How can these things be?

Written by, Thomas  Arnold, D.D.


How can these things be? –Nicodemus
John 3:9

This is the second question…

…put by Nicodemus to our Lord with regard to the truths which Jesus was declaring to him. The first was, “How can a man be born when he is old?” which was said upon our Lord’s telling him that, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Now, it will be observed, that these two questions are treated by our Lord in a different manner: to the first he, in fact, gives an answer;” that is, he removes by his answer that difficulty in Nicodemus’ mind which led to the question; but to the second he gives no answer, and leaves Nicodemus ” and with Nicodemus, us all also “exactly in the same ignorance as he found him at the beginning.

Now, is there any difference in the nature of these two questions, which led our Lord to treat them so differently? We might suppose beforehand that there would be; and when we come to examine them, so we shall find it. The difficulty in the first question rendered true faith impossible, and, therefore, our Lord removed it; the difficulty in the second question did not properly interfere with faith at all; but might, through man’s fault, be a temptation to him to refuse to believe. And as this, like other temptations, must be overcome by us, and not taken away from our path before we encounter it, so our Lord did not think proper to remove it or to lessen it.

We must now unfold this difference more clearly. When Christ said, ” Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” Nicodemus could not possibly believe what our Lord said, because he did not understand his meaning. He did not know what he meant by “a man’s being born again,”and, therefore, he could not believe, as he did not know what he was to believe. Words which we do not understand, are like words spoken in an unknown language; we can neither believe them nor disbelieve them, because we do not know what they say. For instance, I repeat these words, τοὺς γὰρ πάντας ἡμᾶς φανερωθῆναι δεῖ ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ βήματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ. Now, if I were to ask, do you believe these words? –is it not manifest that all of you who know Greek enough to understand them may also believe them; but of those who do not know Greek, not a single person can yet believe them? They are as yet words spoken as to the air. But when I add, that these words mean, “We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ;” now we can all believe them because we can all understand them.

It is, then, perfectly impossible for any man to believe a statement except in proportion as he understands its meaning. And, therefore, our Lord explained what he meant to Nicodemus, and told him that, by being born again, he did not mean the natural birth of the body; but a birth caused by the Spirit, and therefore itself a birth of a spirit: for, as that which is born from a body is itself also a body, so that which is born of a spirit is itself also a spirit. So that Christ’s words now are seen to have this meaning, “No man can enter into the kingdom of God except God’s Spirit creates in him a spirit or mind like unto Himself, and like unto Christ, and like unto the Father. Nicodemus, then, could now understand what was meant, and might have believed it. But he asks rather another question, “How can these things be?” How can God’s Spirit create within me a spirit like himself, while I continue a man as before? Many persons since have asked similar questions; but to none of them is an answer given. How God’s Spirit works within us I cannot tell; but if we take the appointed means of procuring his aid, we shall surely find that He has worked and does work in us to life eternal.

We must, then, in order to believe, understand what it is that is told us; but it is by no means necessary that we should understand how it is to happen. It is not necessary, and in a thousand instances we do not know. “If we take poison we shall die: there is a statement which we can understand, and therefore believe. But do we understand how it is that poison kills us? Does every one here know how poisons act upon the human frame, and what is the different operation of different poisons,” how laudanum kills, for instance, and how arsenic? Surely there are very few of us, at most, who do understand this: and yet would it not be exceedingly unreasonable to refuse to believe that poison will kill us, because we do not understand the manner how?

Thus far, I think, the question is perfectly plain, so soon as it is once laid before us. But the real point of perplexity is to be found a step further. In almost all propositions there is something about the terms which we do understand, and something which we do not. For instance, let me say these few words: –“A frigate was lost amid the breakers.” These words would be understand in a certain degree, by all who hear me: and so far as all understand them, all can believe them. All would understand that a ship had sunk in the water, or been dashed to pieces; that it would be useful no more for the purposes for which it had been made. But what is meant by the words “frigate” and “breakers” all would not understand, and many would understand very differently: that is to say, those who had happened to have known most about the sea and sea affairs would understand most about them, while those who knew less would understand less; but probably none of us would understand their meaning so fully, or would have so distinct and lively an image of the things, as would be enjoyed by an actual seaman; and even among seamen themselves, there would again be different degrees of understanding, according to their different degrees of experience, or knowledge of ships, or powers of mind.

But men do not speak to one another at random; when they say anything to their neighbor, they mean it to produce on his mind a certain effect. Suppose that we were living near the sea-coast, and any one were suddenly to come in, and to utter the words which I have taken as my example. Should we not know that what the man meant by these words was, that there was a danger at hand for which our help was needed? It matters not that we have no distinct ideas of the terms ” frigate”or “breakers;” we understand enough for our belief and practice, and we should hasten to the sea-shore accordingly. Or suppose that the same words were told us of a frigate in which we had some near relation: should we not see at once that what we were meant to understand and to believe in the words was, that we had lost a relation?

That is the truth with which we are concerned; and this we can understand and feel, although we may be able to understand nothing more of the words in which that truth is conveyed to us. Now, in like manner, in whatever God says to us there is a purpose: it is intended to produce on our minds a certain impression, and so far it must be understood. But when God speaks to us of heavenly things, the terms employed can only be understood in part, and so far as God’s purpose with regard to our minds reaches; but there must be a great deal in them which we can no more understand than one who had never seen a ship, or a picture of one, could understand the word ” frigate.” Our business is to consider what impression or what actions the words are intended to produce in us. Up to this point we can and must understand them: beyond this they may be wholly above the reach of our faculties, and we can form of them no ideas at all.

It is clear that this will be the case most especially whenever God reveals to us anything concerning himself. Take these few words, for example, “God is a spirit:” take them as a mere abstract truth, and how little can we understand about them ! Who will dare to say that he understands all that is contained in the words “God” and “spirit”? We might weary ourselves forever in attempting so to search out either. But God said these words to us; and the point is. What impression did he mean them to have upon us? how far can we understand them? This he has not left doubtful, for it follows immediately, “They who worship him should worship him in spirit and in truth.” For this end the words were spoken, and thus far they are clear to us. God lives not on Mount Gerizim or at Jerusalem; but in every place he hears the prayers of the sincere and contrite heart, in no place will he regard the offerings of the proud and evil.

Or again, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Here are words in themselves, as abstract truths, perfectly overwhelming: “God,” “God’s only-begotten Son,” –Eternity.` Who  shall understand these things, when it is said, that “none knows the Son, save the Father; that none knows the Father, save the Son?”

But did God tell us the words for nothing? Can we understand nothing from them? Believe nothing? Feel nothing? Nay, they were spoken that we might both understand, and believe, and feel. How must he love us, who gives for us his only-begotten Son! how surely may we believe in Him who is an only-begotten Son to his Father, –so equal in nature, so entire in union! What must that happiness be, which reaches beyond our powers of counting! Would we go further?” then the veil is drawn before us: other truths there are, no doubt, contained in the words; truths which the angels might desire to look into; truths which even they may be unable to understand. But these are the secret things which belong unto our God; the things which are revealed, they are what belong to us and our children, that we may understand, and believe, and do them. Again, ” the Comforter, whom Christ will send unto us from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, which proceeds from the Father, he shall testify of Christ. “What words are here! “The Spirit of Truth,” “the Spirit proceeding from the Father; “the Spirit” whom Christ will send” and “send from the Father,” Can any created being understand, to the full, such “heavenly things” as these?

But would Christ have uttered to his disciples mere unintelligible words, which could tell them nothing, and excite in them no feeling but mere wonder? Not so; but the words told them that Christ was not to be lost to them after he had left them on earth; that every gift of God was his; that even that Spirit of God, in which is contained all the fullness of the Godhead, is the Spirit of Christ also; that that mighty power which should work in them so abundantly, was of no other or lower origin than God himself; as entirely God, as the spirit of man is man. But can we therefore understand the Spirit of God, or conceive of him? How should we, when we cannot understand our own? This, and this only, we understand and believe, that without him our spirits cannot be quickened; that unless we pray daily for his aid, and listen to his calls within us, our spirit will never be created after his image, and we cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

It is thus, and thus only, that the revelations of God’s word are beyond our understandings; that in them, beings and things are spoken of, which, taken generally, and in themselves, we should in vain endeavor to comprehend. But what God means us to know, or feel, or do, respecting them, that we can understand; and beyond this we have no concern. It is, in fact, a contradiction to speak of revealing what is unintelligible; for so far as it is a revealed truth it is intelligible; far as it is unintelligible, it is not revealed. But though a thing revealed must be intelligible in itself, yet it by no means follows that we can understand how it happens. When we are told that the dead shall rise again, we can understand quite well what is meant; that we, beings who feel happiness and misery, shall feel them again, either the one or the other, after we seemingly have done with them for ever in the grave. But “How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?” These are questions to which, whether asked scoffingly or sincerely, we can give no answers: here our understanding fails, and here the truth is not revealed to us.

How, then, has Christianity no mysteries? In one sense, blessed be God for it, it has many. Using mysteries in St. Paul’s sense of great revelations of things which were and must be unknown to all, except God had revealed them: then, indeed, they are many; the pillar and ground of truth, great without controversy, and full of salvation. But take mysteries in our more common sense of the word, “as things which are revealed to none, and can be understood by none, “then it is true that Christianity leaves many such in existence; that many such she has done away; that none has she created. She leaves many mysteries with respect to God, and with respect to ourselves; God is still incomprehensible; life and death have many things in them beyond our questioning; we may still look around us, above us, and within us, and wonder, and be ignorant. But if she still leaves the veil drawn over much in heaven and in earth, yet from how much has she removed it! Life and death are still in many respects dark; but she has brought to light immortality.

God is still in himself incomprehensible; but all his glory, and all his perfections, are revealed to us in his only-begotten Son Christ Jesus. God’s Spirit who can search out in his own proper essence? yet Christianity has taught us how we may have him to dwell with us for ever, and taste the fullness of his blessings. Yea, thanks be to God for the great Christian mystery which we this day celebrate; that he has revealed himself to us as our Savior and our Comforter; that he has revealed to us his infinite love, in that he has given us his only-begotten Son to die for us, and his own Eternal Spirit to make our hearts his temple.

June 14th, 1835.

Grace, Assurance, Doubt, and the Common Christian.

Written by Thomas Brooks (1608-1680)
Adapted from a Cabinet of Choice Jewels

rays-of-light-shining-throug-dark-cloudsWhile we are in this old world, we shall have—water with our wine, gall with our honey, and some clouds with our brightest sun shiny days…

Most Christians think, that as long as they have any doubtings they have no assurance; but they consider not, that there are many degrees of infallible certainty, which are below a perfect or an undoubting certainty.

Doubtless some darkness, more or less, will overspread the face of every Christian’s soul, and unbelief in one degree or another will be making headway against their faith; and hypocrisy in one degree or another will be making headway against sincerity; and pride in one degree or another will be making headway against humility; and passion in one degree or another will be making head against meekness; and earthly-mindedness in one degree or another will be making head against heavenly-mindedness, etc. Yet as long as a Christian has the sight of his graces or his gracious evidences, he may and ought to walk in much peace, comfort, and joy.

Such Christians as are resolved to lie down in sorrow, until they have attained to a perfect assurance—must resolve to lie down in sorrow…

…until they come to lay down their heads in the dust. Our graces are imperfect, and therefore that assurance that arises from the sight and evidence of them must needs be imperfect. Perfect signs of grace can never spring from imperfect grace, 1 Thes. 3:10. Now, if this were seriously apprehended, studied, and minded by many weak Christians, they would not at every turn call their spiritual estates into question, as they do, because they find some seeds and stirrings of pride, hypocrisy, vain-glory, and other sinful humours and passions working in them.


Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: Thomas Brooks (1608–1680) was an English non-conformist Puritan preacher and author. Much of what is known about Thomas Brooks has been ascertained from his writings. Born, likely to well-to-do parents, in 1608, Brooks entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1625, where he was preceded by such men as Thomas Hooker, John Cotton, and Thomas Shepard. He was licensed as a preacher of the Gospel by 1640. Before that date, he appears to have spent a number of years at sea, probably as a chaplain with the fleet.

After the conclusion of the First English Civil War, Thomas Brooks became minister at Thomas Apostle’s, London, and was sufficiently renowned to be chosen as preacher before the House of Commons on December 26, 1648. His sermon was afterwards published under the title, ‘God’s Delight in the Progress of the Upright’, the text being Psalm 44:18: ‘Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from Thy way’. Three or four years afterwards, he transferred to St. Margaret’s, Fish-street Hill, London.

As a writer C. H. Spurgeon said of him, ‘Brooks scatters stars with both hands, with an eagle eye of faith as well as the eagle eye of imagination’. In 1662, he fell victim to the notorious Act of Uniformity, but he appears to have remained in his parish and to have preached as opportunity arose. Treatises continued to flow from his pen.


Written by J. C. Ryle.



“Reprobate silver.”
—Jer. 9:30
–What is this that I ask about?

What is the meaning of the question before your eyes? I ask about your religion.  I offer you a solemn question on a matter that deeply concerns your soul.  I say to you, is your religion real?  Is it true?

What do I mean when I use the word “real”?  I mean that which is genuine, and sincere, and honest, and thorough.  I mean that which is not base, and hollow, and formal, and false, and counterfeit, and sham, and nominal.  Real religion is not mere show, and pretense, and skin-deep feeling, and temporary profession, and outside work.  It is something inward, solid, substantial, intrinsic, living, lasting.  You know the difference between base coin and good money,—between solid gold and tinsel,—between plated metal and silver,—between real stone and plaster imitation.  Think of these things as you consider the question which heads these thoughts.  What is the character of your religion?  Is it real?  It may be weak, and feeble, and mingled with many infirmities.  That is not the point before you today.  My question is simply this,—Is your religion real?  Is it true?

CHRISTIAN, the times in which you live demand such a question as that which is before you. 

A want of reality is a striking feature of a vast amount of religion in the present day.  Poets have sometimes told us that the world has passed through four different states or conditions.  We have had a golden age, and a silver age, a brazen age, and an iron age.  How far this is true I do not stop to inquire.  But I fear there is little doubt as to the character of the age in which we live. It is universally an age of base metal and alloy.  If we measure the religion of the age by its apparent quantity, there is much of it.  But if we measure it by its quality, there is very little indeed.  On every side we want MORE REALITY.

CHRISTIAN, I ask for attention, while I try to bring home to your conscience the question of these thoughts. 

CHRISTIAN, have you the least desire to go to heaven when you die? Do you wish to have a relation which will comfort you in life, give you good hope in death, and abide the judgment of God at the last day?  Then do not turn away from the question before you.  Sit down, and consider calmly, whether your Christianity is real and true, or base and hollow.

The point is one which, at first sight, may seem to require very few remarks to establish it.  All men, I shall be told, are fully convinced of the importance of reality.

But is this true?  Can it be said indeed that reality is rightly esteemed among Christians?  I deny it entirely.  The greater part of people who profess to admire reality, seem to think that everyone possesses it!  They tell us “that all have got good hearts at bottom,”—that all are sincere and true in the main, though they may make mistakes.  They call us uncharitable, and harsh, and censorious, if we doubt anybody’s goodness of heart.  In short, they destroy the value of reality, by regarding it as a thing which almost everyone has.

CHRISTIAN, this wide-spread delusion is precisely one of the causes why I put forth these thoughts. 

I want you to understand that reality is a far more rare and uncommon thing than is commonly supposed.  I want you to see that unreality is one of the great dangers of which Christians ought to beware.  Believe me, it is no light or easily answered inquiry, when I ask,—Is your religion real?

What saith the Scripture?  This is the only judge that can try the subject.  Turn to your Bible, and examine it fairly, and then deny, if you can, the importance of reality in religion, and the danger of not being real.

    I. Look then, for one thing, at the parables spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ.  Observe how many of them are intended to put in strong contrast the true believer and the mere nominal disciple.  The parables of the sower, of the wheat and tares, of the draw-net, of the two sons, of the wedding garment, of the ten virgins, of the talents, of the great supper, of the pounds, of the two builders, have all one great point in common.  They all bring out in striking colors the difference between reality and unreality in religion.  They all show the uselessness and danger of any Christianity which is not real, thorough, and true.

    2.  Look, for another thing, at the language of our Lord Jesus Christ about the Scribes and the Pharisees.   Eight times over in one chapter we find Him denouncing them as “hypocrites,” in words of almost fearful severity.—”Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers,” He says, “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt. xxiii. 33).  What may we learn from these tremendously strong expressions?  How is it that our gracious and merciful Savior used such cutting words about people who at any rate were more moral and decent than the publicans and harlots?  It is meant to teach us the exceeding abominableness of false profession and mere outward religion, in God’s sight.  Open profligacy and wilful obedience to fleshly lusts are no doubt ruinous sins, if not given up.  But there seems nothing which is so displeasing to Christ as hypocrisy and unreality.

    3. Look, for another thing, at the startling fact, that there is hardly a grace in the character of a true Christian of which you will not find a counterfeit described in the Word of God.  There is not a feature in a believer’s countenance of which there is not an imitation.  Give me your attention, and I will show you this in a few particulars.

Is there not an unreal repentance? 

Beyond doubt there is.  Saul, and Ahab, and Herod, and Judas Iscariot, had many feelings of sorrow about sin.  But they never really repented unto salvation.

Is there not an unreal faith?

Beyond doubt there is.  It is written of Simon Magus, at Samaria, that he “believed,” and yet his heart was not right in the sight of God.  It is even written of the devils that they “believe and tremble.” (Acts viii. 13; James ii. 19).  

Is there not an unreal holiness? 

Beyond doubt there is. Joash, king of Judah, became to all appearance very holy and good while Jehoiada the priest lived.  But as soon as he died the religion of Joash died at the same time. (2 Chron. 24: 2). Judas Iscariot’s outward life was as correct as that of any of the apostles up to the time that he betrayed his Master.  There was nothing suspicious about him.  Yet in reality he was a thief and a traitor.

Is there not an unreal love and charity? 

Beyond doubt there is.  There is a love which consists in words and tender expressions, and a great show of affection, and calling other people “dear brethren,” while the heart does not love at all.  It is not for nothing that St. John says, “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”   It was not without cause that St. Paul said, “Let love be without dissimulation.” (1 John 3: 18 Rom. 12: 9).

Is there not an unreal humility? 

Beyond doubt there is.  There is a pretended lowliness of demeanor, which often covers over a very proud heart. St. Paul warns us against a “voluntary humility,” and speaks of “things which had a show of wisdom in will-worship and humility.” (Col. 2: 18, 23).

Is there not unreal praying? 

Beyond doubt there is.  Our Lord denounces it as one of the special sins of the Pharisees—that for a “pretense they made long prayer.” He does not charge them with not praying, or with praying too shortly.  Their sin lay in this, that their prayers were not real.

Is there not unreal worship? 

Beyond doubt there is. Our Lord says of the Jews, “This people draw nigh to Me with their mouths, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” (Matt. xv. 8.)  They had plenty of formal services in their temples and their synagogues.  But the fatal defect about them was want of reality and want of heart.

Is there not unreal talking about religion?

Beyond doubt there is.  Ezekiel describes some professing Jews who talked and spoke like God’s people, “while their hearts went after their covetousness.”  (Ezek. xxxiii. 31.)  St. Paul tells us that we may “speak with the tongue of men and angels,” and yet be no better than sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. (1 Cor. 13: 1.)

CHRISTIAN, what shall we say to these things? 

To say the least, they ought to set us thinking.  To my own mind they seem to lead to only one conclusion. They show clearly the immense importance which Scripture attaches to reality in religion.  They show clearly what need we have to take heed, lest our Christianity turn out to be merely nominal, formal, unreal, and base.

The subject is of deep importance in every age. There has never been a time, since the Church of Christ was founded, when there has not been a vast amount of unreality and mere nominal religion among professing Christians.  I am sure it is the case in the present day.  Wherever I turn my eyes I see abundant cause for the warning,—Beware of base metal in religion.  Be genuine.  Be thorough.  Be real.  Be true.

The success of life is not measured by the years we live, but by loyalty to Jesus Christ and service in the Gospel.


wishartThe light was rising; springtime was coming…

…the early rain of God’s grace was falling upon Scotland. Godly lives now sprang up thick as flowers in the meadow. They must be uprooted in bunches, thought the Romanists, or the people, gaining light, will cast off the Papal religion and be free to worship God according to His Word. During the next few years many were condemned and executed for their faith.
George Wishart arose at this time in the spirit and majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was born in 1513 and became one of the earliest Scottish religious reformers.  Wishart’s character displayed the banner of truth with an invincible faith. His heart was true, pure, fresh, and fragrant as the heart of a rosebud. Through the indwelling Spirit of God, his life was wonderfully attractive. His eloquence was seraphic; his lips had been touched with a live coal from the altar of God; his soul was aflame with the Gospel. He was animated with transfiguring revelations of Christ and His redeeming truth. He was a burning and shining light. The light he shed was too bright to last long in those dangerous times.   In 1545, plague broke out in Dundee and as soon as Wishart heard of it he went back there, preaching to everyone and caring for the sick. He told them how there was a worse disease than the plague – sin – which could only be healed by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Opposed to Wishart was Cardinal David Beaton, a cruel and proud man who lived openly with a mistress and was despised by the people. He once disgraced himself at a cathedral door vying for precedence with another churchman. As the two quarreled, their followers shoved each other and tore off one another’s vestments. By contrast, when Beaton sent a priest to assassinate Wishart. Wishart took the dagger off the priest, subdued the man, and then saved him from the fury of the crowd.
The cardinal, prelates, and priests consulted for his overthrow and eventually it happened. Wishart suddenly fell into their hands, and his death was decreed. On March 1, 1546, soldiers from St. Andrews Castle ushered George Wishart to his place of death. Some beggars at the roadside pleaded with him for alms as he passed, but he replied that with his hands tied, he could give them nothing. He might have added that he had already given away all his money the day he was taken to trial.  The executioner lit the fire and hung sacks of gunpowder around the victim. Wishart knelt to ask God for mercy on himself and forgiveness for his persecutors. Touched, the executioner pleaded for pardon and Wishart gave it.  Wishart kissed his cheek, saying, “Go, here is a token that I forgive thee; do thine office.” One standing near said to him, “Be of good courage.” He replied, “This fire torments my body, but in no way abates my spirit.”

Turning to the crowd, he urged them not to be offended with the gospel because of the end that had overtaken him.

“Had I taught men’s doctrine, I had gotten great thanks by men;
but for the word’s sake and the true gospel, which was given to me by the grace of God, I suffer this day by men, not sorrowfully, but with a glad heart and mind,” he said. He was fixed to the stake and burned alive. His execution was in 1546.

Wishart’s execution set in motion a train of events that changed Scotland.

It was just one more incident aggravating popular resentment against the Roman Church. The people knew Wishart to be a godly man. Revenge was perpetrated: hotheads went in and assassinated Cardinal Beaton. Fortunately, John Knox, an associate of Wishart, became their chaplain and eventually ushered in the Scottish reformation. The Roman Church was overthrown and the Presbyterian brought in.

Do we have the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our own lives?

Are we every day trying to make our lives rich, radiant, successful, through earnest effort to bring others into the possession of the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

[ A NOTE TO MY READERS AS TO THE PURPOSE OF THESE STORIES:  These stories are about Christians who before us have suffered great persecution and/or died in the cause of Christ.  Their living faith was their testimony unto Christ Jesus.  They were not all great Christians.  Many of those that I read and write about had significant flaws, some morally and some theologically… But all had found “The Christ.”  And they each had witnessed to, and testified of that living Christ which takes away the sins of the world.  Having done all, these Christians stood, and their stories still stand today, demonstrating to us and pointing to us their Lord, both with their teachings, and more importantly, with their lives. And therein lies the power… They were totally committed. 
As you look around yourself, do you see that type of commitment?  As you look deep within yourself, do you see yourself standing in their shoes?  Can you say, with grace, “If called, there go I?”  As you look around your church, can you sense as a member, an increasing importance of who we are in Christ Jesus, or do you see an increasing importance of who we are in the world?  From your vantage point, which seems to be most important?
Never before has the Christian Church been assaulted on so many fronts.  Never before, has it faced so many enemies from without and enemies from within.  One shudders at the sound of all the axes being laid to the roots of our Christian heritage, and we ask ourselves, “When Christ comes will he find faith on the earth?”  To this question, I am deeply stirred with a sense of urgency.
Today, I call to you wherever you are, find your commitment, find your passion, find who you really are –in Christ!  Resolve in yourself right now, to make Him and his cause, the purpose for your highest commitment, and the reason for your deepest passion.  I can tell you, that you will never be sorry.
As apostates and apostasy continues in the church, I seek to point to our blessed Savior through the fingers and lives of those Christians who have once lived and died for Christ, and whose voices and anthems, I believe, now blend with the others from the church triumphant, and with the angels and cherubim as they circle around the throne of the Living God; “To whom be glory forever.  Amen.”  –MWP]


On the Nature of Sheep, and Thoughts regarding the Sheep of His Pasture

Written by Samuel Rutherford.
Edited for thought and sense.

untitledThe sheep are passive creatures, and can do little for themselves; so can believers in the work of their salvation: as,


They have not of themselves more knowledge of the saving way than sheep…

…and so cannot walk, but as they are taught and led. “Teach me, O Lord.” (Psalm 119:33.) “Lead me in thy truth.” (Psalm 25:5.) (1.) Like a blind man holding out his hand to his guide, so they: “Lord, lead me in thy righteousness.” (Psalm 5:8.) (2.) It is not common leading, but the leading of children learning to go by a hold. “When Ephraim was a child, I loved him.” (Hosea 11:1.) “I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms;” but Ephraim, like a child, knew not his leader: “But they know not,” saith the Lord, “that I healed them.” (verse 3.)

Leading may suppose some willingness; but we must be drawn:

“No man can come to me, except the Father draw him,” (John 6:44). “Draw me, we will run after thee.” (Cant. 1:4.) (4.) There is a word of special grace, which is more than teaching, leading, drawing; and that is, Leaning: “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?” (Cant. 8:5.) (5.) There is a word yet more, and that is Bearing: when the good shepherd hath found the lost sheep, “He layeth it on his shoulders with joy.” (Luke 15:5.) “Hearken to me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are born (by me) from the belly and carried from the grey hairs:” (Isa. 46:3:) So also, “God beareth them on eagles’ wings.” (Deut. 32:11.) Grace, grace is a noble guide and tutor.

The life of sheep, is the most dependent life in the world:

No such dependent creatures as sheep: all their happiness is the goodness, care, and wisdom of their shepherd; wolves, lions, leopards, need none to watch over them. Briers and thorns grow alone; the vine tree, the noble vine, is a tender thing, must be supported. Christ must bear the weak and lambs in his bosom. (Isa. 40:11.)

The shepherd’s bosom and his legs, are the legs of the weak lamb.

Even the habit of grace is a creature, and no independent thing; and so, in its creation, in its preservation, it depends on Christ: grace is as the new-born bird; its life is the heat and warmness of the body, and wings of the dam. It is like a chariot; though it have four wheels, yet it moves only, as drawn by the strength of horses without it. It is a plough of timber only, without iron and steel it breaks up no earth. The new seed of God acts, as acted by God: hence repenting Ephraim, “Turn thou me and I shall be turned.” (Jer. 31:18.) Renewed David is often at this: “Quicken me, quicken me:” Solomon says of the swooning Church; “Stay me with flagons, and comfort me with apples.” (Cant. 2:5.) 3. Sheep are docile creatures. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27.) 

There are two things here considerable; one within, and another without.

How knoweth the lamb its mother amongst a thousand of the flock? Natural instinct teaches it. From what teacher or art is it, that the swallow builds its clay house and nest, and every bee knoweth its own cell and waxen house? So the instinct of grace knoweth the voice of the Beloved amongst many voices, (Cant. 2:8). And this discerning power is in the subject. There is another power in the object. Of many thousand millions of men, since the creation, not one, in figure and shape, is altogether like another; some visible difference there is: amongst many voices, no voice like man’s tongue: amongst millions of divers tongues of men, every voice hath an audible difference printed on it, by which it is discerned from all other. To the new creature, there is in Christ’s word some character, some sound of heaven, that is in no voice in the world, but in his only: in Christ represented to a believer’s eye of faith, there is a shape, and a stamp of divine majesty: no man knoweth it but the believer; and in heaven and earth Christ hath not a marrow [match] like himself. Suppose there were a hundred counterfeit moons, or fancied suns in the heaven; a natural eye can discern the true moon, and the natural sun from them all. The eye knoweth white, not to be black nor green. Christ is offered to the eye of faith, and stamps on faith’s eye little images of Christ, that the soul dare go to death and to hell with it, that this, this only was Christ, and none other but he only. 4. Sheep are simple: fancy leadeth them much, therefore they are straying creatures. (Isa. 53:6; Psalm 119:176; 1 Peter 2:25.) There is nothing of the notion of death, or of another life in the fancy of sheep; a mouthful of green grass carries the sheep on to a pit, and the mouth and teeth of lions and wolves.

Fancy is often the guide of weak believers, rather than faith:

…little care we by nature, what we shall be in the next generation. Fancy and nature cannot out-see time, nor see over or beyond death. Fair and green-like are our hopes of gain; for to us, they are to us the very hope of good: but we see two moons in one heaven. There is a way that seems good, yet it deceives us; for black death is in the night lodging of it.

Alas! we are journeying, and know not our night-inns, and where we shall lodge when the sun is going down: poor soul! where shall you be all night? Faith is leisurely to look to Christ, in bringing his work out of the mold, and taking the new ship off the stocks as a perfected vessel.

We conceive erroneously that faith only eyes Christ as pardoning; and that it has no eye, no activity and no influence on our own gracious acts wrought in us by Christ. But faith is an agent, and it is patient, and joins with Christ and with free will, to be an active agent in the purifying of the heart: it believes heaven, and works the work of heaven.

We often go on, imagining that we are in a way of backsliding.

Deserted souls not conscious of the reflex acts of believing and longing for Christ, think themselves apostates, when they are advancing in their way. In great water-works, where there be a great multitude of wheels, the standing of some five or six is the advancing of the work in other twenty, or forty wheels. In desertion, some wheels are at a stand, and move not; as often acts of feeling, joy, self-delight in the actual beholding of Christ, are at a stand; and then it is thus:—“I said, I am cast out of his sight;” yet other wheels are moving, as (1.) Humble and base thoughts of himself. (2.) Broad and large thoughts of Christ, and his grace. (3.) Hunger and longing for Christ. (4.) Self-diffidence is much. (5.) Care and love-sickness: “Saw you him whom my soul loves?” is vehement. (6.) Sense of sin, and of wants and spiritual poverty, increases now. (7.) Sense of the misery of the combat, is much more than before: “O miserable man that I am!” (8.) Believing under hope, and against hope, is strongest now. (9.) There is more tenderness and humble fear now than before. (10.) A stronger resolution to entertain Christ more kindly, when he shall return again in his fullness of presence. (11.) Sorrow, that remembering, he said, “My head is full of dew, and my locks with the drops of the night,” (Cant. 5:6,) yet the sleeping soul kept him at the door.

We are to adore that dispensation, which will have us not stepping one foot to heaven, but upon grace, and upon grace’s charges.

He could make saints to be sinless angels: but what haste? We should then, not yet being habituated with glory, nor confirmed in heaven, and think little of Christ.

Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 30 March 1661) was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor, theologian and author, and one of the Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly.

Rutherford was educated at Jedburgh Grammar School and Edinburgh University, where he became Regent of Humanity (Professor of Latin) in 1623. In 1627 he was settled as minister of Anwoth in Kirkcudbrightshire,Galloway, where it was said of him ‘he was always praying, always,preaching, always visiting the sick, always catechising, always writing and studying’, and from where he was banished to Aberdeen for nonconformity, ‘being very powerful on the side of the Reformed faith and of God living’, there in Aberdeen, ‘his writing desk’, was said to be, ‘perhaps the most effective and widely resounding pulpit then in Christendom’. His patron in Galloway was John Gordon, 1st Viscount of Kenmure. On the re-establishment of Presbyterianism in 1638 he was made Professor of Divinity at St. Andrews.

Rutherford was chosen as one of the four main Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly of Divines in London taking part in in formulating the Westminster Confession of Faith completed in 1647, and after his return to Scotland he became Rector of St. Mary’s College at St. Andrews in 1651. Rutherford was a staunch Protester during the controversy in the Scottish Presbyterian church between the Resolutioners and Protesters in the 1650s, and at the Restoration of Charles II his Lex Rex was burnt by the hand of the common hangman, and the “Drunken Parliament” deprived him of all his offices and voted that he not be permitted to die in the college.

His epitaph on his tombstone concluded ‘Acquainted with Immanuel’s song’.

Rutherford’s has been described as ‘Prince of Letter writers’ and C. H. Spurgeon described Rutherford’s letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men, continuing in an 1891 review of Rutherford’s (posthumously published Letters (1664) ‘when we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford’s Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men’. Andrew Thomson, a Scottish minister, in a 19th-century biography observed ‘the letters flash upon the reader with original thoughts and abound in lofty feeling clothed in the radiant garb of imagination in which there is everything of poetry but the form. Individual sentences that supplied the germ-thought of some of the most beautiful spiritual in modern poetry’ continuing ‘a bundle of myrrh whose ointment and perfume would revive and gladden the hearts of many generations, each letter full of hope and yet of heartbreak, full of tender pathos of the here and the hereafter.’  Rutherford was also known for other spiritual and devotional works, such as Christ Dying and drawing Sinners to Himself, “The Trial and Triumph of Faith”.