Thursday, June 19, 2014

Journaling God of All Comfort #1

God of All Comfort. Hannah Whitall Smith. 1953. Moody Publishers. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]

Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) is the author of God of All Comfort and The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life. Both books are available through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. (Though print editions are also available. I've owned these two in print for decades.)

Why journal? Why not journal?! I like to take my time reading Christian classics, and by journaling, I get to share some good quotes while they are fresh to me. Sometimes books ask some really good questions that make me think as well. I'd like to share those with you as well. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well.

Today I'll be sharing from the first two chapters in The God of All Comfort.

Hannah Whitall Smith begins by sharing her purpose for writing the book.
Why, I asked myself, should the children of God lead such utterly uncomfortable religious lives when He has led us to believe that His yoke would be easy and His burden light? Why are we tormented with so many spiritual doubts, and such heavy spiritual anxieties? Why do we find it so hard to be sure that God really loves us, and why is it that we never seem able to believe long at a time in His kindness and His care? How is it that we can let ourselves suspect Him of forgetting us and forsaking us in times of need? We can trust our earthly friends, and can be comfortable in their companionship, and why is it then that we cannot trust our heavenly Friend, and that we seem unable to be comfortable in His service?
There is a feeling abroad that Christ has offered in His Gospel more than He has to give. People think that they have not exactly realized what was predicted as the portion of the children of God. But why is this so? Has the kingdom of God been overadvertised, or is it only that it has been underbelieved; has the Lord Jesus Christ been overestimated, or has He only been undertrusted?”
What I want to do in this book is to show, in my small measure, what I firmly believe, that the kingdom of God could not possibly be overadvertised, nor the Lord Jesus Christ overestimated, for eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him; and that all the difficulty arises from the fact that we have underbelieved and undertrusted.    
I loved this question: Has the kingdom of God been over advertised, or is it only that it has been under believed?
She then shares some stories. I am almost positive I've heard them somewhere else too. But truth is truth, right? It can always be repeated to our benefit!
A wild young fellow, who was brought to the Lord at a mission meeting, and who became a rejoicing Christian and lived an exemplary life afterward, was asked by someone what he did to get converted. “Oh,” he said, “I did my part, and the Lord did His.”
“But what was your part,” asked the inquirer, “and what was the Lord’s part?”
“My part,” was the prompt reply, “was to run away, and the Lord’s part was to run after me until He caught me.” A most significant answer; but how few can understand it!
God’s part is always to run after us. Christ came to seek and to save that which is lost. “What man of you,” He says, “having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing.” This is always the divine part; but in our foolishness we do not understand it, but think that the Lord is the one who is lost, and that our part is to seek and find Him. The very expressions we use show this. We urge sinners to “seek the Lord,” and we talk about having “found” Him. “Have you found the Saviour?” asked a too zealous mission worker of a happy, trusting little girl.
With a look of amazement, she replied in a tone of wonder, “Why, I did not know the Saviour was lost!”
She then introduces her big idea or main point:
Your trouble is that you have got a wrong idea of what knowing God is, or at least the kind of knowing I mean. For I do not mean any mystical interior revelations of any kind. Such revelations are delightful when you can have them, but they are not always at your command, and they are often variable and uncertain. The kind of knowing I mean is just the plain matter-of-fact knowledge of God’s nature and character that comes to us by believing what is revealed to us in the Bible concerning Him. The apostle John at the close of his Gospel says, regarding the things he had been recording: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book: but these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, ye might have life through his name.” It is believing the thing that is written, not the thing that is inwardly revealed, that is to give life; and the kind of knowing I mean is the knowing that comes from believing the things that are written.
I mean, to be practical, that when I read in the Bible that God is love, I am to believe it, just because “it is written,” and not because I have had any inward revelation that is true; and when the Bible says that He cares for us as He cares for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and that the very hairs of our head are all numbered, I am to believe it, just because it is written, no matter whether I have any inward revelation of it or not.
It is of vital importance for us to understand that the Bible is a statement, not of theories, but of actual facts; and that things are not true because they are in the Bible, but they are only in the Bible because they are true.
I think the book makes a very valid point: The kind of knowing I mean is just the plain matter-of-fact knowledge of God’s nature and character that comes to us by believing what is revealed to us in the Bible concerning HimIt is believing the thing that is written, not the thing that is inwardly revealed, that is to give life; and the kind of knowing I mean is the knowing that comes from believing the things that are written.

She elaborates:
It was a great discovery to me when I grasped this idea. It seemed to take all uncertainty and all speculation out of the revelation given us in the Bible of the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to make all that is written concerning Him to be simply a statement of incontrovertible facts. And facts we can believe, and what is more, we do believe them as soon as we see that they are facts. Inward revelations we cannot manage, but anyone in his senses can believe the thing that is written. And although this may seem very dry and bare to start with, it will, if steadfastly persevered in, result in very blessed inward revelations, and will sooner or later lead us out into such a knowledge of God as will transform our lives. This kind of knowing brings us convictions; and to my mind convictions are far superior to any inward revelations, delightful as these last are. An inward revelation may be upset by the state of one’s health, or by many other upsetting things, but a conviction is permanent.
Nothing can set our hearts at rest but a real acquaintance with God; for, after all, everything in our salvation must depend upon Him in the last instance.
She closes with:
Mistakes in the telling there may be, and for these I ask the charity of my readers. But the thing I want to say, and to say in such a way that no one can fail to understand it, is not a mistake; and that thing is this, that our religious lives ought to be full of joy, and peace, and comfort, and that, if we become better acquainted with God, they will be.   
I think it is important for readers to feel comfortable questioning authors when it comes to theology. Just because someone has published a book doesn't mean they are correct all the time in matters of faith and theology. The Bible alone has authority in a believer's life. And every book has to be examined or compared to what is revealed in Scripture. 

The second chapter is "What Is His Name?" 
The true ground for peace and comfort is only to be found in the sort of God we have. Therefore, we need first of all to find out what is His name, or, in other words, what is His character—in short, what sort of a God He is.
In Bible language name always means character. Names are not given arbitrarily there, as with us, but are always given with reference to the character or work of the person named. Creden in his Concordance says that the names of God signify that which He really is, and are used throughout the Bible to express His attributes, and His purposes, His glory, His grace, His mercy, and His love, His wisdom, and power, and goodness. A careful study of His names will make this plain.  
The question of all questions for each one of us, therefore, is this one, “What is his name?” To the Israelites God Himself answered this question. And God said unto Moses, “I am that I am”; and He said, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you.” And God said, moreover, unto Moses: “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob hath sent me unto you; this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.”
In the Gospel of John Christ adopts this name of “I am” as His own. When the Jews were questioning Him as to His authority, He said unto them: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was I am.” And in the Book of Revelation He again declares: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.”
These simple words, I am, express therefore eternity and unchangeableness of existence, which is the very first element necessary in a God who is to be depended upon. No dependence could be placed by any one of us upon a changeable God. He must be the same yesterday, today, and forever, if we are to have any peace or comfort.
But is this all His name implies, simply “I am”? I am what?—we ask. What does this “I am” include?
I believe it includes everything the human heart longs for and needs.
But if our hearts are full of our own wretched “I ams” we will have no ears to hear His glorious, soul-satisfying “I am.” We say, “Alas, I am such a poor weak creature,” or “I am so foolish,” or “I am so good-for-nothing,” or “I am so helpless”; and we give these pitiful “I ams” of ours as the reason of the wretchedness and discomfort of our religious lives, and even feel that we are very much to be pitied that things are so hard for us.
I do think that is true to some degree. But if our hearts are full of our own wretched “I ams” we will have no ears to hear His glorious, soul-satisfying “I am.” 

What do you think?
If you are an uncomfortable Christian, then the only thing to give you a thoroughly comfortable religious life is to know God… There are two things necessary: first, God must reveal Himself; and second, we must accept His revelation and believe what He reveals. 
Christ revealed God by what He was, by what He did, and by what He said. From the cradle to the grave, every moment of His life was a revelation of God. We must go to Him then for our knowledge of God, and we must refuse to believe anything concerning God that is not revealed to us in Christ. All other revelations are partial, and therefore not wholly true. Only in Christ do we see God as He is; for Christ is declared to be the “express image” of God.
Just what God would have said and done under the circumstances, that Christ said and did. “I do nothing of myself,” was His continual assertion. “I say nothing of myself; the Father that dwelleth in me he doeth the works”; “I and my Father are one”; “He that seeth me seeth my Father”.
Words could not tell us more plainly than the Bible tells us that in order to know God we have only to look at Christ; we have only to “receive the testimony” of Christ.
I love this phrase: Christ revealed God by what He was, by what He did, and by what He said. From the cradle to the grave, every moment of His life was a revelation of God. 

She continues:
It is evident, therefore, that we must never accept any conception of God that is contrary to what we see in Christ, and must utterly reject any view of His character or of His acts, or any statement of His relations with us as human beings, no matter how strongly upheld, which is at variance with what Christ has revealed.
We are all aware that the Old Testament revelation of God seems sometimes to contradict the revelation in Christ, and the question arises as to which we are to receive as the truest. In view of the fact that God Himself tells us that in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, who is the “brightness of his glory and the express image of his person,” we may not dare reject Christ’s testimony, but must look upon the Old Testament revelation, where it differs from the revelation in Christ, as partial and imperfect; and must accept as a true setting forth of God only that which we find in Christ. Christ alone tells us the true and genuine name of God.
Oh, how I wish she had NOT continued!!! For here is where her theology becomes questionable indeed! We are all aware that the Old Testament revelation of God seems sometimes to contradict the revelation in Christ, and the question arises as to which we are to receive as the truest. In view of the fact that God Himself tells us that in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, who is the “brightness of his glory and the express image of his person,” we may not dare reject Christ’s testimony, but must look upon the Old Testament revelation, where it differs from the revelation in Christ, as partial and imperfect; I just want to shake my head and shout NO! A thousand times NO! There is no contradiction and/or clash between the Old Testament and the New Testament. God is God is God is God. With her holding this assumption to be true, she's making some very faulty conclusions!!!

Let me pull together a few quotes from other sources:
Many people would like to think that the God of the New Testament is different from the God of the Old Testament. He is the same person; He hasn't changed one bit. He hasn't grown old. He hasn't even learned anything new. He is the same God. (J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary Series: Jeremiah and Lamentations, 125)
The most brutal act of divine vengeance ever recorded in Scripture is not found in the Old Testament but in the New Testament. The most violent expression of God's wrath and justice is seen in the cross. If ever a person had room to complain of injustice it was Jesus. He was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God. If we stagger at the wrath of God, let us stagger at the cross. Here is where our astonishment should be focused. If we have cause for moral outrage, let it be directed at Golgotha.
The cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God's wrath. It was the most just and the most gracious act in history. (R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, 185)
It's stories like these that make people think there must be something different about the Old Testament God and the New Testament God. The God Jesus speaks of surely wouldn't be so arbitrary, so harsh, they reason. Perhaps they were two different Gods, or perhaps Jesus changed the nature of God by becoming human. Perhaps God was just more compassionate after the incarnation, more sympathetic, less angry.But this perspective underestimates two crucial facts: the holiness of God and the sinfulness of fallen man. The boiling, fiery, deadly presence of God is the natural reaction of holiness in the presence of sin. Our God is likened to a refining fire--a raging inferno that burns away impurity and leaves only what is purified and perfect (Mal. 3:2-3). We misunderstand the wrath of God if we think it's only emotional rage, like an angry, frustrated parent. It's not; it's a rage made of a pure, perfect, and holy hatred of sin and evil. On the flip side, it's a rage built upon the deepest love of what is good, pure, and perfect. Such wisdom and love can only respond with disgust at evil's destructive grip on the good.Just as we underestimate God's holiness, we underestimate how deeply sinful we are. We think of ourselves as good enough, smart enough, and likeable enough to deserve forgiveness from God. (Mike Cosper, Rhythms of Grace, 57)
The Old Testament is not the story we have to know before we know the real story. Rather, the gospel is in all of it. (Mohler, The Scriptures Testify About Me, 24)
We mush preach Christ from all the Scriptures and find Christ in the gospel of the Old Testament as well as in the New. We need to allow the New Testament to train us how to read the Old. We must put the Bible back into the hands of believers--intact and whole--with Christ and the gospel of our redemption at the center. (Mohler, The Scriptures Testify About Me, 32)
Any theological position that pits one Testament of the Bible against the other must come from a false theory. ~ A.W. Tozer, Christ the Eternal Son
The idea that the Old Testament is a book of law and the New Testament a book of grace is based on a completely false theory.There is certainly as much about grace and mercy and love in the Old Testament as there is in the New. There is more about hell, more about judgment and the fury of God burning with fire upon sinful men in the New Testament than in the Old.If you want excoriating, flagellating language that skins and blisters and burns, do not go back to Jeremiah and the old prophets--hear the words of Jesus Christ!Oh how often do we need to say it: the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. The Father in the Old Testament is the Father in the New Testament.Furthermore, the Christ who was made flesh to dwell among us is the Christ who walked through all of the pages of the Old Testament. Was it the law that forgave David when he had committed his great sins? No, it was grace displayed in the Old Testament. Was it grace that said, Babylon is fallen, the great harlot is fallen, Babylon is fallen? (Revelation 18:2) No, it was the law expressed in the New Testament. ~ A.W. Tozer, Christ the Eternal Son
The eternal Son came to tell us what the silence never told us. He came to tell us what not even Moses could tell us. He came to tell us and to show us that God loves us and that He constantly cares for us. He came to tell us that God has a gracious plan and that He is carrying out that plan. ~ A.W. Tozer, Christ the Eternal Son
Everything revealed on the pages of both the Old Testament and New Testament is associated with those five categories. Scripture is always teaching or illustrating: 1) the character and attributes of God; 2) the tragedy of sin and disobedience to God's holy standard; 3) the blessedness of faith and obedience to God's standard; 4) the need for a Savior by whose righteousness and substitution sinners can be forgiven, declared just, and transformed to obey God's standard; 5) the coming glorious end of redemptive history in the Lord Savior's earthly kingdom and the subsequent eternal reign and glory of God and Christ. It is essential as one studies Scripture to grasp these recurring categories like great hooks on which to hang the passages. (John MacArthur, How To Get The Most From God's Word, 147)
We know, from our Lord's own words in another place, that the Old Testament Scriptures "testify of Christ." (John 5:39.) They were intended to teach men about Christ, by types, and figures, and prophecy, until He Himself should appear on earth. We should always keep this in mind, in reading the Old Testament, but never so much as in reading the Psalms. Christ is undoubtedly to be found in every part of the Law and the Prophets, but nowhere is He so much to be found, as in the book of Psalms. His experience and sufferings at His first coming into the world — His future glory, and His final triumph at His second coming — are the chief subjects of many a passage in that wonderful part of God's word. It is a true saying, that we should look for Christ quite as much as David, in reading the Psalms. ~ J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Mark
Let us beware of undervaluing, or despising the Old Testament. In its place and proportion, the Old Testament is just as valuable as the New. There are probably many rich passages in that part of the Bible which have never yet been fully explored. There are deep things about Jesus in it, which many walk over like hidden gold mines, and know not the treasures beneath their feet. Let us reverence all the Bible. All is given by inspiration, and all is profitable. One part throws light upon another, and no part can ever be neglected without loss and damage to our souls. A boastful contempt for the Old Testament Scriptures has often proved the first step towards infidelity. ~ J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Mark 
We are told that our Lord began "with Moses and all the prophets, and expounded in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." How shall we explain these words? In what way did our Lord show "things concerning himself," in every part of the Old Testament field? The answer to these questions is short and simple. Christ was the substance of every Old Testament sacrifice, ordained in the law of Moses. Christ was the true Deliverer and King, of whom all the judges and deliverers in Jewish history were types. Christ was the coming Prophet greater than Moses, whose glorious advent filled the pages of prophets. Christ was the true seed of the woman who was to bruise the serpent's head — the true seed in whom all nations were to be blessed — the true Shiloh to whom the people were to be gathered, the true scape-goat — the true bronze serpent — the true Lamb to which every daily offering pointed — the true High Priest of whom every descendant of Aaron was a figure. These things, or something like them, we need not doubt, were some of the things which our Lord expounded in the way to Emmaus. Let it be a settled principle in our minds, in reading the Bible, that Christ is the central sun of the whole book. So long as we keep Him in view, we shall never greatly err in our search for spiritual knowledge. Once losing sight of Christ, we shall find the whole Bible dark and full of difficulty. The key of Bible knowledge is Jesus Christ. ~ J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke 
The central theme of the entire Bible is Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of all who call upon Him. The entire Old Testament announces the coming of Christ to earth in order to redeem and reign. Then the four Gospel accounts detail and describe His first arrival. Next, the book of Acts records the proclamation of His death, resurrection, and exaltation. Moreover, the epistles define who Jesus is and defend what He accomplished in His life and death. Finally, the book of Revelation declares that this One is coming again in grandeur and glory. Succinctly stated, Jesus Christ crucified is the unifying theme of all of Scripture. This high ground must be claimed in our preaching. Any other footing is a slippery slope that inevitably descends downward into vain rhetoric and mere words. To the contrary, every pulpit must present a towering vision of the unique person and saving work of Jesus Christ. All preaching must point to His sin-bearing, substitutionary death for sinners. All exposition must lift up this Sacrificial Lamb who became a sin-bearing Substitute for all who believe. Every message must exalt this Christ, who was raised from the dead, exalted to the right hand of God the Father, and entrusted with all authority in heaven and earth. This must be the heartbeat that throbs in every pulpit. This must be the strong pulse that marks every ministry. If preachers are to be known for anything, they must be known for preaching the Lord Jesus Christ and Him crucified. ~ Steven Lawson, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses
I realize that pulling in all those quotes might seem like a big distraction, taking us way off topic, but to me TRUTH MATTERS.

Back to Hannah Whitall Smith:
In reply then to the question, “What is His name?” I have only this one thing to say, Ask Christ. We are told He was “God manifest in the flesh,” and that whoever sees Him sees the God who sent Him; therefore it is perfectly plain that, if we want to know the name, we have only to read the manifestation. And this means simply that we must study the life, and words, and ways of Christ, and must say to ourselves, he that seeth Christ seeth God, and what Christ was on earth that God is in Heaven. All the darkness that enshrouds the character of God will vanish if we will but accept the light Christ has shed on the matter, and believe the “manifestation of His name” that Christ has given us, and will utterly refuse to believe anything else.    
It is unthinkable to suppose that when God told Moses His name was “I am,” He could have meant to say, “I am a stern Lawgiver,” or “I am a hard Taskmaster,” or “I am a God who is wrapped up in my own glory, and am indifferent to the sorrows or the fears of my people.” If we should try to fill in the blank of His “I am” with such things as these, all the Christians the world over would be horrified. But do not the doubts and fears of some of these very Christians say exactly these things in secret every day of their lives?
May God grant that what we shall learn in our consideration of the names of God may make all such doubts and fears impossible to us from this time forth and forevermore.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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