Pondering Creation, an Advantage to Faith

Manton Mondays — Insights on the Word from puritan Thomas Manton

Hebrews 11 begins with a wonderful description of faith in action:  “[1] Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. [2] For by it the people of old received their commendation.’ (ESV)  It then immediately speaks of the role faith in understanding the act of creation (11:3), “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” 

Thomas Manton points us to the great advantages for our faith in pondering God’s creation….

[Turning our minds to creation] is a wonderful advantage to faith to give us hope and consolation in the greatest distresses. The whole creation is a standing monument of God’s power; we see what He can do— Psalm 114:8, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” As long as heaven and earth is standing, we need not distrust God’s power — Jer. 32:17, “Ah Lord God, behold Thou hast made the heaven and the earth by Thy great power, and stretched out arm; and there is nothing too hard for Thee.” So Psalm 146:5-6, “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help; whose hope is in the Lord his God, which made heaven and earth, and sea, and all that therein is, which keeps truth for ever.” The works of creation are but pawns and pledges of the possibility and certainty of everything promised. Every promise is as powerful as God’s first creating word, “let there be light.”

In those four phases, Manton shows his mastery of the Word, and his pastoral heart to help and encourage us — read them again, and again.

  • Creation is a monument of God’s power; we see what He can do…
  • As long as heaven & earth stand, we need not distrust God’s power…
  • The works of creation are but pawns & pledges of the possibility and certainty of everything promised.
  • Every promise is as powerful as God’s first creating word, “let there be light!”

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Learn from Judas Iscariot

On the first Good Friday, when Jesus had finished wrestling in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, His disciple Judas came to Him, leading a band of Jewish officials and armed men. “Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’” (Luke 22:48, ESV). It is a moment of spiritual treason as a disciple — one of the Twelve Apostles — betrays his master to His mortal enemies.

1158157_96927848We do well to pause and learn from Judas here. You should ask yourself some serious, spiritual questions on this Good Friday. I was led to do so after reading a couple pages in a recent book by Michael McKinley entitled PASSION, How Christ’s Final Day Changes Your Every Day (The Good Book Co., 2013). Here’s a good way to learn from Judas —

It’s worth remembering the things that Judas had seen and done. He was one of the disciples sent out to preach the gospel with power to cast out demons and heal people (Luke 9:1-2). He sat in a boat as Jesus calmed a storm with a word (8:22-25). He saw Jesus feed the 5,000 (9:10-17). He watched as Jesus raised people from the dead (7:11–17). He heard Jesus’ sermons, probably multiple times. He was personally selected by Jesus to be part of HIs inner circle. He had even had his feet washed by Jesus!

And yet… despite all of those amazing experiences, Judas turns out not to be a disciple. He is not a true follower of Jesus. In the end, he is a traitor and a liar and a thief. He is a real-life example of what Jesus warns in Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (ESV)

Judas is a chilling reminder to us that you can’t rely on your past experiences as an indication of your current spiritual condition. And so Judas’ example should cause us to pause. If you think of yourself as a Christian, have you ever stopped to think how you can be sure you really are a Christian? Why are you confident that you are a genuine follower of Jesus? Because your parents are believers? Because you go to a church and everyone there assumes you are a Christian? Because you have served faithfully in your church? Maybe even because you’ve preached sermons or led people to Christ?

Judas reminds us that nothing you have done in the past can assure you that you are truly a follower of Christ. Yes, good fruit in your life is a good sign. But look at Judas; examine the resume that he could roll out for you. He looked good on paper, but in reality he sent Jesus to His death. Nothing you or I have seen or accomplished, nothing in our pedigree or experience can ultimately makes us a Christian.

from PASSION, How Christ’s Final Day Changes Your Every Day, by Mike McKinley, pages 30-31.
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Renew your strength

The famous verse at the end of Isaiah 40 says, “…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Too often we read that and envision “waiting” on the Lord to be some sort of placid inertness. Far from it! This is an active, expectant waiting — that maintains a vigilant readiness, that flexes ones muscles for action while scanning the horizon. How else is one’s spiritual strength renewed, if not by an expectant engagement with the presence and/or the promises of God?

Today I read some similar thoughts on this Scripture by the puritan preacher Samuel Ward, who makes good use of active language in explaining his view. May these brief quotes bless you today. pdb
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Make use of your faith. This is the chief mystery of our spiritual life. Stir up your soul to talk with Christ. Consider the promises and privileges you enjoy. Think of them, roll them under your tongue, chew on them until you feel their sweetness in your soul.”

“Unstirred coals do not glow or give heat. The beauty of faith is its use. Don’t just have muscles, use them. Let a man diligently and thoroughly improve his faith and the joy it will bring to him will be great.”

The temporal trumps the eternal?

Thomas Manton writes:

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“Alas, in general, things temporal work more upon us than things eternal, and the things visible than things invisible. A small matter will prove to be a temptation, and a little pleasure or profit will greatly motivate us. We do not have half the seriousness in spiritual things as in earthly. Surely men do not cherish heaven, since they labor and care for it so little. Alas! They live as if they have never heard of such a thing, or do not believe what they hear, since every toy and trifle is preferred before it. If a poor man understood that some great inheritance was bequeathed to him, would he not often think of it, and rejoice in it, and long to take possession of it? The promise of eternal life is left with us in the gospel, but who puts in for a share? Who longs for it? Who takes hold of it? Who gives all diligence to make it sure? Who desires to go and see it? O, that I might be dissolved, and be with Christ! If these hopes have so little an influence on us, it is a sign we do not cherish them more in our hearts.”

Spiritual Self-Watchfulness

“There is need of constant watchfulness on the part of the professors of Christianity, lest under the influence of unbelief they depart from the living God, said Dr. John Brown of Edinburgh (1784-1858), commenting on a passage in Hebrews.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
Hebrews 3:12-13 esv

Passages such as this ought to arrest a presumptuous believer, and make him immediately more prayerful as he clings more closely to Christ.

Brown continues, There is nothing, I am persuaded, in regard to which professors of Christianity fall into more dangerous practical mistakes than this. They suspect everything sooner than the soundness and firmness of their belief. There are many who are supposing themselves believers who have no true faith at all — and so it would be proved, were the hour of trial, which is perhaps nearer than they are aware, to arrive. And almost all who have faith suppose they have it in greater measure than they really have it. There is no prayer that a Christian needs more presently to present than, “Lord, increase my faith” and “deliver me from an evil heart of unbelief.” All apostasy from God, whether partial or total, originates in unbelief. To have his faith increased — to have more extended, and accurate, and impressive views of ‘the truth as it is in Jesus’ — ought to be the object of the Christians most earnest desire and unremitting exertion.

Even the sparrow…

Sparrows are small, and, generally considered to be insignificant little creatures. Yet this plays right into the purposes of God. The lyrics of Psalm 84 use this perceived insignificance to illustrate the great reach and provisions of God’s care for His creatures:

“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.” (Ps. 84:3 esv)

Can you hear that emphasis, presented so well in the ESV translation? Even the sparrow finds a home…” In the New Testament, Jesus makes use of the insignificant sparrow to teach us the great extent of God’s care and His compassion for His people. It’s found in Matthew’s Gospel:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31 esv; emphasis added)

Here the small, almost negligible value of a sparrow is highlighted by our Lord (two for a penny — the smallest coin in circulation back then), who argues from the lesser to the greater, in order to assure his disciples that you are of more value than many sparrows! If God has a careful eye upon every ‘landing’ of every sparrow on the earth, how much more must He care for His spiritual children!

My thoughts turned to these things when reading the most recent issue of the Banner of Truth Magazine, which quotes Douglas Taylor on this text — “From his words, we can clearly see that men are of far greater intrinsic value than sparrows. Because this is so, because our origin and destiny are so much higher than those of the other creatures, we are to trust in God, and in his meticulous sovereign providence over every detail of our lives.” Taylor writes as a man dying of cancer, sharing his own struggle with being content in his difficult circumstances:

…discontentment with our own estate comes, in part, from our not believing in or trusting the providence of God, who has promised to order every circumstance of our estate and condition for the best. And he brings in as proof the passage about the sparrows.

May the Lord help me, and all similarly (and far worse) placed, to look at the sparrows and trust entirely in the God of absolute, controlling, and all-loving providence! The Lord fill me with sweet contentment to be dying – slowly – of cancer in his arms. What better estate or condition could I desire?

While the illustration of the little sparrow is easy to understand, the Lord’s intent is that we should believe the Word of God, and trust Him — not fearing our own weakness, or our dark circumstances, or the ferocity of our enemies. Does God care for you? Look at the sparrow… even the sparrow!

“My Time is Not Yet…” Reflections on Jesus’ path to glory

we should make faithfulness our aim

via "My Time is Not Yet…" Some Reflections on John 7:2-6.

Yes, “we should make faithfulness our aim.”