The Importance of Being Humble in Mind

When the mind of the hearer is good and gracious, it easily assents to the speeches of truth.

Chrysostom, Hom. 26. in Mat., quoted in John Flavel, The Method of Grace, 6, vol. 2 of 6.

Flavel’s words in accord with this allusion,

I know the agreeableness of such discourses to the pious dispositions of your souls, is of itself sufficient to make it welcome to you.  It is a treatise of Christ, yea, of the Method of Grace, in the application of Christ; than which no subject can be more necessary to study, or sweet to experience.  All goodness is attractive, how powerfully attractive then must Jesus Christ be, who is the ocean of all goodness, from whom all streams of goodness are derived, and into whom they all empty themselves?  If Pindarus could say of the lovely Theoxenus, that whosoever saw that august and comely face of his, and was not surprised with amazement, and enflamed with love, must have an heart of adamant or brass; what then shall we resemble that man’s heart unto , that hath ferverous affections kindled in it by the incomparable beauty of Christ.

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Regeneration

One of my favorite passages from Thomas Watson’s sermon “How We May Read the Scriptures With Most Spiritual Profit” is a quip on regeneration (the new birth, being born again), —

The word calls for regeneration; have you the signature . . . of the Holy Ghost [Spirit] upon you?  . . . Is there such a change wrought in you, as if another soul did live in the same body?

Thomas Watson, Puritan Sermons 1659-1689, 57-71, emphasis mine.

Humility

As John Owen opens up our communion with the Holy Spirit, having already advanced many wonderful and difficult truths, and now happening upon what it means that the Holy Spirit is the seal set upon us unto the day of redemption, comes to this humble sentence,

I amnot very clear in the certain peculiar intendment [intention] of this metaphor; what I am persuaded of the mind of God init I shall briefly impart.

John Owen, Communion with God, 242, vol 2 of 16.

That is, he will only impart what he is persuaded of himself, that it is the mind of God.  May the Lord grant us the humility of the mighty puritan who would, in his dying days, refer to himself as Christ’s “poor under-rower.”  May we be careful to write, teach, preach, converse upon what we are persuaded is the mind of God in the Scripture.

“How We May Read the Scriptures With Most Spiritual Profit,” Part III

Watson’s directions, 21-24 and concluding thoughts.

Direction 21. Set upon the practice of what you read. . . . The word written is not only a rule of knowledge, but a rule of obedience: it is not only to mend our sight, but to mend our pace. . . . Reading without practice will be but a torch to light men to hell.

Direction 22. Make use of Christ’s prophetical office. . . . Such as would be scripture-proficients, let them get Christ to be their teacher. “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” [Lk 24.45].  Christ did not only open the scriptures, but “opened their understanding.”

Direction 23. Tread often upon the threshold of the sanctuary. — Wait diligently on a rightly constituted ministry: “Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching diligently at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors” [Prov 8.34].  Ministers are God’s interpreters; it is their work to open dark places in Scripture.  We read of “pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers” [Judges 7.16].  Ministers are “earthen” pitchers [2 Cor 4.7].  But these pitchers have lamps within them, to light souls in the dark.

Direction 24. Pray that God will make you profit. — “I am the Lord thy God, which teacheth thee to profit” [Isa 48.17].  Make David’s prayer: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” [Psalm 119.18]. . . . Implore the guidance of God’s Spirit: “Thou gavest them thy good Spirit to instruct them” [Neh 9.20].  Though the ship hath a compass to sail by, and store of tackling, yet without a gale of wind it cannot sail.  Though we have the word written as our compass to sail by, and make use of our endeavours as the tackling, yet, unless the Spirit of God blow upon us, we cannot sail with profit.  When the Almighty is as “dew” unto us, then we “grow as the lily,” and our “beauty is as the olive-tree” [Hosea 14.5, 6].

Two corollaries, —

[1]. Content not yourselves with the bare reading of scripture, but labour to find some spiritual increment and profit. — Get the word transcribed into your hearts. . . . Never leave till you are assimilated into the word.

[2]. You who have profited by reading the holy scriptures, adore God’s distinguishing grace. — Bless God that he hath not only brought the light to you, but opened your eyes to see it; that he hath unlocked his hid treasure, and enriched you with saving knowledge.  Some perish by not having scripture, and others by not improving it.  That God should pass by millions in the world, and the lost of his electing love should fall upon you; that the scripture, like the pillar of cloud, should have a dark side to others, but a light side to you; that to others it should be a “dead letter,” but to you that “savour of life;” that Christ should not only be revealed to you, but in you; [Gal 1.16] how should you be in an holy ecstasy of wonder, and wish that you had hearts of seraphim burning in love to God, and the voices of angels, to make heaven ring with God’s praises!

Objection.  But some of the godly may say, they fear they do not profit by the word they read.

Response.  As in the body, when there is a lipothymy or “fainting of the vital spirits,” cordials are applied: so let me apply a few divine cordials to such as are ready to faint under the fear of non-proficiency.

[1]. You may profit by reading the word, though you come short of others. — The ground which brought forth thirty-fold was “good ground” [Mt 13.8].

[2]. You may profit by reading the word, though you are not of so quick apprehension. — Some impeach themselves of non-proficiency, because they are slow of understanding. . . . A Christian’s intellectuals may be less quick and penetrating, yet that little knowledge he hath of scripture keeps him from sin; as a man that hath but weak sight, yet it keeps him from falling into the water.

[3]. You may profit by reading scripture, though you have not so excellent memories. — Christian, art thou grieved thou canst remember no more?  Then for thy comfort, —

[a]. Thou mayest have a good heart, though thou has not so good a memory.

[b]. Though thou canst not remember all thou readest, yet thou rememberest that which is most material, and which thou hast most need of. — At a feast we do not eat of every dish, but we take so much as nourisheth.  It is with a good Christian’s memory as it is with a lamp: though the lamp be not full of oil, yet it hath so much oil as makes the lamp burn: though thy memory be not full of scripture, yet thou retainest so much as makes thy love to God burn.  Then be of good comfort; thou dost profit by what thou readest; and take notice of that encouraging scripture: “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, he shall bring all things to your remembrance” [John 14.26].

Thomas Watson, “How We May Read the Scriptures With Most Spiritual Profit,” in Puritan Sermons 1659-1689, 68-71, vol 2 of 6.

“How We May Read the Scriptures With Most Spiritual Profit,” Part 2

Watson’s directions, 11-20.

Direction 11.  Highly prize the Scriptures. . . . The scripture is the library of the Holy Ghost [Spirit]; it is a pandect of divine knowledge, an exact model and platform of religion [true religion, i.e., biblical Christianity].  The Scripture contains in it the credenda, “the things which we are to believe,” and the agenda, “the things which we are to practice.”  It is “able to make us wise unto salvation.” [2 Tim 3.15] “The Scripture is the standard of truth,” the judge of controversies; it is the pole-star to direct us to heaven [Isa 8.20].  “The commandment is a lamp” [Prov 6.23].  The Scripture is the compass by which the rudder of our will is to be steered; it is the field in which Christ, the Pearl of price, is hid; it is a rock of diamonds; it is a sacred collyrium, or “eye-salve;”  it mends their eyes that look upon it; it is a spiritual optic-glass in which the glory of God is resplendent; it is the panacy or “universal medicine” for the soul.  The leaves of scripture are like the “leaves of the tree of life, for the healing of the nations” [Rev 22.2].  The scripture is both the breeder and feeder of grace.  How is the convert born, but by “the word of truth?” [James 1.18] How doth he grow, but by “the sincere milk of the word?” [1 Pet 2.2].  The word written is the book out of which our evidences for heaven are fetched; it is the sea-mark which shows us the rocks of sin to avoid; it is the antidote against error and apostasy, the two-edged sword which wounds the old serpent.  It is our bulwark to withstand the force of lust; like the Capitol of Rome, which was a place of strength and ammunition.  The scripture is the “tower of David,” whereon the shields of our faith hang [Song 4.4].  “Take away the word, and you deprive us of the sun,” said Luther. . . . O, prize the word written; prizing is the way to profiting.

Direction 12. Get an ardent love to the word. — He is likely to grow rich who delights in his trade. . . . St. Chrysostom compares the scripture to a garden [A pleasure-garden is sweet; but much sweeter is the perusal of the sacred writings.  The former contains fading flowers; but the latter blooming thoughts.  There the cooling zephyr plays; but here we are refreshed by the breath of the Holy Spirit, says Chrysostom]; every line in it is a fragrant flower, which we should wear, not in our bosom, but our heart.

Direction 13. Come to the reading of the word with honest hearts.–

Question. “What is it to read the word with an honest heart?”

Answer 1. To come with an heart willing to know the whole counsel of God. — A good heart would not have any truth concealed; but saith, as Job, “That which I see not, teach thou me” [Job 34.32].

Answer 2. To read it that we may be made better by it. — Some go to the Bible, as one goes to the garden, to pick flowers, that is, fine notions. . . . This is like the woman that paints her face, but neglects her health.  But this is to have an honest heart . . . “O,” saith the soul, “that this sword of the Spirit may pierce the rock of my heart . . . to kill and make fruitful . . . that it may kill my sin, and make me fruitful in grace.

Direction 14. Learn to apply the scriptures. — Take every word as spoken to yourselves.  When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins;” when it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.” . . . A medicine will do no good, unless it be applied.

Direction 15. Observe the preceptive part of the word, as well as the promissive. — Make us as well of the precepts to direct you, as the promises to comfort you.

Direction 16. Let your thoughts dwell upon the most material passages of scripture. — The bee fastens on those flowers where she may suck most sweetness.  Though the whole contexture of scripture is excellent, yet some parts of it may have a greater emphasis, and be more quick and pungent.

Direction 17. Compare yourselves with the word. — See how the scripture and your hearts agree, how your dial goes with this sun.  Are your hearts, as it were, a transcript and counterpane of scripture?  Is the word copied out into your hearts?  The word calls for humility; are you . . . humble?  The word calls for regeneration; have you the signature . . . of the Holy Ghost [Spirit] upon you?  . . . Is there such a change wrought in you, as if another soul did live in the same body? “Such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified,” etc. [1 Cor 6.11].  The word calls for love to the saints; do you love grace where you see it? . . . The bringing of the rule of the word and our hearts together, to see how they agree, would prove very advantageous to us.  Hereby we come to know the true complexion and state of our souls, and see what evidences and certificates we have for heaven.

Direction 18. Take special notice of those scriptures which speak to your particular case.

I shall instance only in three cases: [1]. Affliction.  [2]. Desertion.  [3].  Sin.

Case 1.  First, affliction. — Hath God made your chain heavy?  Consult these scriptures: “If you endure chastening, God dealeth with you as sons.” [Heb 12.7, etc].

Case 2. Secondly, desertion. — Are your spiritual comforts eclipsed?  “In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment: but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee” [Isa 54.8].

Case 3. Thirdly, sin. — Are you drawn away with lust? Read Gal 5.24; James 1.15; 1 Pet 2.11.  Are you under the power of unbelief? — Read Isa 26.3: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

Direction 19. Take special notice of the examples in scripture. — Make the examples of others living sermons to you.

[1]. Observe the examples of God’s judgments upon sinners. — . . . How hath God plagued idolaters! [Num 25.3-5, 9; 1 Kngs 14.9-11].  What a swift witness hath he been against liars! [Acts 5.5, 10].  These examples are set up as sea-marks to avoid [1 Cor 10.11; Jude 7].

[2]. Observe the examples of God’s mercy to saints. — Jeremy [Jeremiah] was preserved in the dungeon, the three children in the furnace, Daniel in the lion’s den.  These examples are props to faith, spurs to holiness.

Direction 20. Leave not off reading in the Bible till you find your hearts warmed. — Read the word, not only as a history, but labour to be affected with it.  Let it not only inform you, but inflame you. “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord” [Jer 23.29].  Go not from the word till you can say as those disciples, “Did not our heart burn within us” [Luke 24.32]?

Thomas Watson, “How We May Read the Scriptures With Most Spiritual Profit,” in Puritan Sermons 1659-1689, 63-68, vol 2 of 6.

“How We May Read the Scriptures With Most Spiritual Profit,” Part 1

A sermon by Thomas Watson derived from Deuteronomy 17.19, “And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them.”

This post is simply his practical outline mixed with some of the more penetrating insights/illustrations.  This is the first of three posts devoted to this helpful sermon.  Part 1 includes the introduction and first 10 directions, Part 2 will include the next 10 directions, and Part 3 the last 4 directions and concluding corollaries.  I trust that his practical “directives” will be of immense help to you in reading the Scriptures with the most spiritual profit.

[1]. How Israel was to select their king

[a]. His election [17.15, “Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose.”]

[b]. His religion [17.18, “When he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, he shall write him a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites.”]

[2]. Rest of sermon confined to these words, “He shall read in it [that is, the Book of the Law] all the days of his life.”

Question posed: “How we may read the Scriptures with most spiritual profit?”

Resolution of the question: “I shall lay down several rules or directions about the reading of Scripture.”

Direction 1.  “If you would profit by reading, remove those things which hinder your profiting.”

3 Obstructions to be removed: First, remove the love of every sin.  Second, Take heed of the thorns which will choke the word read.  Third, Take heed of jesting with Scripture.

Direction 2.  “If you would profit, prepare your hearts to the reading of the word.”

Preparation consists in two things: First, “In summoning our thoughts together to attend that solemn work we are going about. — The thoughts are stragglers; therefore rally them together.”  Second, “In purging out those unclean affections which do indispose us to reading.”

Direction 3.  “Read the Scripture with reverence. — Think every line you read God is speaking to you.”

Direction 4.  “Read the books of Scripture in order. . . Order is an help to memory: we do not begin to read a friend’s letter in the middle.”

Direction 5.  “Get a right understanding of Scripture . . . In the law Aaron was first to light the lamps, and then to burn the incense: the lamp of the understanding must be first lighted, before the affections can be inflamed.  Get what knowledge you can by comparing the Scriptures, by conferring with others, by using the best annotators [commentators].”

Direction 6.  “Read the word with seriousness . . . If a letter were to be broken open and read, wherein a man’s whole estate were concerned, how serious would he be in reading of it!  In the Scripture our salvation is concerned; it treats of the love of Christ, a serious subject. . . . Seriousness is the Christian’s ballast, which keeps him from being overturned with vanity.”

Direction 7.  “Labor to remember what you read. — Satan would steal the word out of our mind; [cf. Matt 13.4, 19] not that he intends to use of it himself, but lest we should make use of it. . . . . we are bid to have the ‘word dwell in’ us [Col 3.16].”

Direction 8.  “Meditate upon what you read. . . . The bee sucks the flower, then works it in the hive, and so turns it to honey: by reading we suck the flower of the word, by meditation we work it in the hive of our mind, and so it turns to profit. . . . The reason we come away so cold from reading the word is, because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.”

Direction 9.  “Come to the reading of the Scripture with humble hearts. — Acknowledge how unworthy you are that God should reveal Himself in His word to you. . . . pride is an enemy to profiting.”

Direction 10.  “Give credence to the word written. — Believe it to be of God; see the name of God in every line.  The Romans, that they might gain credit to their laws, reported that they were inspired by the gods at Rome. . . . [but] All Scripture is of divine inspiration [cf. 2 Tim 3.16].”

Thomas Watson, “How We May Read the Scriptures With Most Spiritual Profit,” in Puritan Sermons 1659-1689, 57-63, vol 2 of 6.

All the Treasures of Wisdom, Part II

1 Cor 1.24, the Holy Ghost tells us that “Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God:” not the essential Wisdom of God, as he is the eternal Son of the Father (upon which account he is called “Wisdom” in the Proverbs, chap. 8.22-23); but as he is crucified, 1 Cor 1.23.  As he is crucified, so he is the wisdom of God; that is, all that wisdom which God layeth forth for the discovery and manifestation of himself, and for the saving of sinners, which makes foolish all the wisdom of the world, — that is all in Christ crucified; held out in him, by him, and to be obtained only from him.  And thereby in him do we see the glory of God, 2 Cor 3.18.  For he is not only said to be “the wisdom of God,” but also to be “make unto us wisdom,” 1 Cor 1.30.  He is made, not by creation, but ordination and appointment, wisdom unto us; not only by teaching us wisdom (by a metonymy of the effect for the cause), as he is the great prophet of his church, but also because by the knowing of him we become acquainted with the wisdom of God, — which is our wisdom . . . This, however verily promised, is thus only be be had.  The sum of what is contended for is asserted in terms, Col 2.3, “In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

There are two things that might seem to have some colour in claiming a title and interest in this business: — 1. Civil wisdom and prudence, for the management of affairs; 2. Ability of learning and literature; — but God rejecteth both these, as of no use at all to the end and intent of true wisdom indeed.  There is in the world that which is called “understanding;”  but it comes to nothing.  There is that which is called “wisdom;” but it is turned into folly, 1 Cor 1.19, 20, “God brings to nothing the understanding of the prudent, and makes foolish this wisdom of the world.”  And if there be neither wisdom nor knowledge (as doubtless there is not), without the knowledge of God, Jer 8.9, it is all shut up in the Lord Jesus Christ: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath revealed him.”  He is not seen at another time, John 1.18, nor known upon any other account, but only the revelation of the Son.  He hath manifested him from his own bosom; and therefore, verse 9, it is said that he is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world,” — the true Light, which hath it in himself: and none hath any but from him; and all have it who come unto him.  He who doth not so, is in darkness.

John Owen, Communion with God, vol 2 of 16, 79-80.