Gospel Citizens (overture)

Issues of citizenship seem to be in the news a lot in Australia. A number of prominent politicians have lost their place in parliament in the last few months when it was discovered that – in addition to being Australian – they were technically also citizens of “foreign” nations. Because our constitution doesn’t allow for divided loyalties, this is something forbidden for all federal parliamentarians. It’s been described as a “citizenship crisis.”

Whenever the government modifies requirements for the national citizenship test, which migrants are required to take if they wish to formally become Australians, there is public debate about whether the questions are too hard or too easy. And not long ago there was significant debate over whether Australians who fight with Australia’s enemies overseas should be stripped of their citizenship status (in the end, due to international law against making people ‘stateless,’ this only applies to dual citizens).

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I personally find issues around citizenship interesting, as they make us ask fundamental questions about belonging, loyalty and identity. Who am I? How do I describe myself? What bigger group or community am I a member of? Where do my allegiances lie?

As someone who is an Australian citizen by birth, a New Zealand citizen by descent, formerly a British subject (this status being subsequently abolished by the federal government) and the husband of a naturalised Australian and former Chinese citizen – I am well aware that for some people the answers to these questions are straight-forward, while for others they are more complex and interesting.

Have you ever wondered how Christians are supposed to think about citizenship?

There’s a fascinating little reference in Philippians that sets us up to consider the New Testament perspective on citizenship: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” (1:27a, ESV). The Greek for “manner of life” is πολιτεύεσθε which more specifically means something like “be a citizen” or “live out your citizenship.” So the phrase effectively tells Christians to be citizens in a way that’s worthy of the gospel.

So what does it actually mean to be a “Gospel Citizen” – someone whose identity, allegiance and sense of belonging ultimately comes from the gospel?

Paul has more to say about this topic in Philippians, declaring in 3:20 “our citizenship is in heaven.” In Ephesians he emphasises the common identity in Christ between Jewish and Gentile disciples – describing them as fellow-citizens together in God’s Kingdom.

Other New Testament authors draw out other aspects of our Christian identity using citizenship language. The author of Hebrews sees our citizenship in the heavenly city as something that makes us sojourning pilgrims, foreigners and temporary residents on earth. We live in earthly cities, but wait for a city that is to come. One with eternal foundations, which cannot be shaken. In 1 Peter, the apostle Peter makes it clear that Christians have a special dignity and place of belonging in God’s Kingdom. But he also emphasises the sense of Christians being aliens or exiles in this world. Peter highlights an additional aspect – that of living well in earthly society and being subject to the governing authorities for the sake of Christ.

Paul revisits this theme in his famous discourse on civil behaviour in Romans 13. He urges Christians to perform their civic duties: paying taxes, honouring leaders and obeying the law. Finally, Luke also shows us an interesting episode (in Acts) where Paul made use of his Roman citizenship to temporarily get out of trouble – a tactical move he hoped would gain him further opportunities to spread the gospel.

In the coming weeks, I’d like to explore these different aspects in a series of posts titled “Gospel Citizens.” We’ll explore the tension between being a citizen of heaven and a stranger in the world; the importance of our common Christian identity across the boundaries of human identity; and how we’re actually supposed to interact with non-Christian society as people who belong to another world while residing in this one.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this topic, including writing a Master’s project on the subject and delivering two preaching series that looked at the passages mentioned above. It’s something I think is of great value for Christians in Australia to be thinking about amidst all the chatter in our society about issues surrounding citizenship.

So if you don’t know what Paul means when he talks about our Heavenly Citizenship in Philippians 3:20, join us next time as we dig into this rich biblical metaphor together!

 

[1] Adapted from Michael Coghlan “Australian Citizenship” flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Australia 2017/2018: After Light – Darkness?

Throughout 2017 we celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. One of the catchphrases that summed up its significance was Post Tenebras Lux – “After Darkness – Light.” God’s work of reformation through Luther and his successors caused the light of the gospel of Jesus to shine more clearly and brightly throughout churches and nations that had fallen into the dark ignorance of medieval Roman religion.

But as we move from 2017 to 2018 – reflecting on the year that was and thinking about the one just begun – I fear we may have to contemplate our situation in terms of the inverse phrase: “After Light – Darkness.”

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For years we’ve been told by Christian and cultural commentators that we live in something of a “post-Christian” landscape. That is to say that the underlying assumptions about the world that accompany faith in God and the Gospel and acceptance of the teachings of Scripture have largely given way to other assumptions in the worldview of Western Civilisation.

This has been somewhat helpful as a corrective against the attitude common amongst many Australian Christians that we are citizens of a profoundly Christian nation and should virtually browbeat non-Christian dissidents into returning to their Christian roots. The better Christian thinkers in Australia and similar societies have long recognised that we are not a cultural majority, the respectable centre or the dominant voice in public discourse in any meaningful sense.

The past year served up multiple, confronting examples of Christian viewpoints being anything but dominant in Australian society. The hyper-progressive Andrews government in Victoria continued to make decidedly anti-God policy decisions, capping the year off with its historic legalisation of state-sanctioned killing (euthanasia). And of course, just over half of eligible Australian voters endorsed a change to the Marriage Act to recognise some homosexual relationships as “marriages,” which the Parliament then made a reality – with no legal protections for the freedom of speech and religion of dissenters. 2017 made it very clear that the majority of Australians do not take God’s Word seriously when it comes to the ethics surrounding contentious social issues.

The real issue facing Christians in 2018 is not how to cope with our perceived loss of social status, respectability and any political influence we may have enjoyed. It’s how to effectively witness to our Australian neighbours who have collectively rejected the Christian message as true.

Admittedly, this is not a new problem – unbelief and irreligion in Western countries have been growing phenomena since well before Australia was founded as a modern nation (117 days ago today). But in the last 50 years this trend has intensified and the kind of social issues that are coming to a head in 2017-18 are symptoms of a long and perilous abandonment of Christian belief amongst this people.

Many have suggested that we need to adopt a posture similar to that of the early church – where they were sharing the good news of Jesus with Greek and Roman pagans who had no prior knowledge or appreciation of the God of the Bible. The problem with this is that our scenario is quite different. The baby boomer generation which currently occupies the major stations of power and influence in our society had access to the truth of the gospel, but so many of them rejected it as old hat. We are not dealing with “ignorant heathen,” but rather “enlightened” rejectors.

It is true that Generation Y and Z have often been denied meaningful exposure to the gospel via the Sunday School experience that was commonplace in the generations before. This makes them more analogous to Greeks and Romans than preceding generations. However, they have also grown up with the media and narratives controlled by the God-is-passe Boomers and the gross moral failures of religious institutions to prevent child sexual abuse. This means they are ignorant of much of the substance of Christianity, but have been groomed to be negatively disposed towards it.

How do we effectively share the message of Jesus with generations of Australians who think they know enough of it to reject it? It’s too big a question to tackle in one post, but one we ought to enter the new year thinking seriously about.

But the other question is, how should we expect God to respond to this nation’s increasing rebellion against him? This too is difficult to answer. While Australia is not and has never been a Christian nation (in the sense of being a Christian being a necessary prerequisite for citizenship etc;) many of the benefits its people have enjoyed have been the result of the deep impact of the gospel upon our culture.

Ingratitude towards God for the many blessings He has bestowed upon this nation and increasing rejection of the good news we have had access to for so long are serious matters which invite judgement. When we add the serious transgressions involving the devaluing of human life (e.g. abortion & euthanasia) and elementary human sexuality, gender and kinship (e.g. promotion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage) – which even unbelievers know deep down to be acts against their Creator – things only become more dire.

God may graciously bring about widespread revival in churches across the nation and widespread repentance amongst Australians. That is a real possibility and would not be a bad thing to be praying for. But it is equally possible that God will consign Australia to judgement – of both the spiritual and temporal kinds – in the coming years. In my research on the Puritan Thomas Watson, I have found him frequently concerned that God would not only punish 17th century England’s sins with invasion, disaster or disease – but that he might even remove the ministry of the gospel from within its borders.

This concern came from the disparity between Asia Minor or Turkey in the time of the New Testament and in Watson’s day. By the time the Puritans were active, many of the areas where the earliest Christian churches were founded had long since been de-Christianised and Ottoman Turkey was a classic example. From Watson’s perspective, Christ had come good on his threat to “unchurch” or “remove the lampstand” of several of the churches mentioned in the opening chapters of Revelation. And he saw no reason that the same thing might not happen to England or other heavily Christianised areas.

The Anglosphere countries (e.g. England, USA, Australia, New Zealand) have long appeared to be trailing the steadily de-Christianising/re-paganising nations of continental Europe, including those where the Reformation was born (Germany, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands Scotland). But this appears as though it could be our decade of decay as the political polarity of pinkist-progressivism and primitive-populism spurs the people of these countries on to further degrees of flagrant rebellion towards God.

The true church may flourish during these times, but not necessarily numerically. Cultural Christianity looks to continue its slow death for another 2 or 3 decades until it is all but extinct. While God may bless our tenacious efforts at evangelism, He may also withhold widespread repentance from a people that has slighted Him for so long. He may concentrate the work of the Spirit to enable people to receive the gospel in parts of the world where it has not been taken for granted. While we can never give up praying for conversions and proclaiming the gospel, we may find that it continues to be hard to see many people come to faith in Christ.

We should fear for Australia. Our nation is in a very dangerous place, where the name of Jesus has been known for so long and once widely acknowledged as holy – yet now is increasingly blasphemed and opposed. Darkness may yet fall where light has been trifled with for too long.

Yet as we move forward into 2018, with our celebration of the Reformation and Christmas in the rear-vision mirror, it is their message that brings us hope in whatever bleak times may lie ahead. For though we live in a land that has seen light come into the world, but rejected it out of love for darkness (John 3:19-21) we also know that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5, ESV).

May God shine the light of Christ into the darkness of this nation in remarkable ways in 2018 and may He gracious grant reform and revival to corrupt and compromised churches, as He did in Europe 500 years ago.

[1] Chad Horwedel Solar Eclipse flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

Wishing you a “Mary Christmas”

We’ve all probably been wished a ‘merry’ Christmas countless times over the years, but I suspect this will be the first time anyone has wished you a “Mary” Christmas. Amidst all of the cultural battles over the commercialised nature of Christmas that diminishes its original meaning, the holiday of Christ’s Nativity also highlights the tensions surrounding the place of His mother in the Christian tradition.

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A few years ago I was horrified to see the Christmas display in a department store’s shopfront window on the main street of Brisbane. It was a depiction of Mary enthroned as Queen of Heaven, with a comparatively pathetic looking baby standing on her lap. In the 500th year of the Reformation, I suspect most Protestants are all too wary of the Catholic Church’s excessive devotion towards Mary – which shows through in a display like this. Yet our reaction is typically to downplay Mary’s role and significance so as to make it clear that we don’t hold her in the same kind of (often idolatrous) veneration.

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This is a shame, because while Mary should by no means be the central focus of this festive season – the real, historical woman who gave birth to our Saviour is an excellent model for the posture we should take in relation to this momentous event.

Twice in Luke’s Gospel account of the events surrounding the birth and childhood of Christ, we find Mary’s celebration of Christmas recorded.

15 And it happened that when the angels had departed from them into heaven, the shepherds began to say to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has revealed to us!” 16 And they went hurrying and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the statement that had been told to them about this child. 18 And all who heard it were astonished concerning what had been said to them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:15-19, LEB)

And his mother treasured all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:51b, LEB)

As God revealed the significance of Jesus to the world, Mary cherished everything she saw and heard concerning her son. And according to Luke 2:19, she “pondered” them deeply going over them again and again in her heart.

Think about it for a moment. Physically and humanly speaking, Mary had the closest connection to Jesus of anyone. His human nature was derived from her (Joseph, of course, lacked such a biological relationship to him). She carried Him inside her body for nine months and brought Him into the world. And yet when she is presented with the awesome reality of who the child she bore really is and His place in God’s plan of redemption – she marvels at it, esteems these truths as precious and thinks of them often in the years to come.

An interesting discovery I’ve made in my research is that earlier generations of Christians came up with a special nickname for Jesus’ ancestor King David: Contemplator Maximus – The Greatest of Meditators. This was because the Psalms show us how David constantly reflected deeply upon the revelation of God’s nature in His Word, His Creation and His acts of redemption. The messianic psalms that allude to the coming of Jesus as King show that David also pondered the mysteries God revealed to him concerning the promised Saviour.

If David was the greatest contemplator of divine truths in the Old Testament, I think his descendant and the mother of his true heir is perhaps the great example of meditating on divine truth in the New Testament. Mary’s proximity to Jesus increased her appetite to reflect on His wondrous glory, rather than diminishing it.

In this way, I believe Mary models for us what our celebration of Christmas should be like. No amount of familiarity with Jesus and the story of His birth should prevent us from treasuring who He is and spending time in deep reflection of the glorious truths that began to be manifested at that first Christmas.

Mary is not another mediator who contributes to our salvation – as Catholics erroneously believe – but she is a great meditator who shows us the way forward in making much of the one who was born to redeem us all.

Have a Mary Christmas pondering the glory of Jesus Christ.

 

[1] Waiting For The Word “Madonna – Mary & Jesus 15″ (CC BY 2.0)

[2] Lawrence OP “Verbum Abbreviatum” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Were these the top theology stories of the last decade (2008-2017)?

For the past decade Colin Hansen of The Gospel Coalition (formerly of Christianity Today) has been summing up the year in theology/church news with a top ten list. It’s a challenging task and naturally opens one wide to criticism for picking certain things as newsworthy over others. But when someone with the international platform that Hansen possesses undertakes such an exercise, such a list is a valuable invitation to reflect upon the past 12 months and evaluate the significance of the events that have been highlighted.

I decided it would be a worthwhile exercise to publish the list of stories Hansen has nominated as the most significant theological news items between 2008-2017. The top story for each year is directly below, while you can browse the full Top 100 (titles only, with links to the respective years) at the bottom of the article.

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Some of the News Stories featured in the annual lists 2008-17

2017 – REFORMATION 500 HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR REVIVAL TODAY.

2016 – WHY DID DONALD TRUMP WIN?

2015 – U.S. SUPREME COURT LEGALISES SAME-SEX MARRIAGE 

2014 – EBOLA DRAWS OUT THE BEST AND WORST OF US.

2013 – POPE FRANCIS MAKES FAST FRIENDS.

2012 – PRESIDENT OBAMA RIDES RISING TIDE OF GAY MARRIAGE.

2011 – ROB BELL WINS

2010 – FRANCIS CHAN STEPS DOWN FROM CORNERSTONE

2009 – NIV & TNIV TO BE PHASED OUT (FOR NIV’11)

2008 – PUBLISHERS MAKE 2008 THE “YEAR OF THE STUDY BIBLE.”  

Hansen acknowledges that his lists are America-focused and represent the theological interests and concerns of his particular corner of (reformed) evangelicalism. As someone who frequents North American evangelical aggregate websites like The Gospel Coalition and Challies.com, it is an interesting exercise to look back over the annual summaries and ask questions concerning the relevance of the chosen stories to Christians outside of that context.

Some stories that were big a few years ago appear eminently forgettable in 2017, while others relate to issues and trends that have continued to be discussed among evangelical communities around the world.  I’ve tried to highlight in Purple some of the topics in the big list that strike me as having some lasting relevance outside of the U.S. context.

I’d love to hear from readers what they think of these lists, e.g. How helpful are they at summarising the news and issues of the year? How useful are they outside of American evangelicalism? Are you surprised by anything that was included/excluded this year or in the years past? How would you evaluate “theological newsworthiness” if you were attempting such a list of your own?

2017 

10. BENEDICT OPTION – CHRISTIAN CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT DEBATE

9. HOW MUCH DOES GOD CARE ABOUT SMALL TOWNS AND RURAL AREAS?

8. ALT-RIGHT PUSHES FOR MAINSTREAM RECOGNITION & PROVOKES CHURCH REBUKE.

7. DOES ANYONE HEAR OUR THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS?

6. WATCH YOUR LIFE AND SMARTPHONE USAGE CLOSELY.

5. NATURAL DISASTERS PROVOKE BLAME AGAINST EACH OTHER MORE THAN GOD.

4. SEXUAL REVOLUTION MARCHES ON FROM HOMOSEXUALITY TO TRANSGENDERISM.

3. IS IT TIME TO GIVE UP ON THE MULTI-ETHNIC CHURCH?

2. #METOO REVEALS THE EVERYDAY SCANDAL OF SEXUAL ABUSE.

1. REFORMATION’S 500TH ANNIVERSARY HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR REVIVAL TODAY.

2016

10. HIGH-PROFILE ATTRITION REVEALS CRISIS IN PASTORAL VOCATION.

9. GOD WILL NOT BE MOCKED—BUT YOU WILL BE (BABYLON BEE LAUNCH)

8. TRINITY DEBATE ERUPTS IN BATTLE OF BLOGS.

7. ASSISTED SUICIDE GROWS IN AVAILABILITY AND POPULARITY.

6. CHRISTIAN EDUCATION WEATHERS THREAT—FOR NOW (GOVERNMENT AID)

​5. WHAT GOOD IS CHURCH AUTHORITY IF YOU CAN’T ENFORCE IT?

4. NEW CULTURE WAR FRONT OPENS IN PUBLIC BATHROOMS (TRANSGENDER ISSUES)

​3. PUBLIC VIOLENCE MAKES VICTIMS OF US ALL (ORLANDO SHOOTING & B.L.M.)

2. POPULAR WOMEN TEACHERS CHALLENGE CHURCH TEACHING. (on LGBT issues)

1. WHY DID DONALD TRUMP WIN?

2015

10. Pastor? Theologian? The Intersection between these complementary callings.

9. Benedict Option gains momentum.

8. Caitlyn Jenner introduces the next step in the sexual revolution.

7. Islamic State beheads 21 Christians from Egypt among other atrocities.

6. Mass murder at historic Charleston church raises questions about forgiveness, identity, history.

5. Planned Parenthood videos reveal the truth underneath the hospital gown.

4. Protest movement over police shootings contributes to widespread campus unrest over race.

3. Pope Francis gets the rock star treatment in U.S. visit amid crisis in the Roman Catholic Church.

2. Terrorist attacks are the new global normal.

1. U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell legalizes same-sex marriage nationwide.

2014 

10. MENTAL ILLNESS PLAGUES CELEBRITIES AND THEIR FAMILIES BUT REMAINS TABOO INSIDE CHURCHES.

9. DIGITAL AGE REVEALS PREVALENCE OF SEXUAL ABUSE IN CHURCH.

8. DEBATE OVER JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION REACHES BREAKING POINT.

7. MARS HILL ‘BRAND’ COLLAPSES.

6. ISIS DEALS FATAL, FINAL BLOW TO CHRISTIANS IN IRAQ.

5. CHRISTIANS SPLIT ON VALUE OF FAITH MOVIES.

4. CONSERVATIVES WIN BIG BATTLE BUT CONTINUE LOSING GROUND ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY.

3. GAY MARRIAGE DEBATE MOVES INSIDE EVANGELICAL CHURCHES.

2. DEATHS OF GARNER AND BROWN RE-IGNITE RACIAL TENSIONS.

1. EBOLA DRAWS OUT THE BEST AND WORST OF US

2013

10. DOES IT MATTER WHO SAYS IT IF IT’S GOOD?

9. BLACK AND WHITE, WE’RE CLOSER THAN EVER & JUST AS FAR APART AS ALWAYS.

8. PURITY AND MODESTY PROVOKE BACKLASH IN A SEX-SATURATED CULTURE.

7. SHOULD AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY PRIVILEGE CHRISTIANS?

6. ‘GAY’ CHRISTIANS SPEAK OUT.

5. POPULAR TV FINDS FAITH.

4. CULTURE WARRIORS SHIFT FROM OFFENSE TO DEFENSE.

3. WRATH OF GOD DOES NOT SATISFY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (U.S.A.).

2. STRANGE FIRE BOOK, CONFERENCE FORCE EVANGELICALS TO PICK SIDES.

1. POPE FRANCIS MAKES FAST FRIENDS.

2012

 

 

10. CHRISTIAN ATHLETE SUPERSTARS RISE AND FALL.

9. IS MORMONISM A CULT OR NOT?

8. CHRISTIANS IN THE MIDDLE EAST WEIGH DEMOCRACY AND SECURITY.

7. CAN AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY REVERSE ITS DECLINING INFLUENCE?

6. WE DARE DEFEND OUR RIGHTS.

5. WAR ON WOMEN SUFFERS MAJOR DEFEAT.

4. TRINITARIAN THEOLOGY RESPONDS TO RECENT CHALLENGES.

3. CAN WE BE SAFE?

2. CHRISTIANITY: RELATIONSHIP OR RELIGION?

1. PRESIDENT OBAMA RIDES THE RISING TIDE OF GAY MARRIAGE.

2011

10.) Marriages need help.

9.) ‘Celebrity’ pastors face backlash.

8.) Presbyterian Church in America warns against Muslim-idiom translations.

7.) Harold Camping fails, again and again. (Predicting the end of the world)

6.) Christians in Afghanistan and Iran stare down death sentences for apostasy.

 

 

5.) Tim Tebow comes back.

4.) John Stott dies.

3.) Arab Spring leads to winter of reckoning for Christians in the Middle East.

2.) Osama bin Laden killed by U.S. military.

1.) Rob Bell wins.

2010

10.) Crystal Cathedral Files for Bankruptcy

9.) BioLogos Stirs Debate Over Evolution

8.) Philip Ryken Becomes President of Wheaton College

7.) Liberty Removes Ergun Caner as Seminary President

6.) Matt Chandler Fights Malignant Brain Tumor

5.) Glenn Beck Grabs the Religious Right’s Megaphone

4.) David Platt Pricks the Evangelical Conscience with ‘Radical’

3.) John Piper Takes Leave of Absence

2.) Wright Clarifies Justification Views in ETS Debate

1.) Francis Chan Steps Down from Cornerstone

 

 

 

 

2009 

10. ‘Coming Evangelical Collapse’ Predicted

9. Split Widens Between U.S. Episcopalians and Anglican Communion

8. Bell Shapes Gospel Discussion

7. Rick Warren Prays at Obama Inauguration

6. Adoption Push Gains Steam

5. Manhattan Declaration Prods Culture, Invites Pushback

4. Coral Ridge Hires Tullian Tchividjian, Critics Break Away

3. ELCA Okays Gay Unions, Pastors

2. SBC Seeks a Great Commission Resurgence

1. Both NIV and TNIV Will Be Phased Out

2008 

10. Northwestern College faculty and staff struggle over school’s direction.

9. Roman Catholic bishops revisit inerrancy compromise reached at Vatican II.

8. Evangelical Free Church of America revises its statement of faith.

7. Leading evangelicals issue a “manifesto.”

6. Critics respond to dialogue between evangelicals and Muslims.

5. Peter Enns leaves Westminster Seminary.

4. Conservatives launch Anglican Church of North America.

3. Victory for traditional marriage carries a cost

2. The Shack enthralls readers, angers theologians

1. Publishers make 2008 the “Year of the Study Bible.”

Watson’s 17 ways for glorifying God

Often we speak of glorifying God as the goal of our Christian lives – but what does it actually mean to do it? How can we test whether we are increasingly bringing God glory or if we need to repent for a decline?

Thomas Watson thought seriously about these questions and came up with 17 specific ways that a Christian can glorify God. Here they are below (excerpted from his Body of Divinity available online at Grace Gems).

*         *         *

In how many WAYS may we glorify God?

[1] It is glorifying God when we AIM purely at his glory. It is one thing to advance God’s glory, another thing to aim at it. God must be the ultimate end of all actions. Thus Christ says, “I seek not my own glory—but the glory of him who sent me.” A hypocrite has a squint eye, for he looks more to his own glory than God’s. Our Savior deciphers such, and gives a caveat against them in Matthew 6:2, “When you give alms, do not sound a trumpet.” A stranger would ask, “What means the noise of this trumpet?” It was answered, “They are going to give to the poor.” And so they did not give alms—but sell them for honor and applause, that they might have glory of men. The breath of men was the wind which blew the sails of their charity! “Truly they have their reward.” The hypocrite may take his bill and write, “received in full payment.” Chrysostom calls vain-glory one of the devil’s great nets to catch men. And Cyprian says, “Whom Satan cannot prevail against by intemperance, those he prevails against by pride and vainglory.” Oh let us take heed of self-worshiping! Aim purely at God’s glory. We do this,

(1.) When we prefer God’s glory above all other things; above credit, estate, relations; when the glory of God comes in competition with them—we must prefer his glory before them. If relations lie in our way to heaven, we must either leap over them, or tread upon them. “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me!” Matthew 10:37. A child must unchild himself, and forget he is a child; he must know neither father nor mother in God’s cause. “Who said unto his father and mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren.” This is to aim at God’s glory.

(2.) We aim at God’s glory, when we are content that God’s will should take place, though it may cross ours. “Lord, I am content to be a loser—if you be a gainer. I am content to have less health—if I have more grace, and you more glory. Let it be food or bitter medicine—if only you give it me. Lord, I desire that which may be most for your glory!” Our blessed Savior said, “Not as I will—but as you will.” Matt 26:69. If God might have more glory by his sufferings, he was content to suffer. “Father, glorify your name.”

(3.) We aim at God’s glory when we are content to be outshined by others in gifts and esteem—so that his glory may be increased. A man who has God in his heart, and God’s glory in his eye, desires that God should be exalted; and if this be effected, let whoever will be the instrument, he rejoices. “Some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely. But whether or not their motives are pure, the fact remains that the message about Christ is being preached, so I rejoice.” They preached Christ out of envy, they envied Paul that throng of people, and they preached that they might outshine him in gifts, and get away some of his hearers. “Well,” says Paul, “So long as Christ is preached, and God is likely to have the glory, I will rejoice. Let my candle go out, if the Sun of Righteousness may but shine!”

[2] We glorify God by a sincere CONFESSION of sin. The thief on the cross had dishonored God in his life—but at his death he brought glory to God by confession of sin. Luke 23:3I. “We indeed suffer justly.” He acknowledged he deserved not only crucifixion—but damnation. “My son, give, I beg you, give glory to God, and make confession unto him.” A humble confession exalts God. How is God’s free grace magnified, in crowning those who deserve to be condemned! The excusing and mincing of sin casts a reproach upon God. Adam denied not that he tasted the forbidden fruit—but, instead of a full confession, he blamed God. Gen 3:32. “The woman whom you gave me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” “If you had not given me the woman to be a tempter—I would not have sinned.” Confession glorifies God, because it clears him; it acknowledges that he is holy and righteous, whatever he does. Nehemiah vindicates God’s righteousness; chap 9:93. “You are just in all that is brought upon us.” A confession is sincere, when it is free, not forced. Luke 15:58. “I have sinned against heaven and before you.” The prodigal charged himself with sin, before his father charged him with it.

[3] We glorify God by BELIEVING. “Abraham was strong in faith, giving glory to God.” Unbelief affronts God, it gives him the lie; “he who believes not, makes God a liar.” But faith brings glory to God; it sets its seal, that God is true. He who believes flies to God’s mercy and truth, as to an altar of refuge; he engarrisons himself in the promises, and trusts all he has with God. “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” This is a great way of bringing glory to God. God honors faith—because faith honors him. It is a great honor we do to a man when we trust him with all we have; when we put our lives and estates into his hand—it is a sign we have a good opinion of him. The three Hebrew children glorified God by believing. “The God whom we serve is able to deliver us, and will deliver us.” Faith knows there are no impossibilities with God, and will trust his loving heart, where it cannot trace his mysterious providential hand.

[4] We glorify God, by being tender of his glory. God’s glory is as dear to him as the pupil of his eye. An sincere child weeps to see a disgrace done to his father. Psalm 69:9. “The reproaches of those who reproached you are fallen upon me.” When we hear God reproached, it is as if we were reproached; when God’s glory suffers, it is as if we suffered. This is to be tender of God’s glory.

[5] We glorify God by FRUITFULNESS. “Hereby is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit.” As it is dishonoring God to be barren, so fruitfulness honors him. “Filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are to the praise of his glory.” We must not be like the fig tree in the gospel, which had nothing but leaves—but like the pomecitron, which is continually either ripening or blossoming, and is never without fruit. It is not mere profession—but fruit which glorifies God. God expects to have his glory from us in this way. “Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it?” Trees in the forest may be barren—but trees in the garden are fruitful. We must bring forth the fruits of love and good works. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Faith sanctifies our works, and works testify our faith. To be doing good to others, to be eyes to the blind, feet to the lame—much glorifies God. Thus Christ glorified his Father; “he went about doing good.” Acts 10:08. By being fruitful, we are beautiful in God’s eyes. “The Lord called you a thriving olive tree, beautiful to see and full of good fruit.” And we must bear much fruit. It is muchness of fruit which glorifies God: “if you bear much fruit.” The spouse’s breasts are compared to clusters of grapes, to show how fertile she was. Though the lowest degree of grace may bring salvation to you, yet it will not bring much glory to God. It was not a spark of love, which Christ commended in Mary—but much love; “she loved much.”

[6] We glorify God, by being CONTENTED in that state in which Providence has placed us. We give God the glory of his wisdom, when we rest satisfied with whatever portion he carves out to us. Thus Paul glorified God. The Lord cast him into as great variety of conditions as any man, “I have worked harder, been put in jail more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled many weary miles. I have faced danger from flooded rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be Christians but are not.” 2 Corinthians 11:23-26. Yet he had learned to be content. Paul could sail either in a storm or a calm; he could be anything that God would have him; he could either lack or abound.

A good Christian argues thus: “It is God who has put me in this condition; he could have raised me higher, if he pleased—but that might have been a snare to me. He has done it in wisdom and love; therefore I will sit down satisfied with my condition.” Surely this glorifies God much; God counts himself much honored by such a Christian. “Here,” says God, “is one after my own heart; let me do whatever I will with him—I hear no murmuring—he is content!” This shows abundance of grace. When grace is crowning, it is not so much to be content; but when grace is conflicting with inconveniences, then to be content is a glorious thing indeed. For one to be content when he is in heaven is no wonder; but to be content under severe trials, greatly glorifies God. This man must needs bring glory to God; for he shows to all the world, that though he has little meal in his barrel, yet he has enough in God to make him content! He says, as David, “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance; the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places.”

[7] We glorify God by working out our own salvation. God has twisted together, his glory and our good. We glorify him by promoting our own salvation. It is a glory to God to have multitudes of converts; his design of free grace takes effect, and God has the glory of his mercy; so that, while we are endeavoring our salvation, we are honoring God. What an encouragement is this to the service of God, to think, “while I am hearing and praying, I am glorifying God; while I am furthering my own glory in heaven, I am increasing God’s glory!” Would it not be an encouragement to a subject, to hear his prince say to him, “You will honor and please me very much, if you will go to yonder mime of gold, and dig as much gold for yourself as you can carry away”? So, for God to say, “Go to the ordinances, get as much grace as you can, dig out as much salvation as you can; and the more happiness you have, the more I shall count myself glorified!”

[8] We glorify God by living for God. “Those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them.” “Whether we live, we live unto the Lord.” The Mammonist lives for his money. The Epicure lives for his belly. The design of a sinner’s life is to gratify lust—but we glorify God when we live for God. We live to God when we live to his service, and lay ourselves out wholly for God. The Lord has sent us into the world, as a merchant sends his ambassador beyond the seas to trade for him. We live to God when we trade for his interest, and propagate his gospel. God has given every man a talent; and when a man does not hide it in a napkin—but improves it for God, he lives to God. When a master in a family, by counsel and good example, labors to bring his servants to Christ; when a minister spends himself, and is spent, that he may win souls to Christ, and make the crown flourish upon Christ’s head; when the magistrate does not wear the sword in vain—but labors to cut down sin, and to suppress vice; this is to live to God, and this is glorifying God. “That Christ might be magnified, whether by life or by death.” Paul had three wishes, and they were all about Christ; that he might be found in Christ, be with Christ, and magnify Christ.

[9] We glorify God by walking cheerfully. It brings glory to God, when the world sees a Christian has that within him, which can make him cheerful in the worst times; which can enable him, with the nightingale, to sing with a thorn at his bosom. The people of God have ground for cheerfulness. They are justified and adopted, and this creates inward peace; it makes music within, whatever storms are without. If we consider what Christ has wrought for us by his blood, and wrought in us by his Spirit, it is a ground of great cheerfulness, and this cheerfulness glorifies God. It reflects poorly upon a master when the servant is always drooping and sad; surely—he is kept to hard commons, his master does not give him what is fitting. Just so, when God’s people hang their heads, it looks as if they did not serve a good master, or repented of their choice, which reflects dishonor on God. The uncheerful lives of the godly bring a scandal on the gospel. “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Your serving him does not glorify him, unless it is with gladness. A Christian’s cheerful looks glorify God. True religion does not take away our joy—but refines it; it does not break our violin—but tunes it, and makes the music sweeter.

[10] We glorify God, by standing up for his truths. Much of God’s glory lies in his truth. God has entrusted us with his truth, as a master entrusts his servant with his purse to keep. We have not a richer jewel to trust God with—than our souls; nor has God a richer jewel to trust us with—than his truth. Truth is a beam which shines from God. Much of his glory lies in his truth. When we are advocates for truth we glorify God. “That you should contend earnestly for the truth.” The Greek word to contend signifies great contending, as one would contend for his land, and not allow his right to be taken from him; so we should contend for the truth. Were there more of this holy contention, God would have more glory. Some contend earnestly for trifles and ceremonies—but not for the truth. We should count him indiscreet that would contend more for a picture—than for his inheritance; more for a box of pennies—than for his box of title deeds.

[11] We glorify God, by praising him. Doxology, or praise, is a God-exalting work. “Whoever offers praise, glorifies me.” The Hebrew word Bara, to create; and Barak, to praise; are little different, because the end of creation is to praise God. David was called the sweet singer of Israel, and his praising God was called glorifying God. “I will praise you, O Lord my God, and I will glorify your name.” Though nothing can add to God’s essential glory, yet praise exalts him in the eyes of others. When we praise God, we spread his fame and renown, we display the trophies of his excellency. In this manner the angels glorify him; they are the choristers of heaven, and trumpet forth his praise. Praising God is one of the highest and purest acts of true religion. In prayer we act like men; but in praise we act like angels! Believers are called “temples of God.” When our tongues praise, then the organs in God’s spiritual temple are sounding. How sad is it that God has no more glory from us in this way! Many are full of murmuring and discontent—but seldom bring glory to God, by giving him the praise due to his name. We read of the saints having harps in their hands, the emblems of praise. Many have tears in their eyes, and complaints in their mouth—but few have harps in their hand, blessing and glorifying God. Let us honor God this way. Praise is the rent we pay to God; while God renews our lease, we must renew our rent.

[12] We glorify God, by being zealous for his name. “Phinehas has turned my wrath away, while he was zealous for my sake.” Zeal is a mixed affection, a compound of love and anger; it carries forth our love to God, and our anger against sin in an intense degree. Zeal is impatient of God’s dishonor; a Christian fired with zeal, takes a dishonor done to God, worse than an injury done to himself! “You cannot bear those who are evil.” Our Savior Christ thus glorified his Father; he, being baptized with a spirit of zeal, drove the money-changers out of the temple. “Zeal for your house has consumed me.”

[13] We glorify God, when we have an eye to God in our natural and in our civil actions. In our natural actions; in eating and drinking. “Whether therefore you eat or drink—do all to the glory of God.” A gracious person holds the golden bridle of temperance; he takes his food as a medicine to heal the decays of nature, that he may be the fitter, by the strength he receives, for the service of God; he makes his food, not fuel for lust—but help to duty.

In buying and selling, we do all to the glory of God. The wicked live upon unjust gain, by falsifying the balances, “The balances of deceit are in his hands;” and thus while men make their weights lighter, they make their sins heavier, when by exacting more than the commodity is worth. We buy and sell to the glory of God, when we observe that golden maxim, “To do to others as we would have them do to us;” so that when we sell our commodities, we do not sell our consciences also. “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence towards God, and towards men.” We glorify God, when we have an eye to God in all our civil and natural actions, and do nothing that may reflect any blemish on true religion.

[14] We glorify God by laboring to draw others to God. By seeking to convert others, and so make them instruments of glorifying God. We should be both diamonds and magnets; diamonds for the luster of grace, and magnets for attractive virtue in drawing others to Christ. Gal 4:19. “My little children, of whom I travail,” It is a great way of glorifying God, when we break open the devil’s prison, and turn men from the power of Satan to God.

[15] We glorify God in a high degree when we suffer for God, and seal the gospel with our blood. “When you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” God’s glory shines in the ashes of his martyrs. “Glorify the Lord in the fires.” Micaiah was in the prison, Isaiah was sawn asunder, Paul was beheaded, Luke was hanged on an olive tree; thus did they, by their death, glorify God. The sufferings of the primitive saints did honor to God, and made the gospel famous in the world. What would others say? See what a good master they serve, and how they love him, that they will venture the loss of all, in his service. The glory of Christ’s kingdom does not stand in worldly pomp and grandeur, as other kings”; but it is seen in the cheerful sufferings of his people. The saints of old “loved not their lives to the death.” They embraced torments as so many crowns. God grant we may thus glorify him—if he calls us to it. Many pray, “Let this cup of suffering pass away!” Few pray, “May your will be done!”

[16] We glorify God, when we give God the glory of all that we do. When Herod had made an oration, and the people gave a shout, saying, “It is the voice of a God, and not of a man,” he took the glory to himself. “Immediately, because Herod did not give glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” We glorify God, when we sacrifice the praise and glory of all we do—to God. “I have worked harder than all the other apostles,” is a speech, one would think, which savored of pride. But the apostle pulls the crown from his own head, and sets it upon the head of free grace! “Yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.” As Joab, when he fought against Rabbah, sent for King David, that David might carry away the crown of the victory; so a Christian, when he has gotten power over any corruption or temptation, sends for Christ, that he may carry away the crown of the victory. As the silkworm, when she weaves her curious work, hides herself under the silk, and is not seen; so when we have done anything praiseworthy, we must hide ourselves under the veil of humility, and transfer the glory of all we have done to God. As one used to write the name of Christ over his door—so should we write the name of Christ over our duties. Let him wear the garland of praise!

[17] We glorify God by a holy life. A bad life dishonors God. “You are a holy nation, that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you.” The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.” Epiphanius says, “That the looseness of some Christians in his time made many of the heathens shun their company, and would not be drawn to hear their sermons.” By our exact Bible-lives, we glorify God. Though the main work of true religion lies in the heart, yet our light must so shine that others may behold it. The safety of a building is the foundation—but the glory of it is in the frontispiece. Just so, the beauty of faith is in the godly life. When the saints, who are called jewels, cast a sparkling luster of holiness in the eyes of the world, then they “walk as Christ walked.” When they live as if they had seen the Lord with bodily eyes, and been with him upon the mount—they adorn true religion, and bring revenues of glory to the crown of heaven!