Tag Archives: Thomas Brooks

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

Job and the Mute Christian

 

“Dear hearts—The choicest saints are ‘born to troubles as the sparks fly upwards’, Job 5:7. ‘Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivers him out of them all.’ Psalm 34:19. If they were many, and not troubles, then, as it is in the proverb, the more the merrier; or if they were troubles and not many, then the fewer the better. But God, who is infinite in wisdom and matchless in goodness, has ordered troubles, yes, many troubles to come trooping in upon us on every side. As our mercies—so our crosses seldom come single; they usually come treading one upon the heels of another; they are like April showers, no sooner is one over but another comes. And yet, Christians, it is mercy, it is rich mercy, that every affliction is not an execution, that every correction is not a damnation. The higher the waters rise, the nearer Noah’s ark was lifted up to heaven; the more your afflictions are increased, the more your heart shall be raised heavenward.” – Thomas Brooks, The Mute Christian under the Smarting Rod

As I read through the book of Job in my yearly reading plan, one thought kept ringing over and over in my head, namely that Job should be quiet and humbly recognize his inherent sinfulness.  I mentioned both of those responses in the last post, but here I’d like to flesh out more of this idea with the help of Puritan Thomas Brooks.

In his book cited above, Brooks pens a masterful treatise on the proper Christian response to suffering, discipline, and general trials that befall us all.  Below is a summary of a meaty section on holy silence as a response before God, both what it is and what it isn’t.  Even though I’ve summarized, it’s still a little long, but so soul stirring and beneficial.  Perhaps the next time you read through Job or are going through challenging experiences, this section may be helpful to you.  The entire work is well worth reading and is available online completely free: Grace Gems  or .pdf here

From Brooks:

“I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for You are the one who has done this!” Psalm 39:9

What is the silence meant, here in this verse?

First, There is a STOICAL silence.  The stoics of old thought it altogether below a man that has reason or understanding either to rejoice in any good, or to mourn for any evil; but this stoical silence is such a sinful insensibleness as is very provoking to a holy God, Isaiah 26:10,11.

Second, There is a POLITIC silence.  Many are silent out of policy.

Thirdly, There is a FOOLISH silence.  Some fools there be that can neither do well nor speak well; and because they cannot word it neither as they would nor as they should, they are so wise as to be mute—Prov. 17:28

Fourthly, There is a SULLEN silence.  Many, to gratify an humour, a lust, are sullenly silent; these are troubled with a dumb devil, which was the worst devil of all the devils you read of in the Scripture, Mark 9:17-28.

Fifthly, There is a FORCED silence.  Many are silent per force. He who is under the power of his enemy, though he suffers many hard things, yet he is silent under his sufferings, because he knows he is liable to worse.

Sixth, There is a DESPAIRING silence.  A despairing soul is a terror to himself; he has a hell in his heart, and horror in his conscience. He looks upwards, and there he beholds God frowning; he looks inwards, and there he finds conscience accusing and condemning of him; he looks on the one side of him, and there he hears all his sins crying out—We are yours, and we will follow you; we will go to the grave with you, we will go to judgment with you, and from judgment we will go to hell with you; he looks on the other side of him, and there he sees infernal fiends in fearful shapes, amazing and terrifying of him, and waiting to receive his despairing soul as soon as she shall take her leave of his wretched body; he looks above him, and there he sees the gates of heaven shut against him; he looks beneath him, and there he sees hell gaping for him; and under these sad sights, he is full of secret conclusions against his own soul.

Seventh, There is a PRUDENT silence, a HOLY, a GRACIOUS silence; a silence that springs from prudent principles, from holy principles, and from gracious causes and considerations; and this is the silence here meant.

What does a prudent, a gracious, a holy silence include?

First, It includes a sight of God, and an acknowledgment of God as the author of all the afflictions which come upon us.

Secondly, It includes and takes in some holy, gracious apprehensions of the majesty, sovereignty, authority, and presence of that God under whose acting hand we are—Hab 2:20

Thirdly, A gracious, a prudent silence, takes in a holy quietness and calmness of mind and spirit, under the afflicting hand of God.

Fourthly, A prudent, a holy silence, takes in an humble, justifying, clearing and acquitting of God of all blame, rigor and injustice, in all the afflictions he brings upon us; Psalm 51:4

Fifthly, A holy silence takes in gracious, blessed, soul-quieting conclusions about the outcome of those afflictions which are upon us.

Conclusions:

First, and that more generally, That afflictions shall work for their good

Surely, as the tasting of honey did open Jonathan’s eyes, so this cross, this affliction, shall open my eyes. By this stroke I shall come to have a clearer sight of my sins and of myself, and a fuller sight of my God, Job 33:27, 28; 40:4, 5; 13:1-7.

Surely this affliction shall proceed in the purging away of my dross, Isaiah 1:25.

Surely as ploughing of the ground kills the weeds, and harrowing breaks hard clods; so these afflictions shall kill my sins, and soften my heart, Hosea 5:15, 6:1-3.

Surely as the plaster draws out the infectious core; so the afflictions which are upon me shall draw out the core of pride, the core of self-love, the core of envy, the core of earthliness, the core of formality, the core of hypocrisy, Psalm 119:67, 71.

Surely by these afflictions, the Lord will crucify my heart more and more to the world, and the world to my heart, Gal. 6:14; Psalm 131:1-3.

Surely by these afflictions, the Lord will keep pride from my soul, Job 33:14-21.

Surely these afflictions are but the Lord’s pruning-knives, by which he will bleed my sins, and prune my heart, and make it more fertile and fruitful; they are but the Lord’s portion, by which he will clear me, and rid me of those spiritual diseases and maladies, which are most deadly and dangerous to my soul!

Affliction is such a potion, as will carry away all soul-diseases, better than all other remedies, Zech. 13:8, 9.

Surely these shall increase my spiritual experiences, Rom. 5:3, 4.

Surely by these I shall be made more partaker of God’s holiness, Heb. 12:10. As black soap makes white clothes, so does sharp afflictions make holy hearts.

Surely by these God will communicate more of himself unto me, Hosea 2:14.

Surely by these afflictions, the Lord will draw out my heart more and more to seek him, Isaiah 36:16. Tatianus told the heathen Greeks, that when they were sick, then they would send for their gods to be with them, as Agamemnon did at the siege of Troy, send for his ten counselors. Hosea 5:15, ‘In their afflictions they will seek me early,’ or as the Hebrew has it, ‘they will morning me;’ in times of affliction, Christians will industriously, speedily, early seek unto the Lord.

Surely by these trials and troubles, the Lord will fix my soul more than ever upon the great concernments of the eternal world, John 14:1-3; Rom. 8:17, 18; 2 Cor. 4:16-18.

Surely by these afflictions the Lord will work in me more tenderness and compassion towards those who are afflicted, Heb. 10:34, 13:3. The Romans punished one that was seen looking out at his window with a crown of roses on his head, in a time of public calamity.

Surely these afflictions are but God’s love-tokens. Rev. 3:19, ‘As many as I love—I rebuke and chasten.’ Seneca persuaded his friend Polybius to bear his affliction quietly, because he was the emperor’s favorite, telling him, that it was not lawful for him to complain while Caesar was his friend. So says the holy Christian—’O my soul! be quiet, be still; all is sent in love, all is a fruit of divine favor. I see honey upon the top of every twig, I see the rod is but a rosemary branch, I have sugar with my gall, and wine with my wormwood; therefore be silent, O my soul!’ And this general conclusion, that all should be for good, had this blessed eject upon the church—Lam. 3:28, ‘He sits alone, and keeps silence, because he has borne it upon him.’

Afflictions abase the carnal attractions of the world, which might entice us. Affliction abates the lustiness of the flesh within, which might else ensnare us! And it abates the spirit in its quarrel against the flesh and the world; by all which it proves a mighty advantage unto us.

Secondly, Afflictions shall keep them humble and low—Lam. 3:29

Thirdly, The rod shall not always lie upon the back of the righteous.

Fourthly, Lamentations 3:32 ‘But though he causes grief, yet will he have compassion, according to the multitude of his mercies.’ ‘In wrath God remembers mercy,’ Hab. 3:2. ‘Weeping may endure for a night—but joy comes in the morning,’ Psalm 30:5. Their mourning shall last but until morning. God will turn their winter’s night into a summer’s day, their sighing into singing, their grief into gladness, their mourning into music, their bitter into sweet, their wilderness into a paradise.

Fifthly, Lament. 3:33, ‘For He does not afflict willingly (or as the Hebrew has it, ‘from his heart’), ‘nor grieve the children of men.’ Christians conclude that God’s heart was not in their afflictions, though his hand was.

Sixth, A holy, a prudent silence includes and takes in a strict charge, a solemn, command, that conscience lays upon the soul to be quiet and still. Psalm 37:7

Seventh, A holy, a prudent silence includes a surrendering, a resigning of ourselves to God, while we are under his afflicting hand.

Eighth and lastly, A holy, a prudent silence, takes in a patient waiting upon the Lord under our afflictions until deliverance comes—Psalm 11:1-3; Psalm 62:5

What does a holy, a prudent silence under affliction not exclude?

First, A holy, a prudent silence under affliction does not exclude and shut out a sense and feeling of our afflictions, Psalm 39:9

Secondly, A holy, a prudent, silence does not shut out prayer for deliverance out of our afflictions.

Thirdly, A holy, a prudent silence does not exclude men’s being kindly affected and afflicted with their sins, as the meritorious cause of all their sorrows and sufferings, Lam. 3:39, 40

Fourthly, A holy, a prudent silence does not exclude the teaching and instructing of others, when we are afflicted.

Fifthly, A holy, a prudent silence does not exclude moderate mourning or weeping under the afflicting hand of God. Isaiah 38:3

Sixth, A gracious, a prudent silence does not exclude sighing, groaning, or roaring under afflictions.

Seventh, A holy, a prudent silence, does not exclude nor shut out the use of any just or lawful means, whereby people may be delivered out of their afflictions.

Eighth, and lastly, A holy, a prudent silence, does not exclude a just and sober complaining against the authors, contrivers, abettors, or instruments of our afflictions.

The Deceitfulness of Sin

 

Hebrews 3:13 “…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

“Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, if it has its own way it will go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could, every thought of unbelief would be atheism if allowed to develop. Every rise of lust, if it has its way reaches the height of villainy; it is like the grave that is never satisfied. The deceitfulness of sin is seen in that it is modest in its first proposals but when it prevails it hardens mens’ hearts, and brings them to ruin.”[1]

These words from John Owen, in his masterful treatise on The Mortification of Sin, highlight for us the deception through which sin operates in the heart of men. Sin is a deceiver and has been a deceiver of man since the fall in garden. In the passage from Hebrews 3:13, the Preacher instructs his hearers to avoid hardness of heart brought about through the deceitfulness of sin. We may ask, in what ways does sin deceive? In answering this question, it seems reasonable to first turn to the occurrence of the original sin, alluded to earlier, to find out its modus operandi.

From Genesis 3 and the Serpent’s encounter with Adam and Eve we read,

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

In this original sin, how did sin deceive? Observe four particular ways, though certainly more may be discovered:

  1. Sin distorts the Word of God in calling Him a liar (vs. 1, 4)
  2. Sin distorts the law of God in calling what is evil, good (vs. 3-5).
  3. Sin distorts the grace of God in calling what is good, evil (vs. 3,5).
  4. Sin distorts inherent desires by promising what it cannot deliver, satisfaction (vs. 6).

In our passage from Hebrews, we see that this original sin, though foundational and perhaps a typical pattern for future sins, was not called into recollection as the basis for the exhortation. Instead, he draws upon a rebellion more fully discussed on the pages of Scripture and perhaps more relevant to his exposition on the comparison and contrasts of the Old and New Covenants.

In this particular passage he turns to the wilderness generation of Exodus through Deuteronomy, specifically noting their history of rebellion and lack of faith culminating in a disinheritance of the Promised Land. His citation in Hebrews 3:7-12 comes from Psalm 95 but has much of the Torah for its background concluding in Numbers 14 with the curse brought on that generation of disobedience.

Observing the deceitfulness of sin in this account, we see much overlap from the Edenic sin and that in the “Wilderness of Sin.” It is likely there can be no greater contrast between the “Garden of Eden” and the “Wilderness of Sin” than in their physical appearance. One was lush with vegetation the other a desert with thorns and thistles. In one the animals are submissive to man, in the other wild beasts run rampant. These dissimilarities aside, the common denominator is man, specifically his rebellious heart against God. Note the summary given in Hebrews 3:7-12:

7Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Israel has sometimes been referred to as a type of corporate Adam, this is fitting given the failure of each in their own “garden”. However, unlike Adam’s single rebellious act, Israel’s repeated testing (10 times – Numbers 14:22) of the Lord reached its culmination on the threshold of the Promised Land. In their testing, noted above, they were recipients of God’s grace in provision over the course of the exodus from Egypt on the way to promised land. Yet this was not enough to prevent the swelling of rebellion in their hearts.

The citation from Psalm 95 indicates that the “hardness of hearts” took place in Meribah (rebellion) and the day of testing was in Massah (wilderness). Turning to these occurrences in their Old Testament context, we arrive at Exodus 17:7, And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Specifically, this particular episode of quarreling and questioning of God by Israel was in relation to their lack of water, which would eventually be resolved by Moses’ striking of the rock at God’s command (Exodus 17:6; 1 Corinthians 10:4). Notice however the central thesis of the Israelite murmur, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Fundamentally, this is an example of premise #1 from above on the deceitfulness of sin in the garden, Sin distorts the Word of God in calling Him a liar.

God’s initial commissioning of Moses included the promise below:

“Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, ‘I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.’’” Exodus 3:16-17

We are told in Exodus 4:30 that the Word of God was given to the people, via Aaron. Therefore, when we read of their murmuring and questioning whether God was with them, they were in essence doubting the promise of God and by doing so calling Him a liar. Thus the deceitfulness of sin.

Much more could be said regarding this Wilderness Generation and their rebellion against God, specifically as it relates to the deceitfulness of sin. The author of Hebrews uses their experience as a negative example of those who have heard the Word of God, but didn’t believe it and didn’t obey it.

Sin misrepresents reality. It removes or distorts the corrective lens of God’s Word to prevent clearly seeing it, along with its dangers and deceptions. Owen offers some helpful comments on the deceitfulness of sin. He writes:

“It [sin’s deception] consists in presenting unto the soul, or mind, things otherwise than they are, either in their nature, causes, effects, or present respect unto the soul. It hides what ought to be seen and considered, conceals circumstances and consequences, presents what is not, or things as they are not, as we shall afterward manifest in particular. This is the nature of deceit; it is a representation of a matter under disguise, hiding that which is undesirable, proposing that which indeed is not in it, that the mind may make a false judgment of it.”[2]

Venning notes that sin is crimen laesae Majestatis “high treason against the majesty of God”[3]. Sin in its deception is likewise high treason against the authority of the Sovereign King. Fundamentally, its purpose is to distort the Word of God. Its power is in its deception because it promises what it cannot deliver. Sin promises satisfaction; it promises the fulfillment of our most intimate, innate desires, yet it has no power to deliver on these promises. In the end, sin is a flash in the pan though is fool’s gold. It always leaves the sinner wanting more, hungering for the wrong things because it can never satisfy and quench the desires that man has.

Only God, through His Son Jesus Christ can satisfy every desire that we have. It is Christ that promised the woman at the well “living water” so that she would never thirst again. It is Christ who declared Himself to be the bread from heaven, satisfying the inmost hunger pangs of the soul. Understanding the deceitfulness of sin and the satisfaction that can only come in Christ serves believers well as a precious remedy against sin’s deception.

Like sand grains hardened into stone through the internal workings of cementation and the external pressures from nature, so too is the heart hardened through the internal workings of sin’s deceitfulness and the external temptations of the world. Be vigilant in your perseverance dear saints, that your hearts be not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

 

[1] John Owen Volume 6 pg. 12

[2] John Owen, Volume 6, Pg. 213-214 This is compilation of various quotes from Owen on the subject.

[3] Ralph Venning The Sinfulness of Sin