God sees us praying (or not)

Manton Monday — Insights from puritan Thomas Manton

One of the great encouragements for keeping up our prayers comes from the instructions of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:6   “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” esv. Jesus reminds us that our heavenly Father sees us. Of course, such a fact will unsettle those who neglect prayer (or do worse things, thinking no one sees them). Puritan Thomas Manton speaks of both consequences of the fact that “God sees” us in secret  — Manton

Here are the encouragements to this personal, private, and solitary prayer, taken from God’s sight, and God’s reward. From God’s sight, [He observes] thy carriage; the posture and frame of they spirit, the fervor and uprightness of heart which thou manifest in prayer is all known to Him. Mark, that which is the hypocrite’s fear, and binds condemnation upon the heart of a wicked man, is here made to be the saints’ support and ground of comfort — that they pray to an all-seeing God (1 John 3:20, “…for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything…”). Their heavenly Father sees in secret; He can interpret their groans, and read the language of their sighs. Though they fail as to the outside of a duty, and there be much brokenness of speech, yet God sees brokenness of heart there, and it is that He looks after. God sees.

[Works, Vol. 1, page 9]

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Pray in a closet?

Manton Monday — Insights from puritan Thomas MantonManton

Matthew 6:5-6   “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” esv

Of course, most of us also know the KJV  which says, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door….” In what way are Christians to understand this duty in prayer? Are we to make use of a physical secret place for prayer?

Puritan Thomas Manton provides some helpful insight today —

These words are not to be taken metaphorically, not yet pressed too literally. Not metaphorically, as some would carry them:  ‘Descend into thy heart, be serious and devout with God in the closet of thy soul, which is the most inward recess and retiring place of man.’ This were to be wanton with Scripture. The literal sense is not to be lear without necessity, not yet pressed too literally, as if prayer should be confined to a chamber and closet. Christ prayed in the mountain (Matt. 19:23); and (Gen. 24:63) Isaac went into the field to meditate. The meaning is, private prayer must be performed in a private place, retired from company and the sight of men as much as may be.

[Works, Vol. 1, page 8]

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Combined strength in prayer

Manton Monday — Insights from Puritan Thomas Manton

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:19-20 esv

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The promises of God’s word are precious, especially those related to prayer. One promise found here in Matthew 18 leads us to believe that there is a greater ‘impact’ (for lack of a better word) when groups of believers pray together. Listen to the commentary of Thomas Manton on this Scripture (written while discussing another verse about praying in private).

“When they shall agree in one public prayer, it seems to have a greater efficacy put upon it — when more are interested in the same prayer — when, with a combined force, they do as it were besiege the God of heaven, and will not let Him go unless He leaves a blessing. Look, as the [civil or legal] petition of a shire and county to an authority is more than a private man’s supplication, so when we meet as a church to pray, as as a family, there is combined strength. And in this sense, that saying of the schoolmen is orthodox enough — viz., that prayer made in the church has a more easy audience with God. Why? Because of the concurrence of many which are met there to worship God.”

[Works, Volume 1, page 8; emphasis added]

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Delivered In Person

MANTON MONDAYS – Insights and quotes from Puritan Thomas Manton1140201_bible_in_pew

Learn to regard the promises and threatenings of the Word with more reverence, as if God in person had delivered them to you. 1st Thessalonians 2:13, “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because when ye received the Word of God, which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but (as it is in truth) the Word of God.”

Look to the threatenings. God has left room for His mercy, and that must be sought in God’s way, or else we have no security and peace.

Look to the promises. Seek after them more, and mind them more. Surely your neglect says you do not count them true (1st John 5:10). If one should offer you a hundred pounds [currency], and you should go away and never accept it, it is a sign that you do not believe him.Venture more on the promises; they are God’s bills of exchange, whereby you have treasures in heaven.

[Works of Thomas Manton, Vol. X.445-446]

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Going home

“Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:1-2

Jesus is heard to say “you will be going home.” The spiritual author Octavius Winslow reflects on these verses in his Morning & Evening Thoughts for December 31st….
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GOING home! what a soothing reflection! what an ecstatic prospect! The heart throbs quicker—the eye beams brighter—the spirit grows elastic—the whole soul uplifts its soaring pinion, eager for its flight, at the very thought of heaven. “I go to prepare a place for you,” was one of the last and sweetest assurances that breathed from the lips of the departing Savior; and though uttered eighteen hundred years ago, those words come stealing upon the memory like the echoes of by-gone music, thrilling the heart with holy and indescribable transport. Yes! He has passed within the veil as our Forerunner; He has prepared heaven for us, and by His gentle, wise, and loving discipline He is preparing us for heaven.”

Enough that God is my Father, my Sun, and Shield; that He will give grace and glory, and will withhold no good and needed thing. Enough that Christ is my Portion, my Advocate, my Friend, and that, whatever else may pass away, His sympathy will not cease, His sufficiency will not fail, nor His love die. Enough that the everlasting covenant is mine, and that that covenant, made with me, is ordered in all things, and sure. Enough that heaven is my rest, that towards it I am journeying, and that I am one year nearer its blessed and endless enjoyment.”

Excerpt From: “The Works of Octavius Winslow” iBooks (ePub) edition*

*Available free (on 12/31/13) in ePub or .mobi formats at Monergism.

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.”

“Puritans Portraits” by J.I. Packer (a review)

9781845507008Puritans Portraits, J.I. Packer on Selected Classic Pastors and Pastoral Classics. Christian Focus (ebook edition), 2012.

J. I. Packer, one of the best Christian writers of many decades, has here written briefly about some of the best Christian pastors and authors of modern history — the puritans. As a devoted fan of the Puritans, I found this book to be a most valuable introduction (albeit brief) to these men and their ministries. Puritan Portraits will take many Christians who know little or nothing of these men or this wonderful era of history and tempt them to go and read more.

The book is divided into three major parts, first is a broad overview “Puritan Pastors at Work”, which provides many memorable statements. For instance, Packer captures much of the Puritan distinctive when he points out their “analytical thoroughness.” “This stemmed,” he continues, “from the Puritan understanding of the nature of Scripture on the one hand, and the condition of the members of their congregations on the other.” [location 298] Their thoroughness, in preaching and in writing, was balanced between clear exposition of biblical texts, and, systematic applications to several categories of hearers/readers.

The second division is “Puritan Pastors in Profile” featuring seven men in particular — Henry Scougal, Stephen Charnock, John Bunyan, Matthew Henry, John Owen, John Flavel, and Thomas Boston. These chapters were once published as introductions to other individual books by those men, previously written by Dr Packer. This is very openly noted in this present volume, and the reader is gently encouraged to look for those other Christian Focus publications. The fact that these chapters once stood separately is not noticeable; the fact that they were introductions to specific writings (out of the many by most of those Puritans) is evident, and perhaps a shortcoming.

The final section, on William Perkins and Richard Baxter, is called “Two Puritan Paragons.” This is followed by an Epilogue, where Packer’s passion for the church and her well-being is clearly evident. He desires his readers not to simply be students of Christian history, but disciples who faithfully serve Christ in the present day (and for the sake of future generations). Packer’s warmth in this regard is evident in most all of his writings — he is one author worthy of this pastor’s endorsement: read everything you can by this man. Another of Packer’s books specifically on the puritans, is very highly commended: The Quest For Godliness, Crossway Books, 1994.

I am so thankful that Christian Focus has produced this book (in multiple formats) — as well as those individual puritan works its discusses. [Disclaimer: I did receive a free copy of the book in exchange for doing a review.] In its e-book format this book was easy to navigate and read. Several graphics (images of other book covers) appear clearly. One typo was noticed (at the end of the table of contents). Dr. James I. Packer, Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, was named one of the 25 most influential evangelicals alive by Time Magazine.

Improve your mind

Isaac Watts, the famous hymn writer calls us to be intentional about improving our minds.

…every son and daughter of Adam has a most important concern in the affairs of the life to come, and therefore it is a matter of the highest moment, for everyone to understand, to judge, and to reason right about the things of religion. It is vain for any to say, we have no leisure time for it. The daily intervals of time, and vacancies from necessary labour, together with the one day in seven in the Christian world, allows sufficient time for this, if men would but apply themselves to it with half so much zeal and diligence as they do to the trifles and amusements of this life, and it would turn to infinitely better account.
 
Thus it appears to be the necessary duty and the interest of every person living, to improve his understanding, to inform his judgment, to treasure up useful knowledge, and to acquire the skill of good reasoning, as far as his station capacity and circumstances furnish him as his station, capacity, with proper means for it. Our mistakes in judgment may plunge us into much folly and guilt in practice. By acting without thought or reason, we dishonor the God that made us reasonable creatures, we often become injurious to our neighbors, kindred, or friends, and we bring sin and misery upon ourselves; for we are accountable to God, our judge, for every part of our irregular and mistaken conduct, where he hath given us sufficient advantages to guard against those mistakes.”

 
~ Isaac Watts, The Improvement of the Mind, (1837).
[emphasis added]

Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference

I was privileged to attend my 21st annual Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference this past week in Pennsylvania with about 250 other men. Although it was held in a new venue (Elizabethtown College) the format was the same, and the majority of the faces were longtime friends. It did seem that a record number of “first time attenders” were present, and I thank God for the growing interest in historic, experiential Christianity.

The conference theme was “The Glory of Christ” and speakers included Dr Sinclair Ferguson (always worthlistening to), Fred Malone, Jonathan Master (professor at Philadelphia Bible Univ.), Ian Hamilton, Iain Murray (a co-founder of Banner, former pastor and superb author), and Dennis Prutrow (professor of homiletics at RPTS).

Highlights for me were Ferguson’s two addresses on the high-priesthood of Jesus Christ, and Iain Murray’s address on William Tyndale, very inspiring. Of course, my frequent visits to the Banner of Truth “book room” (and friends Rob Wiley, John Rawlinson, and the crew) were most enjoyable! My primary purchase was a long-awaited acquisition of the six volume Works of (puritan) John Flavel. I also profited from talks with author Jim Garretson and as a result picked-up his new “Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry” (in two-volumes).

These times of conference — with great worship, passionate preaching, fellowship, and time for reflection – are always useful in refreshing my spirit and strengthening my resolve for serving in the ministry. The long drive home was filled with much thanksgiving and praise to our Lord for His grace and blessing in my life, and for the opportunity to serve Him in Clifton Park, NY.

It is well with my soul.
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