“Prayer the church’s banquet” by George Herbert

Prayer (I)

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.

–George Herbert, from ‘Prayer (I)” in Herbert: Poems (Everyman Library) (New York: Knopf, 2004), 37.

“Jesus is the gardener Adam failed to be” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Jesus is the gardener Adam failed to be. (Genesis 2:15; John 20:15)

And He means to extend that resurrection garden to the ends of the earth through the preaching of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20) and into the lives of all the Father has given Him (John 17:2).

It is in this way the that the Father will glorify the Son, even as the Son glorified the Father.”

–Sinclair Ferguson, Lessons from the Upper Room: The Heart of the Savior (Sanford, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2021), 190.

“The love of Christ to sinners is the very essence and marrow of the Gospel” by J.C. Ryle

“The passage we have now read begins one of the most interesting portions of St. John’s Gospel. For five consecutive chapters we find the Evangelist recording matters which are not mentioned by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

We can never be thankful enough that the Holy Ghost has caused them to be written for our learning! In every age the contents of these chapters have been justly regarded as one of the most precious parts of the Bible.

They have been the meat and drink, the strength and comfort of all true-hearted Christians. Let us ever approach them with peculiar reverence. The place whereon we stand is holy ground.

We learn, for one thing, from these verses, what patient and continuing love there is in Christ’s heart towards His people. It is written that “having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” (John 13:1)

Knowing perfectly well that they were about to forsake Him shamefully in a very few hours, in full view of their approaching display of weakness and infirmity, our blessed Master did not cease to have loving thoughts of His disciples.

He was not weary of them: He loved them to the last.

The love of Christ to sinners is the very essence and marrow of the Gospel.

That He should love us at all, and care for our souls,—that He should love us before we love Him, or even know anything about Him,—that He should love us so much as to come into the world to save us, take our nature on Him, bear our sins, and die for us on the cross,—all this is wonderful indeed!

It is a kind of love to which there is nothing like among men. The narrow selfishness of human nature cannot fully comprehend it.

It is one of those things which even the angels of God “desire to look into”. (1 Peter 1:12) It is a truth which Christian preachers and teachers should proclaim incessantly, and never be weary of proclaiming.

But the love of Christ to saints is no less wonderful, in its way, than His love to sinners, though far less considered.

That He should bear with all their countless infirmities from grace to glory,—that He should never be tired of their endless inconsistencies and petty provocations,—that He should go on forgiving and forgetting incessantly, and never be provoked to cast them off and give them up,—all this is marvellous indeed!

No mother watching over the waywardness of her feeble babe, in the days of its infancy, has her patience so thoroughly tried, as the patience of Christ is tried by Christians.

Yet His longsuffering is infinite. His compassions are a well that is never exhausted. His love is “a love that passeth knowledge”.

Let no man be afraid of beginning with Christ, if he desires to be saved. The chief of sinners may come to Him with boldness, and trust Him for pardon with confidence. This loving Saviour is One who delights to “receive sinners.” (Luke 15:2)

Let no man be afraid of going on with Christ after he has once come to Him and believed.

Let him not fancy that Christ will cast him off because of failures, and dismiss him into his former hopelessness on account of infirmities. Such thoughts are entirely unwarranted by anything in the Scriptures.

Jesus will never reject any servant because of feeble service and weak performance. Those whom He receives He always keeps.

Those whom He loves at first He loves at last. His promise shall never be broken, and it is for saints as well as sinners: ‘Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.’ (John 6:37)”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, vol. 3 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1879/2012), 3: 1-2. Ryle is commenting on John 13:1-5.

“Gratitude echoes grace” by John Webster

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:2–3)

Like nearly all the other letters of Paul that we have in the New Testament canon, 1 Thessalonians starts with thanksgiving. It’s relatively easy to breeze through these sections of thanksgiving at the beginning of Paul’s letters without really paying attention to the fact that something of importance is happening in them.

All too easily we can think of them as just courtesies that Paul goes through before getting on with the real business of his letters, or perhaps we may read them as if Paul were engaging in a bit of flattery, winning his readers over before he has a go at them on some issue that’s troubling him. But if we pause over them and ponder a little, we soon come to see that something else is going on.

Far from being mere civil preliminaries, these introductory thanksgivings tell us something very profound. They signal to us the kind of existence in which both Paul and his readers are caught up. Paul gives thanks because, for him, Christian life, life in Christ and life in the church of Christ, is a life in which thanksgiving is a fundamental dynamic.

Thanksgiving isn’t just decoration; it’s primary. Basic to the whole pattern of living in which Paul and his readers share is the giving and receiving of thanks.

Thanksgiving in the church of Jesus Christ is a deep reality. It’s not just a sign that Christians are a well-mannered lot who say nice things about one another and are suitably grateful to God for their blessings.

Thanksgiving is one of the signs of convertedness—that is, it’s a mark of the fact that those who live in Christ have been remade, transplanted out of one way of living into another, new way. This is because, as Paul puts it, the gospel has come to them in power and the Holy Spirit.

Because they have turned to God from idols—because under the impulse of God they have abandoned an entire way of living—their mode of existence has been turned inside-out. One of the essential aspects of that conversion and renewal of human life is the move from ingratitude to thanksgiving.

Christian life is new life because it transforms us out of our refusal to live thankfully to a life which acknowledges, celebrates, and lives from the grace of God.

Part of what makes the church such a strange reality in the world is that it’s a place where callousness and ingratitude are being set aside and human beings are beginning to learn one of the fundamental things we must learn if we are to be healed—namely, how to say those words which can chase away an entire army of demons: we give thanks to God always.

So thanksgiving is one of the chief fruits of that complete reorientation of human life that Christian faith is all about: to be in the church is to rediscover gratitude to God.

Thanksgiving is thus rooted in grace: to live in gratitude to God is to live out of God’s grace. And grace is not a thing but a person and an action. It’s the personal presence and action of God; it’s God giving to us wretched and convoluted creatures everything we need to rescue us from our wretchedness and set our lives straight.

Who is this grace-filled God whose goodness sets us free for thanksgiving? For Paul in 1 Thessalonians, it is God who is Father, Son, and Spirit, the merciful three-in-one.

The God who sets us free for thanksgiving is, Paul tells us, “God the Father” or “our God and Father”; He is “the Lord Jesus Christ,” equal to Him in majesty and grace; and He is God “the Holy Spirit,” the life-giver.

This God, in his threefold work of grace, is the one who comes to us in His great act of friendship, wiping out our sins, reconciling us to Himself, restoring us to fellowship, and setting us free to be who we are made to be: God’s thankful people.

Gratitude, we might say, echoes grace; the giving of thanks flows from God’s supreme gift of fellowship with Himself.”

–John Webster, Christ Our Salvation: Expositions and Proclamations, ed. Daniel J. Bush (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), 121–123.

“When He comes again” by J.C. Ryle

“The second miracle which our Lord is recorded to have wrought demands our attention in these verses.

Like the first miracle at Cana, it is eminently typical and significant of things yet to come.

To attend a marriage feast (John 2:1-11), and cleanse the temple (John 2:12-25) from profanation were among the first acts of our Lord’s ministry at His first coming.

To purify the whole visible Church, and hold a marriage supper, will be amongst His first acts, when He comes again.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, vol. 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1879/2012), 1: 73-74. Ryle is commenting on John 2:12-25.

“The Word of God is a deep mine of costly treasure” by George Swinnock

“Out of His infinite favour God is pleased to give some— in those places where He intendeth to gather a people to Himself, for His eternal praise— beside the twinkling starlight of nature, the clear and perfect sunlight of Scripture, to ‘guide their feet in the ways of peace.’

This Word is one of the most signal mercies that ever He bestowed upon the sons of men, the whole world without it being but a barren and rude wilderness.

The Word of God is a spring of living water, a deep mine of costly treasure, a table furnished with all sorts of food, a garden wherein is variety of pleasant fruits, the church’s charter, containing all her privileges and her deeds, manifesting her title to the purchased possession.

It hath pious precepts for the Christian’s reformation, and precious promises for his consolation.

If the saint be afflicted, it can hold his head above water, and keep him from sinking when the billows go over his soul; there are cordials in it rich enough to revive the most fainting spirit.

If the saint be assaulted, the word is armour of proof, whereby he may defend himself manfully, and wound his foes mortally.

If the soul be unholy, this word can sanctify it; ‘Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken to you,’ (John 15:3). This water can wash out all the spots and stains.

If the soul be an heir of hell, this word can save it: ‘From a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise to salvation,’ (2 Tim. 3:15). Other writings may make a man wise to admiration, but this only can make him wise to salvation.

This word, which is of such unspeakable worth, God hath deposited as a special treasure into the hands of the children of men, that they might ‘obey His will, and know the just one.’

And, reader, it is thy duty to search and study this book. When kings send out their proclamations, either concerning acts of grace, or some law which their subjects ought to obey, they expect that all should take notice of them, and give them the reading and hearing.

What an affront dost thou offer to the King of the whole world, if thou turnest thy back upon His word! I must tell thee it is no less than crimen lœsœ majestatis. (‘the crime of injured sovereignty‘)

‘He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me,’ (Luke 10:16).

Thou mayest think, possibly, that by neglecting to hear, thou dost only contemn the preacher; but believe me, it is a contempt of thy Maker—ministers are God’s ambassadors.

Now to deny an ambassador audience, is one of the greatest disrespects which can possibly be offered him, nay, it is an affront to his prince, on whose errand he cometh, and whose person he representeth; and what is the conclusion usually of such bad premises, but a bloody war?

Consider what thou dost, when thou ‘refusest Him that speaketh from heaven;’ for if thou shuttest the windows of thine eyes from reading, and the door of thine ears from hearing, God may clap such a padlock of a judiciary curse upon them both, that thou shalt never open thine eyes nor ears, till thou comest, as the rich glutton, to see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, and to hear and bear thy part in those dreadful screechings and howlings which are in hell.

It is a mercy that the tree of knowledge, the word of God, is not forbidden, but commanded fruit; nay, that it groweth in the very path to the tree of life.

Oh, why shouldst thou then, like the pharisees, ‘reject the counsel of God against thy own soul’? If thou art a child of Adam, I am sure thou hast thy death’s wound; now by neglecting the word, thou, like a frantic patient, throwest away that medicine which only can cure thee.

Do not say thou wast not warned of thy danger and duty. I do here show thee the hand and seal of the King of kings to that warrant to which I require thy obedience.

The Scripture is the word of Christ, and God commandeth thee upon thine allegiance to hear him, (Col. 3:16; Matt. 3:17).

The Word is the cabinet in which thy Saviour, that pearl of infinite price, is laid up; and therefore thou art commanded to look into it for this jewel: ‘Search the Scriptures, for they are they which testify of Me,’ (John 5:39).

The word is ἐρευνᾶτε (search), and speaketh such a diligent search as covetous men make for silver; they spare no labour, that they may attain their deified treasure. What shouldst not thou do for ‘durable riches and righteousness’?

But, reader, if thou art a child of God, I doubt not but thou delightest to look into thy Father’s will, and weighest every word in it, as knowing that in his testament there is a great charge committed, and a great legacy bequeathed, to thee.

It is thy daily companion and counsellor; thou darest not go without thy cordial, being liable every day to faint; nor without thy weapons, being called every hour to fight.

The Scriptures are the light by which thou walkest, and the tools with which thou workest.

Let me persuade thee to persevere in this gracious practice; take the counsel of the author of it, who is fittest to give laws for thy carriage towards it: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,’ (Col. 3:16).

The word is ἐνοικέτω (dwell), and signifieth to keep house with you. Do not leave thy Bible, as some do, at church, and hear nothing of it all the week long; but bring it home to thy house, let it dwell with thee.

Let not the word be ‘as a wayfaring man, to tarry with thee but for a night,’ and so begone; but let it be an inhabitant, one that accompanieth thee to bed and board, and with whom thou conversest continually as thy familiar and intimate friend.

Make thine heart, as Jerome saith of Nepotianus, by his assiduous reading and hearing the Scriptures, Bibliothecam Christi, the library of Jesus Christ.

I cannot but think that thou hast found the Bible so bountiful a guest, to pay thee so liberally for its board, that thou hast bid it heartily welcome, and wouldst not part with it for the whole world.”

–George Swinnock, “The Christian Man’s Calling,” The Works of George Swinnock, Volume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1992), 1: 141-143.

“There is an eternal holiday yet to begin” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us learn, in the second place, that God’s children must not look for their reward in this world.

If ever there was a case of godliness unrewarded in this life, it was that of John the Baptist.

Think for a moment what a man he was during his short career, and then think to what an end he came.

Behold him, that was the Prophet of the Highest, and greater than any born of woman, imprisoned like a malefactor!

Behold him cut off by a violent death, before the age of thirty-four—the burning light quenched—the faithful preacher murdered for doing his duty,—and this to gratify the hatred of an adulterous woman, and at the command of a capricious tyrant!

Truly there was an event here, if there ever was one in the world, which might make an ignorant man say, “What profit is it to serve God?”

But these are the sort of things which show us, that there will one day be a judgment.

The God of the spirits of all flesh shall at last set up an assize, and reward every one according to his works.

The blood of John the Baptist, and James the apostle, and Stephen—the blood of Polycarp, and Huss, and Ridley, and Latimer, shall yet be required.

It is all written in God’s book. “The earth shall disclose her blood, and no more cover her slain.” (Isaiah 26:21)

The world shall yet know, that there is a God that judgeth the earth.

“If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter, for he that is higher than the highest regardeth: and there be higher than they.” (Eccles. 5:8)

Let all true Christians remember, that their best things are yet to come.

Let us count it no strange thing, if we have sufferings in this present time. It is a season of probation. We are yet at school.

We are learning patience, longsuffering, gentleness, and meekness, which we could hardly learn if we had our good things now.

But there is an eternal holiday yet to begin.

For this let us wait quietly. It will make amends for all.

‘Our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.’ (2 Cor. 4:17)”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1856/2012), 130. Ryle is commenting on Matthew 14:1-12.

“There was one there far greater than Moses or Elijah” by J.C. Ryle

“In the last place, we have in these verses a remarkable testimony to Christ’s infinite superiority over all that are born of woman.

This is a point which is brought out strongly by the voice from heaven, which the disciples heard.

Peter, bewildered by the heavenly vision, and not knowing what to say, proposed to build three tabernacles, one for Christ, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.

He seemed in fact to place the law-giver and the prophet side by side with his divine Master, as if all three were equal. At once, we are told, the proposal was rebuked in a marked manner.

A cloud covered Moses and Elijah, and they were no more seen.

A voice at the same time came forth from the cloud, repeating the solemn words, made use of at our Lord’s baptism, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him.’

That voice was meant to teach Peter, that there was one there far greater than Moses or Elijah.

Moses was a faithful servant of God. Elijah was a bold witness for the truth. But Christ was far above either one or the other.

He was the Saviour to whom law and prophets were continually pointing.

He was the true Prophet, whom all were commanded to hear. (Deut. 18:15)

Moses and Elijah were great men in their day. But Peter and his companions were to remember, that in nature, dignity, and office, they were far below Christ.

He was the true sun: they were the stars depending daily on His light.

He was the root: they were the branches. He was the Master: they were the servants.

Their goodness was all derived: His was original and His own.

Let them honor Moses and the prophets, as holy men. But if they would be saved, they must take Christ alone for their Master, and glory only in Him. ‘Hear ye Him.’

Let us see in these words a striking lesson to the whole Church of Christ. There is a constant tendency in human nature to ‘hear man.’

Bishops, priests, deacons, popes, cardinals, councils, presbyterian preachers, and independent ministers, are continually exalted to a place which God never intended them to fill, and made practically to usurp the honor of Christ.

Against this tendency let us all watch, and be on our guard. Let these solemn words of the vision ever ring in our ears, ‘Hear ye Christ.’

The best of men are only men at their very best.

Patriarchs, prophets, and apostles—martyrs, fathers, reformers, puritans– all, all are sinners, who need a Saviour– holy, useful, honorable in their place—but sinners after all.

They must never be allowed to stand between us and Christ.

He alone is ‘the Son, in whom the Father is well pleased.’

He alone is sealed and appointed to give the bread of life.

He alone has the keys in His hands, ‘God over all, blessed forever.’

Let us take heed that we hear His voice, and follow Him.

Let us value all religious teaching just in proportion as it leads us to Jesus.

The sum and substance of saving religion is to ‘hear Christ.'”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1856/2012), 167-168. Ryle is commenting on Matthew 17:1-13.

“There is an inexhaustible fullness in Scripture” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us ponder these things well. There are great depths in all our Lord Jesus Christ’s recorded dealings upon earth, which no one has ever fully fathomed.

There are mines of rich instruction in all His words and ways, which no one has thoroughly explored.

Many a passage of the Gospels is like the cloud which Elijah’s servant saw. (1 Kings 18:44) The more we look at it, the greater it will appear.

There is an inexhaustible fullness in Scripture.

Other writings seem comparatively threadbare when we become familiar with them. But as to Scripture, the more we read it, the richer we shall find it.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1856/2012), 133-134. Ryle is commenting on Matthew 14:13-21.

“An hour’s enjoyment of the light of His countenance” by John Newton

“Saturday evening has returned again. How quickly the time flies!

O that we may have grace to number our days, and to begin to view the things of this world in that light which they will, doubtless, appear in when we are are upon the point of leaving them.

How many things which are too apt to appear important now and to engross too much of our time, and thoughts, and strength, will then be acknowledged as vain and trivial as the imperfect recollection of a morning dream?

The Lord help us to judge now as we shall judge then, that all things on this side of the grave are of no real value further than they are improved in subservience to the will and glory of God, and that an hour’s enjoyment of the light of His countenance is worth more than the wealth of the Indies and the power of Kings.

How often are we, like Martha, cumbered about many things, though we say, and I hope at the bottom believe, that one thing alone is needful.

The Lord give us a believing, humble, spiritual frame of mind, and make it our earnest desire and prayer, that we may be more like the angels of God, who are always employed, and always happy, in doing His will and beholding His glory.

The rest we may be content to leave to those who are strangers to the love of Jesus and the foretastes of Heaven.

I have been attempting to pray that you and our friends in London may, together with us, behold the KING in His beauty tomorrow– that we may, like David, be satisfied in our souls as with marrow and fatness, and feel something of what Thomas felt, when he put his finger upon the print of His nails, and cried out with transport, ‘My Lord and my God!’

With dear love to you and all friends, I remain,

John Newton”

–John Newton, The Christian Correspondent: Or a Series of Religious Letters Written by the Rev. John Newton to Alexander Clunie (Hull: George Prince, 1790), 171-175. This letter was written from Olney on April 1, 1769.