On conceiving God’s infinity

Whatever God is, he is infinitely so. . . . Conceive of him as excellent, without any imperfection; a Spirit without parts; great without quantity; perfect without quality; everywhere without place; powerful without members; understanding without ignorance; wise without reasoning; light without darkness; infinitely more excelling the beauty of all creatures. . . . And when you have risen to the highest, conceive him yet infinitely above all you can conceive of spirit, and acknowledge the infirmity of your own minds. And whatsoever conception comes into your minds, say, “This is not God; God is more than this.”  [emphasis added]

–Stephen Charnock, quoted by Mark Jones in God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God

What might Luther think about our glut of Christian books?

. . . [Luther] sees the Christian life as one fueled by the reading and hearing of this Word, primarily in a corporate context. This is a great antidote to a number of perennial problems for Christians. First, there is the “need” for something more than the Bible. The success of books that offer something spectacular–whether accounts of dying and coming back to the land of the living or low-key claims to special, extra words from God–shows that the Christian world loves something out of the ordinary.

Luther would respond that such things are absolutely unnecessary, for what we need is the Word of God in the humble, mundane form that he has given it to us. Why read a book on a child who claims to have died and come back when one can read the Gospels and find there God, clothed in frail human flesh, dying and rising again? Why desire further, special words from God when the great Word of God, Christ himself, is offered to every individual as the Bible is read, preached, and sometimes applied individually through the confessional? Luther would see the market for such books as a function of our striving to be theologians of glory, unsatisfied with how God has chosen to reveal himself to be toward us, and always craving to make God conform to our expectations of what we need.

– Carl Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life, 113-114.

Newton on disaffected & distracted praying

I sometimes think that the prayers of believers afford a stronger proof of a depraved nature, than even the profaneness of those who know not the Lord. How strange is it, that when I have the fullest convictions that prayer is not only my duty—not only necessary as the appointed means of receiving those supplies, without which I can do nothing, but likewise the greatest honor and privilege to which I can be admitted in the present life—I should still find myself so unwilling to engage in it.

However, I think it is not prayer itself that I am weary of, but such prayers as mine. How can it be accounted prayer, when the heart is so little affected,—when it is polluted with such a mixture of vile and vain imaginations—when I hardly know what I say myself—but I feel my mind collected one minute, the next, my thoughts are gone to the ends of the earth.

If what I express with my lips were written down, and the thoughts which at the same time are passing through my heart were likewise written between the lines, the whole taken together would be such an absurd and incoherent jumble—such a medley of inconsistency, that it might pass for the ravings of a lunatic. When he points out to me the wildness of this jargon, and asks, is this a prayer fit to be presented to the holy heart-searching God? I am at a loss what to answer, till it is given me to recollect that I am not under the law, but under grace—that my hope is to be placed, not in my own prayers, but in the righteousness and intercession of Jesus. The poorer and viler I am in myself, so much the more is the power and riches of His grace magnified in my behalf.

Therefore I must, and, the Lord being my helper, I will pray on, and admire his condescension and love, that He can and does take notice of such a creature—for the event shows, that those prayers which are even displeasing to myself, partial as I am in my own case, are acceptable to him, how else should they be answered? And that I am still permitted to come to a throne of grace—still supported in my walk and in my work, and that mine enemies have not yet prevailed against me, and triumphed over me, affords a full proof that the Lord has heard and has accepted my poor prayers–yea, it is possible, that those very prayers of ours of which we are most ashamed, are the most pleasing to the Lord, and for that reason, because we are ashamed of them. When we are favored with what we call enlargement, we come away tolerably satisfied with ourselves, and think we have done well.

–Jones, Robert, ed. Twenty-five Letters Hitherto Unpublished, of the Rev. John Newton (quoted by Tony Reinke in Newton on the Christian Life)

Marriage as a discipleship-free zone

Married for GodIt is too easy for Christians to think of marriage as a discipleship-free zone. So that outside of marriage we talk about sacrifice, taking up our cross, and so on. But inside marriage we just talk about how to communicate better, how to be more intimate, how to have better sex, how to be happy. . . . Instead we should want marriages that serve God. If they are sexually and personally fulfilled, well and good. But if they do not serve God, no amount of personal fulfillment will make them right. After all, so far as we can see, Ananias and Sapphira had a marriage with excellent communication and shared values; each understood the other perfectly; and yet they died terrible deaths under the judgment of God (Acts 5:1-11).

–Christopher Ash, Married for God, 40.

Although I am in the wilderness

Help me to see that although I am in the wilderness
it is not all briars and barrenness.

I have bread from heaven, streams from the rock,
light by day, fire by night,
thy dwelling place and thy mercy seat.

I am sometimes discouraged by the way,
but though winding and trying it is safe
and short;

Death dismays me, but my great high priest
stands in its waters,
and will open me a passage,
and beyond is a better country.

While I live let my life be exemplary,
When I die may my end be peace.

The Valley of Vision, “Shortcomings”

Grace changes the person

…grace does not simply jump to move us to action without first moving us as persons. Sanctifying grace changes the person, not merely the aggregation of their actions. Grace transforms the very character of the person, leading not only to increasing action in a holy direction but to growth in the very self.

— Michael Allen, Sanctification

The terrible necessity of tribulation

Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over…

I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of work that tickles my vanity today, a holiday or a new book, when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threatens serious disease, or a headline in the newspapers that threatens us all with destruction, sends this whole pack of cards tumbling down. At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. . . . And perhaps, by God’s grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys. . .

Thus the terrible necessity of tribulation is only too clear. God has had me but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over–I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.

— C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Newton’s encouragement for dark days

The ship was safe when Christ was in her, though He was really asleep. At present I can tell you good news, though you know it: He is wide awake, and his eyes are in every place. You and I, if we could be pounded together, might perhaps make two tolerable ones. You are too anxious, and I am too easy in some respects. Indeed I cannot be too easy, when I have a right thought that all is safe in his hands; but if your anxiety makes you pray, and my composure makes me careless, you have certainly the best of it. However, the ark is fixed upon an immovable foundation; and if we think we see it totter, it is owing to swimming in our heads. Seriously, the times look dark and stormy, and call for much circumspection and prayer; but let us not forget that we have an infallible Pilot, and that the power, and wisdom, and honor of God, are embarked with us.

–John Newton, “To the Rev. John Ryland.” Letter I. 31 July 1773. Letters of John Newton

Bored by technology

Boredom—for children and for adults—is a perfectly modern condition.

In the history of the human race, boredom is practically brand new—less than three hundred years old.

The English word does not appear until the 1850s, and its parent word bore (as a noun—”he is such a bore”) appears only a century earlier. The French word ennui begins to mean what we call “boredom” around the same time. Before the eighteenth century, there simply wasn’t a common word for that feeling of frustration and lassitude that overtakes so many of us so often…

Could it be that modern life is boring in a way that pre-modern life was not? How could this be? Our world has more distractions and entertainments than we can ever consume. We feel busy and overworked in ways even our grandparents couldn’t have imagined (even as many of us work far less hard, physically than most of them did).

But that’s actually why we get bored. Boredom—for children and for adults—is a perfectly modern condition. The technology that promises to release us from boredom is actually making it worse—making us more prone to seek empty distractions than we have ever been. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get. . .

Boredom is actually a crucial warning sign–as important in its own way as physical pain. It’s a sign that our capacity for wonder and delight, contemplation and attention, real play and fruitful work, has been dangerously depleted.

–Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family

Temperament is a poor test of sanctification

…for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. –2 Peter 2:19

The mortification of sin consists not in the improvement of a quiet, sedate nature. Some men have an advantage by their natural constitution so far as that they are not exposed to such violence of unruly passions and tumultuous affections as many others are. Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration, and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortified men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor doth trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter hath done more to the mortification of the sin than the former. Let not such persons try their mortification by such things as their natural temper gives no life or vigor to. Let them bring themselves to self-denial, unbelief, envy, or some such spiritual sin, and they will have a better view of themselves.

–John Owen, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers