Tag Archives: Mute Christian

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

Silence is Golden

As the father of a 4-year old and soon of a newborn, there are certain non-negotiables regarding attitude and subsequent discipline that have been set down in stone, not the least of which is whining. There is something intensely irritating and disruptive about whining that flows out of the abundance of a dissatisfied heart. Yet for all the displeasure that whining brings a parent from their child, how often do we as Christians murmur and whine about our respective circumstances without so much as a thought toward how displeasing it must be to God.

In the Book of Numbers, Moses records for us several instances of Israel’s murmuring before the LORD. In Numbers 11:1, the chapter begins with the following, “And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.” From the time they left their enslavement in Egypt to the wilderness of Sinai recorded in this passage, Israel was a murmuring people. God’s chilling response to their murmuring is captured in this verse as His “anger was kindled” against them. I suppose in all the Bible there is not a more fearful description of the displeasure of God as directed toward man than the kindling of His anger. Note how God’s anger is not aroused because of an “obvious sin” such as murder, adultery, or even homosexuality. Instead, it is directed toward the grumbling and discontentment expressed by His covenant people. This should serve as a stark warning to us when we begin to classify particular sins as bottom-of-the-barrel, perhaps more obvious in their manifestation, while other sins that largely go unnoticed are overlooked, coddled, and accepted as normal personality traits. God is clear in this verse; His anger is kindled against grumbling and complaining.

In what appears to be a play on words, the kindling of God’s anger results in the “fire of the LORD” burning among the people and consuming “some outlying parts of the camp.” Think God doesn’t take the words we speak seriously? (As a reminder, Matthew 12:36 informs us that we will be accountable for every word we speak.) Interestingly, God doesn’t consume the entire camp, but strikes the outlying parts of the camp as a display not only of His sovereign rule in judgment, but speaks volumes of His mercy. God’s kindness here was meant to bring the people to repentance for their murmuring.
Continuing on in the passage from Numbers 11

“2 Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died down. 3 So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them.
4 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” Num. 11:2-6

Upon witnessing the sampling of God’s displeasure toward murmuring, the people turn their attention towards Moses and plead for His intercession with God on their behalf. This passage indicates nothing of the contriteness of the people’s heart, yet God complies with Moses’ request and relents of His anger. This should have been a sufficient warning, but the sinfulness of sin and the hardness of man’s heart is not easily swayed apart from the sovereign, irresistible grace of God to remove the heart of stone. As in the case of the men who were struck blind in Sodom and Gomorrah yet they still groped for the doorway of Lot to fulfill their lusts, the rabble in the wilderness continued in their cravings and murmured once again against the LORD.

The Hebrew phrase, translated by the ESV as rabble, is generally understood to be a reference to the nature of the people who had assembled as a mixed multitude, i.e. of Jews and Gentiles, perhaps a reference to those whom had come out of Egypt alongside the Israelites. Regardless, it becomes evident in verse 4 that the fire sent from God did not serve as a lasting reminder to warn the people of their murmuring. Surely even those upon final judgment who are in the place of everlasting torment will continue to gnash their teeth in rebellion towards the all-holy God.

Through the murmuring of the people, this time over the kind of food (manna) that God in His graciousness and provision had given the people, Moses turns again to the Lord. His impatience and irritation with the people’s murmuring reaches its apex as he simply asks the Lord to kill him (Num. 11:14-15). Christian, we are not witnessing here the outpouring of gross immorality among the people. There is no indication of sexual depravity, murderous rampage, or illicit behaviors of the kind that so fixes our attention on a regular basis through the nightly news or the kind of sin that draws gasps from our mouths that so and so in the church has committed. It is complaining; murmuring against the providence of God from a discontent heart; dissatisfied with circumstances with which one is faced and it has sparked the anger of God, a warning of judgment, and a burden so great on their only intercessor with God that he has asked to be killed. Can you begin to feel the weight of how our grumbling and complaining must be a stench in the nostrils of God?

What happens next in the Numbers 11 account is simply stunning.

16 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 17 And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone. 18 And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the LORD, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. 19 You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20 but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’” 21 But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ 22 Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” 23 And the LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

What condescension on God’s part to His servant Moses in providing him with additional help to ease his burden in hearing the complaints of the people. On the one hand, God’s graciousness is on display. However, on the other hand, we are about to witness the hatred of God towards sin in upholding His own holiness. In case you glossed over it above, return your eyes again to verses 19-20. God is not merely going to provide meat for the malcontents who are dissatisfied with manna, He is going to gorge them with it. God would provide them so much meat it would overflow out of their nostrils and “becomes loathsome to you.” This is not a “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” passage. This is the discipline and judgment of God in handing the people over to their sinful cravings. Similar in principle to Romans 1, God often gives people up to the desires of their flesh and it is the judgment that perfectly fits the crime.

It even becomes evident that the peoples murmuring has begun to infect the faith of Moses as he begins to vocalize his unbelief in the power of the Lord, thinking somehow that God has levied against him an even greater burden of providing meat for 600,000 people for an entire month. He was blind to the stunning statement by God that it was He who would provide the meat and it would be in a direct act of judgment against the people.

Concluding this account we read of the fulfillment of God’s promise

31 Then a wind from the LORD sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. 32 And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33 While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague. 34 Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving. 35 From Kibroth-hattaavah the people journeyed to Hazeroth, and they remained at Hazeroth.

Just as He had indicated to Moses, God provided the meat for the people, though if ever there was a fitting time to say “be careful what you wish for” it was now. In similar fashion to the fire that burned outside the camp, judgment again rains outside the camp in the form of quail. Certainly at this point the people must be satisfied that their murmuring has been heard and has bent the will of the Almighty to meet their demands. Until we read of the startling account from verse 33, “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague.”

Psalm 78 offers commentary on this event in the following verses

In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all the night with a fiery light.
15 He split rocks in the wilderness
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
16 He made streams come out of the rock
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
17 Yet they sinned still more against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
18 They tested God in their heart
by demanding the food they craved.
19 They spoke against God, saying,
“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
20 He struck the rock so that water gushed out
and streams overflowed.
Can he also give bread
or provide meat for his people?”
21 Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of wrath;
a fire was kindled against Jacob;
his anger rose against Israel,
22 because they did not believe in God
and did not trust his saving power.
23 Yet he commanded the skies above
and opened the doors of heaven,
24 and he rained down on them manna to eat
and gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Man ate of the bread of the angels;
he sent them food in abundance.
26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
27 he rained meat on them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas;
28 he let them fall in the midst of their camp,
all around their dwellings.
29 And they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.
30 But before they had satisfied their craving,
while the food was still in their mouths,
31 the anger of God rose against them,
and he killed the strongest of them
and laid low the young men of Israel.
32 In spite of all this, they still sinned;
despite his wonders, they did not believe. (Ps. 78:14-32)

After reading through and meditating on this account, is it any wonder why Puritan Thomas Brooks calls murmuring the “mother of all sins”? If you’re yet unimpressed, think about how murmuring and complaining calls into question the goodness and kindness of God; about how it rejects the supply of God in His providence. Murmuring therefore is the external product of internal unbelief. It is a dissatisfaction with Who God is and What He has done or will do. It represents the height of idolatry that man in his finiteness could do more with less. Oh, how often we find ourselves murmuring Christian. How often we grow dissatisfied with circumstances that surround us. Whether this be God’s provision in our housing, food or clothing, jobs, health, the lack of a spouse or even something so trivial as “It’s too hot” or “Why did it have to rain today.” Oh that we would not kindle the anger of God with our murmuring. Let us instead, like Job, put our hands to our mouths and be content with almighty provision of God thanking Him for the slightest of crumbs that may fall from the Master’s table.