Richard Sibbes Sermons on Canticles, Sermon 1.2 (The Spirit & the wind)

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Sermon 1.2

Song of Solomon 4:16 (AV)

Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.

From the verse quoted, Sibbes meditates upon it means for the wind to blow upon the garden. In both Hebrew and Greek, the same word can be used for “wind” and “spirit”. You can see interesting example of this in John 3:8

John 3:8 (NASB95) “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Where the word “wind” and the word “Spirit” are the same word. 

Thus, the mention of winds in Canticles 4:16 suggests such a reading, even though the poem uses specific words for “north wind” and “south wind”, rather than the word which can mean spirit or wind.

Why would God call the Spirit to blow into and through the Garden? Here is where Sibbes may seem different from what we would “normally” consider in an expository sermon. The exposition would be about the meaning of the phrase, which is quite clear. Sibbes asks a different question, “Why? Why is the wind called to blow?”

He begins with an observation about desire:

The church being sensible of some deadness of spirit, secretly desires some further quickening. Christ then answers those desires by commanding the winds to blow upon her. For ordinarily Christ first stirs up desires, and then answers the desires of his own Spirit by further increase, as here, ‘Awake, thou north wind; and come, thou south; and blow upon my garden,’ &c.

He first notes the basis for the image: Christ has control over all things, even the wind. Matt. 8:72. “The wind is nature’s fan. What winds are to the garden, that the Spirit of Christ, in the use of means, is to the soul. From comparison fetched from Christ’s commanding the winds, we may in general observe, that all creatures stand in obedience to Christ, as ready at a word, whensoever he speaks to them.”

He then makes an application (note that he does not wait until the end of the sermon to make some general application). An all-controlling Christ is a great comfort to us.

Next he notes the north and south wind blow, “winds contrary to one another.” This is because we need more correction and encouragement. This shows the wisdom of God in providing various remedies. For sometimes we are full and sluggish and thus need to be moved along. At other times, we are weak and need more strength. Since Christ is in control of both comfort and pruning, we need to acknowledge his presence in both difficult and pleasant places. “Therefore, we must acknowledge him in want or plenty of means. The Spirit of Christ in the use of means is a free agent, sometimes blows strongly, sometimes more mildly, sometimes not at all.”

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He then thinks of all the ways in which the Spirit is like the wind. This section is not strictly exegetical, but it is interesting. By pondering the nature of the wind, we gain an understanding of the nature of the Spirit: not that the Spirit is limited to the operation of the wind. Rather, Sibbes uses the metaphor to understand the original. I found this to be a useful item on the list:

5. The wind being subtle, searcheth into every corner and cranny. So the Spirit likewise is of a searching nature, and discerneth betwixt the joints and the marrow, betwixt the flesh and the Spirit, &c., searching those hidden corruptions, that nature could never have found out.

If the Spirit is the wind, what does it mean to say that the wind will blow upon the garden (the Church?):

And we need blowing: our spirits will be becalmed else, and stand at a stay; and Satan will be sure by himself, and such as are his bellows, to blow up the seeds of sinful lusts in us. For there are two spirits in the church, the one always blowing against the other. Therefore, the best had need to be stirred up; otherwise, with Moses, Exod. 17:12, their hands will be ready to fall down, and abate in their affection. Therefore we need blowing—

1. In regard of our natural inability.

2. In regard of our dulness and heaviness, cleaving to nature occasionally.

3. In regard of contrary winds from without.

Satan hath his bellows filled with his spirit, that hinders the work of grace all they can; so that we need not only Christ’s blowing, but also his stopping other contrary winds, that they blow not, Rev. 7:1.

4. In regard of the estate and condition of the new Covenant, wherein all beginning, growth, and ending, is from grace, and nothing but grace.

5. Because old grace, without a fresh supply, will not hold against new crosses and temptations.

Use. Therefore when Christ draws, let us run after him; when he blows, let us open unto him. It may be the last blast that ever we shall have from him. And let us set upon duties with this encouragement, that Christ will blow upon us, not only to prevent us, but also to maintain his own graces in us. But O! where is this stirring up of ourselves, and one another, upon these grounds!

 Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson, 1862), 7–10.

Richard Sibbes Sermons on Canticles, Sermon 1.1 (Why Poetry in the Bible)

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Geitrams på vollen i Grythengen

(Photo by Øyvind Holmstad)

The second volume of Richard Sibbes collected works contains a series of 20 sermons on Canticles, better know as the Song of Solomon. The title of this work is called “Bowels Opened”, which is rather unfortunate to our ears. It means the depth of compassion which was believed to be in the gut. A Greek word for compassion or mercy was “σπλάγχνον”, which means the gut or heart (I have no idea what the word would be in modern Greek).

While these sermons are textual (they are based upon the text), they wouldn’t sound much like a modern expository sermon. Sibbes reads the text in an allegorical manner, but I’m not precisely sure that allegory really covers his understanding. 

He takes a text, draws a generally allegorical reading — and then he proceeds to consider the way in which a image or theme is developed in Scripture.

For instance the first sermon begins by developing this text:

‘Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits,’ Cant. 4:16.

He first draws out a general basis for the allegory, Christ and the Church. And then he asks questions about the “wind” and the Spirit. He meditates upon the garden and spices. He considers the pleasant fruits. The structure is different than what one would learn at a seminary which would still hold to the Gospel which Sibbes preached and which still held Scripture to be inerrant and sufficient, as Sibbes did.

What is quite remarkable in this methodology, is the profundity of Sibbes’ understanding and exegesis. Although he has a generally allegorical reading, he never wanders off into nonsense or speculation. 

And while I am not completely comfortable with an allegorical reading of the text (this being my own admitted prejudice here), I do believe that there is a deep structure between divine and human love — because human love in marriage between a man and woman was given as a basis upon which we could begin to understand divine love.  And while there is certainly no identity between the two loves, there is an analogy which makes the one comprehensible in terms of the other.

Another thing about Sibbes’ sermons must be noted: the sheer volume of insight and beauty he mines and reveals. Spurgeon’s comment on Sibbes is certainly true, “Sibbes never wastes the student’s time, he scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands.”

Sibbes begins his discussion of Canticles with the general observation that the book concerns the most profound love between Christ and the Church. He deals with the obvious topic of a prurient reading of the text (as was infamous done by a preacher of some note who has taken up shop in a new city and of whom I will nothing more to say).

He then comes to the purpose of the book of Canticles. Why was this discourse written in a such a beautiful manner? Why doesn’t the Scripture just tell us plainly that Christ loves the Church, rather than give us this drama and poetry? The purpose of the Spirit inspiring the text 

is by stooping low to us, to take advantage to raise us higher unto him, that by taking advantage of the sweetest passage of our life, marriage, and the most delightful affection, love, in the sweetest manner of expression, by a song, he might carry up the soul to things of a heavenly nature. We see in summer that one heat weakens another; and a great light being near a little one, draws away and obscures the flame of the other. So it is when the affections are taken up higher to their fit object; they die unto all earthly things, whilst that heavenly flame consumes and wastes all base affections and earthly desires. Amongst other ways of mortification, there be two remarkable—

    1. By embittering all earthly things unto us, whereby the affections are deaded* to them.
    2. By shewing more noble, excellent, and fit objects, that the soul, issuing more largely and strongly into them, may be diverted, and so by degrees die unto other things. The Holy Spirit hath chosen this way in this song, by elevating and raising our affections and love, to take it off from other things, that so it might run in its right channel. It is pity that a sweet stream should not rather run into a garden than into a puddle. What a shame is it that man, having in him such excellent affections as love, joy, delight, should cleave to dirty, base things, that are worse than himself, so becoming debased like them! Therefore the Spirit of God, out of mercy and pity to man, would raise up his affections, by taking comparison from earthly things, leading to higher matters, that only deserve love, joy, delight, and admiration. Let God’s stooping to us occasion our rising up unto him.
  • That is, ‘deadened.’—G.

 Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson, 1862), 5–6.

And so ends the introduction to this sermon.

Some Advice on Reading the Bible from John Newton

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In Letter IX in the collection entitled “Forty-One Letters”, John Newton answers the question from a young man concerning the doctrines of grace. What is most interesting in the letter is not Newton’s explication of the doctrines of grace per se, but rather his instruction on how to read the Bible.

First, Newton explains that we do not really understand anything if we can merely recite a creed or have a notional understanding of some theological propositions. For instance, I may know about the nature of the worship of a god by ancient Israelites, but I don’t really understand what those Israelites thought and felt in their worship — I can understand the outside, but I can’t feel and see what they felt and saw.

This truth is even more so when it comes to the knowledge of the true God. There is a level of apprehension which goes beyond mere emotional experience. As Newton writes:

We may become wise in notions, and so far masters of a system, or scheme of doctrine, as to be able to argue, object, and fight, in favour of our own hypothesis, by dint of application, and natural abilities; but we rightly understand what we say, and whereof we affirm, no farther than we have a spiritual perception of it wrought in our hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is not, therefore, by noisy disputation, but by humble waiting upon God in prayer, and a careful perusal of his holy word, that we are to expect a satisfactory, experimental, and efficacious knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. I

John Newton, Richard Cecil, The Works of the John Newton, vol. 1 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 188.

He then proceeds to list four guidelines for understanding the Scripture.

First, in handling difficult text or seeming obscure passages, rely upon the “analogy of faith”:

 there is a certain comprehensive view of scriptural truth, which opens hard places, solves objections, and happily reconciles, illustrates, and harmonizes many texts, which to those who have not this master-key, frequently styled the analogy of faith, appear little less than contradictory to each other. When you obtain this key, you will be sure that you have the right sense.

Here is a brief note on the analogy of faith:

Analogia fidei is a concept that has many advocates but few who carefully define it. Henri Blocher has carefully marked out four distinct meanings for the concept of the analogy of faith: 1) the traditional one as set forth by Georg Sohnius (c. 1585):3 “the apostle prescribes that interpretation be analogous to faith (Rom 12:6), that is, that it should agree with the first axioms or principles, so to speak, of faith, as well as with the whole body of heavenly doctrine”; 2) the “perspicuity” of Scripture definition, as championed by Martin Luther, in which the sense of the text is to be drawn from the clear verses in the Bible and thus issue in the topically selective type of analogia fidei; 3) the thematically selective understanding of the analogy of faith, as defended by John Calvin: “When Saint Paul decided that all prophecy should conform to the analogy and similitude of faith (Rom 12:6), he set a most certain rule to test every interpretation of Scripture”;4 and 4) the view held by the majority of Protestants, which may be described as a more formal definition, the analogia totius Scripturae. In this view all relevant Scriptures on any topic are brought to bear in order to establish a position that coheres with the whole of the Bible. The analogy of faith on this view is the harmony of all biblical statements where the text is expounded by a comparison of similar texts with dissimilar ones.

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Hermeneutics And The Theological Task Trinity Journal 12, no. 1 (1991): 2-4

Second, Newton cautions that one’s reading must be understood in light of real life “consult with experience.” Here is an example of how Newton applied this principle in his writing to the young man in this letter:

But we are assured that the broad road, which is thronged with the greatest multitudes, leads to destruction. Were not you and I in this road? Were we better than those who continue in it still? What has made us differ from our former selves? Grace. What has made us differ from those who are now as we once were? Grace. Then this grace, by the very terms, must be differencing, or distinguishing grace; that is, in other words, electing grace

Third, do not be prejudiced against the truth on the ground that it does not align with your current theological position. I recall R. C. Sproul saying that if John MacArthur were convinced of some truth from Scripture, and if that truth contradicted a position MacArthur held, that MacArthur would instantly change his mind. We need to be willing to allow the truth overrule our position.  Although offered in a very different context and for a different purpose, Emerson’s famous line has some applicability here, “A foolish consistent is the hobgoblin of little minds”.  We should never be stubborn against the truth.

Finally, Newton explains that we should favor those readings which make much of God and God’s glory:

This is an excellent rule, if we can fairly apply it. Whatever is from God, has a sure tendency to ascribe glory to him, to exclude boasting from the creature, to promote the love and practice of holiness, and increase our dependence upon his grace and faithfulness. The Calvinists have no reason to be afraid of resting the merits of their cause upon this issue; notwithstanding the unjust misrepresentations which have been often made of their principles, and the ungenerous treatment of those who would charge the miscarriages of a few individuals, as the necessary consequence of embracing those principles.

John Newton, Richard Cecil, The Works of the John Newton, vol. 1 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 189–190.

 

Deep, dark unfathomable pools

Thomas Guthrie on the simplicity and profundity of the Gospel

Now as with these parts of the human frame, so is it with the doctrines of the Gospel, in so far as they are intelligible to our understandings. Scattered over the pages of sacred Scripture, let them also be collected and arranged in systematic order, and how beautifully they fit! doctrine to doctrine, duty to duty; till, all connected with each other, all “members one of another,” they rise up into a form of perfect symmetry, and present that very system which, with minor differences but substantial unity, is embodied in the confessions, creeds, and catechisms of Evangelical Christendom. I have said, so far as they are intelligible to us; for it is ever to be borne in mind, that while the Gospel has shallows through which a child may wade and walk on his way to heaven, it has deep, dark, unfathomed pools, which no eye can penetrate, and where the first step takes a giant beyond his depth.

And

Does it not appear from this circumstance, that God intended his Word to be a subject of study as well as faith, and that man should find in its saving pages a field for the exercise of his highest faculties? We are commanded to compare “spiritual things with spiritual;” we are to “search the Scriptures,” to dig for their treasures, to dive for the pearls. Hence the prayer of David, “Give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments.”

The Gospel in Ezekiel

How the NT Text Was Delivered in the Second Century

From Christianity at the Crossroads:

Copying of Christian books

We have already discussed above that many Christian scribes were probably private multifunctional scribes in the service of well-to-do Christians. However, this should not be taken as evidence that all Christian scribal activity occurred in an isolated and disconnected fashion. On the contrary, the evidence above from the Shepherd and Polycarp suggests that second-century churches must have had substantial scribal resources at their disposal. While we do not have evidence that there were established ‘scriptoria’ in the second century, Scott Charlesworth has argued that the uniform features of many second-century manuscripts of the Gospels–features that include semi-literary scribal hands and reader’s aids–suggest that they were ‘produced in controlled settings, i.e., in small copy centers’. Such centres would have provided more control, uniformity and consistency in the copying task–especially in regard to the books of the New Testament.

And

If in fact manuscripts were copied in these copy centres in the second century, Charlesworth argues that these centres would probably have maintained ‘master copies’ of New Testament books from which scribes could make additional copies. KThese master copies would probably have also been the very copies that were publicly displayed and read aloud in corporate worship. Such master copies would have served to reduce the number of textual variations in the copying process by virtue of the fact that the scribes would always return to the same exemplar rather than copying from other copies of that exemplar. A recent study by Craig Evans has suggested that it was not unusual for ancient papyri to be in use (and thus copied) for two centuries or more. Thus, these master copies could have exhibited a stabilizing influence on the text of the New Testament for generations.

What hope produces, what produces hope.3

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[And here is the conclusion of my notes; I guess I will see what is left when it has been edited and re-written. ]

To our second point, let us consider the nature and certainty of this hope. So look down again at verse 5:

5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel

This hope is certain: that is a where and a what. The certainty of the hope is tied to its location: it is a heavenly hope. Everything here upon earth is temporary; it changes; it decays:

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

Eccl. 1:2. Nothing in this world is stable, secure, eternal. It is a vanity, a breath and then it is gone like mist on a cold morning. The most certain things on this planet are temporary, shifting things. Even mountains wear down; even billionaires and kings die.

If it is here, it can be found, broken, stolen. To store one’s treasure here, to count on an inheritance from this world is to be disappointed; we need a better, safer place:

Matthew 6:19–20 (NASB95)
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;

You may have noticed that I didn’t finish Jesus’ sentence; we’ll come to the end of his statement in a moment. For now, notice this: here on earth, our treasure, our hope is insecure. It may be lost: decay and trouble will assault our treasures. My family went to King Tut’s treasure: here were the possessions of an unimaginably wealthy, powerful man. They had been buried in vault for centuries. And now they were on display, in protected rooms, with monitored light and humidity and temperature, because light and air were a danger to this treasure.

Tut gathered his treasures for what he thought was a heavenly journey; but all his treasury remained in his tomb. His treasure is in constant threat of theft and decay.

But our hope is not like that: it is in heaven. As Peter writes:

1 Peter 1:3–5 (NASB95)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,
5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

We have a hope, an inheritance, which cannot decay or be stolen, an inheritance which is kept by God — reserved in heaven.

And here is where you must stop as you think of this treasure. You might be thinking the inheritance, the hope, the treasure is some mansion, or the streets of gold or the gates of pearl. Those are merely decorations and ornaments; they are paper about the present — both those things are not the treasure, they are not our hope.

Think again. Paul said that you have heard of that hope in “the word of truth, the gospel”. The gospel is not that you get a large house and gold pavement. Think again about the gospel.

What is there in the Gospel? You may say that the gospel is that my sins are forgiven, that I will not go to hell. There is life without end, without decay, without death. Yes, there is all of that. There are great and glorious, outrageous promises and goodness in the forgiveness of sin.
This forgiveness of sin is an unimaginable, audacious blessing. Listen to Psalm 41:4

As for me, I said, “O Lord,, be gracious to me;
Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.”

That is dumbfounding: not forgive me because I have made things right; not be good to be because I have been good. David prays, heal me, forgive me, because I have sinned. We may have become used to hearing such things being around church — and if we have, then our ears have grown dull. We don’t ever deserve to say such a thing. But that is precisely what is involved in this word or truth, this good news:

Colossians 2:13–14 (NASB95)
13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,
14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

There is good news! You were an enemy of God, and God took his claim against you and fastened those claims to Jesus who bore our sins in his body on the tree: the claim against us was nailed to the cross! Now that is glorious.

But our hope is even greater than that: our hope is greater than the most perfect of environments; our hope is greater than a resurrected body and a conscious cleaned from sin and shame; there is something even better — and it was right there in verse five: a hope in heaven.

Our true and supreme hope is the reason why we are forgiven and cleansed and brought into a beautiful place. Imagine a man or a woman preparing for their wedding day: we have a special place, we wear special clothes, we have a special party, we go on a special trip: all of those things are marvelous, but none of them are the point of the wedding. We have and do all those things because there is someone we seek.

The gospel involves forgiveness, and resurrection and life everlasting, but those things are all less than the great point and glory of the gospel, those things are all less than the real hope. Turn over to verse 25 of chapter 1 because you must look at these words:

Colossians 1:25–27 (NASB95)

25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God [that is the word of truth, the gospel]
26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, [that mystery is what you have heard — and what is it]
27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Listen to those words: our hope is “Christ in you”. Paul calls it “the hope of glory”. Your hope, your treasure is not the wedding dress, the wedding cake, the honeymoon — it is the bridegroom. Our hope is secure because our is the Lord himself. Paul says here that our hope is a hope of glory and he defines it as “Christ in you.”

Calvin wrote of this verse, “he calls Christ the hope of glory, that they may know that nothing is wanting to them for complete blessedness when they have obtained Christ.” If we have Christ, we have all.

We sing that song, All I have is Christ — but to have Christ is to have all: “all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” 1 Cor. 3:23.

Our hope is Christ, it is a hope of glory, a heavenly glory, a glory of the age to come. As Peter says in 1 Peter 1:7, that our faith, tested through fire, like a suit of armor battered and ravaged, will prove true at the last, and it will “be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

And now the third point, which will make the other points even more clear. Our hope creates a destination, a direction: it is a compass point which draws along the entire rest of our life.

Paul has said that our hope is in heaven, our hope is “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.

What I wish to finish with is just the hint of something. We know our duties as Christians to have greater faith, to have greater love. We know that love fulfills the law. We know that love is the bond of unity. And Paul has told us that our faith and love are somehow sustained by hope. We also know that our hope is in heaven. And so we can sometimes think that we can just hope to go to heaven; and we will struggle along and try to not be too bad, to do our best and hope it works out.

But Christ does not intend that for us. Take a look at chapter 3. In verse 1, Paul says the we are to seek the things above — where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Then look at verse 2, he says we are to set our minds on the things above — that is in heaven: seeking and setting our minds on something sounds very much like hoping. We are to be hoping, hoping on Christ who is above, who is at the right hand of God.

Then in verse 3 Paul says, that we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God. So our life is not our own. Like Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “For I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ live in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.”

And now in verse 4 of Colossians 3 we see our hope stated plainly, in large, unmistakable letters:

When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then we will be revealed with Him in glory.

There is our hope. That is why we put to death what is earthly — we give it up because we are straining for something better. There is our hope. That is why hope produces faith, because faith gives substance to our desire in hope. That is why we can love, because we are becoming like Christ as we strain forward, fixing every thought upon Christ.

Our heavenly hope is Christ, himself.

He will “present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach — if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast and not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you have heard.” Col. 1:22-23.

 

What hope produces, what produces hope.2

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[Picking up from the first part]

I said there were not three things, but here are three things in this verse about hope. First, hope has a very present effect. That is the word “because”. Second, the hope is certain:  it is laid up in heaven. Third, the hope marks goal, the end of our pilgrimage. Our hope is laid up in heaven.

First we are going to consider the effect of hope. I want you to notice something about. In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul writes that, “faith, hope and love” now abide. Here is a triad which lies at heart of being a Christian: we cannot be a Christian without faith hope and love. Paul mentions these three in our text:

4since we heard of your faith [there is faith] in Christ Jesus and the love [there is love] which you have for all the saints;

5because of the hope [there is hope] laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel

Notice also that the hope comes about from hearing “the word of truth, the gospel”.  So there is a chain of events here: 

First there was hearing the word of truth. We will think about what is that word of truth in moment. For right now, just notice that hope did not come their imagination or their experience or anything else. Hope came from hearing “the word of truth”.

In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 Paul describes what happened to that church:

“for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and full of conviction”

There is the pattern which is throughout the Scripture — and demonstrated over and again in the history of the Church. Believers, the church of Jesus Christ are created by Word of God and the Spirit of God. The Word of God comes to people and comes in the power of the Holy Spirit.  It presses down upon the elect and they believe and are transformed. 

Now understand this about true, saving faith: it is not just some sort of historical calculation. For instance, I believe George Washington was the first president of the United States. But that belief is just an idea, it’s just an exercise of thought.

Saving faith is different, it is not just an idea. It comes with power, with conviction, it changes. When true faith comes, it comes with hope. In Romans 4:18, Paul describes Abraham’s saving faith like this, “In hope again he hope he believed.” And in Romans 8:24, Paul writes, “For in hope we have been saved”. 

Faith and hope are very close together; and in saving faith, it comes with hope. We believe we are now saved, and we believe we will be saved. We believe we will be justified on the day of judgment, we believe we will be resurrected, we believe we will be forever with the Lord. But notice that all of that belief entails hope:

For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Rom. 8:24-25. And conversely, we could not possibly hope for something we did not believe to be true and real and ahead of us. No one could hope for something he did not sincerely believe was true.

Now consider this also: faith and hope strengthen one another. As we believe, we can more easily and clearly hope: as we hope, our faith gains strength and vigor.

Let’s do a little thought experiment.  Let us assume that the story gets around that Tom is feeling generous today and that he is taking every out to lunch. And so we all hope and believe that Tom is going to bring around limos and we will all be ferried down to Gladstones at the ocean and we will have lunch and be brought back to church in time for evening service. 

But after our initial rush of hope and belief, we start to think about this. We begin to realize that taking a couple of hundred people in limos to lunch at the ocean might be unrealistic for Tom. Tom probably doesn’t have ten thousand dollars to spend on our lunch. And so, our belief begins to wane. And as our belief wanes, our hope wanes. And by the time noon comes around, our faith and hope in Tom’s wonderful lunch surprise goes away.

Faith and hope need one another to survive. 

Here is a point of application. We must keep our faith and our hope well and in good strength. When we becomes hopeless, when we begin to falter in our hope, our faith will decline. In fact, I would surmise that for most people it is their hope which falters first, and then their faith.  The Devil would not easily get you to deny the Incarnation — but if he can discourage you, if he can distract your hope and draw it on to other things, you faith will fail. Faith cannot stand without hope. To keep faith without hope is like keeping a roof without walls. Faith and the roof will fall to the ground.

But Paul also draws love into this equation look again 

4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;

5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel

The love which the Colossians experience and exhibit is “because of the hope”. Their hope gives rise to their love. Some of the commentators are puzzled by this connection. Since love is a very generous affection, it seems odd to connect with one’s hope. How can hoping make one more able and willing to love?

Let us think of the greatest act of love in the history of humanity: without question, it is the love Jesus showed to us when he went to the cross. Jesus himself said that giving one’s life for another was the greatest act of love. Jesus abounded in love, when he went to the cross.

Now I want you to consider Hebrews 12:2, “Jesus … who for the joy set before him endured the cross”. Jesus’ love toward us was itself grounded in hope. Jesus died for us to glorify his name, to glorify the Father — and for us, he made atonement for sin. Jesus gave himself in love, but Jesus also gave himself in hope. 

Because Jesus knew his work would be successful does not mean that Jesus did not hope. Hope does not mean an uncertain a foolish desire. Hope can be quite certain, as we will see. The security of the hope does not mean that it is not hope. Hope is desire for something which is not now present. 

Hope is means of enjoying something in the future now. It is taking possession of something just beyond our grasp. 

Jesus’ love and Jesus’ hope were in perfect agreement and were both fulfilled together. 

Love is a generous affection. Hope is also generous. A hope of acceptance and love from God, makes us wealthy — it makes love and generosity wise. Hope fixes our eyes upon Christ (and that is a whole other thing which we cannot fully consider) — and as it fixes our eyes upon Christ, it makes us like Christ:

2 Corinthians 3:18 (NASB95)

18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Our hope transforms us by fixing our gaze upon our Lord. And in so doing, our hope transforms us into those who love. We could never love without hope. We love in hope that our love will be received and will work good in the beloved.

If our gaze could never go beyond the confines of this life and this world, then the full generous love God commands, to love our neighbor as ourself would be insane, it would be dangerous and foolish. To love as God calls us to love is a sucker’s game if there is no heaven calling us: if there is no life beyond this life, then as Paul writes, we are most to be pitied. 

But hope gives room and promise and purpose to Christian love. As Paul also says, our labor will not be in vain. 

When we are filled with hope, then faith and love will grow themselves. And here is the amazing thing: When we have these three, they each make the other grow. When we have love and faith, it grows hope. When we have hope and love it grows faith. Love fulfills the law, love is obedience to Christ. And in Hebrews 5:14, we learn that obedience — which will necessarily require love — makes us fit and able to learn more of God, to increase the scope and depth of our faith and hope, because it gives more range for faith and hope act.

What produces hope? The Word of God brought to bear by the Spirit of God, the word of God believed produces hope. And what does hope produce: faith and love. If you see you faith flagging look to your hope. If you love has grown cold, look to hope. If you hope is weak, look to your faith. 

If you feel yourself wander, discouraged, fallen into sin and tempted with despair, come back to the fountain, come back to the place you lost your way. Come back to the start, to the Word of God, pick up the trail in faith; your flagging hope will stir and that will set you going in the correct direction.

What hope produces; what produces hope.

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(These are first draft notes for a sermon to be preached on Col. 1:3-5)

Colossians 1:3-5

What produces hope
What hope produces

Our text for this morning is in Colossians 1, verses three through five. Paul writes to these Christians whom he had never seen and had only known by report:

Colossians 1:3–5 (NASB95)

3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;
5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel

We have one very simple aim. It’s not three points or ten points. It is merely this. I want you to hope. I want to stir up your hope and strengthen your hope and focus you — the hope which you already have if you know Christ; a hope laid up in heaven. I want you to look upon that hope until it stirs your heart to laid hold upon that hope as a real thing.

And so I want to think about hope for a moment — we have the word in our text. But sometimes we run past words and don’t give them the time they need.

I want you to think to yourself, consider yourself for a moment: Why do you do anything? Why do you pick one thing over another? Think not just a few a choices, run your mind over many choices. Try to consider what those years upon years worth of choices have in common.

Sometimes it was the way you felt in the moment; sometimes it was a careful decision. Sometimes you used memory; sometimes you used a hunch. You exercised judgment, or you chose at random.

Among all the elements of all those decisions, one aspect must be present, hope. Hope often escapes our notice. It can be a subtle addition to a plan, but it must always be present or we would never act.

When the decision is quick, when the decision is insignificant, we don’t really notice the hope. It sort of appears and fades before we have a chance to consider its presence. But it must always be there.

Just imagine the absence of hope: Would you sit on a chair if you didn’t hope it would hold you? Would you drive on the freeway if you didn’t hope you’d arrive safe.

But I’m not really concerned with that small hope. I want to think of another sort of hope. The hope which draws someone along through miles and years and shapes an entire life.

When a runner sets out at the beginning of a race, the runner hopes to reach the end. The runner hopes to not be hindered or hurt but to be successful. And the hope of the end and of the good of that end and the success drives the runner on.

Or think of a trip. I have been a couple of very long overseas trips. If you’ve gone on these trips — and you didn’t get to ride in a limo to the airport and ride in first class on the plane — you know how unpleasant such trips can be. There are airports and long walks between terminals and car rides; none of which is pleasant, but all of it is endured because of hope: I hope to get to my destination.

Hope is wonderful. Without hope no good thing would have ever been completed. Our houses were built in hope. We married in hope. We have children in hope. We work in hope. Without hope, no one would have ever walked on the moon.

Hope is a marvel.

But hope if fragile. Cared for well, hope will last a lifetime. But hope can easily be ruined. It is a crystal vase which can fall from a stand. It is a glorious eagle o a perch, which can fly away.

When hope fails, it makes us ill: “Hope differed makes the heart sick.” Prov. 13:12. When hope wears out, becomes exhausted and fails, it collapses into despair. It becomes a bloated, infected corpse and infects everything about it.

Think of that trip to an exotic and distant destination. But the airplane breaks down in a foreign airport. You become ill from the food. Your passport is stolen. You realize you will never make your end and you may not make it home.

Romance turns sour can dash hope. Think Romeo and Juliette and how things worked for them.

But hope is not merely lost through despair. It is also lost through distraction. Let’s go back to Romeo for a moment: Before Romeo met Juliette, he was moping about because he hoped to win the affection of another girl. Then, while at a party, Romeo lit upon Juliette and his hope was transferred from the first girl to the second. Hope found a new object and it was off.

That is position as Christians in this world. We are aiming to walk clean out of this world into another world; we have hope for another life. We must give up everything in this world willingly to gain another world — and here we have only hope.

Hope is a cable which take hold of in this world and which is anchored in the next. That is exactly how the author of Hebrews describes it for us in Hebrews 6:18-19:

Hebrews 6:18–19 (ESV)
18 ……we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,

We are beset on one side with dangers, on the other with pleasures. We assaulted with trials and tried with temptations. The Devil pushes one way and the flesh pulls in another. One moment we are tempted to despair and give up all hope; the next we are offered something bright and new as a substitute hope.

With some many dangers and distractions, it is not surprising that our hope is constantly in danger. And this what threatened the Colossian Christians. Sometime had come along to challenge their hope and to substitute to their hope. A new idea, a new teaching, another Christ had offered itself for their consideration.

And so Paul sent them a letter to rescue them. He needed to warn them of the danger and he need to set their road straight. And so to protect them and correct them, he sets about straightening out their hope. He takes a firm hold upon their attention and he fixes their attention on Christ and the world to come, so that they can safely make it through the present world.
Listen to these words:

Colossians 1:3–12 (NASB95)
3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;
5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel
6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth;
7 just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf,
8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously
12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

We are going to focus in on the words of verses 4 and 5 in particular. Paul is thankful for the Colossians. In verse 4 he says that he is thankful because the Colossians are marked with faith and with love. You can think of that as what they know and what they do: everything about these Colossians, their faith and love was a matter of thanksgiving.

Verse 5 tells us what caused this faith and love:

because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel

Their faith and love flowed out of something, it came from somewhere.

True faith and love and heavenly things: true faith and love are not at home here. You don’t need any special experience to understand that faith in Christ and love for all the saints is not an easy, normal thing. It does not spring up from the ground like weeds after the rain.

These are heavenly flowers and they only exist by means of a heavenly source. Look at verse 8, Paul further describes their love, it is “love in the Spirit”. It is a wonder produced by God.

But how do these heavenly flowers get the dew of Zion to wash upon their petals, so that they may grow here in this sin cursed world, choked with weeds and death? What reaches up from this life and reaches into the life to come to bring water from the River of life?

Hope.

Look at Paul’s words again:

Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.

I said there were not three things, but here are three things in this verse about hope. First, hope had a very present effect. That is the word “because”. Second, the hope was certain: Third, the hope marked their goal.

Survey of the Book of Micah

The Domain for Truth

I imagine many Christians can increase their knowledge of the Minor Prophets.  Here’s a survey of the sixth book of the Minor Prophets: Micah.

Purpose: We will look at the authorship, purpose, structure and other aspects of the book of Micah so we would be more familiar with this part of the Bible and yearn to study it for ourselves.

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