in God’s sight.  The rhetorical questions Brooks asked are good ones to go through as we aim to suffer without grumbling.  Trials are miserable and more difficult than some people realize.  But the Christian need not grumble because the promises of Scripture are true: God is with us and loves us, Jesus died to save us, and the Spirit is at work in us (etc. etc.)!

The edited quote above is found in volume 1 of Brooks’ Works, page. 340.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

When Satan Spreads Discord and Conflict Among God’s People (Brooks)

Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Puritan Paperbacks) One of Satan’s strongest and most successful weapons against the church is getting Christians to ‘bite and devour each another’ (Gal 5.15 NIV).  He does what he can to sow seeds of conflict among Christians so the seeds grow into fights and quarrels among brothers and sisters in Christ.  Thomas Brooks – in his usual biblically wise manner – gives remedies against Satan’s attempts to make us fight and bicker.  Here are some of his remedies which I’ve edited and commented upon:

1) “Dwell more upon one another’s graces than upon one another’s weaknesses and infirmities.  It is sad to consider that saints should have many eyes to behold one another’s infirmities, and not one eye to see each other’s graces.”  Since each Christian has the flowers of grace in his/her garden, other Christians should look upon those sweet, pleasing, and delightful graces that God has given his children.  This is one way the devil’s darts will be destroyed.

2) “Dwell upon those commands of God that require you to love one another.”  Brooks here quotes numerous NT texts that call Christians to brotherly love (i.e. Rom 13.8, 1 John 4.7, etc).  “Dwell upon these precious commands, that your love may be inflamed one to another.”

3) “Dwell more upon these choice and sweet things wherein you agree, than upon those things wherein you differ.”  Or, if I can add a great phrase attributed to Augustine, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things, charity.”  Back to Brooks: “You agree in most, you differ but in a few; you agree in the greatest and weightiest, as concerning God, Christ, the Spirit, and the Scripture.  You differ only in those points that have been long disputable amongst men of greatest piety and parts.  You agree to own the Scripture, to hold to Christ the head, and to walk according to the law of the new creature.”

4) “Dwell upon the miseries of discord.”  Here Brooks spends only a few sentences (as if to say – “don’t dwell too long on this!”) to explain how it neither glorifies God nor edifies the saints to be fighting.

5) Be the first one to make peace when there is conflict (my re-wording of Brooks).  “It is not a matter of liberty whether you will or you will not pursue after peace, but it is a matter of duty that lies upon you; you are bound by express precept to follow after peace, and though it may seem to fly from you, yet you must pursue after it (Heb 12.14).”  In other words, be a peacemaker not sometimes, but all the time.

6) Saints should “join together and walk together in the ways of grace and holiness so far as they do agree, making the word their only touchstone and judge of their actions.”  Pray together, be in delightful conversation often, mourn together, and rejoice together according to the word.

7) “Labor to be clothed in humility.  Humility makes a man peaceable among brethren, fruitful in well-doing, cheerful in suffering, and constant in holy walking (1 Pet 5.5).”  “Humility honors those that are strong in grace, and puts two hands under those that are weak in grace (Eph 3.8).”

Those are just 7 of 12 remedies Brooks gives to deflect Satan’s arrows of discord and disunity.  This godly advice will not just help local churches, but also Christian marriages and friendships in general.  In summary, consider Paul’s prayer for the Philippian church in 1.9 – there he prays that the church would abound in love (filled with knowledge and wisdom) for one another.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015
(NOTE: This is a repost from December, 2009)

Lord, Save Me From Myself (Augustine)

Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Puritan Paperbacks) Here’s a prayer worth reading (and praying!) a few times!

Oh Lord, this mercy I humbly beg: that whatever you give me up to, do not give me up to the ways of my own heart.  If you will give me up to be afflicted, tempted, or reproached, I will patiently sit down and say, ‘It is the Lord; let him do with me what seems good in his own eyes.’  Do anything with me, Lord, lay what burden you will upon me, but please, do not give me up to the ways of my own heart.

Or, in Augustine’s terse words: A me, me salva Domine! (which means something like “Lord, save me from myself!)

The above quote is rephrased from Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997) 50.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Hating “Little” Sins

While all sin is a transgression against God and his law, some sins are less heinous and vile than others.  For example, it is far worse if I would kill my neighbor’s beloved dog than if I would lie to him and say I liked the dog.  However, as Christians, we should detest all of our sins and repent of them all – not just the worst ones, but the “little” ones as well.  One question comes up: why should we hate the “little” sins in our hearts and lives?  Thomas Brooks gave some good answers to that question (I’ve edited them for length & grammar):

1) A holy man knows that little sins, if not prevented, will bring on greater sins.  David gives way to his wandering eye, and that led him to those scandalous sins for which God broke his bones, hid his face, and withdrew his Spirit (2 Sam. 12).  Peter first denies his Master and then foreswears him, and then falls cursing and damning of himself (Mt. 26).

2) A holy man knows that little sins have exposed both sinners and saints to very great punishments.  He remembers how Saul lost two kingdoms at once, his own kingdom and the kingdom of heaven, for sparing Agag and the fat of the cattle.  He remembers how the unprofitable servant, for the non-improvement of his talent, was cast into outer darkness.  He remembers how Ananias and Sapphira were stricken suddenly dead for telling a lie.  Those sins which are seemingly small are very provoking to the great God and hurtful to the immortal soul, therefore little sins cannot but be the object of a Christian’s hatred.

3) A holy man knows that a holy God looks and expects that the least sins should be shunned and avoided.  Not only great sins, but little ones, must be killed, or they will kill the soul.  God expects that his children should ‘abstain from all appearance of evil’ (1 Thess. 5.22).  He that truly hates the nature of sin cannot but hate the least sin, yea, all appearances of sin.

4) A holy man knows that the indulging of the least sin is sufficient for any man to question his integrity and ingenuity towards God.  He that will transgress for a morsel of bread will be ready enough to sell his soul for a grain (Prov 28.21).  He that will pervert justice for a few pieces of silver, what will he not do for a hatful of gold?  He that dares to lie to save a little of his estate, what will not he do to save his life?

5) A holy heart knows that the least sin cost Christ his dearest blood (Heb 9.22).  He knows that the blood of Christ is as requisite to clean the soul from the least sin as it is to cleanse it from the greatest (1 John 1.7).  It is not the casting of a little holy water on us, it is not the Papists’ purgatories, nor their whippings, nor St. Francis his kissing or licking of our sores, nor a bishop’s blessing, nor a few tears that can cleanse us from the least sin.  No, it is only the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all our sins.  Certainly there is not a vain thought nor an idle word nor an angry word that can be pardoned or cleansed but by the blood of Jesus – the remembrance of which cannot but stir up a holy indignation in a gracious soul against the least corruption.

Thomas Brooks, The Crown and Glory of Christianity, IV.2.

shane lems
hammond, wi

We Ask You To Abstain

The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms Historic Reformed and Presbyterian churches have always “fenced” the table of the Lord.  That is, when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, the pastor and/or an elder says that certain people are not to partake.  The details vary among historic Reformed/Presbyterian churches, but they all do fence the table to some extent.  Even if we might disagree how “high” the fence is, it is proper and biblical to warn the unrepentant and unbelievers not to take Holy Communion.  The Westminster Confession of Faith says it like this:

“All ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with him [Christ], so they are unworthy of the Lord’s table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such [ignorant and ungodly], partake of these holy mysteries or be admitted thereunto” (29.8).  [1 Cor. 11:27-29, 2 Cor. 6:14-16, 1 Cor. 10:21, 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15, Matt. 7:6, etc.]

Thomas Brooks, in The Crown and Glory of Christianity, discussed this topic briefly and gave some helpful citations from church history (slightly edited):

“Chrysostom said that he ‘would rather give his life to a murderer, than Christ’s body to an unworthy receiver, and rather suffer his own blood to be poured out like water, than to tender Christ’s blessed blood to a profane person.’  ‘Church officers are to keep the sacrament pure, as a man would keep a pleasant spring which he drank from clean, not letting the filthy beasts and swine to muddy it.’”

“Justin Martyr wrote, ‘In our assemblies we admit none to the Lord’s Supper but such as being baptized continue in professing the true faith, and in leading such lives as Christ hath taught.’  Martyr taught that these three things were required for those who wish to come to the table: 1) ‘A new birth,’ 2) ‘Soundness in faith,’ and 3) ‘A promise to live well.’”

“Augustine argued that there were horrid sins wrapped up in Adam’s eating of the fruit, much more so are there horrid sins in unbelievers eating the sacrament: pride, rebellion, treason, sacrilege, theft, murder, etc.”

“Aquinas said ‘the majesty of church discipline should never allow this, to let open and known offenders presume to come to the table of the Lord.’”

“Calvin wrote, ‘I will sooner die than this hand of mine shall give the things of God to contemners of God.’”

Again, we might discuss and debate how “high” the fence is around the table, but it is biblical (see citations above) and wise to clearly tell unbelievers and unrepentant persons that they are not to take the Lord’s Supper.  It might not sound politically correct or “nice,” but it is a biblical help in keeping Christ’s church pure, it does keep unbelievers from bringing further judgment upon themselves, and it does guard God’s people from trouble and hardship (cf. 1 Cor. 11).

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church
hammond, wi

Weak Faith, True Faith!

Heaven on Earth: A Treatise on Christian Assurance (Puritan Paperbacks)  Christians should desire a strong faith in Christ and his promises; it is biblical for God’s people to pray and strive for robust faith in the Lord.  However, our faith is imperfect since we are not yet fully sanctified.  We struggle with doubts, fears, questions, and sometimes we lack assurance.  Thankfully, the Bible doesn’t teach that we need perfectly strong faith in Christ to be justified and saved.  Thankfully, even an imperfect and weak faith saves because it trusts in a perfect and strong Savior.  Thomas Brooks said it this way:

1) A weak faith doth as much justify and as much unite a man to Christ as a strong faith.  It gives a man as much title to and interest in Christ as the strongest faith in the world.  A weak hand may receive a pearl as well as the strong hand of a giant.  Faith is a receiving of Christ (John 1.12).

2) The promises of eternal happiness and blessedness are not made over to the strength of faith, but to the truth of faith; not to the degrees of faith, but the reality of faith.  No man that is saved is saved on account of the strength of his faith, but on account of the truth of his faith.

3) The weakest faith shall grow stronger and stronger.  A weak believer shall go on from faith to faith.  Christ is the finisher as well as the author of our faith (Rom. 1:17; Heb. 12.2).  He that hath begun a good work will perfect it (Phil. 1:6).

4) A little faith is faith, as a spark of fire is fire, a drop of water is water, a little star is a star, a little pearl is a pearl.  Remember this, that the least measure of true faith will bring thee to salvation as well as the greatest measure of faith.  A great faith will yield a man a heaven here, a little faith will yield him a heaven hereafter.

Those are encouraging words that remind us that Jesus saves anyone who believes in him – people like the woman who sneaked up on him to just touch his robe and like the man who said, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!”  It would be a distortion of the gospel to say that only a strong faith is saving faith.  The truth of the gospel is that because Christ is a strong Savior, even a weak faith saves.

The above quotes (edited and summarized) can be found in Brooks’ Heaven on Earth, 215-216.

shane lems