Seven Details to See in Your Past

The grace of Jesus Christ not only covers our past and sustains our present, but also creates for us a future.

In him our sins are forgiven and we are declared righteous. In him we are sanctified and progressively being transformed into his image. In him we are inseparable from the Father’s love and we can rest assured — no matter what distress may come — he is never letting us go. Past, present, and future.

Our tomorrow is profoundly secure, and one of the best ways to remember this today is to think about our yesterdays.

Why Think Back?

Some call it meditating on God’s providences — that spiritual exercise bound to sweeten our lives and lighten our burdens, as Puritan pastor John Flavel says. He writes,

There is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what evidences and outbreakings of his mercy, faithfulness, and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. (The Mystery of Providence, 118)

Simply put, this time-tested pastor advises us to think back on God’s faithfulness in our lives, which deepens our experience of the now and fuels our faith for the future. But simply put doesn’t mean simply done. This isn’t easy, especially if we find ourselves in the midst of hardship. How can we possibly look backwards for God’s goodness when everything around us is so bleak?

It is difficult, but the pastoral wisdom of Flavel may help. He has written instructions for us on how to think on our past, and my aim here is to build off his advice. The exercise is to read your own history — to pinpoint where you are now and jump backwards, working your way back up to the present. And during this reading, there are some specifics for which we should be on the lookout.

In considering God’s past providence in our lives, here are seven details worth tracking.

1. See God’s care for you.
We should know, and feel, that God cares for us (1 Peter 5:7) — and looking back on our lives will bear this out even if those memories bring more nightmare than nostalgia. There is certain to be pain, and maybe even the tiniest thought still hurts, but look for the Father’s care. It is there. Look for how he brought you through when all hope seemed lost, when your trouble seemed insurmountable, when miserable circumstances seemed to suffocate your faith. He brought you through — is bringing you through.

2. See God’s wisdom for you.
Consider those instances when delightful results came by the most unlikely means. It’s those times when, in the moment, you never saw them turning out the way they did. They could have been different, and it all feels so fragile now. One decision or opportunity turned another way would have meant you missing out on blessings now. Sometimes it’s even the smallest things. We weren’t even sure what we were doing, but God knew and he got it right.

3. See God’s grace for you.
If God’s wisdom uses unlikely means for our good, his grace is that we would receive any good at all. We see, on one hand, how things could have turned out. And on the other hand, we see how they should have turned — and would have apart from God’s grace. We do not deserve the least of his mercies and he has withheld none. In fact, he will show us the boundlessness of his grace toward us for all eternity (Ephesians 2:7).

4. See God’s humility for you.
Think about answered prayer. Think about the wonder that God hears you, that his ear is always ready to bend down for you. He has never been too distracted that he can’t attend to your simplest plea, however imperfect it is. He listens to you — your praise, your complaints, your tears, your cynicism — all with marvelous patience.

5. See God’s goal in all your provisions.
See that God’s aim in providing for you has been your transformation, not your ease. The toils and snares through which he has brought you haven’t been for your earthly comfort so much as your eternal good. His goal is to make you like Jesus, and that he will do (Romans 8:29; Philippians 1:6).

6. See God’s goodness in comfortable stuff.
Comfort is not God’s goal, but that doesn’t mean we should begrudge it. Consider God’s goodness in things like a warm house in subzero temperatures, or a succulent meal when you’re hungry, or even the most seemingly non-spiritual things like Smartwool socks and dark-roast coffee. See them, as Flavel writes, “appointed to refresh you in your way to far better and great mercies than themselves. The best mercies are still reserved for last, and all these are introductive to better” (130).

7. See Jesus Christ as the way of God’s mercy to you.
Every detail of God’s goodness to you has come through the blood of Jesus. Look back on these providences and remember that you’ve earned none of them. They come by Jesus, or they don’t come at all. His cross is the most vivid demonstration of God’s love for us, and every little good we’ve seen has flowed from that glorious fountain. It did yesterday, and it will tomorrow.


Why Sex Is Central in Our Lifetime

From Rod Dreher’s article, “Sex After Christianity.”

… It is nearly impossible for contemporary Americans to grasp why sex was a central concern of early Christianity. Sarah Ruden, the Yale-trained classics translator, explains the culture into which Christianity appeared in her 2010 book Paul Among The People. Ruden contends that it’s profoundly ignorant to think of the Apostle Paul as a dour proto-Puritan descending upon happy-go-lucky pagan hippies, ordering them to stop having fun.

In fact, Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitive especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.

Christian marriage, Ruden writes, was “as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.” The point is not that Christianity was only, or primarily, about redefining and revaluing sexuality, but that within a Christian anthropology sex takes on a new and different meaning, one that mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what people do with their sexuality cannot be separated from what the human person is.

It would be absurd to claim that Christian civilization ever achieved a golden age of social harmony and sexual bliss. It is easy to find eras in Christian history when church authorities were obsessed with sexual purity. But as Rieff recognizes, Christianity did establish a way to harness the sexual instinct, embed it within a community, and direct it in positive ways.

What makes our own era different from the past, says Rieff, is that we have ceased to believe in the Christian cultural framework, yet we have made it impossible to believe in any other that does what culture must do: restrain individual passions and channel them creatively toward communal purposes.

Rather, in the modern era, we have inverted the role of culture. Instead of teaching us what we must deprive ourselves of to be civilized, we have a society that tells us we find meaning and purpose in releasing ourselves from the old prohibitions. …

Read the entire article.

(HT: @drmoore)

Edwards potrait

Walter Schultz Explains Jonathan Edwards’s Dissertation on the End for Which God Created the World

Edwards potrait

There is no such thing as a deeper truth than this.

Walter Schultz, in the March issue of JETS, Volume 56, No. 1, page 122:

God’s original ultimate end in creating and sustaining the world is the pleasure he takes in his self-knowledge, holiness, and happiness eternally-increasing in a society of beings who are upheld in existence moment-by-moment ex nihilo. Before creating anything, God appraised this goal as being inherently valuable and esteemed and desired it as such. He then began to pursue this and continues to act toward it. God is moved to pursue this end solely by virtue of his eternally-occurrent supreme regard for himself as Trinity and for his capacity-attributes.


When Sex Is Profound and Marriage Is Real

From Anthony Esolen’s article, “Neither in the Jungle Nor Out of It.”

Beasts copulate; but men and women are meant to marry. They perform the marital act; they know, when they unite in that act, that it is, or it ought to be, the seal of a love that, to quote another of Shakespeare’s sonnets, “bears it out even to the edge of doom.” We are the creatures aware of time, and oriented toward eternity. We know that the act of marriage brings into the bond of love the past generations, whose history we bear in our loins, and the present, and the future, in the child that may be born of the act. We cannot copulate! We cannot forget, when we unite, that we are doing what our parents did, and their parents; we cannot forget that we are saying, with our bodies, “We now may beget a child, to whom we will be devoted together for the rest of our lives.” We can only tell lies, and in doing so mimic the beast, or rather “improve” upon the beast, since we add the power of our unleashed brains to the beast’s frank provocation or aggression.

For lust longs for the innocent mindlessness of the beast; and, to grasp that mindlessness, will pervert language itself, calling sex “safe” or “protected,” and cohabitation “honest,” and relationships “mutual,” which are nothing but forays into a jungle, where the strongest and most cunning survive. There is no way to make such a place habitable. The only choice is to leave it, and return to a land of love, humility, gratitude for the excellence of the other sex, and marriage.

(HT: @drmoore)

Bit the bullet

10 Things the Devil Does

If we talked about Satan the same way the New Testament does, our friends would call us weird. But he is real and he hates you.

And the apostle Paul says we should not be ignorant of his designs (2 Corinthians 2:11). So John Piper notes at least ten of these designs in the 1988 John Piper sermon, “Resist the Devil!

  1. Satan lies, and is the father of lies. John 8:44
  2. Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers. 2 Corinthians 4:4
  3. Satan masquerades in costumes of light and righteousness. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
  4. Satan does signs and wonders. 2 Thessalonians 2:9
  5. Satan tempts people to sin. 2 Corinthians 11:3
  6. Satan plucks the word of God out of people’s hearts and chokes faith. Mark 4:1-9
  7. Satan causes some sickness and disease. Acts 10:38
  8. Satan is a murderer. John 8:44
  9. Satan fights against the plans of missionaries. 1 Thessalonians 2:17
  10. Satan accuses Christians before God. Revelation 12:10

We Need Big-God Theology and Big-God Preaching

Edwards potrait

From John Piper,

[Edwards] asks: “What is this one great design that God has in view in all his works and dispensations?”

And answers: “’Tis to present to his Son a spouse in perfect glory from amongst sinful, miserable mankind, blessing all that comply with his will in this matter and destroying all his enemies that oppose it, and so to communicate and glorify himself through Jesus Christ, God-man.”

Read the entire post, “The Seedbed of Big-God Preaching.”

How the Past and the Future Fuel Sanctification Now

Today we released a new e-book of three John Piper sermons on everyday sanctification. Stretching over three decades, these sermons offer on-the-ground help for wielding the Word in persevering faith and the fight against sin.

Editor’s Preface

God is great, God is good, and he can do whatever he wants. This is the starting place for any serious topical focus: to have the view of his greatness before us and to be swallowed up by it. The Lord — the triune God whose essence we can’t divide and whose persons we can’t blend. He is utterly independent, gloriously sovereign, never arbitrary. This is precisely the reason we exist, that we might enjoy him, to his glory. And that’s why sanctification matters.

God has designed that the salvation of his people not only involve his unconditional election and Jesus’s redemptive triumph, but also the perfecting work of his Spirit — a work that seeps down into the nitty-gritty of our lives and wields the gospel’s victory one swing at a time.

This is high-voltage power we’re talking about. Power that we find in looking back and in looking forward. John Piper writes, “The only sin that we can defeat is a forgiven sin.” A forgiven sin is something we see in light of the cross (past event) where Jesus bore the wrath we deserved and kicked the teeth out of our guilt. This fuels the sin-conquering power needed now, in the present. But we also look forward, to the future. The past work of Christ secures the life and joy of our future with Christ. It’s set. Done. And this also fuels the power needed now, in the present. Piper writes, “Sin can’t enslave a person who is utterly confident and sure and hope-filled in the infinite happiness of life with Christ in the future.”

In God’s wisdom, he spans every tense: the past work of Jesus outside of us and the future promise of Jesus for us collide in the present to empower our wills to kill sin. To grow in grace. To be sanctified. This e-book includes three sermons by Pastor John Piper that get at the heart of this in such texts as Philippians 2:12–13 and Romans 6:5–10. There is also a more practical appendix of some acronyms that Pastor John has taught over his 30-plus-year preaching ministry. Whether fighting a specific sin or walking by faith amid stressful circumstances, the aim of this e-book is to add to your arsenal for the everyday work of sanctification, for the glory of God.


Day with J. I. Packer

Three Puritan Authors Recommended by J. I. Packer

J. I. Packer on the Puritan Vision of Sanctification from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Three Puritans who, as J. I. Packer says, “excel in teaching about sanctification” —

What J. I. Packer Said About Matthew Henry

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to meet and spend some time with J. I. Packer. It was an unforgettable event that I imagine telling my grandchildren about one day. On the ride back from Vancouver I transcribed the four hours or so of conversation ranging from the Puritans to Martyn Lloyd-Jones to his first attempts to write as a ten-year-old boy in Gloucester, England. The box score of that day is still pushed to the side of my desk, waiting for more reflection. But here’s a excerpt ready to go…

Speaking of George Whitefield, Dr. Packer commented that his main theological resource was Matthew Henry’s commentary. He suspects that Henry’s influence is much wider than most think.

Here’s one simple takeaway: J. I. Packer really values Matthew Henry as a commentator. He continued,

Henry is astonishingly good as a scholarly commentator. People believe he was a Puritan devotional author and not a scholar. The proper response to that is “balderdash.” Henry is outstanding and is very undervalued.

I wondered if Henry is so undervalued because he is so accessible. His commentaries are cheap and all of his stuff is on public domains, so it’s not lucrative to quote him. A freshly translated monograph is much sexier. I mentioned this (not the “monographs are sexier” part), but I don’t think Dr. Packer understood what I meant.

“You have to read more than a few pages,” the Reformed sage added, “He grows on you.”

Then we were on to other things.


See Amazon’s complete selection of J. I. Packer’s works.

Trying to Track with Jonathan Edwards

I love Jonathan Edwards. Anytime you read him your mind is bound to grow. But it’s not necessarily easy. One helpful approach may be to paraphrase what he’s saying about every other sentence.  Something like this… from Religious Affections.

If we ought ever to exercise our affections at all, and if the Creator han’t unwisely constituted the human nature, in making these principles a part of it, when they are vain and useless; then they ought to be exercised about those objects which are most worthy of them.

We have affections because God made them. In his wisdom and goodness he created humans to have this capacity — a capacity to love, to have joy, to receive pleasure. And since God has made us with affections then it only makes sense that we would spend these affections on that which is most worthy of them.

But is there anything, which Christians can find in heaven or earth, so worthy to be the objects of their admiration and love, their earnest and longing desires, their hope, and their rejoicing, and their fervent zeal, as those things that are held forth to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Here we are with these affections in the midst of a world full of good things. But of all that is around us — in the heavens above or the earth on which we stand — is there anything worth all our admiration and love, our earnest, longing desires, all our hopes and rejoicing and zeal? Is anything here worth all that? For what are these things compared to the gospel of Jesus Christ?

In which, not only are things declared most worthy to affect us, but they are exhibited in the most affecting manner. The glory and beauty of the blessed Jehovah, which is most worthy in itself, to be the object of our admiration and love, is there exhibited in the most affecting manner that can be conceived of, as it appears shining in all its luster, in the face of an incarnate, infinitely loving, meek, compassionate, dying Redeemer.

The gospel of Jesus is better than all these things. It is more worthy to be the object of our affections by its inherent quality. It is more excellent, period. And yet, it is also superior to everything else because of its actual ability to affect us. So it goes like this: 1) it is worthy of our affections; and 2) it wields the unique power to actually win these affections. It captivates us like nothing else. It penetrates our being as only it can do. For this gospel shines before us. It doesn’t hold back. It is essentially a display, the glory of the triune God in the face of an incarnate, infinitely loving, meek, compassionate, dying Redeemer.

Blockquotes are from The Works of Jonathan Edwards, “Religious Affections,” (WJE Online Vol. 2)

A helpful resource on this particular Edwards’s work is Sam Storms’s, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’s “Religious Affections.”