31 December 2006

A Watch-Night Service

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

This week's excerpt is a complete record of the entire watch-night service from New Park Street Chapel in London, December 31, 1855. Spurgeon was twenty-one years old at the time and was about to finish his second year as pastor of the congregation he shepherded until the end of his life. It was already the largest Baptist church in the world.

Spurgeon's message at this service was notable for its extraordinary passion. You can easily detect, from the words alone, the fervency with which he delivered this message. It's really long, even for a Pyro post, but well worth the time it requires to read.

A prefatory note from Spurgeon: If it be enquired why I held a Watch-night, let the answer be—because I hoped that the Lord would own the service, and thus souls might be saved. I have preached at all hours the gospel of Jesus, and I see no reason why I may not preach at midnight, if I can obtain hearers. I have not done it from imitation, but for the best of reasons—the hope of doing good, and the wish to be the means of gathering in the outcasts of Israel. God is my witness, I would preach every hour of the day, if body and mind were equal to the task. When I consider how souls are being damned and how few there are who mourn and cry over them, I am constrained to cry with Paul, "Woe is me if I preach not the gospel." Oh, that the new year may be far better than the last.

I am almost sorry to see this service in print, and fear it will rob many of their week's food from the regular sermon; but as it is done, I pray the Lord to own it for Jesus' sake.—C.H.S.

he chapel being densely crowded in every part, the preacher entered the pulpit, and after prayer, solemnly read the verse—which the congregation then sang—

"Ye virgin souls, arise!
With all the dead awake;
Unto salvation wise;
Oil in your vessels take:
Upstarting at the MIDNIGHT CRY,
Behold Your heavenly bridegroom nigh."

Two brethren then offered prayer for the Church and the World, that the new year might be clothed with glory by the spread of the knowledge of Jesus.—Then followed the


Psalm 90:1-22

"Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.

Yea Jehovah, WE, thy children, can say that thou hast been our home, our safe dwelling-place. And oh, what joy, what peace have we found in his sacred bosom. No home like the breast of the Lord, to which, in all generations, true believers fly. Let me ask the unbelievers where their joy is. Where has your habitation been, ye sons of sin and daughters of folly?

"Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God."

And the same God too, loving His people, passing by their sins and remembering not their iniquities. Oh, beloved, let this thought cheer you, he was, he is, he will be God. Here change cannot climb, here mutation must not approach. For ever and ever he is God.

"Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men."

How many this year have departed. Oh, where had we been had this been our case? Many of us can say, we should have been in bliss, and we should have returned unto God, but alas, many here would have entered the fires of hell and commenced their never-ending torture.

"For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night."

"Thou carriest them away as with a flood."

Who are they who are carried away as with a flood? Yourselves, my hearers, and myself. Though we know it not, we are always in motion. The impetuous torrent of time is carrying us along like a mighty rolling river. We cannot stand against the force which drives us onwards. As powerless as the straw we are; we can by no means resist it. Whither are we going? Where is the river carrying us to? We cannot stem its torrents; we cannot escape its floods. Oh! where, oh! where, are we going!

"Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.

"In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.

"For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled."

No man better understands this than the convinced sinner, when smarting under the rod of God. Truly our strength is then utterly consumed, and the troubles of our heart are enlarged.

"Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance."

Hear that! "our secret sins." Some of you bear hell's mark on your forehead. Some of you, like Cain, have the mark of justice on your very brow. Your sins are beforehand with you in judgment. Ah! they are there to-night, blabbing out the tale of your sad, sad history. But there are persons here who have "secret sins." Ye have not been found out yet. The night was too dark for human eye to see you; the deed was too secret for mortal to behold; but it is set somewhere. Just as we set a stone in a golden ring, so has God set your "secret sins in the light of his countenance." Your sins are this night before the eyes of the infinite Jehovah.

"For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told."

The Vulgate translation has: "Our years pass away like those of a spider." It implies that our life is as frail as the thread of a spider's web. Constituted most curiously the spider's web is; but what more fragile? In what is there more wisdom than in the complicated frame of a human body; and what more easily destroyed? Glass is granite compared with flesh; and vapours are rocks compared with life.

"The days of our years are threescore years and ten;"

Mark, the Psalmist says, "the days of our years." How seldom we think of that! Our years we think of, but not "the days of our years."

"And if [it is a great "if" indeed, for how many die before they attain to it!] by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away."

Where do we fly to? Is it upwards that we wing our way, on more than eagles' wings, to realms of joy unknown? Or is it downward that we sink with all our sins round our necks like millstones? Oh! shall we go down, down, till in hell we lift up our eyes, being in torments?

"Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.

"So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."

Here is heavenly arithmetic; an application of numeration seldom thought of even by the wise. May we, during the next year, so measure out our time, that we may apply our hearts to Jesus, who is the true wisdom.

Amen! Lord, may that be granted!

Now we will sing a verse of that solemn hymn—
"When thou my righteous judge shall come,"

and then the Pastor will make an evening's prayer for you before he comes to speak with your souls on God's behalf.


"Let me among thy saints be found
Whene'er the archangel's trump shall sound,
To see thy smiling face:
Then loudest of the crowd I'll sing,
While heav'n's resounding mansions ring
With shouts of sovereign grace."


God, save my people! Save my people! A solemn charge hast thou given to thy servant. Ah! Lord, it is all too solemn for such a child. Help him; help him by thine own grace, to discharge it as he ought.

O Lord, let thy servant confess that he feels that his prayers are not as earnest as they should be for his people's souls; that he does not preach so frequently as he ought, with that fire, that energy, that true love to men's souls. But O Lord, damn not the hearers for the preacher's sin. Oh, destroy not the flock for the shepherd's iniquity. Have mercy on them, good Lord, have mercy on them, O Lord, have mercy on them!

There are some, Father, that will not have mercy on themselves. How have we preached to them, and laboured for them! O God thou knowest that I lie not. How have I striven for them, that they might be saved! But the heart is too hard for man to melt, and the soul made of iron too hard for flesh and blood to render soft. O God, the God of Israel, thou canst save. There is the pastor's hope; there is the minister's trust. He cannot but thou canst, Lord; they will not come, but thou canst make them willing in the day of thy power.

They will not come unto thee that they may have life; but thou canst draw them, and then they shall run after thee. They cannot come; but thou canst give them power; for though no man cometh except the Father draw him, yet if he draw him then he can come, O Lord, for another year has thy servant preached—thou knowest how. It is not for him to plead his cause with thee—that is in another's hands, and has been there, thank God, years ago. But now, O Lord, we beseech thee, bless our people.

Let this our church, thy church, be still knit together in unity; and this night may they commence a fresh era of prayer. They are a praying people, blessed by thy name, and they pray for their minister with all their hearts. O Lord, help them to pray more earnestly. May we wrestle in prayer more than ever, and besiege thy throne until thou makest Jerusalem a praise not only here, but everywhere.

But, Father, it is not the church we weep for; it is not the church we groan for; it is the world. O Faithful Promisor, hast thou not promised to thy Son that he should not die in vain? Give him souls we beseech thee, that he may be abundantly satisfied.

Hast thou not promised thy church that she shall be increased? Oh, increase her, increase her. And hast thou not promised that thy ministers shall not labour in vain? For thou hast said that "as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, even so shall thy word be: it shall not return unto thee void."

Let not the word return void tonight; but now may thy servant in the most earnest manner, with the most fervent heart, burning with love to his Saviour, and with love to souls, preach once more the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Come, Holy Spirit! We can do nothing without thee.

We solemnly invoke thee, great Spirit of God! thou who didst rest on Abraham, on Isaac, and on Jacob; thou, who in the night visions speaketh unto men. Spirit of the Prophets, Spirit of the Apostles, Spirit of the Church, be thou our Spirit this night, that the earth may tremble, that souls may be made to hear thy Word, and that all flesh may rejoice together to praise thy name. Unto Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the dread Supreme, be everlasting praise. Amen.


"Arise, cry out in the night; in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord"—Lamentations 2:19.

This was originally spoken to Zion, when in her sad and desolate condition, Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, had wept his eyes dry for the slain of the daughter of his people; and when he had done all he could himself to pour out tears for poor Jerusalem, he then begged Jerusalem to weep for herself.

Methinks I might become a Jeremy to-night, and weep as he, for surely the church at large is in almost as evil a condition. O Zion, how hast thou been veiled in a cloud, and how is thy honor trodden in the dust! Arise, ye sons of Zion, and weep for your mother, yea weep bitterly, for she hath given herself to other lovers, and forsaken the Lord that bought her.

I bear witness this night, in the midst of this solemn assembly, that the church at large is wickedly departing from the living God; she is leaving the truth which was once her glory, and she is mixing herself among the nations. Ah! beloved, it were well if Zion now could sometimes weep; it were well if there were more who would lay to heart the wound of the daughter of his people.

How hath the city become a harlot! how hath the much fine gold become dim! and how hath the glory departed! Zion is under a cloud. Her ministers preach not with the energy and fire that anciently dwelt in the lips of God's servants, neither is pure and undefiled doctrine proclaimed in her streets. Where are her evangelists who with earnest hearts traversed the land with the gospel on their lips? Where are her apostolic preachers who everywhere declared the good tidings of salvation?

Alas for the idle shepherds! Alas for the slumbering ministers! Weep sore, O Zion! weep thee sore, until another reformation comes to sweep thy floor. Weep thee, Zion: weep until he shall come whose fan is in his hand, who shall thoroughly purge his floor; for the time is coming when judgment must begin at the house of God. Oh, that now the princes of Israel had wisdom, that they might seek the Lord; but alas, our leaders have given themselves to false doctrine; neither do they love the thing which is right.

Therefore I charge thee, "Arise," O Zion, "cry out in the night, in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord."

We leave Zion, however, to speak to those who need exhortation more than Zion does; to speak to those who are Zion's enemies, or followers of Zion, and yet not belonging to her ranks. To them we shall have a word or two to say to-night.

1. First, from our text we gather—that it is never too soon to pray. "Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord." You are lying on your bed; the gracious Spirit whispers—"Arise, and pray to God."

Well, there is no reason why you should delay till the morning light; "in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord." We are told there that it is never too soon to pray. How many young persons imagine that religion is a thing for age, or at least for maturity; but they conceive that whilst they are in the bloom of their youth, they need not attend to its admonitions.

How many have we found who count religion to be a crutch for old age, who reckon it an ornament to their grey hairs, forgetting that to the young man religion is like a chain of gold around his neck, and like an ornament set with precious jewels, that shall array him with honour.

How many there be who think it is yet too soon for them to bear for a single moment the cross of Jesus. They do not want to have their young shoulders galled with an early burden; they do not think it is true that "it is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth;" and they forget that that "yoke is easy," and that "burden is light." Therefore, hour after hour, and day after day, the malicious fiend whispers in their ear—"It is too soon, it is too soon! postpone, postpone, postpone! procrastinate!"

Need we tell you once more that oft-repeated axiom, "Procrastination is the thief of time?" Need we remind you that "delays are dangerous?" Need we tell you that those are the workings of Satan? For the Holy Ghost, when he strives with man, says, "To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart."

It is never beloved, too soon to pray. Art thou a child to-night? Thy God heareth children. He called Samuel when he was but a child. "Samuel, Samuel;" and he said, "Here am I." We have had our Josiahs; we have heard of our Timothys; we have seen those in early youth who have been brought to the Saviour. Oh! remember it is not too soon to seek the Saviour, ere you arrive at manhood. If God in his mercy calls you to him, I beseech you think not for a moment that he will not hear you.

I trust I know his name; yea, more than that, I know I do. "I know whom I have believed." But he did not call me too early. Though but a child, I descended into the pool of baptism, there to be buried with my Saviour. Oh! I wish I could say that all those fourteen or fifteen years of my life had not been thrown away. Blessed be his name, he never calls us too soon. If he rises early in the morning, and sends some into his vineyard to labour, he does not send them before they should go—before there is work for them to do. Young man, it is not too soon. "Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord."

2. Again; it is not too late to cry to the Lord; for if the sun be set, and the watches of the night have commenced their round, the mercy seat is open. No shop is open so late as the House of Mercy.

The devil has two tricks with men. Sometimes he puts their clock a little backward, and he says, "Stop, there is time enough yet;" and when that does not answer, he turns the hands on, and he cries out, "Too late! too late!" Old man, has the devil said "It is too late?" Convinced sinner, has Satan said "It is too late?" Troubled, distressed one, has the thought risen in thy soul—a bitter and a dark one—"It is too late?" It is not.

Within another fifteen minutes another year shall have come; but if the Spirit of God calls you this year, he will not call you too late in the year.If to the last second you should live, if God the Holy Ghost calls you then, he will not have called you too late. Ah! ye desponding ones, who think it is all too late—it is not.

While the lamp holds out to burn,
The vilest sinner that returns

shall find mercy and peace. There have been some older than you can be; some as sinful and vile, and heinously wicked, who have provoked God as much, who have sinned against him as frequently, and yet they have found pardon. If he call thee, sinner, if he call thee to-night, 12 o'clock is not too late, as 1 o'clock is not too early.

If he call thee, whether it be at midnight, or cock-crowing, or noon-day, we would say to thee, as they did to the blind man, "Arise; he calleth thee." And as sure as ever he calls you, he will not send you away without a blessing. It is not too late to call on God. The darkness of night is gathering; it is coming on, and you are near to death. Arise, sleeper, arise! thou who art now taking the last nap of death. "Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord."

3. Next: we cannot pray too vehemently, for the text says, "Arise, cry out in the night." God loves earnest prayers. He loves impetuous prayers—vehement prayers.

Let a man preach if he dare coldly and slowly, but never let him pray so. God loveth crying-out prayers.

There is a poor fellow who says—"I don't know how to pray."

"Why, sir," He says, "I could not put six or seven words together in English grammar."

Tush upon English grammar! God does not care for that, so long as you pour out your heart. That is enough. Cry out before him.

"Ah!" says one, "I have been supplicating to God. I think I have asked for mercy."

But perhaps you have not cried out. Cry out before God. I have often heard men say they have prayed and have not been heard. But I have known the reason. They have asked amiss if they have asked; and those who cry with weak voices, who do not cry aloud, must not expect to get a blessing.

When you go to mercy's gate, let me give you a little advice. Do not go and give a gentle tap, like a lady; do not give a single knock, like a beggar; but take the knocker and wrap hard, till the very door seems to shake. Rap with all your might! and recollect that God loveth those who knock hard at mercy's gate. "Knock, and it shall be opened unto you."

I picture the scene at midnight, which our Saviour mentioned in the parable, and it will suit the present occasion. A certain man wanted some bread; a friend of his on a journey had come to his house and was very faint, and needed bread to eat. So off he went to his next door neighbour and rapped at his door, but no one came. He stood beneath the window and called out his friend's name.

His friend answered from the top of the house, where he had been lying asleep, "My wife and children are with me in bed, and I cannot rise and give thee."

But the man did not care about that. His poor friend wanted bread; so he called out aloud—"It is bread I want, and bread I must have!"

I fancy I see the man lying and sleeping there. He says, "I shan't get up; it is very cold to-night. How can you expect me to rise and go down stairs to get bread for you? I won't; I can't;' I shan't." So he wraps himself very comfortably again and lays down to sleep once more.

What does the man down below do? Oh! I hear him still. "Awake, sir! I must have it! I will have it! my friend is starving."

"Go home, you fellow! Don't disturb me this time of night."

"I must have bread! why don't you come and let me have it!" says the other; but the friend vexed and angry lies down again on his bed.

Still at the door there comes a heavier and a heavier rap, and the man still shouts—"Bread, sir, bread! you will not sleep all night till you come down and give it me!"

And verily I say unto you, though he will not rise and give it to him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as much as he needeth. "Arise, cry out in the night," and God will hear you, if you cry out with all your souls, and pour out your hearts before him.

4. And now our last remark is—we cannot pray too simply.

Just hear how the Psalmist has it: "pour out your hearts before him." Not "pour out your fine words," not "pour out your beautiful periods," but "pour out your hearts."

"I dare not," says one, "there is black stuff in my heart."

Out with it them: it is better out than in.

"I cannot," says another, "it would not run freely."

Pour it out sir; pour it all out—like water!

Do you not notice something in this? Some men say—"I cannot pray as I could wish; my crying out is a feeble one." Well, when you pour out water it does not make much noise. So you can pour out your heart prayer uttered in a garret that nobody has heard—but stop! Gabriel heard it; God himself heard it. There is many a cry down in a cellar, or up in a garret, or some lonely place where the cobbler sits mending his shoes beneath a window, which the world does not hear, but the Lord hears it.

Pour out your heart like water. How does water run out? The quickest way it can; that's all. It never stops much about how it runs. That is the way the Lord loves to have it. Some of your gentry offer prayers which are poured out drop after drop, and must be brought to a grand, ecclesiastical, prayer-book shape. Now, take your heart and pour it out like water.

"What!" says one, "with all the oaths in it?" Yes. "With all my old sins in it?"

Yes. Pour out your heart like water; pour it out by confessing all your sins; pour it out by begging the Lord to have mercy upon you for Christ's sake; pour it out like water. And when it is all poured out, he will come and fill it again with "wines on the lees, well refined." "Arise, cry out in the night; in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord."

Thus do I speak to all who will acknowledge themselves to be sinners in the sight of God, but even these must have the assistance of the Holy Spirit to enable them to cry out, O my Lord, grant it.

And now, dear friends, may grace be given unto you, that ye may be able to pour out your hearts this night! Remember, my hearers, it may seem a light thing for us to assemble to-night at such an hour, but listen for one moment to the ticking of that clock!

[Here the preacher paused, and amid solemn silence every one heard the clock with its tick, tick, tick.]

It is the beating of the pulse of eternity. You hear the ticking of that clock!—it is the footstep of death pursuing you. Each time the clock ticks, death's footsteps are falling on the ground close behind you. You will soon enter another year. This year will have gone in a few seconds. 1855 is almost gone; where will the next year be spent, my friends? One has been spent on earth; where will you spend the next?

"In heaven!" says one, "I trust."

Another murmurs, "Perhaps I shall spend mine in hell!"

Ah! solemn is the thought, but before that clock strikes 12, some here may be in hell; and blessed be the name of God! some of us may be in heaven! But O, do you know how to estimate your time, my hearers? do you know how to measure your days? Oh! I have not words to speak to-night.

Do you know that every hour you are nearing the tomb? that every hour you are nearing judgment? that the archangel is flapping his wings every second of your life, and, trumpet at his mouth, is approaching you? that you do not live stationary lives, but always going on, on, on, towards the grave? Do you know where the stream of life is hastening some of you? To the rapids—to the rapids of woe and destruction! What shall the end of those be who obey not the gospel of God?

Ye will not have so many years to live as ye had last year! See the man who has but a few shillings in his pocket, how he takes them out and spends them one by one! Now he has but a few coppers, and there is so much for that tiny candle, so much for that piece of bread. He counts the articles out one by one; and so the money goes! You think there is no bottom to your pockets; you think you have a boundless store of time—but you have not!

As the Lord liveth, there is a young man here that has not more than one year to live; and yet he is spending all that he is worth of time, in sin, in folly, and vice. Some of you have not that to live; and yet how are you spending your time! O take care! take care! time is precious! and whenever we have little of it, it is more precious; yea, it is most precious.

May God help you to escape from hell and fly to heaven! I feel like the angel, to-night, who put his hand upon Lot, and cried—"Escape! look not behind thee! stay not in all the plain; flee to the mountain, lest thou be consumed!"

And now, I appreciate the power of silence. You will please to observe strict and solemn silence until the striking of that clock; and let each one spend the time as he pleases.

[It was now two minutes to twelve, and profound silence reigned, save where sobs and groans could be distinctly heard from penitent lips seeking the Saviour. The clock having struck, Mr Spurgeon continued:]

You are now where you never were before; and you never will be again where you have been to-night.

Now we have had a solemn meeting, and let us have a cheerful ending of it. As we go away let us sing a sweet hymn to encourage our hearts.

[A hymn was then sung]

Now may the Lord bless you, and lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you peace! May you, during this year of grace; receive much grace; and may you proceed onwards towards heaven! And may we as a church, as members of churches, as ministers, as deacons, mutually strive together for the faith of Jesus, and be edified therein! And may the Lord save the ungodly! If the last year is clean gone and they are not yet pardoned and forgiven, let not another year roll away without their finding mercy!

The Lord dismiss you all with his sweet blessing, for his blessed Son's sake, Amen. And may the love of Jesus Christ, the grace of his Father, and the fellowship of his blessed Spirit be yours, my beloved, if ye know Christ, world without end. Amen.

Now, my friends, in the highest and best sense, I wish you all a happy new year.

C. H. Spurgeon

...and from all of TeamPyro, may the coming year be filled with grace and blessings for you and your families. See you all next year.

Phil's signature

30 December 2006

For the last time this year....


  • Carla Rolfe missed the Pyro Christmas party. We missed her, too.
  • Jeff Mobley thought Dan Phillips's post titled "The day God tabernacled—for keeps" was a winner. We're pleased to be Jeff's first Technorati hit.
  • Rick Ianiello called that post of Dan's his favorite this year. Then Rick reposted a string of posts arguing against Dan's cessationist position.
  • Mark Jurries was encouraged by Frank's retelling of the Christmas story from Scripture on the day before the day before the night before Christmas.
  • Jon "Junction" Thorsen at "The Search for Purpose" recently discovered TeamPyro, and he has linked to us a few times since we first BlogSpotted him. His blog is almost always a good read.
  • Tim Challies, Scott Welch, and more people than we can count linked to Dan's "Four Faces" post. It's one of our most-linked posts ever, and a good one. If you missed it because of the holidays—or even if you already read it—it's worth another look.
  • Andrew Comings, from balmy Brazil, was touched by my Christmas wish, and even reiterated it in his own way.
  • Colin Adams, from Edinburgh, gave some excellent links for preachers, all wonderful helps for taking one's mind off a persistent sinus infection. Just what I needed.
  • Jeff Wright desperately tries to score some points with one of his profs.
  • Laura at "Three Times A Mom" has a fascinating fish story and an ingenious cure that will resurrect a floating, bloated goldfish.
  • Mathew Sims reviews Roger Olson's Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. He includes a link to Gary Johnson's guest-blogger review here at PyroManiacs.
  • Our friend Matthew Rupert at "From the Morning" still doesn't get it. He figures my disapproval of a certain hirsute, shirtless pop-singer's costume as regular attire for worship services means "ugly people" wouldn't be welcome at my church.

  • OK, this is really old, but it just popped up on Technorati. (Perhaps the post was recently edited, but this 271-day-old link actually showed up on Technorati at the top of a list which Technorati claims is "sorted by freshness. Wow.) Anyway, The Western Seminarian quotes me quoting a commenter at Challies. The "Seminarian" posts anonymously and even seems deliberately mysterious about what denomination he belongs to (one suspects he is an Episcopalian and embarrassed about it); but he nevertheless has some good things to say.
  • Speaking of old stuff that just now popped up on Technorati, Donette at "Our Corner of the World" wondered back in November if the mere mention of PyroManiacs would get her BlogSpotted. It didn't—until now. Donette has some nice things to say about our blog, but she seems to think we go overboard with the distinctive look of some of our "artwork."

    May 2007 be filled with blessings for you.
    Phil's signature

  • 29 December 2006

    Be Bible Readers

    An extra dose of Spurgeon
    posted by Phil Johnson

    Since we were several days late with this week's Dose of Spurgeon, here's a bonus. This excerpt comes from a sermon titled "The Bible," from the first year of Spurgeon's ministry in London. It's an especially fitting reminder at the start of a new year. (HT: Todd Friel.)

    f this be the Word of God, what will become of some of you who have not read it for the last month?

    "Month, sir! I have not read it for this year."

    Ay, there are some of you who have not read it at all.

    Most people treat the Bible very politely. They have a small pocket volume, neatly bound; they put a white pocket-handkerchief round it and carry it to their places of worship; when they get home, they lay it up in a drawer till next Sunday morning; then it comes out again for a little bit of a treat, and goes to chapel; that is all the poor Bible gets in the way of an airing.

    That is your style of entertaining this heavenly messenger. There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write "damnation" with your fingers. There are some of you who have not turned over your Bibles for a long, long while, and what think you?

    I tell you blunt words, but true words. What will God say at last? When you shall come before him, he shall say, "Did you read my Bible?"


    "I wrote you a letter of mercy; did you read it?"


    "Rebel! I have sent thee a letter inviting thee to me; didst thou ever read it?" "Lord, I never broke the seal; I kept it shut up." "Wretch!" says God, "then, thou deservest hell, if I sent thee a loving epistle, and thou wouldst not even break the seal; what shall I do unto thee?"

    Oh, let it not be so with you. Be Bible-readers; be Bible-searchers.
    C. H. Spurgeon

    28 December 2006

    Four faces: gaining perspective for the new year

    by Dan Phillips

    As 2006 begins that labored breathing which signals that its end draweth nigh, I am facing significant personal decisions and challenges. Not all are crisis level, Must-Decide-Now issues. Some are, but have been that way for years. All are critical, to me; and all affect the entire course of my life and ministry.

    Decision-making is something I've grown not to love (litotes), and these are thorny and involved issues. Some involve elements beyond my control. I'm very much feeling the truth of Jeremiah's words: "I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). These matters loom very large to me, and I feel very small. So, as I've taken to doing in recent years, I'm about to take some time apart to evaluate, think, pray, as we approach the dawn of 2007.

    As I go away to do that, some faces breeched my perimeter (as Jack Bauer might say), and hit me pretty hard. Some are new to me, some not. All serve to put some perspective on my concerns. Think about them with me. If they don't have a similar effect on you... I'd encourage you to worry.

    First, look at this face.

    "Pretty girl," you think. "But yikes—what's with that scar?"

    This is a girl whose life isn't characterized by complaints about the pastor preaching too long, or Bible studies being too boring, or family members not behaving perfectly, or gas being too expensive, or a few extra pounds from Christmas, or traffic. This is Noviana Malewa. She had Islamists try to chop her head off in October of 2005. Her crime? Being Christian. In public. The scar represents their best effort at beheading her.

    In Noviana's case, the Islamists failed. In the cases of the three girls Noviana was walking with in Indonesia, they succeeded. Read about it in WorldNetDaily.

    This happened when Noviana was fifteen. Noviana's problems since? Continuing physical issues such as nerve damage and a dislocated jaw, problems with her right eye winking spontaneously, involuntary twitching of the right corner of her lip; ongoing therapy and treatment. Plus hellacious memories. These are the sorts of realities this young girl has to deal with. All that, plus living in a society where that sort of thing could happen to anyone, simply for being a known Christian.

    We have problems? Those are problems.

    [UPDATE 6/2009 — Noviana still prays for the salvation of her attackers.]

    Look at this face next:

    I noticed this picture while at Carla's blog, innocently checking out one of her links for reformed baptist churches. The face of one of the webmasters, Johnny Farese, caught my curiosity. I clicked on it and watched his ten-minute story. It was Johnny's story, his family's story, his brother's family's story. My jaw sagged, my eyes stung with tears. I was nailed.

    At the start, you see the pictures of this young "normal" looking boy, smiling and happy, bright with the happy optimism of youth. As the video progresses, you watch his physical deterioration to his current state. Johnny's just a little younger than I. I won't share with you my personal issues. But I certainly did compare them with Johnny's, as I watched and listened. You might do the same.

    Johnny Farese is a man utterly dependent on others, for just about everything. I temporarily left Dr. Atkins aside for the Christmas season, so I could munch on my wife's amazing peanut brittle, chocolate chip cookies, and the like. This man takes his pasty-looking food through a tube, directly into his stomach. He does work on the internet, as I do. But I use my perfectly healthy hands, while Johnny must rely on voice-activated software.

    Johnny's attitude? Johnny is praising God, leaning on Him, giving Him glory. Johnny is upheld by such verses as Psalm 119:71—"It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." That verse has meant a lot to me, too. But "afflicted," as I apply it, and "afflicted," as Johnny Farese applies it, are very different concepts.

    Watch Johnny's video, and visit his home page.

    At Johnny's home page, you'll see another face that has often had an impact on me.

    If you don't recognize her, again perhaps you think, "Pretty lady." Then, "Um... so why's she in this post?" She's Joni Eareckson Tada, and while you've been worrying about (supply your own specifics), Joni has been paralyzed from the neck down for nearly forty years. If I'm doing my math right, she's a bit older than I. When Joni was a pretty young teen, she took one ill-advised dive, snapped her neck, and has been a quadriplegic ever since.

    Joni has a very effective ministry. She speaks, sings, is an artist, writes. And she needs constant care, of the sort you and I would find grindingly, devastatingly humiliating. Joni feels all those emotions as well.

    Joni spoke at Desiring God's 2005 conference, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. I have listened to Joni's talk maybe a half-dozen times, and will probably listen again in the next day or two. It is funny, engaging, moving, humbling, arresting, encouraging—and very perspective-giving.

    One of the people to whom I gave a copy of Joni's talk — though he could have given it in his own way, himself — is this man:

    That handsome gentleman is Terry Rose. God gave me the great gift of meeting Terry a couple of decades ago, and I've had the honor of counting him as a friend since. Terry is a genuine war hero. In the Korean War, a grenade went off near Terry, and among other physical injuries, it permanently blinded him.

    Maybe a clam would be unmoved by Terry's testimony. Not me. I can still recall the first time Terry told me of finding himself blind; then, later, of being outside, feeling the sun on his face, looking straight up at it, and not seeing a glimmer of light. It was a rough, rough time for Terry.

    Terry has now been blind about as long as I have been alive. But he is a funny man, a happy man, a delight to be around. Terry is constantly glowing about the love, grace, and mercy of God in Christ. He lives in the Sierra, where he jogs (!) every day, does counseling, speaks at churches, and dismays his dear wife with his terrible puns. Terry also likes to garden. Terry placed each of the rocks in his yard, by hand. To be around Terry is to be humbled and encouraged, all at the same time.

    I'm so glad Terry slums, when it comes to picking friends.

    Four more faces in the cloud of witnesses surrounding us (Hebrews 12:1). Four folks who, we'd all agree, were dealt a pretty rough hand by Providence. All still standing as testimonies to Christ.

    As you face your new year, I've no doubt you have challenges, as do I. And to you they're very large, as mine are to me. (I hasten to say yours may very well dwarf mine.)

    But let's keep some perspective, shall we? I've come to the conviction that tribulation is what tribulates you. It's tribulation.

    But not all tribulation is The Great Tribulation.

    Here is our challenge: What are we doing with the life-situation that God's providence designed for us? Do we really think our obstacles, trials and burdens exempt us from God's call...
    • To "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer" (Romans 12:12)?
    • To "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58)?
    • To give "thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20)?
    • Always to be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15)?
    If in any corner of your heart, you are reaching for the "Yes" button, first think about those four faces. Get some perspective.

    These thoughts I leave with you, and take with me.

    Dan Phillips's signature

    Thoughts for the coming New Year

    Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
    posted by Phil Johnson

    The PyroManiacs normally devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

    This week's entry is about four days late, but it's a good and thought- provoking one, especially fitting for this time of year. This is from a sermon titled "A Golden Prayer," originally preached 30 December 1877 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London. Spurgeon's text that morning was John 12:28—"Father, glorify thy name.":

    ow, brethren, concerning this next year upon which we are entering, I hope it will be a year of happiness to you,—I very emphatically wish you all a Happy New Year,—but nobody can be confident that it will be a year free from trouble.

    On the contrary, you may be pretty confident that it will not be so, for man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.

    We have each, beloved friends, some dear faces in which we rejoice, may they long smile upon us: but remember each one of these may be an occasion of sorrow during the next year, for we have neither an immortal child, nor an immortal husband, nor an immortal wife, nor an immortal friend, and therefore some of these may die within the year.

    Moreover the comforts with which we are surrounded may take to themselves wings before another year shall fulfill its months. Earthly joys are as if they were all made of snow, they melt even as the hoar frost, and are gone before we conclude our thanksgiving for their coming. It may be you will have a year of drought and shortness of bread; years lean and ill-favored may be your portion.

    Ay, and yet more, perhaps during the year which has almost dawned you may have to gather up your feet in the bed and die, to meet your father’s God.

    Well now, concerning this approaching year and its mournful possibilities, shall we grow gloomy and desponding? Shall we wish we had never been born or ask that we may die? By no means. Shall we on the other hand grow frivolous and laugh at all things? No, that were ill-becoming in heirs of God.

    What shall we do? We will breathe this prayer, "Father, glorify thy name." That is to say, if I must lose my property, glorify thy name by my poverty; if I must be bereaved, glorify thy name in my sorrows; if I must die, glorify thy name in my departure.

    Now, when you pray in that fashion, your conflict is over, no outward fright nor inward fear remains if that prayer rises from the heart, you have now cast aside all gloomy forebodings, and you can thoughtfully and placidly pursue your way into the unknown to-morrow.
    C. H. Spurgeon

    27 December 2006

    Sending out weiner dogs

    by Frank Turk

    I just realized it was Wednesday, which is unofficially my day for occupying this space, and I realized I hadn't been preparing for it. I have been so engrossed by my Belkin TuneBase over the last two days, I'll be honest: I forgot about blogging. You can't imagine how entraced you can get listening to every frequency on the FM dial trying to find one with the appropriate level of stationlessness in order to broadcast a puny little peep from your iPod so you can listen to John Piper, Third Day and James White's rather hardscrabble free MP3s.

    Anyway, as I found that 88.9 FM is the best for my little device, I was listening to Dr. Piper describe Christians as "task oriented" folk who frankly have let the arts slip through our fingers. There are a lot of reasons for that -- each could probably make a very keen blog post in and of itself -- but let me suggest one which Dr. Piper did not say in particular.

    As a people, we Christians have adopted one of the worst attributes of the anabaptist tradition, and that is a rather sincere disdain for things which are true and beautiful. Here's what I mean by that: we have set up a false dichotomy between "true" and "beautiful" so that anything which is "true" must be plain or otherwise homely, and everything which is "beautiful" must be the work of the devil because it appeals to our eyes and ears. And we have also let the world dictate to us what is "beautiful" so that we don't even know it when we see it anymore.

    So what we wind up with, for example, is the ocean of vacuous "worship" music in Christian bookstores which is neither true nor beautiful; we wind up with Christian "art" which is hardly suited for comic books let alone the walls of our homes; we wind up with t-shirts being the high fashion statement of our subculture; we wind up with literature-ignorant and theology-vacant "poetry" that neither moves emotionally or inspires intellectually.

    And with these things, we want to have a culture war with New York, Los Angeles and Hollywood. Good grief, people: we might as well be sending weiner dogs out to defend us against an army of machette-weilding Haitian voodoo zombies. At least the weiner dogs would be able to smell the dead meat and run away from it, and we could follow them.

    So what to do? I mean, isn't the right answer to study the culture and then try to co-opt its methods because obviously those methods are working on those people who we say we want to reach? It's that the missional thing to do -- especially in the arts?

    Does that sound like a TeamPyro post to you?

    Let me suggest something instead which I think many people probably have heard but no one has bothered to apply to this problem: all great art demonstrates the tension between love and death. That's not a Biblical proverb per se, but it is, in fact, true. All great poetry is about the tension between love and death -- even if it's not the love of another person or the death of a particular person. And one of the great failings of modern culture is its shallow vision of love (which is explicitly and almost exclusively sexual and sensual) and its obsession with death (either by avoidance in worshipping youth, or its glamorization of suicide).

    Listen: if there's anything on Earth (or in the Heavens) which we Christians ought to know something about, it's Love and Death. In fact, we should be the ones who are exclaiming the fact of Love in Death. We shouldn't be establishing a suicide cult but extolling the fantastic fact that Christ died for our sins because God Loved, and Christ was resurrected in order that death would be destroyed.

    There's more art to be made in that one sentence than all the movies Hollywod has ever turned out, and more than either NYC or LA could turn out in music and TV in 10,000 years. Why? Because there is Truth and Beauty in that statement, and it doesn't force us to make false moral choices or reduce our expressions to some gloomy, dismal, atonal text.

    The great topic of art belongs to us. The great purpose of art is not, as someone once said, to frame a lie which seems pleasant, but to frame truth by analogy -- and the greatest truth-by-analogy of all time is the Bible.

    So as we close out the season of meditation on that the incarnation of Christ means (or ought to mean) to us, the Christians, let us also think about how we tell others about this great gift. It's not enough to get it right in theory: we must also get it right in practice, which is to say, in the full-contact sport of real life.

    Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
    and the one who gets understanding,
    for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
    and her profit better than gold.
    She is more precious than jewels,
    and nothing you desire can compare with her.
    Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honor.
    Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
    and all her paths are peace.
    She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
    those who hold her fast are called blessed.
    Let us find her, and let us tell everyone how precious and rich she is indeed.

    25 December 2006

    The day God tabernacled—for keeps

    by Dan Phillips

    Mirabile dictu, sometimes fancy-schmantzy words are actually useful. One such is metanarrative. The metanarrative is the grand, overarching story tying together and giving meaning to apparently disparate tales. For instance, is The Lord of the Rings about finding lodging in Bree, meeting Tom Bombadil, running away from Ringwraiths, and encountering talking trees? Of course not; those and the other dozens of stories served the greater narrative of the War of the Ring.

    Similarly you could argue (inelegantly) that the Bible's metanarrative is something like this: man flees from the presence of God, and God acts to restore man to His presence.

    Think of the first story in the Bible. The world is created for Adam and Eve, who embody God's image and enjoy God's presence — until they plunge into the ruin of sin. Then they hide from the presence of God (Genesis 2:8), and are expelled from it (3:24).

    Focus with me on a single word that first appears in that latter verse, Genesis 3:24. It is the Hiph`il (causitive) imperfect form of the root sh-k-n, dwell. Most English versions have something like that God "placed" or "stationed" cherubim at the entrance to the garden; more woodenly the Rotherham has that God "caused to dwell" (cf. Young's Literal Translation). The cherubim dwelt at the entrance, so that man could no longer dwell in God's presence in the garden.

    The next occurrence of that verb is in Genesis 9:27a, which Walter Kaiser renders, "God will enlarge Japhet, But He will dwell [weyishkon] in the tents of Shem" (Towards an Old Testament Theology, p. 82). Yahweh would sh-k-n, would dwell, would be present, in the tents of Shem, from whom would come Abram, in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3).

    Fast-forward (this is, after all, a post, not a book) to another theologically weighty occurrence of sh-k-n. It is in Exodus 24:16a—"The glory of the LORD dwelt [sh-k-n] on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days." This was an awesome sight, etched into the minds of those present. But it was a temporary dwelling, a passing presence, if you will.

    However, on this occasion, Yahweh immediately gives instructions to make possible a more abiding dwelling place: "Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it." The word translated "tabernacle" is mishkan, which is simply the root sh-k-n with the letter mem prefixed. In Hebrew, a prefixed "m" often denotes the place where something happens. Hence z-b-ch is "sacrifice," m-z-b-ch is an altar, a place where sacrifice takes place.

    Yahweh is giving instructions for the construction of a mishkan, a place where He can sh-k-n, He can dwell, in the midst of His people. God repeatedly impresses on Moses the importance of making the mishkan exactly according to His specifications (cf. Exodus 25:9, 40; 27:8; Numbers 8:4; Acts 7:44; Hebrews 8:5). This was because the tabernacle would serve as a divine depiction of what it means for Yahweh once again to dwell with man.

    Back in Eden, enjoying the presence of God was simplicity itself. Nothing beclouded that communion. But matters have changed since Eden. Innocent Adam and Eve could stroll freely with God in the garden; now, all that has changed. Now God must be approached in a specific manner.

    And what is it that confronts us as we approach God in the similitude of the tabernacle? First, we see that God is far off. We stand at the entrance, and see well within the enclosure a rectangular structure, called the Holy Place. But God's presence is not manifested even at the door of this inner structure; no, it is in its back, in a smaller room called the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy Place.

    Before you head straight back, you have to confront the first piece of furniture. And what is it? You look down, and see brown-stained earth, at the foot of a large object. That object is an altar. Here innocent, perfect, unblemished animals are sacrificed as substitutes for the sinful worshiper who would approach Yahweh. First he must deal with his sin, and God's appointed means for atonement requires the shedding of the blood of a substitute (Leviticus 17:11).

    Then beyond that is a large bowl of water, for cleansing from the defiling filth of sin. Then we come to the entry of the Holy Place, within which is a lampstand, a table set with bread, and an altar of fragrant incense. Beyond these hangs a thick curtain. Beyond the curtain lies the Most Holy Place, where God manifests Himself above a solid gold lid on a large box, overshadowed by statues of angelic guardians. This is the place of propitiation, where God's wrath is turned from the congregation by the annual application of blood (Leviticus 16).

    This was the picture of God's presence. It was an eloquent picture, but it was after all a building, mobile and temporary. Eventually it was destroyed. Even when the mishkan stood, God's presence was not open to all. Only one man could enter the Most Holy place, and that only once a year, with blood (Hebrews 9:7-8).

    Fast forward another fourteen hundred years, to that day we mark each year on December 25. A baby was born that day. The Bible gives no support to superstitions of any miraculous means of birth. It was not the birth that was miraculous. No, it was the conception that was miraculous, as the seemingly oxymoronic prophecy of a pregnant virgin was fulfilled in young Mary.

    What was that, in her womb? Who was it? The angel Gabriel had said to Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). But what is the full meaning of this child's birth?

    It is found in what is probably my own favorite Christmas verse, John 1:14. Here is my translation of that verse: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us as in a tent, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the unique One from the Father, full of grace and of truth!" Focus with me for a moment on the single word translated "dwelt...as in a tent." It is the Greek word skenoo. Do you notice anything about that verb? What are its consonants? They are s-k-n, the equivalent (as Greek has no "sh") to the Hebrew word we discussed earlier, sh-k-n (dwell or abide). That word is in fact used often in the Old Testament, both in verbal and noun form, for both the Hebrew shakan and mishkan.

    John is telling us that the passing picture of the Tabernacle has become eternal truth in Jesus Christ. In this baby, God Himself has tabernacled—permanently. He has come to be Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14), in the fullest sense. He has come to do in truth what was previously done only in picture-form: to dwell among us, to make atonement and propitiation for our sins, to cleanse us from their defilement, to give light to our darkness, food to our souls, and to make intercession for us. The shadow has become substance. In Jesus the presence of God is restored, and that fully and permanently.

    In Jesus God comes to indwell us now (Colossians 2:9-10), and because of Him we shall dwell with God forever, and God with us.
    "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place [skene] of God is with man. He will dwell [skenosei] with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:3-4)
    Jesus Christ is both the fulcrum and the goal of the Bible's metanarrative. He restores the presence of God to us, and us to the presence of God. In Him God has come near, does come near, and shall come near forever.

    Sad that so many Christians waste this day perpetuating the false notion that Christmas is wholly a pagan holiday, or in being deflected to the world's substitutes and mythologies. This day marks the moment in history when God came nigh to us, that He might bring us nigh to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19-21; Ephesians 2:17-22; 1 Timothy 1:15). It affords an opportunity for proclamation of Christ. Isn't that worth a song? Isn't that worth a day? Isn't that worth a celebration?

    Surely it is worth all that and much, much more!

    Dan Phillips's signature

    23 December 2006

    A Pyromaniacs Christmas Party

    rank and Dan handed out Christmas gifts earlier in the week. I have held mine for the official PyroManiacs Christmas party—1:00pm till midnight (PST) on the Saturday before Christmas.

    Let the party begin.

    I confess that I am a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas decorations, parties, and the other apparatus of the holiday. Being sick this year hasn't helped.

    We were planning to drive to Oklahoma between Christmas and New Year's Day. But friends don't let friends take Nyquil and drive, so we're staying home, and I'll seriously try to "rest." I'm actually planning to do some minor DIY-type things around the house, clean the garage, and catch up on some reading. Trust me: that'll be restful.

    I also intend to update my famous bookmarks. If I succeed, it'll be the first major overhaul for that site in three years or so. I prolly will blog, but don't expect anything too weighty.

    But first, we're hosting an all-day party here at PyroManiacs. Turn up the Christmas music. (I see some Pectators have already showed up for the caroling.

    So let's get this party started. Here's my Christmas list. I'll probably add to it as the day goes along, so be sure to check it again after the party ends at midnight tonight. Add your own suggestions in the comments.

    My Christmas List

  • Pecadillo: The Gillette 8-Track and some cartoons.
  • Daniel: A DVD set and some reading material to help with your blog re-design.
  • Frank: square-footage guidelines as you plan how to accommodate the family fortune and a snowball fight.
  • Wrigley: Personal greetings from the First Dog.
  • The homeschool moms: Winterbells.
  • Sharon: Some real classical music.
  • iMonk and the Tavernistas: Some gentle words of caution—and a bucket of Chicken to dilute all that "Holiday Cheer":

    And some music to boot:

  • Blue Raja: warm holiday greetings and a good fight.
  • Qohelet: Substantive blogposts? Here's one you might be able to use someday, and here's one you can have every day.
  • Brian McLaren: Bruno Latour (one of the architects of postmodernism's house of cards) on why it might be time to abandon the pomos' socially-constructed critique of just-about-everything.
  • Retailers who avoid the word "Christmas" in order to be "politically correct": A Christmas in Iran.
  • My cell-phone provider: A customer-service tutorial.
  • All: A white Christmas.

    Phil's signature

  • 22 December 2006

    6-part harmony

    by Frank Turk & the ESV

    1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

    9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

    5For to which of the angels did God ever say,
      "You are my Son,
      today I have begotten you"?
      Or again,
      "I will be to him a father,
      and he shall be to me a son"?
    6And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
      "Let all God's angels worship him."
    7Of the angels he says,
      "He makes his angels winds,
      and his ministers a flame of fire."
    8But of the Son he says,
      "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
      the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
      9You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
      therefore God, your God, has anointed you
      with the oil of gladness beyond your companions."
    18Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

    26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to her. 28And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" 29But Mary was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

    34And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"

    35And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. … 37For nothing will be impossible with God." 38And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

    19And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
      23"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
      and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).
    24When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.

    1A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

    8And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
      14"Glory to God in the highest,
      and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
    15When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 16And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

    21And at the end of eight days, when [the child] was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

    1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."

    (they said this because the prophet Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, and he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. 2And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, 3and he took up his discourse and said,
      17I see him, but not now;
      I behold him, but not near:
      a star shall come out of Jacob,
      and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;")
    9After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

    Merry Christmas

    20 December 2006

    The Practical Application

    by Frank Turk

    Let me tell you that you readers have greatly disappointed me this week – stats or not, I have to say that after last week's post and then Santa's stop by yesterday, I think we obviously still have some work to do on you via this blog.

    The actual object of my disappointment is the trajectory we can plot between the points of two comments posted here – last week, in the demand for practical examples of loving your neighbor because that's what the Gospel yields, and this week the view rendered that somehow Dan and Santa wishing the members of TeamPyro a swell noel is somehow not substantive.

    Listen: the latter is an example of the former. Yes: Dan and Santa do not usually have an open mutual admiration society here at the blog, but these are men with a Christian objective in mind – a Gospel objective. And in that, for them to offer encouragement to each other is an act of Godly and right-minded love. To overlook that is to demonstrate that it doesn't matter how often cent comes out and beats on the drum of “Christ died to make us new men right now”, and it doesn't matter if you read it: you have to “get it”, people.

    You. Have to Get. It. You do. You.

    If I was really in the right mood, we'd now tear into the parable of the good Samaritan. But I'm not in that mood. I'm in a Christmas mood even if Santa is not going to find that sweet, black Apple Intel for my stocking because he's got no sense of humor and this thing for Presbyterian baptism. So we're going to go instead to the book of Mark, and we're going to watch Jesus love somebody. Please forgive my vulgar use of the NIV here as I am composing off-line and the only Bible I have handy is my Zondervan Reformation Study Bible:

    A man with leprosy came to [Jesus] and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

    Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
    Now, the more-blog-asphyxiated among you will expect that I will at this point expound on the healing of one man who asked for the help, and how God was expending His omnipotence in such a mundane way, and blah blah blah reformed wonkery blah blah blah.

    Forget it. There's no way I'm going to make this that boring and not-about-you-and-me on the Wednesday before Christmas. Instead, I'm going to ask you to jump back with me for a second to Leviticus and read with me what it says about the person with leprosy. I'm going to switch over to the KJV because that's the language the Levitical law was written in, right?
    Lev 13:44He is a leprous man, he is unclean: the priest shall pronounce him utterly unclean ...

    45And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean.46All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.
    Now, you see there? This person is not just in trouble ritually, but he's untouchable by other people – that is, for him to allow other people to touch him is a sin. There's no other thing a person can be where he or she is condemned to “dwell alone” and literally drive others away by crying out “UNCLEAN!” Literally, a leper was filthy by the practice of the Levitical law – unable to be clean. So the application of the Law for this person was, of course, that he was vile.

    But Jesus touched this guy anyway – he touched him, and then he healed him. That is, he didn't just meet the ritual need. This Jesus – the one born in the stable, who slept in a feeding trough, but for whom the angels were singing, and whom the Angel said is the son of the most high God – touched a man who was ashamed to be touched. God came across the shame and the guilt to make this man whole.

    Listen: if you want a lesson on how to love somebody, learn from this that the first boundary we have to cross to love other people is the boundary of how vile we think others are.This may shock many of you, but I live down the street from a trailer park. It doesn't have any vacancies as far as I can tell, so there's a problem over there: it's full of people. Now, regardless of where you live, that's not really a problem for them -- for many of them, owning a trailer is a step up from living in a rented quad-plex. Or an actual garbage dump. The trailer park is a problem for me.

    Because people live there.

    People who, btw, are not on any of the church rolls of the 60 churches in my backwater corner of the Earth. I know this because it's common knowledge in the local churches that “we” don't do evangelism there because “it doesn't make any difference”. And by we, folks, I mean “me”.

    Somehow, I can write this giant pile of exhortation to you 5000 TeamPyro readers and my much more humble 500 Flame of Fire readers about the joy of the answer to God's wrath in Christmas, but I can't ride a bike over to the trailer park and find out if anyone there has ever heard of the man Christ Jesus.

    Why? Because I am afraid to touch the lepers. That is, in my town, the people who live in the trailer park are the same socially as lepers, and to touch them is to touch something vile. It might get on me. I wish they'd say “UNCLEAN” as they shamble through WAL*MART because I'd cut them some space to avoid being mistaken as making eye contact with them. It would make me vile, and Leviticus notwithstanding, being socially vile will never do.

    If you want an example of how to love, that's the example, folks: not filling a shoe box anonymously with some stuff for a kid who has a dad in prison (although, I admit, that's pretty good – it's a lot better than doing nothing), but finding that kid, or any of the people in your analogically-local trailer park, and doing something personally costly for them. Like being seen in public with them, and giving them a hug as if you mean it. You know: because you do it more than once to assuage your conscience at Christmas after charging up a bunch of junk that is bound for the next neighborhood garage sale, or after reading a crumby blog post – you love them into the Gospel and out of the leprosy of being a trailer park kid. To the Gospel, not warm fuzzies or some stupid therapudic transitional state, and out of leprosy, and not casually or inconsequentially, but at great cost.

    If you want a practical example of how to love, find a person and do the thing for them which is Godly and right, which will shatter their view of how outcast and separated from others they are, and which you are most afraid to do. You do that, and keep doing it, and you are then a messenger for His name's sake.

    Don't get snippy about substance if you can't do that. That's the meat and the bread and the glass of red wine of what the Gospel calls us to, and if you can't stomach it, be glad that Santa stops by to wish Dan and Phil and Pecadillo a happy Christmas. That's all you're ready for.

    Happy Christmas and may God richly bless you so you can spend those blessing on others. Amen. You are dismissed.

    A Gem from MLJ

    posted by Phil Johnson

    've spent the first part of this week at home with some malady. I think it's either a sinus infection with upper respiratory implications, or else one of those ugly aliens that will eventually eat its way out through my chest.

    Anyway, don't feel good and it's hard to concentrate, and yet I have a couple of inflexible writing deadlines (both already overdue) that I must meet this week.

    I'm also feeling the need to post something of substance in the midst of all the egg nog that has been spilled on the blog this week. But with all the other writing I'm doing, and as foggy as my brain is, it's hard to get motivated to write something that doesn't even have a deadline. So I've been doing some reading here and there.

    Tuesday, I was reading some back issues of The Banner of Truth, including the March 2006 issue, which is a wonderful tribute to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. One of the articles is a transcript of the first sermon the Doctor preached at Westminster Chapel, December 29, 1935 (71 years ago next week).

    What's amazing is that from the first sentence of that first sermon, it's vintage Lloyd-Jones: pithy, profound, and powerful. There's not a wasted word here:

    I feel it is an interesting and profitable subject to try to decide which is the more dangerous position for a man to be in—to state openly and avowedly that he is not at all interested in Christ and religion, or to follow Christ for the wrong and false reason. I know that, ultimately, there is no difference between these two men. The one who follows Christ for the wrong reason is as much outside the kingdom as the man who makes no pretence to follow Christ at all. That is perfectly true. But I do think there is an important distinction between the two when you regard things merely from the human standpoint. The difficulty with the man who follows Christ for a wrong reason is that he not only deludes himself, but he also deludes the church. When you are confronted by one who says he does not believe in Christ, then you know exactly what to say and what to do with him. When a man presents himself as a religious person, the church tends to take him for granted; it would be an insult to question him. The church assumes that because he acknowledges himself to be a religious man, therefore he is a Christian. One of the most dangerous places for such a man to be in is the church of the living God.

    I am not at all sure but that one explanation for the present state of the church is to be found at just that point: she has been far too ready to associate church membership with true discipleship, and to assume that all who join the church are really following Christ.
    D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

    The rest of the sermon is superb as well. It's an exposition of John 6:66-68, and as good a first sermon as you will ever read.
    Phil's signature