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.
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 chair swing 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, chair swing, and warm weather, to the glory of God.
“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
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.
First, 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.
Secondly, 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.
Thirdly, 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.
Fourthly, 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.
I 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.
I 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.
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 lower–become 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 praise. 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.
“I feel as if God had, by giving the Sabbath, given fifty-two springs in every year.” –Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“It is a desperate hazard . . . to be weary of one sabbath here, and yet presume upon the expectation of an eternity which shall be nothing else but sabbath.” –Edward Reynolds
“When the falling dust of the world has clogged the wheels of our affections, that they can scarce move towards God, the Sabbath comes, and oils the wheels of our affections, and they move swiftly on. God has appointed the Sabbath for this end. On this day the thoughts rise to heaven, the tongue speaks of God, and is as the pen of a ready writer, the eyes drop tears, and the soul burns in love. The heart, which all the week was frozen, on the Sabbath melts with the word. The Sabbath is a friend to religion; it files off the rust of our graces; it is a spiritual jubilee, wherein the soul is set to converse with its Maker.” –Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, pp. 94-95
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” –Exodus 20:8-11
“If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” –Isaiah 58:13-14
“It hath been truly and justly observed, that our whole Religion fares according to our Sabbaths, that poor Sabbaths make poor Christians, and that a strictness in our Sabbaths inspires a Vigour into all our other duties.” –Cotton Mather
“A well-spent Sabbath we feel to be a day of heaven upon earth. For this reason we wish our Sabbaths to be wholly given to God. We love to spend the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is taken up in the works of necessity and mercy. We love to rise early on that morning, and to sit up late, that we may have a long day with God. How many may know from this that they will never be in heaven! A straw on the surface can tell which way the stream is flowing. Do you abhor a holy Sabbath? Is it a kind of hell to you to be with those who are strict in keeping the Lord’s day? The writer of these lines once felt as you do. You are restless and uneasy. You say, “Behold what a weariness is it” “When will the Sabbath be gone, that we may sell corn?” Ah! soon, very soon, and you will be in hell. Hell is the only place for you. Heaven is one long, never-ending, holy Sabbath-day. There are no Sabbaths in hell.” –Robert Murray M’Cheyne
“Of all time Sabbath-time is the most precious and valuable; it being the time God has allotted and set apart for himself, and upon the improvement whereof the glory of God and salvation of our souls depend in a most peculiar manner; it being the day of special access to God, and of free commerce and correspondence between heaven and earth. It is heaven’s weekly market day, or God’s deal-day to the poor and needy; the day of access to God’s presence-chamber.” –John Willison
“The spirituality of the Lord’s Day is another cardinal feature of Reformed piety. While the beauty of the Christian understanding of the Lord’s Day has often been obscured by a sort of Sabbatarian legalism, there is something very profound about the biblical sign of the eighth day, the first day of the New Creation (John 20:1, 19, and 26). It was Jesus himself who reinterpreted the old Sabbath and established the Lord’s Day by meeting with his disciples for worship on the first day of the week (John 20:19 and 26). A few years ago I discovered a work of John Willison, minister in Dundee, Scotland, with the title “Treatise concerning the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day.” From this work I began to sense the spiritual vitality of the observance of the Lord’s Day as our spiritual ancestors understood it. Willison was obviously much more concerned with what one should do on the Lord’s Day than what one should not do. It was a day blessed with a benediction of peace and rest and quiet. It was a day devoted to prayer and works of charity.” –Hughes Oliphant Old
“Make the Sabbath the Market-Day for thy Soul: Lose not one Hour, but be either praying, conferring, or meditating: Think not thy own Thoughts: Let every Day have its Duties: Turn the Sermon heard into Matter of Prayer, Instruction into Petition, Reproof into Confession, Consolation into Thanksgiving: Think much of the Sermon heard, and make something of it all the Week long.” –John Dod
“The happiness of heaven is the constant keeping of the Sabbath. Heaven is called a Sabbath, to make those who have Sabbaths long for heaven, and those who long for heaven love Sabbaths.” –Philip Henry
“The Sabbath is the Market-day of the Soul, the Cream of Time.” –Thomas Watson
“Make the Lord’s day the market for thy soul; let the whole day be spent in prayer, repetitions, or meditations; lay aside the affairs of the other part of the week; let thy sermon thou hast heard be converted into prayer. Shall God allow thee six days, and wilt thou not afford him one?” –John Bunyan (Dying Sayings)
“A corruption of morals usually follows a profanation of the Sabbath.” –Sir William Blackstone
“The sabbath day, is a season for meditation. This should be the temper of every christian to be in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. On that day when our Saviour did arise from the earth, our souls should ascend to heaven.” –William Bates
“Money gained on Sabbath-day is a loss, I dare to say. No blessing can come with that which comes to us, on the devil’s back, by our willful disobedience of God’s law. The loss of health by neglect of rest, and the loss of soul by neglect of hearing the gospel, soon turn all seeming profit into real loss.” –Charles Spurgeon
“A Sabbath well spent brings a week of content and strength for the toils of the morrow; but a Sabbath profaned, what’er may be gained, is a certain forerunner of sorrow.” (From an 1874 hymn)
Cursed is that gain, cursed is that recreation, cursed is that health, which is gained by criminal encroachments on this sacred day [the Lord's Day]. –Robert Murray M’Cheyne
“O what a blessing is Sunday, interposed between the waves of worldly business like the divine path of the Israelites through the sea.” –Samuel Wilberforce
“Give the world one-half of Sunday and you will soon find that religion has no strong hold on the other half.” –Sir Walter Scott
“Let a man lay the foundation of having no Sabbath and I am never surprised if he finished with the top-stone of no God.” –J. C. Ryle, Anglican bishop of Liverpool
“I have found by a strict and diligent observation, that a due observance of the duties of the Lord’s day hath ever had joined to it a blessing upon the rest of my time, and the week that hath been so begun hath been blessed and prosperous to me; and on the other side, when I have been negligent of the duties of this day, the rest of the week hath been unsuccessful and unhappy to my own secular employments the week following. This I write, not lightly or inconsiderately, but upon long and sound observation and experience.” –Lord Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale
At two o’clock in the afternoon on Friday, August 22, 1651, the great Puritan minister Christopher Love ascended the platform of the scaffold at Tower Hill, London. He was accompanied by fellow ministers, Thomas Manton, Simeon Ashe, and Edmund Calamy. His life was to be cut short at 33 years of age due to alleged involvement with a plan to raise money for the restoration of the monarchy, a charge Love denied. Believing that his death would glorify God, these were among his last words: “I do more good by my death than by my life, and glorify God more in my dying upon a scaffold than if I had died of a disease upon my bed.”
Prior to his execution, Love prayed for his accusers, for the Church, for England and Scotland to be one, and for the friend who was to be executed after him.
I found his submission to the will of God and prayer so inspiring:
“Most glorious and eternal Majesty, Thou art righteous and holy in all thou dost to the sons of men, though thou hast suffered men to condemn Thy servant, Thy servant will not condemn Thee. He justifies Thee though Thou cuttest him off in the midst of his days and in the midst of his ministry, blessing thy glorious name, that though he be taken away from the land of the living, yet he is not blotted out of the Book of the Living. Father, mine hour is come. This Thy poor creature can say without vanity and falsehood. He hath desired to glorify Thee on earth; glorify Thou now him in heaven. He hath desired to bring the souls of other men to heaven; let his soul be brought to heaven.
“O Thou blessed God, whom thy creature hath served, who hath made thee his hope and his confidence from his youth, forsake him not now while he is drawing near to Thee. Now he is in the valley of the shadow of death, Lord, be Thou life to him. Smile Thou upon him while men frown upon him. Lord, Thou hast settled this persuasion in his heart that as soon as ever the blow is given to divide his head from his body he shall be united to his Head in heaven. Blessed be God that Thy servant dies in these hopes. Blessed be God that Thou hast filled the soul of Thy servant with joy and peace in believing.
“O Lord, think upon that poor brother of mine, who is a companion in tribulation with me, who is this day to lose his life as well as I. O fill him full with the Holy Ghost when he is to give up the ghost! Lord, strengthen our hearts that we may give up the ghost with joy and not with grief.
“We entreat Thee, O Lord, think upon Thy poor churches. O that England might live in Thy sight! And O that London might be a faithful city to Thee! That righteousness might be among them, that peace and plenty might be within her walls and prosperity within their habitations. Lord, heal the breaches of these nations; make England and Scotland as one staff in the Lord’s hand, that Ephraim may not envy Judah, nor Judah vex Ephraim, but that both may fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines. O that men of the Protestant religion, engaged in the same cause and covenant, might not delight to spill each other’s blood, but might engage against the common adversaries of our religion and liberty! God, show mercy to all that fear Thee. The Lord think upon our covenant-keeping brethren of the Kingdom of Scotland; keep them faithful to Thee, and let not them that have invaded them overspread their whole land. Prevent the shedding of more Christian blood if it seems good in Thine eyes.
“God show mercy to Thy poor servant who is now giving up the ghost. O blessed Jesus, apply Thy blood not only for my justification unto life, but also for my comfort, for the quieting of my soul so I may be in the joys of heaven before I come to the possession of heaven! Hear the prayers of all Thy people that have been made for Thy servant, and though Thou hast denied prayer as to that particular request concerning my life, yet let herein the fruit of prayer be seen, that Thou wilt bear up my heart against the fear of death. God show mercy to all that fear Him, and show mercy to all who have engaged for the life of Thy servant. Let them have mercy at the day of their appearing before Jesus Christ. Preserve Thou a godly ministry in this nation, and restore a goodly magistracy, and cause yet good days to be the heritage of Thy people for the Lord’s sake.
“Now, Lord, into Thy hands Thy servant commits his spirit; and though he may not with Stephen see the heavens open, yet let him have the heavens open. And though he may not see upon a scaffold the Son of God standing at the right hand of God, yet let him come to the glorious body of Jesus Christ and this hour have an intellectual sight of the glorious body of his Saviour. Lord Jesus, receive my spirit and, Lord Jesus, stand by me, Thy dying servant who hath endeavoured in his lifetime to stand for Thee. Lord, hear, pardon all infirmities, wash away his iniquities by the blood of Christ, wipe off reproaches from his name, wipe off guilt from his person and receive him pure and spotless and blameless before Thee in love. And all this we beg for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen and Amen.”
Christopher Love knew how to live well, and to die well. He was another servant of Christ of whom the world was not worthy. As his dear wife Mary said of him, “He lived too much in heaven to live long on earth.”
Christopher Love’s prayer is excerpted from Don Kistler’s A Spectacle Unto God: The Life and Death of Christopher Love.
A “First Day Morning” prayer from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. May this be my prayer also for the Lord’s Day tomorrow:
We commune with thee every day,
but week days are worldly days,
and secular concerns reduce heavenly impressions.
We bless thee therefore for the day sacred to our souls
when we can wait upon thee and be refreshed;
We thank thee for the institutions of religion
by use of which we draw near to thee and thou to us;
We rejoice in another Lord’s Day
when we call off our minds from the cares of the world
and attend upon thee without distraction;
Let our retirement be devout,
our conversation edifying,
our reading pious,
our hearing profitable,
that our souls may be quickened and elevated.
We are going to the house of prayer,
pour upon us the spirit of grace and supplication;
We are going to the house of praise,
awaken in us every grateful and cheerful emotion;
We are going to the house of instruction,
give testimony to the Word preached,
and glorify it in the hearts of all who hear;
may it enlighten the ignorant,
awaken the careless, reclaim the wandering,
establish the weak, comfort the feeble-minded,
make ready a people for their Lord.
Be a sanctuary to all who cannot come,
Forget not those who never come,
And do thou bestow upon us
benevolence towards our dependants,
forgiveness towards our enemies,
peaceableness towards our neighbours,
openness towards our fellow-Christians.