J.I. Packer: The Cross and the Destiny of Those Who Reject God

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“Think … of the destiny of those who reject God.

Universalists suppose that the class of people mentioned in this heading will ultimately have no members, but the Bible indicates otherwise. Decisions made in this life will have eternal consequences. “Do not be deceived” (as you would be if you listened to the universalists), “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7). Those who in this life reject God will forever be rejected by God. Universalism is the doctrine that, among others, Judas will be saved, but Jesus did not think he would. “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Mk 14:21) How could Jesus have spoken those last words if he had expected Judas finally to be saved?

Some, then face an eternity of rejectedness. How can we understand what they will bring on themselves? We cannot, of course, form an adequate notion of hell, any more than we can of heaven, and no doubt it is good for us that this is so; but perhaps the clearest notion we can form is that derived from contemplating the cross.

On the cross, God judged our sins in the person of his Son, and Jesus endured the retributive comeback of our wrongdoing. Look at the cross, therefore, and you see what form God’s judicial reaction to human sin will finally take. What form is that? In a word, withdrawal and deprivation of good. On the cross Jesus lost all the good that he had before: all sense of his Father’s presence and love, all sense of physical, mental and spiritual well-being, all enjoyment of God and of created things, all ease and solace of friendship, were taken from him, and in their place was nothing but loneliness, pain, a killing sense of human malice and callousness, and a horror of great spiritual darkness.

The physical pain, though great (for crucifixion remains the cruelest form of judicial execution that the world has ever known), was yet only a small part of the story; Jesus’ chief sufferings were mental and spiritual, and what was packed into less than four hundred minutes was an eternity of agony – agony such that each minute was an eternity in itself, as mental sufferers know that individual minutes can be.

So, too, those who reject God face the prospect of losing all good, and the best way to form an idea of eternal death is to dwell on this thought. In ordinary life, we never notice how much good we enjoy through God’s common grace till it is taken from us. We never value health, or steady circumstances, or friendship and respect from others, as we should till we have lost them. Calvary shows that under the final judgment of God nothing that one has valued, or could value, nothing that one can call good, remains to one. It is a terrible thought, but the reality, we may be sure, is more terrible yet. “It would be better for him if he had not been born.” God help us learn this lesson, which the spectacle of propitiation through penal substitution on the cross teaches so clearly; and may each of us be found in Christ, our sins covered by his blood, at the last.”

(J.I. Packer, Knowing God, pp. 194-195)

Two Ways to Appear Before the Judgment Seat of Christ

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The following excerpt is taken from A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones. In Chapter 49, “Thomas Manton on the Judgment according to Works,” the authors summarize Manton’s excellent comparison of the two states people will be in at the final judgment.

As judge, Christ will be a TERROR to those who have…

(1) despised God’s kingdom (Luke 19:27)

(2) refused God’s grace (Psalm 81:11)

(3) despised God’s benefits (Heb. 2:3)

(4) abused His grace and turned to lasciviousness (Jude 4)

(5) broken His commandments (John 15:10)

(6) questioned the truth of God’s promises (2 Peter 3-4)

(7) perverted God’s ordinances (Matthew 24:48-51)

Christ as judge will be a COMFORT to those who have:

(1) believed Christ’s doctrine (John 11:25)

(2) loved Christ (Ephesians 6:24; 1 Corinthians 16:22)

(3) warred against Christ’s enemies, the devil, the world, and the flesh (Revelation 3:21)

(4) obeyed His commandments (1 John 2:28)

Believers will be comforted because the judge is their friend, their brother, their high priest, and the one who died for their sins.

The Innkeeper: A Christmas Poem by John Piper

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Don’t miss this powerful reading by John Piper of his poem, The Innkeeper. Westminster Bookstore is selling beautifully illustrated hard copies 50% off for a limited time, making it is $10 instead of $20. Reading it might make a great new Christmas tradition for your family.

Watch and Pray: Wisdom from J.C. Ryle

If you haven’t followed the coverage of the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy this past week, it has been heart wrenching. People without power, entire cities under water and some dead as a result of this super storm. God, help those who have been impacted!!

I’ve heard experts saying we’ve never experienced a storm of this caliber in this area before. If fact, some noted that this is the third major storm to hit that region in under a year. When I hear the experts say “we’ve never seen a storm this severe” and “these super storms may be the new normal,” I can’t help but think about Christ’s own words about His return.

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:25-28)

For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
(Matthew 24:7-8)

These verses and their immediate context plainly convey that natural disasters like earthquakes and the “raging of the sea” will be signs that Christ’s return is drawing near. In Matthew 24, Jesus chose a peculiar illustration to describe these signs: birth pains. Jesus meant that just as pain increases in intensity and frequency as birth approaches, so these signs will increase in intensity and frequency as His return approaches. And it’s happening…

I believe storms like Sandy are exactly what Jesus was talking about. He expected His followers would pay attention to signs – like this disaster – and understand that His return is approaching and that these signs will continue to grow worse and worse until He does. This doesn’t mean we start setting dates, but only that we pay attention. Or as Jesus said it, “Watch and pray.”

I’ve often wondered what it means to be a watchful Christian. What is the difference between the Christian who is watching and the Christian who isn’t watching? I’ve found great help from J.C. Ryle. Over a hundred years ago, he provided great wisdom on how to watch and keep ourselves in a state of readiness for Christ’s return.

Here are Ryle’s words in their entirety:

I exhort you to watch against everything which might interfere with a readiness for Christ’s appearing. Search your own hearts. Find out the things which most frequently interrupt your communion with Christ, and cause fogs to rise between you and the sun. Mark these things, and know them, and against them ever watch and be on your guard.

Watch against SIN of every kind and description. Think not to say of any sin whatever, “Ah! that is one of the things that I shall never do.” I tell you there is no possible sin too abominable, for the very best of us all to commit! Remember David and Uriah. The spirit may be sometimes very willing — but the flesh is always very weak. You are yet in the body. Watch and pray!

Watch against doubts and unbelief as to the complete acceptance of your soul, if you are a believer in Christ Jesus. The Lord Jesus finished the work He came to do — do not tell Him that He did not. The Lord Jesus paid your debts in full — do not tell Him that you think He left you to pay part. The Lord Jesus promises eternal life to every sinner that comes to Him — do not tell Him, even while you are coming, that you think He lies. Alas, for our unbelief! In Christ you are like Noah in the ark, and Lot in Zoar — nothing can harm you. The earth may be burned up with fire at the Lord’s appearing — but not a hair of your head shall perish. Doubt it not. Pray for more faith. Watch and pray!

Watch against inconsistency of walk — and conformity to the worldWatch against sins of temper and of tongue. These are the kind of things that grieve the Spirit of God, and make His witness within us faint and low. Watch and pray!

Watch against the leaven of false doctrine. Remember that Satan can transform himself into an angel of light. Remember that bad money is never marked bad — or else it would never pass. Be very jealous for the whole truth as it is in Jesus. Do not put up with a grain of error — merely for the sake of a pound of truth. Do not tolerate a little false doctrine — one bit more than you would a little sin. Oh, reader, remember this caution! Watch and pray!

Watch against slothfulness about the Bible and private prayer. There is nothing so spiritual, but we may at last do it formally. Most backslidings begin in the closet. When a tree is snapped in two by a high wind, we generally find there had been some long hidden decay. Oh, watch and pray!

Watch against bitterness and uncharitableness towards others. A little love is more valuable than many gifts. Be eagle-eyed in seeing the good that is in your brethren — and dim-sighted as the mole about the evil. Let your memory be a strong-box for their graces — but a sieve for their faults. Watch and pray!

Watch against pride and self-conceit. Peter said at first, “Though all men deny You — yet I never will.” And presently he fell. Pride is the high road to a fallWatch and pray!

Watch against the sins of Galatia, Ephesus, and Laodicea. Believers may run well for a season, then lose their first loveand then become lukewarm. Watch and pray!

Watch not least against the sin of Jehu. A man may have great zeal to all appearance — and yet have very bad motives. It is a much easier thing to oppose Antichrist — than to follow Christ. It is one thing to protest against error — it is quite another thing to love the truth. So watch and pray!

Oh, my believing readers, let us all watch more than we have done! Let us watch more every year that we live. Let us watch, that we may not be surprised when the Lord appears.

Let us watch for the world’s sake. We are the books they chiefly read. They mark our ways, far more than we think. Let us aim to be plainly-written epistles of Christ!

Let us watch for our own sakes. As our walk is — so will be our peace. As our conformity to Christ’s mind — so will be our sense of Christ’s atoning blood. If a man will not walk in the full light of the sun, how can he expect to be warm?

And, above all, let us watch for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake. Let us live as if His glory was concerned in our behavior. Let us live as if every slip and fall was a reflection on the honor of our King. Let us live as if every allowed sin, was . . .
one more thorn in His head,
one more nail in His feet,
one more spear in His side!

Oh, let us exercise a godly jealousy over thoughts, words, and actions — over motives, manners, and walk! Never, never let us fear being too strict. Never, never let us think we can watch too much. [excerpt from Are You Ready for the End of Time? by J.C. Ryle]

On the night our Lord was betrayed, He asked his disciples three times to watch and pray and each time they fell asleep. And consequently, they weren’t ready for what was coming upon them. They failed Christ in His greatest hour of need.

Likewise, Jesus calls us to “stay awake” and watch for His return. Let this be a mark of true Christians in our time, that we are watchful and prayerful. When we see things like Hurricane Sandy, we strive to finish the work He’s given us to do with hearts burning, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Spurgeon on the Return of Christ

I’m increasingly convinced many Christians today have an incomplete understanding of Jesus. We emphasize his compassion, grace, and love – which are indeed precious truths – but ignore the weightier things He said, did and is. For this reason, I love to read history’s great preachers and teachers. They talked about things we don’t and said things many pastors today wouldn’t dare.

Here’s an important word from C.H. Spurgeon, that great London preacher, who is still considered one of the most articulate wielders of the Word who ever lived.

But who can endure the day of his coming . . . ?  (Malachi 3:2)

Christ’s first coming was without external pomp or display of power, and yet in truth there were few who could endure its test. Herod and all Jerusalem with him were stirred at the news of the wondrous birth. Those who supposed themselves to be waiting for Him showed the fallacy of their professions by rejecting Him when He came. His life on earth was like a winnowing fan that sifted the great heap of religious profession, and only a few could survive the process. But what will His second coming be? What sinner can endure to think of it? “He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (Isaiah 11:4). In Gethsemane when He said to the soldiers, “I am he,” they fell backward. What will happen to His enemies when He will reveal Himself more fully as the “I Am”? His death shook earth and darkened heaven. What will be the dreadful splendor of that day when as the living Savior He will summon the living and the dead before Him? O that the terrors of the Lord would persuade men to forsake their sins and kiss the Son in case He is angry! Though a lamb, He is still the lion of the tribe of Judah, tearing the prey in pieces; and though He does not break the bruised reed, yet He will break His enemies with a rod of iron and dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel. None of His foes shall stand before the tempest of His wrath or hide themselves from the sweeping hail of His indignation. But His beloved blood-washed people look for His appearing with joy; in this living hope they live without fear. To them He sits as a refiner even now, and when He has tested them they shall come forth as gold. Let us examine ourselves this morning and make our calling and election sure, so that the coming of the Lord may not be the cause of fearful expectations. O for grace to discard all hypocrisy, and to be found of Him sincere and without rebuke on the day of His appearing.

[Taken from Morning by Morning, entry for October 15th]

J.C. Ryle on Growing in Holiness

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“A holy man will strive to be like our Lord Jesus Christ. He will not only live the life of faith in Him, and draw from Him all his daily peace and strength, but he will also labour to have the mind that was in Him, and to be “conformed to His image.” (Rom. 8:29). It will be his aim to bear with and forgive others, even as Christ forgave us – to be unselfish, even as Christ pleased not Himself – to walk in love, even as Christ loved us – to be lowly minded and humble, even as Christ made Himself of no reputation and humbled Himself. He will remember that Christ was a faithful witness for the truth – that He came not to do His own will – that it was His meat and drink to do His Father’s will – that He would continually deny Himself in order to minister to others – that He was meek and patient under undeserved insults – that He thought more of godly poor men than of kings – that He was full of love and compassion to sinners – that He was bold and uncompromising in denouncing sin – that He sought not the praise of men, when He might have had it – that He went about doing good – that He was separate from worldly people – that He continued instant in prayer – that He would not let even His nearest relations stand in His way when God’s work was to be done. These things a holy man will try to remember. By them he will endeavour to shape his course in life. He will lay to heart the saying of John, “He that saith he abideth in Christ ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked” (1 John 2:6); and the saying of Peter, that “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow His steps.” (1 Peter 2:21). Happy is he who has learned to make Christ his “all,” both for salvation and example! Much time would be saved, and much sin prevented, if men would oftener ask themselves the question, ‘What would Christ have said and done, if He were in my place?'”

(J.C. Ryle, Holiness)

Beware of False Teachers

Christians never come to the end of their need for God’s Word. There are always new truths and insights to be taught throughout every season of life.  Christ’s disciples never come to a point in this life when they can set their Bibles down because their growth is complete.

I was recently shown how consistently the New Testament writers warned against false teachers. It seems to be their regular concern and consistent warning that there would be some who would come and teach false doctrines and lead many astray.

I don’t think many Christians think carefully about whether or not the teachers and leaders they listen to could be false teachers, but the warnings remain. There are false teachers out there and we need to equip ourselves to recognize them. Consider these verses:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits… (Matthew 7:15-16, ESV)

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30, ESV)

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. (Romans 16:17-18, ESV)

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8 ESV)

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4, ESV)

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3, ESV)

Along these lines, J.I. Packer says it best:

The mark of the false prophet or teacher is self-serving unfaithfulness to God and His truth. It may be that he says what he shouldn’t; but it is far more likely that he will err by failing to say what he should. He will gloss over all the tough questions and issues as did the false prophets in the Old Testament who went around saying, “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace (Jer. 6:14). They wouldn’t speak the tough word calling for repentance nor suggest that Israel was out of sorts spiritually. Instead they brought groundless comfort, lulling people into a false sense of security so that their hearers were totally unprepared for the judgment which eventually came on them. There are teachers in the church today who never speak of repentance, self-denial, the call to be relatively poor for the Lord’s sake, or any other demanding aspect of discipleship. Naturally they are popular and approved, but for all that, they are false prophets. We will know such people by their fruits. Look at the people to whom they have ministered. Do these folks really know and love the Lord? Are they prepared to take risks, even hazard their lives, for Jesus? Or are they comfortable, inactive, and complacent? If so, they are self-deceived, and those who have irresponsibly encouraged their self-deception will have to answer for it. Anyone who is in a position of spiritual leadership who fails to teach the more demanding, less comfortable, “narrow gate” and “rough road” side of discipleship becomes a false prophet.

Packer’s inclusion of those who fail to teach some of the weightier aspects of the gospel is convicting. But he’s right. We must test our own hearts and the teaching of our spiritual leaders, because there will be many who’ll come along and will be easy on the ears, but could be leading us astray or rocking us to sleep. Let us prayerfully consider who is leading us toward Christ and who is leading us away from Him.

J.C. Ryle & J.I. Packer on Holiness

Few things are as important and daunting as personal holiness. Doubts as to whether its even possible to be holy this side of glory and the promise that Christ will one day make his followers holy anyway have stagnated this pursuit in most.

In 1877, Anglican bishop J.C. Ryle wrote what would become a classic on holiness. A few years ago Crossway released a fresh version of this great work with a brief biography by J.I. Packer. As the publisher explains,

Packer aims to open up the life of this godly man for a contemporary audience. Readers new to Ryle’s work will especially benefit from a first encounter with his essay on holiness.

I’m chewing my way through this work this summer and am benefiting from this classic wisdom. I’m hoping many join me in gleaning from this classic work.

Ten Books Every Christian Should Read

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I was recently asked to compile a list of the 10 books every Christian should read. It was tough to pick only ten, but I boiled it down to these books that have been the books I believe have influenced me the most.

1. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

2. Desiring God by John Piper

3. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

4. Knowing God by J.I. Packer

5. The Glory of Christ by John Owen

6. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

7. The Hidden Life of Prayer by David McIntyre

8. The Letters of Samuel Rutherford

9. The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

10. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What books would you add to this list?

Prophecies Christ Fulfilled Through His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection

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Consider what the prophets foretold about the person and work of Christ.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
(Genesis 3:15)

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
(Psalm 22:14-18)

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
(Psalm 34:19-20)

My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my nearest kin stand far off.
(Psalm 38:10-11)

Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me. (Psalm 41:9)

They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.
(Psalm 69:21)

I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
when they see me, they wag their heads.
(Psalm 109:25)

I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
(Isaiah 50:6)

As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
(Isaiah 52:14)

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
(Isaiah 53:2-12)

Then I said to them, ‘If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.’ And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver.
(Zechariah 11:12)

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
(Zechariah 12:10)

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who stands next to me,”
declares the LORD of hosts.
“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
I will turn my hand against the little ones.
(Zechariah 13:7)