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My Review of Spurgeon on the Christian Life by Michael Reeves*

It is my humble estimation that Charles Haddon Spurgeon is one of the most gifted preachers of the post Reformation era. His sermons still come alive when read today. It is little wonder then that many have labeled him the prince of preachers and deservedly so. But who was this man? Apart from his preaching what else can a Christian learn from his life and ministry? What did he teach and believe about the Christian life in this fallen world?

These are some of the key questions that Michael Reeves answers in his book Spurgeon on the Christian Life published by Crossway in 2018. Reeves himself captures the essence of his book in the introduction by observing, “This book is about Spurgeon’s theology of the Christian life…Spurgeon was unreservedly Christ-centered and Christ-shaped in his theology; and he was equally insistent on the vital necessity of the new birth. The Christian life is the new life in Christ, given by the Spirit and won by the blood of Christ shed on the cross” (p. 16).

In the first part of the book, Reeves focuses more on the life of Spurgeon. He shows how Spurgeon was a tender, affection, and generous man of deep affection for people. Spurgeon’s sense of humor could also hardly be concealed even when he was on the pulpit. In the second part, Reeves dwells more on Spurgeon’s love for Christ and his word and how this love shaped Spurgeon’s life and ministry. He also shows how John Calvin, the Puritans, and the Reformed theology significantly impacted Spurgeon’s preaching. The third and fourth parts of the book center on Spurgeon’s beliefs and teaching regarding new birth, baptism, sanctification, prayer, Christian’s suffering, and final glory.

Though not a full biography of Spurgeon I would highly recommend this book as an introduction to the life and ministry of Spurgeon, especially, for those who hardly know this man or have read little about him. Many primary sources have been cited in the book, which also act as excellent materials for further study or exploration. These primary sources also allow Spurgeon to speak for himself what he believed about the Christian life. The other strength of the book is that it is very engaging and is easier to read. Many sections of the third and fourth chapter are also good devotional materials.

As the title suggests, my initial expectation was to see more of what Spurgeon believed about many aspects of the Christian life.  However, you don’t get to that until you reach the third and fourth parts of the book. This, in my view, is one of the weak areas of the book. In addition to that my fellow Presbyterian and Reformed friends would find the section on Spurgeon’s beliefs about infant baptism, I prefer to call it covenantal baptism, to be the gloomiest part of the book (pp. 89-91). Reeves focuses more on what Spurgeon believed were the errors associated with paedobaptism without making a fair presentation of what actually the Reformed faith teaches about covenantal baptism.  May be that was beyond the objectives of the book; nonetheless, I wish Reeves would have at least briefly provided some biblical grounds why Presbyterians and Reformed believers baptize their children as well as highlight that covenantal baptism is not a baptismal regeneration as Spurgeon incorrectly argued.

All in all, Spurgeon on the Christian Life is a good book. It is well researched and provides a good starting point to get acquainted with the man who many fondly remember as the prince of preachers. Spurgeon on the Christian Lifewill definitely leave your mind informed and your hart warmed.

*Crossway has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.

 

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Martin Bucer: Faithfulness in Obscurity

Many readers of this post would know Martin Luther and John Calvin. These are the names that usually come to mind whenever we think of the Sixteenth Century Protestant Reformation. But how many are familiar with Martin Bucer? How many of us will be able to write at least a paragraph on this reformer? The point I am trying to drive home by these questions is that unlike Luther and Calvin, Bucer is one of obscure reformers of the Sixteenth century. Yet he was the man the Lord used to mentor the great theologian of the Reformation era, John Calvin.

Martin Bucer was born on November 11, 1491 in the town of Schlettstdat in France. Later, he became a Roman Catholic monk in Dominican order. In 1581, Bucer was in the city of Heidelberg, Germany when Martin Luther came to the city for a disputation. In the debate, Luther asserted God’s sovereign grace in salvation and that salvation is by faith alone. This marked the turning point for Bucer who attended the disputation. He fully embraced the doctrines of grace and began to preach the same. He later settled in Strasbourg and labored faithfully in teaching, preaching, and shepherding God’s people for years.

Somehow, John Calvin came to know Bucer and wanted to spend the rest of his life in Strasbourg writing and laboring alongside him. So in April 1536, Calvin left Paris for Strasbourg. But due to the war between King Franz I of France and Emperor Karl of Austria, he could not take a direct route. He decided to go through Geneva.

In Geneva, William Farel, another reformer, persuaded him to stay and co-labour with him. So Calvin settled in Geneva and began to biblically reforming the church but some resisted Calvin’s reformation efforts. Eventually the Genevan city council expelled Calvin from the city in 1538 and he headed to Strasbourg where he labored with Bucer and pastored a French refugees church for three years.

In the period of three years, the Lord used Bucer to mentor the younger Calvin. Calvin himself wrote this of Bucer: “(Bucer is the man of) profound scholarship, his bounteous knowledge about a wide range of subjects, his keen mind, his wide reading, and many other different virtues, remains unsurpassed today by anyone, can be compared with only a few, and excels the vast majority.”[1] Undoubtedly, Bucer had a great impact upon the great theologian and pastor yet Bucer remains little known to many today.

Again, the point I am trying to put across is that just like in the Bible where we have saints who were used mightily by God but are little known, we also have little known reformers who played a great role in the Reformation. Bucer is an encouragement to many who are laboring faithfully for the Lord yet the world knows little or even nothing about them. Your faithfulness is not nullified by your obscurity. The Lord sees it and he will surely reward it. Not all of us were predestined to be the “Calvins.” Some of us are the “Bucers,” but in everything we ought to be thankful and give glory to Christ for he is really the one who is at work through us all (1 Cor. 3:6-11).

[1] Keith Mathison, Ligoneir Ministries, http://www.ligonier.org/blog/martin-bucer-reformer-and-his-times/ accessed on November 30, 2017.

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What about Fasting, Reformed Brothers and Sisters?

I don’t think I will exaggerate if I say that fasting is one of the dwindling practices among the Reformed Christians today. Some time ago, I was attending a workshop on the topic of fasting. All the attendees were Reformed Christians. It was a confession time when the facilitator of the workshop asked how many of us fasted regularly. Less than ten hands out of about forty participants went up.

There could be a number of factors that have contributed to this sad development, which I cannot speculate. But I believe we can all agree that this ought not to be so. Both the Bible and our Reformed tradition encourage us to engage in this practice as often as possible. But before I look at the Bible and our Reformed heritage let me highlight that there are two types of fasting: public and private or individual. Public fasting involves the body of Christ coming together to either pray for a particular issue or to thank the Lord for his mercies. The Westminster Directory of Worship is one of the best documents that ably expounds on this type of fasting.

The individual fasting is more private in the sense that a Christian fasts and prays for personal issues which might include confession of sin, thanksgiving, God’s guidance or wisdom in a situation. There are a number of Bible passages that teach and model for us this practice.

We first see individual fasting in Exodus 34:28. Moses fasts for forty days and forty nights (no food or drink) while meeting with the Lord for the second tablets of the Law. This type of fasting is a special one and certainly Moses was sustained in these forty days and nights by the special power of God. Christ will also later fast forty days after the Holy Spirit would lead him into the wilderness to be tested at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:1-2). Like Moses’ fasting, Christ’s fasting was special and extraordinary.

In 2 Samuel 12:16 we read that David also fasted and prayed. He had committed adultery with Bathsheba and later murdered Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. The Lord was displeased and declared that the child that was born out of this sin will die. David fasted and prayed probably confessing his sin and certainly pleading with the Lord that the child should be spared. However, God’s word stood and the child went to be with the Lord although David’s sin was forgiven (2 Sam. 12:13). Here Scripture models for us the fast that is both repentance of sin and supplication.

Nehemiah also fasted and prayed confessing the sins of Israel as well as asking the Lord to restore and rebuild the ruined walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 1). The young man Daniel too regularly fasted and prayed for forgiveness of Israel’s sins and that God would grant mercy to his people (Dan. 9:1-23; 10:3).

Lest we think that this practice was observed only in the Old Testament, Christ instructs us on what we should do when we fast in Matthew 6:16-18: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

We also read of early Christians fasting and praying in Acts 13:1-3 probably asking for God’s guidance in their ministry of reaching out to the lost. Therefore, there is no doubt that Christians except for those who have health reasons or limitations should fast and pray. This fasting should not only be limited to food and drink but also to other activities including conjugal obligations (1 Cor. 7:5) and use of electronics and Internet. (Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you. I just said, “internet”).

Our forefathers in the faith also rightly taught on the importance of fasting and praying. We will take a brief overview at what some of our forefathers said and wrote about this practice. John Calvin in the Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.12.15-19 wrote, “A holy and lawful fast has three ends in view. We use it either to mortify and subdue the flesh, that it may not wanton, or to prepare the better for prayer and holy meditation; or to give evidence of humbling ourselves before God, when we would confess our guilt before him.”

Calvin also warned of three errors when fasting. First, we should not think of fasting superstitiously. By this he means that we should not be deceived and think that although our hearts are not right with God, fasting might still help us getting special blessings from God. Fasting is futile when practiced by unregenerate and unrepentant heart.

Second, related to the first error, we should not think of fasting as a means to merit God’s blessings. I have met some Christians who think that by fasting they can somehow force God to act according to their will. This is absolutely wrong and even blasphemous. Man can never manipulate God and force him to act against his will. Lastly, Calvin warns us of thinking that fasting exalts us to a higher position above other Christians who do not fast. While we are to encourage this practice, we should not think that those who fast are spiritually superior to those that do not.

The Dutch theologian and pastor, Wilhemus A Brakel (1635-1711), bemoaned the dying of this practice among the Reformed Christians of his day and urged them to fast regularly. “It is sad—a sign of great decay in the church—that so little work is made of fasting, both in public as well as secretly. Therefore all who wish to lead a life of tender godliness and desire to see the good of Zion ought to stir themselves up to exercise this duty… Therefore, as obedient children of God and followers of the saints, fast frequently. This was the practice of the original Christian church and of believers at the outset of the Reformation—and even long thereafter. Do not allow this practice to die out” (The Christian’s Reasonable Service Vol. 4, p. 9).

As already observed the Westminster Directory of Worship also has a lot to say about fasting. Although its emphasis is on public fasting, it has a number of important insights we can also apply to individual fasting. For instance the directory reminds us: “A religious fast requires total abstinence, not only from all food, (unless bodily weakness do manifestly disable from holding out till the fast be ended, in which case somewhat may be taken, yet very sparingly, to support nature, when ready to faint,) but also from all worldly labour, discourses, and thoughts, and from all bodily delights, and such like, (although at other times lawful,) rich apparel, ornaments, and such like, during the fast; and much more from whatever is in the nature or use scandalous and offensive, as gaudish attire, lascivious habits and gestures, and other vanities of either sex.”

So, beloved Reformed brothers and sisters, we need to rekindle this dying practice. The status quo needs to be challenged not because we become superior Christians when we fast and pray but because it pleases our Lord when we live in obedience to his revealed will.

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The Virgin Mary: God’s Submissive Servant

One important lesson we can learn from the life of Mary the mother of Christ is her submission to God’s will. By grace, she submitted to God and trusted him to accomplish what is impossible with man (Luke 1:37). The late RC Sproul once described Mary as a Christian’s model of submission.

In Luke’s account of Mary and the angel Gabriel we learn that after Mary was told that she  will conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit,  she surrendered  herself to God’s word and said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

There are two important lessons we glean from Mary’s submission. First, she submitted despite having unanswered questions. In Luke 1:34 she asked how she will be able to give birth while she is a virgin. The angel explained that this will happen by the Holy Spirit. But I don’t think Mary fully understood how all things will come about just as we, today, cannot fully explain the incarnation. Remember that this had never happened before in the history of humanity. Mary was the first and the only young woman to be told that she will conceive without a man.

Then there was the question of Joseph. What will he think about this and how will he react? Will he not decide to divorce her once he discovers that she is pregnant and not by him? Mind you at this moment, the angel has not yet gone to Joseph and informed him that Mary will conceive by the Holy Spirit.

Second, Mary submitted knowing that this could cost her life. Probably, we don’t often think about it when we read this account. But have you ever wondered what would have happened if Joseph divorced Mary and told the people that he was not responsible for the pregnancy? The obvious conclusion would have been that Mary committed adultery and the sentence for this “crime” was death by stoning (Deut. 22:23). This was a costly submission. Again, Mary did not know that the angel will also go to Joseph and told him not to divorce her as we read in the gospel of Matthew. Yet she submitted to God’s will.

I am very certain that there will never be another Mary in this world. God will never come to another young woman and ask her to be the mother of Christ. However, again and again God in his word and through the work of the Holy Spirit comes to us and asks us to do some things for him and his kingdom. Some of these things might not make sense and we might not fully understand them. Others might be costly. It could be that we have to make huge sacrifices to fulfill God’s will in our lives. How will we respond to God’s call? I strongly believe that Mary’s response is the best response for every Christian called to do God’s will. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”

At the core of our daily walk with Christ is the call to obey and trust him. The hymn writer was right:

Trust and Obey

For there is no other way

To be happy in Jesus

But to trust and obey

By his  grace, Christ enables us to trust and obey just as he enabled Mary to trust and obey.

(This material first appeared in a form of a sermon which was preached at London Free Reformed Church in London, Ontario, Canada on December 17, 2017).
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A New Year’s Sermon

This is an excerpt from the sermon which Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached on January 1, 1860. The title of the message was “A New Year’s Benediction,” and it was taken from 1 Peter 5:10

I wish, my brothers and sisters, that during this year you may live nearer to Christ than you have ever done before. Depend upon it, it is when we think much of Christ that we think little of ourselves, little of our troubles, and little of the doubts and fears that surround us. Begin from this day, and may God help you. Never let a single day pass over your head without a visit to the garden of Gethsemane, and the cross on Calvary.

And as for some of you who are not saved, and know not the Redeemer, I would to God that this very day you would come to Christ. I dare say you think coming to Christ is some terrible thing: that you need to be prepared before you come; that he is hard and harsh with you. When men have to go to a lawyer they need to tremble; when they have to go to the doctor they may fear; though both those persons, however unwelcome, may be often necessary. But when you come to Christ, you may come boldly. There is no fee required; there is no preparation necessary. You may come just as you are.

It was a brave saying of Martin Luther’s, when he said, “I would run into Christ’s arms even if he had a drawn sword in his hand.” Now, he has not a drawn sword, but he has his wounds in his hands. Run into his arms, poor sinner. “Oh,” you say, “May I come?” How can you ask the question? you are commanded to come. The great command of the gospel is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus.” Those who disobey this command disobey God. It is as much a command of God that man should believe on Christ, as that we should love our neighbor.

Now, what is a command I have certainly a right to obey. There can be no question you see; a sinner has liberty to believe in Christ because he is told to do so. God would not have told him to do a thing which he must not do. You are allowed to believe. “Oh,” saith one, “that is all I want to know. I do believe that Christ is able to save to the uttermost. May I rest my soul on him, and say, sink or swim, most blessed Jesus, thou art my Lord?” May do it! man? Why you are commanded to do it. Oh that you may be enabled to do it.

Remember, this is not a thing which you will do at a risk. The risk is in not doing it. Cast yourself on Christ, sinner. Throw away every other dependence and rest alone on him. “No,” says one, “I am not prepared.” Prepared! sir? Then you do not understand me. There is no preparation needed; it is, just as you are. “Oh, I do not feel my need enough.” I know you do not. What has that to do with it? You are commanded to cast yourself on Christ. Be you never so black or never so bad, trust to him. He that believeth on Christ shall be saved, be his sins never so many, he that believeth not must be damned be his sins never so few.

The great command of the gospel is, “Believe.” “Oh,” but saith one, “am I to say I know that Christ died for me?” Ah, I did not say that, you shall learn that by-and-bye. You have nothing to do with that question now, your business is to believe on Christ and trust him; to cast yourself into his hands. And may God the Spirit now sweetly compel you to do it. Now, sinner, hands off your own righteousness. Drop all idea of becoming better through your own strength. Cast yourself flat on the promise.

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Happy 53rd Birthday, Malawi

Yesterday, Malawi celebrated 53 years of independence. I took time to reflect  and thank the Lord for his goodness and blessings upon my country.  Ended up with this piece… 

I saw him at one of the world’s busiest airports this other day

“I need to see your documents,” the officer said

He was then denied entry into the country

He was a stateless person, I heard

It was my first time to learn of the term

I have a place in Southern Africa I call home

But eight million aren’t citizens of any country

I uttered a brief prayer of thanksgiving to my Lord

For a state I often take for granted

Malawi is not what we want her to be

But she is also not what she used to be

Stop now and count our blessing one by one

Proud of her people who are strong and get along

Working, building and praying

Many without noise and recognition

To make her what we would want her to be

Confident we will get there, if Christ tallies…

Happy 53rd Birthday Malawi, Happy Birthday the land of my birth!

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Counting All As Loss for Christ’s Sake

“But whatever gain I had, I counted loss for the sake of Christ” – Philippians 3:7

There is a transforming power that every believer experiences when he first takes his gaze of faith at Christ. Indeed, there is great change that is wrought in the heart of a Christian when he first comes to know Christ as his Savior. This was also true of Apostle Paul.

The verse I have read is part of Paul’s short autobiography, so to speak, given in the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians. In this chapter he describes his life before he knew Christ. He lists so many things, which he considered to be of great value. He mentions how he was dedicated to the law of God. Paul worked so diligently to follow the law in his own strength to the extent that he was proud of himself and referred to himself as a Hebrew of Hebrews and blameless before the law of God.

But one day on his way to Damascus, Paul met the risen Christ. As he gazed at the glory of Christ and saw the glorious righteousness of Jesus, all of Paul’s celebrated accomplishments grew dim. In fact, Paul says as we have read in the verse, that he considered all of them as “loss” and the actual word he uses in Greek is best-translated “dung.” And he surrendered himself to Christ.

Friends, this is how our life in Christ ought to be. This should be every Christian’s testimony. Our saving knowledge of Jesus Christ should mean that we grasp that our human or religious efforts to earn our way to God are rubbish or filthy rags as Isaiah puts it. Only Christ meets every need of our soul because through his work and life and death he has fully satisfied all the righteous demands of God.

For Paul it was his religion that made him proud and blinded him to his need for Christ. For some it might be academic achievements. For some it might be business achievements or riches or fame or even poverty and pain. For others it might be various trophies and medals that this world has to offer. Most of these things are not bad in themselves; however, if they keep us from beholding the glory of Christ they are dung.

Counting everything as loss for the sake of Christ is the work of God’s grace that begins on the day of our salvation and continues to eternity. Every day a Christian should value Christ above all as Jonathan Edwards once put it (quote)“Offer a Christian whatever you will, if you deny him Christ, he will consider himself miserable” (end of quote)

Every day, the Lord calls us to let go our grip on our own righteousness and the pride that blinds to the glory of Christ due to our heritage, gifts, talents, or achievements. Instead every day we have to hold on tightly to Christ and his righteousness. Every day, has to be a day in which we “count all loss for the sake of Christ. ”

For a podcast version of this post, please visit here

 

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