Category Archives: Evangelism

“He was wrapped in swaddling bands” by Gregory of Nazianzus (A.D. 330-390)

“He was begotten (Matt. 1:16)— yet He was already begotten (Ps. 2:7; Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5, 5:5)— of a woman (Gal. 4:4).

And yet she was a virgin (Matt. 1:23; Isa 7:14; Luke 1:34–35; Matt. 1:20). That it was from a woman makes it human, that she was a virgin makes it divine.

On earth He has no father (Matt. 1:20), but in heaven no mother (Ps. 2:7). All this is part of His Godhead.

He was carried in the womb (Luke 1:31), but acknowledged by a prophet as yet unborn himself, who leaped for joy at the presence of the Word for whose sake he had been created (Luke 1:41).

He was wrapped in swaddling bands (Luke 2:7, 12), but at the Resurrection He unloosed the swaddling bands of the grave (John 20:6-7).

He was laid in a manger (Luke 2:7, 16), but was extolled by angels, disclosed by a star and adored by Magi (Matt. 2:2, 7, 9–11).

Why do you take offense at what you see, instead of attending to its spiritual significance?

He was exiled into Egypt (Matt. 2:13-14), but He banished the Egyptian idols (Jude 5).

He had ‘no form or beauty’ for the Jews (Isa. 53:2), but for David He was ‘fairer than the children of men’ (Psalm 45:2) and on the mount He shines forth, becoming more luminous than the Sun (Matt. 17:2), to reveal the future mystery.”

–Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius, ed. John Behr, trans. Frederick Williams and Lionel Wickham, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002), 86–87.

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“I’m talking about Charles Haddon Spurgeon” by John Piper

“Mountains are not meant to envy. In fact they are not meant even to be possessed by anyone on earth. They are, as David says, ‘the mountains of God’ (Psalm 36:6).

If you try to make your Minnesota hill imitate a mountain, you will make a fool of your hill.

Hills have their place. So do the plains of Nebraska. If the whole world were mountains, where would we grow bread? Every time you eat bread say, ‘Praise God for Nebraska!’

I’m talking about Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I am warning my wavering self that he is not to be imitated.

Spurgeon preached as a Baptist pastor in London from 1854 until 1891—thirty-eight years of ministry in one place.

He died January 31, 1892, at the age of fifty-seven.

His collected sermons fill sixty-three volumes equivalent to the twenty-seven-volume ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica and stand as the largest set of books by a single author in the history of Christianity.

He read six serious books a week and could remember what was in them and where.

He read Pilgrim’s Progress more than one hundred times.

He added 14,460 people to his church membership and did almost all the membership interviews himself.

He could look out on a congregation of 5,000 and name the members.

He founded a pastors’ college and trained almost 900 men during his pastorate.

Spurgeon once said he had counted as many as eight sets of thoughts that passed through his mind at the same time while he was preaching.

He often prayed for his people during the very sermon he was preaching to them.

He would preach for forty minutes at 140 words a minute from a small sheet of notes that he had worked up the night before.

The result? More than twenty-five thousand copies of his sermons were sold each week in twenty languages, and someone was converted every week through the written sermons.

Spurgeon was married and had two sons who became pastors.

His wife was an invalid most of her life and rarely heard him preach.

He founded an orphanage, edited a magazine, produced more than 140 books, responded to 500 letters a week, and often preached ten times a week in various churches as well as his own.

He suffered from gout, rheumatism, and Bright’s disease, and in the last twenty years of his ministry he was so sick that he missed a third of the Sundays at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

He was a politically liberal, conservative Calvinistic Baptist who smoked cigars, spoke his mind, believed in hell, and wept over the perishing, tens of thousands of whom were saved through his soul-winning passion.

He was a Christian hedonist, coming closer than anyone I know to my favorite sentence: “’God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.’

Spurgeon said, ‘One thing is past all question; we shall bring our Lord most glory if we get from Him much grace.’

What shall we make of such a man? Neither a god nor a goal. He should not be worshiped or envied.

He is too small for the one and too big for the other. If we worship such men, we are idolaters. If we envy them, we are fools.

Mountains are not meant to be envied. They are meant to be marveled at for the sake of their Maker. They are the mountains of God.

More than that, without envy, we are meant to climb into their minds and hearts and revel in what they saw so clearly and what they felt so deeply.

We are to benefit from them without craving to be like them. When we learn this, we can relax and enjoy them.

Until we learn it, they may make us miserable, because they highlight our weaknesses. Well, we are weak, and to be reminded of it is good.

But we also need to be reminded that, compared with our inferiority to God, the distance between us and Spurgeon is as nothing. We are all utterly dependent on our Father’s grace.

Spurgeon had his sins. That may comfort us in our weak moments.

But let us rather be comforted that his greatness was a free gift of God—to us as well as him. Let us be, by the grace of God, all that we can be for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 15:10).

In our smallness, let us not become smaller by envy, but rather larger by humble admiration and gratitude for the gifts of others.

Do not envy the mountain; glory in its Creator.

You’ll find the air up there cool, fresh, and invigorating and the view stunning beyond description.

So don’t envy. Enjoy!”

–John Piper, “Mountains Are Not Meant to Envy: Awed Thoughts on Charles Spurgeon,” A Godward Life: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All Life (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1997), 263–265.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born on June 19, 1834.

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“Glory in nothing but Christ” by J.C. Ryle

“Why then should any man or woman despair with such a passage as this in the Bible? Jesus is a physician who can cure hopeless cases.

He can quicken dead souls, and call the things which be not as though they were.

Never should any man or woman despair! Jesus is still the same now that He was eighteen hundred years ago. The keys of death and Hell are in His hand. When He opens none can shut.

What though your sins be more in number than the hairs of your head?

What though your evil habits have grown with your growth, and strengthened with your strength?

What though you have hitherto hated good, and loved evil, all the days of your life?

These things are sad indeed; but there is hope even for you. Christ can heal you. Christ can cleanse you. Christ can raise you from your low estate.

Heaven is not shut against you. Christ is able to admit you, if you will humbly commit your soul into His hands.

Reader, are your sins forgiven? If not, I set before you this day a full and free salvation. I invite you to follow the steps of the penitent thief,—come to Christ, and live.

I tell you that Jesus is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. I tell you He can do everything that your soul requires.

Though your sins be as scarlet, He can make them white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Why should you not be saved as well as another? Come unto Christ by faith, and live.

Reader, are you a true believer? If you are, you ought to glory in Christ.

Glory not in your own faith, your own feelings, your own knowledge, your own prayers, your own amendment, your own diligence. Glory in nothing but Christ.

Alas! the best of us knows but little of that merciful and mighty Saviour. We do not exalt Him and glory in Him enough. Let us pray that we may see more of the fulness there is in Him.

Reader, do you ever try to do good to others? If you do, remember to tell them about Christ.

Tell the young, tell the poor, tell the aged, tell the ignorant, tell the sick, tell the dying,—tell them all about Christ.

Tell them of His power, and tell them of His love.

Tell them of His doings, and tell them of His feelings.

Tell them of what He has done for the chief of sinners.

Tell them what He is willing to do to the last day of time.

Tell it them over and over again. Never be tired of speaking of Christ.

Say to them broadly and fully, freely and unconditionally, unreservedly and undoubtingly, ‘Come unto Christ as the penitent thief did,—come unto Christ, and you shall be saved.'”

–J.C. Ryle, Living or Dead? A Series of Home Truths (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), 262–265.

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“The holiness, love, compassion, care, and authority of Christ towards His church” by John Owen

“The especial design of the rule of the church in its government is to represent the holiness of Christ, love of Christ, compassion of Christ, care of Christ, and authority of Christ towards His church.

This is the great end of rule in the church, and of all the discipline which is to be exercised by virtue thereof.

Whilst this is not attended unto, when the officers and rulers of the church do not endeavour, in all the actings of their power and office, to set forth these virtues of Christ, to exemplify that impression of them which He hath left in His laws and rule, with the divine testimonies which He gave of them in His own person, they utterly deviate from the principal end of all rule in the church.

For men to act herein in a way of domination, with a visible elation of mind and spirit above their brethren; with anger, wrath, and passion; by rules, order, and laws of their own devising, without the least consideration of what the Lord Christ requires, and what is the frame of His heart towards all His disciples,—is to reflect the highest dishonour imaginable upon Christ Himself.

He who comes into the courts of the king in Westminster Hall, when filled with judges, grave, learned, and righteous, must ordinarily be allowed to judge of the king himself, his wisdom, justice, moderation, and clemency, by the law which they proceed upon and their manner of the administration of it.

But God forbid that Christians should make a judgment concerning the holiness, wisdom, love, and compassion of Christ by the representation which, as is pretended, is made of Him and them in some courts wherein church rule and discipline is administered!

When any had offended of old, their censure by the church was called the bewailing of them, (2 Cor. 12:21); and that because of the sorrow, pity, and compassion whereby, in that censure, they evidenced the compassion of the Lord Christ towards the souls of sinners.

This is scarce answered by those pecuniary mulcts and other penalties, which, with indignation and contempt, are inflicted on such as are made offenders, whether they will or no.

Certainly, those who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and have a due honour for the gospel, will, at one time or another, begin to think meet that this stain of our religion should be washed away.

The rule and law of the exercise of power in the elders of the church is the holy Scripture only.

The Lord Christ is the only lawgiver of the church; all His laws unto this end are recorded in the Scripture; no other law is effectual, can oblige or operate upon the objects or unto the ends of church-rule.

If the church make a thousand rules, or canons, or laws for government, neither any of them, nor all of them in general, have any the least power to oblige men unto obedience or compliance with them, but only so far as virtually or materially they contain what is of the law of Christ, and derive force from thence: as the judges in our courts of justice are bound to judge and determine in all cases out of and according to the law of the land; and when they do not, their sentence is of no validity, but may and ought to be reversed.

But if, wilfully or of choice, they should introduce laws or rules not legally established in this nation, judging according unto them, it would render them highly criminal and punishable.

It is no otherwise in the kingdom of Christ and the rule thereof. It is by His law alone that rule is to be exercised in it. There is nothing left unto the elders of the church but the application of his laws and the general rules of them unto particular cases and occasions.

To make, to bring, to execute, any other rules, laws, or canons, in the government of his church, is to usurp on His kingly dominion.”

–John Owen, “The True Nature of a Gospel Church,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 16 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1689/1968), 16: 135-136.

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“Union with Christ is the greatest and most glorious grace that we can be made partakers of in this world” by John Owen

“Union with Christ is the greatest, most honourable, and glorious of all graces that we are made partakers of. It is called ‘glory,’ (2 Cor. 3:18).

The greatest humiliation of the Son of God consisted in His taking upon Him of our nature, (Heb. 2:8-9).

And this was ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich,’—rich in the eternal glory, the glory that He had with the Father before the world was, (John 17:5), as being in Himself ‘God over all, blessed for ever,’ (Rom. 9:5),— ‘for our sakes He became poor,’ (2 Cor. 8:9), by taking on Him that nature which is poor in itself, infinitely distanced from Him, and exposed unto all misery.

All which our apostle fully expresseth, (Phil. 2:5–7), ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.’

There was indeed great grace and condescension in all that He did and humbled Himself unto in that nature, as it follows in that place, ‘And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,’ (Phil. 2:8).

But His assumption of the nature itself was that whereby most signally ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε, He ’emptied’ and ‘humbled Himself, and made Himself of no reputation.’

On this all that followed did ensue, and on this it did depend. From hence all His actings and sufferings in that nature received their dignity and efficacy.

All, I say, that Christ, as our mediator, did and underwent in our nature, had its worth, merit, use, and prevalency from His first condescension in taking our nature upon Him; for from thence it was that whatever He so did or suffered, it was the doing and suffering of the Son of God.

And, on the contrary, our grace of union with Christ, our participation of Him and His nature, is our highest exaltation, the greatest and most glorious grace that we can be made partakers of in this world.

He became poor for our sakes, by a participation of our nature, that we through His poverty may be rich in a participation of His, (2 Cor. 8:9). And this is that which gives worth and excellency unto all that we may be afterwards intrusted with.

The grace and privileges of believers are very great and excellent, but yet they are such as do belong unto them that are made partakers of Christ, such as are due to the quickening and adorning of all the members of His body; as all privileges of marriage, after marriage contracted, arise from and follow that contract.

For being once made co-heirs with Christ, we are made heirs of God, and have a right to the whole inheritance.

And, indeed, what greater glory or dignity can a poor sinner be exalted unto, than to be thus intimately and indissolubly united unto the Son of God, the perfection whereof is the glory which we hope and wait for, (John 17:22-23)?

Saith David, in an earthly, temporary concern, ‘What am I, and what is my father’s family, that I should be son-in-law unto the king, being a poor man, and lightly esteemed?’ (1 Samuel 18:23)

How much more may a sinner say, ‘What am I, poor, sinful dust and ashes, one that deserves to be lightly esteemed by the whole creation of God, that I should be thus united unto the Son of God, and thereby become His son by adoption!’

This is honour and glory unparalleled. And all the grace that ensues receives its worth, its dignity, and use from hence.

Therefore are the graces and the works of believers excellent, because they are the graces and works of them that are united unto.”

–John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Volume 4, The Works of John Owen (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1667/1854), 4: 148–149.

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“God in the beginning made all things good, glorious, and beautiful” by John Owen

“The Lord, indeed, hath laid out and manifested infinite wisdom in His works of creation, providence, and governing of His world: in wisdom hath he made all His creatures. ‘How manifold are His works! In wisdom hath He made them all; the earth is full of His riches,’ (Ps. 104:24).

So in His providence, His supportment and guidance of all things, in order to one another, and His own glory, unto the ends appointed for them; for all these things ‘come forth from the LORD of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working,’ (Isa. 28:29).

His law also is for ever to be admired, for the excellency of the wisdom therein, (Deut. 4:7-8).

But yet there is that which Paul is astonished at, and wherein God will for ever be exalted, which he calls, ‘The depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God,’ (Rom. 11:33);—that is only hid in and revealed by Christ.

Hence, as he is said to be ‘the wisdom of God,’ and to be ‘made unto us wisdom;’ so the design of God, which is carried along in Him, and revealed in the gospel, is called ‘the wisdom of God,’ and a ‘mystery; even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world was; which none of the princes of this world knew,’ (1 Cor. 2:7-8).

In Ephesians 3:10 it is called, ‘The manifold wisdom of God.’ And to discover the depth and riches of this wisdom, he tells us in that verse that it is such, that principalities and powers, that very angels themselves, could not in the least measure get any acquaintance with it, until God, by gathering of a church of sinners, did actually discover it.

Hence Peter informs us, that they who are so well acquainted with all the works of God, do yet bow down and desire with earnestness to look into these things (the things of the wisdom of God in the gospel), (1 Pet. 1:12).

It asks a man much wisdom to make a curious work, fabric, and building; but if one shall come and deface it, to raise up the same building to more beauty and glory than ever, this is excellence of wisdom indeed.

God in the beginning made all things good, glorious, and beautiful. When all things had an innocency and beauty, the clear impress of his wisdom and goodness upon them, they were very glorious; especially man, who was made for His special glory.

Now, all this beauty was defaced by sin, and the whole creation rolled up in darkness, wrath, curses, confusion, and the great praise of God buried in the heaps of it.

Man, especially, was utterly lost, and came short of the glory of God, for which he was created, (Rom. 3:23). Here, now, doth the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God open itself.

A design in Christ shines out from His bosom, that was lodged there from eternity, to recover things to such an estate as shall be exceedingly to the advantage of His glory, infinitely above what at first appeared, and for the putting of sinners into inconceivably a better condition than they were in before the entrance of sin.”

–John Owen, “On Communion With God,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1657/1976), 2: 88-89.

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“The first and principal duty of a pastor” by John Owen

The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word. It is a promise relating to the New Testament, that God would give unto His church ‘pastors according to His own heart, which should feed them with knowledge and understanding,’ (Jer. 3:15).

This is by teaching or preaching the Word, and no otherwise. This feeding is of the essence of the office of a pastor, as unto the exercise of it; so that he who doth not, or can not, or will not feed the flock is no pastor, whatever outward call or work he any have in the church.

The care of preaching the gospel was committed to Peter, and in him unto all true pastors of the church, under the name of ‘feeding,’ (John 21:15–17). According to the example of the apostles, they are to free themselves from all encumbrances, that they may give themselves wholly unto the word and prayer, (Acts 6:1–4).

Their work is ‘to labour in the word and doctrine,’ (1 Tim. 5:17); and thereby to ‘feed the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made them overseers,’ (Acts 20:28): and it is that which is everywhere given them in charge.

This work and duty, therefore, as was said, is essential unto the office of a pastor. A man is a pastor unto them whom he feeds by pastoral teaching, and to no more; and he that doth not so feed is no pastor.

Nor is it required only that he preach now and then at his leisure, but that he lay aside all other employments, though lawful, all other duties in the church, as unto such a constant attendance on them as would divert him from this work, that he give himself unto it,—that he be in these things labouring to the utmost of his ability.

Without this no man will be able to give a comfortable account of the pastoral office at the Last Day…

Sundry things are required unto this work and duty of pastoral preaching; as,—

(1.) Spiritual wisdom and understanding in the mysteries of the gospel, that they may declare unto the church “all the counsel of God” and “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (See Acts 20:27; 1 Cor. 2:4–7; Eph. 3:8–11).

The generality of the church, especially those who are grown in knowledge and experience, have a spiritual insight into these things, and the Apostle prays that all believers may have so, (Eph. 1:15–19); and if those that instruct them, or should do so, have not some degree of eminency herein, they cannot be useful to lead them on to perfection.

And the little care hereof or concernment herein is that which in our days hath rendered the ministry of many fruitless and useless.

(2.) Experience of the power of the truth which they preach in and upon their own souls. Without this they will themselves be lifeless and heartless in their own work, and their labour for the most part will be unprofitable towards others.

It is, to such men, attended unto as a task for their advantage, or as that which carries some satisfaction in it from ostentation and supposed reputation wherewith it is accompanied.

But a man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul.

And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself.

If the Word does not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us. And no man lives in a more woful condition than those who really believe not themselves what they persuade others to believe continually.

The want of this experience of the power of gospel truth on their own souls is that which gives us so many lifeless, sapless orations, quaint in words and dead as to power, instead of preaching the Gospel in the demonstration of the Spirit.

And let any say what they please, it is evident that some men’s preaching, as well as others not-preaching, hath lost the credit of their ministry.

(3.) Skill to divide the word aright, (2 Tim. 2:15); and this consists in a practical wisdom, upon a diligent attendance unto the word of truth, to find out what is real, substantial, and meet food for the souls of the hearers,—to give unto all sorts of persons in the church that which is their proper portion.

And this requires, (4.) A prudent and diligent consideration of the state of the flock over which any man is set, as unto their strength or weakness, their growth or defect in knowledge (the measure of their attainments requiring either milk or strong meat), their temptations and duties, their spiritual decays or thrivings; and that not only in general, but, as near as may be, with respect unto all the individual members of the church.

Without a due regard unto these things, men preach at random, uncertainly fighting, like those that beat the air.

Preaching sermons not designed for the advantage of them to whom they are preached; insisting on general doctrines not levelled to the condition of the auditory; speaking what men can, without consideration of what they ought,—are things that will make men weary of preaching, when their minds are not influenced with outward advantages, as much as make others weary in hearing of them.

And, (5.) All these, in the whole discharge of their duty, are to be constantly accompanied with the evidence of zeal for the glory of God and compassion for the souls of men. Where these are not in vigorous exercise in the minds and souls of them that preach the Word, giving a demonstration of themselves unto the consciences of them that hear, the quickening form, the life and soul of preaching, is lost.

All these things seem common, obvious, and universally acknowledged; but the ruin of the ministry of the most for the want of them, or from notable defects in them, is or may be no less evidently known.

And the very naming of them (which is all at present which I design) is sufficient to evidence how great a necessity there is incumbent on all pastors of churches to give themselves unto the Word and prayer, to labour in the Word and doctrine, to be continually intent on this work, to engage all the faculties of their souls, to stir up all their graces and gifts, unto constant exercise in the discharge of their duty; for ‘who is sufficient for these things?’ (2 Cor. 2:16)”

–John Owen, “The True Nature of a Gospel Church,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 16 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1689/1968), 16: 74-77.

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