The Riches of God’s Word

The insignificance of the amount of gold, silver, and clothing which that people took away with it from Egypt, in comparison with the wealth that it later attained in Jerusalem, as shown particularly in the reign of Solomon, is the measure of the insignificance of all knowledge, I mean useful knowledge, that is collected from pagan books, when compared with the knowledge contained in the divine scriptures. For what a person learns independently of scripture is condemned there if it is harmful, but found there if it is useful. And when one has found there all the useful knowledge that can be learnt anywhere else, one will also find there, in much greater abundance, things which are learnt nowhere else at all, but solely in the remarkable sublimity and the remarkable humility of the scriptures.

On Christian Teaching, Augustine, last para of Book 2.

Augustine recognised that there is a lot of good to gained from knowledge from the writings of the ‘pagans’. This is of course rooted in the doctrine of God’s creation and his common grace. So Christians should learn what they can. Of course there is a lot of nonsense out there and stuff that is downright evil, but with discernment there is much to be gained.

However, Christians need to have the right perspective, and seeing clearly is one of our problems. If we see the Scripture as another ‘subject’, a kind of add-on to all that other knowledge, then we have the wrong perspective. We have not got the right prescription for our knowledge glasses.

Augustine helps us get the right perspective by using an analogy drawn from the biblical story. He notes that when the Israelites finally left Egypt, they were able to take with them much gold, silver and fine cloth that belonged to the Egyptians – things of this world but which furnished them with the materials necessary for making the Tabernacle. But it was nothing compared to the splendour of the kingdom under Solomon, by the grace of God.

It is just an analogy, but it helps us vividly see that whatever we gain from the world’s knowledge, it is small compared to the benefit to be obtained from knowing and plumbing the depths of God’s word. For many of us, that is hard to see. We don’t have this perspective. That’s why we need writers like Augustine, godly friends and faithful preachers, who can help us get the perspective we need so that we can see more and more clearly the riches found in scripture.

The Riches of God’s Word

Call to Me

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.
— Jeremiah 33:3

I have very much enjoyed reading Andrew Bonar’s Diary and Life over the last few weeks. Some friends gave it to me when I was about 20 years old and I remember devouring it then (well, as best as a slow-reading scientist could). It had a big effect on me – one of those books that shapes you. I even remember starting a diary, just like Bonar. Maybe even the style was like Bonar. What fools we can be when we are young!

But I was clearly too young to appreciate many things he wrote about. It is hard for a 20 year old, who hasn’t experienced very much of anything, to appreciate the trials of various phases of life, the longings of the heart, the frustrations with one’s own limitations, the jolting tragedies of lost loved ones. So my reading of the book again, some 35 years later, with over 30 years of marriage under my belt, and a few years of ministry, it was like reading a new book.

It struck me with great power, Bonar’s sense of loss at the death of his wife in his mid-50s. It seemed he did not share his suffering with many people. He wrote about Isabella with great tenderness in the diary. In the first few years afterwards he constantly reflected on her departing. Everything else seemed to recede into the background.

However what emerged in his later years, it seems to me, is a more real, deeper trust in the Lord. His longing for heaven and for Christ grew stronger. He sought to devote more time to prayer and meditation. It was a tough discipline in the face of many distractions as a city minister, but he constantly wrote about it.

One of the verses that Bonar came back to again and again in latter years was the one quoted above from Jeremiah. It comes after the tough disciplines of Jeremiah 32 (Jeremiah has been imprisoned), but after the promise of future blessings and the everlasting covenant promise “they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Jer 32:38).

It seems to me it is a command for the New Covenant time, as well as for Jeremiah. Bonar thought so. In light of his great creative power, “call to me”  is a is a command yet a warm invitation from the LORD to pray. Such an invitation is all over the Bible, yet it seems to be one of the most difficult ones for Christians to heed. We rest on our own native abilities to fix things in life and in the church, even when they don’t seem to get fixed (“but surely I can make things better this time!”). Yet all the time God says, “call to me”.

The promise is wonderful: “I will answer you”. Yes, we know it is according to his will, in his own time, etc etc. But he will answer. Is that not what we want to know? That God will speak to us and has spoken to us? Yes, his means is through the written word. But there is reading the Bible and there is reading the Bible. There is hearing the word preached and there is hearing the word preached. One is words on the page or words in the air. The other is God by his Spirit showing us Christ and laying out before us his plans and purposes.

“I will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” Whatever we think we have known of the the Lord, there is more to be found, the hidden things. We mustn’t be satisfied with a superficial reading or merely attending church. Rather, we need to be on our knees, heeding the warm invitation to “call to me” eagerly desiring everything the Lord has for us.

Call to Me


The author of Hebrews 5:11-14 warns his readers and hearers about them being “dull of hearing”. Not that their physical auditory apparatus is not working, but spiritually speaking they are hearing but not understanding (cf. Mark 4:12). In my experience it is a problem one sees in the preaching ministry, that those listening do not seem to pick up the thrust of what is being preached. There may be a problem with the preacher, and that is a concern I always have, but there is this other problem of the “dullness” of the hearer.

The greek word for “dull” is also translated in the ESV as “sluggish” in Hebrews 6:12 (or lazy in the NIV, slothful in the AV).  This rendering fills out the meaning of this problem of dullness of hearing. It got me thinking about the “sluggard” verses of Proverbs. Examination of those shows some of the problems that arise, especially as it applies to the problem of hearing and applying God’s word amongst professing church members.

Sluggards are dreamers who don’t do anything

Proverbs 13:4 – The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

I have met some people like this in my time. They are full of great ideas and big dreams, whether for serving the Lord in their family or church or career. But they never seem to  get round to doing anything about it.  They can’t keep focus long enough to be disciplined and diligent.

Sluggards always face problems of their own making

Proverbs 15:9 – The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.

Some people seem to face a continual sequence of difficulties which could be avoided if they weren’t so lazy. For a sluggard so many matters in life become problems and can always fill you in on a personal tale of woe.

Sluggards are filled with fears and worries.

Proverbs 22:13 – The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!”

Sluggards are inside, safe and secure in their inactivity. Such people fear that the worst could happen to them if they stepped outside. So they don’t take the risk.

Sluggards don’t see things through to the end.

26:15 – The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.

I remember as a young Christian laughing at this the first time I read it. It is such a pathetic image of weariness in doing ordinary things. But some people are like this with the Christian life. The means of grace to believers are ordinary. But sluggards can’t be bothered fully participating.

Sluggards wonder what’s wrong with everyone else.

26:16 – The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.

The lazy people cannot see just how dull of hearing and sluggish they are but instead think they are incredibly wise and clever. The effect of dullness is to cocoon such people in little self-made world of self-wisdom where “I” becomes everything.  They have an answer for every weakness, every failure, every stupid act, every lazy non-act. To the sluggard it all seems so reasonable. The trouble is that all everyone else can see is foolishness.



Prayer in the Life of the Church

I am reposting a quote I gave out a few years ago now, but remains as relevant today as then. In Eric J Alexander’s Prayer: A Biblical Perspective (Banner of Truth, 2012) he gives  testimony to the value and power of corporate prayer in the life of the church. Enjoy:
I came to faith in a church in Glasgow where the minister, Dr William Fitch, taught us regularly from Scripture the central place of prayer in the life of the church. The church prayer meeting was held on Saturday evening.The evidence that someone had been converted to Christ in the congregation was that they would walk into the prayer meeting on a Saturday evening. That meeting became the power house, under God, for a remarkable work of grace in that church.The only reason a believer would be absent from it would be that they were either ill or away from home. Very properly, people called it the ‘prayer fellowship’, for that was where we experienced true Christian fellowship and mutual support at the deepest level.
– p.74


Prayer in the Life of the Church