Friday, October 17, 2014

Regeneration essential for Spiritual warfare

In William Gurnall's book The Christian in Complete Armour he gives the following illustration,

"If the ship launched, rigged, and with her sails spread cannot stir, till the wind come fair and fill them, much less can the timber that lies in the carpenter's yard hew and frame itself into a ship. If the living tree cannot grow except the root communicate its sap, much less can a dead rotten stake in the hedge, which hath no root, live of its own accord. In a word, if a Christian, that hath his spiritual life of grace, cannot exercise this life without strength from above, then surely one void of this new life, dead in sins and trespasses, can never be able to beget this in himself, or concur to the production of it. The state of unregeneracy is a state of impotency."(p23)

We will never make progress in our spiritual life without being born again. Faith is always grounded in the finished work of Christ. We begin our Christian life renouncing our trust in our own power and trusting completely in what Christ accomplished for us in his death and resurrection. This faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Friday, September 12, 2014

Listening to Sermons like a Puritan


In a class with a group of Bible College seniors we were discussing the sermons they had heard the previous Sunday. One student commented that he did not get anything out of the sermon because there was nothing new in it. The ensuing discussion has caused me to reflect on the subject of listening to sermons. How can we improve our listening to sermons? I am an avid reader of the Puritans and most of their writings are sermons. So I turned to the Puritans for help. I am finding that listening to sermons like a Puritan is helping me gain more spiritual blessing from Sunday morning’s sermon.

The Puritan  practice of listening to sermons:
The Puritans saw the sermon as the most important and significant event of the week (see J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990, 282,3). The Puritan sermon sought to explain the text, the doctrinal and moral principles, and the daily lifestyle appropriate to these truths. These three things are what Bible-believing churches today expect from the Sunday sermon. Improving our listening skills will help us get more out of Sunday’s sermon. It can help us in our personal Bible reading. It can help increase our understanding of theology. Improving our listening to sermons skills helps us develop godly living. Puritan preaching sought to affect the listener. The Puritan Christian recognized that he/she had a responsibility to listen carefully to the sermon.

Leland Ryken observes, “The Puritan practice of affective preaching meant that listening to a sermon was not a spectator sport but an active involvement” (Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986, 103). Ryken points out three Puritan practices that the person in the pew performed: note taking, later meditation, and repeating the sermon in the home (103). Each of these practices can improve our sermon listening.

The Practice of note taking:

Note taking can help to focus our attention and keep our mind from wandering. I have not been much of a note taker because I am a preacher and have always used the excuse that I don’t want the temptation to borrow outlines. Yet I am getting more out of the preaching of others by taking notes. My excuse was a cover for laziness.

Keeping my note taking focused on the three parts (text, doctrine, and application) of a Puritan sermon helps me to focus on the heart of the message. I divide my notepaper into these three parts, text, doctrine, and application. As I listen to the sermon I jot down background information about the text that the Pastor points out. I also try to identify the main idea of the text that the Pastor is focusing on. This leads me to identify the doctrinal and moral principles that the Pastor is bringing out of the text, particularly what he is stressing. Then I write down the applications to life that the Pastor has suggested. I sort the application by thoughts, attitudes, and actions. I don’t try to take notes in complete sentences but use key words that will help me remember what was brought out of the text. My sermon notes would be difficult for someone else to read because I am developing a sort of personal shorthand. Our church prints the basic sermon outline so I don’t have to focus on the structure as much as the content. While the sermon is fresh in my mind, I review my notes to assure that I will understand them later. Taking good notes helps my memory and provides the structure for the practice of meditation.

The Practice of meditation:

The aspect of Puritan sermon listening that challenges me the most is meditation. Puritans were encouraged to think about what they heard from the pulpit after they left the church building. One Puritan wrote, “One sermon well digested, well meditated upon is better that twenty sermons without meditation” (Ryken, 103). We need to think about the text, to be like the Bereans who “…received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures everyday to see if what Paul said was true.”(Acts 17:11). Early in the week I return to the passage and examine the context so that I can see that the sermon is well founded in the text. Listening to sermons should be an aid and motivation for personal Bible Study.

When we meditate on the theology of the text, we should not merely be concerned for information. I challenge myself to cherish the truth about God that the sermon has brought to my attention. Do I love God because of what I have heard in the message? Am I actively submitting my thoughts, attitudes, and opinions to the theology of the text? Am I actively responding in worshipping the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? I focus on a different aspect of the sermon each day using my notes as a guide.

We also need to meditate on the application of the sermon to our lives. Throughout the week I am now trying to look for situations to live out the truth that I heard in Sunday morning’s sermon. Each morning on the way to work I remind myself of the application of the sermon and think about additional ways to live what I have heard. I often find that I am quite content meditating on the knowledge gained from sermons. The Puritans challenge me again, “That knowledge is best,’ wrote Thomas Manton, ‘which endeth in practice….’” (Ryken, 102). Scripture reminds us “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22). Our meditation must be practical and shared with others.

The Practice of repeating the sermon at home:

The Puritan practice of repeating the sermon at home is reminiscent of Deuteronomy 6: 6,7 “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” What we talk about at home sets the tone and character of our family. At the dinner table we can talk about how the sermon is enriching our love for God, share opportunities we have found to apply the sermon at work or school, share some new excitement in our personal Bible Study stimulated by the sermon. Repeating the sermon at home reinforces our memory of the sermon and gives opportunity to share our meditations and applications.

It is awkward to introduce this practice in the home today. Why do we find it so easy to talk about sports, weather and politics but hesitate to talk about Sunday’s sermon? This is very convicting to me. I find it so much easier to talk to my students about the sermon that to my wife. Perhaps it is because my wife knows me so well and sees the difference between the talk and the walk. I am not saying we ought to talk exclusively about the sermon at the diner table but to make it part of the conversation. I have a long way to go but am making a start at repeating the sermon at home.


In our busy schedules we may be able to practice meditation and repeating the Sunday sermon only a couple days a week.  These practices must not replace our own personal Bible study but can help restore the Sunday sermon as a source for spiritual nourishment. Three days a week I use the travel time to work for meditation on the Sunday sermon and use the other days for meditation on other reading. At least twice a week I try to mention something from the Sunday sermon at the dinner table.

On a recent trip I listened to a sermon on a passage of Scripture that I knew very well. I had taught a Bible College class on the book several times and translated it many times while teaching Greek grammar. It was a great test case for the opening statement of one of my students,  “I didn’t get anything out of the sermon because there was nothing new.” There was one illustration that was new but the rest was very familiar. Yet I choose to focus on the great truths of text and warmed my heart with the wonder of God’s grace in the Gospel. I took notes, I am continuing to meditate on it, and have repeated it at home and to others.  I was brought to tears several times as I listened and was reminded of the old hymn about the old, old story, “…those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.” I didn’t get any new information but my worship and joy in Christ was deepened for having listened like a puritan.



Thursday, September 11, 2014

Be Strong in the Lord Ephesians 6:10

William Gurnall in The Christian in Complete Armour writes that the doctrine of this phrase in Ephesians 6:10 is "that the Christian's strength lies in the Lord, not in himself." (p 18).  He goes on to point out that "there must be renewing strength from heaven every moment."(p 19)

The Christians duty in prayer and Bible reading are means to receiving the strength but not the source. God is the source! Sometimes we talk about prayer making a difference yet it is God to whom are prayer is directed that makes the difference. Gurnall cites David's prayer in Psalm 138:3 "On the Day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased"(ESV) Gurnall then writes, "David received it in duty, but had it not from his duty, but from his God. He did not pray himself strong, but God strengthened him in his prayer."(emphasis his p 20).

Let us not become proud in our duty of prayer and Bible reading as if our discipline gives us strength. Let us not neglect these duties knowing that they are God's appointed means to lay hold of the strength of God. May God's grace and strength empower us in the battle.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

After a couple of years silence I am restarting my Alaska Puritan blog. I hope to post a couple times a week on blessing I am finding as I read the Puritans. Currently I am Reading William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (600 pages on Ephesians 6:10-20)

Gurnall starts out  calling Ephesians 6:10-20 "A Sweet and Powerful Encouragement to the War". He is primarily talking about doing battle with the sins that we cherish and nurture. Spiritual Warfare for the puritans was primarily about holiness not success in ministry as often the case in the 21st century.

"The Christian is to proclaim and prosecute an irreconcilable war against his bosom sins; those sins which have lain nearest his heart, must now be trampled under his feet." (13)

"O how uncomely a sight is it to see, a bold sinner and a fearful saint, one resolved to be wicked, and a Christian wavering in his holy course, ... Take heart therefore, O ye saints, and be strong; your cause is good, God himself espouseth your quarrel, who hath appointed his own Son, General of the field, called 'Captain of our Salvation'."(16)