Here’s an excerpt from John Gill’s “Body of Practical Divinity” to help as you prepare your mind and heart for prayer meeting.
The parts of prayer, of which it consists; the apostle, in Philippians 4:6 uses four words
to express it by; and which are commonly thought to design distinct species or parts of
prayer; which are comprehended under the general name of “requests,” or petitions, as
“prayer and supplication with thanksgiving”: and he also uses four words for it,199 with
some little difference, in 1 Timothy 2:1 “Supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of
thanks;” by which one and the same thing may be signified in different words, according to
the different respects which it has; but if these have different senses, and are different
species or parts of prayer, Origen’s account of them seems as good as any; that “supplication”
is for some good that we stand in need of; “prayer” for greater things, when in great
danger, that is, deliverance from it; “intercession” is expressed with more freedom, familiarity,
and faith, with greater confidence of having what is asked of God; and “thanksgiving” is an
acknowledgment of good things obtained of God by prayer. But to proceed, and more particularly
consider the parts of prayer, of what it consists; and I mean not to prescribe any
form of prayer, but to direct to the matter and method. And,
a. In prayer there should be a celebration of the divine perfections; and it is proper to
begin with this; we should declare the name of the Lord to whom we pray, and ascribe
greatness to our God; we should begin with some one or other of his names and titles, expressive
of his nature, and of the relation he stands in to us as creatures, and new creatures;
and make mention of some one or more of his perfections, which may serve to command
an awe and reverence of him; to engage our affections to him; to strengthen our faith and
confidence in him, and raise our expectations of being heard and answered by him, as before
observed; as of his purity, holiness, and righteousness; of his omniscience, omnipotence,
and omnipresence; and of his immutability and faithfulness, love, grace, and mercy.
b. There should be an acknowledgment of our vileness and sinfulness, of our meanness
and unworthiness in ourselves; we should come before a pure and holy God under a sense
of the depravity and pollution of our nature, and of our unworthiness to be admitted into
his presence, and to worship at his footstool; when we take upon us to speak unto the Lord,
we should own, with Abraham, that we are but “dust and ashes;” not only frail and mortal
creatures, but sinful and impure; and with Jacob, that we are not “worthy of the least of all
the mercies” showed us, nor of receiving any favour from God; and therefore do not present
our supplications to him “for our righteousnesses, but for his great mercies”.
c. There should be a confession of sin; of the sin of our nature, of original sin, of indwelling
sin; of the sins of our lives and actions; of our daily transgressions of the law of
They seem to answer to four words used by the Jews, of prayer, ברכה בקשה תפלה תחנה
God in thought, word, and deed: this has been the practice of saints in all ages; of David,
Daniel, and others (Ps. 32:5, 51:3-5) and which is encouraged (1 John 1:9).
d. There should be a deprecation of all evil things, which our sins deserve; so our Lord
taught his disciples to pray; “Deliver us from all evil;” and this seems to be the meaning of
the saints oftentimes when they pray for the forgiveness of their own sins and those of others,
that God would deliver them out of present distress, of what kind soever, remove his
afflicting hand, which lies heavy upon them, and avert those evils which seem to threaten
them, and prevent their coming upon them; in which sense we are to understand many of
the petitions of Moses, Job, Solomon, and others (Ex. 32:32; Num. 14:19, 20; Job 7:21; 1
King 8:30, 34, 36, 39, 50).
e. Another part or branch of prayer is, a petition for good things, which are needed;
for temporal mercies, such as regard the sustenance of our bodies, the comfort, support,
and preservation of life; so our Lord has taught us to pray; “Give us this day our daily bread;”
which includes all the necessaries of life. Agur’s prayer with respect to this is a very wise
one, and to be copied after (Prov. 30:7-9). Spiritual blessings are to be prayed for; which,
though laid up in covenant, and are sure to all the covenant ones, what God has promised,
and will be performed; and we may have this confidence in him, that whatsoever we ask,
according to his will, we shall have; but then they must be asked for; seeing, for what he has
promised, and will do, he will “yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for
them” (Ezek. 36:37).
f. Prayer should always be accompanied with thanksgiving; this should always be a
part of it; since, as we have always mercies to pray for, we have always mercies to be thankful
for (Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6).
g. At the close of this work it is proper to make use of doxologies, or ascriptions of
glory to God; of which we have many instances, either of which may be made use of (Matthew
6:13; Eph. 3:21; 1 Tim. 1:17; Jude 1:24, 25; Rev. 1:5, 6), which serve to show forth the praises
of God, to express our gratitude to him, and our dependence on him, and expectation of
receiving from him what we have been praying for; and the whole may be concluded with
the word “Amen,” as expressing our assent to what has been prayed for, our wishes and
desires for the accomplishment of it, and our full and firm persuasion and belief of our
having what we have been asking for, according to the will of God.
This Sunday I tackled a challenging and at times controversial topic, the permissibility for believers to drink alcoholic beverages. Primarily for the benefit of the congregation, I want to post some of my observations on alcohol in the Bible and how Christians today should view this issue. Recently this matter has become a significant issue in evangelicalism. Some have acted as if the ability to drink alcohol is the defining hallmark of whether one is really living in their Christian liberty. The response from these ones has been such that a position of total abstinence is treated as if it is self righteous legalism. Neither assumption is accurate. However, on the other side of the issue, one must also be careful not to assume that any consumption of alcohol is sinful. The question I answered Sunday, and the question being debated is a very specific one. Is it alright for a believer to drink an alcoholic drink as a beverage? The question of medical treatment or water purification is not what the debate is about. The debate really gets down to whether the Bible allows Christians the freedom to have a glass of wine with supper or to have a few beers with some friends. To help think through this topic I want to give an overview of the Bible’s treatment of wine.
As with many controversial Biblical topics, it is at times very difficult to come to the text without a conclusion already in mind. The discussion of alcohol is made more challenging by the large amount of information that has been presented and misrepresented because of a personal bias or agenda. Saved and unsaved alike have shaped the discussion to their own ends, history and science have been manipulated to serve an agenda. The difficulty of finding sound information means any who study this topic need exercise great care to check and double check the accuracy of the facts being presented. Unfortunately, believers for and against the drinking of alcohol have distorted or misapplied information to bolster their argument. Because of that, let me give a quick conclusion at the beginning. The assertion that New Testament era Christians abstained from all alcoholic beverages except for medicinal purpose seem to me to fall flat, overlooking some passages that indicate believers did consume alcoholic drinks. However, to conclude that because some apostolic era Christians probably drank alcohol then the Christian today can drink as he likes as long as he does not get drunk is to fail to properly address the historical and cultural context of the issue.
To begin with there must be a proper understanding of the word wine. The words translated wine in the Bible, and in fact the original use of the English word wine, do not only refer to alcoholic wine. Today we never refer to ordinary grape juice as wine, but when the King James was translated, that was not the case. Into the 18th century we find evidence of “wine” being used in reference to alcoholic and non alcoholic fruit drinks. The same is absolutely true for the primary words in Greek and Hebrew translated wine in our English Bibles. Historically, both languages can be shown to use their word for wine in reference to alcoholic and non alcoholic fruit drinks. Don’t assume because our word today always refers to an alcoholic beverage that the Bible must be also. Secondly, we must realize the alcoholic beverages drank in the Biblical times have one major difference from much of that which is sold and drunk in America today, distillation. Distillation is the process by which the alcohol content of a drink is increased, allowing drinks to have an alcohol content well over 90%. Distillation was not known in the middle east until well after the time of Christ and the completion of the New Testament. All alcoholic drinks were limited to the physical limit of the sugars and bacteria present in the juice. That means, the maximum alcohol content of any beverage was around 15%. The strongest drinks were similar in alcohol content to today’s unfortified wines.
With those introductory thoughts out of the way, let me mention several important Biblical points in relation to this issue.
• The Bible clearly and unmistakably condemns drunkenness. The Bible does not ever praise drunkenness. The Bible does not condemn drunkenness every time it is tells of someone being drunk, but when it speaks to the morality of being drunk, Scripture always treats it as unsuitable for the child of God. Similarly, though the Bible does often speak of wine, it does not always offer either condemnation or praise. Similar to the Bible’s other references to historical events or facts, the Bible does not issue a judgment as to the morality wine in every discussion of wine.
• The Bible nowhere specifically forbids believers to drink beverages containing alcohol. Obviously, such a prohibition would make this conversation much simpler. There is no such command. However, the statement in Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”, does give a strong warning about the dangers of alcohol. This discussion is not about a completely harmless substance. This discussion is about something that Scriptures calls a mocker which will deceive the foolish.
• The Bible does call for the use of alcohol for certain purposes. Proverbs 31:6-7 prescribes strong drink and wine for those suffering on the verge of death. 1 Timothy 5:23 prescribes the use of a little wine for Timothy’s ailments. The instruction to Timothy does not mean Timothy was to drink a glass of wine each day. It is more likely that Paul is telling Timothy to add a little wine to his water. There can be appropriate and legitimate uses of alcoholic drinks. On the other hand, one cannot justify recreational drinking based on medicinal usage. For that matter, one cannot justify a habit of drinking based upon perceived medical benefits. The heart benefits or antioxidants of any substance never determines the rightness of that substance for a believer. Our lives are to be lived based upon the teaching of God’s Word, not the personal benefit of any action.
• The Bible is consistent in its prohibition against strong drink. Save for on the death bed, there is a consistent repudiation of the use of strong drink. Remember, strong drink in Biblical times was not vodka, rum, whisky or port. Strong drink was the stoutest of natural wines, with an alcohol content of around 15%. Let me state it again, the Bible completely forbids all drinking of strong drink. If that includes the average wine and everything stronger, then the application to this issue should be immediate and obvious. No, you cannot have a glass of wine with supper.
• Ephesians 5:18 commands, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.” In Ephesians 5 Paul is probably concerned with correcting some of the behavior of the Bacchanals, drunken parties and parades that were familiar to citizens of large cities in the Roman empire. What is of particular interest in verse 18 is the word Paul used that is translated drunk. The word is one of three related words that are translated drunk, drunken or drunkenness. This particular use of the word indicates the beginning process of getting drunk. It is used in Luke 12:45 in the sense of beginning to be drunk. Paul’s command to believers is to not begin to get drunk. Certainly getting completely smashed is clearly forbidden, but Ephesians 5:18 drops the bar lower. Christians must not begin to get intoxicated.
I have not included all the many other uses of wine and strong drink in the Bible. There are many uses of the word wine in the Bible that are somewhat ambiguous. Many uses leave some room for discussion as whether it is certainly alcoholic or non alcoholic wine. These uses are usually interpreted based on one’s presupposition. Those who think all alcohol is forbidden see many of these ambiguous uses as non alcoholic wine. Those who believe there is a wide liberty with alcohol see many of these ambiguous uses as referring to alcoholic wine. There are several other things, culturally and historically that need to be considered before drawing any conclusions.
There is a definite cultural difference between the consumption of alcoholic wine in the ancient times and the recreational drinking of today. The wines commonly drunk were diluted, giving them an alcoholic content about that of the average modern day beer. These wines were drunk with meals, in limited quantities. The stereotypical drinking of today is an event more associated with bars and parties than with a family meal. Our culture has been overwhelmed with the abuse of alcohol. Our churches are filled with Christians who have come out of a life of drunkenness and who still struggle with the temptation to get drunk. The reality of these battles against sin must inform the Christian’s behavior in this matter.
Let me bring all these points to a conclusion. As with many controversial issues such as this, the topic ranges across that which is clearly sinful to that which may not be sinful. Strong drink is clearly forbidden. Whatever beverages falls into the strong drink category must be treated as wrong for the believer to imbibe. One cannot under any circumstance Biblically justify the use of hard liquors, distilled spirits, full strength wines or drinking lighter drinks until one is buzzed. Liberty may be possible in that which is not forbidden by the Bible. While there is no clear command against drinking beverages that contain alcohol, the sociocultural aspects, the great number in our churches who still struggle with the temptation to drunkenness, and the general difference in alcoholic content leads me to conclude the wiser choice is a position of complete abstinence. Though it may be permissible for a believer to drink a beer or wine cooler, it seems to me that the wisest and most charitable choice for an American believer is to not drink alcohol as a beverage. The right application of Romans 14 to this issue is to restrain liberty for the edification of believers and increase of the kingdom of God.
One other point of note, many churches still include in their covenant a prohibition against all alcohol as a beverage. If you are a member of such a church, then you are obligated to not drink. You have covenanted with that church body that you will not drink You may personally feel the liberty to drink a little, but as part of your submission to the authority of the church you have said you will not drink. That is not a light thing, and I trust none will elevate your personal
liberty over the integrity of your word or the authority of the church.
Let me conclude this article with a couple pertinent questions for you who may be inclined to insist upon the liberty to drink. Use these questions to evaluate your own heart as you think about this matter:
• Why do I feel the need or desire to drink?
• Is drinking today consistent with a Biblical way of living?
• What impact will this have on my fellow believers?
• What impact will this have on my testimony for Christ?
• Since drunkenness and intoxication are forbidden, what guards do I have in place to prevent intoxication?
In 1999 I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Northland Baptist Bible College. Since it’s inception, Northland has been a school devoted to the training of full time Christian workers. As such, it has played an invaluable role for churches, particularly fundamental churches. Over the last several years changes have been taking place at Northland that have concerned many and of course have provided much fodder for bloggers. I have intentionally said nothing publicly about my own thoughts on the changes. The last few weeks, beginning with the release of Dr. Olson from the presidency, his subsequent rehiring and now the appointment of a new chairman of the board, have prompted me to voice my perspective for those three people who read this blog (Hi mom!). To understate the matter succinctly, I am deeply troubled and saddened by NIU’s decisions and direction.
With the appointment of an Evangelical Free pastor to be the chairman of the board and the reinstatement of Dr. Olson to “continue in the direction he has been leading”, the Northland of old is no more. Whatever your opinion of fundamentalism and fundamentalist principles, there is no question that Northland had been squarely positioned within northern fundamentalism (I speak of northern fundamentalism as a philosophy, not as a geographical region). Northland began by making changes to certain standards (which was absolutely not a departure from fundamentalism). Then they changed their discipline from a demerit based system to a discipleship based system. That change sounds very good, but the practical application doesn’t always work out so well. This Spring Northland officially announced it was no longer practicing certain kinds of secondary separation, including separation from those within the Southern Baptist Convention. Unannounced has been the recruiting of students at CCM concerts and the allowance of a faculty member to also be a member of a charismatic church. The recent resignation of four board members and the appointment of a new chairman of the board leaves no doubt that Northland has left its fundamentalist position and is intent on continuing in that change. Clearly, the philosophy and practice of ministry is not what it once was. Some of Northland’s changes were good and necessary course corrections. The more recent changes are not minor corrections, they are wholesale deviations from what Northland once was. Now, I can no longer call Northland a fundamentalist school. This is a great grief to a fundamentalist who upholds exegetical preaching, loving servant leadership and separation from doctrinal error. Northland once maintained an excellent position. They taught sound exegesis that digs out the authorial intent of the passage and then carefully shows the hearer how that original intent impacts the life today. They taught conservative and traditional standards without being legalistic. Northland was always clear and specific about the differences between institutional standards, personal standards and Biblical commands. They maintained a careful separation from doctrinal error without being harsh or divisive. Northland was a much needed training ground for reasonable fundamentalists. Sadly, that Northland no longer exists.
As a student and as a pastor I reaped great benefit from Northland. As an undergrad Northland shaped my ministry philosophy. After graduation I continued to benefit from conferences and pastor’s days at Northland, fellowshiping with other like minded men and gaining further ministry training. To our loss, that Northland no longer exists. There is now one less school to train another generation of fundamentalist leaders. This is a great loss to a fundamentalism that cannot afford losses. Northland as an institution will probably continue on for many more years. Sadly, the Northland I knew and that shaped my ministry practices and philosophies has passed away. NIU is not the NBBC that was, and many, myself included, are sorrowing at the loss.
Yesterday I watched the final part of the History Channel’s mini-series The Bible. The five part series attracted over 10 million viewers each week. The Christian response that I have seen has been generally positive towards the series, though always expressed with some reservations and concerns. Given the History Channel’s past treatment of Biblical subjects, this series was far more respectful towards the Bible than I expected. The series was unique, offering a broad panorama of the Biblical message through the means of individual stories of some of the major characters of the Bible. The History Channel did much right in their handling of Scriptures. Considering the way books are usually rearranged to become suitable to a broad movie audience, The Bible stands out as one of the few that maintains much of the original integrity of the story.
However, and this is one of my greatest concern with The Bible, God’s Word is not some other book. The stories and characters are not merely the handicraft of a skilled author to develop tension and further the plotline. Every word of the Word was directly given by God to His apostles and prophets for His purpose and the instruction of mankind. To change the stories and facts of the Biblical account and then present it as if it was from the Bible is to change the Word of God. (Now, lest this be misunderstood, my complaint is not the characters did not quote the Bible directly or speak in Elizabethan English. My complaint is they change the content, facts, events and characters). Even granting broad liberty for dramatics, artistic license, interpretational differences and time limitations, these changes were very problematic. Ultimately, the History Channel’s treatment of Biblical truth significantly undermined the revelation of Divine authority, the uniqueness of the Biblical narrative and the message of redemption.
While the facts presented were accurate more times than not, there was a sweeping undermining of true Biblical doctrines. My gravest concerns are not for the details that were misrepresented or odd changes to the story line (Genesis 19 says nothing about sword wielding angels fighting their way out of Sodom), but for the misrepresentation of the overall scope of the Bible. Instead of faith being a conviction of the truth and authority of God’s decrees, it is presented as an inner voice guiding men along a path. Why leave out the audible decrees of God to His servants? Why neglect the pillars of cloud and fire that led the Israelites? Why was there no voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s “beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”? This is not nitpicking the failure to include a couple scenes that I would liked to have seen. This is a sweeping complaint that the entire series served to minimize the authority of God’s spoken and written Word and elevated the importance of inner impressions. As a result, the stories become a loosely connected string of anecdotes of great personal faith rather than the harmonious series of events working together as a result of God’s Sovereign direction ruling in all the affairs of men. The series does contain a bare hint of a great overarching plan, for those who would understand the sheep in the background, but that bare hint is severely obscured by the barrage of characters following a mysterious inner voice.
Most importantly, the gospel offered in the series was not the gospel. No, I don’t actually expect unsaved people to get the gospel right. However, I cannot praise them for their well intentioned errors. I most definitely cannot recommend their erroneous presentation of the gospel to others. The History Channel’s version of the gospel completed neglected sin. Christ’s death seems to be nothing more than a plot by jealous priests to remove a trouble maker. Pilate’s wife does whisper that it looks like Jesus knew it all had to happen, but there is never any mention of why it all had to happen. Once the flood sequences are done, sin seems to be completely forgotten. Even during the flood, the narration seems to relegate sin to just bad choices. The Biblical realities of sin and separation from God are nearly non existent. Worse still, the gospel promises offered by the apostles are promises deliverance from oppression. The Bible’s presentation of the gospel does not match the gospel presented in God’s Word, rather it aligns itself with the 20th century social and liberation gospels. Christ’s death appears to be more about suffering with His people than suffering in their place. His deliverance seems to be more about physical deliverance than eternal, spiritual deliverance. Scriptures tells us the gospel is forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to the father. The gospel is not about men changing the world, it is about God transforming hearts. Even though The Bible series was a very well done, generally careful adaptation of God’s Word, the distortion of the gospel is enough for Christians to offer no further support or recommendation of the series. As Paul actually said under the direct inspiration of God (and not the spontaneous creative thoughts of the moment), “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”
“For what a man loves, that that man is. What a man chooses out of a hundred offers, you are sure by that who and what that man is. And accordingly, put the New Testament in any man’s hand, and set the Throne of Grace wide open before any man; and you need no omniscience to tell you that man’s true value. If he lets his Bible lie unopened and unread: if he lets God’s Throne of Grace stand till death, idle and unwanted: if the depth and the height, the nobleness and the magnificence, the goodness and the beauty of divine things have no command over him, and no attraction to him—then, you do not wish me to put words upon the meanness of that man’s mind. Look yourselves at what he has chosen: look and weep at what he has neglected, and has for ever lost! But there are other men: there are men of a far nobler blood than that man is: there are great men, royal men: there are some men made of noble stuff, and cast into a noble mould. And you will never satisfy or quiet those men with all you can promise them or pour out upon them in this life. They are men of a magnificent heart, and only in prayer have their hearts ever got full scope and a proper atmosphere. They would die if they did not pray.”
- Alexander Whyte
This past Sunday, as part of the February series on “Idols of the Heart” that I am currently preaching, I dealt with the source of idols and how to identify an idol in our life. I shared with the congregation a quote from Charles Spurgeon’s sermon Hideous Discovery. Time did not allow me to quote all I wanted from that sermon, but the content was so excellent I could not leave it completely unsaid. Below is Spurgeon’s second point on Mark 7:20-23.
“Now, secondly, I want to indicate THE NEST FROM WHICH THEY COME. Now that we have seen these evil beasts, we will go and look at their den. Let us make a journey there. No, you need not feel for your money to pay your fare—I am not going to take you very far. I do not ask you to quit your homes, or even your pews. There is not even need for you to stretch out your hand to feel for this foul nest of unclean birds—you can keep your hand upon your bosom and it will not be far off from the lair wherein these evil things are lurking, ready to leap forth whenever occasion offers.
Our Lord Jesus Christ says, “All these evil things come from within.” “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts.” The source from which these rivers of pollution proceed is the natural heart of man! Sin is not a splash of mud upon man’s exterior, it is a filth generated within himself!
Now this is a very different story from that which we sometimes hear from thoughtless people. “Oh, yes, he used to swear. He was unkind to his wife and family—no doubt he took too much drink—but he was a good-hearted fellow!” What an awful lie! His heart could have been no better than that which came out of it. Yet how common it is to say, when a man dies, “Well, poor man, he is gone! There was no fear of God or man about him. He was a passionate, drunken man and so full of vice that no one was safe near him, but he was good at bottom.” A likely story, is it not? The water which came up in the bucket was black and putrid, but, no doubt, at the bottom of the well it is clear as crystal! Do you believe it? If men bring to market baskets of fruit which upon the top are rotten, they will not be believed if they say that they are, “good at bottom.” If the goods in the window are worthless, the stock in the warehouse is not much better. You can only judge of a tree by its fruits—and if I gather sour crabapples from a tree, I shall not believe that it is a golden pippin! If grapes, when fully ripe, are sour, we cannot believe that the vine which bears them is a sweet one! Our Savior makes short work of the lie that the life may be impure and yet the heart is good!
Regeneration is much more than reformation, or the development of natural goodness. It is described in Scripture as a new creation and as a resurrection from the dead. It is not the cleansing of the carnal mind, but the implantation of a spiritual nature. It is not a shaping, feeding, washing and purging of what is already in fallen man—it is a putting into us a life which was never there before. It is a supernatural work of God, the Holy Spirit—it is a miracle of Grace, a work of God! Out of the heart, if the volcano is permitted to pour forth its lava, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, and such like. The Savior compels us to see how bad the natural heart must be in itself, since that which comes out of it is so vile. Who could bring such unclean things out of a clean heart? The source must be foul if the streams are so filthy. These evils must be within, or else they could not come from within.
Our Savior is not speaking of a single man, or a certain set of men, but of man, generally, of man as a race! We are all very much alike by nature. “As in water, face answers to face, so the heart of man to man.” Friend, you are of the same race as those whose sins you censure. Though out of your heart there may never proceed actual fornications and adulteries—God grant they may not!—yet the seeds of such evils are there and you will be foolish if you think that they can never grow into acts. If any man says that no such evil lurks in his heart, I lay to his charge the two last sins in the list, namely, pride and foolishness! No man should dare to think that he is incapable of a sin into which another man has fallen! We may never have suffered from fever, or cholera, or diphtheria—but we may not, therefore, conclude that we are not liable to such diseases. Nor may an unregenerate man, however excellent or moral he may be, conclude that he is invulnerable to the arrows of moral disease. Put the man in certain circumstances, tempt him in certain ways and there is a terrible possibility that he will fall into those very actions which he now so righteously denounces in others! I am a man and, therefore, liable to all the faults of human nature. Self-righteousness may induce us to say with Hazael, “Is your servant
a dog, that he should do this thing?” But we shall be wise to forego so proud a question, for we may rest assured that we are dog enough for anything if the Grace of God is withdrawn from us! It is certainly true that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders” and so forth.
But what is meant here, do you think, by, “the heart?” Is it not intended to indicate the man himself—the man’s most real self? Sin is sin, for the most part, because it is of the heart and the will. If the man’s heart had nothing to do with it, I do not see how it would be sin. If a man had no will in the matter, where would his responsibility be? It is because we willingly do evil that we sin. The essence of the sin lies in the will to do it and the full consent of the heart in it. The heart is the center of life, the core of being, the place where manhood maintains its throne and what a terrible statement this is, that out of the very center of life there proceed from man “evil thoughts, wickedness, blasphemy” and the like! The heart is the spring of action—the heart suggests, resolves, designs and sets the whole train of life in motion. The heart gives the impulse and the force and yet, out of the heart, thus initiating and working, proceeds all this mischief of sin. By the heart is meant mainly the affections, but it often includes the understanding and the will. It is, in fact, the man’s vital self. Sin is not a thing extra that comes to us and afflicts us like robbers breaking into our house at night, but it is a tenant of the soul, dwelling within us as in its own house. This evil worm has penetrated into the kernel of our being and there it abides. Sin has intertwisted itself with the warp and woof of our nature and none can remove it but the Lord God Himself! As long as the heart remains unchanged, out of it will proceed that which is sinful. “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually.”
If it is so, that the nest in which sin is born and nurtured is the heart, itself, we always carry about with us, by nature, that which will surely be the cause of sin unless we look well to it and cry daily for Grace to conquer it. This evil nature of ours is an always present danger—it is a powder magazine which at any moment may explode. Oh for Grace to keep our hearts with all diligence!
How clearly sin comes from within and not from outside! How truly it is born in the heart! Oftentimes we see men commit sins against conscience—they know they are doing wrong, for they will lie and even swear hard in order to conceal their folly. A man must know that he does wrong, for he labors to deny it when it is charged against him. Now, if a man sins against light and conscience, it shows that his heart must be radically bad. Sin must be within us naturally since the best training does not prevent it. Children secluded from the sight or hearing of evil—kept, as it were, within a glass case—yet run to it when the restraint is removed! As the young duck which has been reared in a dry place yet takes to the water as soon as it sees a pond, so do many hasten to evil at the first opportunity.
How often it happens that those young persons who have been most shut out from the world have become the readiest victims of temptation when the time has come for them to quit the parental roof! It must be in them, or it could not thus come out of them. In many cases, evil cannot be the result of mistaken education nor of ill example—and yet there it is—the seed is in the soil and needs no sowing. Again, we frequently find men falling into sins towards which they would seem to have had no temptation. A man is rich and yet covetous. He has enough to content him if his heart were not evil. Men who have the enjoyment of almost every desirable pleasure too often crave after indulgences altogether unnatural. Does not this show how evil the heart is? Is not this specially striking when you see how men invent new sins, of which ordinary people would never have dreamed? Moreover, put a man where you may and seclude him as you please, sin will still break out from him and, therefore, the sin must be somewhere within, hidden away. Do we not know this? When we are in associations of the best kind we find evil thoughts and imaginations springing up within our minds. Shut yourself up in a narrow cell, but there will be room in it for troops of sins! Hasten away and dwell alone as a hermit where rumor of pollution and iniquity can never reach you from abroad and still you will find the cauldron within boiling and bubbling up with evil! A door must be well sealed if it is to shut out temptation. No, shut the door and hermetically seal it and sin has already entered with yourself, for it is within you! Until you are delivered from that evil man, yourself, you are not delivered from tendencies to wickedness.
The heart of man is the seed plot of iniquity and the nursery of transgression. As the multitudes streamed forth from the hundred gates of Thebes, so do sins proceed from the heart! O Lord, have mercy upon us and give us new hearts and right spirits!”
I just came across this great quote from Chrysostom’s Address on Vainglory. He presents a phenomenal pictures of the ravages reeked within the church by our personal, pointless pride.
Has any man done what I asked? Has he prayed to God on our behalf and on
behalf of the whole body of the Church for the quenching of the conflagration, begotten of Vainglory,1 which is bringing ruin on the entire body of the Church and is tearing the single body asunder into many separate limbs and is disrupting love? Like a wild beast swooping on a healthy, tender, and defenseless body, Vainglory has fastened her foul teeth in her victim and injected poison and filled it with noisome stench. She has severed and cast away some limbs, others she has torn into shreds, others she has chewed up. Yea, if it were possible to look on Vainglory and the Church with our eyes, one would behold a pitiful sight, exceeding by far in savagery the spectacles in the circus — the body of the Church prostrate and Vainglory standing over it, gazing fixedly all round, restraining those that attack her, never giving ground nor drawing back. Which of us will scare away this wild beast? It is the task of Him who has set the contest, when we beseech Him to send his angels, and they, muzzling her bold and shameless mouth as it were with cords, lead her away so. He who has set the contest will do this whenever we cease to long for her when she has been led away. If He bids the dread beast withdraw from us and dismisses it, but we, after we have escaped safely and she has been driven off to her own den, rise up with our countless wounds and seek the beast once more and strike her and overturn her to carry her off.
Let us take to heart Paul’s admonition in Philippians 2:1-5, “ If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Forsake Vainglory, pursue the humility that comes with having the mind of Christ.