Snippets from things I’ve been reading today.


I am well aware that many of you do not have the leisure I do in my present circumstance to read as you would like. So from time to time, I’ll try to pass on some significant quotes to give you kind of a digest of good reading. I hope they will be enlightening, encouraging, timesaving, thought provoking and otherwise beneficial.

Here’s today’s stuff.

Most of us see life with the screen up. We assume that things are as they appear and that we can easily identify those on whom God’s favor rests. We may put our confidence in the traditions of the past, for example, and assume that forms hallowed by repeated usage must be pleasing to God in the present. How far in the past we look may vary from person to person: We may insist on forms that stretch all the way back to the early church, the Reformation, or the Puritans, or simply the forms to which we have been accustomed as individuals. Alternatively, we may place our trust in numbers: If many people attend a particular church or type of church, then surely God’s blessing rests on it and we should model our church after that style.

God’s presence is not so easily discerned. He does not always continue to bless forms and institutions that he has blessed in the past, nor is he always found in the large and apparently successful churches. In the Bible, he is most often found with the poor and the weak, the despised and rejected, those whom the world regards as castoffs. So when Jesus comes, he visits the temple, but his primary teaching and ministry takes place in the open air. He will eat with the scribes and the Pharisees when they invite him, but he is known rather as the friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 11:19). When he seeks twelve disciples, he goes not to the religious training schools but to the work places of ordinary men and women. The essence of his training program is not a rigorous course of book study, but three years of being in his presence.

Iain M. Duguid, Ezekiel, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 155–156.

it is the presence of Christ that constitutes the church. The prerequisite, then, for worship to be possible in the New Testament context is not a building chosen by God and accepted by him, but a people chosen by God and accepted by him. God dwells in the hearts of his people, not in a building made with hands. This surely has implications for how we assess different churches. All too often we make our judgment based on whether the programs a church offers seem to meet our needs or on its denominational label, rather than attempting the harder task of discerning the reality of Christ’s presence.

 Iain M. Duguid, Ezekiel, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 156.

Yet while there is no room for complacency, there is solid hope for the believer in the most trying of times. For even while God may abandon parts of his professing church, he never abandons his covenant commitment to save for himself a people. If the religious leaders of the day and the major denominations turn their backs on him, he will leave them to their fate—but only in order to do a new work through the small and despised, those neglected and considered insignificant. God will choose the weak in order to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27). If the Jews will not receive their Messiah, then the gospel will go to the Gentiles. If the West turns its back on Christianity, then God will open up new doors in the other two-thirds of the world. In every generation, God’s work of giving to men and women a new spirit and a new heart continues until the full harvest of his people is brought into his kingdom.

 Iain M. Duguid, Ezekiel, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 157.

As Calvin expressed it, in the form of a prayer:

Almighty God, as we have completely perished in our father Adam, and no part of us remains uncorrupted so long as we bear in both body and soul grounds for wrath, condemnation, and death, grant that, reborn in your Spirit, we may increasingly set aside our own will and spirit, and so submit ourselves to you that your Spirit may truly reign within us. And then grant, we pray, that we not be ungrateful to you, but, appreciating how invaluable is this blessing, may dedicate and direct our entire life to glorifying to your name in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 Iain M. Duguid, Ezekiel, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 158.

Note: This is part of a reflection from the Puritan Oliver Heywood reflecting on the joy of his newborn son. How different from the mantra of the day in our culture that the only thing we seem to want for our children is that they be “happy.” Who cares if they remain happy in their sin and unbelief, as long as they are happy. Heaven forgive us.

I desire not great things for him in the world, but good things for his soul to prepare him for another and better world.…

 W. H. Davies, “Oliver Heywood, the Northern Puritan,” in Puritan Papers: 1965–1967, ed. J. I. Packer, vol. 4 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 158.

Oliver Heywood was not friendly to the rule of Cromwell, and the state of the nation at this period provided occasion for further reflection:

Come then my soul and view this guilty nation … alas, we have become a mere skeleton; alas, this is the greatest grief of all that God is leaving England, this is the quintessence of our calamity; alas, how can our land fare well when God has departed? Well, and if poor England’s best days alone may be past, we alone may thank ourselves, we must condemn ourselves and justify God. Our people have been surfeited with the gospel, they cry out away with formalities; the manna is like food, it creates loathing, we need not wonder then if God should take away what has become offensive to the nation … should not the sins of this poor island, the cause of all its miseries much affect thee my soul.

 W. H. Davies, “Oliver Heywood, the Northern Puritan,” in Puritan Papers: 1965–1967, ed. J. I. Packer, vol. 4 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 158–159.

And again, “O that I could learn the mind of God in all these dispensations. Surely I may sing of mercy and judgment, floods of love and only drops of displeasure. How mysterious is God in His proceedings! O that I had wisdom from above to spell out his meaning. He hath a special design in all these national commotions.”

 W. H. Davies, “Oliver Heywood, the Northern Puritan,” in Puritan Papers: 1965–1967, ed. J. I. Packer, vol. 4 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 159.

Heywood, being deeply moved by the religious condition of the nation, believing also in God’s sovereign purposes, sought in obedience to the Scripture to discover its outworking in the events of his day. This reveals the prophet’s heart as much as the pastor’s. Pacific in his intents, he writes, “Woe is me that I have lived to see this day when ecclesiastical divisions have produced civil opposition … how sad is it that those who are reconciled by the blood of Christ should thirst after one another’s blood. How unlike is this to the spirit and grace of the saints of God.”

 W. H. Davies, “Oliver Heywood, the Northern Puritan,” in Puritan Papers: 1965–1967, ed. J. I. Packer, vol. 4 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 159.

Note: There is something well worth our consideration in the following given the issues which have arisen over responses to the Covid crisis.

The accession of Charles II brought about unexpected opposition. In 1661 private meetings were ordered to be prevented. Heywood at first put a favorable construction on events, though he later had cause to change his mind: “The truth is, our dread Sovereign, at the first and hitherto, hath allowed us abundant liberty for religious exercises both in public and private, but his clemency has been abused which has occasioned this severe and universal prohibition. The fanatical and schismatical party truly so called, have by their unwise and unwarrantable practices troubled all the people of God throughout this nation, and have rendered the sweet savour of Christian converse to be abhorred.” And he continues with unsparing self-analysis:

But why do I lay the blame on others and not on ourselves? The actions of men and edicts of princes could not have abridged our liberties had not our sins procured these things. Just very just, is what has come upon us, for we have been unprofitable under our privileges.… they have been so ordinary that our hearts are grown indifferent and less than ordinary preparations have served for extraordinary duties. We meet as if loth to meet, our prayers were full of deadness, unbelief and vanity. It is therefore just we should not be permitted to meet for prayer. We too much aimed at applause for our gifts and God has taken away the occasion of venting the pride and hypocrisy of our hearts. We did not improve the society of our Christian friends and therefore we must not now enjoy it. I doubt not we have been too much abroad and too little at home, religious in company but careless in our closets. Now we must learn to enter into our closets and shut the door upon us. It is the property of a Christian to make a virtue of necessity and wisely to improve this present restraint of Christian liberty which our gracious God will restore to us if He sees it useful.

 W. H. Davies, “Oliver Heywood, the Northern Puritan,” in Puritan Papers: 1965–1967, ed. J. I. Packer, vol. 4 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 160.

“O how little power have I over my own thoughts, I feel the truth of that word ‘when He giveth quietness who then can make trouble, and when He hideth His face, who then can behold Him?’ But now I feel the benefit of prayer.”

 W. H. Davies, “Oliver Heywood, the Northern Puritan,” in Puritan Papers: 1965–1967, ed. J. I. Packer, vol. 4 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 165.

One summing up his [Heywood’s] life said, “He dared to be good, in a bad time.”

 W. H. Davies, “Oliver Heywood, the Northern Puritan,” in Puritan Papers: 1965–1967, ed. J. I. Packer, vol. 4 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 165.

“So that you may take this account of our sanctity, that holiness as it is in us consists in our complete conformity to the Holy One; godliness is Godlikeness. God is the Holy One by way of eminency, far surpassing both men and angels. He is essentially holy, but we are participatively so; it is but a quality in us, it is essence to Him. He is holy effectively, for He makes others so. Our holiness requires that there be conformity to the will of God. The will of God is the rule of holiness, as His nature is the pattern of it, and there is no more of holiness in any work than there is of the will of God in it.”[1]

[1] W. H. Davies, “Oliver Heywood, the Northern Puritan,” in Puritan Papers: 1965–1967, ed. J. I. Packer, vol. 4 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 167–168.

Alas, what are you better for having Christ revealed to you, unless He be revealed in you? O woe will be to you if you prove Christless after hearing so much of Christ.… [1]

[1] W. H. Davies, “Oliver Heywood, the Northern Puritan,” in Puritan Papers: 1965–1967, ed. J. I. Packer, vol. 4 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 168.

Note: The following is from a paper by Ryle considering Paul’s rebuke of Peter at Antioch.

There are three great lessons from Antioch, which I think we ought to learn from this passage.

       I.   The first lesson is, that great ministers may make great mistakes.

      II.   The second is, that to keep the truth of Christ in His Church is even more important than to keep peace.

     III.   The third is, that there is no doctrine about which we ought to be so jealous as justification by faith without the deeds of the law.[1]

[1] J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion (London: William Hunt and Company, 1885), 364.

The Church of Rome boasts that the Apostle Peter is her founder and first Bishop. Be it so: grant it for a moment. Let us only remember, that of all the Apostles there is not one, excepting, of course, Judas Iscariot, of whom we have so many proofs that he was a fallible man. Upon her own showing, the Church of Rome was founded by the most fallible of the Apostles.*[1]

[1] J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion (London: William Hunt and Company, 1885), 365.

I see this tendency to lean on man everywhere. I know no branch of the Protestant Church of Christ which does not require to be cautioned upon the point. It is a snare, for example, to the English Episcopalian to make idols of Bishop Pearson and the “Judicious Hooker.” It is a snare to the Scotch Presbyterian to pin his faith on John Knox, the Covenanters, and Dr. Chalmers. It is a snare to the Methodists in our day to worship the memory of John Wesley. It is a snare to the Independent to see no fault in any opinion of Owen and Doddridge. It is a snare to the Baptist to exaggerate the wisdom of Gill, and Fuller, and Robert Hall. All these are snares, and into these snares how many fall![1]

[1] J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion (London: William Hunt and Company, 1885), 367–368.

False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism.[1]

[1] J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion (London: William Hunt and Company, 1885), 376.

But I pass on to the third lesson from Antioch. That lesson is, that there is no doctrine about which we ought to be so jealous as justification by faith without the deeds of the law.

The proof of this lesson stands out most prominently in the passage of Scripture which heads this paper. What one article of the faith had the Apostle Peter denied at Antioch? None.—What doctrine had he publicly preached which was false? None.—What, then, had he done? He had done this. After once keeping company with the believing Gentiles as “fellow-heirs and partakers of the promise of Christ in the Gospel” (Ephes. 3:6), he suddenly became shy of them and withdrew himself. He seemed to think they were less holy and acceptable to God than the circumcised Jews. He seemed to imply that the believing Gentiles were in a lower state than they who had kept the ceremonies of the law of Moses. He seemed, in a word, to add something to simple faith as needful to give man an interest in Jesus Christ. He seemed to reply to the question, “What shall I do to be saved?” not merely “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” but “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be circumcised, and keep the ceremonies of the law.”[1]

[1] J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion (London: William Hunt and Company, 1885), 378.

An ignorant laity will always be the bane of a Church. A Bible-reading laity may save a Church from ruin. Let us read the Bible regularly, daily, and with fervent prayer, and become familiar with its contents. Let us receive nothing, believe nothing, follow nothing, which is not in the Bible, nor can be proved by the Bible. Let our rule of faith, our touch-stone of all teaching, be the written Word of God.[1]

[1] J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion (London: William Hunt and Company, 1885), 382–383.

let me entreat all who read this paper to be always ready to contend for the faith of Christ, if needful. I recommend no one to foster a controversial spirit. I want no man to be like Goliath, going up and down, saying, “Give me a man to fight with.” Always feeding upon controversy is poor work indeed. It is like feeding upon bones. But I do say that no love of false peace should prevent us striving jealously against false doctrine, and seeking to promote true doctrine wherever we possibly can. True Gospel in the pulpit, true Gospel in every religious society we support, true Gospel in the books we read, true Gospel in the friends we keep company with,—let this be our aim, and never let us be ashamed to let men see that it is so.[1]

[1] J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion (London: William Hunt and Company, 1885), 383–384.

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