Religious souls need water, too

On John 7:37 [“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’”], Bonar writes:

“Who are they who need this living water? Not heathens; not profane and irreligious; but Jews; religious Jews; engaged in the worship of God, at one of their most joyful feasts. This is remarkable.

In the fourth chapter it is to the Samaritan that he presents the cup of living water. In the book of the Revelation, it is offered indiscriminately to all, Jew and Gentile. So also in the fifty-fifth of Isaiah. But here it is to the Jew, the religious Jew. He is the thirsty one, he needs living water.

His rites, and feasts, and sacrifices cannot fill him, nor quench his thirst. He has still a deep void within,—an intense thirst, which calls for something more spiritual and divine. It is not then to the idolatrous pagan that the Lord speaks; not merely to the lover of pleasure or lust; the heedless sinner. It is to the men who frequent the sanctuary,—who pray and praise outwardly; who go to the Lord’s table. It is to them He speaks. Perhaps the thirstiest of our race are to be found among our so-called religious men,—and I do not mean the hypocrite or Pharisee,—but those who, with devout conscientiousness, attend to what are called religious duties in all their parts.

They go through the whole round and routine of service, but they are not happy. They are still thirsty and weary. This external religiousness helps to pacify conscience, but it does not make them happy. Sabbath comes after Sabbath, and finds them in their place in the sanctuary, but they are not happy. It is a form or a performance; an empty vessel. They are just where they were. There are multitudes of such in our day; in our churches; at our communion tables, To them Jesus speaks, ‘If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink.’ Duties, ceremonies, and performances cannot make you happy. They are a weariness. They leave you often more thirsty than before. But deal with Jesus, as God’s gift, as the dispenser of God’s gift,—you will find in Him the fountain of living water.”

—Horatius Bonar, Light and Truth: Bible Thoughts and Themes (Dust & Ashes, 2002), 2:250—251.

O death, where is your victory?

“We cannot but hate death,
even when we have ceased to fear it,
and know that for us its sting has been extracted.
We hate it,
and thrust it from us;
loathing its advances,
and waging daily war with it—
seeking by every appliance of skill to overcome it and ward off its stroke.

We hate it because of its
shadow,
and its coldness,
and its silence.
We hate it as the great robber
of our loves and joys,
who gives nothing but takes everything.
It cuts so many ties;
it rends so many hearts;
it silences so many voices;
it thins so many firesides;
it comes with its dark veil,
its screen of ice,
between friend and friend,
between soul and soul,
between parent and child,
between husband and wife,
between sister and brother.

Of human sympathies it has none;
it concerns not itself about our joys or sorrows;
it spares no dear one,
and restores no lost one;
it is pitiless and dumb;
it is as powerful as it is inexorable,
striking down the weak,
and wrestling with the strong
till they succumb and fall. …

Its history is one of evil,
not of good;
of wrong,
and sadness,
and terror;
of breaking down,
not of building up;
of scattering,
not of gathering;
of darkness,
not of light;
of disease,
and pain,
and tossings to and fro,
not of health and brightness. …

Death has been the sword of law for ages;
but when it has done its work on earth,
God takes this sword,
red with the blood of millions,
snaps it in pieces before the universe,
and casts its fragments into the flame. …

We preach Jesus and the resurrection;
Jesus the resurrection and the life;
Jesus our life.
We bring glad tidings concerning this risen One,
and that finished work of which resurrection is the seal;
glad tidings concerning God’s free love in connection with this risen One.
The knowledge of this risen One is
forgiveness,
and life,
and glory.

Oh then, what is there in our dying world like this to impart consolation and gladness?
We shall not die,
but live.
Eternity is a life,
and not a death;
a life with Christ,
and a life in Christ.
For the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne
shall lead us to the living fountains of waters,
and God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes.”

—Horatius Bonar, Light and Truth: Bible Thoughts and Themes (Dust & Ashes, 2002), 5:229—236.

New: Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy

Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy by Horatius Bonar

In his exposition of Psalm 80, Augustine defines idolatry as the inability to break from “earthbound thoughts.” His understanding of idolatry stretches to encompass a communion of idolaters—of “pagans” and “heretics,” of both the polytheistic man clutching an armful of gods, and the man who identifies himself as a Christian yet whose so-called faith does not extend beyond what is seen. For Augustine, the link here between the “pagan” and the “heretic” is a paralleled inability to interpret this world by the eternal hope and promise in Christ. The antithesis of idolatry, for Augustine, is not to gain more “spirituality,” but to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).

Augustine’s understanding of idolatry must surely have been shocking, especially to the professing Christians who were forced to stop and ask themselves a simple question: Is my religion based upon anything more than “earthbound thoughts”?

The echo of Augustine’s exhortation—delivered almost 1600 years ago—continues to be an important in light of various influences (like theological liberalism) where it’s not uncommon to hear Christianity described in words that carry little more significance than “earthbound thoughts.” Talk of heaven and talk of hell—both used by Christ as motivating factors for decisions in this life—can too easily become unpopular themes in contemporary books and sermons. And too frequently they are not part of our thinking as individual Christians.

Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy

I was reminded of Augustine’s challenge to the “communion of idolaters” when I saw Reformation Heritage Book’s new title, Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). Here Bonar models for us how to interpret the difficult circumstances of our life on earth in light of the eternal promises and purposes of God.

Let me briefly outline the content of the book, and provide an “above-minded” excerpt at the end.

Night of Weeping

In the first half of the book, Bonar explains the nature of God’s discipline towards his children. God disciplines his children out of his eternal character—his love, wisdom, faithfulness, and power. This discipline is a training of the mind, will, heart, and conscience. God uses bodily sickness, bereavement, and adversity as he sets to work refining, sifting, pruning, and polishing. During this discipline our comforts come in several forms—Jesus weeps with us as we partake of his suffering, he reassures us in his word that all things work together for our good, he pours out special grace in every trial, he uses our afflictions as an opportunity to glorify God, he makes us useful here on earth, he supplies the means of mortifying sin, and he provides the Holy Spirit to comfort us.

In our age, which sometimes teeters on an overdose of “temporal spirituality,” the eternal spirituality and glory we are being prepared for can be easily forgotten. Life in Christ is preparation for something greater—”the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Bonar calls us to pay attention to the suffering and trials of this life because God is at work in all of the trials and struggles of this life, to prepare us for something greater, more gracious, and more glorious.

Simply stated, our trials are God’s means of purifying our desires and preparing us for the “pleasures forevermore” awaiting those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb!

Morning of Joy

The second half of the book details these eternally glorious promises of God. God disciplines us now, to prepare us eternally. This connection is important as we fend of the encroaching idolatry in our own hearts. Throughout the book, Bonar encourages us to look beyond the circumstances in life and to the eternal weight of glory. Here is a lengthy excerpt from chapter 12, “The Glory.”

In those vast blocks of unquarried rock what various forms are lying concealed! What shapes of statuary or architecture are there! Yet they have no history. They can have none. They are but parts of a hideous block, in which not one line or curve of beauty is visible. But the noise of hammers is heard. Man lifts up his tool. A single block is severed. Again he lifts up his tool, and it begins to assume a form; till, as stroke after stroke falls on it, and touch after touch smooths and shapes it, the perfect image of the human form is seen, and it seems as if the hand of the artist had only been employed in unwrapping the stony folds from that fair form, and awakening it from the slumber of its marble tomb. From the moment that the chisel touched that piece of rock its history began.

Such is the case of a saint. From the moment that the hand of the Spirit is laid on him to begin the process of separation, from that moment his history begins. He then receives a conscious, outstanding personality, that fits him for having a history—a history entirely marvelous; a history whose pages are both written and read in heaven; a history which in its divine brightness spreads over eternity. His true dignity now commences. He is fit to take a place in history. Each event in his life becomes worthy of a record. “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.” …

“The wise shall inherit glory” (Prov. 3:35). “The saints shall be joyful in glory” (Ps. 149:5). They are “vessels of mercy, afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:23). That to which we are called is “eternal glory” (1 Peter 5:10). That which we obtain is “salvation in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). It is to glory that God is “bringing many sons” (Heb. 2:10); so that as He, through whom we are brought to it, is “crowned with glory and honour,” so shall we be (Heb. 2:9). We are “to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). We are not only “witnesses of the sufferings of Christ, but partakers of the glory that shall be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1). So that the word of exhortation runs thus: “Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:13). And the promise is not only, “if we suffer we shall also reign with him;” but, “if we suffer with him, we shall be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:17). …

Glory, then, is our inheritance. The best, the richest, the brightest, the most beautiful of all that is in God, of good, and rich, and bright, and beautiful, shall be ours. The glory that fills heaven above, the glory that spreads over the earth beneath, shall be ours. But while “the glory of the terrestrial” shall be ours, yet in a truer sense “the glory of the celestial shall be ours.” Already by faith we have taken our place amid things celestial, “being quickened together with Christ, and raised up with him, and made to sit with him in heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). Thus we have already claimed the celestial as, our own; and having risen with Christ, we “set our affection upon things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2). Far-ranging dominion shall be ours; with all varying shades and kinds of glory shall we be encompassed, circle beyond circle stretching over the universe; but it is the celestial glory that is so truly ours, as the redeemed and the risen; and in the midst of that celestial glory shall be the family mansion, the church’s dwelling-place and palace—our true home for eternity. …

All that awaits us is glorious. There is an inheritance in reversion; and it is “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 1:4). There is a rest, a sabbath-keeping in store for us (Heb. 4:9); and this “rest shall be glorious” (Isa. 11:10). The kingdom which we claim is a glorious kingdom. The crown which we are to wear is a glorious crown. The city of our habitation is a glorious city. The garments which shall clothe us are garments “for glory and for beauty.” Our bodies shall be glorious bodies, fashioned after the likeness of Christ’s “glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). Our society shall be that of the glorified. Our songs shall be songs of glory. And of the region which we are to inhabit it is said, that “the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Rev. 21:23).

The hope of this glory cheers us. From under a canopy of night we look out upon these promised scenes of blessedness, and we are comforted. Our dark thoughts are softened down, even when they are not wholly brightened. For day is near, and joy is near, and the warfare is ending, and the tear shall be dried up, and the shame be lost in the glory, and “we shall be presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.”

-Horatius Bonar, Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy (Reformation Heritage, 2008), pp. 227-232.