Category Archives: Devotions

Take Heed What you Read

An appropriate follow up to the post Christian Nominalism and the Christian Bookstore:

By Arthur W. Pink 

“Take heed what you hear” (Mark 4:24): the word “hear” obviously includes what is read, for that which is written or printed is addressed to the ears of our intellect. Few people today realize the urgent need for “taking heed” unto what they read. Just as the natural food which is eaten either helps or hinders the body—so the mental food we receive either benefits or injures the mind, and that, in turn, affects the heart. Just as it is harmful to listen to the rubbish and poison which is being served from the great majority of present-day pulpits—so it is exceedingly injurious to the soul to read most of what is now being published. “Take heed what you hear” and read! But let us seek to be more specific.

The only thing which is really worth calling “religion” is the life of God in the soul-commenced, carried on, and consummated solely by the Holy Spirit. Hence, whatever does not bear the impress of the Spirit’s unction, should be rejected by the Christian: for not only can unctionless messages do us no good—but what proceeds not from the Spirit—is of the flesh. Here, then, is the test which God’s children ought to apply unto all they hear, and here is the balance in which they should weigh all that they read. True, there are varying degrees of the Spirit’s unction. As it is in the natural so it is in the spiritual—there will be a varying amount of wetness from the faintest moisture of dew—as compared to the copious shower. As there had to be “salt” in every sacrifice (Lev. 2:13), so every discourse or article proceeding from the Spirit’s aid, is “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). But O how very much today is devoid of spiritual savor and flavor!

Some of God’s dear people may suppose that it would be presumptuous to set themselves up as judges of what they hear or read—but that is a serious mistake, being both a false humility, and a shirking of duty. The Apostle rebuked the Hebrews because their senses (spiritual faculties) were not developed so as to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:13). With as much reason, might it be termed pride for anyone to pass judgment upon the groceries or meats purchased from the stores. Others may ask, “But how are simple and unlearned souls to distinguish between the different religious publications of the day?” Very simply: in sampling your natural food how do you determine whether or not it be seasoned? By your natural taste, of course. So it is spiritually: the “new man” has a palate too! If the God of creation has given us natural palates for the purpose of distinguishing between wholesome and unwholesome food, the God of grace has furnished His people with a capacity, a spiritual sense, to distinguish between nutritious and unwholesome soul food.

“Just as the mouth tastes food—the ear tests the words it hears” (Job 34:3). Does yours, my reader? Are you as careful about what you take into your mind—as what you take into your stomach? You certainly ought to be, for the former is even more important than the latter. If you eat some material food which is injurious, you can take a purgative and get rid of the same; but if you have devoured mental food which is injurious, it stays with you! “The ear tests the words it hears.” Again, we ask, Does yours, dear reader? Are you learning to distinguish between “letter” and “spirit;” between the “form” and the “power;” between that which is of the earth and that which is from Heaven; between that which is lifeless and unctionless and that which is instinct with the breath of God? If the answer is ‘No’, then you are greatly the loser.

How many of God’s dear children listen to the automaton “letter” preachers of today, and yet find nothing suited to the needs of their poor souls! And how many are subscribing for one magazine after another, hoping to find that which will the better furnish them to fight the good fight of faith—only to be disappointed? What they hear and what they read does not penetrate and grip—it has no power—it neither breaks down nor lifts up—it produces neither godly sorrow nor godly joy. The messages they hear or read, fall upon their ear like an idle or twice-told tale—it completely fails to reach their case or minister to their needs. They are no better off after hearing a hundred such “sermons” or reading through a hundred such periodicals, than they were at the beginning! They are no farther from the world—and no nearer unto God!

It is often a long time before God’s children are able to account for this. They blame themselves; they are exceedingly loath to say, “This message is not of God.” They are afraid to act in the spiritual, as they do in the natural, and condemn and discard that which is worthless. While they feel a lack of power in the sermons they hear, or the articles they read, and while their souls steadily get dried up like a potsherd—they are slow to realize that this is the inevitable effect of the unctionless preaching they listen to, or the unctionless literature they read; and that such dryness and leanness of soul is inevitable—by their association with unhumbled and empty professors. But in due time God opens their eyes, and they see through the flimsy veil and discover that both the sermons they hear, and the literature they read—are only the product of a dead profession!

Ah, it is a great thing when once the Holy Spirit teaches a soul—that it is power which is lacking from the lifeless preaching and lifeless articles of dead professors. It is power which the renewed soul seeks—a message which has power to search his conscience, to pierce him to the quick, to write it upon his heart; a message which has power to bring him to his knees in broken-hearted confession to God; a message which has power to make him feel that he is “vile”; a message which has power to drive him to Christ, for the binding up of his wounds, for Him to pour in “oil and wine,” and send him on his way rejoicing. Yes, what the renewed soul longs for (though at first he knows it not) is that Divine message which comes to him “not simply with words—but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction!” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).

Sooner or later, every Christian comes to value “power,” and to count as worthless, whatever lacks it. It is by Divine power, that he is taught in his own soul, by which he is made to feel acutely his sinnership, his carnality, his beggarliness. It is Divine power working in his heart—the same power which brought Christ again from the dead (Eph. 1:19, 20)—which draws his affections unto things above and makes his soul pant after God “as the deer pants after the water brooks” (Psalm 42:1). It is this Divine power working in him which reveals to his burdened spirit the Throne of Grace, and causes him to implore mercy and to seek grace “to help in time of need.” It is this Divine power working in him, which makes him cry “Make me walk along the path of Your commands—for there I find delight” (Psalm 119:35).

Those who are partakers of this Divine power (and they are few in number) can never be satisfied with a powerless ministry, either oral or written.

“Those who live according to the flesh—have their minds set on what the flesh desires,” (Romans 8:5). They are charmed with oratorical eloquence, catchy sayings, witty allusions, and amusing illustrations. On just such “husks”, do the religious “swine” feed!

But the penitent prodigal can find no nutriment therein! Men “of the world”—and they may be graduates from some “Bible Institute” or possessors of a diploma from some Bible Seminary, now styling themselves “preachers of the Gospel”—will speak of the things of the world and “the world hears them” (1 John 4:5). But those who are seeking to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling” obtain no help therefrom, yes, they perceive clearly that such sermons and periodicals are “broken cisterns, which can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13).

“Take heed what you hear” and read! More than forty years ago the saintly Adolph Saphir wrote, “I think the fewer books we read—the better. It is like times of cholera, when we should only drink filtered water.” What would he say if he were on earth today and glanced over the deadly poison sent forth by the heterodox, and the lifeless rubbish put out by the orthodox? Christian reader, if you value the health of your soul, cease hearing and quit reading all that is lifeless, unctionless, powerless, no matter what prominent or popular name be attached thereto. Life is too short to waste valuable time on that which does not profit. Ninety-nine out of every hundred of the religious books, booklets, and magazines now being published, are not worth the paper on which they are printed!

To turn away from the lifeless preachers and publishers of the day—may involve a real cross. Your motives will be misconstrued, your words perverted, and your actions misinterpreted. The sharp arrows of false report will be directed against you. You will be called proud and self-righteous, because you refuse to fellowship empty professors. You will be termed censorious and bitter—if you condemn in plain speech—the subtle delusions of Satan. You will be dubbed narrow-minded and uncharitable, because you refuse to join in singing the praises of the “great” and “popular” men of the day. More and more, you will be made to painfully realize—that the path which leads unto eternal life is “narrow” and that FEW there are who find it. May the Lord be pleased to grant unto each of us—the hearing ear and obedient heart! “Take heed what you hear” and read!

 

Advice for Reading

 

One thing that took me awhile to learn was reading for profitability, not reading for the sake of reading.  There are far too many good, worthwhile books that cause your soul to stir and affections to swell for God than to waste your time (and eyes) reading bad books that produce little fruit.  Here is some advice from Thomas Brooks in his previously mentioned The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod for reading for profit

For, as many fish and catch nothing, Luke 5:5, so many read good books and get nothing, because they read them over cursorily, slightly, superficially; but he who would read to profit, must then,

First, Read and look up for a blessing—’Paul may plant, and Apollos may water,’ but all will be to no purpose, except ‘the Lord gives the increase,’ 1 Cor. 3:6, 7. God must do the deed, when all is done, or else all that is done will do you no good. If you would have this work successful and effectual, you must look off from man—and look up to God, who alone can make it a blessing to you. As without a blessing from heaven, your clothes cannot warm you, nor your food nourish you, nor medicine cure you, nor friends comfort you, Micah 6:14; so without a blessing from heaven, without the precious breathings and influences of the Spirit, what here is written will do you no good, it will not turn to your account in the day of Christ; therefore cast an eye heavenwards, Haggai 1:6.

It is Seneca’s observation, that the husbandmen in Egypt never look up to heaven for rain in the time of drought—but look after the overflowing of the banks of Nile, as the only cause of their plenty. Ah, how many are there in these days, who, when they go to read a book, never look up, never look after the rain of God’s blessing—but only look to the river Nile; they only look to the wit, the learning, the arts, the parts, the eloquence, etc., of the author, they never look so high as heaven; and hence it comes to pass, that though these read much, yet they profit little.

Secondly, He who would read to profit must read and meditate. Meditation is the food of your souls, it is the very stomach and natural heat whereby spiritual truths are digested. A man shall as soon live without his heart, as he shall be able to get good by what he reads, without meditation. Prayer, says Bernard, without meditation, is dry and formal; and reading without meditation is useless and unprofitable. He who would be a wise, a prudent, and an able experienced statesman, must not hastily ramble and run over many cities, countries, customs, laws, and manners of people, without serious musing and pondering upon such things as may make him an expert statesman; so he who would get good by reading, that would complete his knowledge, and perfect his experience in spiritual things, must not slightly and hastily ramble and run over this book or that—but ponder upon what he reads, as Mary pondered the saying of the angel in her heart.

Lord! says Augustine, the more I meditate on you, the sweeter you are to me; so the more you shall meditate on the following matter, the sweeter it will be to you. They usually thrive best who meditate most. Meditation is a soul-fattening duty; it is a grace-strengthening duty, it is a duty-crowning duty. Meditation is the nurse of prayer. Jerome calls it his paradise; Basil calls it the treasury where all the graces are locked up; Theophylact calls it the very gate and portal by which we enter into glory; and Aristotle, though a heathen, places felicity in the contemplation of the mind. You may read much and hear much—yet without meditation you will never be excellent, you still never be eminent Christians.

Thirdly, Read, and test what you read; take nothing upon trust—but all upon trial, as those ‘noble Bereans’ did, Acts 17:to, 11. You will try and count and weigh gold, though it be handed to you by your fathers; and so should you all those heavenly truths that are handed to you by your spiritual fathers. I hope upon trial you will find nothing—but what will hold weight in the balance of the sanctuary; and though all be not gold that glitters, yet I judge that you will find nothing here to blister, that will not be found upon trial to be true gold.

Fourthly, Read and do, read and practice what you read, or else all your reading will do you no good. He who has a good book in his hand—but not a lesson of it in his heart or life, is like that donkey that carries burdens, and feeds upon thistles. In divine account, a man knows no more than be does. Profession without practice will but make a man twice told a child of darkness. To speak well is to sound like a cymbal—but to do well is to act like an angel [Isidore]. He who practices what he reads and understands, God will help him to understand what he understands not. There is no fear of knowing too much, though there is much fear in practicing too little; the most doing man, shall be the most knowing man; the mightiest man in practice, will in the end prove the mightiest man in Scripture, John 7:16, 17, Psalm 119:98-100. Theory is the guide of practice, and practice is the life of theory.

Salvian relates how the heathen did reproach some Christians, who by their lewd lives made the gospel of Christ to be a reproach. ‘Where,’ said they, ‘is that good law which they believe? Where are those rules of godliness which they learn? They read the holy gospel, and yet are unclean; they read the apostles’ writings, and yet live in drunkenness; they follow Christ, and yet disobey Christ; they profess a holy law, and yet lead impure lives.’ Ah! how may many preachers take up sad complaints against many readers in these days! They read our works, and yet in their lives they deny our works; they praise our works, and yet in their lives they reproach our works; they cry up our labors in their discourses, and yet they cry them down in their practices—yet I hope better things of you into whose hands this treatise shall fall. The Samaritan woman did not fill her pitcher with water, that she might talk of it—but that she might use it, John 4:7; and Rachel did not desire the mandrakes to hold in her hand—but that she might thereby be the more apt to bring forth, Gen. xxx. 15. The application is easy. But,

Fifthly, Read and apply. Reading is but the drawing of the bow, application is the hitting of the bulls-eye. The choicest truths will no further profit you than they are applied by you. It would be as good not to read, as not to apply what you read. No man attains to health by reading books on health—but by the practical application of their remedies. All the reading in the world will never make for the health of your souls—except you apply what you read. The true reason why many read so much and profit so little—is because they do not apply and bring home what they read to their own souls. But,

Sixthly, and lastly, Read and pray. He who makes not conscience of praying over what he reads, will find little sweetness or profit in his reading. No man makes such earnings of his reading, as he who prays over what he reads. Luther professes that he profited more in the knowledge of the Scriptures by prayer, in a short space, than by study in a longer. As John by weeping got the sealed book open, so certainly men would gain much more than they do by reading good men’s works, if they would but pray more over what they read! Ah, Christians! pray before you read, and pray after you read, that all may be blessed and sanctified to you; when you have done reading, usually close up thus—So let me live, so let me die, that I may live eternally.

And when you are in the mount for yourselves, bear him upon your hearts, who is willing to ‘spend and be spend’ for your sakes, for your souls, 2 Cor. 12:15. Oh! pray for me, that I may more and more be under the rich influences and glorious pourings out of the Spirit; that I may ‘be an able minister of the New Testament—not of the letter—but of the Spirit,’ 2 Cor. 3:6; that I may always find an everlasting spring and an overflowing fountain within me, which may always make me faithful, constant, and abundant in the work of the Lord; and that I may live daily under those inward teachings of the Spirit, which may enable me to speak from the heart to the heart, from the conscience to the conscience, and from experience to experience; that I may be a ‘burning and a shining light,’ that everlasting arms may be still under me; that while I live, I may be serviceable to his glory and his people’s good; that no discouragements may discourage one in my work; and that when my work is done, I may give up my account with joy and not with grief. I shall follow these poor labors with my weak prayers, that they may contribute much to your internal and eternal welfare.”

Image Credit: http://acheronic.deviantart.com/art/Tolle-Lege-70881656

Luck Chance and Happenstance

 

Well that was lucky!

Take a chance!

Good luck!

It’s all happenstance.

Common phrases and idioms like these have come to be expected in the English language.  We throw them around with such frequency that we rarely pause to give them a second thought.  I’ve found myself from time to time offering someone good luck, just by way of ending a conversation when they’ve shared a particular upcoming challenge, i.e. “I have an exam today.  RESPONSE: Good Luck!”  In fact just this week I found myself saying good luck and another person wishing me good luck within 30 minutes of each other.

Is there really such a thing as luck, chance, or happenstance?  Think about it for a minute.  If we truly believed in luck or chance then we would essentially be giving ourselves over to atheism, or the belief that there is no God.  Why?  Because, if there is a God (and there is), then by very definition He must be in charge, a term we call sovereignty.

Because He is God and Sovereign, then there cannot be anything outside of His control or rule, i.e. luck, chance, or happenstance.  Therefore we say He must also be providential.  God is both sovereign and providential, while the terms are related, they may be examined distinctly.  These are not simply man-made theological terms, but are derived from Scripture where God is described as such. (Sovereignty – 1 Timothy 6:15; Romans 9:19-21; Providence – Psalm 135:6; Isaiah 46:10)

Interestingly, both of these theological terms, as they relate to God, are abundant in the book of Genesis (if you are doing a yearly reading plan, be on the lookout!).  Since we now know that sovereignty refers to God’s reign and this reign is rooted in God’s role as Creator, then we can better understand that God has the right to exercise His authority in exiling Adam and Eve from the Garden for their disobedience of His command.  The very fact that they chose to sin convicts them of being guilty of denying God’s sovereignty.

Additionally, we should not have any qualms with how God chooses to mete out His justice on the entirety of His creation, save Noah and his family along with a selection of animals, when He administers the global flood.  God’s sovereignty is the answer to the objections that a global flood is unfair or unjust.  Is not God sovereign over His creation?  Then He is therefore just in His dealing with sinful mankind how He sees fit.

A third and final example of God’s sovereignty, particularly as it relates to the early chapters of Genesis, occurs in Genesis 10 and the episode of the Tower of Babel.  The goal of the people building this ancient ziggurat was to show off their expertise or pride (let us make a name for ourselves) by building a stairway to heaven in order to usurp the authority of God.   In a sense it is the repetition of the sin committed in Eden.

Related, is God’s providence, or how He exercises the rule of His reign.  This is often apparent in two ways in Scripture, the first is explicit and the second is implicit or underlying in the passage of Scripture.  We may ask, apart from providence, how can we be certain that the promise of the woman’s seed (Christ) will be born, survive, and accomplish God’s mission of redemption?  Clearly then, the providence of God is implied in the accomplishment of crushing the head of the serpent by the heel of the promised seed.  See also The Gospel Hope of Eve.

Another evidence of God’s providence in the early chapters of Genesis is seen more explicitly through the birth narratives of the Patriarchs that speak of the barrenness of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel.  Familiarity with Abraham and Sarah reminds us that they were both beyond child-bearing years, yet God providentially orchestrated the birth of Isaac through whom the promised seed (Gen. 3:15) would come.  But we have similar accounts of providence over progeny with Isaac and his wife Rebekah (Gen. 25:21) and their son Jacob with both of his wives Leah and Rachel (Gen. 29:31; 30:2, 9, 17, 19-20, 22-24). For more on God’s providence see The Providence of God in the Life of Joseph.

Reading Scripture with an eye towards the attributes of God, notably His Sovereignty and His Providence transforms rote reading by essentially setting the mind toward meditation on Scripture.  In these brief examples we’ve seen how meditating on these two glorious attributes of God serves as a polemic against notions of luck, chance, or happenstance.  Perhaps in the future, we’ll now be better equipped to offer more biblical phrases such as Grace and Peace to you, or the antiquated but rather biblical, Godspeed!