Interview with Iain Murray

Iain H. Murray, born in Lancashire, England, in 1931 was educated in the Isle of Man and at the University of Durham. He entered the Christian ministry in 1955. He served as assistant to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel (1956-59) and subsequently at Grove Chapel, London (1961-69) and St. Giles Presbyterian Church, Sydney (1981-84). In intervening periods he has worked full-time with the Banner of Truth Trust, of which organisation he was the co-founder (with Jack Cullum) in 1957 and remains the Editorial Director. He is the author of numerous books, including The Life of A. W. Pink, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, The Life of D. M. Lloyd-Jones: 2 Volumes, Pentecost Today: Understanding Revival, and Revival & Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism: 1750-1858, Wesley and the Men who Followed, and Scottish Christian Heritage. The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening, and Evangelicalism Divided.

Mr. Murray was interviewed by Men for Ministry, and here shares some of his thoughts about preaching, reading, the call to ministry, and the state of Bible teaching within the UK and US.

1.Could you tell us briefly about your own call to preach and teach God’s Word?

Strangely, I believed my destiny was to be a Christian minister before I was converted although no relatives were so engaged. But I did not speak of this to others – for my life was inconsistent – before I came to know Christ at the age of seventeen.

2. How do you believe men are called to a preaching ministry? Can you suggest any tests that an individual can apply to themselves regarding whether they are gifted in this area or not?

I believe God puts a concern upon men’s hearts, which is shown by their taking every opportunity to serve and speak for Christ; perhaps first to a Sunday School class (as Spurgeon) or in visiting an Old People’s Home. There must be desire for the work – a pull stronger than any other pull – and the subjective needs testing by the counsel of older Christians and a local church.

3. Would you mark any differences between evangelical attitudes to preaching in the UK and in the USA? If so, what are they?

There are a great many variations in the US, as there are here. I do not think I could generalise. In both countries there has been a danger that Calvinistic preaching has not been distinguished by evangelistic concern and passion. ‘Expository preaching’ has moved too far from the type of preaching we find in Spurgeon’s sermons; the danger is that it becomes like a weekly commentary on a passage (rather than a text) of Scripture.

4. Recently almost fifty men from our Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland attended a seminar dealing with the issues of ‘the primacy of preaching’ and ‘the passion for preaching’. What are your thoughts on these two issues as applied to the work of God in the UK presently?

I have partly covered this. I believe that true passion for preaching arises, by the Holy Spirit, through love of the people we are serving. It is more important to love people than to love preaching! That means that pastoral work should never be downgraded. Read Hobson’s work in Liverpool1 as an example of pastoral zeal.

5. Many of your books, particularly your celebrated two volume biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, continue to influence many preachers. Which books have most blessed and enriched your own preaching?

I find this hard to answer. I do believe that God directs books into our hands as we need them, and our need varies at different stages of our lives and ministries. As a young Christian I was much helped by Andrew Bonar’s Life of M’Cheyne; the latter’s sermons; Merle D’Aubigné on the Reformation ( thrilling stuff!); Jonathan Edwards, and several of the Puritans (notably Thomas Brooks and John Owen). Later, I came to prize Spurgeon. His All-Round Ministry is a wonderful book for a young pastor, as is his Commenting and Commentaries.

6. What effect has postmodernism had on preaching in recent years? How do you feel preachers can best respond to it?

I never did understand what postmodernism is! I doubt the helpfulness of such labels and think they are greatly overdone. The natural man is basically the same in every generation: that is why the scriptures are more relevant and up-to-date than any other document. The first business of preaching is not to address intellectual problems but to reach the heart and conscience. One of our great dangers is the constant preaching of salvation by faith in Christ to numbers who have never truly been smitten with a sense of sin. I try to deal with that subject in The Old Evangelicalism.

7. How can a preacher who is concerned with being theologically and exegetically precise in their preaching avoid the danger of becoming dry and academic in their presentation of God’s Word?

Keep visiting the sick and the dying; that will keep ‘scholarship’ in second place. And beware of being concerned about what people think of our preaching. The great aim of preaching must be to do good to our hearers, good for eternity.

8. If you could give a young preacher three essential pieces of advice as they embark on teaching God’s Word, what would they be?

Guard you inner life; love people but keep a healthy distrust of human nature; make faith in God’s promises the daily duty.

9. Your book Evangelicalism Divided has been a seminal work in terms of gauging the spiritual climate of the evangelical world during the past fifty years. One common issue that a variety of critics have picked up on is your absence of reference to the ‘Proclamation Trust’. How would you assess their work and influence on pulpit ministry in the United Kingdom in recent decades?

Yes , I think there is weight in the comment of critics on this point. I should have made it clearer, I was not attempting a history of evangelicalism in the last 50 years. I think one reason why the Proclamation Trust has gained respect and support is that leaders, such as Dick Lucas, were not associated with the comprehensive/ecumenical policy that I criticised. I am sorry I cannot speak more of the Trust from experience. I think the practical advice and direction that the Proclamation Trust has given on preaching has been helpful to many; though I would have reservation lest the method advocated leads too much to a kind of running commentary on Scripture, which is not the same as preaching. There is danger in seeing preaching primarily as giving instruction; whereas, as Lloyd-Jones used to say, the primary need is to give our hearers stimulus, so they will eagerly want to read and learn themselves. Strong churches need more than just a weekly diet of teaching.

10. Could you tell us of a time when God particularly touched and challenged your heart through the preaching of another? (We know there will be many instances to choose from!)

A few weeks ago I was much uplifted and helped by listening to a man who was entirely unknown to me, and perhaps to the world at large. It reminded me forcibly that God has his men, and that those who faithfully preach Scripture, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, are certain to do good.

– Iain Murray

‘Bumped along’ the Pathway to Glory

2 Cor. 3:18
There are times when I worry if I’m making progress in the Christian life. Honestly, there are times when I’m quite sure I’m not. I’m not talking about overt backsliding or moral regression, but a feeling of spiritual inertia that causes me to wonder if I’m moving forward toward greater conformity to Christ.

Of course, if I weren’t making progress I probably wouldn’t be worried about whether I am or not! In other words, I take comfort from the fact that I’m bothered (the more spiritual word is “convicted”) about those seasons when I don’t seem to be living as I ought. It angers me not to see or sense an increase in holiness. There’s a sense in which that itself is holiness, or at least the presence of a longing for it and a keen awareness of how far short I am of the righteousness of God.

I say all this as a way of highlighting the encouragement that is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18. For here I’m reassured that I’m not standing still, that the Spirit is at work within me, if only, at times, in small and often imperceptible ways. In the inner core of every Christian, in the depths of the heart, there is movement, as Paul says, “from one degree of glory to another” (v. 18). Literally, he writes that we are being transformed “from glory unto glory.” The preposition “from” points to source and “unto” highlights the ultimate goal in view. In other words, God began a work of grace in us at regeneration or the new birth that consisted of the experience of his glory that is building momentum and progressively moving toward the final experience of the fullness of that glory at the return of Jesus Christ.

The ultimate glory in view here is described in other texts as follows:

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).

“When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4).

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2; cf. 1 Thess. 5:23).

Murray Harris put it best when he described this phenomenon as “a body suffused with the divine glory and perfectly adapted to the ecology of heaven” (317). I like that!

But there’s so much more in this passage that must be noted. Paul writes:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Perhaps the best way to mine this text for all its treasure is to make a series of observations.

First, Paul describes us, all Christians, as those who are “beholding the glory of the Lord” and doing so, unlike the Israelites of old, “with unveiled face.” It was the distinct privilege of Moses alone to glimpse the “glory” of God when he saw his “form” (Numbers 12:8) and his “back” (Exodus 33:23). But now in the New Covenant “all Christians without distinction are privileged to witness that glory” (Harris, 313). And unlike the people of Israel who looked upon the glory as reflected in Moses’ veiled face, we see with permanently uncovered faces.

Second, Paul’s mirror analogy suggests that we see the “glory of the Lord” indirectly, “mirrored”, as it were, in “the face of Jesus” who is “the image of God.” But where exactly do we “see” or “behold” that glory? Paul saw the glory of God on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 22:11 – “the brightness [lit., “glory”] of that light”; see also Acts 26:13). In 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 he suggests that God shines the glory of that light “in our hearts” through “the gospel.” Thus as Barnett explains, “paradoxically, therefore, Paul’s readers see the glory of Christ as they hear the gospel, which in turn gives the knowledge of God” (206).

It is important to point out that Paul’s “mirror analogy” is not meant to suggest that we see the glory of Christ indistinctly or in a distorted way, but indirectly “as over against our eschatologically seeing him ‘face to face.’ The imagery, therefore, is something quite positive, and it worked for Paul precisely because it allowed him to postulate a real ‘seeing,’ yet one that in the present age falls short of actually seeing the Lord ‘face to face’ as it were” (Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 317). Or again, the apostle’s point is that although our vision of this glory is mediated it is inescapably clear, because the person of Christ who is revealed in the gospel is the exact and altogether perfect representation of God.

Third, the process that we call sanctification comes only as or because we behold the glory of God. Apart from beholding there is no becoming. The more we know him and behold him (cf. Ps. 27:4) in the splendor of his glory, the more we are changed into the very image of Jesus himself, in whose face God’s glory has shined or is reflected (2 Cor. 4:4,6). Sanctification, therefore, is the fruit of seeing and savoring. Ignorance, on the other hand, breeds moral paralysis (if not regression).

Fourth, Paul is clearly talking about the transformation of the inner person. “When Jesus was transfigured, the change was outwardly visible (Matt. 17:2), but when Christians are transformed, the change is essentially inward, the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2), and becomes visible only in their Christ-like behavior” (Harris, 316). Of course, as we saw in several texts above the inner change will consummate in an outward transformation at the time of Christ’s return. Until then, as Paul says later in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”

Fifth, as much as we all might wish otherwise, sanctification is progressive, not instantaneous. As noted earlier, we are gradually moving by the power of the Spirit from one stage or degree of glory (first “seen” in the gospel when we turn to Christ) to another (that of the glorified Jesus, whose glory we will not only see on that day but in which we will also participate).

Sixth, sanctification is by grace (we “are being transformed”), the agent of which is the Spirit of Christ. This doesn’t eliminate human effort but rather makes it possible. We act because acted upon. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling because God, who is always antecedent, is at work in us to will and to do for his good pleasure (cf. Phil. 2:12-13)!

Seventh, and finally, we see here that “beholding is a way of becoming” (Piper, The Pleasures of God, 17). That is to say, we always tend to become like or take on the characteristics and qualities of whatever it is we admire and enjoy and cherish most. Fixing the eyes of our faith on Jesus is transformative. Gazing on his glory as seen in the gospel and now preserved for us in Scripture has the power to bump us along, as it were, whether minimally or maximally, whether in short spurts of sanctification or great and notable triumphs, toward the fullness that is found in Christ alone but will one day be found in us, by grace, as well!

So, be encouraged! Be strengthened! Be reassured! For he “who began a good work in you [‘from glory’] will bring it to completion [‘unto glory’] at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

– Sam Storms

The Enemy That Yet Lurks Within- Pt. 2

Pride is such a choking weed that nothing will prosper near it.- Joseph Alleine

There is no room for God in the person who is full of himself. – Anonymous

Proud man would perish unless a lowly Redeemer found him. – Augustine

A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves. – Henry Ward Beecher

The most effective poison to lead men to ruin is to boast in themselves, in their own wisdom and power. – John Calvin

Pride and grace never dwell in one place. – Thomas Fuller

A proud heart and a lofty mountain are always barren. – William Gurnall

When pride begins, loves ceases. – Johann Lavater

Pride is the cause of all other sins. – Thomas Manton

God has nothing to say to the self-righteous. – D. L. Moody

Pride will make hell insufferable. – William Plumer

God can do little with those who love their lives or reputations. – C. T. Studd

Pride stops the current of gratitude. – Thomas Watson

The greatest hindrance to revival is pride among the Lord’s people.- Arthur S. Wood

Pride is there the moment we wake up and the moment we lay down to sleep; we must deny it and kill it all day long, by humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God.

– Mack T

Making Idols and Mocking Hell

Making Idols and Mocking Hell: “Theology” in the News
I’m addicted to USA Today. It’s not the best in American journalism, but it’s entertaining and moderately informative (especially the sports section). Today, Tuesday, September 25, 2007, it was just sad. Two stories in particular caught my eye, both of which are tragically indicative of the state of mind in Hollywood and around the globe.

(1) The first thing I noticed was a short piece concerning the Indra Jatra festival in Katmandu, Nepal. The eight-day festival, celebrated by both Hindus and Buddhists, “is named after Lord Indra, the god of rain” (p. 9a).

What caught my eye wasn’t the headline announcing this pagan festival but the picture that accompanied it. Two unidentified people, a man and a woman, are seen putting the final touches on the face of a hideous idol. Its features include protruding eyes, flaring nostrils and four oversized and undoubtedly sharp teeth, two of which are protruding from the top much like one would expect from a vampire in some B-horror movie. I have no way of knowing if this is a representation of the pagan deity Indra or perhaps some other “god” or “power” believed to work in tandem with or in opposition to “the god of rain”.

I immediately felt three responses rising up in my heart. One was anger that yet again people refused to honor or give thanks to the One True God and instead were futile in their thinking and, while claiming to be wise, became fools and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom. 1:21-23).

It angered me that anyone but our great and glorious God would be praised or given credit for the gift of rain, for he alone “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45). Neither “Indra” nor any other so-called “god” is capable of doing what Yahweh does, for “he covers the heavens with clouds . . . [and] prepares rain for the earth” (Ps. 147:8). Perhaps I should let God speak for himself, as he did to Job: “Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass?” (Job 38:25-27).

A day is coming when those who worship “Indra” and other deities to whom they give credit for natural phenomena will stand before the Lord and hear him say: “Why did you not repent and give me glory for the manifestation of my goodness and greatness in creation, the consistent witness to my ‘eternal power and divine nature’ (Rom. 1:20) that are ‘clearly’ seen ‘in the things that have been made?’ (Rom. 1:20-21). You are ‘without excuse’” (Rom. 1:20b).

My second response was one of sadness to think of such people who give themselves over to the worship and adoration of a “deity” who is utterly impotent to intervene on their behalf, utterly impotent to redeem them from sin, utterly impotent to bring this chaotic world to its consummation in Jesus Christ. It reminded me of Psalm 115:4-11,

“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is [your] help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD! He is [your] help and their shield. You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is [your] help and their shield.”

As over against such pathetic incompetence and inability, “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Ps. 115:3)! And as I looked at those two anonymous figures in the photograph, I only wish that I could have said to them, “Don’t you realize that ‘those [like the two of you] who make them [i.e., dead, lifeless, hideous idols] become like them’? Is this the image according to which you want to be conformed?”

My third reaction was one of gratitude for friends of mine like H_____ and M_____, and B_____ and N_____, and B_____ and S_____ who labor daily in Nepal, joyfully sacrificing the comforts I take for granted to bring the gospel of eternal life to those who would otherwise forever remain in spiritual darkness.

(2) The second eye-catching story was easier to see. The large headline in the Life section of the paper read: “Reaper” shows viewers a hell of a good time (p. 1d). The story concerned a new TV show scheduled to premier tonight at 9:00 eastern time. No, I won’t be watching.

The show concerns a “hapless young Sam” (praise God, not me!) who is sold to the Devil by his mother and father. And what is his job in service of his new master? He is forced to work “as a hellish bounty hunter, recapturing escaped souls.” As expected, Satan is portrayed as being in charge of hell, overseeing the torment of those consigned to spend an eternity there.

Aside from the fact that a show like this fails to communicate the very real and literal existence of eternal torment, it perpetuates any number of misconceptions about hell that, sadly, even many Christians mindlessly embrace. Contrary to the plot, there is no such thing (and never will be) as “escaped souls.” There are no “second chances” or opportunities to “redeem” oneself. Once consigned to hell by the righteous and irreversible verdict of a good and holy God, there is no escape. Perhaps those in Hollywood, if they know anything of the biblical portrait of hell, are aware of the liberties they are taking with this story. But I doubt that they care. After all, it makes for a good laugh and an interesting twist in their efforts to gain as many viewers (and thus dollars for their commercial advertisements) as possible.

There is another distortion in this scenario, and it concerns the role of Satan in hell. Contrary to what many believe, he is not in charge there. God is. The “eternal fire” of hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41), not that he (and they) might oversee its application to others but precisely so that he (and they) might suffer its torments. According to Revelation 20:10, in which we find a description of the final judgment, “the devil . . . was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” It is God who inflicts righteous punishment on the rebellious and unbelieving, not Satan. The latter is himself a deserving object of eternal punishment, not its administrator.

I suppose some will tell me to lighten up and enjoy the show for what it is, a mindless, slightly entertaining diversion at the end of a long day at work. But may I suggest that it is precisely because of such an endless run of jokes, TV shows, and misguided feature-length films that we Christians struggle to get people today to take hell seriously. Is it any wonder that professing evangelicals are themselves beginning to question the existence of an eternal hell in favor of some version of annihilationism or universalism?

Watch this show if you must, laugh if you will, but as you do, think about those two people in Nepal preparing “Indra” for their pagan festival in Katmandu. For they and all others who exchange “the truth about God for a lie” and serve “the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25) will one day, and forever, be in that very hell which so many casually mock. And there too, but for the grace of God, go I.

Let me close by telling you a story. A friend of mine who worked in a high-rise office building in Dallas told me of an incident one day in an elevator. It was August and the temperature was in excess of 100 degrees. As my friend entered the elevator, so too did a man who was sweating profusely and had obviously been jogging in the summer heat. “Whew,” he virtually spewed out, “it’s as hot as hell out there!” Without intending to be in the slightest way humorous or flippant, my friend replied, somberly, “No sir. It isn’t.”

So much for my experience today in reading USA Today.

– Sam Storms

The Enemy That Yet Lurks Within

“A man’s pride shall bring him low.” – Prov. 29:23

Pride was the first sin that was ever committed in the universe. It was and has always been the first sin within the human breast and the last one to be put to death. It is the most deeply-rooted evil in the depths of the human soul, more far reaching that we can even realize.

Let us meditate on the warnings of our Heavenly Father regarding this most deadly and subtle sin which is our constant and daily enemy.

Pride, arrogance, and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. – Prov. 8:13

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble there is wisdom. – Prov. 11:2

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. – Prov. 16:18

Haughty eyes, a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.- Prov. 21:4

– One’s pride will bring him low. – Prov. 29:23

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts . . . pride . . . all these things come from within and defile the man. – Mk. 7:22

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. – James 4:6

It was pride that cause Lucifer, the highest of the angelic order, to be cast down to hell, banished forever from the heavenly army. (Is. 14:12-15)

It was pride that thrust Adam and Eve from paradise. (Gen. 3)

It was pride that made Pharaoh stubbornly say, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?” But his pride was leveled to the ground- well, to a watery grave. (Ex. 5:2)

Through pride alone the leper Naaman resisted Elisha’s directives for healing, but humility brought him skin like a new born. (2 Kings 5:11)

It was pride thrust Saul out of his kingdom.

Uzziah prospered by God’s favor, but when he became strong, his heart was lifted up to destruction. (2 Chron. 26:16) Pride is the greatest demolition crew in the history of the world.

When Hezekiah was sick and dying, it was pride that kept him from returning according to the benefits he had received; therefore, wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem; BUT Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, SO THAT the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in his day.(2 Chron. 32:24-26)

Haman, one of the proudest men in all the Old Testament, was hung on the gallows that his own pride built. (Esther 7:10)

Nebuchadnezzar became a temporary beast because of pride until God had fully humbled him. (Dan. 4:35)

The Jews’ pride produced such blindness that they could say to Christ, “We are Abraham’s seed and we were never in bondage to any man.” (Jn. 8:33) Oh! What about a fellow named Pharoah for 400 years? Did that little fact somehow slip your mind?

The proud, the arrogant, the conceited, the self-centered, the selfish– none shall escape God’s resistance, for He resists (stiff-arms) the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.

Without even realizing it, we take pride in so many different things:

– possessions, gifts and abilities: what we possess

– our body and appearance: what we look like

– our work or ministry positions: what we can do

– relationships: who we know

– cars: the decaying piece of metal that gets us different places

– knowledge: what we know or think we know

– children and grandchildren- those we we have re-produced

– our church: the expression of His own glory in the earth

– our opportunities: what God has given us

We could go on and mention an endless list of things used to produce pride within;

Consider such wisdom regarding the ugliness of pride:

– If you want to please the devil, begin to admire yourself. – Anonymous

– Most of us have too big an appetite for appreciation. – John Blanchard

– The whole human race is infected with the disease of pride. – John Calvin

– There is nothing that human pride resents so much as to be rebuked. – G. B. Duncan

– The proud hate pride in others. – Benjamin Franklin

– Pride is the inmost coat which we put on first and the one we put off last.- Joseph Hall

– The devil is content that people should do good works, provided he can make them proud of them. – William Law

– The natural man is always play-acting, always looking at himself and admiring himself. – D. M. Lloyd-Jones

– No sin is so deeply rooted in our nature as pride. It cleaves to us like our skin. – J. C. Ryle

– Guard against those little tricks by which vanity tries to bring around the conversation to yourself to gain the praise or notice which your thirsty ears drink in so greedily. – Samuel Wilberforce

– As death is the last enemy, so pride is the last sin that shall be destroyed in us. – John Boys

– Spiritual pride is a white devil. – Thomas Brooks

– The man who thinks he is too big for a little place is, in fact, too little for a big place. – Vance Havner

What do you take pride in? What causes your heart to inflate with pride? In what do you glory?

There is only one person and one thing in the entire universe that calls for our pride:

Jesus Christ and the cross of Calvary; He alone and this alone deserves recognition and boasting.

Let us deal with pride as we would a poisonous snake we find on our front porch. Get a tool and put it to death anytime it shows its ugly head.

Epistles of Christ

Epistles of Christ
2 Cor. 3.1-3

Salvation and our relationship to the Lord are described in any number of ways in the New Testament, using a variety of images, metaphors, and analogies. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep. God is the giver of life and we are born again. He is the compassionate Father and we are adopted. God is the righteous judge and we are justified. The Spirit is an indwelling presence and we are his temple, and the list could go on without end.

But one of the more intriguing and instructive images is that of Christians as a letter or epistle which Jesus himself has written, the Holy Spirit being, as it were, the pen or instrument by which he has authored us. “And you show,” writes Paul, “that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:3).

Before we explore this rich metaphor, let me set the context in which it is found.

You will recall that Paul has just defended the integrity of his ministry at the close of 2 Corinthians 2. Unlike those who peddle the word of God, no doubt for financial gain, he speaks sincerely as one “commissioned by God”. He ministers “in Christ” as one who is ever under the scrutiny of God himself (v. 17).

Paul may well have feared that when his enemies heard those words they would once more accuse him of boasting and self-promotion. Perhaps they would say: “Well, there he goes again, commending himself to you, just like we warned.” Anticipating this possibility, he writes:

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:1-3).

The “many” (2:17) who peddled the Word of God are probably the “some” (3:1) who promoted themselves and gained a foothold in Corinth on the strength of letters of commendation. Paul does not altogether deny the validity of using such letters in certain circumstances, but insists that he does not need them when it comes to his relationship with the Corinthians. After all, he had devoted eighteen months to living in Corinth, ministering daily to their needs (cf. Acts 18:1-11). How could they possibly now require such letters from him before they acknowledged his apostolic office?

Paul’s use of the word “again” in v. 1 does not mean he was actually guilty of self-advertisement on some earlier occasion, but simply that his opponents had accused him of it, possibly because of his exhortation in 1 Corinthians 4:16 and 11:1 that they “be imitators of me.” But let’s take note of Paul’s reference to “letters of recommendation.”

In my capacity as a pastor and professor these many years of Christian ministry, I have been asked to write dozens of letters of recommendation. Most were on behalf of prospective students seeking admission to a college or university or to a graduate program of study. A few were written as part of their application for employment.

There’s nothing wrong with this practice today. The nature of our society and the world of business and education often require it. But in Paul’s world the need for letters of recommendation could easily indicate that someone lacked sufficient evidence on his own to back up whatever claims he was making for himself. They were viewed by many, therefore, as “a substitute source of credibility” (Hafemann, 116).

Paul’s point is that the Corinthians themselves, their very existence as believers and the transformation in their lives, was sufficient recommendation in itself. He didn’t need additional proof of the authenticity of his calling. How could the Corinthians yield to the pressure of the false teachers and demand from Paul that he bring with him letters that testified to his apostolic authority? The Corinthians need only look at their own experience of Christ to realize that Paul was precisely who he claimed to be and ministered in the power and authority of Jesus himself.

“If it is a letter of recommendation you desire,” says Paul, “you are it!” In other words, the best evidence of Paul’s apostolic credentials is the Corinthian church. As Paul Barnett has said, “The ‘letter’ written not on paper but in people –the Corinthian messianic assembly – is Christ’s visible commendation of Paul, the church’s founder. The church is the Lord’s commendation of him” (166).

This, then, is the context for the remarkable statement that we find in v. 3. Taking advantage of his earlier reference to “letters” or “epistles” of recommendation, he describes the Corinthians themselves as a “letter” written by Christ! Their conversion is likened to the Lord, through the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit, writing a document that testifies to his glory and beauty and life-changing power!

The implications of this are stunning. Consider, for example, the contemporary discipline known as Graphology, perhaps better known simply as hand-writing analysis. Although some have questioned its scientific credibility, others contend that the shape, size, and other distinctive features of one’s personal script reveal much about I have no way of knowing if this is true, but it provides a helpful illustration of what happens when a person is born again and begins to grow in conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. My point is that the personality of Christ can be seen in the “letters” that he has graciously written, which letters we are! Just as the physical dimensions of a person’s handwriting may well reveal their character and emotional state of mind, so too the spiritual contours of a Christian ought to be a manifestation of the moral beauty of Jesus who has, in a sense, “penned” us.

-Sam Storms

New Life for Journey-Wearied Pilgrims

“You were wearied with the length of your way, but you did not say, ‘It is hopeless; you found new life for your strength, and so you were not faint.”- Isaiah 57:10

Weary in the journey? For all believers, there is a weariness that come with the longevity of living out this life in the battle of living for Christ. It could not be any other way. It is not intended to be any other way.

It is only an American fantasy that makes ones believe that this life is to be all good, easy, successful, and romantic. The reality is that this entire life’s journey is hard, difficult, stretching, challenging, stressful, and enlarging. It pushes the frail human (yes, the Christian as well; in fact, especially the Christian) at times far beyond human ability to maintain strength and vitality.

We do become weary IN the journey, BECAUSE OF the journey. The length of our way, Isaiah says, is the cause. It is one thing to run 100 meters; it is quite another thing to run a marathon. This life, and living the Christian life year after year after year after year — for years, is wearying. We go through too much, we experience too much, we face too much, we suffer too much, we grow tired, we have deepest sorrows, we over-extend ourselves, we don’t function at times with wisdom, and we make choices that have seemingly negative consequences. In essence, we become wearied spiritually, emotionally, and physically because of the length of our way. Isaiah says so.

BUT the difference for the true believer is that they will never ultimately say, “It is hopeless”; Oh, he or she may feel that and even be tempted to say it to themselves for a brief time. But it doesn’t last- such a feeling of hoplessness for the Christian is always and only temporal. Then changes and help comes.

The reason is one thing- “you found new life for your strength”; new, fresh strength, hope, help, quickening, vitality, renewal, and power comes to us always. It cannot fail. It is a promise of God throughout His word that the believer will be renewed and strengthened by the mighty and supernatural help of the grace of the Spirit.

The result is “so you were not faint” – what a blessed promise and gift from our sustaining Saviour; He will never let one of His children down. Strength, help, new life, and hope will come. Look to Him; He created you, He has loved you with an everlasting love, He redeemed you, He saved you and called you with a heavenly calling, He has given you exceeding great and precious promises, and He will not fail you. Trust Him and ask Him for new life. It is available for weary saints.

– Mack T

Fully Dressed and in a Right Mind

Fully Dressed and in a Right Mind

I, for one, will be glad when the first freeze comes – not just to eliminate the bugs and the pollen, but to see the public put their clothes back on. Admittedly, if I weren’t a Christian it wouldn’t bother me, I’d go ahead and feed my eyes like others; but now I want to side off with God and condemn this personified pornography in a day when jogging shorts reveal more than pajamas, nakedness is justified as art, products are promoted by sex appeal, and swimming pools and beaches have become even more bold as altars of body worship. Why do people dress scantily in public?

First, it is a matter of REBELLION AND LAWLESSNESS – “I’m free”. It is an attempt to deny the fallen condition of man. Originally, man was naked and unashamed, but now sin has entered and the normal thing is to feel shame at nakedness.

Second, PRIDE is involved– “Look at me.” It is a desire to wield the power of beauty.

Third, I mention LUST, that is, a spirit of fornication and adultery. I know that most might maintain their innocence on this, but to dress so as to stir up unclean thoughts in others is to assist in immorality. It is no accident that the prostitute dresses the way she does – she is trying to say something. And so we see cut off tee-shirts, partially unbuttoned shirts, and form-fitting clothes – it all speaks volumes. Rape has increased 700% in the last 50 years. Can we put all the blame on the men? The devil is a tempter and he does not need help doing his work.

Last, behind the scene, UNCLEAN SPIRITS are at work pouring gas on the fires of our lusts. Nakedness is inspired by demonic activity (Lk. 8:27).

No, I’m not advocating that we wear uniforms or return to the 1800’s, but I am pointing out that modesty is a Biblical absolute (I Tim. 2:9). The Bible does say that the immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God. And we are in a day when 80% admit to fornication, 50% of the marriages fail, and 25% of the babies are born out of wedlock. Society is collapsing and only a return to God and His standards will stop the corruption. Let’s keep our bodies for our spouse. Let’s forget the short-lived tan.

The Lord Jesus died for sinners to break the penalty of sin and lives in believers to break the power of sin. God is looking for the inward beauty of humility and holiness (Prov. 31:30) – the product of a new heart created by Christ.

– Bob Jennings

Smelling Good to God

2 Cor. 2.15-16

How do you measure success? By what standard do you assess how well you’ve done? When you take stock of your life or evaluate the effectiveness of whatever ministry God has given you, how do you determine the outcome? Do you count heads? Or money? Do you apply the criteria typically used in a Gallup poll or Barna survey? Do you size up your efforts as over against those of high-achieving folk in the market place or perhaps line up your congregation, side by side, with the mega-church down the road?

All of us are tempted to measure ourselves by comparing what we’ve produced with that of others, especially those whom we admire or whose names are cited often in the newspaper or on the blogs. Let’s admit it. We invest far too much in the opinion of the power-brokers in our society, whether spiritual or secular. What they think and how well they’ve done, as well as the size of their facility and the impact of their ministry weighs heavily on our minds and typically leads to feelings of inferiority and failure.

I can hardly overemphasize the devastating effects of embracing this perspective in the life of the church. It saddens me to see how many have compromised on truth, cutting corners on the gospel or softening the sharp edge of biblical morality in order to enhance one’s status or increase attendance or retain the support of some significant donor.

Equally as devastating are those who’ve abandoned church and ministry altogether, whether from burnout or the unbearable frustration of thinking they’ve failed God or shown themselves incapable of fulfilling the calling on their lives.

If that even remotely resonates in your heart or if you struggle with feelings of spiritual inferiority, ministerial incompetence, or simple inadequacy as a Christian, heed well the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16. The biblical standard for “success” articulated in this text is a much-needed remedy for what ails so many in the church today:

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:15-16a).

Do you want to smell good to God? Then be true to the gospel! Be faithful to its terms, articulate its promises, and don’t back down from declaring the eternal consequences that come with its denial.

There are two, and only two, possible responses to the gospel of Christ. When the message is made known, everyone responds. There is no such thing as neutrality. Indifference or apathy is a myth. Not to believe the good news in Christ Jesus is to reject it. Pretending to ignore it is to deny it.

Either you are among “those who are being saved” or you are among “those who are perishing”. The word of the cross is either “folly”, utter and absolute foolishness, or it is “the power of God” unto salvation (see 1 Cor. 1:18). The message of Christ that Paul proclaims (and not the messenger) is itself responsible for dividing the hearers in this way.

Wherever, whenever, and to whomever the Christian proclaims the name of Jesus, a fragrance is released. To some it is an aroma of life and hope and renewal and forgiveness. Nothing can compare with the sweet smell of the Son of God. The gospel of his dying and rising for sinners awakens life and leads to life. To others it is a suffocating, poisonous stench.

Charles Spurgeon reminds us:

“The gospel is preached in the ears of all; it only comes with power to some. The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise men would be converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it – the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. O Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as to preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the Word, to give it power to convert the soul.”

But what I want you to see is that Paul is a fragrance to God regardless of the response to his message! When, in the midst of suffering, he faithfully proclaims the gospel and is mocked, slandered, and the name of Jesus is blasphemed, Paul smells good to God. When, in the midst of suffering, he faithfully proclaims the same gospel and is embraced and loved and people bow the knee in love and loyalty to Jesus, Paul smells good to God.

We are a fragrance to God even when our message is rejected. So long as we remain faithful to our commission, we smell good to God. Though our crowds be small and the offering paltry, success is measured by fidelity, not fruit. Whether our efforts lead to “life” or “death”, we remain “an aroma of Christ to God” (v. 15a). We have succeeded when we preach Jesus truly and biblically.

This will be a difficult pill to swallow only if our fear of man is greater than our fear of God, only if our preference is for their praise rather than his. Some of the worst failures in ministry are found in mega churches, where pragmatism often (though not always) trumps principle. Many who appear small in the eyes of man are giants in the kingdom of God. Both success and failure can be found in churches of every size, whether mega or mini.

There’s no escaping the fact that you smell, and so do I. May we strive in the power of God’s grace to be a fragrant aroma, pleasing to him (even if putrid to the world).

– Sam Storms

Life is a Speeding Bullet to Eternity

“Lord, teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”

How has the past five years passed so quickly? My 15 year old son was just ten. I turn around and the daughter that was as high as my belt not long ago is now as tall as I am.

Where is life going? Where has it gone? How have the past 50, 30, 20, 10, 5 years passed so quickly? What have I done? What is the present counting for? What does the future hold and how long do I have? If the next 10 years pass as quickly as the previous ten, I find that I am, at times of weak faith, actually scared or at least very sobered by it all; what can I do to redeem my remaining time? What can I do to have no regrets when I am dying? Such thoughts often fills the mind of one who is in the second half of life.

O, how fast is life. It is a vapor, a mist, a disappearing cloud; it is churning away and passing like a bullet toward its target- eternity. The brevity and speed of this life reminds us, as dear Geoff Thomas says, that we are not here to stay but we are here to go, and while we are in this world we are strangers on a swift journey. This certainly becomes more real with each passing year, especially when birthdays come around.

Birthdays, for younger folk, are times of celebration and encouragement, with feelings that are affirming and uplifting. You are glad to be getting older and feel that you have 500 years to yet live. But not so for those who are getting older. When people get into their forties, fifties and beyond, birthdays become a different thing altogether. They are not the fun things they were when young, but rather are sobering reminders that the days have quickly turned into years and you are feeling the great reality- “I don’t have many years before it will be my funeral that others will be attending and I will not be here– I will be in eternity.” This is what becomes more and more real with second-half birthdays. By second-half, I mean birthdays that come in the second half of life. The second half has become very, very real to me.

If we are realistic, when one turns forty, he is already in that “second-half”, because Scripture promises three score and ten- 70 years; but we all know that it is not a promise that is certain for all believers; there have been many wonderful Christians who have died before the age of ten, twenty, thirty, and forty. So those thirty-nine and older ought to welcome themselves into the second half of life. Everyone’s life is passing away and will soon be gone.

We tend to live life before fifty as if we are never going to die; intellectually, we know we will die, but we don’t feel it and we certainly don’t dwell on it enough; it is not real to us; we don’t prepare for it like we ought to; we don’t meditate on it enough and develop an eternity-conscious mentality. Then when our later years are upon us, we are not ready for the reality that comes with it– “O my, I am approaching sixty– seventy– where have the years gone? what have I accomplished? What do I do now? How can I best use the few and fleeting years I have left, whatever that might be?” This can bring with it a dampening, depressing feeling which can cast one down for months if they are not mindful of it and don’t guard themselves against it.

What is the remedy for such a trap? It is the Bible. And more specifically, particular needed graces that the Bible alone and Christ alone gives– an eternal perspective, a deeply satisfied heart that is satisfied in Christ alone, and a life that is truly kingdom-centered. Any heart that is attached to this world will feel sadness as they realize that before long they will be leaving it. But the heart that is in heaven, that has its mind set on things above, that longs for Christ, that sees this vile world for what it is– temporal and passing vanity– such a heart will not continually be cast down with the passing of time and the second half of life. Each passing day, month, and year brings the true Christian closer and closer to being with their Saviour forever and forever. Can you imagine the moment when you actually see Him and know that you are now with Him forever?

More and more, I find myself saying to my close friends, “It won’t be long before one of us will probably be standing at each other’s funeral.” We know it’s coming. At that time, as someone has said, I seriously doubt that anyone on their death bed will ask, “Would you read me the amount I have in my bank savings account and the summary of my financial port folio?” No one will be asking that. Rather, all earthly things are behind them and they are starring death and eternity in the face big time. Then– at that moment– nothing except Christ Himself will matter. That day, the day of our death, is fast approaching for you and for me. We ARE going to die. John Wesley was right, “This life is only a dressing room for eternity.”

I must confess that I at times feel dread at the though of dying and leaving my children and grandchildren in this world without me. It casts me down at times. But then I remember that, though every Christian must pass from this life, the God and Father of that Christian lives on and He can and will work in the lives of those descendants of ours we love so much. I can trust Him with their future here without me. I can’t keep them now; I can’t protect them now; so why should I worry about their future life when I am gone? God is real; He is able; He is the everlasting God and Father. I can trust Him with their lives present and future.

It ought to be our continual prayer: “Lord, teach me to number my days and teach me to apply my heart to wisdom; give me enabling grace to redeem whatever days and years I have left and fit me for eternity, as well as enabling me to leave a Christ-fragrant legacy behind when I am gone. It was just such a person with such a perspective who wrote:

Only one life
Twill soon be past;
Only what’s done
For Christ will last.

And when I am dying
How glad I shall be,
That the lamp of my life
Has been burned out for Thee.

For those who want to learn to number their days and apply their hearts to wisdom,
Isaac Watts is always a help:

O God our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come;
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten as a dream
dies at the opening day.

Any funerals to attend soon? Yes, O yes, for each of us.
And precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.

From a dying friend to a dying friend, hopeful that we will spend one bright eternal day forever together.

– Mack T.