On the Making of New Year’s Resolutions – Go Ahead and Make a Promise to God. He Loves Promises.

God’s nature is to make and keep promises, covenants we call them. Wherever and whenever God reveals himself in Holy Scripture he vows, and always the appropriate response to his vow is to return in kind.

The primary picture of God in the Bible is marriage. Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. At the root of marriage is promise. Where there is no promise there is no marriage. Human relationships need the giving and keeping of promises in order to thrive. In promising the relationship switches from the worthiness of the one loved to the love of the of promise maker. The promise maker is now on the line for his or her own integrity. That is what will make the relationship work, for at some point the one loved will fall short of being lovely. No matter! The promise has been made and will now be kept. It is the vow that will sustain the marriage. It is the constancy of the promise that will bring the marriage through.

It is natural for lovers to make promises. The contemporary trend of singles living together goes against the grain of love, and is perhaps an accommodation to the refusal of people to make ultimate life-and-death promises. At any point without consequence one partner may walk away from another – no financial obligations, no workload sharing obligations, no damage control obligations, no health caring obligations. These may be true for a time, but by nature they are only for a time and may evaporate at any moment merely by the word “goodbye.”

Because the Christian’s relationship with God is for an eternity the natural instinct to make vow finds a safe place to express deep love.

Some have taught that vow making is legalism and that the only response to God is to be faith, a wholly reliant relationship with God in which he is all, provides all, sustains all. Surely there is truth here. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Php 1:6) As surely true is that this faith will express itself by love. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”(Gal 5:6) True faith is not only believing but includes within it the loving that is doing. And love makes promises.

The Bible is full of vows made to God and vows kept. One of the more famous vows made is that of Rechab, referred by Jeremiah in Jer 35. Rechab had been a part of that great revival led by Jehu who God had raised up to destroy the household of Ahab and Jezebel. As a signal of his fervor Rechab had vowed that neither he nor his progeny would drink wine or build permanent homes. The Lord God would be their drink and he would be their home. Some 300 years later Jeremiah finds that the promise has been kept, proving thereby that the keeping of vow is not only possible but that the steadfast example of an ancestor can be followed and binding even upon those who did not in their persons make the vow themselves. A second, third, fourth, etc. generational vow.

Vows are simply expressions of what our faith looks like in our time and place. It is the concretizing of faith in a particular circumstance. What does it mean for you to follow Jesus Christ just where you are – married or single, widowed, parent, disabled, employed, neighbor, pastor, laity, majority or minority ethnicity, etc. Put all that together and then discern what it means for you to be faithful to Christ and your calling in Christ right here, right now. Make vow.

But what if I break my vow????? Why vow if I know I may possibly, and based on past experience even probably, fall short of the wishes I have for my walk with Christ? Isn’t this just a set up for disappointment? Won’t this make the Christian life harder than it has to be? These are the question often asked. And many Pastors based on such reasons discourage vow making because of what they deem to be unnecessary burdens on the Christian life. Better, they say, just to be led by the Spirit day by day.

But is not the Christian under vow already by virtue of Christ’s Lordship and the Law of his kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount? Have we escaped such obligations merely by refusing to make a concrete and specific vow? No, we have not. A resolution merely identifies areas where we must advance in Christ-following and Christ-serving particular to our situation. Not to discern this is to have refused the biblical imperative to examine ourselves. We must not only know Christ but also know ourselves. One involves the other, as John Calvin so wonderfully points out at the beginning of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. Knowledge of God means the knowing of oneself. And to look at oneself is to look to God for salvation.

I find that the failure to really know oneself to be a great fault among Christians. They have been taught by many well-meaning Pastors that supposed navel gazing will be a fruitless and self-defeating endeavor. Better to look only to Christ and all will be well. The point is taken, but as it stands, it is simply untrue. We cannot follow Christ well without huge attention to the dynamics of our inner world. How to do this is simply not taught in the churches. But in the recovery communities to which I belong this is taught well and taught often. Celebrate Recovery, pioneered by Saddleback Church, has provided a great pattern for the life of self-awareness and knowledge of the exceeding deceitfulness of sin. I commend this to you. You might not be a drinker or substance abuser, but we all know what it means to be dominated by our hurts, habits and hang-ups. Part of the reason we are is that we have not paid enough attention to what is going on inside of us. When we do, we will see how much work there is to be done. A good book to introduce this dynamic is Gordon MacDonald’s Ordering Your Private World.

I encourage you to examine your ways, discern your patterns, face your discouragements and your longings and then make wise vows to the Lord. A spiritual director would be of great help, though this resource is mostly hidden from view. But they are to be found if you tap into the right networks. These are people gifted and trained in listening and discernment, not in counseling. They help Christians ask the right questions and go through the process of discovery. Consider http://www.ecswisdom.org and http://www.leadershiptransformations.org/selah_faculty.htm as a starting point.

More later, but for now press on and do not accept what is as what must be.

Calvinism and Unitarianism – Some thoughts on the historical relationship and why Arminianism is not Calvinism’s natural born enemy

A long term observation is the rather quick turn toward unitarianism of previously Calvinistically dominated cultures in England and New England. It is the case that within three generations the flirtation with unitarianism in New England had begun. The same movement was afoot in England. Most seminary students focus on Calvinism’s natural born adversary, Arminianism. Jacob Arminius (d.1609) had opposed the strong determinism of high Calvinism which had insisted, in its more rigorous forms, that God before time had selected which people would be damned and which would be saved by a hidden decree apart from any choice by the free agency of man.

Arminius insisted that God’s election was based on his foreknowledge of who and who would not choose to believe. God through Christ had restored to our race through prevenient grace the power of choice to humankind. Arminius believed that this act of God sufficiently supported the Calvinistic heritage that salvation was dependent on grace since it was God who first loved us and took the initial steps to save. In its darker forms Calvinism’s determinism made the free offer of the Gospel problematic so that in some churches the actual invitation to follow Christ was considered inappropriate.

Arminius questioned the U. L. P. of the Calvinistic T.U.L.I.P – Total Depravity, Unconditional Election Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints. He affirmed that man was thoroughly lost in sin and unable in and of himself to so recover as to be able to choose for Christ. Left to his natural inclinations, bent as they were by original sin, man would choose the broad way that leads to destruction. Christ restored to us, according to Arminius, the grace sufficient to raise us up to the power of free choice. This grace was not saving grace but prevenient grace, a previous grace enabling the will to choose for Christ. This would naturally lead to a rejection of Unconditional Election, the teaching that we are chosen by God apart from any cause in us. No, Arminius would argue, we are conditionally elected upon the presence of faith. We are not chosen to believe but believe in order to be chosen. Clearly, on this premise, the Calvinistic teaching that Christ’s death on the cross was limited in its effect only for those predestined for salvation must be rejected. Christ died for the whole world so that if any believe, they may be saved. But the offer of salvation could be resisted according to Arminius, and thus the Calvinistical teaching of Irresistible Grace was to be rejected as well. If the Calvinistic Reformers’ soteriology was to be consistent, insisting as it did that some were chosen for damnation and some for salvation apart from any free choice of the creature, then salvation must be irresistible for those who are elected to eternal life. Election means irresistible. One must be saved if he is chosen for salvation. And if chosen and saved, then surely he must Persevere in that salvation and not fall away, for then the golden chain of redemption would be broken and God’s election must fail at last. So the Calvinists taught. Arminius did not finally declare himself on whether or not one who was saved was thereby secured so as not to be able to fall away. Those who have followed after him have by and large taught the possibility of apostasy, that one could, in fact, “unchoose” to follow Christ. In this I concur.

I believe that Arminius made his case sufficiently and have thus adopted his concerns as my own. Both Arminius and Calvin stand in the Reformation tradition of the Bible alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, all for the glory of God alone. These “alones” stand in contrast to the doctrinal confusions of medieval Roman Catholicism which, no matter its doctrinal formulations, had slipped into a semi-Pelgianism that opened the door for all kinds of folk religious practices of the laity that essentially made salvation a matter of good works sufficient for salvation.

However, in the preoccupation with Arminianism many students fail to see that Calvinism’s true enemy is Unitarianism, or, as it was also called, Socinianism, a movement toward nonTrinitarian monotheism, in other words, a denial of the essential deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. It was so named for Fausto Sozzini (d.1604) Much of the Calvinistic teaching and writing of the Puritans ( English Calvinists of the 16th and 17th centuries) can be understood only in its conversation with the rise of Socinianism and not only by its battle with Arminianism, the latter of which gets all the press. The same could be said of the Puritan experiment in New England. It was Harvard’s move toward Unitarianism in the early 1700s which was the real shot across the bow.

In both England and New England the spiritual energy of vibrant Christianity found in Puritanism soon gave way not so much to Arminianism as to Unitarianism. This is most surprising and mostly unrecognized by the average seminary student, particularly in seminaries of Calvinistic persuasion. RC Sproul speaks mostly of Calvinism’s battles with Arminianism. I do not recall him ever mentioning the battle with Socinianism, though I imagine he must focus on it somewhere, though my very difficulty in recall (and I have read most everything Sproul has written and viewed virtually all of his video teachings) proves the point.

One would have expected perhaps a declension in Christian fervor in Puritan England and New England or maybe a general refusal to draw such heavy theological lines as the Puritans were wont to do. But Socinianism was neither of these. It was an outright rejection of the Christian Tradition itself, even if it held supposedly high views of Jesus Christ. How could robust Puritan trinitarianism decline into respectable Unitarianism within three generations or so?

I have my theories! The one that has the most explanatory power to me is that “hot gospeling” Puritanism with its intense introspection and search for one’s election could not be sustained. The human psyche broke under its inability to sustain the weight put upon it by the Calvinistic elements of its heritage. Those brought up in it moved toward a more moderate and less internally demanding form of religion, something more doable with energy left over to attend to the normal demands of life.

Let me explain. Because of Calvinism’s determinism, the belief that one is elect or non elect apart from any choice of the creature, the soul’s quest became the search for evidence that one is among the chosen. The simple formula of “believe and be saved” was no resting place for the Puritan. It could not be, convinced as he was that true believing itself was determined by God. Maybe his belief was a false profession. After all, does not the Bible teach that many who profess belief find themselves cast away from the presence of God? One must go behind believing and search for signs of one’s election. It is easy to imagine the terror of the tender conscience in such a doctrinal system. There is no end of searching and yet nothing ultimately that one can do for all is determined beforehand.

In its better forms wiser calvinistical pastors balanced the doctrine of unconditional election with promises and comforts. But it was blend most difficult to make, for these were contradictories. The scales were inherently weighted toward frightening introspection and helplessness before the decrees of God. Salvation became a labyrinth of twists and turns that hardly allowed for anything but attention to the state of one’s own soul.

My thesis is that the human psyche demanded relief from this pressing tension and found it in a moderated version of Christianity that, as we know, showed itself to be no Christianity at all, unitarian monotheism. In this version Christianity became more “reasonable” and less internally dominating. God as God took a step back and Christ became simply an example of the better life all could lead. This was less mystical and less concerned with the hidden decrees of salvation. Unitarianism was a way out of the hot house conditions of introspective Puritanism.

We have all seen versions of this. The children or grandchildren of Pentecostals with their demands for hyper-experiences of God’s empowering often move toward less demanding and less mystical churches, if they go to church at all. The children or grandchildren of super fundamentalist Baptists will often opt for an Episcopalian version of the faith, one less demanding and more reasonable.

These kinds of dynamics are the true forces that must be faced in the preservation of faith across generations. English and New England Puritanism failed that challenge because of something innate to their doctrinal system – the unstoppable and mystical search for one’s election in the face of inability to do anything about it. This heavy determinism cannot sustain a warm heart generationally, I believe. Puritanism by its very nature flames out.

I must put a caveat here. Though I do not buy into its hidden decree determinism, I find that the Puritan attention to Holy Scripture, its psychology of the spiritual life, its supreme confidence and adoration of Christ, its utter wonder at grace, and its intellectual rigor necessary to my own relationship with Christ. The Puritans are my “go to” people, and I want them on the path with me. I read their books and track their history. The NeoPuritans of today, such as John Piper, DA Carson, RC Sproul, JI Packer, are constant companions. It is hard for me to imagine the kind of spiritual life I would have without the leadership of these men, particularly the writing and preaching of John Piper. But when I feel them drawing close to that edge which I believe to be a cliff, I draw back and check myself. I cannot go some of the places they seek to go and which, in my humble opinion, will not lead to green pastures and still waters.

You might consider listening to this interview with Dr. Paul Lim concerning his book, Mystery Unveiled: The Crisis of the Trinity in Early Modern England. He explores the battles of Calvinism with Socinianism along other lines than my own. My model is more psychological and doctrinal, while his is more theological and historical. He finds that the mystical elements of Roman Catholicism, by means of which it preserves its doctrine of transubstantiation and other formulations, and the mystical elements of High Calvinism in which it appeals to the sovereign and hidden decrees of God, led to a Protestantism that sought safety in reason and the Bible. I will try to bag a copy of Dr. Lim’s book through interlibrary loan. $74 is a bit steep. Besides, I am not acquiring books, or only very rarely, at this point in my life. If I do buy, it’s on a Kindle.


“Prayer of Jabez” resurfaces – different name, same game. Mark Batterson’s “The Circle Maker”

Let me start by noting how much I enjoyed the Prayer of Jabez, the simple prayer of the Old Tesament version of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

“Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.” 1 Chron 4:10

That is all we know about Jabez. He sought the Lord, and the Lord was found by him and became his deliverance. Now, how important is that lesson!!!!!!! Salvation and deliverance are of the Lord.

But many do not leave well enough alone. They turned this into a full-orbed scheme for “making dreams come true.” And us Evangelicals were off and running with Prayer of Jabez coffee cups, calendars, etc. It fully served the health and wealth preaching of much of the American church that has now seeped over big time into the African church fro what I can read.

Bruce Wilkerson, author of The Prayer of Jabez, became an example of “un-Jabez.” After the publication of the book, he took his big dreams to God, thought he had his confirmation of provision and launched. It was a sad episode of over stretching one text of the Bible and making it the only text of the Bible. The first rule of biblical interpretation is the analogy of Scripture. One must be informed by the whole of the Bible’s teaching and any one text must be encircled by all other texts. Makes sense. But us enthusiastic types, and I am one of their number (by nature and not so much by choice), always tend to make one thing stand for all things.

Just when we thought the Prayer of Jabez movement had met its appropriate end, it rises up in another form. This time Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, does the Jabez thing in his book The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears. He is attempting to turn the book into a national prayer campaign during Lent. Here.

Lent, mind you!! Lent is about letting your “must haves” go. Now, in Mark Batterson’s version of Lent, it seems to be the time to obtain your “must haves.” Oh my!!! Is nothing learned?

This, too, will go into the used book dust bin at your local cheap books outlet. Deservedly so. Because it is cheap.

Us Evangelicals could use a few lessons in wise prayers. This is one of the reasons I regularly use prayers repeated by the church over the centuries. They are prayers not shaped by the enthusiasms of a moment but by long reflection on Holy Scripture, the centuries of experience of the church and often shaped by men and women practiced in the disciplines of self-denial for the sake of giving full attention to God. They are not fast-food, drive-thru prayers.

We must be careful when we pray because the words we use begin to shape our imaginations. Carelessly chosen words then become realities we construct. And before we know it we are off on rabbit trails, exhausted and disappointed. Soon we will find ourselves not praying at all.

I love the simple truth of “give us this day our daily bread.” Out of this simplicity comes everything that sustains us in this world. And the words, “forgive us our debts,” focus on the thing most needful, a life rid of the guilt of sin with enough room for the Holy One to take up residence, Mary-like, offering to God her womb, her empty space.      Can we be satisfied here? YES. These prayers are the only avenues to true satisfaction. We will pray for many things, for sure, but they all are informed by these two requests that shape the outlines of our lives. Forgive and keep us forgiven.

There will always be another Jabezer in the church. Pray that the church just moves on.

Is the Virgin Birth Really Predicted in the Old Testament?

Quick answer: Yes. For more information here.

I actually never have heard a sermon on the virgin birth, except the ones I hear from me. It is alluded to by preachers along the way, mostly as an apologetic point but almost never as a theological richness with busloads of spiritual treasures for the contemplative disciple.

Ignatius (d.105), martyr and disciple of the Apostle John, called the virgin birth a mystery to shouted from the rooftops. It is a fact of history that the virgin birth was not merely believed as far back as we can trace church history. It was reveled in. Of course, it found its way into the early baptismal confessions that became in time the Apostles Creed.

I have often been asked by parishioners how to find a good church when they move. One of the things I have always advised them to do is to ask the pastor of any church they visit if he believes in the virgin birth. Pastors are experts in dodging straight on questions. Ask them if Jesus is the Son of God and you will get a quick yes. Then ask them what they mean by Son of God and you get all kinds of Life of Brian evasions. Ask them if Jesus really rose from the dead and you will get a “certainly.” Then ask them what they mean by resurrection and you can feel the wheels turning to crank out an answer that evades the question really being asked.

But ask about the virgin birth and you get to the thing itself. Can the Bible be relied upon to detail the historically reliable and the true? Yes or no. If the Pastor cannot answer in the affirmative, run out of that church as if your hair was on fire.

The exaltation of Mary in certain Christian communions has been a roundabout way of protecting the mystery of the virgin birth. While I deem much of the attempt to protect the virgin birth through Marian veneration dangerous and unnecessary, I honor the instinct. And we would do well to use the phrase “virgin and child.”

One of the reasons I lead the church in the Apostles Creed is because of the centrality of the virgin birth to our faith. It is right there in our confession each Sunday. The mystery of incarnation, the virginity of Mary, the supernatural generation of our Savior.

Must one believe in the virgin birth in order to be a Christian?, I am often enough asked. That is the wrong question. The question is must I believe in Jesus? And then the question is, which Jesus am I to believe in? The answer is the Jesus in the Bible. There is no other Jesus who is the Savior of the world. And the Jesus of the Bible is virgin born. THAT is the Jesus who saves me and no other.

The early church had a great battle over what to call Mary. It had become the practice to title her “theotokos,” mother of God. Many railed against this appellation. It seemed in their mind to give Mary too high a place and God too low a place. But ultimately in the Chalcedon Creed, the universal church decided that theotokos was the exact way to refer to Mary. She was God-bearer. And central to her God-bearing was the virgin birth. Jesus was generated from on high without human father.

This Christmas behold Virgin and Child.

“Thirty or forty years down the road” OR “The importance of now”

I have been in full times ministry since age 21. I am now 63. That’s 42 years of hindsight.

Now that four decades are behind me, I can trace decisions made by churches through four decades of evolution, seeing what fruit it brought, where it led, the trajectory established, the end point chosen, often without knowing it. In fact, mostly without knowing it. Churches are so baptized in the now that they seldom look up and ask what the decision now being made means for their grandchildren.

I have been one of those who made the expedient decision, chosen to get through the now and find some rest and closed my eye to the future. The Federal government has no monopoly on kicking the can down the road and making it harder for a generation to come to pursue happiness. Churches, which often speak of the spinelessness of such weakness, do it all the time. Us Pastors do it all the time. Pleasure and ease now, pain later – but hopefully for someone else.

Maybe it isn’t so bald and bold. But often it is. It is not easy for groups to face hard decisions that involve self-denial. They must be led. There has to be some voice which speaks of the nobility and honor of doing the hard things now, even if they do not bear pleasanter fruit in our own generation but will for another yet to come.

Of course, this is mostly the job of the Pastor, us “slap-on-the-back-hail-fellows-well-met” types who make our jobs being liked and drawing our retirements when the time comes. Delivering jeremiads just aren’t our thing.

I have lived through four or five significant fads that have hit the churches over the years and sent many a congregation off to conferences to retool their ministry. I have lived through times when certain books in the Bible were out of fashion and barely read or alluded to. I have lived through the inerrancy wars, the Moral Majority swell, the seeker movement, the emergent church movement, the “ain’t it cool to be Episcopal” trendiness for tired Evangelicals, and on and on it goes. And believe me, it does go on and on.

Almost no one I am aware of asserts that the church is in a better condition for all or our “maybe it’s this” and “maybe it’s that” utopian dreams. Often what’s driving it all is “now” and not thinking of “then.”

As i sit in on church discussions, forgive me if my eyes drift to the horizon. I’m paying attention. But I am revisiting a multitude of similar discussions over four decades, knowing that nothing can help us escape the hard work of self-denial and difficult decisions in congregational formation that make for a holy people of faith who are genuine and have a true faith to pass to the next generation.

Advent and Self-Denial – a Meditation by John Henry Newman

Rise up then in the morning with the purpose that (please God) the day shall not pass without its self-denial.

. . . If, then, a person asks how he is to know whether he is dreaming on in the world’s slumber, or is really awake and alive unto God, let him first fix his mind upon some one or other of his besetting infirmities. Every one who is at all in the habit of examining himself, must be conscious of such within him. Many men have more than one, all of us have some one or other; and in resisting and overcoming such, self-denial has its first employment. One man is indolent and fond of amusement, another man is passionate or ill-tempered, another is vain, another has little control over his tongue; others are weak, and cannot resist the ridicule of thoughtless companions; others are tormented with bad passions, of which they are ashamed, yet are overcome. Now let every one consider what his weak point is; in that is his trial. His trial is not in those things which are easy to him, but in that one thing, in those several things, whatever they are, in which to do his duty is against his nature.
Never think yourself safe because you do your duty in ninety-nine points; it is the hundredth which is to be the ground of your self-denial, which must evidence, or rather instance and realize your faith. It is in reference to this you must watch and pray; pray continually for God’s grace to help you, and watch with fear and trembling lest you fall. Other men may not know what these weak points of your character are, they may mistake them. But you may know them; you may know them by their guesses and hints, and your own observation, and the light of the Spirit of God. And oh, that you may have strength to wrestle with them and overcome them!

Oh, that you may have the wisdom to care little for the world’s religion, or the praise you get from the world, and your agreement with what clever men, or powerful men, or many men, make the standard of religion, compared with the secret consciousness that you are obeying God in little things as well as great, in the hundredth duty as well as in the ninety-nine! Oh, that you may (as it were) sweep the house diligently to discover what you lack of the full measure of obedience! for be quite sure, that this apparently small defect will influence your whole spirit and judgment in all things.

Be quite sure that your judgment of persons, and of events, and of actions, and of doctrines, and your spirit towards God and man, your faith in the high truths of the Gospel, and your knowledge of your duty, all depend in a strange way on this strict endeavour to observe the whole law, on this self-denial in those little things in which obedience is a self-denial. Be not content with a warmth of faith carrying you over many obstacles even in your obedience, forcing you past the fear of men, and the usages of society, and the persuasions of interest; exult not in your experience of God’s past mercies, and your assurance of what He has already done for your soul, if you are conscious you have neglected the one thing needful, the “one thing” which “thou lackest,” — daily self-denial.

But, besides this, there are other modes of self-denial to try your faith and sincerity, which it may be right just to mention. It may so happen that the sin you are most liable to, is not called forth every day. For instance: anger and passion are irresistible perhaps when they come upon you, but it is only at times that you are provoked, and then you are off your guard; so that the occasion is over, and you have failed, before you were well aware of its coming. It is right then almost to find out for yourself daily self-denials; and this because our Lord bids you take up your cross daily, and because it proves your earnestness, and because by doing so you strengthen your general power of self-mastery, and come to have such an habitual command of yourself, as will be a defence ready prepared when the season of temptation comes.

Rise up then in the morning with the purpose that (please God) the day shall not pass without its self-denial, with a self-denial in innocent pleasures and tastes, if none occurs to mortify sin. Let your very rising from your bed be a self-denial; let your meals be self-denials. Determine to yield to others in things indifferent, to go out of your way in small matters, to inconvenience yourself (so that no direct duty suffers by it), rather than you should not meet with your daily discipline.

Try yourself daily in little deeds, to prove that your faith is more than a deceit.

This was the Psalmist’s method, who was, as it were, “punished all day long, and chastened every morning.” [Psalm lxxiii. 14.] It was St. Paul’s method, who “kept under,” or bruised “his body, and brought it into subjection.” [1 Cor. ix. 27.] This is one great end of fasting. A man says to himself, “How am I to know I am in earnest?” I would suggest to him, Make some sacrifice, do some distasteful thing, which you are not actually obliged to do, (so that it be lawful,) to bring home to your mind that in fact you do love your Saviour, that you do hate sin, that you do hate your sinful nature, that you have put aside the present world. Thus you will have an evidence (to a certain point) that you are not using mere words. It is easy to make professions, easy to say fine things in speech or in writing, easy to astonish men with truths which they do not know, and sentiments which rise above human nature. “But thou, O servant of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” Let not your words run on; force every one of them into action as it goes, and thus, cleansing yourself from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfect holiness in the fear of God. In dreams we sometimes move our arms to see if we are awake or not, and so we are awakened. This is the way to keep your heart awake also. Try yourself daily in little deeds, to prove that your faith is more than a deceit.

I am aware all this is a hard doctrine; hard to those even who assent to it, and can describe it most accurately. There are such imperfections, such inconsistencies in the heart and life of even the better sort of men, that continual repentance must ever go hand in hand with our endeavours to obey. Much we need the grace of Christ’s blood to wash us from the guilt we daily incur; much need we the aid of His promised Spirit! And surely He will grant all the riches of His mercy to His true servants; but as surely He will vouchsafe to none of us the power to believe in Him, and the blessedness of being one with Him, who are not as earnest in obeying Him as if salvation depended on themselves.