21 Jun

“Heroes of the Pulpit” – George Whitefield

Over the summer, I want to draw attention to some of my preaching heroes.  Not only do I commend them to you, but I also want to give you an example of their pulpit ministry.

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George Whitefield

George Whitefield, who lived December 27, 1714 – September 30, 1770, is one of the greatest preachers in Christian history.  Although he was an English Anglican preacher, he along with the Wesley brothers helped found the Methodist movement and was used by God to spread the Great Awakening in Britain and American colonies.

Whitfield wasn’t your regular run of the mill preacher of the day.  With a love for theater, he initially drew crowds by portraying the lives of biblical characters with a realism no one had seen before. He cried, he danced, he screamed with such dramatic flair that the most famous British actor of the day, David Garrick, commented, “I would give a hundred guineas if I could say ‘Oh’ like Mr. Whitefield.”

He usually preached outdoors because even the largest churches couldn’t hold the huge crowds that came from everywhere to hear him.  In 1739, Whitefield set out on preaching tour of the American colonies.  Every stop along Whitefield’s trip was marked by record audiences, often exceeding the population of the towns in which he preached.  His last sermon on this tour was given at Boston Commons before 23,000 people, likely the largest gathering in American history to that point.  The fact is even more amazing when we remember that this was long before the days of microphones and PA systems!

Most would agree that George Whitefield was the most famous religious figure of the 18th century, commanding thousands on two continents through the sheer power of his oratory.  In his lifetime, he preached at least 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million hearers.  He is a hero of the pulpit indeed!

 

THE ALMOST CHRISTIAN

by George Whitefield

Acts 26:28 — “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

The chapter, out of which the text is taken, contains an admirable account which the great St. Paul gave of his wonderful conversion from Judaism to Christianity, when he was called to make his defense before Festus a Gentile governor, and king Agrippa. Our blessed Lord had long since foretold, that when the Son of man should be lifted up, “his disciples should be brought before kings and rulers, for his name’s sake, for a testimony unto them.” And very good was the design of infinite wisdom in thus ordaining it; for Christianity being, from the beginning, a doctrine of the Cross, the princes and rulers of the earth thought themselves too high to be instructed by such mean teachers, or too happy to be disturbed by such unwelcome truths; and therefore would have always continued strangers to Jesus Christ, and him crucified, had not the apostles, by being arraigned before them, gained opportunities of preaching to them “Jesus and the resurrection.” St. Paul knew full well that this was the main reason, why his blessed Master permitted his enemies at this time to arraign him at a public bar; and therefore, in compliance with the divine will, thinks it not sufficient, barely to make his defense, but endeavors at the same time to convert his judges. And this he did with such demonstration of the spirit, and of power, that Festus, unwilling to be convinced by the strongest evidence, cries out with a loud voice, “Paul, much learning doth make thee mad.” To which the brave apostle (like a true follower of the holy Jesus) meekly replies, I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” But in all probability, seeing king Agrippa more affected with his discourse, and observing in him an inclination to know the truth, he applies himself more particularly to him. “The king knoweth of these things; before whom also I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him.” And then, that if possible he might complete his wished-for conversion, he with an inimitable strain of oratory, addresses himself still more closely, “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest them.” At which the passions of the king began to work so strongly, that he was obliged in open court, to own himself affected by the prisoner’s preaching, and ingenuously to cry out, “Paul, almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

Which words, taken with the context, afford us a lively representation of the different reception, which the doctrine of Christ’s ministers, who come in the power and spirit of St. Paul, meets with now-a-days in the minds of men. For notwithstanding they, like this great apostle, “speak forth the words of truth and soberness;” and with such energy and power, that all their adversaries cannot justly gainsay or resist; yet, too many, with the noble Festus before-mentioned, being like him, either too proud to be taught, or too sensual, too careless, or too worldly-minded to live up to the doctrine, in order to excuse themselves, cry out, that “much learning, much study, or, what is more unaccountable, much piety, hath made them mad.” And though, blessed be God! All do not thus disbelieve our report; yet amongst those who gladly receive the word, and confess that we speak the words of truth and soberness, there are so few, who arrive at any higher degree of piety than that of Agrippa, or are any farther persuaded than to be almost Christians, that I cannot but think it highly necessary to warn my dear hearers of the danger of such a state. And therefore, from the words of the text, shall endeavor to show these three things:

First, What is meant by an almost-Christian.

Secondly, What are the chief reasons, why so many are no more than almost Christians.

Thirdly, I shall consider the ineffectualness, danger, absurdity, and uneasiness which attends those who are but almost Christians; and then conclude with a general exhortation, to set all upon striving not only be almost, but altogether Christians.

I. And, First, I am to consider what is meant by an almost Christians.

An almost Christian, if we consider him in respect to his duty to God, is one that halts between two opinions; that wavers between Christ and the world; that would reconcile God and Mammon, light and darkness, Christ and Belial. It is true, he has an inclination to religion, but then he is very cautious how he goes too far in it: his false heart is always crying out, Spare thyself, do thyself no harm. He prays indeed, that “God’s will may be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” But notwithstanding, he is very partial in his obedience, and fondly hopes that God will not be extreme to mark every thing that he willfully does amiss; though an inspired apostle has told him, that “he who offends in one point is guilty of all.” But chiefly, he is one that depends much on outward ordinances, and on that account looks upon himself as righteous, and despises others; though at the same time he is as great a stranger to the divine life as any other person whatsoever. In short, he is fond of the form, but never experiences the power of godliness in his heart. He goes on year after year, attending on the means of grace, but then, like Pharaoh’s lean kine [cow?], he is never the better, but rather the worse for them.

If you consider him in respect to his neighbor, he is one that is strictly just to all; but then this does not proceed from any love to God or regard to man, but only through a principle of self-love: because he knows dishonesty will spoil his reputation, and consequently hinder his thriving in the world.

He is one that depends much upon being negatively good, and contents himself with the consciousness of having done no one any harm; though he reads in the gospel, that “the unprofitable servant was cast into outer darkness,” and the barren fig-tree was cursed and dried up from the roots, not for bearing bad, but no fruit.

He is no enemy to charitable contributions in public, if not too frequently recommended: but then he is unacquainted with the kind offices of visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked, and relieving the hungry in a private manner. He thinks that these things belong only to the clergy, though his own false heart tells him, that nothing but pride keeps him from exercising these acts of humility; and that Jesus Christ, in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew, condemns persons to everlasting punishment, not merely for being fornicators, drunkards, or extortioners, but for neglecting these charitable offices, “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, he shall set the sheep on his right-hand, and the goats on his left. And then shall he say unto them on his left hand, depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also say, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or a-thirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have not done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not unto me: and these shall go away into everlasting punishment unto me: and these shall go away into everlasting punishment.” I thought proper to give you this whole passage of scripture at large, because our Savior lays such a particular stress upon it; and yet it is so little regarded, that were we to judge by the practice of Christians, one should be tempted to think there were no such verses in the Bible.

But to proceed in the character of an Almost Christian: If we consider him in respect of himself; as we said he was strictly honest to his neighbor, so he is likewise strictly sober in himself: but then both his honesty and sobriety proceed from the same principle of a false self-love. It is true, he runs not into the same excess of riot with other men; but then it is not out of obedience to the laws of God, but either because his constitution will not away with intemperance; or rather because he is cautious of forfeiting his reputation, or unfitting himself for temporal business. But though he is so prudent as to avoid intemperance and excess, for the reasons before-mentioned; yet he always goes to the extremity of what is lawful. It is true, he is no drunkard; but then he has no Christian selfdenial. He cannot think our Savior to be so austere a Master, as to deny us to indulge ourselves in some particulars: and so by this means he is destitute of a sense of true religion, as much as if he lived in debauchery, or any other crime whatever. As to settling his principles as well as practice, he is guided more by the world, than by the word of God: for his part, he cannot think the way to heaven so narrow as some would make it; and therefore considers not so much what scripture requires, as what such and such a good man does, or what will best suit his own corrupt inclinations. Upon this account, he is not only very cautious himself, but likewise very careful of young converts, whose faces are set heavenward; and therefore is always acting the devil’s part, and bidding them spare themselves, though they are doing no more than what the scripture strictly requires them to do: The consequence of which is, that “he suffers not himself to enter into the kingdom of God, and those that are entering in he hinders.”

Thus lives the almost Christian: not that I can say, I have fully described him to you; but from these outlines and sketches of his character, if your consciences have done their proper office, and made a particular application of what has been said to your own hearts, I cannot but fear that some of you may observe some features in his picture, odious as it is, to near resembling your own; and therefore I cannot but hope, that you will join with the apostle in the words immediately following the text, and wish yourselves “to be not only almost, but altogether Christians.”

II. I proceed to the second general thing proposed; to consider the reasons why so many are no more than almost Christians.

1. And the first reason I shall mention is, because so many set out with false notions of religion; though they live in a Christian country, yet they know not what Christianity is. This perhaps may be esteemed a hard saying, but experience sadly evinces the truth of it; for some place religion in being of this or that communion; more in morality; most in a round of duties, and a model of performances; and few, very few acknowledge it to be, what it really is, a thorough inward change of nature, a divine life, a vital participation of Jesus Christ, an union of the soul with God; which the apostle expresses by saying, “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” Hence it happens, that so many, even of the most knowing professors, when you come to converse with them concerning the essence, the life, the soul of religion, I mean our new birth in Jesus Christ, confess themselves quite ignorant of the matter, and cry out with Nicodemus, “How can this thing be?” And no wonder then, that so many are only almost Christians, when so many know not what Christianity is: no marvel, that so many take up with the form, when they are quite strangers to the power of godliness; or content themselves with the shadow, when they know so little about the substance of it. And this is one cause why so many are almost, and so few are altogether Christians.

2. A second reason that may be assigned why so many are no more than almost Christians, is a servile fear of man: multitudes there are and have been, who, though awakened to a sense of the divine life, and have tasted and felt the powers of the world to come; yet out of a base sinful fear of being counted singular, or contemned by men, have suffered all those good impressions to wear off. It is true, they have some esteem for Jesus Christ; but then, like Nicodemus, they would come to him only by night: they are willing to serve him; but then they would do it secretly, for fear of the Jews: they have a mind to see Jesus, but then they cannot come to him because of the press, and for fear of being laughed at, and ridiculed by those with whom they used to sit at meat. But well did our Savior prophesy of such persons, “How can ye love me, who receive honor one of another?” Alas! have they never read, that “the friendship of this world is enmity with God;” and that our Lord himself has threatened, “Whosoever shall be ashamed of me or of my words, in this wicked and adulterous generation, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father and of his holy angels?” No wonder that so many are no more than almost Christians, since so many “love the praise of men more than the honor which cometh of God.”

3. A third reason why so many are no more than almost Christians, is a reigning love of money. This was the pitiable case of that forward young man in the gospel, who came running to our blessed Lord, and kneeling before him, inquired “what he must do to inherit eternal life;” to whom our blessed Master replied, “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal:” To which the young man replied, “All these have I kept from my youth.” But when our Lord proceeded to tell him, “Yet lackest thou one thing; Go sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor; he was grieved at that saying, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions!” Poor youth! He had a good mind to be a Christian, and to inherit eternal life, but thought it too dear, if it could be purchased at no less an expense than of his estate! And thus many, both young and old, now-a-days, come running to worship our blessed Lord in public, and kneel before him in private, and inquire at his gospel, what they must do to inherit eternal life: but when they find they must renounce the self- enjoyment of riches, and forsake all in affection to follow him, they cry, “The Lord pardon us in this thing! We pray thee, have us excused.”

But is heaven so small a trifle in men’s esteem, as not to be worth a little gilded earth? Is eternal life so mean a purchase, as not to deserve the temporary renunciation of a few transitory riches? Surely it is. But however inconsistent such a behavior may be, this inordinate love of money is too evidently the common and fatal cause, why so many are no more than almost Christians.

4. Nor is the love of pleasure a less uncommon, or a less fatal cause why so many are no more than almost Christians. Thousands and ten thousands there are, who despise riches, and would willingly be true disciples of Jesus Christ, if parting with their money would make them so; but when they are told that our blessed Lord has said, “Whosoever will come after him must deny himself;” like the pitiable young man before-mentioned, “they go away sorrowful”” for they have too great a love for sensual pleasures. They will perhaps send for the ministers of Christ, as Herod did for John, and hear them gladly: but touch them in their Herodias, tell them they must part with such or such a darling pleasure; and with wicked Ahab they cry out, “Hast thou found us, O our enemy?” Tell them of the necessity of mortification and self-denial, and it is as difficult for them to hear, as if you was to bid them “cut off a right-hand, or pluck out a right-eye.” They cannot think our blessed Lord requires so much at their hands, though an inspired apostle has commanded us to “mortify our members which are upon earth.” And who himself, even after he had converted thousands, and was very near arrived to the end of his race, yet professed that it was his daily practice to “keep under his body, and bring it into subjection, lest after he had preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away!”

But some men would be wiser than this great apostle, and chalk out to us what they falsely imagine an easier way to happiness. They would flatter us, we may go to heaven without offering violence to our sensual appetites; and enter into the strait gate without striving against our carnal inclinations. And this is another reason why so many are only almost, and not altogether Christians.

5. The fifth and last reason I shall assign why so many are only almost Christians, is a fickleness and instability of temper.

It has been, no doubt, a misfortune that many a minister and sincere Christian has met with, to weep and wail over numbers of promising converts, who seemingly began in the Spirit, but after a while fell away, and basely ended in the flesh; and this not for want of right notions in religion, nor out of a servile fear of man, nor from the love of money, or of sensual pleasure, but through an instability and fickleness of temper. They looked upon religion merely for novelty, as something which pleased them for a while; but after their curiosity was satisfied, they laid it aside again: like the young man that came to see Jesus with a linen cloth about his naked body, they have followed him for a season, but when temptations came to take hold on them, for want of a little more resolution, they have been stripped of all their good intentions, and fled away naked. They at first, like a tree planted by the water-side, grew up and flourished for a while; but having no root in themselves, no inward principle of holiness and piety, like Jonah’s gourd, they were soon dried up and withered. Their good intentions are too like the violent motions of the animal spirits of a body newly beheaded, which, though impetuous, are not lasting. In short, they set out well in their journey to heaven, but finding the way either narrower or longer than they expected, through an unsteadiness of temper, they have made an eternal halt, and so “returned like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the more!”

But I tremble to pronounce the fate of such unstable professors, who having put their hands to the plough, for want of a little more resolution, shamefully look back. How shall I repeat to them that dreadful threatening, “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him:” And again, “It is impossible (that is, exceeding difficult at least) for those that have been once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and the powers of the world to come, if they should fall away, to be renewed again unto repentance.” But notwithstanding the gospel is so severe against apostates, yet many that begun well, through a fickleness of temper, (O that none of us here present may ever be such) have been by this means of the number of those that turn back unto perdition. And this is the fifth, and the last reason I shall give, why so many are only almost, and not altogether Christians.

III. Proceed we now to the general thing proposed, namely, to consider the folly of being no more than an almost Christian.

1. And the First proof I shall give of the folly of such a proceeding is, that it is ineffectual to salvation. It is true, such men are almost good; but almost to hit the mark, is really to miss it. God requires us “to love him with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength.” He loves us too well to admit any rival; because, so far as our hearts are empty of God, so far must they be unhappy. The devil, indeed, like the false mother that came before Solomon, would have our hearts divided, as she would have had the child; but God, like the true mother, will have all or none. “My Son, give me thy heart,” thy whole heart, is the general call to all: and if this be not done, we never can expect the divine mercy.

Persons may play the hypocrite; but God at the great day will strike them dead, (as he did Ananias and Sapphira by the mouth of his servant Peter) for pretending to offer him all their hearts, when they keep back from him the greatest part. They may perhaps impose upon their fellow- creatures for a while; but he that enabled Elijah to cry out, “Come in thou wife of Jeroboam,” when she came disguised to inquire about her sick son, will also discover them through their most artful dissimulations; and if their hearts are not wholly with him, appoint them their portion with hypocrites and unbelievers.

2. But, Secondly, What renders an half-way-piety more inexcusable is, that it is not only insufficient to our own salvation, but also very prejudicial to that of others.

An almost Christian is one of the most hurtful creatures in the world; he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing: he is one of those false prophets, our blessed Lord bids us beware of in his sermon on the mount, who would persuade men, that the way to heaven is broader than it really is; and thereby, as it was observed before, “enter not into the kingdom of God themselves, and those that are entering in they hinder.” These, these are the men that turn the world into a luke-warm Laodicean spirit; that hang out false lights, and so shipwreck unthinking benighted souls in their voyage to the haven of eternity. These are they who are greater enemies to the cross of Christ, than infidels themselves: for of an unbeliever every one will be aware; but an almost Christian, through his subtle hypocrisy, draws away many after him; and therefore must expect to receive the greater damnation.

3. But, Thirdly, As it is most prejudicial to ourselves and hurtful to others, so it is the greatest instance of ingratitude we can express towards our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. For did he come down from heaven, and shed his precious blood, to purchase these hearts of ours, and shall we only give him half of them? O how can we say we love him, when our hearts are not wholly with him? How can we call him our Savior, when we will not endeavor sincerely to approve ourselves to him, and so let him see the travail of his soul, and be satisfied!

Had any of us purchased a slave at a most expensive rate, and who was before involved in the utmost miseries and torments, and so must have continued for ever, had we shut up our bowels of compassion from him; and was this slave afterwards to grow rebellious, or deny giving us but half his service; how, how should we exclaim against his base ingratitude! And yet this base ungrateful slave thou art, O man, who acknowledgest thyself to be redeemed from infinite unavoidable misery and punishment by the death of Jesus Christ, and yet wilt not give thyself wholly to him. But shall we deal with God our Maker in a manner we would not be dealt with by a man like ourselves? God forbid! No. Suffer me, therefore,

To add a word or two of exhortation to you, to excite you to be not only almost, but altogether Christians. O let us scorn all base and treacherous treatment of our King and Savior, of our God and Creator. Let us not take some pains all our lives to go to haven, and yet plunge ourselves into hell as last. Let us give to God our whole hearts, and no longer halt between two opinions: if the world be God, let us serve that; if pleasure be a God, let us serve that; but if the Lord he be God, let us, O let us serve him alone. Alas! why, why should we stand out any longer? Why should we be so in love with slavery, as not wholly to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, which, like so many spiritual chains, bind down our souls, and hinder them from flying up to God. Alas! what are we afraid of? Is not God able to reward our entire obedience? If he is, as the almost Christian’s lame way of serving him, seems to grant, why then will we not serve him entirely? For the same reason we do so much, why do we not do more? Or do you think that being only half religious will make you happy, but that going farther, will render you miserable and uneasy? Alas! this, my brethren, is delusion all over: for what is it but this half piety, this wavering between God and the world, that makes so many, that are seemingly well disposed, such utter strangers to the comforts of religion? They choose just so much of religion as will disturb them in their lusts, and follow their lusts so far as to deprive themselves of the comforts of religion. Whereas on the contrary, would they sincerely leave all in affection, and give their hearts wholly to God, they would then (and they cannot till then) experience the unspeakable pleasure of having a mind at unity with itself, and enjoy such a peace of God, which even in this life passes all understanding, and which they were entire strangers to before. It is true, if we will devote ourselves entirely to God, we must meet with contempt; but then it is because contempt is necessary to heal our pride. We must renounce some sensual pleasures, but then it is because those unfit us for spiritual ones, which are infinitely better. We must renounce the love of the world; but then it is that we may be filled with the love of God: and when that has once enlarged our hearts, we shall, like Jacob when he served for his beloved Rachel, think nothing too difficult to undergo, no hardships too tedious to endure, because of the love we shall then have for our dear Redeemer. Thus easy, thus delightful will be the ways of God even in this life: but when once we throw off these bodies, and our souls are filled with all the fullness of God, O! what heart can conceive, what tongue can express, with what unspeakable joy and consolation shall we then look back on our past sincere and hearty services. Think you then, my dear hearers, we shall repent we had done too much; or rather think you not, we shall be ashamed that we did no more; and blush we were so backward to give up all to God; when he intended hereafter to give us himself?

Let me therefore, to conclude, exhort you, my brethren, to have always before you the unspeakable happiness of enjoying God. And think withal, that every degree of holiness you neglect, every act of piety you omit, is a jewel taken out of your crown, a degree of blessedness lost in the vision of God. O! do but always think and act thus, and you will no longer be laboring to compound matters between God and the world; but, on the contrary, be daily endeavoring to give up yourselves more and more unto him; you will be always watching, always praying, always aspiring after farther degrees of purity and love, and consequently always preparing yourselves for a fuller sight and enjoyment of that God, in whose presence there is fullness of joy, and at whose right-hand there are pleasures for ever more. Amen! Amen!

19 Jun

Wednesday Is for Worship: “Come, Thou Almighty King”

Wednesday Is for Worship

This Wednesday I’m in the middle of Vacation Bible School week, and we’re thoroughly enjoying Group’s Kingdom Rock.  One of the reasons that we always do Group’s VBS material is their great music, which is geared more toward actual worship than other VBS music seems to be.  They do a great job of introducing our kids to contemporary and historic hymns of the faith.  This year I’ve been particularly struck by their version of “Come, Thou Almighty King.”

While it’s clear that Fe­lice de Gi­ar­di­ni wrote the melody in 1769, the author, who probably penned the lyrics in the 1740s, is debated.  Many attribute the song to Charles Wesley, but there is only circumstantial proof that he wrote it.  Therefore, most simply accredit it to “Anonymous.”  Interestingly enough, there’s a good reason the writer wanted to remain anonymous.  Mark Creech relates the story—which he learned from the the 1926 edition of A Junior Hymnal with Song Stories and Worship Programs from The Standard Publishing Company and compiled by J.E. Stugis and W.S. Martin—in this way:

The book provides some history on “Come, Thou Almighty King” that I’ve never read anywhere else, which may throw some light on why the hymn’s authorship is in question. What is more, the story is a patriotic one that demonstrates America’s deep roots in the Christian religion.

The book recounts a time in our nation’s history when we were in deep trouble – that period when America was struggling for its independence from the tyranny of England’s King. The crisis was so intense the people could hardly bear it and a company of them who lived in Long Island gathered together for worship in their church.

England, as we know, had a national song, “God Save the King,” the first verse of which reads:

“God save our gracious King,
Long live our noble King,
God save the King.
Send him victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the King.”

The words were sung to the same tune as our own, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”

When these patriotic followers of Christ were meeting in church for worship, a company of British soldiers showed up and their commander had them march up the aisle. It was an extremely threatening and fearful situation. When the commander reached the front of the sanctuary, he turned to the congregants and demanded: “Sing, ‘God Save the King.'” The organist began playing the tune everyone knew so well, but instead of singing “God, Save the King,” they sang this prayer:

“Come, Thou Almighty King,
Help us Thy name to sing,
Help us to praise:
Father all glorious,
O’er all victorious,
Come, and reign over us,
Ancient of days!”

The commander and the soldiers were so taken aback – so moved by such deep spirituality – so moved by this earnest prayer to God and its devotion to Christ as King – they marched out of the church without any further threats or intimidations.

Though the book’s story doesn’t give specifics such as the date, name of the church, etc., it certainly seems plausible and consistent with similar records of history for the same time period. One Crown-appointed British governor wrote back to Great Britain complaining: “If you ask an American who is his master, he’ll tell you he has none. And he has no governor but Jesus Christ.” A motto of the American Revolution directed against King George III was: “No King but King Jesus!”

Perhaps one of the reasons the authorship of this hymn has never been clear is because that is the way the author wanted it. Whatever name had been associated with its text would have likely been executed for treason to the Crown. [citation]

Wow!  What an awesome story!!  No king but King Jesus, indeed!!!

I’m going to share with you today the Kingdom Rock version of “Come, Thou Almighty King,” which simply repeats the first verse.  If you have the 1991 or 2008 version of the Baptist Hymnal, it’s in there.  Get it out, and sing praise to King Jesus!

1. Come, Thou almighty King,
Help us Thy name to sing,
Help us to praise!
Father all-glorious,
O’er all victorious,
Come and reign over us,
Ancient of Days.

2. Come, Thou Incarnate Word,
Gird on Thy mighty sword,
Our prayer attend;
Come and Thy people bless
And give Thy Word success;
Stablish Thy righteousness,
Savior and Friend!

3. Come, holy Comforter,
Thy sacred witness bear
In this glad hour.
Thou, who almighty art,
Now rule in every heart
And ne’er from us depart,
Spirit of Power!

4. To the great One in Three
Eternal praises be
Hence evermore!
His sovereign majesty
May we in glory see
And to eternity
Love and adore!

13 Jun

“Heroes of the Pulpit” – W. A. Criswell

Over the summer, I want to draw attention to some of my preaching heroes.  Not only do I commend them to you, but I also want to give you an example of their pulpit ministry.

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WA Criswell

Wallie Amos Criswell, better known by his initials W.  A., lived from December 19, 1909 to January 10, 2002.  He is one of the greatest Southern Baptist preachers of all time.  Although he served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1968 to 1970 and was a favorite at evangelism and pastors conferences, he is best known for being the pastor of FBC Dallas, TX for 50 years (from 1944 to 1993), where that congregation’s membership grew from 7,800 to 26,000, with weekly Sunday School attendance in excess of 5,000. Not only did he found Criswell College, which is a fine evangelical school, most folks see Criswell as the patriarch of the “Conservative Resurgence” that returned the SBC to its Bible-believing roots.  During his ministry, he preached over 4,000 messages and undoubtedly is one of the 20th century’s greatest expository preachers.

 

THE LOVE OF GOD

Dr. W. A. Criswell

1 John 4:10

Preached June 3, 1973

 

The title of the message is “The Love of God.”  And the reading is a very famous passage in 1 John chapter 4, beginning at verse 7:

Beloved, let us love one another:  for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loves us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation, the hilasmos, the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

No man hath seen God at any time.  If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.

Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit.

And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us.  God is love;

And he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment:  because as He is, so are we in the world.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear:  because fear hath torment.  He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

We love Him, because He first loved us.

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar:  for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

And this commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

[1 John 4:7-21]

 

And the text is in the tenth verse, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loves us, and sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins; that God loves us.”  Three little words, monosyllabic words; but how weighty and meaningful, how significant they are—“God loves us.”

He whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain loves us.  We are moved if a dog loves us.  We are moved if a baby loves us, if a friend loves us.  But that God should love us, how little we are in this vast big world.  Almost eliminable in its creation and even our planet is like a speck of dust in the infinitude of God’s handiwork; yet the Lord loves us, we who are just ciphers in this big city.  We’re like candle flies that die before the dawn.  We’re like autumn leaves that fall unheated to the ground.  Yet God loves us.

It is a marvel of condescension that He should.  If two noblemen who are peers, they are both wealthy, they are both affluent, they are of the royal household, they are of the royal blood, if these two peers respect and honor one another we look upon it as something that would be quite natural.  But if a nobleman of fame and affluence loved a poor crippled peasant, and took care of him, and ministered to him, shielded him, comforted him, how wonderful it is to look upon such love, such devotion.  It’s just like God.  For God is like that:  the infinite loving the finite and the pure and holy looking with affection upon the unlovely and the unholy.

And that leads me to a second thing about the love of God:  not only the marvel of His great condescension, that He stoops down to love us, the great Mighty One of the heaven of heavens, that in condescension He looks down in affection upon us, but oh the blessedness, the marvel that He does that in our sin and human frailty.  The Lord looks in pity upon our wretchedness, brought upon us by the curse of sin.  “As I live,” saith the Lord, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live:  turn ye, turn ye; for why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11].   And yet not turning, and remaining in our sin, God still loves us.  “For when we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die:  yet peradventure for a good man some would dare to die.  But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” [Romans 5:6-8].  The Lord, looking upon us from heaven, loves us; not because we are lovely, not because we are sinless, guiltless, pure, but God loves us in our necessity, in our frailty.  God pities us.  He is moved with compassion upon us.  The one hundred third Psalm and the thirteenth verse, “As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that love Him.  For He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust.”

There was a father who had two sons.  One of them was in college, a senior in the university, a fine, magnificent, good looking athlete.  He was a wonder of a boy in every way to be admired.  He had a twelve year old brother.  And that boy had every prospect of being as tall, as strong, as handsome, as athletic as his older brother.  And upon a day, upon a day, somehow that twelve year old boy got tangled up with a big truck on his bicycle.  And in the hospital the doctor stood by the side of the father and said, “To save the boy’s life I must amputate his right arm and his left leg.”  Across the bed stood the father’s older son, the senior in the university, fine and strong.  And the father looked down into the face of his younger boy and heard again in his heart the words of the surgeon, “I must amputate his right arm and his left leg.”  And the father said, in a testimony at the church, “For the first time I knew what that Scripture meant, ‘As a father pitieth his son, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him’” [Psalm 103:13].

The Lord does not look down upon us in hatred or in bitterness.  The Lord looks down upon us in condescending love and compassionate mercy.  God is not against us.  God is always for us.  “For God loves us, and sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  God loves us in our need, our frailty, our necessity.

Again, I not only see that in His condescension, I not only feel that in His pity for our frailty, but I see it also in the unwearying blessednesses of His daily providences.  These are for the years, these are for the centuries, these are for the generations, these are for the forever; and we experience them with all of God’s children.  Look.  Even God’s law that is so condemnatory, even God’s law is for our blessing.  God’s law is like a marker on a highway:  this is a dangerous curve, or, the bridge is washed out here.  I one time heard an evangelist – heard him as a boy, shows how the word that he said made an impression upon my heart, I’ve never forgotten it – he said, “In the New Testament, one hundred five times does God warn the man about hell.”  Then the evangelist said, “Just think, a man driving down a highway, and he passes one hundred five signs saying, ‘This road leads to hell.’”  The signs are compassionate.  God is telling us…they are like these skull and cross bones that you see on medicines, warning us that they are fatal and poisonous…God’s laws are like our interdictions of the little children we’re rearing in the house.  It isn’t because you hate the child that you say, “You must not do this,” or, “Do this and I will punish you”; it is because of our love for the child that we say these interdictions and lay down these rules.  And the child is blessed by them.  So God’s children are blessed by His laws.  The purpose of them is to rear us up in the love and nurture of the Lord.

Those providences that daily surround us are not only in the laws, the signs, the admonitions, the interdictions by which He seeks to bring us up unto Himself; but we see them in His daily providential mercies.  Ah!  Think of how blessed it was that God placed us, or at least most of us, in the circle of a Christian family.  When I opened my eyes on this world, I looked up into the face of a mother who loved Jesus and named His name.  I was nourished from her breasts.  And that mother loved God.  And I grew up in that kind of a home.  There are children that are taught to steal and to curse; there are girls that are sold into prostitution; there are families that are vile and degraded; how sweet the goodnesses of God that I grew up in a home with a father and a mother like that.  And the providences of God’s daily love surrounding our lives are unfailing, undiminished, without measure.  Every night when I go to sleep, the guardian care of the Lord surrounds me like a silken curtain.  His love, God’s love opens every day.  And His Spirit encourages and blesses for the assignment of the work that lies ahead.  God loves us.

But after I have spoken of His condescension, and after I have spoken of His compassion and pity, and after I have spoken of His daily providences, yet have I not named the most beautiful and wonderful and precious of all the signs and tokens of God’s loving affection for us.  It is this:  “He loves us, and sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins”; translated here in this text, “the propitiation for our sins,” the hilasmos.  The hilasterion  is the mercy seat.  And God sent Jesus to be the hilasmos, the sacrifice, whose blood was offered on the hilasterion, the mercy seat.  Think of that!  Lost, facing death and judgment, God sent not a seraph, not a cherub, not an angel; but God sent Himself.  He came down.  We know Him as our Savior, God’s Son.  And He offered Himself a sacrifice for our atonement, that we might be right with God, that we might see God’s face and live, that we might be saved, that our sins might be washed away.  The love of God flows through a crimson stained glass window and forever after it is red; it is crimson.  The light of the love of God that shines in the face of Jesus Christ is always red; it is always crimson.  It is stained by His blood.  “God loves us and sent His Son, an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

You know, the amazement of that is this:  He did not come into this world because we desired Him or plead for Him or begged for Him; the love of God was given to us, bestowed upon us when we did not desire it, when we did not want it.  That is the most beautiful and precious love in the world, when it is offered whether it is desired or wanted or not.  Why, you look.  When Adam fell and the curse was pronounced on his head, did Adam, do you have this in the Bible, did Adam fall down on his knees before God and plead for mercy and plead for a Savior?  He did not.  But God, out of the full love and compassion of His soul, God promised a redeeming Savior.  He loves us, whether we return His love or not.  Listen, it is more than that:  God loves us, and Jesus came to die for us, when He was received with jeers and blasphemies and rejections.  When that gift of God’s love was bestowed upon us, the children of old man Adam cried, saying, “Away with Him!  Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”  And they pulled out His beard, and they spat in His face; they crowned Him with thorns, and they beat Him with thongs; and they nailed Him to a tree, and they watched Him die, and rubbed their hands in glee to see Him suffer.  Yet, God loved us.

More, more: not only did God send His Son when we didn’t ask for Him, not only did God love us when we didn’t even want His love, and not only was the gift of His Son received with violence, and rejection, and finally  crucifixion and death, but more.  In that raging flood when the Savior’s soul sank in agony, He became sin itself and God turned His face away.  And the suffering Savior cried, “Eli, My God, Eli, My God, lama sabachthani, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”  [Matthew 27:46].

 

The love of God is greater far

Than tongue or pen could ever tell;

It goes beyond the highest star,

And reaches to the lowest hell;

The guilty pair

bowed down with care,

God gave His Son to win;

His erring child He reconciled,

And pardoned from his sin.

Could we with ink the oceans fill,

And were the skies a parchment made,

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above,

Would drain the oceans dry.

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky.

Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!

How measureless and strong!

It shall forevermore endure

The saints’ and angels’ song.

 [“The Love of God”; Fred­er­ick M. Leh­man]

Moved to repentance by the goodness of God: let me continue for the moment.  “We love Him because He first loved us.”  The fountain of our response to the Lord is found in Him, “We love Him because He first loved us.”  He first loved us.  Before I was born, before I could name His name, before I repented, before I had faith, before I made a public confession of His name, before the world was made, before a star did shine, God loved us.  He first loved us.  Before the little trickling rill that rushes to the sea came out of the ocean itself, and before those mighty rivers that pour their floods into the deep came from the sea itself, He first loved us.  The stars that shine are but reflections of the glorious sun.  And our response is something that comes from what God first has done for us.

Look at this, briefly.  “Everyone that loveth is born of God” [1 John 4:7].  That is a sign that you have been regenerated, when you love the Lord.  “Yea Lord, Thou knowest everything about me.  You know that I love You,” that is a sign of being born again.  It is a sign that we know the Lord.  “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”  A man can know all the tomes of theology and recite all of the creeds, but loving God is something in the soul and not in the head.  When a man preaches, to preach from his head is one thing, to be academic, to be intellectual, to be smart, to be gifted; but that is not it, really.  It is loving God—that is how the man knows the Lord—we know Him loving Him.

Or again, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” [1 John 4:11].  Love is ever dynamic and active; it is never phlegmatic apathetic and dormant.  Love, if it is true love, seeks an expression; always.  A boy loves a girl, he’ll find ways to show her.  If a man loves his wife, he expresses it; he can’t help it.  And to command a man not to express it is to command his love not to be.  So it is the out flowing of our love for one another:  “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”  By this do we know that we passed from death into live, because we love God’s people, our brethren.

Or, once again, “In this we have boldness in the day of judgment.  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.  Fear hath torment; he that feareth is not made whole”; he is still immature.  For that maturity finds itself only in love; casts out fear—fear of death, fear of the judgment?—no!  There is no fear in love, “perfect love casteth out fear” [1 John 4:17-18].  So to the child of God, as he faces any tomorrow, God is in it.  I need not be full of anxiety or dread or foreboding, the Lord is my helper; in Him will I trust.  And I have no need to be afraid.  And in death and the judgment there is just the love and goodness of God, “perfect love casts out fear.”

Yesterday afternoon, burying a man, a member of this church, cut down in the very prime of life, I stood at the head of the casket, and his mother, his old mother, stood there, looked upon the silent face of her son, and talked to him, just as though he could hear.  Did she say, “Son, I am afraid.  Oh, Son!  Soon I shall die, and I am filled with torment and foreboding.  Oh, Son!  Soon I shall be called to meet God in the judgment, and my soul trembles!”?  She is a great Christian woman.  Looking into the face of that son, she said, “My son, my son!  You are in heaven, and my son, I will soon be there too.  God bless you and keep you till I see you again.”  That is Christian, “perfect love casteth out fear”; nothing to be afraid of, just someday the full-orbed manifestation of the compassionate mercy and love of Jesus.

In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal; and while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you, on the first note of the first stanza, down one of these stairways, or into the aisle and to the front, “Pastor, today I decide for Christ, and here I come.”  Or, “This day I am putting my life in the circle and fellowship of this dear church, and here I come.”  As the Holy Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer now with your life.  Do it now, come now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.

05 Jun

Wednesday Is for Worship: “Lord, I Need You”

Wednesday Is for Worship

On this Wednesday, what are you in need of?  The list very well may be long, but at the top must be the Lord.  He is what you need more than anything else.  He created you, He’s sustaining you, and He’s made a way for you to be saved.  Even those who right now either reject that they have a need of the Lord or are ignorant of their need of Him nevertheless need the Lord.  That’s why today’s song is so relevant.  It’s simply called “Lord, I Need You.”

Written in 2011 for that year’s Passion conference by Christy Nockels, Daniel Carson, Jesse Reeves, Kristian Stanfill, and Matt Maher and published through worshiptogether.com songs, this song has as its hook just enough of a nugget of the classic hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour” to remind us of that great tune.  However, everything else in it is completely new in this prayer of desperation sung to God.

The chorus declares that there’s not a moment when we don’t need the Lord.  Twenty-four/seven dependence, particularly for his protection and righteousness!  The first verse reminds us that in God we find rest, stability, and guidance.  Verse 2 beautifully captures the glory of God’s grace covering over sins, freeing us through Jesus Christ to be holy for the Lord.  The bridge simply asks the Lord to help the worshiper to lean on Him, especially in temptation.

What I love about Maher’s version of the song below is the authentic, folksy desperation with which he delivers the vocals, making your heart long for the Lord.  Excellent!

Alright, so worship the Lord right now.  You know you need Him!

VERSE 1
Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

CHORUS
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

VERSE 2
Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

BRIDGE
Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay

____________________

You can hear from Matt and Kristian how the song came together at this edition of New Song Café.

03 Jun

10 Ways My Mind Has Been Renewed by the Word

Did anybody ever sign your yearbook with, “Don’t ever change!”?  That was pretty common in my neck of the woods, but what terrible advice!  I once heard a man say that the only folks that don’t like to be changed are babies.

Renewed MindChange can certainly be a bad thing, but when we change as God would have us to change, in fact, when we let God change us, it’s a blessing, and it’s glorious.  God indeed desires to change all of His children whom He adopts.  Every one of our sorry selves, He wants to transform us by conforming us to the image of His Son Jesus Christ, and Romans 12:2 tells that He does so by the renewing of our mind.

How is this done?  To have your mind renewed is to begin to think as God thinks.  Our mind, even at conception, are naturally set against God and does not think like God does.  Furthermore, over the course of our lives, our minds are shaped by the many worldly influences we come into contact with so that move farther away from the way God thinks.  But, when a person comes to trust Jesus as Savior and Lord, is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and begins to study God’s, they begin that transition to be conformed to Christ, theologically known as sanctification.  In submission to Christ, they begin to read the Word of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, they begin to understand and apply that Word to their life.  Over the course of this process, their mind becomes renewed so that they think like God thinks.

I want to share with you today as a testimony the power that God’s Word has had on my life.  I am convinced of these things by the Word of God but will not here argue for these things from the Word of God.  I simply offer these as a testimony.  If you believe that I’ve missed the Bible’s teaching on something, then I’ll be glad to engage the Bible at that point.  What a glorious thing it is to be changed to think how God thinks!

#1 – I used to think that I would be good enough to enter into Heaven, but I’ve been renewed in mind to understand that I’m morally bankrupt and that Jesus’ righteousness is my only hope to enter into Heaven.

#2 – I used to think that abortion should be safe, legal,and rare, but I’ve been renewed in my mind to understand that life is sacred from conception to natural death and should be protected.

#3 – I used to think that human reproduction should be limited because children are a burden, but I’ve been renewed in my mind to understand that children are a blessing from the Lord and that we should be open to His leading concerning concerning how many we have.

#4 – I used to think that the world revolved around me and my desires, but I’ve been renewed in my mind to understand that God and His desires are the center of the universe and not me.

#5 – I used to think that work is a bother and should be avoided as much as possible, but I’ve been renewed in my mind to understand that work is a gift from God and that even the most menial task should be done unto His glory.

#6 – I used to think that sex is no big deal and should enjoyed as much as possible with as many people as possible, but I’ve been renewed in my mind to understand that sex is sacred and is to be enjoyed within God’s bounds only.

#7 – I used to think that revenge is sweet, but I’ve been renewed in my mind to understand that vengeance is the Lord’s; He will repay.

#8 – I used to think that life is full of randomness, chance, and meaninglessness, but I’ve been renewed in my mind to understand that God is working everything after the counsel of His will so that everything is according to His plan and has a purpose.

#9 – I used to think that success in life is measured by the amount of money, power, and prestige one could gain, but I’ve been renewed in my mind to understand that success in life is measured by how faithful to God one is.

#10 – I used to think that we should eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we’ll die, but I’ve been renewed in my mind to understand that life is to be lived with an eternal perspective, knowing that physical death is the end of no one and that we’ll all stand before God in judgment in the age to come.

“Don’t ever change,”?  No thanks!  I pray we won’t ever stop changing until we become fully conformed to Jesus Christ through the renewing of our minds!!

Now it’s your turn to respond. What are the major ways that God has renewed your mind?  Have I missed the Bible on any of my shifts in thinking?