Sunday, 29 March 2009

Power in Preaching

In a letter to a friend John Love laments the lack of spiritual power observable in his own ministry and in the preaching of others. In doing so he makes insightful comments concerning himself.

It is peculiarly hard for public teachers to be pure from the blood of all men, in this great shipwreck of immortal souls. There appears little of the genuine light and fire of the Holy Spirit of God in most of our preaching. The awakening and conversion of a single soul is now become a wonderful scarcity....

That preaching which will awaken and save souls must be a strong and felt anticipation of the great day of the Lord, when the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. But how can I awaken others while I am asleep myself? How strange a thing is the spirit of slumber; how long must I cry against it!

I beg the help of your prayers for the awakening influences of the Holy Ghost.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Jesus Revealing the Glory of God

In John 1:14, the author tells us that he beheld the glory of God when he looked at Jesus Christ. God’s glory was seen in a man. But it was seen in a man who was marked by humility. The places where John saw Jesus’ glory was not only in the halls of fame (such as palaces of rulers), not only in the religious buildings of significance (such as the temple), not only at the banquets laid on for the prominent and the important (although he did show grace to persons when they asked him to a meal). Jesus often did not have where to lay his head. His glory was revealed on the hillside where he used the provisions of a poor boy to feed the hungry multitude, in little villages in talking to poor men and women and children, in the synagogues where the common people gathered.
Leon Morris has summarised it well when he writes of Jesus: ‘When people needed help he helped them. Where they were sick he healed them. Where they were ignorant folk he taught them. Where there were hungry people he fed them. He was not found in the high places of the earth. All of his life he was among God’s little people, those who in one way or another felt their need. And wherever there was need he was found doing lowly service. And that is glory.’
Remember it is John who describes the incident in which Jesus stripped himself and put on a towel and washed his disciples’ feet (John 13). He did not have to do it; he could have asked Peter and John to do it. But it is glory when the One who did not have to do it did it.
God’s glory was also seen in a forgiving man. In 1:14 John says that Jesus was full of grace and truth. Throughout his life Jesus had shown grace and truth: to Nicodemus, the pompous teacher, who became his loyal follower when others abandoned him; to the woman of Samaria who became an effective witness; and to many others. And after his resurrection he showed grace and truth to Peter, who had been cowardly and fallen into using improper language.
God’s glory was also seen in a man who was their friend. These disciples had lived with him for three years. He had called them his friends. In John 1 we are told of how some of these friendships began (John, Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathaniel). Jesus entered into their lives and things became different. As they watched him, listened to him, and followed him their lives were changed.
We too can know the glory of God that is revealed in Jesus. Although now exalted and glorified, he still reveals the glory of God in humbling himself to meet with us, in conveying grace and truth to us, and initiating and developing personal friendship with us.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Jesus and Difficult Trials

When the Saviour heard of the report of the murder of John the Baptist he found a solitary place (Matt. 14:13); he did the same after the feeding of the 5,000 (Matt. 14:22). While the Bible indicates the consequence of these two solitary times (miraculous provision for the multitude and miraculous experience for Peter and the apostles on the sea), it seems that Jesus went by himself to strengthen himself in God no matter his situation, be it a harrowing one or a triumphant one. The obvious lesson is that we can only cope with and benefit from every situation, whether it be pleasant or sorrowful, by going to God about it.

As Jesus was praying to his Father he saw his distressed disciples in the storm (Matt. 14:22-33). Since they already had experience of being rescued by him in a storm at sea (Matt. 8:23-27), it could be argued that their previous experience should have helped them cope with the current storm. Perhaps it did, but they also needed a fresh experience of Jesus for the new situation, no matter how similar its contents were to previous ones. It is clear that Jesus wanted to help them and the ferocity of the storm could not keep him away from his disciples.

This incident is a picture of many occurrences in the Christian life. The disciples were in the storm because Jesus had sent them on their journey. They were in the path of obedience when the storm came. It is a mistake to think that obedience to God will remove difficult times in providence.

But just as Jesus had his eye on his disciples, so he has his eye on us. From the heights of the mountain he had the best overall picture of the situation that his disciples were in – they may only have seen what was near at hand but Jesus saw everything. It is the same with us – we can only see the immediate effect of the trouble but Jesus sees where it fits into his overall plan of blessing for our lives.

He came to the disciples at the right time. He wants to help us too. Just as the ferocity of the storm could not keep him away from the disciples, so the troubles that we face are not too big for Jesus to deal with. It is not the strength of the troubles that prevents Jesus coming to our aid; rather he knows best when to come and calm the storm that we may imagine is raging out of control. And when he does come, we will see that his timing was best.

Gethsemane

As Jesus approached the most trying time in his earthly life, he did as he had done before; instead of doing something unusual, he went to a location that was familiar to him and his disciples. Having arrived, he took Peter, James and John along with him as he prayed. As he walked with them, Mark tells us that Jesus began to be ‘sore amazed’. The word has the idea of ‘utterly surprised’ and ‘stunned with astonishment’. The Saviour had known previously that he was going to die, but now he received a fresh sight of it and he was overwhelmed.

He became ‘very heavy’; the word has the idea of being exceedingly distracted with terror. What a shock the disciples must have got! Never before had they seen their Master in such a state. Up till then, he had been strong and robust, facing opponents without fear. But here he was in great anguish.

Jesus turned to his disciples and informed them of the internal agony he had: ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ What was happening to cause such distress to the almighty Saviour? He was getting a foretaste of Calvary – and it filled him with terror.

Yet we can learn much from the way the Saviour prayed at that time. He had a childlike approach to his Father: ‘Abba’ is the term that Jesus taught his disciples to use in prayer. It reveals the attitudes of love, dependency and devotion. Jesus, in his hour of deepest trial, in this moment of previously unexperienced degree of distress, with a terrible future fast approaching, went to his Father.

This event is referred to in Hebrews 5:7. Jesus was putting all his energy into his prayers, for he uttered loud cries. Luke tells us (22:44) that ‘being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground’. Three times Jesus prayed. The imperfect tense in Mark 14:35 indicates that he was repeatedly falling down and rising up. He was not staying static but was physically indicating the intense anguish he was experiencing.

Yet he was determined to proceed, which is why he prayed that God’s will be done. He decided to do God’s will, no matter the cost. Fear of being separated from God on the cross was not a reason for him to disobey God.

Surprisingly, an angel came to strengthen him. What an honour was given to that angel! Various suggestions have been made as to how the angel fortified him. Some suggest he bowed in worship or that he told Jesus of his future exaltation. Another says that the angel brought a word of encouragement from the Father. Still another that the angel sang to him the praises he had heard in heaven before he came into the world. One suggestion that appeals to me is that the angel repeated to Jesus the words of Psalm 102:25-27 (which follow a prayer for help in verses 23 and 24). These verses are interpreted in Hebrews 1:10-12 as referring to Christ. And if these were the words, what encouragement they would have been to Jesus.

Jesus’ prayer was answered, not only by the presence of an angel, but by divine help given to him. Therefore, he left the garden, not as a victim helpless in the hands of his enemies, but as a king advancing to the field of battle. His words, ‘Rise, let us be going’ are not a command to run away; rather he is going to face the oncoming band who have come to arrest him. And John describes a most unusual incident when that band of soldiers and dignitaries fell down before Jesus after he had revealed who he was. They went backward and fell to the ground as he revealed to them that he was the eternal ‘I am’. But they still persevered in arresting him!

Friday, 20 March 2009

Letters of John Love on the Ministry (4)

Glasgow, 25th December, 1781

Dear Sir

As I supposed you would soon hear of my having communicated to Mr T_____ my acceptance of his offer, I have been the less anxious at the delay of my writing you, occasioned by various circumstances.

I ought to be ashamed that so much regard hath already been shown in your place to one such as I am. And when I compare the greatness of the work which I have undertaken to attempt, with my spiritual poverty and insufficiency, I have the sentence of death in myself; nor can I be relieved otherwise than by trusting in God who quickeneth the dead.

The motives which have determined my acceptance, I hope, have been, in some measure, pleasing in the sight of God. And it is comfortable to me to think that it is the way of God in his grace to choose the weak, foolish, and base things of the world, to be instrumental in the advancement of his kingdom, and to make his wisdom, power and glory to shine through these.

I greatly need and earnestly desire the prayers of the pious people in your place. And the things which I would wish to be prayed for on my behalf are chiefly these:

1. A more pure, fervent, and heavenly zeal for the glory of God and for the souls of all sorts of people among you, old and young, godly and profane, rich and poor.

2. Wisdom to insinuate the truth of God into the hearts and consciences of every sort of persons – the truth of God in his law and in his gospel.

3. Indefatigable strength of spirit to continue unweariedly in private and public labours for the salvation of every one among you, according to my measure and opportunity.

4. A great measure of the spirit of supplication to produce a character corresponding to Isaiah 62:6-7: ‘I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence; and give him no rest till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.’

5. The revelation of the arm of God gloriously to attend and to succeed whatever poor endeavours, in public or in private, I may be enabled to make.

Our moments are flying away, and our eternal Judge is at the door: whatever is to be done for ourselves or others, must be done quickly and with our might.

May the salvation of God eminently come to your house! In this I shall greatly rejoice. J.L.

Letters of John Love on the Ministry (3)

Dear Sir

I ought to take it very kindly that you are pleased to make any enquiry after such a one as I ought to reckon myself. It is no great humility for me to think that I and my preaching deserve to be buried in oblivion and infamy, that is, with regard to what I am in myself, and what of my preaching comes properly from me.

However, it is no part of true humility to speak evil of what is wrought by the Spirit of God in us or by us. I wish I had much more of that kind to speak of than I have; which I might have if it were not my own perverseness and unbelief. It is the sad effect of unbelief to prevent Christ's doing many mighty works.

So far as I can judge, it does not appear that the Lord is at present using me as an instrument of doing great execution as to the work of conviction and conversion. The principal effect of my present labours seems to be with regard to some of the people of God, in their instruction, direction, and consolation, particularly in perplexed and distressed cases. But I think, so far as I am an instrument at all regarded by the Lord, he is rather preparing and polishing me than using me. Though he has had such bad materials to work upon in me, that it seems to require more pains at his hand than is taken with some, the more that this is the case, the greater glory will appear in him who is the great artificer in the kingdom of grace, who is able of stones to raise up children to Abraham; nor is it vain for a poor creature to wait upon him in that empty, hungry, distressed way in which it is ordinary for me to wait upon him. He with whom we have to do is one who brings the blind by a way that they know not, and who makes darkness light and crooked things straight. And, though it is a great thing to us, yet it is not also a great thing in his eyes, in a short time to make a rich compensation (I mean not in the way of death but of grace) for the on-waiting of many years.

I do not think it presumption to comfort myself with such expectations, as that though I may be allowed to seem to toil long to little purpose, yet he may train me up for being at length used as an instrument in an acceptable time, when the wind of the Spirit shall blow with more apparent quickening power than at present, and when trembling at the word of God shall not be so much out of fashion as it now seems to be.

The Lord can soon give such a draught of souls as will be matter of astonishing triumph through eternity. Surely it is worth while to wait long upon the possibility of this, and, with such hope, ‘in the morning to sow our seed, and in the evening not to withhold our hand.’

I have said enough as to myself; I acknowledge myself obliged to have a deep concern for the success of the gospel in your hands, and am desirous of acting much more up to this obligation in the way of earnest prayer than the wretched prevailing of spiritual death will frequently allow. None ought more especially to thank God through Jesus Christ than I, for the ample treasures of sin-conquering and fruit-producing grace.

It will be good news to hear of there having been much of the presence of God with you at your sacramental solemnity, which will probably be over before this comes to hand.

I humbly beg to be remembered in your prayers, JL.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Letters of John Love on the Ministry (2)

Dear Sir

I ought to take it very kindly that you are pleased to make any enquiry after such a one as I ought to reckon myself. It is no great humility for me to think that I and my preaching deserve to be buried in oblivion and infamy, that is, with regard to what I am in myself, and what of my preaching comes properly from me.

However, it is no part of true humility to speak evil of what is wrought by the Spirit of God in us or by us. I wish I had much more of that kind to speak of than I have; which I might have if it were not my own perverseness and unbelief. It is the sad effect of unbelief to prevent Christ's doing many mighty works.

So far as I can judge, it does not appear that the Lord is at present using me as an instrument of doing great execution as to the work of conviction and conversion. The principal effect of my present labours seems to be with regard to some of the people of God, in their instruction, direction, and consolation, particularly in perplexed and distressed cases. But I think, so far as I am an instrument at all regarded by the Lord, he is rather preparing and polishing me than using me. Though he has had such bad materials to work upon in me, that it seems to require more pains at his hand than is taken with some, the more that this is the case, the greater glory will appear in him who is the great artificer in the kingdom of grace, who is able of stones to raise up children to Abraham; nor is it vain for a poor creature to wait upon him in that empty, hungry, distressed way in which it is ordinary for me to wait upon him. He with whom we have to do is one who brings the blind by a way that they know not, and who makes darkness light and crooked things straight. And, though it is a great thing to us, yet it is not also a great thing in his eyes, in a short time to make a rich compensation (I mean not in the way of death but of grace) for the on-waiting of many years.

I do not think it presumption to comfort myself with such expectations, as that though I may be allowed to seem to toil long to little purpose, yet he may train me up for being at length used as an instrument in an acceptable time, when the wind of the Spirit shall blow with more apparent quickening power than at present, and when trembling at the word of God shall not be so much out of fashion as it now seems to be.

The Lord can soon give such a draught of souls as will be matter of astonishing triumph through eternity. Surely it is worth while to wait long upon the possibility of this, and, with such hope, 'in the morning to sow our seed, and in the evening not to withhold our hand.'

I have said enough as to myself; I acknowledge myself obliged to have a deep concern for the success of the gospel in your hands, and am desirous of acting much more up to this obligation in the way of earnest prayer than the wretched prevailing of spiritual death will frequently allow.

None ought more especially to thank God through Jesus Christ than I, for the ample treasures of sin-conquering and fruit-producing grace.

It will be good news to hear of there having been much of the presence of God with you at your sacramental solemnity, which will probably be over before this comes to hand.

I humbly beg to be remembered in your prayers, JL.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Letters of John Love on the Ministry (1)

Dear Sir (written in 1779)
I hope it is from a good design that I trouble you with this letter; which it will be worth your while to read and mine to write, if thereby you are led to think more seriously than ever on these three things.
1. The vast difficulty of the work of the ministry. I know something of this now by experience. I feel how difficult and supernatural a thing it is to feel in my heart holy love to God and man, so prevailing as to keep self-seeking as to applause etc. in its proper distance from such holy work.
2. How glorious a thing it is to be enabled to preach the gospel from divine supernatural views of it, and from divine supernatural ends, that God may be glorified in the salvation of sinners! If it had not been a glorious thing, Christ would not have been engaged in it, nor would he have made such promises to those who attain to it!
3. How full and free are the treasures of grace in Christ!
I have been preaching as an assistant in R_____ for some time, and have continued for eight Sabbaths past, with a view to the public state of matters, on Habakkuk 3:16: 'When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops.'
I beg your help at the throne of grace in the work in which I am engaged.