Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Book Review: 'Keeping the Heart' by John Flavel

Solomon calls us to "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." (Proverbs 4:23 - ESV) It is this text that is the foundation for 'Keeping the Heart'; or, to use Solomon's language, this verse is the spring from which the waters of Flavel's writing flow in this classic work.

John Flavel (1628-1691) was a Puritan pastor, who laboured for almost the whole of his ministry in the busy seaport of Dartmouth in Devon, England, and knew much opposition and persecution because of his faithful preaching of the gospel. His writings have been much loved by Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, Robert Murray M'Cheyne and Andrew Bonar.

He says in his introduction:
The heart of man is his worst part before it is regenerated, and the best afterward; it is the seat of principles, and the foundation of actions. The eye of God is, and the eye of the Christian ought to be, principally fixed upon it. The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God.
It is this insight, drawn from Solomon's words, that leads him to say: "The keeping and right managing of the heart in every condition, is one great business of a Christian's life." It is the duty of every Christian to be engaged in the hard, constant and important work of keeping the heart, by the grace of God, from sin and for communion with God.
This is what Flavel urges upon his readers as he shows: first, what it means to keep the heart; secondly, why we should take this work seriously; thirdly, particular occasions which "require our utmost dilligence" in doing this; and finally, pressing this home to his hearers.
I have recently finished reading 'Keeping the Heart' for a second time, this time with pencil in hand, and I have hardly left a page without underlining something.
What makes this such a great book? The following are just some of the reasons to read:
It is saturated with Scripture: Flavel's thinking and writing is very evidently shaped and moulded by Scripture, he is clearly someone who delights in the word of God and has immersed himself in Scripture, letting it shape and affect his life, therefore 'Keeping the Heart' oozes with Scriptural wisdom.
It is evidently written by someone who knows what it is to work at keeping their heart: as you read it becomes evident that we are sitting under a very godly older brother, who is deeply experienced, and who draws on his experience of living the Christian life.
It is practical: throughout the book Flavel is constantly concerned with pressing the lessons home to his readers, he does not want them to go away unaffected after reading, but wants them to bring glory to God by the diligent keeping of their hearts. He is constantly preaching to the heart.
It is clear and easy to follow: although the language is quite old (it was written in the 17th century) and at first some phrases may sound strange to our ears, Flavel is very readable, his points are clearly signalled and his arguments easy to grasp.
Finally, it is well illustrated: illustrations and pithy quotes abound throughout, drawn from church history and the world around us. These open windows and shed light, and drive home his teaching.
As with the Puritans as a whole, Flavel is well worth being discovered by a new generation of Christians, 'Keeping the Heart' is a great place to start. Well worth reading and re-reading and being challenged to "Keep your heart with all vigilance".

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

John G. Paton: Courage for the Sake of the Gospel

On the 16th of April 1858 John G. Paton set sail from Scotland as a missionary to the New Hebrides (known today as Vanuatu), a group of islands in the south seas. In November he arrived on the Island of Tanna.
At the time these islands were filled with Cannibals, and Paton was well aware of the cost. Nineteen years previously both John Williams and James Harris were clubbed to death, cooked and eaten on the Island of Erromanga only minutes after arriving on the shore. Sixteen years previously a team of missonaries from London had been driven off Tanna.
Anyone who has read Paton's autobiography will know one of the things that stands out as he writes is his boldness. He was not afraid of risking his life for the sake of other people hearing the gospel. He was prepared to give up his life to bring life to the Cannibals of the South Sea islands.
However, the foundation for such boldness was not in himself. It came from the gospel. He knew the utter security he had in Christ. He knew that Jesus was utterly sovereign and able to preserve him in the midst of any danger or bring him safely to glory, as He saw fit. This gave Paton this remarkable courage to risk everything and to suffer terribly for the sake of seeing Jesus' name honoured and cannibal knees bowing to Him.
A great example of this gospel-founded courage comes shortly before he leaves for the New Hebrides. He has just announced that he is going to leave a thriving urban ministy in Glasgow to go and minister to the South Sea cannibals. Many try to deter him from going. He is given many well-paid offers if he will stay. Paton tells about how one man in particular tried to persuade him to stay, he says:

Amongst many who sought to deter me, was one dear old Christian gentleman, whose crowning argument always was, "The Cannibals! you will be eaten by Cannibals!"

At last I replied, "Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer."
The old gentleman, raising his hands in a depreciating attitude, left the room exclaiming, "After that I have nothing more to say!"
Where are such men today? Where are those who - because they believe the gospel so deeply, who know and trust the Lord Jesus so intimately and who are zealous for God's glory among the nations - sacrifice all for the sake of seeing Christ glorified by proclaiming Him to a people who don't yet know Him. Where are those who are concerned less about their comfort and more about Christ being honoured? Where are those who care, not for their reputaion, but for Christ's?
It is only when we hold fast to the glorious truths of the gospel, as they are revealed in Scripture, and let them transform us more and more that we will grow in increasing zeal for the glory of Christ and boldness for the sake of the gospel.
This extract is taken from Paton's autobiorgaphy: 'John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu)', which is published by Banner of Truth.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Expository Outline: Luke 7:36-50

1) v36-39 – The Scene: A Big Sinner Shows Big Love
2) v40-43 – The Story: The Bigger the Debt Cancelled the Bigger the Love
3) v44-50 – The Principle: Whoever’s Forgiven Much Loves Much

Monday, 4 January 2010

Expository Outline: Colossians 1:15-20

1) v15-17 - Jesus is Supreme Over Creation
2) v18-20 - Jesus is Supreme Over New Creation

Friday, 1 January 2010

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1722-1723)

Jonathan Edwards, beginning at age 19, made a list of 70 resolutions, which he sought to review weekly. They are a great challenge to us about how seriously we take our personal godliness, and they put many new years resolutions to shame.

Here they are in full:

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ's sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of
the time, whether now, or never so many myriad's of ages hence. Resolved to do
whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in
general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and
how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don't hinder.

12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

(Resolutions 1 through 21 written in one setting in New Haven in 1722)

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God's glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to east away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, "A faithful man who can find?" may not be partly fulfilled in me.

33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec.26, 1722.

34. Resolved, in narration's never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.

37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec.22 and 26, 1722.

38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord's day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.

39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no; except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.

40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.

43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God's, agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, January 12. Jan.12, 1723.

44. Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan.12, 1723.

45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan.12 and 13.1723.

46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eve: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.

47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peace_able, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5,1723.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.

50. Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.

51. Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it. July 8, 1723.

55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether ~ have
done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13 1723.

58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. May27, and July 13, 1723.

59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July ii, and July 13.

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4, and 13, 1723.

61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc. May 21, and July 13, 1723.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; "knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord." June 25 and July 13, 1723.

63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan.14' and July '3' 1723.

64. Resolved, when I find those "groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those "breakings of soul for the longing it hath," of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be wear', of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the
greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton's 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. July 26, and Aug.10 1723.

66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting
and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to
God, and implore needed help. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak. Aug. 17, 1723.