faith in action

I’m part way through a new book by Malcolm Maclean, and thinking it would be a good idea to write a review once I’m finished (but not promising, because of my abysmal rate of both reading and reviewing). It’s Royal Company, a section-by-section discourse on the Song of Solomon. In advance, although it may turn out to be in lieu, of a review, here is an excerpt, with my recommendation on everything I’ve read of it so far.

On Song 2:3, ‘As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.’

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“The attitude of the woman here is a useful picture of faith being exercised by a believer. I would suggest that the order is important, in that believers need to find rest in Christ before they can feed on Christ. They need to sit down and discover afresh the rest of Jesus before they can taste his other benefits. They need to get rid of the distractions before proceeding to his attractions.

We can imagine a harassed believer being distressed by one or more of the things that we mentioned previously. He senses that he needs Jesus but cannot focus his mind on him. He needs to sit down and apply to himself appropriate promises from the Bible. As he does this, a sense of peace begins to develop.

Sometimes, the believer has been so weakened by the harassment that Jesus graciously throws, as it were, apples to the weary saint. As the Christian sits seeking rest from Jesus, he discovers that apples are faling into his lap or around him. Jesus sends to him by the Spirit specific details about himself. In this we see the compassion of Jesus.

At other times, they need to stretch out the hands of faith and choose particular pieces of fruit. Faith at times acts intelligently, choosing appropriate aspects of Christ to reflect on. It also acts innovatingly and attempts to discover new things about Jesus. Such attempts are ways to progress in the Christian life. Faith also acts increasingly because every apple on the tree is hers to enjoy, so faith moves on and picks as many apples as it can. And faith acts incessantly, because there are countless apples on this tree.”

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Malcolm Maclean (2012), Royal Company: A Devotional on the Song of Solomon. Christian Focus. (Excerpt from p88.) Warmly recommended.

certainties vs circumstances

You know that thing that happens when you read something and think it has beautifully captured a thought you’d vaguely had but could never have expressed like that, and then, on closer reading, it turns out to be saying something a bit different?

The vague thought, clumsily expressed: that faith has to rely on rock solid truths, and these truths do not include (a) the conclusions you’ve come to after attempting to interpret what particular providences mean, or (b) the marks of grace you may be able to identify internal to yourself. So, when things get confusing and disappointing, the answer is not (necessarily, or not ultimately) to struggle for greater understanding on the providential front or less failure on the personal front. The rock solid truths are things like the faithful saying that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, or the fact that God is good and does good even when it isn’t particularly enjoyable, or the fact that Christ is making continual intercession for his people, even when they are a bit rubbish. Your soul could be a barren wasteland as far as spiritual exercise goes, and in providence security and creature comforts could be crumbling all around you, but faith and hope were never meant to terminate on yourself or your providences anyway – they can only cling to the absolute certainties about the person and work of the Saviour.

What I momentarily thought was a better way of expressing all of this was another section from that book of Hugh Martin’s sermons I quoted the other day. He talks about crosses, difficulties, illness, sin, and all the other things that make it seem nonsensical for beleaguered believers to claim the status of sons and daughters of the Almighty. Asaph was perplexed by the relative lack of prosperity of the godly – Paul complained of a sense of wretchedness – how can problems like these be compatible with the “bold and firm assertion” of 1 John 3, that we are now the sons of God? So the sermon discusses at length the “candid acknowledgement” that it is not yet apparent what we shall be. “If they say that, granting we are the sons of God, we do not look like it, … frankly we admit the difficulty!”

The section itself is as follows, but as a second glance showed, it is mainly targeted against the view that God is a father to everyone in the same way, a view that was becoming popular at the time as the doctrine of God’s ‘universal fatherhood’ (on which see ideally John Kennedy’s 1869 treatise ‘Man’s Relations to God’). The bits that jumped out at me were the recognition that we need to get beyond “this sphere of dark and complicated providence,” in the search for comfort in the face of “sense, shame, and sorrow, … conflict and the cross”, and the mention of “propitiation,” which at first glance I took to be synonymous with the title of the volume, Christ For Us, and the be all and end all as far as sources of comfort and encouragement in the Christian life goes. Except that in this context, it’s more a question of “for me” personally and particularly in my own individual circumstances, than “for us” in the sense of a more general confession of what is true for the Lord’s people en masse. Which is just another way of saying that even if a believer is perfectly safe without the conscious sense of being personally justified and adopted, maximum comfort can’t be had without it.

“Be very sure that it is on the peculiar love of God, his special call, and personal fellowship with the Son that you must rest your sonship, if you would distance its security and truth from this conflict with sense, shame, and sorrow, while the glory, the victory, and the joy are not yet apparent. Vainly will you try to defend your sonship against shame and sorrow, conflict and the cross, merely on the basis of the fatherly benignity of God the Creator which is in no sense peculiar but embraces all alike. Whatever may be traced to this beneficience is visible in precisely the same earthly sphere of the world’s history in which all the pains and griefs of your earthly state reside. These pains and griefs, therefore, meeting with the general benignity of God in the self-same realm and sphere, limit its obviousness and effectiveness, and cloud with real difficulties that general Fatherhood of God. If you only rest on such paternal love, taking no hold on the special sovereign love of God in Christ Jesus, the propitiation for your sins, making no account of God’s special call, addressed personally to you, summoning you to special sonship, and not asserting by faith a special union and communion with the Eternal Son, – then you do not rise from this sphere of dark and complicated providence at all into the higher and unclouded sphere and kingdom of the Son of his love into which no counteracting doubt can come. Alas! you are helpless in the grasp of the trials and humiliations of time, and conscious, craven weakness will choke your utterance if you attempt the bold and glorious protestation, ‘Now are we the sons of God.'”

what, or who

By the Hugh Martin who wrote The Atonement, some reflections from a sermon on the verse at the start of Ephesians, ‘he has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.’

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Consider the depository, the treasure-house, the trustee of all these blessings. It is Christ. … The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed him with all spiritual blessings in heavenly blessings in heavenly places. It has pleased the Father that in him all the fullness of the blessings should dwell.

‘How then,’ says unbelief – jealous, querulous, discontented, isolated unbelief – standing apart on its own and proudly standing its ground against grace and Christ and the Lord’s salvation – ‘how can he bless me with them if he has given them all to another, to Christ? I cannot see how they can be to me when they are all given to him. If they are all his, I must be poor indeed.’

‘But,’ says humble faith with a mind exactly the reverse, ‘it is enough if he has given them all to Christ. He has not thereby given them past me but given them to me. He has given them all to me if he has given them all to Christ. He has given them all to me because he has given them all to Christ, for the Christ who contains them all, him has he given to me freely.’…

How rich and glorious … is Christ, considered as the treasure-house of all spiritual blessings. … He is the Elect, the Son, the Beloved, the Redeemer, the Heir, the Anointed and Sealed of the Spirit. In him we find laid up for us election, adoption, acceptance, redemption, inheritance, the Spirit’s unction, seal, and earnest. We are elect in Christ the Elect one, sons in Christ the Son, accepted in the Beloved, redeemed in the Redeemer, heirs in the Elder Brother, anointed and sealed in the Christ. … While Paul speaks of the hope of his calling, of the riches of the glory of his inheritance, of the exceeding greatness of the power of grace working in them that believe, he  makes it apparent that all these are in Christ and that it is only in Christ that they can be found.”

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From the volume, Christ For Us: Sermons of Hugh Martin, BOT 1998 (p216, p219).
(Hugh Martin’s dates were 1822-1885.)