“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.

“Thanksgiving Day Proclamation (1936)” by Wilbur L. Cross

“Time out of mind at this turn of the seasons when the hardy oak leaves rustle in the wind and the frost gives a tang to the air and the dusk falls early and the friendly evenings lengthen under the heel of Orion, it has seemed good to our people to join together in praising the Creator and Preserver, who has brought us by a way that we did not know to the end of another year.”

–Wilbur L. Cross, “Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, 1936,” in Proclamations of His Excellency Wilbur L. Cross Governor of the State of Connecticut (Hartford: Lockwood and Brainerd Co., 1937), 16.

“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.

“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.

“The hope to which God has called us” by John Newton

“What shall it be, ‘ere long, when the Lord shall call us up to join with those who are now singing before the throne?

What shall it be, when all the children of God, who in different ages and countries have been scattered abroad, shall be all gathered together, and enter into that glorious and eternal rest provided for them– when there shall not be one trace of sin or sorrow remaining, not one discordant note be heard, nothing to disturb, or defile, or lighten the never-ceasing joy!

Such is the hope to which God has called us: that day will surely come, as the present day is already arrived– every moment brings on its approach.

While I am writing and you are reading, we may say, ‘Now is our full salvation nearer.’ (Romans 13:11)

Many a weary step we have taken since the Lord first gave us to believe in His name; but we shall not have to tread the past way over again– some difficulties yet remain, but we know not how few.

Perhaps before we are aware, the Lord may cut short our conflict and say, ‘Come up hither.’

Or at the most it cannot be very long, and He who has been with us thus far, will be with us to the end.

He knows how to manifest Himself even here, to give more than He takes away, and to cause our consolations to exceed our greatest afflictions.

And when we get safely home, we shall not complain that we have suffered too much in the way.

We shall not say, ‘Is this all I must expect after so much trouble?’

No, when we awake into that glorious world, we shall in an instant be satisfied with His likeness. One sight of Jesus as He is will fill our hearts and dry up all our tears.

Let us then resign ourselves into His hands.

Let us gird up the loins of our minds, be sober, and hope to the end.

Let us, like faithful servants, watch for our Lord’s appearance, and pray earnestly that we may be found ready at His coming.

Jesus is able to keep us from falling.

Let us be steady in the use of His instituted means, and sincerely desirous to abstain from all appearance of evil.

The rest we may confidently leave to Him, in whom, whosoever trusts, shall never be ashamed.”

–John Newton, The Christian Correspondent: Or a Series of Religious Letters Written by the Rev. John Newton to Alexander Clunie (Hull: George Prince, 1790), 19-22. This letter was written from Liverpool on May 21, 1763.

“This, my friend, is blessed learning indeed” by John Newton

“I find no reading or writing so profitable and refreshing to me, as a correspondence with my Christian friends.

I get more warmth and light sometimes by a letter from a plain person who loves the Lord Jesus, though perhaps a fervent maid, than from some whole volumes put forth by learned Doctors.

I speak not this out of disrespect either to Doctors or to learning; but there is a coldness creeping into the churches, of which I would warn my friends as earnestly as of a fire that was breaking out next door.

Blessed be God, we still have some among the learned, who are content to become fools for the Gospel’s sake, and fools I dare say they are and will be thought of by their brethren.

For though I do not deny that learning, when it falls in good hands, and is employed by a spiritual and humble man to prosper purposes and occasions, may be, through a divine blessing, greatly useful.

Yet I dare affirm that an over attachment to human learning, and an unjust contempt of those who have it not, has been formerly, and in many instances is at present, the very bane of vital, spiritual, experimental godliness.

This, my friend, is blessed learning indeed, to be taught of God— to be under the influence of the holy and heavenly Spirit.

Yea, blessed is the man whom Thou chooses, O Lord, and teachest out of Thy law!

May you and I, my friend, know more of that divine Teacher, who can not only reveal truth to our minds, but enlighten and enlarge our understanding to receive it.

Suppose a man blind, and desirous to know the nature of light and color, and suppose a philosopher gravely reading lectures to him upon these subjects; and you have an emblem of what human learning can do in spiritual things.

But suppose the blind man suddenly possessed of sight, and enabled to see the sun and the skies, the land and water with his own eyes; this may represent the teaching of God.

Be this my school, by frequent prayer and constant meditation on the word of God, to wait and improve the visits of the great Teacher!

Then I shall be wise unto salvation myself, and fitted, if the Lord please, to assist as an instrument, in the instruction and edification of others.”

–John Newton, The Christian Correspondent: Or a Series of Religious Letters Written by the Rev. John Newton to Alexander Clunie (Hull: George Prince, 1790), 10-12.

“My heart is like a country but half subdued” by John Newton

“We are all well as usual, surrounded with mercies on every side, and want nothing to make us more happy than we are, but a warmer sense of redeeming love.

Blessed be God we are not altogether asleep, though too drowsy.

All my plantations flourish. The prayer meeting is well attended, and in general, I hope, proves a time of refreshment; so that some of the younger, and more lively sort, are encouraged to attempt another on Sunday mornings at six o’clock, to pray for their poor Minister, and for a blessing on the ordinances. My children now exceed two hundred, as I expected.

I shall be obliged to you to procure me what accounts you can, printed or otherwise, of the Lord’s work in America. I have had some imperfect hints, but want to know more.

I have heard of something remarkable in and about Long Island– likewise a schoolmaster, that has had remarkable success among the Indian children.

Such as this is the news I want. I am little concerned with the treaties and policies of the kings of the earth; but I long to hear of the victories and triumphs of our King Jesus, and that the trophies of His grace are multiplied.

I want more experience in my soul, of that spiritual energy which is mighty to pull down strongholds, to lay every imagination and high thing low in the dust, and bring every roving thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

My heart is like a country but half subdued, where all things are in an unsettled state, and mutinies and insurrections are daily happening.

I hope I hate the rebels that disturb the King’s peace. I am glad when I can point them out, lay hold of them, and bring them to him for justice.

But they have many lurking-holes, and sometimes they come disguised like friends, so that I do not know them, till their works discover them.

What a quiet posture Job’s affairs were in. The oxen were ploughing, and the asses were feeding besides them– all in peace, and no danger near.

Who would have thought of the Sabeans coming to carry all away?

So it is sometimes in my experience. The bands of the enemy break in, hinder my plowing, spoil my pastures, and rob me of my store.

But the mercy is, that there are infinite resources in the name of Jesus.

One act of lively faith in Him sets all the rights, heals every breach, and makes up every loss.”

–John Newton, The Christian Correspondent: Or a Series of Religious Letters Written by the Rev. John Newton to Alexander Clunie (Hull: George Prince, 1790), 76-79.