To Direct Our Christian Effort :: Throwback Thursday

By Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

For the word of the king is supreme… Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. — Ecclesiastes 8.4-5

God alone is rightfully sovereign without limit. He is King in the most absolute sense; and so it should be; for He is supremely good, wise, just, and holy. We must look nowhere else for power. We must rely upon the Word of our King as the instrument of power whenever we seek to do works in His name.

  • Preach it: for nothing else will break hard hearts, comfort the despairing, encourage faith, or produce holiness.
  • Plead it in prayer: for the Lord will surely keep His own promises, and put forth His power to make them good.
  • Practice it: for none can ignore a life which is ordered according to the precepts of the Lord. An obedient life is full of power before which men and devils do homage.
  • Spend much time in the royal Word.
  • Speak more than ever the King’s Word, which is the gospel of peace.
  • Believe in the Word of King Jesus, and be bold to defend it.
  • Bow before it, and be patient and happy.

No language ever stirs the deeps of my nature like the Word of God; and none produces such a profound calm within my spirit. As no other voice can, it melts me to tears, it humbles me in the dust, it fires me with enthusiasm, it fills me with happiness, it elevates me to holiness. Every faculty of my being owns the power of the sacred Word: it sweetens my memory, it brightens my hope, it stimulates my imagination, it directs my judgment, it commands my will, and it cheers my heart.

The word of man charms me for the time; but I outlive and outgrow its power; it is altogether the reverse with the Word of the King of kings: it rules me more sovereignly, more practically, more habitually, more completely every day. Its power is for all seasons: for sickness and for health, for solitude and for company, for personal emergencies and for public assemblies.

I had sooner have the Word of God at my back than all the armies and navies of all the great powers; ay, than all the forces of nature; for the Word of the Lord is the source of all the power in the universe, and within it there is an infinite supply in reserve.

* Excerpt from Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s God Our King in The Attributes of God.

Today’s Reading
Ecclesiastes 8 (Listen – 2:41)
2 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:48)

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Purpose in Suffering

Nearly a century before Rome would fall the tremors of discontent were already eroding the empire. Antioch, which is situated just 12 miles from the Syrian border, was one of the first cities to fall into violence as Rome attempted to crush a government protest. In his anthology on the collapse of the empire, historian Edward Gibbon observes:

That proud capital was degraded from the rank of a city… stripped of its lands, its privileges, and its revenues, was subjected… The baths, the circus, and the theaters were shut and, that every source of plenty and pleasure might at the same time be intercepted, the distribution of corn was abolished.

The noblest and most wealthy of the citizens of Antioch appeared before them in chains; [their houses] were exposed to sale, their wives and children were suddenly reduced from affluence and luxury to the most abject distress.

“Let us not then grieve, beloved, let us not despond on account of the present tribulation, but let us admire the well-devised plan of God’s wisdom,” counseled Antioch’s Priest, John Chrysostom. The dust had hardly settled—and the city’s fate was generations from being known—but the saint turned to Ecclesiastes to shepherd his city:

[Why] does he say? “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of laughter.” Because, at the former place, insolence is bred, at the latter, sobriety. And when a person goes to the banquet of one more opulent, he will no longer behold his own house with the same pleasure, but he comes back to his wife in a discontented mood; and in discontent he partakes of his own table.

All this Solomon perceived when he said, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of drinking.” From the one grows listlessness, from the other an earnest anxiety. From the one, contempt; from the other, fear; a fear which conducts us to the practice of every virtue.

Chrysostom’s calling to be humbly shaped by God—in the midst of suffering—transcended the causes and events of suffering. Though he spoke against injustice, the saint was nearly consumed with the ways in which God would use his city’s suffering for good.

Humanity was not created to experience the weight of suffering—it is an effect of evil running rampant in our world. But even in our pain we are met by a God who knows the sting of suffering and will be faithful to bring his justice and peace to our world.

Today’s Reading
Ecclesiastes 7 (Listen – 3:37)
2 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:21)


Sinking Sand

All of man’s labor is for nothing more than to fill his stomach—yet his appetite is never satisfied! — Ecclesiastes 6.7

Though he had been without food for 40 days, Jesus refused to turn stones to bread. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The offer had been made: quench your material longings by your own ability. Jesus’ reply? In the end, that wouldn’t satisfy my deepest longings. 

We spend our days, the writer of Ecclesiastes says, trying to satisfy our appetites for more. Money, power, control, sex, food, status—every longing promises to be satisfied by the next acquisition—every longing proves insatiable.

The Divine Comedy chronicles penalties for each earthly sin as acts of contrapasso—to suffer the opposite. Rather than divine retribution, every circle of Dante’s Inferno is “the fulfillment of a destiny freely chosen by each soul during his or her life,” explains scholar Peter Brand.

The gluttons, Dante writes, writhe in a cesspool of waste from their endless consumption. As Virgil guides Dante he explains the gluttons’ damnation; “What these shades could not satisfy in life, in death, they shall be denied for eternity.”

Where Dante imagined the result of chasing earthly appetites to their end, modern writers like David Foster Wallace chronicled its present cultural symptoms. Upon his death in 2008 the New York Times celebrated Wallace’s writings as “a series of strobe-lit portraits of a millennial America overdosing on the drugs of entertainment and self-gratification.”

A recently republished interview reveals Wallace’s candid reflections on one of his most successful books:

A lot of the impetus for writing “Infinite Jest” was just the fact that I was about 30 and I had a lot of friends who were about 30, and we’d all, you know, been grotesquely over-educated and privileged our whole lives and had better healthcare and more money than our parents did. And we were all extraordinarily sad.

I think it has something to do with being raised in an era when really the ultimate value seems to be… a life where you basically experience as much pleasure as possible, which ends up being sort of empty and low-calorie.

Greed is timeless, our appetites limitless. Yet we are not left alone. Jesus was strong enough to defeat broken appetites in the desert and loving enough to forgive us for the times we have fallen in the wilderness of our own desires. “On Christ the solid rock I stand,” penned Edward Mote in 1834, “All other ground is sinking sand.”

Today’s Reading
Ecclesiastes 6 (Listen – 1:44)
2 Timothy 2 (Listen – 3:17)


Seeing Work Through New Eyes

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. — Ecclesiastes 5.10

“In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million—and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough,” writes Sam Polk in the New York Times. “I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted.”

Polk’s story reads like a modern-day reenactment of Ecclesiastes. “I said in my heart,” the author of the ancient book of wisdom confesses, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” The pursuits of money, power, and pleasure feel so wonderful in the short-term—and our society is engineered to deliver such rewards, on demand, to anyone willing to chase after them with reckless abandon. Polk confesses:

I felt so important. At 25, I could go to any restaurant in Manhattan—Per Se, Le Bernardin… I could be second row at the Knicks-Lakers game… The satisfaction wasn’t just about the money. It was about the power. Because of how smart and successful I was, it was someone else’s job to make me happy.

Ecclesiastes concludes, “But behold, this also was vanity.” Polk, following in the footsteps of many before him, would discover this for himself:

In the end, it was actually my absurdly wealthy bosses who helped me see the limitations of unlimited wealth… They were talking about the new hedge-fund regulations. Most everyone on Wall Street thought they were a bad idea. “But isn’t it better for the system as a whole?” I asked. The room went quiet, and my boss shot me a withering look. I remember his saying, “I don’t have the brain capacity to think about the system as a whole. All I’m concerned with is how this affects our company.”

I felt as if I’d been punched in the gut. He was afraid of losing money, despite all that he had. From that moment on, I started to see Wall Street with new eyes.

The calling of Scripture is to see wealth and power, in Polk’s words, with new eyes. Those whose view of vocation has been redeemed, Ecclesiastes says, “eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all their hard work on earth during the few days of their life which God has given them, for this is their reward.”

Today’s Reading
Ecclesiastes 5 (Listen – 2:50)
2 Timothy 1 (Listen – 2:37)


The Heart of the Reformation :: The Weekend Reading List

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther, then a Catholic Priest, pounded his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Posting topics for debate on the church door was commonplace, and wouldn’t have felt monumental that particular day, but Luther’s confrontation of Catholicism would ultimately spark the Protestant Reformation.
While we want to fasten on the Word, we also want to show how we’re part of a chain in history that goes back, and back, and back. We’re not trying to be so innovative that we’re the first generation to get it all right. — D.A. Carson

Reading the language of Luther, John Calvin, and the other Reformers can be disheartening today. In addition to calling the Pope the “antichrist,” Calvin also hurled names like “pigs,” “riffraff,” and “asses” at his opponents.

“When you read Luther and Calvin, a lot of their polemical statements, a lot of the ways in which they talk about the Papacy, and so-on, you look at them and say, ‘you shouldn’t talk that way,’” concludes Timothy Keller. “But that was a different situation… It was life-and-death.”

The tension of orthodoxy and ecumenicism is the foundation for understanding how the Reformation affects faith today. In an article on the tendency to overuse the label “heretic,” Episcopal Priest Justin Holcomb observes, “We may be tempted to think that since theology so easily divides, we are better off simply agreeing to disagree.”
We must remember that the sum of what Christians should believe is not identical to the essentials we must believe for salvation. We need to leave room for believers to grow in their understanding of the faith. We believe in justification by faith in Christ, not justification by accuracy of doctrine. We are saved by grace, not by intellectual precision. — Justin Holcomb

This doesn’t mean the abandonment of disciplined and thoughtful faith, however. Holcomb reminds, “In order to love God aright, and to be assured of the salvation he offers, we must know who God is and what he has done for us in and through Jesus Christ.”

Modern believers won’t handle the relationship between the Protestant and Catholic Churches the same (even Dr. Keller admits, “I don’t own all that rhetoric”), but we can grow in our understanding of the gospel through the words of the Reformers.
The reason we believe the Reformation is so important is because we think they did get the Bible right. You had a massive movement in which people sought to look at Scripture and find out what the biblical gospel truly was. — Timothy Keller
Integrating the gospel-centrality of the Reformation with a humble and winsome unity with Christians from various theological backgrounds is critical today. And there may be greater opportunity as Protestant support of the Pope soars. For his part, Pope Francis has extended an olive branch. In a letter to Evangelicals and Catholics in Chicago the Pope writes:

We know that the visible unity of the Church is the work and gift of the Holy Spirit, who will bring it about in His time… The division among Christians is the fruit of our sin, and it is a scandal and our greatest impediment for the mission for which the Lord has called us: announcing the Good News of the Gospel.

Today, the blood of the many Christians slaughtered in diverse parts of the world cries out to heaven. The one that persecutes does not make a mistake, he doesn’t ask if they are Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox… they are Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, and that is enough. This blood challenges us: Do we have the right to make our divisions a priority while the blood of our brothers is shed for the testimony of Jesus Christ?

This is the moment of reconciliation, to accept “the unity in reconciled diversity,” an expression of Oscar Cullman. We know very well what divides us, let us be more strengthened in what unites us: the common faith in Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior, the Word of God, and Baptism. — Pope Francis

Luther’s intention wasn’t division, but renewal. The heart of the Reformation is the recovery of the gospel, inside the Church, for the good of the world. The Reformers teach us that waywardness in the Church — whether theological heresy or structural division — is overcome by the work of Christ, and that by joining this work we plant seeds of faith for future generations.

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 11-12 (Listen – 7:38 )
2 Timothy 2 (Listen – 3:17)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 13 (Listen – 4:33) 2 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:21)
2 Kings 14 (Listen – 5:06) 2 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:48)

The Weekend Reading List