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“There is one political maxim which comforts me: ‘The Lord reigns'” by John Newton

“O what a Shepherd! Let us love, and sing, and wonder.

I hope the good people at Bristol, and everywhere else, are praying for our sinful, distracted land, in this dark day. The Lord is angry, the sword is drawn, and I am afraid nothing but the spirit of wrestling prayer can prevail for the returning it into the scabbard.

Could things have proceeded to these extremities, except the Lord had withdrawn His salutary blessing from both sides? It is a time of prayer.

We see the beginning of trouble, but who can foresee the possible consequences? The fire is kindled; but how far it may spread, those who are above may perhaps know better than we.

I meddle not with the disputes of party, nor concern myself with any political maxims, but such as are laid down in Scripture. There I read that righteousness exalteth a nation, and that sin is the reproach, and, if persisted in, the ruin of any people.

Some people are startled at the enormous sum of our national debt: they who understand spiritual arithmetic may be well startled if they sit down and compute the debt of national sin.

Imprimis, Infidelity: Item, Contempt of the Gospel: Item, The profligacy of manners: Item, Perjury: Item, The cry of blood, the blood of thousands, perhaps millions, from the East Indies.

It would take sheets, yea quires (i.e. 25 sheets of paper), to draw out the particulars under each of these heads, and then much would remain untold. What can we answer, when the Lord saith, ‘Shall not I visit for these things? Shall not My soul be avenged on such a nation as this?’

Since we received the news of the first hostilities in America, we have had an additional prayer-meeting. Could I hear that professors in general, instead of wasting their breath in censuring men and measures, were plying the Throne of Grace, I should still hope for a respite.

Poor New England! Once the glory of the earth, now likely to be visited with fire and sword. They have left their first love, and the Lord is sorely contending with them.

Yet surely their sins as a people are not to be compared with ours. I am just so much affected with these things as to know, that I am not affected enough.

Oh! My spirit is sadly cold and insensible, or I should lay them to heart in a different manner: yet I endeavour to give the alarm as far as I can.

There is one political maxim which comforts me: ‘The Lord reigns.’ His hand guides the storm; and He knows them that are His, how to protect, support, and deliver them.

He will take care of His own cause; yea, He will extend His kingdom, even by these formidable methods.

Men have one thing in view; He has another, and His counsel shall stand.”

–John Newton, The Works of John Newton, Ed. Richard Cecil (vol. 2; London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 2: 85-87. This quote is from a letter concerning America written by Newton in August 1775.

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“He is bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, a garment to the naked, healing to the wounded” by John Flavel

“There is nothing unlovely found in Him, so all that is in Him is wholly lovely. As every ray of God is precious, so everything that is in Christ is precious: Who can weigh Christ in a pair of balances, and tell you what His worth is?

He is comprehensive of all things that are lovely: He seals up the sum of all loveliness. Things that shine as single stars with a particular glory all meet in Christ as a glorious constellation. ‘It pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell,’ (Col. 1:19).

Cast your eyes among all created beings, survey the universe, observe strength in one, beauty in a second, faithfulness in a third, wisdom in a fourth; but you shall find none excelling in them all as Christ does.

He is bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, a garment to the naked, healing to the wounded; and whatever a soul can desire is found in Him (1 Cor. 1:30).”

–John Flavel, The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel Volume 2 (London; Edinburgh; Dublin: W. Baynes and Son; Waugh and Innes; M. Keene, 1820), 2: 216.

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“Give me the cross of Christ!” by J.C. Ryle

“Let others, if they will, preach the law and morality. Let others hold forth the terrors of hell, and the joys of heaven. Let others drench their congregations with teachings about the sacraments and the church. Give me the cross of Christ!

This is the only lever which has ever turned the world upside down hitherto, and made men forsake their sins. And if this will not, nothing will. A man may begin preaching with a perfect knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but he will do little or no good among his hearers unless he knows something of the cross.

Never was there a minister who did much for the conversion of souls who did not dwell much on Christ crucified. Luther, Rutherford, Whitefield, M’Cheyne, were all most eminently preachers of the cross. This is the preaching that the Holy Ghost delights to bless. He loves to honour those who honour the cross.

The cross is the foundation of a Church’s prosperity. No Church will ever be honoured in which Christ crucified is not continually lifted up: nothing whatever can make up for the want of the cross.

Without it all things may be done decently and in order. Without it there may be splendid ceremonies, beautiful music, gorgeous churches, learned ministers, crowded communion tables, huge collections for the poor.

But without the cross no good will be done. Dark hearts will not be enlightened, proud hearts will not be humbled, mourning hearts will not be comforted, fainting hearts will not be cheered.

Sermons about the Catholic Church and an apostolic ministry,—sermons about baptism and the Lord’s supper,—sermons about unity and schism,—sermons about fasts and communion,—sermons about fathers and saints,—such sermons will never make up for the absence of sermons about the cross of Christ.

They may amuse some: they will feed none. A gorgeous banqueting room, and splendid gold plate on the table, will never make up to a hungry man for a lack of food.

Christ crucified is God’s ordinance for doing good to men. Whenever a Church keeps back Christ crucified, or puts anything whatever in that foremost place which Christ crucified should always have, from that moment a Church ceases to be useful.

Without Christ crucified in her pulpits, a church is little better than a cumberer of the ground, a dead carcass, a well without water, a barren fig tree, a sleeping watchman, a silent trumpet, a dumb witness, an ambassador without terms of peace, a messenger without tidings, a lighthouse without fire, a stumbling-block to weak believers, a comfort to infidels, a hot-bed for formalism, a joy to the devil, and an offence to God.”

–J.C. Ryle, Old Paths: Being Plain Statements of Some of the Weightier Matters of Christianity (London: Charles J. Thynne, 1898), 257-259.

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“Measure the height of His love by the depth of His grief” by Charles Spurgeon

‘There was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.’ This cry came out of that darkness. Expect not to see through its every word, as though it came from on high as a beam from the unclouded Sun of Righteousness.

There is light in it, bright, flashing light; but there is a centre of impenetrable gloom, where the soul is ready to faint because of the terrible darkness.

Our Lord was then in the darkest part of His way. He had trodden the winepress now for hours, and the work was almost finished. He had reached the culminating point of His anguish. This is His dolorous lament from the lowest pit of misery— ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’

I do not think that the records of time, or even of eternity, contain a sentence more full of anguish. Here the wormwood and the gall, and all the other bitternesses, are outdone.

Here you may look as into a vast abyss; and though you strain your eyes, and gaze till sight fails you, yet you perceive no bottom; it is measureless, unfathomable, inconceivable.

This anguish of the Saviour on your behalf and mine is no more to be measured and weighed than the sin which needed it, or the love which endured it. We will adore where we cannot comprehend.

I have chosen this subject that it may help the children of God to understand a little of their infinite obligations to their redeeming Lord.

You shall measure the height of His love, if it be ever measured, by the depth of His grief, if that can ever be known.

See with what a price he hath redeemed us from the curse of the law! As you see this, say to yourselves: What manner of people ought we to be!

What measure of love ought we to return to one who bore the utmost penalty, that we might be delivered from the wrath to come?

I do not profess that I can dive into this deep. I will only venture to the edge of the precipice, and bid you look down, and pray the Spirit of God to concentrate your mind upon this lamentation of our dying Lord, as it rises up through the thick darkness— ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, ‘“‘Lama Sabachtani?’’ in Majesty in Misery, Volume 3: Calvary’s Mournful Mountain (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2005), 153-154. (MPTS: 36: 133-134)

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“The way of most holiness is always the way of most happiness” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us leave the passage with the settled conviction that sin is sure to lead to sorrow, and that the way of most holiness is always the way of most happiness.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1857/2012), 263-264. Ryle is commenting on Mark 14:66-72.

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“Read, study, reflect, and write” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Many—probably most—of these chapters were written in the context of busy pastoral ministry, either in Scotland or in the United States—preaching, teaching, pastoral visiting, personal meetings, crises in the lives of individuals and sometimes the whole church, administrative responsibilities, and the wide and wonderful variety of activities that make up the average ministers life.

And since virtually all the essays were written by request, their writing has been squeezed into, or out of, an occasional hiatus in the sheer busy-ness of ministry life and the constant preparation involved in preaching anywhere between three and six times in the week.

So, at some point in the writing of almost all these chapters I have heard an inner voice ask, ‘Whatever possessed you to agree to do this?’ Yet, however far short these various pieces fall, in each case the preparation of them did me good, enlarged my understanding a little, and fed into the day-to-day work of pastoral ministry.

I hope, therefore, that these pages will encourage other ministers to allow themselves to be stretched a little beyond their normal pulpit or lectern preparation. There is no doubt that the wider reflection, reading, study and stretching involved can only strengthen and enrich long-term ministry.

Such stretching produces growth. Sometimes ministers can ‘waste’ the privileged time they have by studying only in relation to their next sermon. This does produce some growth, of course; but perhaps not growth that is constantly putting down deeper roots and producing richer fruit.

Preachers need to be reading and studying more widely, and reflecting theologically if that is to be the case. For only then will our ongoing ministry be deepened and enriched.

Thus, in one sense at least, the undergirding message of these diverse chapters is: if you are a preacher, accept invitations or create opportunities to study, speak, or write on subjects outside of your usual diet of preparation.

Yes, you may find yourself under a little pressure; but pressure can produce diamonds! You will grow personally as a result, and, God-willing, Paul’s exhortation will be fulfilled in your ministry:

Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have… Practise these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:13-16).

It can be an unnerving question to ask oneself, ‘Has anyone in the congregation ever thought, far less said, about me, ‘He is making progress’?”

–Sinclair Ferguson, Some Pastors and Teachers (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2017), xii-xiii.

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“The fruit of the enjoyment of an infinite and eternal God” by Stephen Charnock

“The enjoyment of God will be as fresh and glorious after many ages, as it was at first. God is eternal, and eternity knows no change. There will then be the fullest possession without any decay in the object enjoyed.

There can be nothing past, nothing future. Time neither adds to it, nor detracts from it. That infinite fulness of perfection which flourisheth in Him now, will flourish eternally, without any discoloring of it in the least, by those innumerable ages that shall run to eternity, much less any despoiling Him of them: ‘He is the same in His endless duration’ (Psalm 102:27).

As God is, so will the eternity of Him be, without succession, without division. The fulness of joy will be always present, without past to be thought of with regret for being gone, without future to be expected with tormenting desires.

When we enjoy God, we enjoy Him in His eternity without any flux: an entire possession of all together, without the passing away of pleasures that may be wished to return, or expectation of future joys which might be desired to hasten.

Time is fluid, but eternity is stable. And after many ages, the joys will be as savory and satisfying as if they had been but that moment first tasted by our hungry appetites.

When the glory of the Lord shall rise upon you, it shall be so far from ever setting, that after millions of years are expired, as numerous as the sands on the seashore, the sun, in the light of whose countenance you shall live, shall be as bright as at the first appearance.

He will be so far from ceasing to flow, that He will flow as strong, as full, as at the first communication of Himself in glory to the creature.

God, therefore, as sitting upon His throne of grace, and acting according to His covenant, is always vigorous and flourishing, a pure act of life, sparkling new and fresh rays of life and light to the creature, flourishing with a perpetual spring, and contenting the most capacious desire, forming your interest, pleasure, and satisfaction, with an infinite variety, without any change or succession.

He will have variety to increase delights, and eternity to perpetuate them. This will be the fruit of the enjoyment of an infinite and eternal God: He is not a cistern, but a fountain, wherein water is always living.”

–Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, in The Works of Stephen Charnock, Vol. 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1681/2010), 364-365.

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