The greatest personal question ever asked

Jul 28, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“Justification by faith is an answer to the greatest personal question ever asked by a human soul: ‘How shall I be right with God?  How do I stand in God’s sight?  With what favor does he look upon me?’  There are those, I admit, who never raise that question.  There are those who are concerned with the question of their standing before men but never with the question of their standing before God.  There are those who are interested in what ‘people say’ but not in the question of what God says.  Such men, however, are not those who move the world.  They are apt to go with the current.  They are apt to do as others do.  They are not the heroes who change the destinies of the race.  The beginning of true nobility comes when a man ceases to be interested in the judgment of men and becomes interested in the judgment of God.”

J. Gresham Machen, in God Transcendent (Edinburgh, 1982), pages 89-90.

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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



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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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