Coweta Particular Baptist Church

Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set. Proverbs 22:28

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The Old Man and the Preacher Boy

Posted by John Suttles on January 24, 2016 at 10:40 PM Comments comments (1)

I must confess (and I’m not alone in my confession) that as I get older, I seem to get dumber! I can still remember how very much more I knew as a youth. It seemed then that any question anyone asked me on any subject—I had an answer. Today, more often than not, I seem to hesitate, if not downright stumble. Back then, even if the question was on a topic which I had previously never entertained, I seemed miraculously to have a latent genius enabling me to concoct an answer instantly and with enough prowess to impress even myself—almost certainly myself.


I’m not at all sure where all that innate genius has gone, but gone it has. Maybe this is not really such a tragedy. After all, it was James’ admonition for men to be “...swift to hear, slow to speak…” (1:19). One thing I’ve observed in these past 62 years is that those two traits almost never reside together inside a youthful skull! They certainly did not in mine. And it is just exactly because I was so “swift to speak” that I was so “slow to hear.” But, praise be to the grace of our God, not everything passed unheard. One experience bears recalling.


When I was only 18 years old, I was away at Bible college when I met the prettiest girl my eyes had ever seen. She was everything I had ever dreamed of. We had begun to “date,” and I accompanied her to her home in Virginia to visit and meet her parents for the first time. When the Lord’s Day came, we went to church in the little Baptist church where she had been converted only a few months earlier. I was a young “preacher boy,” as we were called in those days, with a head FULL of “knowledge” (falsely-so-called) and, frankly, wasn’t much interested in anything else that day beyond this beautiful creature whom Providence had cast in my path. Whatever little “senses” I may have possessed, even these were numbed by this overwhelming preoccupation with HER. Notwithstanding my pitiable plight, GOD spoke clearly to me that day from His Word which has lingered all these 43 years since we’ve been married.


Some old, godly, saintly man stood to say a word that morning as the Sunday school was discussing the text from John 21:15. He struck me at first as being a poor, common mill-worker; and I was sure he had no “college” experience like me. To say that I was uninterested would be to put it kindly. But as he started to speak, our great and gracious Heavenly Father seized my heart. To this day I cannot escape what he said.


I must first remind you that we were in the “age of church growth,” and the “mega-church” concept reigned as the paradigm for all churches to copy. That was certainly what my college was drilling in me. And so, in the midst of that concept, this simple, plain, godly, old man stood, read Christ’s words THREE times: “Feed my sheep,” “Feed my sheep,” “Feed my sheep”: and then looked us square in the eyes and said:


“If you’ll just feed the sheep, lambs will be born.”


He couldn’t have stunned me more if he had hit me in the face with a boat paddle! For one brief moment, a moment that has echoed now for 43 years, TRUTH had rung out! The trumpet of God had sounded. In a very real sense, that old man was responsible for my ultimate (and inevitable) demise in the denomination I was then attending.


There it was! A simple, but undeniable truth. The focus of my ministry, of any ministry, must not be an obsession with “birthings” but with “feeding”. It’s simply unavoidable:


Healthy sheep will “lamb.” “Sick” sheep will languish and die.


We have experienced now for more than 60 years an almost universal obsession in Evangelicalism with “making lambs” and an appalling neglect of “sheep feeding.” The slogan, - “Won to Win One” - has characterized the modern church all the way from Charles G. Finney to Billy Graham; and the fruit of it is painfully clear. Never in American history has “the church” been more worldly, never less relevant, never less powerful. Oh, may God be pleased to bring us back again to the “feeding” business which our wise Shepherd pressed upon Peter three times.


Maybe I haven’t forgotten everything. In fact, I’ve actually gained one or two pieces of wisdom in the path to old age. Every time my mind goes back to that simple, old man in that Sunday School room that day, I remember the words of our God through Moses to his generation,


“Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God..”

(Lev.19:32)


I’ve never seen that old man again, but I’m hopeful that we shall meet on the other shore and “feed” forever on our Shepherd together. Maybe, just maybe, I’ve become that old man.

Anna Who?

Posted by John Suttles on January 23, 2016 at 10:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Just like Anna the New Testament prophetess before her, Anna Laetitia Waring steps out from the folds of history’s chronological pages to be unveiled with one specific attribute accompanied only by a simple blurb of biographical information. But if we look for godly examples of faithful women, surely we find them in these two Annas. Faithful and faithfulness are the keys to their description. If faithfulness needs any attending attribute, we could add that of unassuming humility and unpretentiousness as well as Paul’s demonstration of godly love. Their brief biographical bits verify love’s revered listing of such virtues as “vaunteth not itself” or “is not puffed up” or “beareth all things” or “believeth all things.” Is not this Christ-likeness, and is not Christ-likeness the endeavor to be like Christ? The very endeavor of bearing and believing requires the love of Christ working through us and nourishing us ultimately by our own personal love for Christ. Loving Christ with all our hearts and souls and minds may not record our names among the world’s current roles of recognition, but faithfulness to Christ is always recorded—indeed in the records that really matter.

 

Sometimes that record inserts the sparsest of biographies into the places of highest esteem. What greater honor could Anna have imagined than to have seen the Christ child as the culmination of all her years of patient waiting? But now her heart’s desire is heralded among Christendom recorded within the sacred Scripture. Luke afforded her three illuminating verses in the second chapter. “And there was one Anna,” he penned in verse thirty-six.

 

But then he packed in a tremendous recollection of her heritage. She was a prophetess. Very few women had been given such distinction. Like Huldah the prophetess before her (II Kings 22:14), Anna had been living in days of spiritual declension. Israel had heard no prophetic word from their God since the close of Malachi until John the Baptist came “crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3). Yet, now that understanding of prophecy was reviving; and here was Anna given that understanding in such a measure that she is called by Luke—a prophetess. She was the daughter of Phanuel (Penuel) of the obscure tribe of Asher in Galilee whose name meant “the face of God.” This was the name Jacob had given to his place of wrestling (Genesis 32:30); for he said he “had seen God face to face.” Now the long-awaited day had come for Israel when they would indeed see God in the Person of Jesus Christ. Her Lord would also bear the tarnish of a Galilean reputation among Israel (John 1:46; 7:41); but unlike Anna, they would not recognize Him.

 

This Anna was of a great age. She had been married only seven years; but whether her age was eighty-four or the years of her widowhood were eighty-four years, she was certainly an old woman who had devoted her life in widowhood to daily ministering in the Temple before God with prayers and fasting. Her faithful waiting bore its fruit as she came upon Simeon holding the Christ-child in his arms and blessing God. She, too, gave thanks to the Lord; but her joyous proclamation “to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:39) designated her as one of the first New Testament women to testify of the coming of the Messiah.

 

And so it is with the other Anna—Anna L. Waring. Every time the Church lifts her collective voice in praise to God singing one of Anna’s hymns of such grace and magnitude, they repeat the Christian testimony of the unpretentious poetess. Who is Anna Waring is a valid question for those of us who still sing from hymnbooks and cherish the poetry of hymns and psalms that direct our worship and echo our sentiments.

 

Anna Laetitia Waring was born in Wales on April 19, 1823, the third child of seven. Verse-writing seemed to be a family trait. Her father and her uncle both published literary works; but it is Anna whose hymns have remained through the years. Reared in a Quaker home, she was baptized into the Church of England in 1842. She studied the Hebrew that she might read the Old Testament in its original language.

 

Anna’s first published book of hymns was in 1850. Hymns and Meditations would be reprinted in several editions through the years. An 1866 Boston printing includes a forward by Reverend F. D. Huntingdon. Her hymns were gifts to the Church. The cherished words of “In Heavenly Love Abiding” bring comfort to every believer. In heavenly love abiding, no change my heart shall fear. And safe is such confiding, for nothing changes here. The storm may roar without me, my heart may low be laid, But God is round about me, and can I be dismayed? So also a comforting balm are the words of her hymn “My Heart is Resting, O My God”: My heart is resting, O my God—I will give thanks and sing” Another of her hymns—“Father, I Know That All My Life”—is based on Psalm 31:15: Father, I know that all my life Is portioned out for me, And the changes that are sure to come, I do not fear to see; But I ask Thee for a present mind Intent on pleasing Thee.

 

Anna remained unmarried. Her friend Mary S. Talbot wrote in a brief biography of Anna, that for many years, Anna was involved in work among the prisons and in supporting the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society. She once described her work among the prisoners as looking in a filthy gutter for a jewel here and there. Anna marked her eighty-seventh birthday and died on May 10, 1910—a long life of quiet and pious service.

 

Hers was an unassuming life, unmarked by fanfare and fame. Few of her life’s accomplishments were ever recorded. Yet the blessing of her hymns remains to comfort those who have followed. Go not far from me, O my God, Whom all my times obey; Take from me anything Thou wilt, But go not Thou away, And let the storm that does Thy work Deal with me as it may. Deep unto deep may call, but I With peaceful heart can say, Thy loving-kindness hath a charge No waves can take away: Then let the storm that speeds me home Deal with me as it may.

 

For all the many years of their lives, who would know these two women? Doubtless, they were unknown by the eminent in their day, nor did they spend many hours outside the bounds of humble and intimate acquaintances. Their lives passed through the transient times of an era as nothing more than an ethereal wisp of smoke and having no more current value than an infinitesimal unit of a multitude. The commerce of their day was transacted without the interference or hindrance of their opinions. But consider—it isn’t the names of the high priest or the prime minister of their day that we recall. We remember Anna and Anna and their deeds that were recorded for all the ages of posterity. Their faithfulness inspires us and calls us to worship and to service. Like Anna the prophetess, Anna Waring continues to faithfully testify of the preciousness of her Savior “to all those who have looked for redemption.”

 

Dr. Teresa Suttles

 

January 2016

I've Got a Ticket to Ride

Posted by John Suttles on July 14, 2015 at 10:45 PM Comments comments (0)

It is unfortunate that the lyrics of a song highlighting the reprehensible complexion of rebellion, “I’ve got a ticket to ride,”* so poignantly expresses the staid sentiment of a vast religious society permeating our culture today. It is next to impossible to find anyone who admittedly is not a Christian. Even among the weekly attendees in the local jail services, it is difficult to find one who does not profess to be a Christian. If such professions are valid, then one might certifiably inquire with the prophet Samuel: “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears?”


Translated into our own contemporary setting, it would be fair to inquire regarding the disparity of holiness wrecking cultural havoc. We seem to have corporately run amuck. A sailing vessel tossed riotously in a raging storm should certainly fare more securely with multiple seasoned mariners in its crew. A crisis of armaments could surely be more likely diverted by a counsel of wizened military commanders. Likewise, rankled nerves of political calamities could be soothed by calming ointment of wisdom from elder statesmen. The hoary heads of theological fortitude should abate rampage against the verity of the Scriptures and coddle the skittish sheep agitated by the wily, devil-predator of old.


But everywhere, in all quarters of society, the party continues. With reckless abandon, party-goers dancing around the golden calf comfortably wave their tickets in the air. Of course, the Israelites of Moses’ day knew Moses. He was the guy who had saved them from brick-making. They were out of Egypt now. Who knew when Moses would be back or if they would ever get to this Promised Land? All that mattered in the immediate moment was that they were out of Egypt. Their only concern had been attended. Moses had been the voice of God; but with Moses off the scene, a replacement god would be needed with more visibility. “Up, make us gods…” was the logical demand issued to the obliging Aaron. Once the calf was visible, the party commenced. Daily living would resume under self-directives, and their tickets to the Promised Land would be kept like a declarations page of a life insurance policy.


So it is with the counter-parts of those Israelites composing the rank and file of modern Christendom. The prevalent preaching ushered in with the saw-dust trails of Billy Sunday and Charles G. Finney led claimants down to a makeshift altar where a recipe of obeisance could be uttered and a ticket of salvation awarded. This troop of confessors was now free, like the Israelites, to resume daily living under their own self-directives without encumbrances. Their tickets had been stamped “eternally secure”; and any agitating fears of looming eternal justice they may have experienced had been medicated by the soothing rhetoric of the modern, accommodating Aarons.


Dante, in his Divine Comedy, charged the preachers of his day with preaching lies and “of the Gospel not a word!” These villainous pulpiteers were no more than “cowls of pride” feeding the sheep on air. The poor foolish sheep ate the air they were fed, while those supposedly attending their souls made jokes and preached garbage. Not much seems to have changed since Dante’s day. Getting a laugh still too often takes precedence over preaching the Word; and the audiences swell with our ticket-holders who are waiting for their ride to heaven but not the least bit concerned with their responsibility while waiting. The few sheep mingled among the crowd find themselves feeding on air.


But just as Samuel’s rebuke to King Saul included the final awful conclusion—“for thou hast rejected the Word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel”—our modern ticket-holders will find that without obedience to the Word of the Lord, their tickets may not be worth the proverbial paper they’re written on. For sadly, too many professing ticket-holders are only trusting in a formulated prayer without knowing the Foremost Savior. They are in the same dilemma as the Jews of John 8:33 who stubbornly held to their Abrahamic lineage. Christ’s rebuke was stinging: “I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you.” It is the vital, loving relationship with the Living Word that these ticket-holders fail to recognize that they lack. David said in Psalm 19:10 that the Word of God was more precious to him than fine gold and sweeter than honey. But how can His Word be so precious if the essential, living connection to the Vine is lacking? It is the essential, living connection that precipitates the vital, loving relationship.


Reformation is not an acceptable substitute. Some professors embark on a trajectory of conformity; but conformity to a set of standards is not submission to the Word—Christ Himself. While congregants are busily measuring outward appearances and choreographed verbiages, Christ is inspecting the heart of the professor. “Lovest thou me more than these?” He inquired of Peter. Christ’s query pierced the heart of Peter. After what he had done, how could Peter confess agape love—the love that esteems, delights in, sets store upon the recipient? Yet Peter’s heart had been made new by the work of the Holy Spirit; and his vital connection to His Savior was not severed either by his personal failure or his overwhelming remorse. The bent of his heart was verified by the life of service he would live.


Religious conformity without this vital connection will never “bring forth…fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:8) because godly repentance unto salvation was never included in the formula. Conformity to an external rule will never grow a heart presented as the “living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God…” (Romans 12:1-2) Conformity can never long for the “sincere milk of the Word” (I Peter 2:2) without which growth and maturity will be concluded. Conformity can never replace the new birth that so confounded Nicodemus but which Peter eloquently explained was a birthing from the incorruptible seed of the Word of God. (I Peter 1:23)


Yet, as long as our religious culture continues to issue passes to heaven without the proper validation, modern society will continue to erode exponentially under the canopy of self-directed indulgence in the shadow of the god Aaron made for us. The foul putrefaction of modern pulpit content will continue to seep through the foundation of the churches, polluting the wellspring of water from which all of society drinks. The revelry of the broad way will escalate while the few found plodding the narrow way will halt on crooked staffs, clothed in the tattered rags of linen garments.


The broad way is filled with religion-seekers who require no verification of the Spirit; and the Peace that passeth all understanding is readily counterfeited by the peace of an invalid stamp on a ticket of salvation. Their courses will continue to be steered along the way broad enough to accommodate all the stipulations of any notions of conforming reformation. This way will offer commodious perpetuity of pious feeling, self-satisfaction, and measured contentment, rounded out with a cordial computation of good works. Never will its tourists be issued the Abrahamic requirement: “for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:12).


What must be done? Dante is right: “We have digressed enough”! Just as the failure of the pulpits of his day had affected all aspects of his Italy, the failure of our pulpits has brought us to this present meadow sheltered by the looming golden calf. The music must be made to stop. We must follow Dante’s counsel: “Turn...back to the road of truth…” Our pulpits must once again issue the warning that the One who is greater than Moses is returning. When He is come the terror of eternal judgment will fall with a consuming thunder far surpassing the thud of the falling calf and the chiseling of its fragments into powder. The tainted water of Moses’ wrath is infinitesimally fractional to “the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16). When that great day comes “who shall be able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17) It will be those alone who have overcome “by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony” who had “loved not their lives unto the death.” (Revelation 12:11) It will only be those who have “sanctified the Lord God in [their] hearts” (I Peter 3:15).


“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle?” (I Corinthians 14:8). We must pray as Dante “that high Providence…will once again, and soon, lend aid.” We must cry out, as Dante did, that our pulpits be filled with Luthers who will open their mouths with the Word of God and “not hide what I hide not from you!” We must long for the Light as Dante described that would whirl “the fleet from prow to stern and set it sailing a straight course again.” We must attend to reckoning our own courses. Are we still fingering our ticket to ride? Or have we torn up that ticket and come to the One in whom we have trusted who is “able to keep that which [we] have committed unto him against that day.” (II Timothy 1:12).


We must “give diligence to make [our] calling and election sure” (II Peter 1:10).

 

Teresa Suttles

July 2015


*Lyrics from Beatles recording "Ticket to Ride"

 

Look Back...and Listen!

Posted by John Suttles on June 8, 2015 at 9:10 PM Comments comments (0)

For generations now many a voice has been raised to lament the spiritual condition of the Church. Worldliness in all of its varied forms and expressions has enervated the testimony of professed Christians, and the world looks on with a mixture of delight and contempt as they scoff: “you are no different from us.” Sadly, they are right.

 

A thousand thousand remedies have been proposed (and tried!) – programs, lifestyles, retreats, conferences, alliances, t-shirts, bumper stickers, web sites, podcasts, blogs, small groups, large groups, training sessions, and countless more – which end up being little more than feeble attempts to make “church” more appealing to the lost in the hope that likeability will be a sufficient substitute for an effective gospel witness.

 

Is there no real remedy – one that has the sanction of Scripture and has been proven in the days of our spiritual forefathers and their spiritual forefathers to be “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds?” The simple and yet sublime answer is yes! But we must be willing to LOOK BACK and LISTEN – actions that our modern Church is singularly unwilling to do in its smug conviction that Christianity’s enlightenment began with this present generation, or, to borrow the words of Job: “no doubt but that ye are the people and wisdom shall die with you,” (Job 12:2). The present generation would do well to heed what Scripture and previous godly generations have said (and would say again to us if we would but listen). They might find, to their benefit, that these voices of the past have important truth to impart that, in all of our enlightened modern genius, has somehow been overlooked.

 

John Angell James (1785 – 1859) was pastor of Carr’s Lane Independent Chapel in Birmingham, England for 54 years. He was the author of seventeen books including An Earnest Ministry the Want of the Times from which the following selection is taken. His searching words resonate as though written yesterday (and who would argue that the situation has improved since these sentences were first penned by him in 1847). If such was the case then, how much more needful now, in our day, ought we give “more earnest heed” to the things which were spoken…

 

"No careful reader of the New Testament, and observer of the present state of the church, can fail to be convinced that what is now wanting is a high spirituality. The Christian profession is sinking in its tone of piety; the line of separation between the church and the world becomes less and less perceptible; the character of genuine Christianity, as expounded from pulpits and delineated in books, has too rare a counterpart in the lives and spirits of its professors."

 

"How is this to be remedied, and by what means is the spirit of piety to be revived? May we not ask a previous question – How came this spirit of slumber over the church? Was it not from the pulpit? And if a revival take place in the church, must it not begin in the pulpit? Is the ministry of the present day in that state of earnest piety which is likely to originate and sustain an earnest style of preaching, and to revive the lukewarmness of their flocks?"

 

"Do we seek examples and patterns of eminent and earnest piety? How richly are they supplied both in number and in quality in the pages of our history. Where is the deep, ardent, experimental religion of our ancestors, the fathers and founders of Puritanism? What a theologian was John Owen when he wrote his Exposition of Hebrews! What a polemic when he penned his Vindiciae Evangelicae! What an ecclesiastic when he drew up his treatise on Church Government! But, O, what a Christian when he indulged his Meditations on the Glory of Christ, and gave us his treatise On Spirituality of Mind and the Mortification of Sin! What a logician and divine was John Howe when he produced his Living Temple, but what a Christian when, in the shadow of this noble structure of his holy genius, he poured out his heart in his work on Delighting in God and The Blessedness of the Righteous. And then think of Richard Baxter, who gained repose from the labors of polemic strife, and relief from the tortures of the stone, in the believing anticipation of The Saint’s Everlasting Rest."

 

"Was their piety the result of their suffering? Then for one I could be almost content to take the latter, so that I might be possessed of the former. Lead me to the spots, I do not say, where they trimmed their midnight lamp and continued at their studies till the morning star glittering through their casement chided them to their pillow; but to those more hallowed scenes where they held their nightly vigils, and wrestled with the angel till the break of day. Mighty shades of John Owen and Richard Baxter, John Howe and Thomas Manton, Matthew Henry and William Bates, Thomas Goodwin and Philip Nye – illustrious and holy men, we thank you for the rich legacy you have bequeathed to us in your immortal works, but, O, where has the mantle of your piety fallen!"

 

"Here then let us begin, where indeed we ought to begin, with our own spirits, for what should be the piety of that man, on the state of whose heart depends in no small degree the spiritual condition of a whole Christian community?...If we enquire for the sources of energy, the springs of activity in the most successful ministers of Christ, we shall find that they lay in the ardor of their devotion. They were men of prayer and of faith. They dwelt upon the mount of communion with God, from whence they came down like Moses to the people, radiant with the glory on which they had themselves been intently gazing. They stationed themselves where they could look at things unseen and eternal, and came with the stupendous visions fresh in their view, and spoke of them under the impression of what they had just seen and heard. They drew their thoughts and made their sermons from their minds and their books, but they breathed life and power into them from their hearts and in their closets."

 

"Trace…their career, and you will see how beaten was the road between the pulpit and the closet; the grass was not allowed to grow in that path. This was in great part the secret of their power. They were mighty in public because in their retirement they had clothed themselves, so to speak, with Omnipotence. The same might be said of all others who have attained to eminence as successful preachers of the gospel. If then we would see a revival of the power of the pulpit, we must see first of all a revival in the piety of those who occupy it."

 

Do we lament the lack of real and evident godliness in the pew? Then we need look no further than its counterpart in the pulpit, is the indictment of Pastor James. To those who would decry the conclusion of this godly man, let them offer a more compelling reason for the all-too-common worldliness that permeates the Church of our day, and her resulting powerlessness, her failure to be salt and light. It cannot be but that, in general, the people will be no better, no more godly, no less consumed with the spirit of the world than those whose example they are instructed to follow (Hebrews 13:7, 1 Pet 5:3). Let us, then, seek out and call to our pulpits men who are not only gifted orators, but who preeminently have graven upon the golden plate of their heart and affixed to the fair mitre of their daily profession these words: HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD, and then we may have reason to hope that He whose name is holy (Isaiah 57:15) will again visit His people with a fresh outpouring of His Holy Spirit.

Government or Gospel?

Posted by John Suttles on April 5, 2015 at 10:00 PM Comments comments (0)

A recent blog post by Chuck Baldwin, former pastor and syndicated radio personality, and a response to that post by author and constitutional commentator Ted Weiland, have reignited (or perhaps simply continued) the ongoing debate concerning the moral foundations of the U.S. Constitution. Baldwin’s blog rebukes many religious conservatives for their Phariseeism and war-mongering, while they fail to recognize that their constitutional liberties are being inexorably eroded.


Ted Weiland takes Baldwin to task for what he perceives as a fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution. Weiland argues that the Constitution is actually the source of all modern social/governmental problems because its authors substituted a government of man’s laws for the government he argues was originally established in the colonies – one based upon the acknowledgement of God’s law embodied in Scripture as the only rule for the nation.


Having read both articles, it is a constant source of amazement that so many, including these writers, lose sight of the “forest” of history for looking at the “trees,” or to use another analogy the grand sweep of history is neglected to focus on one particular historical "hobby horse," riding it furiously in the attempt to convince ourselves (mainly) and others that we're actually getting somewhere. While every attempt at historical interpretation is, in the strictest sense of the term, particularized, in that the writer is always sifting, weighing, judging, and choosing some facts over others (with his recognized or unrecognized biases), it is bad historical reporting to argue from narrow circumstances to a general conclusion, which generally misses the point. That is what both of these have done.


Whatever the "founders" did or didn't believe, whatever the original colonists did or didn't covenant to do, whatever the Constitution does or doesn't mean, are all secondary to this reality which existed in the years leading up to the War for Independence and for some period of time thereafter – the general influence of Christianity upon individuals and therefore upon the societies that made up the colonies and later the Sovereign States. This influence permeated families, neighborhoods, towns, and where it did not, men were sent to proclaim the Gospel, so that such influence would be felt in such places. No right thinking person would argue that everyone, or even a majority of the population at that time, was truly converted, but the Gospel's "leavening" power was unmistakable in those decades. It was that influence which gave motive force to the uniqueness of the American “experiment,” whatever might or might not be true about its particular form of government.


Whether Baldwin's or Weiland's arguments concerning government are right are really inconsequential. Let Weiland's theocratic model be implemented tomorrow and the results will be no better than those in ancient Israel if unaccompanied by a general diffusion of the Gospel's converting power among the population. Baldwin laments the state of the churches in our day. Yet what he seems unwilling to recognize or admit is that in general they are heavily populated by the unconverted. Is it any wonder then that they have no influence upon the world - they, in the main, are the world!


In either case it will not be by the promulgation of Biblical law or by the recognition of religious conservatives that they need to preserve their constitutional rights, it will be when there is again the heralding forth of that Gospel which is "the power of God unto salvation" by (as the missionary Eugenio Kincaid so rightly said) "a new order of men, - men just as absorbed in winning souls to Christ, as worldings are in gathering gold." This is what our spiritual forefathers understood. It is not the form of government, it is rather the "form of sound words" accompanied by the "working of His mighty power" to convert the individual, and the conversion of individuals that will ultimately influence the government. When the Gospel has once again permeated our society, as it did in our nation’s early years, then we will see government changed, because there will be again a principle of personal holiness active in our citizens.


Don't misunderstand, we ought to have right laws founded upon Biblical principles. The point is that merely having those will not change hearts or ensure that the nation will exist in perpetuity, any more than it did for Israel. Whatever particular position any one of our spiritual ancestors held concerning the Constitution as a "good" or "bad" form of government, those who were truly Christians agreed on these fundamental principles – the lost (both at home and abroad) must have the Gospel preached to them, they must be made “new creatures” by the irresistible working of the Holy Spirit, they must be formed into local churches who must themselves further extend the proclamation of that everlasting Gospel – or this nation, any nation, would not long survive. "Those who turned the world upside down" in the first century didn't do so by wringing their hands about how to get Caesar to see the value of infusing Biblical principles into Roman statutes, they did it by heralding the Gospel to individuals and establishing churches of faithful believers who were willing even to be made flaming sacrifices to the madness of a Nero.


Should we wish to see a "Christian nation" again, we must labor for it by the conversion of individuals, not by the change of governments. Let Baldwin and Weiland debate the issues of the Constitution. There shall never be an end to that because it deals only a glancing blow to real issue - the necessity of having the stony heart changed for an heart of flesh.

 

Marilla's Theology

Posted by John Suttles on March 7, 2015 at 9:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Teaching requires imagination. This is precisely what makes teaching an art. When we teach our children, we are preparing them for what they will become. A classical preparation requires the exploration of the rich heritage from which they have come since our human connection is solidly grounded on the Biblical revelation that we are made in God’s image.


Our human nature transcends nationalities and cultures. How starkly or how quaintly this can be recognized is the measure of a good story. No requirement is made upon the author to be Christian. Rather, it requires an author to be simply human, gifted with a keen sense of observation and the ability to weave those observations into characters of the story. It is then left to us as teachers to pick out the small lessons as well as the large ones and to unravel them, then re-weave them as teaching applications.


As a culture, we have ceased to put a premium on the study of the classics. Our perennial complaint is that we can’t understand Shakespeare. Besides, math and science, we continue, are much more important. But why must the list of classics begin and end with Shakespeare? So many books for all ages of readers have endured the test of time, introducing us to characters who live in our own neighborhoods. Not only are the plots timeless, but the authors prove their intense understanding of human nature in the development of these characters.


Often one action or one line in the story will provide the perfect rabbit trail for exploration with our children that leads straight to the Scriptures. One of those nuggets can be mined from such a charming children’s novel as Anne of Green Gables. Consider the timely discussion about despair commencing from a conversation in a children’s novel written in 1908 by Lucy Maud Montgomery.


Woven throughout the charming tale of the little orphan girl, “Anne-with-an-e” of Avonlea, are characters steeped in the waning Puritan influence of her day. But all of that stabilizing influence seems long gone in our modern generation that has thrown out the Puritan baby with the bath water. That, however, is not the topic for this discussion. What is though, is the solid counsel Marilla gave to the forlorn and despairing Anne. This is a superb teaching example that can and should influence our own young daughters.


Anne’s shattered dream of belonging had buried her appetite for her supper in wretched despair. She besought Marilla to confirm that Marilla herself had indeed suffered under the weight of such depths of despair. Marilla stalwartly replied that she had never been in such despair. For Marilla, to despair would be to turn her back on God.


Anne’s own youthful tangle of despair was managed by imagining things to be different. But Marilla’s understanding of theology was acceptance of things as they really are. Her conviction required us to accept our circumstances as God’s ordination that He did not intend us to imagine away. This dialogue in the plot of this beloved story has opened one of many learning explorations. We could debate Marilla’s position on imagination as being an integral part of our creativity. But what about despair? Was Marilla right? Should Christians not be given to despair? If our circumstances are ordained by God, may we not as Christians even be permitted grief?


Grief may attend us at times without despair; but left too long alone, it becomes the birthing mother of despair. Despair will never leave the nourishing breasts of grief, nor will Mother Grief easily find strength to renounce such an unworthy child as Despair. Marilla’s theology was a statement of her unyielding moral rectitude and a defiant barricade protecting her rational fortitude from unmoored feeling. But what does the Bible teach us?


Consider Job. This is the man we readily call forth as the paradigm of suffering and grief. Intermingled in Job’s monologue of suffering are the oscillations from the tongue of grief. “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived” (Job 3:3). But never did Job despair; for he vowed, even in the midst of his grief: Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…”


Consider Naomi. Her loss was immeasurable, and her prospects were bleak. She changed her own name from Naomi (pleasant) to Mara (bitter); for she told her friends, “the Almighty hath afflicted me.” (Ruth 1:20) But in her grief, Naomi followed the prescription of the Scriptures and turned to the Lord. Back to Bethlehem she journeyed; back to the “house of bread” she went. She had once been fed there; surely she would be fed again. Her grief was turned to joy in the gift of a daughter-in-law better than seven sons and a grandson that would be the grandfather of King David.


Consider David. His sin with Bathsheba had laid upon him grave consequences that overwhelmed him with inestimable grief at the death of his son Absalom. David had repented, but the reaping of the consequences repaid him with fresh batches of grief. Even victory could not assuage the grief that threatened a plunge into the depths of despair. God had given David the victory in battle; but then, in mercy, He sent Joab with a timely rebuke that David’s overmuch grief seemed to create confusion between his friends and his enemies. “Now therefore arise,” directed Joab, “go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants…” (II Samuel 19:7).


Consider Habakkuk. His prophecy was called “the burden” in 1:1. His grief overwhelmed him, and his “belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself…” (Habakkuk 3:16). Yet, in such depths that could have sunk him into despair, Habakkuk confirmed his only hope in the Lord: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18).


Consider Paul. In his testimony to the Corinthians, Paul provided a list that could have led him to the depths of despair in his afflictions, reversals, stripes, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watchings, and fastings; but his griefs and sorrows never resulted in such despair. “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing,” he wrote. “For the love of Christ constraineth us…” (II Corinthians 6:4-5, 10; 5:14).


Even King Saul can be considered as the example of despair that was allowed to fester to its unrestrained conclusion. (I Samuel 28: 21; 31:3-4)


These examples by no means extract all the riches of the Scriptures on this one topic, but are only meant to whet the appetite of those of us assigned to prepare the participants of the next generation—connecting them to their ancestors who fall in line with all the great lineage named in the Scriptures. Let us be inspired to read and to teach our children to read—and to read with discernment that mines the gems to be polished with the chamois of God’s Word.

 

Dr. Teresa Suttles

February 2015

 

Pastor, Not Parson! - The Life and Legacy of John Owen

Posted by John Suttles on February 16, 2015 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (0)

We stand but a year from the 400th anniversary of the birth of Dr. John Owen in 1616. It is remarkable that with so much biography being written in their own day on the Puritans, it was more than 40 years after the death of Dr. Owen in 1683 that the first biography of him was published, and that was a mere booklet in size. And it would be 1820, more than 200 years after his birth, before William Orme would finally write and publish the still-definitive biography of Owen that runs to more than 500 pages.

 

Surely we may say without fear of contradiction that Owen was a giant among the giants of the 17th century. Acknowledged by every succeeding generation for his great learning and comprehensive writing, yet we run the risk of remembering the writings and forgetting the man. And it is to the man (in God’s providence) that the writings owe their lasting merit, since it was the experiences and trials of the great John Owen that breathed much of the life into his writings for which we so rightly esteem them.

 

Much could be, and has been, written concerning John Owen the theologian, but like many of his fellow Puritans, his heart and his labors were preeminently focused on pastoral duties. Owen's greatest fame, of course, comes to him as a writer but he was at heart a pastor. He was appointed to the pastorate of Fordham in Essex, England in 1643, and there he spent some of the most blessed years of his life. His ministry in Fordham was spiritually prosperous. The previous minister had neglected the people and Owen immediately set about to correct this. He quickly began the familiar Puritan pastoral practice of visiting regularly from house to house to catechize and minister to the spiritual needs of his people. To assist him in his work he wrote two catechisms, one for children and one for adults. His preaching, too, was highly regarded, so much so that many from neighboring towns came to hear him at Fordham.

 

Yet his times were not without trials. He and his wife, Mary, had eleven children, ten of whom would die in childhood. The other, a daughter, lived into adulthood, married, but the marriage ended, she returned home and died soon after from tuberculosis. Thus, Owen buried all eleven of his children before his own eyes, a sore affliction, surely, in the midst of the evident blessing of God upon his labors.

 

It is an interesting sidelight that in the Fordham parish register, which contained the records of baptisms, marriages, and burials for the parish, every other minister both before and after Owen signed the register with the title “parson,” from the Latin meaning representative of the Church. He invariably signed John Owen, Pastor. By this Owen surely meant to demonstrate his understanding of and preference for the scriptural term, and the scriptural responsibilities, of his position.

 

His fame soon spread beyond Fordham as a result of his labors and his early writings, and in the course of his life he became successively a preacher before parliament, chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, administrator of Trinity College, Dublin, and vice-chancellor of Oxford University (evena member of Parliament for a time!). Finally, in 1660, Dr. Owen was able to return to his well-beloved work of pastoring, this time in his ancestral home of Stadham, England. He would close the remaining years of his life in the work to which God had called him and in which he delighted to serve his Lord. On August 24, 1683, John Owen died at the age of 67. His last recorded words were, “The long wished-for day is come at last, in which I shall see the glory in another manner than I have ever done, or was capable of doing in the world.”

 

Honored as he is, and rightly so, for the wealth of written instruction he has left as a legacy to the Church, were we to ask him what he would consider his greatest work we should not be surprised to hear him reply, “the labors among the flocks which God in His mercy gave me grace to be a faithful shepherd.” A letter (reproduced below) that he sent to the Stadham congregation while separated from them speaks volumes in demonstration of where this mighty theologian’s greatest sympathies lay – Pastor John Owen writes from a pastor’s heart to the sheep to instruct, encourage, and exhort them to steadfast faithfulness and love in the midst of perilous times. It is undated but from the circumstances noted in the letter (during a period of personal sickness as well as of persecution of Nonconformists) it was evidently written in the final year or so of his life.

 

“Beloved in the Lord,

 

Mercy, grace, and peace be multiplied to you from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, by the communication of the Holy Ghost. I thought and hoped that by this time I might have been present with you…but it has pleased our holy and gracious Father otherwise to dispose of me, at least for a season…But although I am absent from you in body, I am in mind, affection, and spirit present with you, and in your assemblies; for I hope you will be found my crown and rejoicing in the day of the Lord: and my prayer for you night and day is that you may stand fast in the whole will of God, and maintain the beginning of your confidence without wavering, firm unto the end…Give me leave out of my abundant affections towards you, to bring some few things to your remembrance.

 

In the first place, I pray God it may be rooted and fixed in our minds, that the shame and loss we undergo for the sake of Christ and the profession of the gospel, is the greatest honor which, in this life, we can be made partakers of…it is far more honorable to suffer with Christ than to reign with the greatest of His enemies.

 

The next thing I would recommend to you at this season is the increase of mutual love among yourselves; for every trial of our faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ is also a trial of our love towards the brethren. This is that which the Lord Christ expects from us, namely, that when the hatred of the world doth openly manifest and act itself against us all, we should evidence an active love among ourselves. If there have been any decays, any coldness herein, if they are not recovered and healed in such a season, it can never be expected. I pray God therefore, that your mutual love may abound more and more in all the effects and fruits of it towards the whole society, and every member thereof. You may justly measure the fruit of your present trial by the increase of this grace amongst you: in particular have a due regard to the weak and the tempted, that that which is lame may not be turned out of the way, but rather let it be healed.

 

Furthermore, brethren, I beseech you, hear a word of advice in case the persecution increases, which it is like to do for a season. I could wish that…you would appoint some among yourselves, who may continually, as their occasions will admit, go up and down, from house to house, and apply themselves peculiarly to the weak, the tempted, the fearful, those who are ready to despond, or to halt, and to encourage them in the Lord. Choose out those to this end who are endued with a spirit of courage and fortitude; and let them know that they are happy whom Christ will honor with this blessed work: and I desire the persons may be of this number who are faithful men, and know the state of the Church; by this you will know what is the frame of the members of the Church, which will be a great direction to you, even in your prayers. Watch now, brethren, that if it be the will of God, not one soul may be lost from under your care; let no one be overlooked or neglected; consider all their conditions, and apply yourselves to all their circumstances.

 

Finally, brethren, that I be not at present farther troublesome to you, examine yourselves, as to your spiritual benefit which you have received and do receive by your present fears and dangers, which will alone give you the true measure of your condition; for if this tends to the exercise of your faith, and love, and holiness, if this increases your valuation of the privileges of the Gospel, it will be an undoubted token of the blessed issue which the Lord Jesus Christ will give unto your troubles. Pray for me as you do, and do it the rather, that if it be the will of God, I may be restored to you; and if not, that a blessed entrance may be given to me into the kingdom of God and glory. Salute all the Church in my name. I take the boldness in the Lord to subscribe myself,

 

Your unworthy Pastor and your servant for Jesus sake

J. Owen”

 

What tenderness, what care, what sincere love flows from every sentence! Suffer as Christians, love one another, increase in grace, care for the weak, let not one sheep be lost or neglected, pray for me as I pray for you – these exhortations from this “unworthy pastor” display the greatness of Owen’s heart as much as his written works do the greatness of his mind. Would that we had a thousand more theologians like John Owen, but even more that we had ten thousand pastors like him! As he draws near to the close of his earthly service to his Redeemer he wished to be known – not as Doctor, not as Vice-Chancellor, not as Dean, nor as parson – but simply Pastor. May the Lord of the Church grant us again such men – Pastors not parsons!

 

A Study in Contrasts

Posted by John Suttles on January 21, 2015 at 10:40 PM Comments comments (0)

“Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” 1 Corinthians 1:20

 

Recently, a friend of mine asked me a question about a quote from Thomas Babington Macaulay, the Victorian era statesman who served the interests of the British government in India for several years and who also wrote a still-acclaimed History of England. Macaulay was a man of his times, thoroughgoing in his love and appreciation for British culture and values, and ready to promote them upon any and every opportunity.

 

His views of the superiority of British culture had a decided influence upon his service in India and this is what gave rise to the question from my friend. Macaulay, who served there from 1834 to 1838, strongly advocated for and was instrumental in the implementation of a system of education that sought, at its foundation, to “Anglicize” the Indian people. By so doing, he hoped to bring what he saw as the superior British culture to India and as well to establish an abiding affinity for England among the inhabitants of its then-largest colony.

 

What makes this question even more interesting from a Gospel perspective is the marked contrast between Macaulay’s views and those of the many missionaries who were then serving in India. Among those were Dr. William Carey of England and Dr. John Scudder of the United States. Neither of these men were ashamed to be known as citizens of their respective countries, yet they acknowledged themselves to be, more importantly, citizens of that “heavenly country,” and ambassadors of the everlasting kingdom to “the uttermost parts of the earth.” As a result, they labored not to promote any mere temporal authority, but rather were carrying forward that commission given by the Lord to the Apostle Paul, “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins,” Acts 26:18.

 

It is unknown whether Macualay ever met Carey (who died the same year that Macaulay began his service in India) or Scudder (who came to India in 1836), but what is certain is that Macaulay’s views on the means to be used to educate the Indian people, and the ends to be achieved thereby, were fundamentally different from those of these missionaries.

 

To offer just a few brief examples, while Macaulay had mostly disdain for what he perceived as the inferior languages of the Indian people, John Scudder worked tirelessly to translate and distribute the Scriptures and tracts in the native Indian dialects, especially Tamil. Macaulay scorned knowledge of Sanskrit, pronouncing it unfit to serve as a means of education. On the other hand, William Carey, whose work in textual translation is to this day nearly unparalleled in its breadth, held the view that Sanskrit was the key not only to understanding all of the native Indian languages, but formed the basis of many, if not most, known languages, and his decades of research into the matter proved him right. Carey’s labors resulted in the translation of the Scriptures into forty languages!

 

In addition, both Scudder and Carey fiercely opposed the caste system, entrenched for centuries in Indian culture, that had such a crushing effect upon the lower classes in India. They banned any caste distinctions in the churches with which they were associated. Macaulay would have been concerned with caste only as it intersected with his interest in creating his proposed class of "cultural intermediaries."

 

Of course, Macualay's opinions were based upon and served a political imperative – the more efficient and effective rule of India as a British colony. Not that he held them hypocritically, he sincerely believed what he espoused, but clearly it also served the ends of the colonial government by giving expression to a form of cultural "re-education" that, it was ultimately hoped, would secure a perpetual social class in India favorable to British culture and therefore to continued British control. Ironically, it would eventually backfire as the British-educated Mohandas Gandhi became the leader of the nation's movement for independence from Great Britain.

 

In contrast, men such as Scudder and Carey labored for far higher ends - putting the Word of God into the language of the people that the Gospel might be proclaimed to a people who had never heard it. While they were forced from time to time to navigate the political waters in their missionary labors (to try to prevent the colonial governments from restricting their work), they had no need to advocate for solely political ends. They were there not to colonize but to evangelize.

 

Should some object that these missionaries were, in their own way, seeking to “westernize” the Indian population by preaching a “European” faith, then how paradoxical that for many years the powerful British East India Company, through its influence with the British government, bitterly opposed Dr. Carey’s evangelistic endeavors, so much so that he was forced to establish the mission’s base in Dutch-controlled Serampore. In addition, both these men established schools in which teaching was done in the native Indian languages. They had no interest in making Europeans out of the Indians, but every interest, yea, their sole interest as demonstrated in their work and writings, was in seeing the Indian people come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ the Lord, whose Gospel transcends every cultural and national distinction.

 

While Macaulay was seeking to produce a westernized Indian society through education, the missionaries were seeking change in that society by conversion of men and women to Christ. That is not to say that they didn't advocate for direct social change. Carey’s was one of the earliest and loudest voices in opposition to the practice of "suttee" – burning alive the widow with a husband that had died – and it has been attributed to Carey's unceasing efforts that the colonial governors eventually banned the practice. Yet in the end, even their advocacy of social change was but an outgrowth of their labors to “by all means save some,” (1 Cor. 9:22).

 

Macaulay's principles as adopted did have an effect upon Indian society, but not exactly, in the end, what he would have intended, and in the end only a temporal one. On the other hand, men such as Scudder and Carey have left a lasting legacy in translation and in the proclamation of the Gospel, the echoes of which can still be heard in modern-day India.

 

What a contrast indeed! Rather than promoting love for a country, these missionaries taught the Indian people to love a Savior. Instead of temporal education with a political motive, these labored to instruct men and women for eternity by publishing the “more sure word” in their own language. Macaulay’s efforts served an earthly empire that lasted only a few more generations. The missionary work of these men and others who followed them turned many in India “from idols to serve the living and true God,” (1 Thess. 1:9), added to that numberless multitude of the redeemed “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation,” (Rev. 5:9), and witnessed to the truth that “the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance,” (Psm. 112:6). Surely our God has “made foolish the wisdom of this world!”

 

I Prayed for Strength

Posted by John Suttles on December 25, 2014 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (0)

When young and filled with determined zeal to live for God, I prayed for strength. But I was so much like young Jacob who had pillowed his head upon the stones at Luz only to awaken to the magnificent glories of angels ascending and descending upon that heavenly ladder. Adorning the apex stood the LORD Himself. The words He spoke to Jacob from that lofty prominence were the words of covenant promise He had spoken first to Abraham and then to Isaac.


In Jacob’s awestruck wonder, he had recognized that God was in that place. He had recognized that he stood at the very gate of heaven; he understood that this was the place to be henceforth sanctified as the “House of God.” No doubt, he had heard the words spoken in his ears—that repetition of the sacred covenant of God with his fathers. But Jacob had not the ears to hear that God had amended His promise to Jacob. “I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest,” the LORD vowed to Jacob, “and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land…”


Jacob was leaving the land of promise. Did he not know that Abram had once left the land of promise; and although God had protected him and provided him with earthly wealth, Abram had returned with Hagar? Isaac, his own father, had ventured forth on that same journey, but had been turned back by the providential oversight of God. Now Jacob had taken his own staff to go forth out of the land of promise—not into the land as Abram before him. But Jacob had just deceived his father—of course, for all the right reasons known only to him and Rebekah.


Now Jacob was afraid. By his own deceitfulness and cold-hearted avaritia (covetousness), he had gained both the blessing and the birthright. He really was a good boy, or so they had said. He never caroused about through the cities of their pagan neighbors. He hadn’t even thought about bringing home pagan wives. But working there close by his parents and managing his affairs with discretion, Jacob had kept the besetting sin of his heart hidden from view. His plotting and planning had granted him his prize—but not the possession of it. For now he was on his way out of the Promised Land; and in his excited haste, he had failed to hear the words of the LORD: “…in all the places whither thou goest.”


Jacob’s experience there was, no doubt, valid, and his recognition of the visitation of the LORD was certain. Renaming Luz to Beth-el was a fruit of his obeisance that would be passed to his progeny in their own sojourn with the LORD of Abraham’s covenant. But his prayer revealed the lingering and overriding attitude of his heart. “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”


Had not the LORD already vowed the same promises to Jacob that He had vowed to his fathers? Of course, His protection was involved, as well as the whole land and all that was in it. Add to that promise, the promise of blessing for Jacob’s children through generations and even the promise of the very Savior Himself to come through Jacob’s lineage. But Jacob was leaving. “If God will keep me in this way…” Jacob spoke to the third-person God, presenting the hypothetical proposition that if Elohim would protect Jacob in his own endeavors, then surely Jacob would render due worship and even a tithe of all he had—when, that is, he returned in peace to his father’s house. Jacob had recognized Elohim, the Supreme God.


But the LORD had named Himself to Jacob as the LORD God of his fathers. He appended His very own exclusive name to Himself. “I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father…” Jacob had respected Him as the Supreme God of all possibilities of gods, but he had failed to understand the specificity of the name of this covenantal God. He is Jehovah—the Eternal, Self-existent, Yahweh. Now how paltry does Jacob’s response seem? If this God would keep him; if this God would give him food and clothing; if this God would give him what he wanted; if this God would bring him back in peace; if this God would appease Esau’s wrath, then this Jehovah would be his Supreme God. This was Jacob’s prayer for strength.


So off went Jacob, as oft I have gone, invoking God for strength to accomplish his own endeavor. Twenty long years of rude awakenings, heartaches, and cruel inhospitality pass for Jacob as he sojourned in Uncle Laban’s house, while his own inheritance back home was tended by others. At long last, God required Jacob’s return. It was time for Jacob to pay his vow. “I am the God of Beth-el…where thou vowedst a vow unto Me…” This time God speaks as God Almighty—the name Abram had heard so long before: “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.”


This would be a tall order for Jacob the Supplanter to walk in righteousness before the Almighty God. This is the Jacob who had swindled and been swindled. But time has a way of changing the heart’s desires, and grief makes a twist that evokes a different language from that once implacable heart. So there on the borders of Esau’s lands, Jacob’s overwhelming fear and distress welled up once more, but this time he was not leaving—he was coming home. This time it was Jacob who called out first. “O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and unto thy kindred…” Now Jacob remembered the Supreme God of his fathers and the Eternal Jehovah who had spoken to him so long ago. He remembered the instructions of this Almighty God with clarity. He had been spared by the merciful provisions of Jehovah Elohim.


Truly what mercy it had been, for Jacob had left the land of promise and gone to Uncle Laban’s. Perhaps Jacob could now understand why his grandfather had said, with a warning, that his son Isaac should never be taken to that land. Abraham had come out; Isaac had remained out; and now, Jacob was coming out. No wonder his prayer was of a completely different hue. “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant…” His fear of Esau still resided in his bosom; but even as it loomed large before him, he remembered the promises of Jehovah not only for himself, but now for his children: “And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea…”


Oh, what insight grief affords us! Oh, what heavenly language grief can speak! “Deliver me, I pray,” Jacob truthfully prayed, “from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him…” Jacob prayed for strength. But Jacob’s restoration robes of covenant exaltation could not cover the halting gait that would now mark his manhood. Certainly Jacob was learning the language of prayer, for his wrestling with the man was with prevailing strength. “I will not let thee go,” Jacob had answered him, “except thou bless me.” Was Jacob proving to this man Jacob’s own worthiness to receive matching strength—just enough more added that would be needed to overcome Esau. Or was Jacob wrestling with the adrenalin of desperation—a strength welling up from unknown depths that must be supernaturally replenished for very survival?


Surely we must grant the worthiness of Jacob’s petition; and if so, we will see how a faithful God grants a glorious answer. Jacob prayed for strength to overcome his adversary; but the man asked Jacob’s name. No—such a name as Jacob will no longer do for such a penitent man. His name must reveal his God and his heart. His name would now be Israel—the prince who has power with God; the prince who has power with men; the prince who has prevailed! But as the light rose upon the new day, and Jacob passed over the brook, he halted. Had he even realized that the man had touched the hollow of his thigh? But Jacob had prayed for strength. Every warrior must have the strength of his right arm and of his thigh!


Perhaps we were not happy with Jacob’s response to the LORD so many years before at Beth-el. But what can we think about such a response to Jacob’s legitimate appeal upon his return? Had not Jacob grown weary of the wiles of Uncle Laban’s land where men measure strength and might by accumulation and numbers? Yet, this time we do not read of Jacob’s response fashioned as a business deal. He had left his home as Jacob, the deceiving son, with a staff he had not needed in his self-sufficiency. He was returning as Israel, the prince of Elohim, to assume his birthright, but halting on a staff he now required. He left with eager anticipation of the gains he might acquire at Uncle Laban’s; he returned home with the overwhelming and all-sufficient joy: “I have seen Elohim face to face, and my life is preserved.”


Yes, I prayed for strength; and now I, too, halt. But I have learned that “my strength is made perfect in weakness.” The clarity and preciseness of my hearing has much improved, and those things which drew the gaze of my eyes have lost their luster. I have learned the terms of obedience and the reason for Abraham’s instruction: “Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again.” I rest in the confidence that the strength of Jehovah is sufficient for me. And I acquiesce with Paul: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”


Jacob crossed the brook homeward bound—no longer the deceiver, but rather the prince of God. He crossed the brook, however, with lingering trophies from Uncle Laban’s that he would find in days ahead that he must lay down. He would feel the withered sinew of his thigh for the remainder of his days and remember that he had wrestled with such a man. But as his hand moved down the length of that shrunken thigh and reached out for the staff that now must be his companion, Israel would remember that he had been given strength to prevail. He had seen God face to face.


I prayed for strength and learned to walk with God.


Dr. Teresa Suttles

 

Advice for Melancholy

Posted by John Suttles on November 2, 2014 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (1)

Dear Friends of the Sad and Anxious

 

In 1688, the sunlight of peace was just beginning to break through for Christians in England. A fiercely Catholic monarchy was about to be removed by the so-called Glorious Revolution that resulted in great liberties for Protestants. But in 1688, in the life of one Protestant minister in England, there was nothing but darkness. His days and nights were only bitterness – pain and sickness in his body, agony and desperation in his spirit. His name was Timothy Rogers, and he continued in this miserable state for two long years.

 

While Rogers’ bodily disease was a great trial to him, it was not the presence of bodily affliction alone that so wrecked his joy. It was that, while his body was being afflicted, his soul also was being tried in God’s furnace. And when both are afflicted together the result is often exceedingly bitter. As he later noted, “there is a very great difference between such as are only under trouble of conscience and such whose bodies are greatly diseased at the same time”. Those in this condition find little rest at all. So it was with Rogers.

 

But his writings after his time of affliction make one thing clear. The Master intended to teach him things in the fire that would make him able and willing to minister to others in such desperate circumstances. And, once restored to health and his faith renewed, this is exactly what Rogers did. But being a minister of the Gospel and not a physician, he made no attempt to speak to the best medicinal remedies for any particular physical affliction. Instead, he labored much to prepare spiritual medicine for souls in agony as he had been – agony from the guilt of sin, agony over whether he was or could ever be forgiven, agony over the thought of entering eternity as a condemned soul, agony over not knowing when or if his physical torment would ever end. We would say that he was deeply depressed and anxious. But in those days such a state was referred to as melancholy.

 

Thus, one of the most precious works written by Rogers after his return to health was entitled, A Discourse Concerning Trouble of Mind and the Disease of Melancholy, a book still available in facsimile reprint. While I heartily recommend the entire work to anyone who is or has suffered with the “soul disease” of melancholy, it is actually only the Preface of that book that I wish to highlight here. While there are many good things written by capable writers like Rogers on the subject of melancholy, they are usually written to the person suffering. There is far less practical writing on the subject that directly targets those around the person suffering, offering them sound wisdom as to the care of the distressed souls in their lives. Rogers does this wonderfully with thirteen “advices” to the companions of melancholy persons. I give them to you here only in summary form with some use of Rogers’ own words, again, encouraging you to read them in their fuller context in Rogers’ book.

 

1. “Look upon your distressed friends as under one of the worst distempers to which this miserable life is obnoxious”. A chronic melancholy is truly one of the worst things a person can endure. When it has taken over, says Rogers, “the force of briskness and courage cannot help”.

 

2. “Look upon those that under this woeful disease of melancholy with great pity and compassion.” They are, Rogers says, “usually walking in the midst of fire … and most frequently under the very pangs of death … their burden is often heavier than their groaning; their sighs are deep, their hearts are sunk … your friends under this disease … ought much more to move you, for … they are continually dying, and yet cannot die.” And you ought to consider that “you yourselves are in the body, and liable to the very same trouble."

 

3. “Do not use harsh speeches to your friends when they are under the disease of melancholy.” Being harsh or demanding to them “causes many poor souls to cherish and conceal their troubles to their greater torment, because they meet with harsh entertainment from those to whom they have begun to explain their case.”

 

4. “You must be so kind to your friends under this disease as to believe what they say.” Notes Rogers, “It is a foolish course … to answer all their complaints and moans with this, that it is nothing but fancy; nothing but imagination … It is a real disease … and if it be fancy, yet a diseased fancy is as great a disease as any other … truly … because melancholy persons do not always look very ill … other persons that know nothing of the distemper, are apt to think they make themselves worse than they are … this makes the grief … to strangle them within, because when they speak of it, they find it to be pointless because they are not believed."

 

5. “Do not urge your friends under the disease of melancholy to things which they cannot do.” Depending upon the severity of the case, they may be quite incapacitated both mentally and physically.

 

6. “Do not attribute the effects of mere disease to the Devil.” Some are quick to say to such people that they are just giving place to Satan and that they need to lay down their struggle and tell the Devil to be gone since the Scriptures promise that if we resist the Devil he will flee from us. But, notes Rogers, you may be assuming the Devil is involved in something with which he has nothing to do.

 

7. “Do not much wonder at anything they say or do.”  Says Rogers, “What strange extravagant actions do you see those do that are under the power of fear! And none are so much afraid as these poor people are; they are afraid of God, of hell, and of their own sorrows.”

 

8. “Do not mention to them any formidable things, nor tell, in their hearing, any sad stories; because they do already meditate terror”. You ought to avoid mournful and grievous talk in their presence, “and yet you must not be too merry before them either; for then they think you slight their miseries and have no pity for them.”

 

9. “Do not think it altogether needless to talk with them; only when you do so, do not speak as if their troubles would be very long”. As Rogers well knew, “It is the length of their trouble that amazes them, when after a week or month without sleep, or hope, still the next week and month is as painful and as terrible to them as the former was … revive them, therefore, by telling them that God can create deliverance for them in a moment; that He has often done so with others; that He can quickly cure their disease”.

 

10. “Tell them of others who have been in such anguish … and yet have been delivered.” There are volumes of such examples of the grace and glory of God in the history of the church, not the least of which is the Bible itself – scores of such persons before who “went forth weeping, they sowed in tears, but they reaped an harvest of wonderful joys afterwards.”

 

11. “The next kindness you are to show your melancholy friends is to heartily pray for them.” You are better composed and less distracted and so more able to intervene on their behalf before the throne of mercy. Do so, and “you know not but that His light, at your request, may begin to shine on those who have bewailed His absence with many dreadful groans”.

 

12. “Not only pray for them, but get other serious Christians to pray for them also.”

 

13. “Put your friends in mind of the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ”. Whenever you can, “teach them as much as you can to look up to God by the great Mediator for grace and strength and not too much to pore on their own souls, where there is so much darkness and unbelief.” For, said a contemporary of Rogers’ who had also suffered greatly with melancholy, “the fountain of all my misery hath been that I fought for that in the law, which should have been found in the Gospel; and for that in myself, which was only to be found in Christ.”

 

It is my earnest prayer that these nuggets of practical wisdom from Timothy Rogers will be of use to you, either in your own suffering or in your efforts to support and guide others who may be suffering with the “disease of melancholy”. This sad sickness of soul that is so often attended with great bodily affliction is always present among the saints of God somewhere, sometime, and to some extent. If you have not suffered under it yourself, you likely know someone who has, or is. May God give us all grace to more wisely and compassionately bear one another’s burdens.

 

(Timothy Rogers lived from 1658-1728 and authored many other works while also being a minister of the Gospel. There is good reason to believe that his soul is now at rest forever. May Christ be praised!)

 

 

W. Luke Suttles

 


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