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He Died Early in the Smile of God

Robert Murray McCheyne (1813–1843)

Article by John Piper

Robert Murray McCheyne was a local pastor in Dundee, Scotland, who died in 1843 at the age of 29. No extraordinary events in his life made him likely to be remembered. But he had a very precious friend, Andrew Bonar, a nearby pastor. And within two years Andrew had published Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray McCheyne. It is still in print, and here we are 176 years after McCheyne’s death, encouraged and inspired by his life.

What was it about McCheyne’s short, and in many ways ordinary, life that gave it the force that created the book (and now books) that preserves his legacy to our day?

The Rose and the Thorn

I suggest that there was a double key to the force of McCheyne’s life: the preciousness of Jesus and the pain of a thorn.

In McCheyne’s description of his teenage years, he said, “I kissed the Rose nor thought about the thorn” — meaning, “I indulged in all the amusing and beautiful pleasures of the world, and didn’t give a thought to sickness and suffering and death.” But after his conversion, he spoke often of Jesus as his Rose of Sharon, and he lived in almost constant awareness of the thorn of his sickness and that his time might be short. He said in one of his sermons,

Set not your heart on the flowers of this world; for they have all a canker in them. Prize the Rose of Sharon . . . more than all; for he changeth not. Live nearer to Christ than to the saints, so that when they are taken from you, you may have him to lean on still. (Sermons of Robert Murray McCheyne)

McCheyne lived only the morning of his life: he died before he was 30. His effectiveness, however, was not frustrated by this fact but empowered by it. Because of his tuberculosis, he lived with the strong sense that he would die early. So the double key to his life is the preciousness of Jesus, the Rose, intensified by the pain of the thorn, the sickness and the shortness of his life.

Pierced Awake

McCheyne was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 21, 1813. He grew up in an atmosphere with high moral standards, but was, by his own testimony, “devoid of God.” When he went to the University of Edinburgh at the age of 14, he studied classics. He was kissing the rose of classical learning, and ignoring the thorn of suffering and death.

But all that changed in 1831 when he was 18 years old. David, Robert’s oldest brother, was neither spiritually nor physically well. In the summer of that year, he sank into a deep depression and died on July 8. Suddenly, the thorn of the rose stabbed McCheyne through the heart. All the beauty of the rose he was living for wilted. And by God’s grace, he saw another Rose in what happened to David.

In the days leading up to his death, David found a profound peace through the blood of Jesus. Bonar said that “joy from the face of a fully reconciled Father above lighted up [David’s dying] face” (Memoir). McCheyne saw it, and everything began to change. He had seen a rose other than classical learning. And he saw it as beautiful, not in spite of the thorn, but because of it. The thorn pierced him awake.

A Passion for Holiness and Evangelism

Four months after the death of his brother, McCheyne enrolled in the Divinity Hall of Edinburgh University, November 1831. There he met the man who would have the greatest influence on his life and ministry, Thomas Chalmers.

Chalmers pressed all of his great learning into the service of holiness and evangelism. He warned McCheyne and the other students of “the white devil” and “the black devil” — the black devil leading to “fleshly sins” of the world, and the white devil to “spiritual sins” of self-righteousness. And he made the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners the central power for this holiness.

Chalmers was also deeply burdened about the poverty in the slums of Edinburgh and how little gospel witness there was. He established the Visiting Society and recruited McCheyne and his friends to join. This threw McCheyne into a world he had never seen as an upper-middle-class university student. It awakened in him a sense of urgency for those cut off from the gospel. On March 3, 1834, two and a half years into his divinity studies, he wrote,

Such scenes I never before dreamed of. . . . “No man careth for our souls” is written over every forehead. Awake, my soul! Why should I give the hours and days any longer to the vain world, when there is such a world of misery at the very door? Lord, put thine own strength in me; confirm every good resolution; forgive my past long life of uselessness and folly. (Memoir)

So McCheyne would take away from his time in divinity school a passion for holiness and a passion for evangelism. These would never leave him and would become defining impulses of his life — all of it motivated by the beauty of the Rose, and all of it intensified by the thorn of suffering.

Uneventful, Useful Life

The last day of McCheyne’s divinity lectures was March 29, 1835. He was just shy of being 22 years old. And that fall he was called to be the assistant minister in the double parish of Larbert and Dunipace. He served there as an assistant until the call came from St. Peter’s Church in Dundee in August 1836. There McCheyne served as the pastor until his death six and a half years later.

That’s the simple sum of his professional life: a student till he was 22, an assistant pastor for a year, and a senior pastor for six years. As I have tried to think through what makes such an uneventful life so useful even 176 years after his death, it isn’t any extraordinary event in his life. Rather, it is his extraordinary passion for Christ — for the Rose — and for holiness and for lost people, all intensified by the shortness of life — the thorn. And all this passion preserved in powerful, picturesque language. He is still influencing us because of the words that came out of his mouth, not the events of his life.

So let’s listen to him concerning the pursuit of holiness and concerning his communion with God through the word and prayer.

Take Ten Looks at Christ

God had given McCheyne the gospel key to pursuing personal holiness. He received it through the teaching of Chalmers. Chalmers was very concerned about excessive introspection in the pursuit of holiness. He knew that a believer cannot make progress in holiness without basing it on the assurance of salvation, and yet the effort to look into our sinful hearts for some evidences of grace usually backfires.

Chalmers said that glimpses into the dark room of the heart alone give no good prospect. Instead, he said we should

take help from the windows. Open the shutters and admit the sun. So if you wish to look well inwardly, look well out. . . . This is the very way to quicken it. Throw widely open the portals of faith and in this, every light will be admitted into the chambers of experience. The true way to facilitate self-examination is to look believingly outwardly. (Introduction to The Christian’s Great Interest, 6)

McCheyne had written that down in a class and underlined the last sentence. So it is not surprising to hear him give his own counsel in similar terms: “Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. . . . Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love. And repose in his almighty arms” (Memoir).

This was the basic strategy in the pursuit of holiness. So when McCheyne spoke what are probably his most famous words, “The greatest need of my people is my own holiness,” he meant not only that they need a pastor who is morally upright, but that they need a pastor who is walking in constant communion with Christ, and being changed into Christ’s likeness by that constant fellowship. Which brings us now finally to the way he cultivated that constant communion with Christ.

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“Let us therefore without ceasing hold fast by our hope and by the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ who took up our sins in His own body upon the tree, who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, but for our sakes He endured all things, that we might live in Him. Let us therefore become imitators of His endurance; and if we should suffer for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He gave this example to us in His own person, and we believed this.”

~ Polycarp (80-167), Letter to the Philippians A.D., 110-140, 8:1-2

Burghers michael saintpolycarp.jpg

Rick Praying

Years ago, an old saint shared with me twelve prayer principles from the life of Jesus Christ. It made such a difference in my personal prayer life. There are only 17 references to Jesus praying and most of them are in the book of Luke.

1.  The principle of ILLUMINATION.

Luke 3:21-22 says, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.  And as He was praying, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My Son whom I love.  With You I am well pleased.”  The setting here was Jesus’ baptism and this is the first recorded example of Jesus’ praying and we see in the book of Luke three results of His praying.

  • Heaven opened up.
  • The Holy Spirit came down.
  • The Father spoke.

These are three results when we make contact with God in our prayers. Symbolically, heaven opens up and we receive God’s blessing. The Holy Spirit fills our lives afresh. And the Father speaks to us. If you’d like to know the Spirit’s power in your life, if you’d like God to speak to you, you must practice the prayer life of Jesus.

2.  The principle of ISOLATION.

Luke 5:16 says, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” “Often” means it was His habit. He did it in places where He was all by Himself. I believe this is absolutely essential. We need to spend time alone with God everyday. Jesus returned again and again to a lonely place. Find that place where you can get alone with God, where you can be isolated and pray aloud and let God speak to you.

3.  The principle of CONCENTRATION.

Luke 6:12 says, “In those days Jesus went out on the mountainside to pray and He spent the night praying to God.” Notice it says, “He spent the night…” Some of the greatest lessons of my prayer life have been nights that I have spent in prayer. My decision to marry my wife was made in a prayer meeting all night with one other person. Sometimes when I pray it takes just a few minutes for me to get my thoughts collected. Sometimes it takes a long time for me to even get in the mood. I’ve found that it’s important to spend extended blocks of time with God so that you can concentrate on what He wants you to do and His will for your life.

4.  The principle of INSULATION.

The Bible says, “Once when Jesus was praying in private, the disciples were with Him.” Notice that the disciples were with him but He still found time for personal prayer. This is an important principle because there’s not always time to get alone by yourself. There are times when you can’t be isolated. I think of this as kind of an incubator verse. Babies can be in the middle of a busy hospital but they can be incubated in a situation that protects them from the hustle and bustle around them. Sometimes I find as a pastor I just can’t get alone, but I can have an attitude of isolation or insulation and I can be silent even in the middle of a traffic jam. My prayer can overcome the interruptions when I put myself in an attitude of insulation.

5.  The principle of TRANSFORMATION.

We find this in Luke 9:28-29. “He took Peter, John and James with Him and went up on a mountain to prayer. As He was praying the appearance of His face changed and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening.” Prayer changes you. Do you think it’s possible to spend so much time with God that when you come away your face shows it?

2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “We all with unveiled faces behold the glory of the Lord.” As we look on Him “We are transformed from one degree to another.” The word in that passage is the word  katoptrizo. It’s the only time that word is used in the entire Bible. It means, ”to seriously look at, to contemplate, to meditate, to gaze on like somebody gazing in a mirror.” As we gaze on the word, as we reflect on the word, like a mirror reflects, we become more and more like Christ. And we’re transformed.

6.  The principle of EXEMPLIFICATION.

Luke 11:1 says, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place and when He finished one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.’” Notice it does not say, “Teach us how to pray,” which is often misquoted. It says “Teach us to pray.” I would suggest that this is a dangerous prayer to pray. We should not pray this request unless we really mean it, because God will often use trials and hardships and difficulties to teach us to pray.

7.  The principle of PRESERVATION.

In Luke 22:31-32 Jesus says, “Simon, Simon. Satan has asked to sift you as wheat but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” This is a prayer of protection. We don’t just believe in prayer, we believe in God. Jesus not only saves you but He prays for you. Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies.” God is praying for us right now. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us.

8.  The principle of PREPARATION.

In Luke 22:42 Jesus prays “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me. Yet not My will but Yours be done.” Notice the change in this prayer. First, He said, take it away from Me. Then He said, “Lord, leave it.” He prayed earnestly. Why? Because He knew He would be facing in the next few hours the greatest trial of His life and He didn’t want to approach it prayerlessly.

For the rest of the post…

by Kevin DeYoung

November 25, 2014

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

In the mess of Ferguson, make your name known. In the division and disappointment, make your name sweet. In the rage and reaction, make your name a balm. Be glorified through the winsome witness of the church in St. Louis. Be glorified through the saints–of every race and ethnicity–as we try to walk together and talk together in a more excellent way. Be glorified, O Father, as the Spirit reveals Jesus Christ and opens your word to the hurting and to the hurtful.

Your kingdom come.

Shine the light of truth wherever there is the darkness of injustice, ignorance, or misunderstanding. May your reign and rule be evident in our lips as we speak, in our heads as we think, and in our hearts as we feel. Cause truth to triumph over falsehood, gospel unity over devilish division, and affection over apathy. Grant us courage and humility, diligence and rest. May the Sun of Righteousness rise with healing in his wings.

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Help us turn from the things of this world, the things that are passing away–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–and turn to your will so that we might abide forever. May we do your bidding here on earth just as the angels serve as your ministering spirits in heaven. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–may these things be cherished and sought after in every black community and in every white community (and every shade of community in between), in the suburb, in the city, and in the country, in any neighborhood overrun by crime and in any police department overrun by prejudice. Your word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Give comfort to the grieving. Give safety to the innocent. Give hope to the hopeless. Give us judges and prosecutors and juries that are fair. Give us good laws, wise procedures, and politicians better than we deserve. Be a rock and a refuge to those who are scared or suffering. Help the weak to find their strength in you. Help the strong to see their need. Help sinners find the only Savior.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

As your people, may we never forget all we have been forgiven. No crime against us is worse than the crimes we have committed against you. Make us slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Forgive us when we fight with the weapons of the world. Forgive us for not weeping with those who weep. Forgive us for judging others with a measure we do not use to judge ourselves. Forgive us for speaking when we should be silent and being silent when we should speak. Forgive us for being hard-hearted and dim-witted. Forgive us for loving our comfort more than our neighbor. Forgive us for being too often indifferent to injustice in our world and unrighteousness in our lives.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Help, O Lord. We are tempted to despair, tempted to cynicism, tempted to bitterness, tempted to give up, tempted to assume the worst about our brothers and sisters, tempted to let commentators and cable news networks tell us what is real. We are sorry for the times we have been unthinking, unfeeling, and unsympathetic. We are sorry for the times we have rushed to judgment. We are sorry for self-righteous grandstanding and self-serving stereotypes. Deliver us from the evils of lawlessness and lovelessness.

For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.

You are strong; we are weak. You are eternal; we are infinitesimal. You lack for nothing; we need everything. You see all, know all, and can do all. We see in part, know in part, and can barely do our part. Be wisdom in our confusion, victory in our struggle, and peace in our fear. We gather at the cross and lay our burdens down. No matter the pain, no matter the sadness, no matter the fog of friendship or the fog of war, every day when morning gilds the sky may Jesus Christ be praised. In whose name we pray, Amen.

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Tuesday, November 11th 2014

Nehemiah 8:1

“all the people assembled with a unified purpose at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had given for Israel to obey.”
(NLT)

It’s a sad fact today that many churches across the world proclaim to love Jesus but refuse to teach His Word. Yet, it is the Word of God that is the life blood of all healthy churches. Even before Jesus instituted the church as we know it today, the people of Israel found revival in their midst when they met together and read aloud the Word of the Lord. Why is it that the elevation of the Bible brings revival? It’s because Christ, Himself, is contained within the pages and where Jesus is there is life!

John 1:1 “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (NLT)

The book of John goes on to say that the Word brought life and light into the darkness. Who is this life and light? It is Jesus Christ. So now the question is, “Is the Word of God a priority in your life?” Do you study it, pray through it and apply it to your life? If not, then friend I would challenge you to pick it up today and read. Ask God to give you understanding and then you will see a personal revival in your life that could lead to a revival in your church, community and the world.

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