Before we preach tomorrow

Jul 26, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

Kennedy“There are some who preach before their people, like actors on the stage, to display themselves and to please their audience.  Not such were the self-denied preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others who preach over their people.  Studying for the highest, instead of doing so for the lowest, in intelligence, they elaborate learned treatises, which float like mist, when delivered, over the heads of their hearers.  Not such were the earnest preachers of Ross-shire.

There are some who preach past their people.  Directing their praise or their censure to intangible abstractions, they never take aim at the views and the conduct of the individuals before them.  They step carefully aside, lest their hearers should be struck by their shafts, and aim them at phantoms beyond them.  Not such were the faithful preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others who preach at their people, serving out in a sermon the gossip of the week, and seemingly possessed with the idea that the transgressor can be scolded out of the ways of iniquity.  Not such were the wise preachers of Ross-shire.

There are some who preach towards their people.  They aim well, but they are weak.  Their eye is along the arrow towards the hearts of their hearers, but their arm is too feeble for sending it on to the mark.  Superficial in their experience and in their knowledge, they reach not the cases of God’s people by their doctrine, and they strike with no vigor at the consciences of the ungodly.  Not such were the powerful preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others still who preach along their congregation.  Instead of standing with their bow in front of the ranks, these archers take aim in line and, reducing their mark to an individual, never change the direction of their aim.  Not such were the discriminating preachers of Ross-shire.

But there are a few who preach to the people directly and seasonably the mind of God in His Word with authority, unction, wisdom, fervor and love.  Such as these last were the eminent preachers of Ross-shire.”

Revd. John Kennedy, The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire (Inverness, 1895), pages 22-23.

HT:  William Mackenzie



View Comments

Pastor, God is using you

Jul 23, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

williams“God has caused you to become pastor to some souls here who are as valuable to Him as any in the world.  Your quiet persistence will be a sign that you believe God has a purpose of grace for this people, and that this purpose of grace will be promoted not by gimmicks or stunts or new ideas but by the Word of God released in preaching by prayer.

There will soon be evidence that God is at work — and the devil will rouse himself too! . . .

There will be opposition, and you may be quite surprised at where it comes from — notably those who have been ‘running the church’ and who have turned the church of Jesus Christ into their private preserve and hobby.  Those whose daily lives do not match up to their profession will begin to be disturbed.  Those who maintain class distinctions, social or intellectual, in the congregation, and all who put up with the fulminations of a young minister as long as he does not seriously interfere with their status quo, will begin to panic.  Amidst all this, consciences will be stirred and lives will be searched, home life, business, church activities examined.  People will begin to take sides, objections to you and to what you preach, and how you preach it, will become increasingly plausible (but quite irrational when you consider them).  Your manner, length and style of preaching, etc., will all be torn to pieces. . . .

But a nucleus will appear, of whom several will be seen to be truly devoted to God and bound together by ties of holy love.  These will honor you for your faithfulness to God. . . . You will see the Word changing and exposing lives, and you will marvel and tremble and rejoice and fear all in one.  You will be bowed in profoundest humility before God when you see that He has called you to follow in the train, however far behind, of the first apostles, and the prophets, teachers and martyrs of the centuries.”

William Still, The Work of the Pastor (Fearn, 2010), pages 34-35.

View Comments


Jul 12, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“The one essential condition of human existence is that man should always be able to bow down before something infinitely great.  If men are deprived of the infinitely great, they will not go on living and will die of despair.  The Infinite and the Eternal are as essential for man as the little planet on which he dwells.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Possessed (New York, 2005), page 663.

View Comments

Never lack God

Jul 09, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“God’s goodness is near us.  It is not a goodness far away, but God follows us with his goodness in whatever situation we are.  He attaches himself to us, he has made himself close, that he might be near us in goodness.  He is a father, and everywhere to maintain us.  He is a husband, and everywhere to help.  He is a friend, and everywhere to comfort and counsel.  His love is a near love.  He has taken upon himself the closest kinds of relationships, so that we may never lack God and the evidences of his love.”

Richard Sibbes, Works, IV:196, paraphrased.

View Comments

One of the best things that could happen

Jul 08, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“. . . one of the best things that could happen to many believers would be for them to be led to give away, all at one time, a substantial part of their savings.  That is, they should give a substantial part of their capital.  Why?  Because there is something about giving away a sizable percentage of one’s money – and, of course, the amount would vary entirely from one individual to another – that is spiritually invigorating.  And there is seldom a case in which a large gift does not throw the Christian back on the Lord and increase the feeling that he is all-wonderful and that he is more than able to care for the one who trusts him.  I have seen this happen in many instances.  And I have never known a true Christian to be sorry for even the most sacrificial giving afterward.”

James Montgomery Boice, Philippians (Grand Rapids, 1971), page 290.

View Comments

Jesus loved the enthusiast

Jul 07, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“Jesus loved the enthusiast, the man who knew what side he was on and threw himself wholeheartedly into the struggle.  He liked energetic action, as in the men who climbed the roof and broke a way through for their paralyzed friend, or in Zacchaeus who forgot his dignity and swarmed up a tree.  He loved the generous giver.  All four Gospels quote His saying, ‘He who loves life loses it; he who spends keeps.’  It sums up His attitude to life.  He praised the man who banged on the door till he got an answer; He wanted men to show that kind of determination in the affairs of religion.  He praised the widow who badgered the unjust judge into doing justice.  He did not like playing for safety or burying one’s talent.  It is the peace-makers rather than the peace-keepers whom He blesses.  Goodness is a positive active loyalty.”

Hugh Martin, The Seven Letters: Christ’s Message to His Church (London, 1956), page 107.

View Comments

This "they"

Jul 05, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“I insist that up to now the Russian writings have been suffering from a lack of guilt feelings.  This is the most difficult threshold which it is necessary to cross in order to say, ‘We are to blame, not they.’  It is the easiest thing in the world to say ‘they.’  Published works in our own country and in the whole world are full of this ‘they.’  Even fine literature is full of it.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “Press Conference on the Future of Russia,” Zurich, 16 November 1974.

View Comments

How Jesus loves, how we change

Jul 01, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“A man may love another as his own soul, yet his love may not be able to help him.  He may pity him in prison, but not relieve him, bemoan him in misery, but not help him, suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him.  We cannot love grace into a child, nor mercy into a friend; we cannot love them into heaven, though it may be the greatest desire of our soul. . . . But the love of Christ, being the love of God, is effective and fruitful in producing all the good things which he wills for his beloved.  He loves life, grace and holiness into us; he loves us into covenant, loves us into heaven.”

John Owen, Works (Edinburgh, 1980), II:63.  Style updated, italics added.

View Comments

Stay on the anvil

Jun 29, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

When God wants to drill a man
And thrill a man
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him
And with mighty blows converts him
Into shapes and forms of clay
Which only God can understand.

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes
How He uses whom He chooses
And with mighty power infuses him
With every act induces him
To try His splendor out –
God knows what He’s about.

Author unknown.

View Comments

What is it like to be a demon?

Jun 26, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“. . . it passes through waterless places seeking rest and finding none.”  Luke 11:24

Jesus gives us an insight into unseen spiritual realities in Luke 11:24-26.  He cast a demon out of a man, in verses 14-23.  He freed a man, restoring him to fuller humanity.  But some, watching this wonderful deliverance, accused Jesus of accomplishing it by the power of Satan.  They knew something was happening.  That was obvious.  But they construed a beautiful thing as its horrible opposite.

Why?  Why did they get it so wrong?  Jesus said, “The kingdom of God has come upon you” (verse 20).  These people hadn’t bargained on that.  They wanted a decent world, of course.  But the kingdom of God?  The rule of God?  That much of God?  To these people, that much blessing was a threat.  So, without realizing it, they aligned themselves with the devil by attributing to the devil the oncoming power of the kingdom of God.

That’s scary.

Then Jesus goes on to describe the career of a demon — presumably, like the one he had just cast out, just your average demon.  So here is what Jesus wants us to understand about what it’s like to be a demon.

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.”  Luke 11:24

A demonic spirit is unclean, impure, like the ritually unclean animals of the Old Testament.  It is unacceptable to God, excluded, a perpetual outsider, not belonging to the One whose very presence defines belonging-ness, at-home-ness, comfort.

Left to its own potentialities, a demon’s existence is external barrenness and internal restlessness.  Gnawing drivenness, never stopping to rest, rejoice, give thanks.

Parasitic, needy, self-pitying, possessive (“my house”), and delusional (“from which I came [by my own free choice]” rather than “from which I was expelled by the mighty Son of God”).

And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order.  Luke 11:25

A demon is comfortable with a human being who has been tidied up, who is sinning less than before, who looks good and smells fresh and even quotes 1 Corinthians 14:40 about all things being done decently and in order.  “Swept and put in order” is no bulwark against evil.  The demon licks its chops.

Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there.  And the last state of that person is worse than the first.  Luke 11:26

Demons are at various levels of evil.  And they network.  They coordinate.  They don’t take no for an answer but look for an opportunity to retake lost ground, turning a defeat into an even greater gain than they had before.

In the context of Luke 11, what is the “last state worse than the first”?  It is, having experienced the kingdom of God coming in power, then to reject the rule of God exalting Jesus as an evil intrusion.  If someone construes the glorious display of Jesus as the hideous approach of Satan, what will save them then?  That false sense of alarm, that foolish barricading of oneself against Christ, is Satan’s masterpiece of iniquity.

Finally, this teaching of Jesus reveals how vulnerable is purely negative repentance, turning from sin without turning to God, getting free of bad habits without getting bound to newness of life in Christ.  Any moral reform that creates a mere vacuum will be filled by evils worse than before.  Our only safety is to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Escape from evil is not found in neutrality, not even in well-manicured neutrality; our only safety lies in welcoming and revering and rejoicing in the kingdom of God coming upon us in divine power.

When the kingdom of God gets us glorying in the commanding presence of Christ, then the demons tremble.

View Comments
1 2 3 196