Bill Muehlenberg

George MacDonald on Suffering, Grief, and God

“I fear you will never arrive at an understanding of God so long as you cannot bring yourself to see the good that often comes as a result of pain. For there is nothing, from the lowest, weakest tone of suffering to the loftiest acme of pain, to which God does not respond. There is nothing in all the universe which does not in some way vibrate within the heart of God. No creature suffers alone; He suffers with His creatures and through it is in the process of bringing His sons and daughters through the cleansing and glorifying fires, without which the created cannot be made the very children of God, partakers of the divine nature and peace.”

It is nearly one year since my wife left this world. During that difficult year and a half battle with cancer that she went through, I kept a daily diary of how things were going. I may write more on her final week or so in the days ahead, but I have noted that things are much more difficult for me just now.
In part this is because her last week was her most difficult and painful week, as it was mine, and all who knew her. So I have been looking for some comfort especially now. The Bible is the first port of call of course, and thankfully I am in the Psalms right now, just as I was a year ago. There is obviously so much there that is of comfort, hope and healing.
And then I thought of some key authors who have suffered much and written so sweetly and powerfully of God’s grace in such dark times. I instantly thought of people like Elisabeth Elliot, or Joni Eareckson Tada, or C. S. Lewis, or Timothy Keller. So many great authors come to mind in this regard.
But I have settled here on one Christian writer that all the above authors would have drawn upon and been blessed by. I refer to George MacDonald (1824-1905). For those who know nothing about the Scottish author, poet and pastor, see this writeup about his life and ministry:
He had written so much on so many topics, but the issues of pain and suffering, grief and comfort, God and grace, were certainly covered so very often in his sermons, poems, letters and books. Here then are 22 representative quotes from him on these matters:
“Afflictions are but the shadow of His wings.”
“God wants to build you a house whereof the walls shall be goodness; you want a house whereof the walls shall be comfort. But God knows that such walls cannot be built, that that kind of stone crumbles away in the foolish workman’s hands. He would make you comfortable; but neither is that his first object, nor can it be gained without the first, which is to make you good. He loves you so much that he would infinitely rather have you good and uncomfortable, for then he could take you to his heart as his own children, than comfortable and not good, for then he could not come near you, or give you anything to be counted worth having for himself or worth giving to you.”
“The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.”
“It is with the holiest fear that we should approach the terrible fact of the sufferings of Our Lord. Let no one think that these were less because He was more. The more delicate the nature, the more alive to all that is lovely and true, lawful and right, the more does it feel the antagonism of pain, the inroad of death upon life; the more dreadful is that breach of the harmony of things whose sound is torture.”
“The will of the Father is the yoke. He would have us take, and bear also with Him. It is of this yoke that he says It is easy, of this burden, It is light. He is not saying ‘The yoke I lay upon you is easy, the burden light’; what He says is, ‘The yoke I carry is easy, the burden on My shoulders is light.’ With the garden of Gethsemane before Him, with the hour and the power of darkness waiting for Him, He declares His yoke is easy, His burden light.”
“For there is nothing, from the lowest, weakest tone of suffering to the loftiest acme of pain, to which God does not respond.”
“Dear Friend, trust in him who must love you better than you love your little children. He will be with you in your pain, and you will be able to bear it.”
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Christians and Personal Empire Building

“A church ought to be friendly to genuine seekers, but the church ought to recognize that there is only one Seeker. His name is God! If you want to be friendly to someone, if you want to accommodate someone, accommodate Him and His glory, even if it is rejected by everyone else. We are not called to build empires. We are not called to be accepted by men. We are called to glorify God. And if you want the Church to be something other than a distinctive people, a people marked out by holiness as belonging to the God of heaven (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9), then you want something God does not want.”

Many folks want to make a name for themselves and want to be great in various ways. This can be good or bad, depending on the ends in mind. Sometimes it means amassing power, control and dominance over others. Sometimes it means seeking to do some good in the world, even if no one knows your name or what you are doing – but God knows.
Both Christians and non-Christians can seek to build their own empires, their own kingdoms. As I say, it partly depends on what sort of empire you want to build, and for what ends, that can make all the difference. A recent news headline got me thinking once again about such matters. It had said this:
Crikey! How Irwins built their multimillion-dollar empire
Terri, Bindi and Robert Irwin have successfully carried on the environmental legacy crafted by Steve. Here is how the family has built their very own conservation empire.
Now let me say that because what the Irwins are up to is basically neither here nor there for me, and because the article was behind a paywall, I could read no further. But the title about building an empire was enough for me to want to turn this into another devotional piece.
I have often talked to Christian leaders and those in ministry over the years – especially those just starting out – and if and when they ask me for a bit of advice, usually the first thing I say is that we must be careful that we do not end up being an empire builder, a kingdom builder.
We must be very careful, in other words, that in our effort to serve the Lord, we do not get a big head, do not get proud, and do not think we are going to be the next best Christian thing since the apostle Paul or the Great Awakening. Staying humble, and being willing to work with others and to share the glory with others, is crucial.
Too often those in ministry are NOT all that willing to work with others, and too often they do NOT want others to get any credit or any glory. I find this so often in various parachurch groups and in certain churches. And of course at the end of the day none of us deserve the glory – only God does.
A quote attributed to Harry Truman fits in well here: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Whether or not he said this, or said it in quite that way, the general principle is sound – especially in the Christian church.
I find so many leaders and pastors who do not seem to be very interested in working together with others. Part of the problem is they want to do things their way, and they want to get all the credit and all the glory. They want to make a name for themselves.
But that is not how it should be for any Christian worker, whether a megachurch leader or a humble church janitor. Our aim should be to glorify God in all that we do and let him get all the credit. But having been involved in all sorts of ministries over the decades, I have seen too much of this empire building.
Now don’t get me wrong here. There is a fine line between having godly ambition and wanting to see great things done for Christ and the Kingdom, and just wanting to be in the spotlight, wanting to get the applause of men, and wanting to be seen and praised.
The quote by William Carey is appropriate here: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God”. So in one sense, yes, we should seek to see great things happening, to see many folks getting saved, and to see our churches being filled.
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Moderation and Biblical Balance

A second and related thing I am not calling for is this: When I say we must avoid various extremes, that is not the same as saying we should simply always run with a lukewarmness about things. For example, when I recently put up a social media post about these matters, someone responded with this comment: “moderation in all things and setting scriptural boundaries go a long way”. He was seeking to affirm what I was saying, but I had to make this reply. “Yes, although moderation is not always the same as biblical balance. For example, we should not be moderate in our love for Christ – we should love him 100%. We should not be moderately faithful to our spouse – we should be 100% faithful.”

In this brief article I want to clarify something that can easily be misconstrued. A spiritual point that I often make to other believers can be open to misunderstanding or misinterpretation, so let me explain just a bit more about what I am calling for.
I have often spoken about the need to be biblically balanced, and how we must avoid unbiblical extremes. There are many clear examples of this. As but one, we can sometimes get things wrong when it comes to Satan and demons. Some believers live as if neither one exist, while some other believers seem to see demons and the devil under every rock.
Or as C. S. Lewis had put it in the preface to his 1942 classic, The Screwtape Letters: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
So there are many areas in which believers can go to unhelpful extremes. But even this warning about avoiding extremes can be misunderstood or misused. There are various things I am NOT saying when I make this sort of caution about keeping the biblical balance.
The first thing I do not mean is this: On some doctrinal and theological issues in which there are various sides to the matter, there is a need to fully push ALL aspects of a biblical truth. Consider the old problem of how we reconcile the sovereignty of God with human responsibility.
What I am NOT saying here is that the biblical middle and biblical balance means we take 50 per cent of the one and take 50 per cent of the other. Nope, that is not how we proceed here. Instead, we are to take 100 per cent of the one and 100 per cent of the other.
BOTH must be fully affirmed, just as Scripture fully affirms each one. Sure, our fallen and finite minds will struggle with how we can hold the two together as we push each one to the max. They are not contradictory truths, but they seem paradoxical to us.
So in this case, we are not looking for a soft gooey centre, like with a caramel chocolate, but two strong, firm tines of a fork. Both are needed and both must go together.
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Marcionism and Woke Worship

A couple that leads worship in Canada are having real problems with the Old Testament, especially with anything having to do with the military, or violence, or weapons, or warfare. So they are wondering about deleting or expelling worship songs that take part in this. As one short video of this says: “Canadian worship leaders Jodi and Chris King are having a difficult time singing songs with ‘violent language’ in church, including references to weapons, because ‘Jesus is a peacemaker,’ so they skip over lyrics.” 

Oh dear, it never ceases to amaze me how woke weirdness has contaminated the churches. That secular left ideology and agendas have long been infiltrating into the churches is well known. But as political correctness and woke lunacy ramps up in the West, we see even more Christian leaders and pastors being sucked into all this.
Before giving you one glaring recent example of this, I had better explain what Marcionism is for those of you struggling with that term. It simply refers to an old church heretic, Marcion. As I wrote in an earlier article:
He was a second century bishop who was condemned for his heretical teachings, including his views on God and the Old Testament. In brief, he regarded the God of the Old Testament as a vengeful, harsh, vindictive and judgmental God, who in fact was not the same as the God of the New Testament. On the other hand, he taught, the God of the NT was a loving, compassionate and gracious God.
He not only posited a radical disjunction between God as found in the two Testaments, but between the OT and the NT itself, and between Israel and the church. His utter rejection of Judaism and the OT was just part of his heresy. He was a major proponent of Paul – or as one historian put it, he had an “exaggerated Paulinism” – so much so that he chopped the NT canon down to just 11 books: ten epistles of Paul and part of Luke.
So what does worship have to do with this heretic? Well, it seems a couple that leads worship in Canada are having real problems with the Old Testament, especially with anything having to do with the military, or violence, or weapons, or warfare. So they are wondering about deleting or expelling worship songs that take part in this.
As one short video of this says: “Canadian worship leaders Jodi and Chris King are having a difficult time singing songs with ‘violent language’ in church, including references to weapons, because ‘Jesus is a peacemaker,’ so they skip over lyrics.” See it here:
What are we to make of all this? Well yes there are indeed hundreds of Old Testament examples where military language, talk of weapons, and dealing with enemies, etc., are found. And that includes heaps that are found just in the Psalms. As you should know, the psalms were all sung as part of Israel’s collective worship of God. Just think of a few of these ‘militaristic’ passages:
Psalm 18:34 He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
Psalm 18:39 You armed me with strength for battle; you humbled my adversaries before me.
Psalm 24:8 Who is this King of glory?The Lord, strong and mighty,the Lord, mighty in battle!
Psalm 144:1 Blessed be the Lord, my rock,who trains my hands for war,and my fingers for battle;
But since it seems these worship leaders are worried about all this, let me just deal with what is found in the New Testament. There are dozens of military metaphors, allusions to soldiering and warfare, and related terms and ideas found in the NT. And none of these biblical authors for one moment were concerned about using such imagery and language. Indeed, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to do so. Consider just some of these:
Luke 14:31-33 Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
Romans 7:22-23 or in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
Romans 13:12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.
1 Corinthians 9:7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?
1 Corinthians 9:26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.
1 Corinthians 14:8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?
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Where to Now? Living in an Anti- Christian West

A new book by American evangelical writer Aaron Renn looks at similar themes: Life in the Negative World (Zondervan, 2024). He uses differing terminology as he also looks at these three periods: -the positive world (1964-1994)-the neutral world (1994-2014) -the negative world (2014-present) (pp. 6-7). One can quibble about the dating, but the three periods correspond to what I mentioned above: a generally pro-Christian world; a world somewhat indifferent to the faith; and a period which is mainly hostile to it. He says of the present period: “For the first time in the history of our country, orthodox Christianity is viewed negatively by secular society, especially by its elite domains.” (xv)

If you are an older person raised in the West – as I am – you will have lived through three different periods: Christian, post-Christian, and anti-Christian. You would have been born in a largely Christian period, in which most folks – even if they were not actually Christian themselves – shared and believed in biblical truths and values. Even the institutions such as education, the media, politics, and business more or less reflected the Christian worldview.
Then you moved to the next phase where Christianity began to have less and less influence and clout in society. Sure, most folks still paid lip service to Christianity, but it increasingly played less of an important role in the lives of more and more people.
And then we have life in the West today where Christians have become the new counterculture. Much of society and its institutions have declared war on the church and the people of God. Hostility to Christians is now found everywhere and is simply getting worse.
But here is a major problem for believers today – at least older ones. Many of us still might think that we are back in the first, or at least, second period. So we think the sorts of things we did back then will work just fine today. But not necessarily. We can no longer find a Christian consensus. We can no longer count on institutions to back us up.
If we go to a large shop or grocery store it will more than likely be filled with pro-homosexual material or celebrate Islamic holy days – but not Christian ones. Governments will increasingly be enacting legislation and laws which are hostile to Christianity, be it forcing Christian schools to hire non-Christian staff, forcing workers to affirm all sorts of immoral lifestyles, or making workers attend various DEI and woke training (propaganda) sessions – and that just for starters.
The mainstream media of course is now almost entirely at odds with biblical Christianity, never missing an opportunity to attack the faith while promoting every other worldview and lifestyle. Popular culture largely sneers at and mocks Christian concerns while promoting diabolical agendas. The list goes on…
Of course the secularisation and de-Christianisation of the West started much earlier than when you and I were born. It has been happening for a number of centuries now. But ideas take a while to filter down into everyday culture, and now we are feeling the impact of modernism, the Enlightenment, and related intellectual movements.
A new book by American evangelical writer Aaron Renn looks at similar themes: Life in the Negative World (Zondervan, 2024). He uses differing terminology as he also looks at these three periods:
-the positive world (1964-1994)-the neutral world (1994-2014)-the negative world (2014-present) (pp. 6-7)
One can quibble about the dating, but the three periods correspond to what I mentioned above: a generally pro-Christian world; a world somewhat indifferent to the faith; and a period which is mainly hostile to it. He says of the present period: “For the first time in the history of our country, orthodox Christianity is viewed negatively by secular society, especially by its elite domains.” (xv)
The whole point then is to ask ourselves: how do we do mission and represent God in such a changed – and changing – situation? How do we be salt and light in this new arrangement? How can we stay true to our Lord in this increasingly hostile environment?
Like any biblical believer would insist, Renn does not think we can or should change the message. But we may need to change the method and the means of presenting this unchanging message to a changing culture.
Of course many Christians have thought about such matters of late. And Renn admits to having no easy and clear answers here. But he does call us to think and pray much more carefully about how we are to proceed in the days ahead. He looks briefly at some of the causes for the changes in the West, but then – and more importantly – suggests ways to respond.
He has three sections of the book looking at three areas that we need to respond in: the personal, the institutional, and the missional.
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Are You in the Parade?

I am part of something much bigger and much grander than myself. It is when we get our eyes off of these spiritual truths that we can become discouraged and depressed. Satan will try to convince us that we are all alone, that no one knows we even exist, and that no one cares if we live or die. It is during these times especially that we need to keep in mind the heavenly parade. We are marching right now in it. It may not seem that way. But one day we will see just how real this has been. 

Parades have sort of fallen out of favour in recent times in the West. Sure, we still have some more modern and trendy versions such as a homosexual pride parade that some folks will get into. But the older, more traditional parades that celebrated things like our fallen soldiers and historical milestones are less important today it seems.
Memorial Day parades or Fourth of July parades (at least in America) were once largely attended events. We used to love to celebrate and commemorate great events and important achievements. But today patriotism, heroism and related virtues are now on the wane. At best, we are now prone instead to celebrate perversions and debauchery.
Thus June is supposed to be “Pride Month”. Well, I for one will certainly not be celebrating that. As some memes making the rounds have pointed out, the first pride event was when Satan fell from heaven, or when God rained fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. I do not want to be on the wrong side of history here – that is, God’s history.
My thoughts on public processions and celebrations of key events are because of a dream I had last night. If you don’t mind, I can share parts of it here. I was in a large, multi-roomed building, and I saw a lengthy group of people parading through the hallways and rooms. Soon it was outside, and I had joined in with it. It seemed to have been a group of believers, perhaps celebrating something like Easter.
Upon awakening it occurred to me that there has always been one long parade of God’s people. It was there in Old Testament times. And certainly since Christ came we have had a continuous, non-stop parade of Christians throughout human history.
There has never been a time in the past 2000 years when the light of Christ and those bearing witness to him have been fully extinguished. There have always been God’s people celebrating the great things of God. And just as I joined in with this already-in-progress march in my dream, so too, all of God’s people are part of this ongoing event.
And since I am now reading again in the book of Job, I am reminded that he too was a part of this massive parade. He too had a role to play in all this. He may not have seen the bigger picture, but he was one of the millions of participants, bearing witness to God and his Kingdom.
One of course thinks here of Hebrews 11. We call this the ‘Hall of Faith’. It speaks of so many great heroes of faith who have gone before, people such as Noah or Abraham or Moses or Gideon or David. Even the pagan prostitute Rahab who protected some Israelites is included in this list of great men and women of God.
Indeed, in the genealogy of Jesus mentioned in Matthew 1 we find three foreign women included: Tamar, Rahab and Ruth. And my point is, if there is a heavenly list of all God’s people throughout the ages, my name will be included there – as well yours, if you have let Christ give you newness of life and forgiveness of sins. So many people…
In fact, before I fell asleep last night and had my dream, I was thinking of ALL the people who have ever lived on earth. Right now there are 8 billion on this planet. How many more were around over the centuries? What I found to be so amazing is that if God knows everything about me, if he knows me by name, if he is intimately aware of my every thought and action, this is true of every other person who has ever lived.
That alone should do our heads in. What an amazing God we have who knows in exhaustive detail everything there is to be known about every single human being ever born. Yet he treats each one of us as if we were the only person on earth. He is able to give us individually his complete and undivided attention. And he does that with everyone!
So if you are thinking that no one knows about you or cares about you, well, there is at least one person who does: God. And if you are one of those people who feels alone, unloved, unwanted and unknown, be aware that there are so many others as well who might feel this way.
As mentioned, I am back in the book of Job, and early on it really struck me to read what he said soon after God allowed him to be afflicted so very greatly. Consider just a few passages:
“Why did I not die at birth,come out from the womb and expire?” (3:11)
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COVID Wars, the State, and a Great Awakening

“In Romans 13, Paul is arguing that the state or civil government is a biblically sanctioned institution. He is not saying how Christians are to live before or submit to that institution except that we are to not revolt against it in private revolution but are, instead, to support it and submit to it as legitimate sphere of authority handed down from God, insofar as it fulfils its God-ordained function. This careful distinction about Romans 13, that Paul primarily argues that the institution of government exists but not how we should exist under it, allows the necessary theological and practical qualifications that must be granted if we are to harmonise the many other passages of Scripture that regulate the proper occasions for resistance against government.” 

When we hear the phrase, ‘the Great Awakening,’ we think of some amazing religious revivals that occurred in America in the first half of the 1700s. But here I am using it in a more generic sense. That is, the events of 2020-2021 caused many people to wake from their slumber, rouse themselves out of their stupor, and really start questioning things, including the role and reach of the state.
How we should understand civil government in general, and a biblical text like Romans 13:1-7 in particular, both came into sharp focus during this time – and ever since then. While I had written often about statism and the rise of tyrannical government before, during the Covid reign of terror with all the lockdowns, medical fascism and violation of basic human rights and freedoms, I especially started discussing all this.
As but one indication of this, I just searched my site for the term ‘statism’. It is found in some 200 articles, with it first being used in 1992. But the bulk of the times it is used has been over the last four years or so. Thus my thinking and writing about the state, its limits, and its abuses, certainly came to the fore when the Covid virus broke out.
I was not alone during this period in starting to rethink things, question things, and revisit familiar texts such as Romans 13. So many other Christians did the same. One such person is an American pastor and New Testament professor, Timothy Decker. And his new book, A Revolutionary Reading of Romans 13 begins as did my article: by noting how Covid changed everything.
As he says in his Introduction, the pandemic caused him and other pastors to “take up matters of theology and passages of Scripture that have previously been left to minor significance.” Romans 13 is of course the main text he has in mind.
In short, he says that generally speaking we are to obey civil government, but there are many times when we are called to disobey. The commands found in Romans 13 must be seen in light of the totality of Scripture, as well as through the lens of the circumstances that existed when Paul wrote this epistle.
The historical and chronological situation must be kept in mind. There are two areas he dwells on in the opening chapters: the nature of the Roman government at the time, and the revolutionary zeal of some Jews living then. As to the former, Emperor Nero reigned from AD 54 to AD 68, dying at just 30 years of age.
Most Christians are aware of him as being an evil tyrant who mercilessly persecuted Christians. But as Decker reminds us, early on he was much less so, and only later did he become an arch enemy of Christianity. He really only targeted them after the great fire of Rome in July of AD 64.
However, most scholars agree that Paul wrote Romans around AD 57-58. If he had written it later, would he have said things somewhat differently on this matter? What we do know is that the really hard-core persecution of Christians was not occurring in Rome when he did send his epistle.
The second point Decker wants to emphasise is the various revolutionary strands found among the Jews back then. We know about such things as the Jewish Revolt of BC 66–73. And in the gospels and the book of Acts we read more about such matters.
One of the disciples of Jesus was Simon the Zealot. The Zealots were a radical sect of Jewish patriots, or freedom fighters, committed to overthrowing Rome. And Barabbas for example was guilty of rebellion (“insurrection” ESV) and murder (Luke 23:19); while others such as Theudas and Judas had been dealt with by the authorities for their radicalism (Acts 5:36-37).
All these considerations must be taken into account as we try to get a handle on what exactly Paul is urging believers to do in Romans 13. By way of summary thus far, Decker says this:
If Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, were going to publicly preach and confess “Jesus is Lord” (which is tantamount to saying “Caesar is not”), then Rome may not have looked favorably on Christians, including Paul, who was seeking to make his way to Rome as a launching point. This is even more so if revolution and refusing to pay taxes were seen to be corresponding ideals.
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Suffering Saints and a Glorious Homecoming

There is a heavenly homecoming ahead for us believers. All the suffering and hardships that we have gone through in this life will seem like nothing compared to the glories of heaven and being once again with those that we love—including of course our Lord. We will indeed be with him and others for eternity. 

Two basic truths the believer can count on are these: in this life we will suffer, and in the next life we will be free of that and will forever be exalting in our Lord. I want to look at these realities by appealing to two great men of God: Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), and Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). And I want to draw upon two books which both came out in 2007.
In The Suffering Letters of C. H. Spurgeon annotated by Hannah Wyncoll (Wakeman Trust) we find much of value from the “Prince of Preachers” who suffered so much. Many letters not published before are found in this helpful work. In it we are reminded of just what Spurgeon went through in his exceedingly busy and productive life:
For thirteen years up to 1867 C. H. Spurgeon was able to exert himself fully in all the many ministries built up under the auspices of the Tabernacle. But in October of that year he suffered his first serious episode of illness, and for the next 24 years sustained regular bouts of vomiting, fever and considerable pain, with swelling and rheumatic pain in his limbs, and also extreme mental exhaustion. His work output in the light of such ill health was truly amazing…
Spurgeon’s literary work was immense. He compiled more than 140 books, maintained the monthly The Sword and the Trowel magazine (from 1865), and edited the weekly sermon (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit) which enjoyed a considerable distribution. Amazingly, he responded to an average of 500 letters each week.
Spurgeon started visiting the south of France from 1871 for a few weeks during the winter to alleviate the pain of his condition. Once there, however, he did not stop his work. He would conduct morning prayers, sometimes with up to 60 people attending. He continued to edit the weekly sermon and The Sword and the Trowel magazine as well as continuing to work on many books, such as the seven-volume set (originally) The Treasury of David. He also preached, when well enough at local churches. (pp. 9-11)
Amazing indeed. Let me quote from just one of his letters. This one is from late in 1890, just a few years before his death. He wrote, in part:
Let us always seek sanctification through affliction rather than escape from it. I have no question that there is great wisdom in the Lord’s laying aside his instruments. It is for his own glory, for thereby he shows that he is not in need of them; and it is for their humbling, for hereby they learn how deep is their need of him. The uninterrupted reception of blessing through one channel might breed in our foolish hearts an idolatrous confidence in the means and therefore there comes a break in the use of that means, that the Lord may be the more tenderly remembered. We may be sure that, if the Lord dries up a cistern, it is because he would have us fly to the fountain of inexhaustible strength.
I desire to rejoice that, in all these thirty-six years, with sicknesses so frequently upon me, I have never been compelled to drop either the weekly sermon or the monthly magazine. There has either been an interval of power, or I have been a little forward with the work when the stroke has laid me aside. May I not say “Hitherto hath the Lord helped me”? Having received help of God, I continue unto this day, and I shall abide in my calling so long as there is work for me to do for my Lord. (p. 71)
It is the reality of heaven that all suffering saints look forward to. In this matter I will quote from Sam Storms and his very helpful book, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections (Crossway). In his chapter on heaven, he said this about Edwards:
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The Magdeburg Confession and Resistance Theory

But its [the Magdeburg Confession] importance has stood the test of time. It especially came to the fore just a few years ago when the Covid reign of terror descended upon much of the world…As this globalist statism is likely to only get worse in the days ahead, returning to these older documents become more needful than ever.

One of the earliest Protestant statements on the place of resistance to wicked rulers is the Magdeburg Confession. The confession was written by a group of German pastors at Magdeburg laying out why they had to resist the 1548 Interim of Charles V. Among other things, it set out the doctrine of the lesser magistrates, but more on that in a moment.
Given that religion and politics were so closely intertwined at the time, it is not surprising that the Confession dealt with both matters. But before proceeding, a bit of an historical overview–via a timeline–should be offered here.
1483–Luther is born.1497-1498–Luther a student at Magdeburg.1505–Luther’s conversion.1517–Luther posts his 95 Theses.1521–The Edict of Worms condemns Luther and the Reformation.1530–The Diet of Augsburg convened by Charles V to deal with religious differences. Philip Melanchthon represents Luther, with the “Augsburg Confession” being presented there.1531–The Schmalkaldic League is formed. It was a military alliance of Lutheran princes within the Holy Roman Empire. The Lutheran city Magdeburg is one of the first to join.1546–Luther dies.May 15, 1548–Emperor Charles V imposes his Interim, seeking to force Protestants back into Catholicism.April 13, 1550–The Magdeburg Confession is written.October, 1550–The siege of Magdeburg begins.November 4, 1551–The siege is lifted after the defenders of the city withstand the forces of Charles V.
The Confession is short (around 90 pages in English text) and has three main parts. It restates various principles and beliefs enunciated by Luther, and in the ‘Second Part’ it famously discusses the role of the lesser magistrate to stand up against ungodly tyrants. In the Colvin translation (see reading list below) it goes from pages 47-72.
It should be pointed out that the word “magistrate” here means any form of civil government or civil ruler, be it a king or prince or governor or president. This section is comprised of three arguments. The first argument opens with these words:
The Magistrate is an ordinance of God for honor to good works, and a terror to evil works (Rom. 13). Therefore when he begins to be a terror to good works and honor to evil, there is no longer in him, because he does thus, the ordinance of God, but the ordinance of the devil. And he who resists such works, does not resist the ordinance of God, but the ordinance of the devil. But he who resists, it is necessary that he resist in his own station, as a matter of his calling….
When, moreover, he deposes an inferior [lesser] magistrate who is unwilling to obey him in such a crime, and replaces him with someone who is willing, by the very fact that he now honors and promotes evil works, and dishonors and destroys the good, he is no longer the ordinance of God, but the ordinance of the devil…
The writers go on to distinguish between various levels of wrongdoing or evil: “Here we must also distinguish different degrees of offense or injury. Since there is a great difference between them, we must consider whom a magistrate is able and ought to resist, and in what way, lest we suppose that we are permitted to make any injury we choose into an opportunity to disturb our superiors.”
They examine four such levels or degrees, and say of course that only the most severe of them warrant such resistance. Thus they say of the final level:
The fourth and highest level of injury by superiors is more than tyrannical. It is when tyrants begin to be so mad that they persecute with guile and arms, not so much the just persons of inferior magistrates and their subjects, as their right itself, especially the right of anyone of the highest and most necessary rank; and that they persecute God, the author of right in persons, not by any sudden and momentary fury, but with a deliberate and persistent attempt to destroy good works for all posterity.
The second argument begins as follows:
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At Least Know Something about Those You Criticise

We find so many cases of folks arguing for their position, but too often without any real understanding of what they are criticising or arguing against. By all means argue for what you believe, but at least make sure what you are attacking is what the other side actually has said or believes.

It is quite easy to be an armchair critic. It is quite easy to attack something that you actually know little about. It is quite easy to criticise something you do not really understand. It is quite easy to think you have won a debate by ignoring what the other side says. It is quite easy to set up straw men and knock them down. It is quite easy to be a partisan if you refuse to hear what the other side is saying.
I think you get my point. Plenty of folks are happy to remain in ignorance about what they are arguing against. They might be well read on their particular side of an issue, but they have read little or nothing about or by the other side. Generally speaking, we need to know what it is we are refuting. And that means reading some of their material at the very least.
Sure, this is not always to be the case. For the Christian for example, I am NOT saying that for every book you read on Christianity, you should read one on Satanism as well. But, if your thing is to defend the faith and deal with opposing views, you should know something about the latter.
Thus if you are seeking to be a Christian apologist – even to a little extent – and want to contrast Christianity say with Islam, you should read a bit about it. Perhaps reading some of the core documents is where to begin: the Koran, the hadith, the sira, and so on.
If you are taking on the new atheists, reading some of their work is to be expected. When I wrote a two-part critique of Dawkin’s The God Delusion when it first came out in 2006, I did not rely only on other Christian assessments, but I went out and bought the book (even though I really did not want to spend money on it!).
To have a fair and honest debate with someone, knowing something about their position is of course crucial. And it is not just for debates that this is vital. Simply for clear communication with anyone on anything, this is needed. Even just for a husband and wife to get along, they need to be able to really hear and understand what the other one is saying.
So whether it is reading or listening, making sure we understand what another person is saying is crucial. In this regard, there are plenty of basic books out there on communication skills and the like. Two volumes that are a bit more intellectually inclined by the famous philosopher Mortimer Adler can be mentioned here.
One is How To Read a Book (1940) and the other is How to Speak, How to Listen (Collier, 1983). Let me offer just one quote from the first volume:
When you buy a book, you establish a property right in it, just as you do in clothes or furniture when you buy and pay for them. But the act of purchase is actually only the prelude to possession in the case of a book. Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it—which comes to the same thing—is by writing in it. Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake—not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author. Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him. (p. 49)
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