Commonplaces

Better to be taught by suffering than to be taught by sin! Better to lie in God’s dungeon than to revel in the devil’s palaces. — Charles Spurgeon

Music Playlist

My Podcast Subscriptions

Rev. Robert McCurley - SermonAudio / videos
Rev. David Silversides - SermonAudio / iTunes
Rev. Kenneth Stewart - SermonAudio / iTunes
Dr. Joel Beeke -
SermonAudio / iTunes
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Podcast - Confessing Our Hope (iTunes) / web
Reformed Theological Seminary on iTunes U - Free RTS virtual courses
Westminster Theological Seminary on iTunes U - Free course lectures

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Books

Came across this super charming picture.  I like the details that went into it.  The thick black-framed glasses adorning the girl’s face, along with two pigtails.  The piles of books.  Her little hands framing an overwhelmed facial expression, as she poses in a dainty, old-fashioned, retro dress.  She could be a mini Librarian.

 

 

This picture somehow reminds me of a time, when I was perhaps an eight- or nine-year-old girl, browsing through my Dad’s bookshelves at home.  At that age I didn’t have the capacity to fully comprehend what I was trying to read from those books, but I’ve always loved books for as long as I can remember.  I recall turning the pages, pondering what was being written and thinking along the lines of, “When I grow up someday, maybe I’ll then be able to read many books and understand what I read . . .”

 

 “I’ve traveled the world twice over,
Met the famous; saints and sinners,
Poets and artists, kings and queens,
Old stars and hopeful beginners,
I’ve been where no-one’s been before,
Learned secrets from writers and cooks
All with one library ticket
To the wonderful world of books.
~Janice James

 

Give Me Scotland: John Knox

I’m happy to hear about an upcoming feature length documentary on the life and legacy of Scotland’s Reformer, John Knox.

About the film (excerpt from its campaign website):

“The film would retell the engaging and dramatic story of Knox and explore the relevance of the man and of his Reformational message in the 21st Century . . . We believe that a visually gripping film on Knox will achieve a wide audience both in Scotland and around the world, and we believe that this film could be a powerful challenge for the church to live up to Reformational standards and be once again a great force for good in the world. Perhaps it could even spread the vision for a new Reformation.”

To stay up to date with the latest events in the production of the film, simply join its Facebook page.

 

 

 

Charles Spurgeon
spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon

If I were to pick any Baptist preacher in Church history whom I’d like to meet, the beloved “Prince of Preachers” Charles Spurgeon would be amongst the top of my list.  He has a way with words that always encouraged me upon reading his sermons.  He provides concrete illustrations with which his layman audience could easily understand.  His diction and delivery are inspirational; they enhance the beauty and force of his message.  After reading Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold Dallimore, I’ve come to appreciate also his character, wit, and humor.  I think that Spurgeon showed with his ready humor how it is possible for the highest spirituality to be exemplified in the cheeriest character.  His wit is as abundant as his wisdom.

Some favorite sayings and writings of Spurgeon which I find rather memorable (some funny, and others edifying)…

On criticism:

Spurgeon was well-known as a cigar smoker, mostly for medicinal reasons as he faced certain health problems in his life.  He didn’t view cigar smoking as intrinsically wrong, if not in excess, and said he would quit if he finds himself smoking too much.  At one time, someone (who was particularly critical of Spurgeon) asked him how much is “too much”; to which Spurgeon replied, “Two at a time, of course.” :-)

On head of family:

In speaking to a couple getting married one time, he encouraged that they would both be “dearly-beloved” not only at the beginning of their marriage, but all through the end; and that, while their sorrows would be mutually shared, their joys would all be multiplied.  Referring to Ephesians 5:23, he addressed the bride and said:

“According to the teaching of the apostle, ‘The husband is the head of the wife.’  Don’t you try to be the head; but you be the neck, then you can turn the head whichever way you like.”

On his age:

Spurgeon had incredible oratory skills even as a teenager.  On his very first effort at preaching in the pulpit, an elderly woman, who was enthusiastic of his preaching, cried out, “Bless your heart, how old are you?”  He replied that there should not be interruption in the service.  After the last hymn was sung she asked the same question again.  He replied, “I am under sixty.”  “Yes, and under sixteen!” the lady replied.  The congregation asked him to come and preach to them again as soon as possible.

On the truly Christian marriage:

From his sermon titled “The Saint One With His Savior” in which he beautifully describes a happy marriage and the true wife, all the while describing his beloved wife Susannah:

charlesandsusannahspurgeon

Charles & Susannah Spurgeon

Sometimes we have seen a model marriage, founded on pure love, and cemented in mutual esteem.  Therein, the husband acts as a tender head; and the wife, as a true spouse, realizes the model marriage-relation, and sets forth what our oneness with the Lord ought to be.  She delights in her husband, in his person, his character, his affection; to her, he is not only the chief and foremost of mankind, but in her eyes he is all-in-all; her heart’s love belongs to him, and to him only.  She finds sweetest content and solace in his company, his fellowship, his fondness; he is her little world, her Paradise, her choice treasure.  At any time, she would gladly lay aside her own pleasure to find it doubled in gratifying him.  She is glad to sink her individuality in his.  She seeks no renown for herself; his honor is reflected upon her, and she rejoices in it.  She would defend his name with her dying breath; safe enough is he where she can speak for him.  The domestic circle is her kingdom; that she may there create happiness and comfort, is her lifework; and his smiling gratitude is all the reward she seeks.  Even in her dress, she thinks of him; without constraint she consults his taste and considers nothing beautiful which is distasteful to him.

A tear from his eye, because of any unkindness on her part, would grievously torment her.  She asks not how her behavior may please a stranger, or how another’s judgment may approve her conduct; let her beloved be content, and she is glad.  He has many objects in life, some of which she does not quite understand; but she believes in them all, and anything she can do to promote them, she delights to perform.  He lavishes love on her, and, in return, she lavishes love on him.  Their object in life is common.  There are points where their affections so intimately unite that none could tell which is first and which is second.  To watch their children growing up in health and strength, to see them holding posts of usefulness and honor, is their mutual concern; in this and other matters, they are fully one.  Their wishes blend, their hearts are indivisible.  By degrees, they come to think very much the same thoughts. Intimate association creates conformity; I have known this to become so complete that, at the same moment, the same utterance has leaped to both their lips.

Happy woman and happy man!  If heaven be found on earth, they have it!  At last the two are so welded, so engrafted on one stem, that their old age presents a lovely attachment, a common sympathy, by which its infirmities are greatly alleviated, and its burdens are transformed into fresh bonds of love.  So happy a union of will, sentiment, thought, and heart exists between them, that the two streams of their life have washed away the dividing bank, and run on as one broad current of united existence, until their common joy falls into the main ocean of felicity.

On agnosticism:

A gentleman said to Spurgeon, “Ah! Mr. Spurgeon, I don’t agree with you about religion; I am an agnostic.”  Spurgeon replied, “Yes!  That is a Greek word, and the exact equivalent is ignoramus; if you like to claim that title, you are quite welcome to.”

On God’s providence:

From Spurgeon’s Evening by Evening; Or, Readings at Eventide for the Family or the Closet (p. 318):

Believer, if your inheritance be a lowly one, you should be satisfied with your earthly portion; for you may rest assured that it is the fittest for you.  Unerring wisdom ordained your lot, and selected for you the safest and best condition.  A ship of large tonnage is to be brought up the river; now, in one part of the stream there is sand-bank; should some one ask, “Why does the captain steer through the deep part of the channel, and deviate so much from a straight line?” his answer would be, “Because I should not get my vessel into harbor at all if I did not keep to the deep channel.”  So, it may be, you would run aground and suffer shipwreck, if your divine Captain did not steer you into the depths of affliction, where waves of trouble follow each other in quick succession.  Some plants die if they have too much sunshine.  It may be that you are planted where you get but little; you are put there by the loving Husbandman, because only in that situation will you bring forth fruit unto perfection.  Remember this: had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.  You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had the choosing of your lot, you would soon cry, “Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows.”  Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good.  Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God.  Down, busy self and proud impatience; it is not for you to choose, but for the Lord of Love!

 

A Divine Shelter

In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian goes through trials, temptations, and triumphs as he goes on his pilgrimage in a fallen world to the Celestial City.

Sin makes this world a dry and weary land.  I’m reminded through Pastor Rob McCurley’s sermon recently, that although the road to the Heavenly City is always an ascent (Psalm 24:3), the Lord Jesus Christ is a place of Shelter.  He is a large Rock (higher than us) in the wilderness, casting a shadow and providing coolness from the blistering heat of the sun.  He is the Shade upon which I may take refuge.  Anything else is a tree of broken branches with no leaves, leaving us exposed.  Christ is the cool, clear Water which I may drink to the satisfaction of my parched soul.  He is the Shelter from the storm of affliction and rain.

Googler

The Lord is kind to me (as He is always in any circumstance).  He providentially gave me a job at Google several months ago; and I enjoy the workplace very much.  He is the One who opens or closes any door (Prov. 21:1).  He is my ultimate Employer.

Rev. Rob McCurley once said in a sermon that our memories are like lighting a match in the dark.  When we find ourselves in the darkness of affliction, we light the “match of memory” and recall God’s past dealings with us.  I have copious evidence of His goodness.  Recording or writing of His providence is one way by which I can store up these “matches,” so in the future I may look back and remember readily His faithfulness at various stations of my life.

For memories, relaxing on a swing chair outside my work building…

 

1 Cor. 10:31 says that whether we eat, or drink, or “whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”  Enjoying the sunshine, swing chair, and warm weather, to the glory of God. :-)

On Reading

“Take heed what books thou readest: for as water relisheth of the soil it runs through, so does the soul of the authors that a man reads.” –John Trapp

“It is not the bee’s touching of the flower that gathers honey, but her abiding for a time upon the flower that draws out the sweet.  It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.” –Thomas Brooks

“Ministers are living Books, and Books are dead Ministers; and yet though dead, they speak.  When you cannot hear the one, you may read the other.” –Matthew Poole

“Choose an author as you choose a friend.” –Sir Christopher Wren

“The godly man is a man set apart, Ps. iii, not only because God hath set him apart by election, but because he hath set himself apart by devotion … Begin the day with God, visit God in the morning before you make any other visit; wind up your hearts towards heaven in the morning, and they will go better all the day after!  Oh turn your closets into temples; read the scriptures.  The two Testaments are the two lips by which God speaks to us; these will make you wise unto salvation: the scripture is both a glass to shew you your spots, and a laver to wash them away; besiege heaven every day with your prayer, thus perfume your houses, and keep a constant intercourse with heaven.  Secondly, Get books into your houses, when you have not the spring near to you, then get water into your cisterns: so when you have not that wholesome preaching that you desire, good books are cisterns that hold the water of life in them to refresh you.  When David’s natural heat was taken away, they covered him with warm clothes, 1 Kings i.  So when you find a chillness upon your souls, and that your former heat begins to abate, ply yourselves with warm clothes, get those good books that may acquaint you with such truths as may warm and affect your hearts.” –Thomas Watson

Ways in Which I Want to be Like Salt

In a Christian gathering I attended, each person was to answer this question just for fun: “If you were to be like one thing, what would that be and why?”

I thought it was an interesting question.  Actually I wasn’t sure what to answer, which is why I was glad my turn came almost toward the end as we went around the group circle.  Someone answered he wanted to be money, and another said “a pen,” while others came up with other creative and nice ideas.

After pondering about it, I finally answered that I wish to be like salt.  Salt has certain characteristic traits found in the kind of person I wish to become.  And ever since that gathering, I’ve been able to learn more of the multiple uses of salt.

salt3First, salt causes a thirst.  I desire my conversation to cause others to thirst for God.  I want to help others realize their need for the Living Water—Jesus Christ.  I’m reminded that Jesus said, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-14)  Some try to quench their “thirst” by turning to alcohol, money, drugs, fame, etc., though it only lasts for a season.  Matthew 5:13 says, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”  Therefore, I need to continually remind myself never to “water down” (compromise) my message, so that it may not lose its “saltiness” and impact.

saltshakerSecondly, salt seasons food, enhances flavor, and makes things taste better.  When I cook without it, the dish tastes bland and appeals less to the appetite.  The Bible tells us, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Colossians 4:6)  Growing up when I read this verse, I didn’t know what it means.  However, I’ve since learned that when I share a message of God’s love to others or answer questions about my faith, I want to uncompromisingly communicate the Christian faith in a way that is palatable—that is, in a reasonable, judicious, and winsome way.  My conversation should be “seasoned with salt,” that it not only causes others to thirst for more of God, but also makes an otherwise bland conversation come alive when possible.

fishThirdly, salt is a preservative.  It can be used as a means to preserve food from spoiling.  By absorbing water from foods, salt makes the environment too dry for bacteria or mold to grow.  Salting is one of the ways to preserve fish, for example.  I hope my conversation can be used as a “preservative” to encourage others during discouragement or trial, and thus to persevere in “running the race” of life.

iceFourthly, salt can also be used to melt ice.  This is why some people pour salt over the snow on their driveway.  I want to be able to inspire or touch the hearts of others — that God may be pleased to use my words to soften the cold stony hearts of those who have hardened themselves, so that He may then mold their hearts for Him.

I have much to learn, and am in a lifelong process of learning to be as the above — to be the “salt of the earth.”

Meanwhile, though, I don’t think I would look at salt in the same way again.

Out of the Tiger’s Mouth

out of the tiger's mouthI read Out of the Tiger’s Mouth, a biography of the late Reformed theologian Dr. Charles H. Chao, several years ago and came across something I wrote of it again just this week.  Being of Chinese ethnicity, I was so intrigued to learn more about his life, as he was among the first to ever translate and publish Reformed and Puritan literature into the Chinese language.  Having Chinese-speaking family members, I was very excited that such works are made accessible.

This book shares the story of Dr. Chao’s geographical journey from the East to the West, as well as his spiritual pilgrimage from his Christian conversion in China to his ordination as a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA).

Despite persecution from Chinese Communists, Dr. Chao narrowly escaped from prison and death.  On one occasion, he (along with other unarmed men) was rounded up by Chinese Communists, to march as a living shield in front of Communist soldiers while they attack the Nationalist soldiers.  In His providence, the Lord provided a way for him to hide and flee for his life.

I also learn of the Lord’s providence in crossing Dr. Chao’s path with that of other theologians who were influential in shaping his theological persuasions, such as Dr. Loraine Boettner and the Rev. J. G. Vos.  He was profoundly influenced by the teaching of Dr. Vos, when Dr. Vos and family went to China as missionaries.  In the words of Dr. Boettner, Dr. Chao was “a man of God—with untiring devotion.”

Another interesting part was how he and Dr. Samuel Boyle co-founded the Reformation Translation Fellowship, which translates and distributes literature consistent with Reformed theological perspective into Chinese, in Mainland China.  (Some of the works are available via CrtsBooks.net).

The Lord called Dr. Chao home in 2010 at the age of 94.  In reading his life story, I’m reminded and encouraged by God’s faithfulness and sovereignty in using Dr. Chao as a vessel to proclaim the good news of His sovereign grace in the midst of life-threatening events, trials, and persecution of communist China; and in how He used him to minister to Chinese-speaking people through sound literature.

Letters to a Sister

letters to a sister antiquarianI love antiquarian books.  Not only do they physically last well for posterity, they also were made beautifully (e.g. with golden engraving, decoration, etc.).  Books used to be a testament of things valued.

I’m ecstatic to have found and to own an antiquarian copy of Letters to a Sister by Harvey Newcomb published in 1851, yet still in excellent condition.  I like the smell of its old pages as I turn them.  Another joy of owning an antiquarian book is the surprise of finding treasures in between pages.  For example, I’ve found an old note written in beautiful penmanship, and very old leaves in between other pages.  Of course, I’d like to believe these actually survived from back in 1800’s! :-)

This is one case where one may judge a book by its cover.  Besides its sturdy and lovely cover, it likewise has solid and beautiful contents–being originally written as a series of letters by a caring, older brother (the author) to his younger sister after both of their parents passed away, to help her in spiritual walk.  Though first published in 1839, much of the advice are timeless and relevant for Christian ladies today as when originally published, because much of the wisdom therein transcend the passage of time.

It provides practical directions for Christian ladies in cultivating intellectual, social, moral, and religious areas of life, including prayer, improvement of time, charity, Scripture reading & study, overcoming temptation, conduct & attitude in public worship, meditation, bodily health, mental cultivation and reading, Christian activity & duties, sound doctrine, dress, social and relative duties (to church, family, friends, etc.), submission, contentment, and self-examination.  I also like how the table of contents divides each chapter into sub-headings of topics for quick reference.

Love of the Telling

In the words of C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce, my prayer is that God by His grace would keep me from this:

Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.  For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know.  They sink lowerbecome interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.

Though I disagree with many of Lewis’ theological beliefs (and would not recommend his writings to new believers due to some serious errors), I think he is a literary genius with some insight of how people think.  The setting of the above excerpt is Lewis telling a story about a conversation between an angel and a famous artist who has just died.  The angel tells this artist of the stunning beauty of heaven, to convince him to enter in.  The artist grew excited, imagining the beautiful paintings that he will make of what is in heaven.  However, he became angry upon learning that, once he enters heaven, there is no more need for him to paint; in heaven, he gets to simply enjoy the real thing.  He protested that, as a painter, art itself is an end.  The angel replies, “Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there [during your earthly life], but they are also dangerous stimulants.”

Each good thing in this world points us to, and tells us of, its Maker.  Painting of a beautiful scenery tells us of the creative handiwork of its Creator in real life to His glory.  Rather than using art as a means to remind us of the Master Artist, the artist in the story elevates art (and perhaps his artistic abilities and reputation) as an end.  The story reminds me that this danger of idolatry applies not only to poetry and music and art, but also to religious activities and theological conversations.

May the object of my affection lie not in the telling about my Savior, but in my Savior Himself Who is altogether lovely.  May my writing of Him not be an end in itself, but (by His grace) a reflection of love for Him.

Greetings

Hi, welcome to my blog! My name is Jessica. I'm a Reformed Presbyterian who loves reading, learning more of God, playing piano, the Puritans, apologetics, old-fashioned things, and exchanging thoughts. This is a place where I write some thoughts or things I'd like to learn.

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Great Books

“Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.” —Charles Spurgeon