“Faith On Trial: Spiritual Thinking”

… a synopsis of the writing of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me —  until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.” Psalm 73:16-17                                                         

While in great anguish of mind contemplating the prosperity of the wicked and the difficult trials that beset the righteous, the Psalmist went into the sanctuary of God and gained a whole new perspective: his focus turned from self to God, and to God’s people.  He began to realize that his whole problem up to that point was that he was relying on his own understanding in being envious of the wicked; he was thinking rationally, at best fractionally, and not spiritually.

While rational thinking subsists on the ground level, spiritual thinking is not irrational, but equally rational, however taking on a higher level, a thinking that considers all facts and possibilities beyond what rational thinking would deem reasonable.  All things are possible.

The late Earl of Oxford and Asquith once said that the greatest gift a man could ever have is the capacity for “cubical” thinking, the ability to see all sides of a subject.  “Truth is like a cube. You must see all its facets”. 1  Prejudice is a power that predetermines outcomes, by shutting out all other aspects of the truth except one side. This self-elected blindness accounts for much of the tragedy in this world, and oftentimes for most of our own errors in life.

The Psalmist remarks, then understood I their end. The end that awaits the ungodly. Spiritual thinking not only considers all possible angles, but also facilitates thinking things through to their final results.

Jesus Christ foretells the outcomes of two disparate paths: the broad, effortless way of living, versus the “strait and narrow way”:  one eventually leads to destruction, while the other leads to life. How paradoxical that the word “strait” is defined as “a position of difficulty, perplexity, distress, or need2, and yet it leads to life, but the broad and easy way leads to destruction

The Psalmist began to understand the end that awaits the ungodly.  There is a certain hopelessness and dearth of happiness in the godless view of life.

Charles Darwin, the author of “The Origin of the Species”, confessed at the end of his life that, as a result of focusing on only one aspect of life, he had somehow lost the power to enjoy poetry and music, even the capacity to appreciate nature itself.  The final days of H.G. Wells were similar, he who had advocated so much for the mind and understanding, and had ridiculed Christianity, at the end of his life confessed that he was utterly baffled and bewildered.  His last book, “Mind at the End of its Tether”, is an eloquent testimony to the Bible’s teaching about the tragic end of the ungodly.

In contrast, the godly life might seem to be so narrow and miserable, but even a hireling prophet such as Balaam, evil as he was, proclaimed, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!” (Numbers 23:10)

Throughout the hallmarks of life on earth, time and time again, these words have been proven true … But the path of the just is as the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. (Proverbs 4:18)

1  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Faith on Trial”, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1965, p. 46

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Faith on Trial”, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1965, p. 32-53

Photo credit: Seascape by Happy Jack

“Love’s Justice”

Return of the Prodigal Son by Bartolome Esteban Murillo 1667-1670

Return of the Prodigal Son by Bartolome Esteban Murillo 1667-1670

Love’s Justice

Is love inconsistent with justice in our human interactions?  At times we hear the words “tough love” uttered by parents who wish to instill in their children some important life lesson, and often there is a struggle in determining a clear set of determining principles as to how this process is to be carried out.

Jesus tells a story about a father and his two sons.  One son was dutiful and stayed home to work for his father.  The other was rebellious: he demanded his inheritance upfront, went to a far country, and spent all his resources on riotous living.  When his money ran out, and he recognized the error of his ways, he repented and journeyed back home, hoping he would find work as one of his father’s servants.

But instead of giving a scathing rebuke for all that the wayward son had done, the father adorned his son with the best robe, put a ring on his finger, and sandals for his feet.  Then he ordered the fatted calf to be killed, and a feast prepared.  The dutiful son was terribly upset at his father’s actions towards his long-lost brother.  He refused to join in the feast and stayed outside in the darkness of his own creation — the darkness of a harsh spirit and a lack of love for his sibling.

A strange story perhaps,  for there was no logical and expected justice served to the wayward son, but a total reversal of expected outcomes: the obedient son is standing outside in darkness, while the rebellious son is reveling inside the house, feasting with his father.

What then, becomes of justice in this story?  Jesus gives the assurance that Love is the only real justice, for the main purpose of justice is not punishment, but reclamation. A justice that is truly enlightened is less concerned with the punishment of wrong than its reparation.

Had the father issued a harsh verdict against the prodigal son, coldly dismissing him, he would have been unjust to his son’s future potential, and thus would have sinned a more grievous sin against his own son.  The worst sinner in the story was the son who did everything right, and yet acted in a vile, censorious, loveless way towards his brother.

One who does not love cannot be just.

God is Love, and God’s forgiveness is God’s justice, for if we acknowledge the error of our ways, and head back home to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our shortcomings, and to restore us into fellowship with Him, our Heavenly Father,  through His Son Jesus Christ.

* William J. Dawson, “The Empire of Love”, New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1907, pp 33-44.
* Luke 15: 11-32, King James Version

The Yoke and the Learning

The Yoke and the Learning

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Could it be that mankind’s burdens of the soul are analogous to the burdens of the beasts of the field, for why would Jesus mention the yoke, when he beckoned us to come to him for rest?

One might wonder about the purpose of the yoke.  At first thought, it may seem an added burden to an animal, but it is just the opposite, for its function is to make the burden light.  The plow, attached to the oxen without a yoke would be onerous, but when worked by means of a yoke, becomes easier to pull.

What is the nature of this “rest” that Jesus talks about?  The writer of Hebrews exhorts the reader to “labor to enter into Christ’s rest”, a seeming paradox; however, rest is not stagnation as in a still lake, but rather entails simultaneous energy and tranquility, as the rushing waters of a river, or the plunging torrents of a waterfall. It connotes physical and mental activity:  toil with the plow and the discipline of learning, but where burdens are light and non-oppressive.

And what is the “burden”?  It is life itself with its difficulties, to be carried from cradle to grave. During his days on earth, Jesus recognized that men and women took life painfully, and this enigma of how to withstand life’s unpleasant onslaughts  is universal.

“Take my yoke and learn from Me,” says Christ. To take Christ’s yoke upon us is likened to an ox, in meekness, subjecting itself to its Master, no longer going its own way;  it goes where the yoke is led.  An act of total commitment.  To learn from Christ is to look at life according to His perspective, teaching and principles.  It is to grasp and comprehend His meekness and lowliness of heart, qualities which banish the scourge of a restless spirit.

Christ’s yoke is easy. The gentle Master is also a skilled Carpenter, who fashions the yoke for a perfect fit, to enable us to carry our burdens with strength. Christ’s yoke is his way of alleviating human life, his prescription for a joyful life in the midst of a difficult world.

There are other yokes and teachers that we can subject ourselves to, but Christ claims that it is his yoke and the learning from him that give rest to our souls, where we can plow through the fields of life more efficiently, and with lighter burdens.

Reference:  Henry Drummond, Pax Vobiscum, 1890, electronic book courtesy of http://www.Gutenberg.org.

Image: “Landscape with Horse and Oxen Cart”, Painting in the public domain by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-181), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“Where is Your Faith”?

“Where Is Your Faith?”

“And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Master, Master, we perish. Then he arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm. And he said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commands even the winds and water, and they obey him.
Luke 8:24-25

The Gospels talk about a great storm that arose while Jesus and His disciples sailed across the Sea of Galilee. After being awakened by the terrified men, Jesus rebuked the wind and the raging waters, and immediately, there was a great calm.

Jesus was astonished at the state of mind of His disciples in the midst of the storm: He asked them one pointed question: “Where is your faith?”  The Lord’s question seems to imply that He knows they have got faith, but where was it at the moment?  And this question gives us a key to understanding the nature of faith.

Faith transcends ordinary human reaction, and hence it is not automatic, nor is it a result of reflex thought or action; it is not a matter of feelings alone, but encompasses the whole person, which includes the mind, intellect and understanding.   Faith is an activity that must be consciously put into operation. It is a response to truth.

How do we put faith into practice?

The first thing we must do when we find ourselves in extreme difficulty is to refuse to allow ourselves to be controlled by the situation at hand.  Faith is a refusal to panic.  The disciples panicked in the storm,  with the cold, strong winds tossing their craft, the waters flowing in, and they thought they were going to drown and perish. They allowed their predicament to control them, instead of applying their faith and taking charge.

The second step to applying faith is to remind ourselves as Christians of what we believe in and what we know.  If the disciples had only considered that Jesus was with them, the same Jesus who turned the water into wine, healed the blind and the lame, raised the dead, fed thousands, and performed many other miracles, they would not have feared.  Faith grasps on to the truth and reasons what it knows to be truth.

But there is value even in the weakest faith.  With their little faith, the disciples did the right thing in the end.  They eventually went to Jesus, knowing that He was able to do something about the threatening  situation at hand.

Each of us has been given a measure of faith, and should we find ourselves in the midst of trials and testing, let us take it as an opportunity to put our faith into action, to make our faith clearly manifest, to bring glory to our Lord, as we live our lives on earth.

Reference: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, Lowe and Brydone Printers, Ltd, Glasgow, Great Britain, 1965, pp. 134-147.

Image: Christ on the Sea of Galilee, Painting by Eugene Delacroix, circa 1854, in the public domain, courtesy of Wikipaintings.org

The Mystery of the Kingdom of God

The Mystery of the Kingdom of God

For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” Matthew 13:14-15

In the Gospels, Jesus Christ talked about the Kingdom of God in parables: as a mystery, something that is not outwardly manifest and understood by logic and physical observation.  And characteristic of this mystery is that it is something that is completely beyond anything that natural man can ever conceive of or imagine.

Since this mystery is outside the reach of our own natural abilities to comprehend, it is something that must be revealed to us. The Kingdom of God is to be desired and sought after, and at all cost, for there is no hope outside of it.  It is what  Christ likens to as the “pearl of great price”.

Why is it then, that not everyone is pursuing the Kingdom of God?  What are the hindrances to approaching and understanding this mystery?

A previous post on this blog elaborated on two obstacles to grasping the message concerning the Kingdom of God:  1) intellectual pride, and 2) prejudice.

There is a third reason, described by Jesus in these words:  “This people’s heart is waxed gross”. “Their heart is enfattened”, according to John Wycliffe’s translation: a visual of a heart with so much fat around it that the surrounding muscles and tissues eventually are not able to work properly.

What did Jesus mean?

Hearts are “waxed gross”  from eating too much and drinking too much, excessively indulging in the physical senses, leading to a degeneration of the mind, of morals, and of spirit.  It is the result of being overly concerned with the “cares of this world”, and the deceitfulness of things and riches, that the concepts of God and the mystery of His Kingdom become increasingly alien.

Enfattened hearts suffering from obesity and atrophied, become a real hindrance to understanding the mystery of the kingdom of God, which surpasses the here and now, a kingdom which transcends the present,  short-lived realities experienced in one’s  living physical body.  A heavenly kingdom which deals with the soul and our eternal destiny, beyond our earthly lives.

Intellectual pride, prejudice, and enfattened hearts are the obstacles to confronting the mystery of the Kingdom of God.  The tragedy resulting from these hindrances is the blinding of human hearts to the content of this mystery: the good news about God’s healing, of restoring a broken mankind into wholeness through Jesus Christ: the mystery of the purpose of salvation that God planned for us before the very foundation of the world.

Reference: Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Kingdom of God, Crossway Books, Wheaton Illinois, 1992, pp. 87-104.

***Photography by James Jordan : Cornfield at Sunset @Flickr Commons