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The Grace of God
1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.
When the Rev. John Newton was a blind elderly man and could no longer read he heard someone recite our text for today. He remained silent a short time, and then said:
“I am not what I ought to be. Ah! how imperfect and deficient. I am not what I might be, considering my privileges and opportunities. I am not what I wish to be. God, who knows my heart, knows I wish to be like Him. I am not what I hope to be. Before long, I will drop this clay tabernacle, to be like Him and see Him as He is! Yet, I am not what I once was — a child of sin, and slave of the devil! Though not all these, not what I ought to be, not what I might be, not what I wish or hope to be, and not what I once was, I think I can truly say with the apostle, "By the grace of God I am what I am.”
John Newton's tombstone reads: "John Newton, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy!"
“My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner — and that Christ is a great Saviour” (John Newton at 82 years of age).
Bernard Gilpin and His Broken Leg
Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Bernard Gilpin (1517-1583), was a godly minister who became known as the 'Apostle of the North', for his work in the north of England. When he was seized during the reign of Queen Mary he was brought to London to be tried. The preacher was renowned for quoting Romans 8:28. His guard had heard him use the text on the journey to London. Thereafter Gilpin broke his leg by a fall. The guard mocked the preacher asking him whether he thought his broken leg was a good thing. The preacher replied, "I make no question but it is." And so it turned out because the journey was delayed and before he was able to travel the wicked queen died. Instead of going to the stake he returned to his parish in Houghton to crowds of rejoicing people, who blessed God for his deliverance.
You can be confident fellow saints the text will hold true for you too.
“The worst that God does to His children is to whip them to heaven.” (Thomas Watson).
Martyr Anne Askew
Hebrews 11:13, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
Anne Askew came to the knowledge of salvation through reading the Scriptures. She loved to meditate often on the Word of God and soon came to see that many Roman Catholic teachings were false. Anne was not one to be a secret disciple! Her husband disowned her and shortly thereafter she went to London. She was a keen evangelist, distributing books and the Bible. She was arrested for her opposition to the Mass and purgatory. Initially released, but continuing her evangelism she was soon sent to the Tower of London. There she was placed on the rack. Though painfully tortured and ceaselessly questioned she never denied her faith and refused to implicate others.
“I sat two long hours arguing with the Lord Chancellor, upon the bare floor… With many flattering words, he tried to persuade me to leave my opinion… I said that I would rather die than break my faith.”
Anne was martyred this day (16th July) 1546 at 25 years of age. She had to be carried to the stake for she could not walk. The cruel torture had left her crippled. She was unable even to stand on the pile. A small chair was set thereon and she was tied by ankles, wrist, chest and neck to the stake where she sat. The crowd was so great the people had to be forced back before the fire could be lit. Before the fire was applied her torturer Thomas Wriothesley cried out that she could still recant and be pardoned. Anne replied that she ‘came not hither to deny my Lord and Master!’.
“I would sooner read five lines of the Bible than hear five masses in the ‘church.’” (Anne Askew)
The Power of Godly Conversation
Malachi 3:16, “Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.”
God makes it no secret that He hears our conversation. The text says that the Lord listens when believers converse.
God is always near me,
Hearing what I say,
Much that the Lord hears greatly displeases Him but there is a Christian dialogue concerning spiritual things and Christian experience that greatly delights Him. In fact, He causes it to be written down for the great rewards of the judgement day. If Matthew 12:36 is true; “That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment;” then it is also true that every God exalting word will go to the same place. The power of godly conversation not only goes into God’s ears and to the judgement day for reward, but it also serves God in time to the edifying of saints and conversion of sinners.
I am reminded of the time when John Bunyan eavesdropped on godly conversation. It served to his awakening and eventually brought about his conversion.
“In one of the streets of Bedford I came to where there were three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun and talking about the things of God. Willing to listen, I drew near to hear what they said, for I was a brisk talker myself in matters of religion. But I have to say that I heard, but I didn’t understand, for they were far above, out of my reach. They spoke about a new birth, the work of God in their hearts… They said how God had visited their souls with His love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted and supported against the temptations of the devil… And it seemed to me they spoke as if joy did make them speak. They spoke with such pleasantness of biblical language, and with such obvious grace in all they said, that they were to me as if they had found a new world.” (Bunyan)
“Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still” (E. M. Bounds).
Talk ye of all His wondrous works. (Psalm 105:2)
The Basket of Blessings
Psalms 103:2, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”
This is a command impossible to keep if it means to individualise each blessing. The Lord’s benefits are so many that we cannot number them let alone remember them all. We could sooner know and remember the names of the stars than recount all the Lord’s gifts. The Lord however does not expect us to number and name them all. There is a chorus:-
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
This really cannot be done. What the Psalmist means is that he must never forget that the Lord abundantly blesses him; that he has all blessings in Christ. While he cannot name every one, he knows in his heart the basket of blessings is full. That’s what we are to remember. We might paraphrase the text, “and forget not His full basket of blessing.” In the basket there are innumerable grains of blessing, but there are also many jewels and diamonds that stand out. These we can count and remember. They indeed can be named one by one. Always we will remember the jewel of great price, the precious diamond, the unspeakable gift, even our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Basil of Caesarea, Cappadocia (326-379) has lovely words on God’s benefits towards us.
“What reward shall we give unto the Lord, for all the benefits he hath bestowed? From the cheerless gloom of non-existence he waked us into being; he ennobled us with understanding; he taught us arts to promote the means of life; he commanded the prolific earth to yield its nurture; he bade the animals to own us as their lords. For us the rains descend; for us the sun sheddeth abroad its creative beams; the mountains rise, the valleys bloom, affording us grateful habitation and a sheltering retreat. For us the rivers flow; for us the fountains murmur; the sea opens its bosom to admit our commerce; the earth exhausts its stores; each new object presents a new enjoyment; all nature pouring her treasures at our feet, through the bounteous grace of him who wills that all be ours”
Preaching, Presence and Power
Luke 5:17, “And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching... the power of the Lord was present to heal them.”
This is a vital combination—teaching along with the presence of the power of the Lord. Such a combination also occurred on this day (8thJuly) 1741. Jonathan Edwards on that day preached a sermon that he could not complete. It was on the text “Their foot shall slide in due time” (Deut. 32:35). He was a visiting preacher in Enfield. The state was in the midst of an awakening but Enfield was resisting the work of God at the time and had seen no conversions. He had preached the sermon (known as “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God”) before in his own church in Northampton without any effect. However in Enfield something extraordinary took place. People listening shrieked and cried out, and the crying and weeping became so loud that Edwards was forced to cease preaching. He went down among the people to pray and counsel. It was known that day that Enfield had joined the Revival.
“We ought not to limit God where He has not limited Himself” (Edwards).
Luke 17:5. “And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.”
That they were apostles is emphasised by Luke. The thought is a simple one today—if apostles had to pray this prayer how much more do we who are humble and simple believers. What aids they must have had to faith that we lack! They saw Christ, heard Him, lived with Him and all this on a daily basis for several years. The miracles of our Lord and His sinless example regularly impressed them. They were personally in the school with the Saviour whereas we seem only to look through the window of the Four Gospels. We get but glimpses of Jesus of Nazareth; they walked, sat, ate, drank, laughed and wept with Him. Yet they prayed thus. More so ought we.
“Faith is a grace which admits of degrees. It does not come to full strength and perfection as soon as it is planted in the heart by the Holy Spirit. There is “little” faith and “great” faith. There is “weak” faith and “strong” faith. Both are spoken of in the Scriptures. Both are to be seen in the experience of God’s people. The more faith a Christian has the more happy, holy, and useful will he be. To promote the growth and progress of faith should be the daily prayer and endeavor of all who love life. When the apostles said, “increase our faith,” they did well.” (Ryle)
Revival Brings Rejoicing
Psalm 85:6, “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?”
God brings Revival! Revival brings rejoicing! The kind of rejoicing it brings is rejoicing in the blessed Saviour. The Lord’s people ought to rejoice in Him. A lack of joy or a failure to rejoice in the Lord is a sure sign of declension and an indication of our need of revival. Even where joy is present, revival marvellously intensifies it. The more we have of the Spirit, then the more we have of joy.
Sadly, we have to confess we greatly lack this quality, and yet we need it, for “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). When that joy goes it is inevitably replaced with other things. Things that are powerless and even harmful. Most often it is replaced with a moaning critical spirit. Evangelical Christianity seems infected with a spirit of hyper-criticism. Grumbling, complaining and fault finding saps our spiritual strength. A spirit of negativity floods in when humble, appreciative rejoicing in a great Saviour of sinners departs. It is why Christians lack power today. We need to confess our joylessness and pray this prayer.
“Revival brings rejoicing because in revival, people stop looking at the faults of others and, instead, focus on the Saviour.”
“If you have no joy, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere” (Billy Sunday 1862-1935).
“Revivals begin with God's own people; the Holy Spirit touches their heart anew, and gives them new fervour and compassion, and zeal, new light and life, and when He has thus come to you, He next goes forth to the valley of dry bones... Oh, what responsibility this lays on the Church of God! If you grieve Him away from yourselves, or hinder His visit, then the poor perishing world suffers sorely!" (Andrew Bonar 1810-1892).
The Constant Guide
Psalms 48:14, “For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.”
God is the God of His people for ever and ever. He will never cease being our God. As their God, He is their Shepherd guide. God’s people must die one day, and that for them will be the end of their earthly pilgrimage. Until then He will be a faithful and constant guide. “And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” (Isaiah 58:11). This is guidance not only up until the time of death, but it includes leading through death and beyond it until the saints are brought into the everlasting rest.
“What a portion then is that of the believer! The landlord cannot say of his fields, these are mine for ever and ever. The king cannot say of his crown, this is mine for ever and ever. These possessions shall soon change masters; these possessors shall soon mingle with the dust, and even the graves they shall occupy may not long be theirs; but it is the singular, the supreme happiness of every Christian to say, or have a right to say, ‘This glorious God with all his divine perfections is my God, for ever and ever, and even death itself shall not separate me from his love.’” (George Burder 1752-1832).
Ever Mindful of Us
Psalms 115:12, “The LORD hath been mindful of us: he will bless us..”
It is true that we have not always been mindful of the Lord, as the Word tells us in Deuteronomy 32:18; “Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee.” Though we have forgotten Him, He has never been unmindful of us.
The Lord “remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 136:23). “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:15-16). He therefore has never ceased to be mindful of our needs and burdens. He is mindful of our prayers to Him and His promises to us. When we are weak and frail, “he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). The Lord is always thinking about us.
It is because He hath been mindful of us in the past, that we can confidently assert He will bless us in the future. As John Trapp has said, “God hath, and therefore God will, is an ordinary Scripture argument.”
“God's compassions to his people infinitely exceed those of the tenderest parents towards their children. What are the affections of nature to those of the God of nature!” (Matthew Henry 1662-1714).