Category Archives: Earnestness

“Theology should humble us” by David Wells

“The effects of theological knowledge should be humility and a deepened desire to serve and honor God in all of our commerce with created reality.

The truly profound thinkers in life are often brought to humility, too, but perhaps for different reasons.

They are humbled out of a sense of their own smallness; theology should humble us through a sense of the greatness and wonder of God.

It is what we know, not what we do not know, that subdues our pride and causes us to render to God the worship that is His due.”

–David F. Wells, “The Theologian’s Craft” in Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer, John Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey, Eds. (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 1994), 174.

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“God is not a quantity that can be mastered” by David Wells

“There are few lines quite so poignantly applicable to the theologian’s craft as those of the medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote of ‘The life so short, the craft so long to learn. The attempt so hard, the victory so keen.’

It is, in fact, surprising that the thought should ever cross our minds that the theological undertaking could be otherwise, for understanding– understanding of God, of ourselves, of the world– comes so slowly, so painfully slowly, that ‘life’s’ summer passes and the winter arrives long before this fruit is ripe to be picked.

Or so it seems. And that, perhaps, is why we are so fiercely tempted to turn theology into a technique that we can use to produce a more efficiently gained and bountiful knowledge of God!

God, however, is not like the periodic table.

He is not a quantity that can be ‘mastered’ even though He can be known; and though He has revealed Himself with clarity, the depth of our understanding of Him is measured, not by the speed with which theological knowledge is processed, but by the quality of our determination to own His ownership of us through Christ in thought, word, and deed.

Theology is the sustained effort to know the character, will, and acts of the triune God as He has disclosed and interpreted these for His people in Scripture, to formulate these in a systematic way in order that we might know Him, learn to think our thoughts after Him, live our lives in His world on His terms, and by thought and action projection His truth into our own time and culture.

It is therefore a synthetic activity whose center is the understanding of God, whose horizon is as wide as life itself, and whose mission echoes the mission of God Himself, which is to gather together in Christ a progeny as numerous as the stars above (Gen. 15:1-6; Gal. 3:6-16).”

–David F. Wells, “The Theologian’s Craft” in Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer, John Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey, Eds. (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 1994), 171, 172.

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“His beams bring healing, strength, peace, and joy to the soul” by John Newton

“The Lord Jesus, like the sun, is in all places at once. Go where we will, we are not far from Him, if we have but eyes to see Him, and hearts to perceive Him.

My dear child, when you look at the sun, I wish it may lead your thoughts to Him who made it, and who placed it in the firmament, not only to give us light, but to be the brightest, noblest emblem of Himself.

There is but one sun, and there needs not another: so there is but one Saviour; but He is complete and all-sufficient, the Sun of Righteousness, the Fountain of life and comfort; His beams, wherever they reach, bring healing, strength, peace, and joy to the soul.

Pray to Him, my dear, to shine forth, and reveal Himself to you. Oh, how different is He from all that you have ever seen with your bodily eyes! He is the Sun of the soul, and He can make you as sensible of His presence as you are of the sunshine at noonday.

And, when once you obtain a clear sight of Him, a thousand little things, which have hitherto engaged your attention, will in a manner disappear.

I entreat, I charge you, to ask Him every day to show Himself to you. Think of Him as being always with you; about your path by day, about your bed by night, nearer to you than any object you can see, though you see Him not; whether you are sitting or walking, in company or alone.

People often consider God as if He saw them from a great distance: but this is wrong; for, though He be in heaven, the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him; He is as much with us as with the angels.

In Him we live, and move, and have our being; as we live in the air which surrounds us, and is within us, so that it cannot be separated from us a moment.

And whatever thoughts you can obtain of God from the Scripture, as great, holy, wise, and good, endeavour to apply them all to Jesus Christ, who once died upon the cross, for He is the true God, and eternal life, with whom you have to do.

And, though He be the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and rules over all, He is so condescending and compassionate, that He will hear and answer the prayer of a child.

Seek Him, and you shall find Him. Whatever else you seek, you may be disappointed, but He is never sought in vain.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1820/1988), 6: 289-290.

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“You shall not seek Him in vain” by John Newton

March 3, 1772

And now, what shall I say? May the Lord direct me to send you a profitable word. It rejoices my heart to think, that at a time of life when you might have been plunging into the vanities of the world, you are seeking Jesus.

The Lord, who appointed the hour of your birth, and the bounds of your habitation, was pleased in His good providence to withdraw you early from the giddy circle of dissipation in which you might have lived, and to favour you with the advantages of example, instruction, and ordinances.

You live at a distance from those ensnaring temptations by which the minds of young persons are blinded and stupefied. Yet this alone would not have secured you. His providence has been subservient to His grace.

Otherwise, by this time, you would have been weary and impatient of restraint; you would have accounted the means of grace burdensome, and your home a prison.

The evil of the heart is too deeply rooted to be overcome by any thing less than the power of God. Whatever your Papa and Mamma, or the ministers of the Gospel, could have told you concerning your state as a sinner, and your need of a Saviour, you would not have believed them, if the Lord Himself had not borne witness in your heart to His own truths.

You are now seeking Him that you may find Him, yet, if He had not found you at first, you would never have sought Him at all. This I mention for your encouragement, as a good reason why you may be assured that you shall not seek Him in vain.

Go on, my dear Miss; and may the Lord be with you. Give yourself to Him every day, and many times a day; remember how many claims He has to you; especially remember this one, that He bought you with His own blood. He died that you might live.

May the name of Jesus be written upon the tablet of your heart, and be as a seal upon your arm; that all your desires and all your actions may be regulated by His word, directed to His glory, and animated by a living principle of grace, derived from Him who is the fountain of grace.

Two things alone are worth a serious thought,—His presence and His image: the one to make you comfortable in yourself, the other that you may shine to His praise as a light in the world.

These blessings, and the increase of them, are gifts which He bestows without money and without price. Yet it is our part to wait upon Him for them, by prayer, by reading His good word, and frequenting His ordinances.

Thus you shall know if you follow on to know the Lord.

I am your affectionate friend.

John Newton”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1820/1988), 6: 250–251, 253.

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“He may preach the gospel better than I can, but he cannot preach a better gospel” by Charles Spurgeon

“Dear friends, do not imagine that God will bless one preacher only, or one denomination only. He does bless some preachers more than others, for He is Sovereign; but He will bless you all in your work, for He is God.

I shall never forget one day, when my dear old grandfather was alive, I was to preach a sermon. There was a great crowd of people, and I did not arrive, for the train was delayed; and therefore the venerable man commenced to preach in my stead.

He was far on in his sermon when I made my appearance at the door. Looking to me, he said: “You have all come to hear my dear grandson, and therefore I will stop that you may hear him. He may preach the gospel better than I can, but he cannot preach a better gospel. Can you, Charles?”

My answer from the aisle was: “I cannot preach the gospel better; but if I could, it would not be a better gospel.”

So it is, brethren: others may break the bread to more people, but they cannot break better bread than the gospel which you teach, for that is bread from our Saviour’s own hand.

Get to work each one of you with your bread-breaking, for this is Christ’s way of feeding the multitude.

Let each one who has himself eaten divide his morsel with another.

Today fill someone’s ear with the good news of Jesus and His love.

Endeavour this day, each one of you who are Christian people, to communicate to one man, woman, or child, somewhat of the spiritual meat which has made your soul glad.

This is my Master’s way.”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, “The Problem of the Age,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (Vol. 32; London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1886), 32: 96.

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“We need to carve out space for ourselves in which we can daily attend to God’s Word” by David Wells

“The age in which believers live is already ‘the age to come.’ It is totally different from the culture in which they also live.

All believers live in both of these worlds. They cannot escape the one to live in the other. That is the miscalculation that both mystics and monks have made.

Nor yet can believers simply curse the darkness in this world, for they can still see all the marks of its divine creation. They must live in this world and light a fire for it because it is cold and dark.

They live in the midst of their culture but, to change the image, they live by the beat of a different Drummer. They must hear the sounds of a different time, an eternal time, listening for the music from a different place.

For that world is theirs. It is Christ’s world. It is the ‘age to come.’ They have been received into this world.

It penetrates their existence even now. They live in their own culture in order to be the outposts of this other world.

In the one world, they are but sojourners and pilgrims. In the other, they are permanent residents.

But how are we to do this? How are we going to hear this music? How are we going to hear the divine Drummer whose beat gets lost in all of the noise of our modern world?

We are constantly distracted, always under pressure, constantly bombarded by e-mails. We have unwanted telephone calls.

We are alerted to the arrival of text messages. Families have music lessons and football games, and there are hikes to be organized.

Parents have demanding jobs; some have endless traveling to do. And we are all besieged by the world into which we are wired.

It has become a great temptation even as it is a great fascination to us. Indeed, in 2013, almost half of the American adults surveyed acknowledged this.

Like everything in the modernized world, our information technology has two sides to it. It blesses with one hand and then takes away with the other. And, most importantly here, what it takes away is our capacity to have a functioning worldview.

Without that, our doctrine of God becomes emasculated. An emasculated view of God will never be able to sustain the life of sanctification to which we have been called.

Information and entertainment technologies have annihilated distance, enlarging the circle of our knowledge and, indeed, of our presence. Or, would it be truer to say that the entire world with all of its events, movies, and music has entered our homes?

Once we had to be where the events were happening, where the music was being made, to know about it. Now, all that is needed is a camera and it is splashed across the whole world.

This instant access to information worldwide, to all of its sights, sounds, and happenings is an extraordinary benefit. It has made us citizens of the entire world with an ability to communicate with any other citizen in this world instantaneously.

It has the capacity to lift us beyond our naturally parochial boundaries. At the same time, though, as our knowledge of the world grows— indeed, at an exponential rate— our capacity to have a worldview becomes much diminished and our ability to pay attention to God and His truth is often undermined.

God, we need to remind ourselves, is not just an experience or an idea. The saving knowledge of God comes within a framework which God Himself has disclosed. It is a framework of ideas that corresponds to what is there in the world, in reality, in God Himself.

If this worldview breaks down under the bombardment of news, e-mails, videos, blogs, and music, then what is lost is also what is at its center. It is God Himself, or I should say, it is our understanding, our ability to make sense of who God is that breaks down. And that is where our sanctification breaks down, too.

Technology greatly expands and enlarges our abilities and it mightily expands what we can know. But this is a two-way street.

If it enables us to be everywhere, it is also the case that the whole world– at least its sounds and sights— can enter our minds, too and, once in, it can then enter our souls.

This potentially imperils any functioning worldview. Why is this so?

It is partly because of the sheer volume of what is coming in. It overwhelms us. Since 1960, the amount of data and information individuals are absorbing, because of all of our new technology, has tripled.

If this technology expands our capacity to know things, it also multiples the things that are thrown at us to know. When all of this was just taking shape, Neil Postman warned about ‘information glut,’ and a little later David Shenk spoke of ‘data smog.’

They were right. That is what we now have. Our minds are choked with too much to know. And things are only intensifying.

What allowed all of this to happen only keeps expanding. The iPad and iPhone now massively increase our capacity to access media while we are on the run. The iPod and MP3 massively increase the amount of music we can consume.

With the ability to multitask, American teenagers are now packing in an additional two hours of media consumption per day, bringing their total to more than ten hours.

In addition to the sheer volume is the rapidity with which the whole of the media-filtered, technology-delivered world is changing.

It never stands still long enough for us to take our bearings on it. What is important and what is not, what is weighty and what is ephemeral, what is tragic and what is trivial, meet us with about the same intensity.

It becomes hard, sometimes, to tell which is which. Our world blurs amid the rapid flow of facts, factoids, images, voices, laughter, entertainment, and vapid commentary.

We slowly lose the capacity see the connections between things. Life seems to have no shape.

It looks like a sequence of fast-moving but random experiences with no center and little meaning. Not only does a Christian worldview disappear; the very capacity for such a thing becomes tenuous.

How, then, will we hear this other music from another place? How will we hear that Drummer’s beat above the sounds of this world?

I will say only this. There are no easy answers and there are no painless ones. But, at the same time, it is not impossible.

It is not impossible for us, if it is important to us, to choose what we are going to do and then to focus on doing it. The real question is how deep—or how shallow— is our desire to know God?

We need to begin by asking what is at stake. What might we be in danger of losing amid the noise and frenzy of our modernized societies here in the West?

We are in danger of being squeezed into the mold of the modernized world with its low horizons of knowing, its relativism, and its superficiality.

This threatens our identities as knowers of God, those for whom he is the center, for whom his holy-love defines what moral reality is, and before whom we stand.

It threatens how we see life and how we live in the world. It threatens all of that.

Recognizing this danger, we need to carve out space for ourselves in which we can daily attend to God’s Word, to study it, mark it, learn it, and inwardly digest its truth.

This truth must shape our whole understanding of life as we recognize from whom this truth comes and why God has thus given it to us. This must take precedence.

It must take precedence even at the cost of phones, e-mails, the Internet, texts, TV, Facebook, music, and all of the other ways that our technology wires us into a major competitor for our time and attention.

Innocent though these things may be, they stand in the way of our knowing God if they steal from us the time that we need for that pursuit. And we do need time.

This kind of daily discipline used to be an undisputed part of Christian practice. But it appears to have fallen on hard times. And the result will be, once again, that we will be in danger of ‘forgetting’ God.

In the Old Testament, as we have seen, this had to do with the disobedience of not paying attention to God and His truth. And today, we are in danger of reaching the same end, though by a different route.

Now, we are simply too preoccupied, too frenzied, living simultaneously on too many fronts, so that we just do not have time. We are not able to find this central space in our lives.

When David spoke of the ‘Meditation of my heart’ (Ps. 19:14; 49:3 cf. Ps. 119:15, 23, 99), he was speaking of being in God’s presence, reflecting on His truth, learning how to walk with God, being before the face of God.

This Word he stored up in his heart ‘that I might not sin against you’ (Ps. 119:11). That is what we need to do and where we need to be every day.

This will happen only if we are deliberate about it and are willing to give up whatever stands in our way to this end.

Let us make no mistake about this. If we do not do this aright, if we are not daily seeking God’s face, if we are not pondering the truth he has given us in his Word, if we are not daily being nourished in our souls by it, and if we are not daily repenting of our sin where we need to, our faith will wither and our walk with God will disappear.

If, however, we carve out this center for our lives, we will be in the place where Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians can be realized in us despite our very modern lives:

‘May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God,’ he wrote, ‘and to the steadfastness of Christ’ (2 Thess 3:5). That is what God, the Holy Spirit, will do.”

–David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 182-186.

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“Work hard at the passing on of the gospel” by D.A. Carson

“Work hard at the passing on of the gospel. As you know as well as I, there were no chapter breaks or verse breaks when these manuscripts were first written, so the end of chapter 1 runs smoothly into the beginning of chapter 2.

‘You, then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.’

In other words, in the light of the flow from the end of chapter 1, the way you preserve the pattern of sound teaching, the way you guard the gospel, the way you elevate the good news of Jesus Christ is not simply by going in an isolated fashion to a defensive posture but precisely by training a new generation.

In other words, one of the ways you preserve the gospel is precisely by finding another generation to tap them on the shoulder and becoming a mentor to them so they themselves learn the gospel well.

Otherwise, no matter how faithful you are, the most you have done is preserved it while you’re still alive. Which means your vision is small.

So one of the responsibilities, in other words, of any generation of Christian leader is precisely to preserve the pattern of sound teaching, to preserve the gospel, to glory in it, to teach it, to evangelize, to establish believers in it and be willing to suffer for it precisely by mentoring a whole new generation coming along behind who themselves prove to be reliable men who will be able and qualified to teach others.”

–D. A. Carson, “Motivation for Ministry,” in D. A. Carson Sermon Library (Bellingham, WA: Faithlife, 2016), 2 Ti 1:1–2:2.

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