The Ministry of the Word on the Lord’s Day

Andrew Bonar wrote a biography on the life and ministry of Robert Murray M’Cheyne.  In the biography he writes that M’Cheyne gave from his inner life.

It appears that he learnt the way of salvation experimentally, ere he knew it accurately by theory and system; and thus no doubt it was that his whole ministry was little else than a giving out of his own inward life (Bonar, Memoir, 28). 

And again . . .

From the first he fed others by what he himself was feeding upon.  His preaching was in a manner the development of his soul’s experience.  It was giving out of the inward life (Bonar, Memoir, 36). 

There are few things more necessary and precious than for a pastor to give out of his inner life.  This presupposes that there is communion with God and gleaning from the field of God’s word.  Last week was a particularly precious time for me as I spent time preparing my messages for the Lord’s Day: Ephesians 2:1-10 (AM) and Numbers 21:4-9 (PM Communion).  I’ll summarize my sermons for you.  

Ephesians 2:1-10: “Discovering Two Paths”
My approach to this passage is to view this passage from the perspective of two paths: the path of death (vv. 1-3) and the path of life (vv. 4-10).  The path of life can only be accessed by the gate called grace (v. 5, 8).  I went through this passage in four sermons.  Here’s how I approached this passage:

The Path of Death (vv. 2:1-3)

  • Who travels on the path of death?  Every person travels on the path of death from birth (v. 3, “mankind”).
  • What is the condition of those who travel on the path of death?  Every person on the first path is dead (v. 1, “you were dead”).
  • What is the cause of our condition?  The cause of our condition is our trespasses and sin (v. 1, “dead in trespasses and sins”).
  • What are the symptoms of our condition?  The symptoms of our condition are the hardening of our hearts and moral decay (vv. 2-3). 
  • The hinge on which Ephesians 2:1-10 turns is the prepositional phrase “But God” in v. 4.  This glorious prepositional phrase contains gospel truth!  It points us to God’s merciful and loving intervention!

    The Path of Life (vv. 4-10)

  • Who travels on the path of life? Only those who enter through the gate called grace (v. 5, 8 “by grace you have been saved”).
  • What is the condition of those who travel on the path of life? Every person on the path of life is “alive in Christ” (v. 6). 
  • What is the cause of our condition?  The cause of our condition is salvation by grace through faith (v. 8). 
  • What are the symptoms of our condition?  The symptoms of our condition are life in the heavenly places (vv. 6-7) and good works (v. 10).   
  • The sermons from Ephesians 2:1-10 set before me anew and profoundly my depravity and condition before God in my natural state which is the ground for magnifying His amazing, merciful, and loving grace!  Not only did He gloriously save me, I remain God’s good, patient, beautiful, relentless work as He works in me and through me!  Amen.

    Numbers 21:4-9: “The Cross Behind a Veil”
    Jesus expounded the Scriptures (OT) to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Among the truths He revealed to them was “that the Christ should suffer . . . (Luke 24:46a).  Philip saw, through illumination, that Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures (John 1:45).  Jesus foretells His suffering to His disciples no fewer than three times (Luke 9:22; 17:25; 22:15).  Luke summarizes this in Acts 1:3, “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs . . .” The suffering of Christ was a key theme in Peter’s (Acts 3:18) and Paul’s (Acts 26:22-23; 28:23) preaching ministries.  In fact the noble Bereans, who searched the Scriptures to verify Paul’s teaching in Acts 17:11, were examining the Scriptures (again, the OT).  But examining what?  They were examining if what Paul was saying concerning the Christ, including that “it was necessary for the Christ to suffer” (Acts 17:2) was true.  So it is a good exercise to go back in the Scriptures, what the Jews call the Tanakh and what we Christians know as the Old Testament, to discover some places of the places that spoke about the future suffering of the Christ.

    From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. [5] And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.’ [6] Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. [7] And the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you.  Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. [8] And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ [9] So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9)

    We find the cross behind a veil in Numbers 21:4-9.  What is the basis for this statement?  John, in his gospel, pulls back the veil for us to see the cross behind the bronze serpent!  We find that Numbers 21:4-9 is one of the places in the Scriptures that show us that Jesus would suffer, by signifying the kind of death He would die.  This is evidenced most clearly in John 3:14-15 and by the other two “lifted up” passages in the gospel of John (8:28; 12:32-34).

    And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15)

    So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me’ (John 8:28)

    ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ [33] He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. [34] So the crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ (John 12:32-34)

    Isaac Watts wrote:

    As when the Hebrew prophet raised
    The brazen serpent high,
    The wounded looked and straight were cured,
    The people ceased to die.

    So from the Savior on the cross
    A healing virtue flows;
    Who looks to Him with lively faith
    Is saved from endless woes.
    (Isaac Watts, “As When the Hebrew Prophet Raised,” 1709). 

    The main point of this post is simply to say that shepherds need to eat too.  After some sweet time in these texts, my soul is full.

    Beware of Compliant Children

    What parent does not rejoice in a compliant child?  Yet Christian parents need to always concern themselves with their child’s heart.  The life of Robert Murray M’Cheyne is an evidence of the inner ungodliness that may reside in the heart of an outwardly compliant child.  Andrew Bonar writes,

    Some would have been apt to regard [Robert Murray M’Cheyne] as exhibiting many traits of a Christian character; but his susceptible mind had not, at that time, a relish for any higher joy than the refined gaieties of society, and for such pleasures as the song and the dance could yield.  He himself regarded these as days of ungodliness–days wherein he cherished a pure morality, but lived in heart a Pharisee.  I have heard him say that there was a correctness and propriety in his demeanor at times of devotion, and in public worship, which some, who knew not his heart, were ready to put to the account of real feeling.  And this experience of his own heart made him look with jealousy on the mere outward signs of devotion in dealing with souls.  He had learnt in his own case how much a soul, unawakened to a sense of guilt may have satisfaction in performing, from the proud consciousness of integrity towards man, and a sentimental devotedness of mind that chastens the feelings without changing the heart (Andrew Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 4).

    As Bonar mentioned, M’Cheyne himself admits the outward complicity was not sourced in a converted heart but in pride.  In other words, he wanted his self-righteousness displayed, rather than the righteousness of God in Christ.  In a journal entry dated May 6, 1832, a 19-year-old M’Cheyne laments,

    What a mass of corruption have I been!  How great a portion of my life have I spent wholly without God in the world, given up to sense and the perishing things around me!  Naturally of a feeling and sentimental disposition, how much of my religion has been, and to this day is, tinged with these colours of earth!  Restrained from open vice by educational views and the fear of man, how much ungodliness has reigned within me (Andrew Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 16)!

    So parents, especially Christian parents, shepherd the heart not behaviors.  Let us not delight in any compliance we might be able to command from our children.  Rather, let us delight in a genuine work of God’s grace that results from heart-focused, gospel-centered parenting.

    The Borrowed Light of Great Men

    Biographies are written about a man typically because he influenced people around him.  There was a quality or qualities that distinguished him from others.  This is true of Christian men as well.  Yet noteworthy Christian men and women are great when they are mirrors not sponges–they reflect the glory of Christ rather than absorb the glory Christ deserves. 

    When a person spends time in biographies, it’s easy to feel inspired and discouraged at the same time.  I’m reading the Memoir of Robert Murray M’Cheyne by Andrew Bonar.  M’Cheyne expressed a similar sentiment of unworthiness after reading a portion of the Life of Jonathan Edwards.  Yet M’Cheyne reminds me that the light of great Christians is borrowed and we have access to the same source.  His words were a great encouragement to me.

    Read part of the Life of Jonathan Edwards.  How feeble does my spark of Christianity appear beside such a sun!  But even his was a borrowed light, and the same source is still open to enlighten me (March 20, 1832 journal entry in Bonar, Memoir of the Rev. R. M. M’Cheyne, 26).  

    This idea is also found in John 1:6 about John the Baptist,

    He was not that light, but came to bear witness about the light.

    We are all called to be mirrors reflecting the light of Christ to a sin-darkened world.  Let us been encouraged that the same source of this light is still open to enlighten us.