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Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.

buswellarmyJames Oliver Buswell, Jr. was born January 16, 1895, in Burlington Wisconsin. When he was four years old he moved with his family to Mellon, Wisconsin. Reflecting upon the example of his father, particularly as displayed during those years following 1899 in the home missions work in the north woods of Wisconsin, Dr. Buswell wrote in 1926: “I thank God for a father who was a perfectly fearless preacher of righteousness, a wonderfully persuasive preacher of grace, and above all, a clear-sighted and patient guide in all his sons’ perplexities.” (Bulletin of Wheaton College, III (May 1926), 2)

In the summer of 1919 just after returning from France Dr. Buswell wrote the following: “Just before the Meuse-Argonne offensive, we were billeted in Camp Marquette for about five days. Everyone knew that we were going into a drive; the spirit of soberness was in the air. We had a revival there…. About thirty-five presented themselves for baptism, and in two days about a hundred and fifty men came to one or the other of us, the two regimental chaplains, stating that they wanted to be known as Christian men. Some of these were already devout Christian characters, and others had just then found Christ as their Saviour…. They were men who had come to Christ as a result of the simple preaching of the old Gospel.” (Bibliotheca Sacra, LXXXII (October 1925), 405)

On the morning of September 26, 1918, the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne began. Dr. Buswell, armed with a 45 caliber automatic pistol and extra ammunition for the troops, went over Vouquois Hill that morning and into the bloody offensive. In the five days that followed nearly two-thirds of the regiment was either killed or wounded. Ninety percent of the men who had identified themselves as believers or who had just become Christians were either killed or wounded. Dr. Buswell ministered to the dead and dying with Bible and bandages. Bullets struck his canteen at his side and pierced his chest gas mask. For bravery and devotion to duty under heavy fire Dr. Buswell was cited in General Orders and eventually received the Purple Heart and the Silver Star, awarded years later in a special program in the Wheaton College chapel on March 17, 1934. Finally, Dr. Buswell himself was wounded in the leg by shrapnel about noon, on Sunday, September 29, 1918. Dr. Buswell spent about three months in a hospital. He returned to his regiment by Christmas, 1918,which was by then in northern France. The Armistice ending the War had been signed November 11, 1918, in Compiegne Forest.

buswellpresOn June 17, 1919, Dr. Buswell debarked in the United States and was discharged from the Army. While overseas, Buswell had developed the outline for his first published work, Problems in the Prayer Life, which was later published in 1927

Words to Live By: Suffering comes in many forms. There is the suffering that we bring upon ourselves and there is also the suffering caused by others. All of us live in relation to the rest of the world and we are increasingly affected by events far removed from our own immediate circumstances. War is one of the most horrific events which can engulf any people, yet every Christian can have the resolute assurance that God is sovereign over all of human history, that whatever may happen, the Christian rests securely in the Father’s hands. (Isaiah 45; Romans 8).

“Not only in our prayer life, but our whole status of being in grace, is dependent upon Christ. We were “far off,” but now we are “made nigh in the blood of Christ.” [Ephesians 2:13] He is the “great high priest,” “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” It is wholly due to Him that we have received the invitation to “draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.” [Hebrews 4:14-16] The statement of the lost and hopeless condition of men without Christ is not popular in our day. Nevertheless, there is no access to God, hence no prayer, without Christ, “for there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all…” [I Timothy 2:56]
[Buswell, Problems in the Prayer Life, pp. 13-14.]

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Another entry from the diary of the Rev. Jacob Jones Janeway:

Sabbath, January 12, 1806.
This day I was assisted, I trust, in preaching on the words, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” [Luke 18:13].  I pray it may do good. But I had not that sense of Divine presence, and sweet relish of Divine truth which I wish, whenever I ascend the sacred desk. I lamented my coldness in prayer, and besought Divine assistance.

Taking that lead provided by Rev. Janeway, and lacking a sermon for this date by any Presbyterian, we turn instead for our Lord’s Day sermon to a good friend from among the Baptists, the Rev. C.H. Spurgeon:—

A Sermon for the Worst Man on Earth : A sermon delivered on the Lord’s Day morning, 20 February 1886.

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto Heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” Luke 18:13.

It was the fault of the Pharisee that though he went up into the Temple to pray, he did not pray. There is no prayer in all that he said. It is one excellence of the publican that he went up to the Temple to pray and he did pray—there is nothing but prayer in all that he said. “God be merciful to me a sinner” is a pure, unadulterated prayer throughout! It was the fault of the Pharisee that when he went up to the Temple to pray, he forgot an essential part of prayer which is confession of sinhe spoke as if he had no sins to confess, but many virtues to parade. It was a chief excellence in the devotion of the publican that he did confess his sin, yes, that his utterance was full of confession of sin! From beginning to end it was an acknowledgment of his guilt and an appeal for Grace to the merciful God. The prayer of the publican is admirable for its fullness of meaning. An expositor calls it a holy telegram—and certainly it is so compact and so condensed, so free from superfluous words—that it is worthy to be called by that name. I do not see how he could have expressed his meaning more fully or more briefly. In the original Greek the words are even fewer than in the English. Oh, that men would learn to pray with less of language and more of meaning! What great things are packed away in this short petition! God, mercy, sin, the propitiation and forgiveness!

He speaks of great matters—trifles are not thought of! He has nothing to do with fasting twice in the week, or the paying of tithes and such second-rate things. The matters he treats of are of a higher order. His trembling heart moves among sublimities which overcome him and he speaks in tones consistent therewith. He deals with the greatest things that ever can be—he pleads for his life, his soul! Where could he find themes more weighty, more vital to his eternal in- terests? He is not playing at prayer, but pleading in awful earnest. His supplication speeded well with God and he speedily won his suit with Heaven. Mercy granted to him full justification! The prayer so pleased the Lord Jesus Christ, who heard it, that He condescended to become a portrait painter and took a sketch of the petitioner. I say the prayer in itself was so pleasing to the gracious Savior that He tells us how it was offered—“Standing afar off, he would not lift up so much as his eyes unto Heaven, but smote upon his breast.” Luke, who, according to tradition, was somewhat of an artist as well as a physician, takes great care to place this picture in the national portrait gallery of men saved by Sovereign Grace. Here we have the portrait of a man who called himself a sinner who may still be held up as a pattern to saints! I am glad to have the Divine sketch of this man, that I may see the bodily form of his devotion. I am more glad, still, to have his prayer, that we may look into the very soul of his pleading.

My heart’s desire this morning is that many here may seek mercy of the Lord as this publican did—and go down to their houses justified! I ask no man to use the same words. Let no man attach a superstitious value to them. Alas, this prayer has been used flippantly, foolishly and almost looked upon as a sort of charm! Some have said—“We may live as we like, for we have only to say, ‘God be merciful to me,’ when we are dying, and all will be well.” This is a wicked mis- use of Gospel Truth! Yes, it turns it into a lie! If you choose thus to pervert the Grace of the Gospel to your own destruc- tion, your blood must be on your own heads! You may not have space given you in which to breathe out even this brief sentence, or, if you have, the words may not come from your heart and so you may die in your sins. I pray you, do not thus presume upon the forbearance of God! But, if with the publican’s heart, we can take the publican’s attitude. If with the publican’s spirit we can use the publican’s words, then there will follow a gracious acceptance and we shall go home justified. If such is the case, there will be grand times today, for angels will rejoice over sinners reconciled to God and made to know in their own souls the boundless mercy of the Lord!

In preaching upon the text, I shall endeavor to bring out its innermost spirit. May we be taught of the Spirit so that we may learn four lessons from it!

I.  The first is this—the fact of sinnership is no reason for despair. You need, none of you, say, “I am guilty and, therefore, I may not approach God. I am so greatly guilty that it would be too daring a thing for me to ask for mercy.” Dismiss such thoughts at once! My text and a thousand other arguments forbid despair.

For, first, this man who was a sinner yet dared to approach the Lord. According to our version, he said, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” but a more accurate rendering is that which the Revised Version puts in the margin—the sinner.” He meant to say that he was emphatically the sinner. The Pharisee yonder was the saint of his age, but this publican who stood afar off from the holy place was the sinner. If there was not another sinner in the world, he was one—and in a world of sinners he was a prominent offender—the sinner of sinners! Emphatically he applies to himself the guilty name. He takes the chief place in condemnation and yet he cries, “God be merciful to me the sinner.”

Now if you know yourself to be a sinner, you may plead with God, but if you mourn that you are not only a sinner, but the sinner with the definite article—the sinner above all others—you may still hope in the mercy of the Lord. The worst, the most profane, the most horrible of sinners may venture, as this man did, to approach the God of mercy! I know that it looks like a daring action and, therefore, you must do it by faith. On any other footing but that of faith in the mercy of God, you who are a sinner may not dare to approach the Lord lest you be found guilty of presumption. But with your eyes on mercy, you may be bravely trustful. Believe in the great mercy of God and though your sins are abun- dant, you will find that the Lord will abundantly pardon! Though they blot your character, the Lord will blot them out! Though they are red like crimson, yet the precious blood of Jesus will make you whiter than snow!

This story of the Pharisee and the publican is intended as an encouraging example to you. If this man who was the sinner found forgiveness, so shall you, also, if you seek it in the same way. One sinner has speeded so well—why should not you? Come and try for yourself and see if the Lord does not prove in your case that His mercy endures forever.

Next, remember that you may not only find encouragement in looking at the sinner who sought his God, but in the God whom he sought. Sinner, there is great mercy in the heart of God. How often did that verse ring out as a chorus in the temple song—

For His mercy shall endure
Ever faithful, ever sure!”

Mercy is a specially glorious attribute of Jehovah, the living God. He is “the Lord God, merciful and gracious.” He is “slow to anger and plenteous in mercy.” Do you not see how this should cheer you? Sinners are necessary if mercy is to be indulged! How can the Lord display His mercy except to the guilty? Goodness is for creatures, but mercy is for sinners! Towards unfallen creatures there may be love, but there cannot be mercy. Angels are not fit recipients of mercy. They do not require it, for they have not transgressed. Mercy comes into exercise after Law has been broken, not till then. Among the attributes, it is the last which found scope for itself. So to speak, it is the Benjamin and the darling attribute of God—“He delights in mercy.” Only to a sinner can God be merciful. Do you hear this, you sinner? Be sure that you catch at it! If there is boundless mercy in the heart of God and it can only exercise itself towards the guilty, then you are the man to have it, for you are a guilty one! Come, then, and let His mercy wrap you about like a garment this day and cover all your shame. Does not God’s delight in mercy prove that sinnership is no reason for despair?

Moreover, the conception of salvation implies hope for sinners. That salvation which we preach to you every day is glad tidings for the guilty. Salvation by Grace implies that men are guilty. Salvation means not the reward of the right- eous, but the cleansing of the unrighteous. Salvation is meant for the lost, the ruined, the undone! And the blessings which it brings of pardoning mercy and cleansing Grace must be intended for the guilty and polluted. “The whole need not a physician.” The physician has his eyes upon the sick. Alms are for the poor, bread is for the hungry, pardon is for the guilty. O you that are guilty, you are the men that Mercy seeks after! You were in God’s eyes when He sent His Son into the world to save sinners! From the very first inception of redemption to the completion of it, the eyes of the great God were set on the guilty—not on the deserving! The very name of Jesus tells us that He shall save His people from their sins.

Let me further say that inasmuch as that salvation of God is a great one, it must have been intended to meet great sins. O Sirs, would Christ have shed the blood of His heart for some trifling, venial sins which your tears could wash away? Do you think God would have given His dear Son to die as a mere superfluity? If sin had been a small matter, a little sacrifice would have sufficed. Do you think that the Divine Atonement was made only for small offenses? Did Jesus die for little sins and leave the great ones unatoned for? No, the Lord God measured the greatness of our sin and found it high as Heaven, deep as Hell and broad as the infinite and, therefore, He gave so great a Savior. He gave His only-begotten Son, an infinite Sacrifice, an immeasurable Atonement. With such throes and pangs of death as never can be fully described, the Lord Jesus poured out His soul in unknown sufferings that He might provide a great salvation for the greatest of sinners. See Jesus on the Cross and learn that all manner of sin and of blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men! The fact of salvation and of a great salvation, ought to drive away the very notion of despair from every heart that hears of it! Salvation, that is for me, for I am lost! A great salvation, that is for me, for I am the greatest of sinners! Oh, hear my word this day! It is God’s Word of love and it rings out like a silver bell! O my beloved Hearers, I weep over you and yet I feel like singing all the time, for I am sent to proclaim salvation from the Lord for the very worst of you!

The Gospel is especially, definitely and distinctly addressed to sinners. Listen to it—“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” The Gospel is like a letter directed in a clear and legible hand—and if you will read its direction, you will find that it runs thus—“To the Sinner.” O Sinners, the word of this salvation is sent to you! If you are a sinner, you are the very man for whom the Gospel is intended and I do not mean, by this, a merely complimentary nominal sinner, but an out-and-out rebel, a transgressor against God and man! O Sinner, seize upon the Gospel with joyful eagerness and cry unto God for mercy at once!—

“’Twas for sinners that He suffered Agonies unspeakable! Can you doubt you are a sinner? If you can—then hope, farewell. But, believing what is written— ‘All are guilty’—‘dead in sin’ Looking to the Crucified One, Hope shall rise your soul within.”

If you will think of it again, there must be hope for sinners, for the great commands of the Gospel are most suitable to sinners. Hear, for instance, this Word of God—“Repent you therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Who can repent but the guilty? Who can be converted but those who are on the wrong track and, therefore, need to be turned? The following text is evidently addressed to those who are good for nothing—“Let the wicked forsake his ways and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” The very word, “repent,” indicates that it is addressed to those who have sinned—let it beckon you to mercy!

Then you are bid to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, salvation by faith must be for guilty men, for the way of life for the innocent is by perseverance in good works. The Law says, “This do, and live.” The Gospel talks of salvation by believing because it is the only way possible for those who have broken the Law and are condemned by it. Salvation is of faith that it might be by Grace. Believe and live! Believe and live! Believe and live! This is the jubilee note of the trumpet of Free Grace. Oh, that you would know the joyful sound and thus be blessed! Oh, that you that are sinful would hear the call as addressed to you in particular! You are up to your necks in the mire of sin, but a mighty hand is stretched out to deliver you. “Repent and believe the Gospel!”

If you need any other argument—and I hope you do not—I would put it thus—great sinners have been saved. All sorts of sinners are being saved today. What wonders some of us have seen! What wonders have been worked in this Tabernacle! A man was heard at a Prayer Meeting pleading in louder tones than usual. He was a sailor and his voice was pitched to the tune of the roaring billows. A lady whispered to her friend, “Is that Captain F_______?” “Yes” said the other, “why do you ask?” “Because,” said she, “the last time I heard that voice, its swearing made my blood run cold! The man’s oaths were terrible beyond measure. Can it be the same man?” Someone observed, “Go and ask him.” The lady timidly said, “Are you the same Captain F_______ that I heard swearing in the street, outside my house?” “Well,” he said, “I am the same person, and yet, thank God, I am not the same!” O Brothers and Sisters, such were some of us, but we are washed, we are sanctified! Wonders of Divine Grace belong to God!

I was reading the other day a story of an old shepherd who had never attended a place of worship, but when he had grown gray and was near to die, he was drawn by curiosity into the Methodist chapel, and all was new to him. Hard-hearted old fellow as he was, he was noticed to shed tears during the sermon. He had obtained a glimpse of hope. He saw that there was mercy even for him! He laid hold on eternal life at once! The surprise was great when he was seen at the chapel and greater still when, on the Monday night, he was seen at the Prayer Meeting—yes, and heard at the Prayer Meeting, for he fell down on his knees and praised God that he had found mercy! Do you wonder that the Methodists shouted, “Bless the Lord”? Wherever Christ is preached, the most wicked of men and women are made to sit at the Savior’s feet, “clothed, and in their right minds.” My Hearer, why should it not be so with you? At any rate, we have full proof of the fact that sinnership is no reason for despair.

II.  I must now advance to my second observation—a sense of sinnership confers no right to mercy. You will wonder why I mention this self-evident truth, but I must mention it because of a common error which does great mischief. This man was very sensible of his sin insomuch that he called himself, the sinner, but he did not urge his sense of sin as any reason why he should find mercy. There is an ingenuity in the heart of man, nothing less than devilish, by which he will, if he can, turn the Gospel, itself, into a yoke of bondage. If we preach to sinners that they may come to Christ in all their anguish and misery, one cries—“I do not feel myself to be a sinner as I ought to feel it! I have not felt those convictions of which you speak and, therefore, I cannot come to Jesus!” This is a horrible twist of our meaning! We never meant to insinuate that convictions and doubts and despondencies conferred upon men a claim to mercy, or were necessary preparations for Grace. I want you, therefore, to learn that a sense of sin gives no man a right to Divine Grace.

If a deep sense of sin entitled men to mercy, it would be a turning of this parable upside down. Do you dream that this publican was, after all, a Pharisee differently dressed? Do you imagine that he really meant to plead, “God be merciful to me because I am humble and lowly”? Did he say in his heart, “Lord, have mercy upon me because I am not a Pharisee and am deeply despondent on account of my evil ways”? This would prove that he was, in his heart of hearts, a Pharisee! If you make a righteousness out of your feelings, you are just as much out of the true way as if you made a righteousness out of your works. Whether it is work or feeling, anything which is relied upon as a claim for Grace is an antichrist! You are no more to be saved because of your conscious miseries than because of your conscious merits! There is no virtue either in the one or in the other. If you make a Savior of convictions, you will be lost as surely as if you made a Savior out of ceremonies! The publican trusted in Divine Mercy and not in his own convictions. And you must do the same.

To imagine that an awful sense of sin constituted a claim upon mercy would be like giving a premium to great sin. Certain seekers think, “I have never been a drunk, or a swearer, or unchaste, but I almost wish I had been, that I might feel myself to be the chief of sinners and so might come to Jesus.” Do not wish anything so atrocious! There is no good in sin in any shape or fashion! Thank God if you have been kept from the grosser forms of vice. Do not imagine that repentance is easier when sin is grosser—the reverse is true. Do believe that there is no advantage in having been a horrible offender. You have sins enough—to be worse would not be better. If good works do not help you, certainly bad works do not! You that have been moral and excellent should cry for mercy and not be so silly as to dream that greater sins would help you to readier repentance! Come as you are and if your heart is hard, confess it as one of your greatest sins. A deeper sense of sin would not entitle you to the mercy of God—you can have no title to mercy but that which mercy gives you. Could your tears flow forever—could your grief know no respite—you would have no claim upon the Sovereign Grace of God, who will have mercy on whom He will have mercy.

Then, dear Friends, remember, if we begin to preach to sinners that they must have a certain sense of sin and a cer- tain measure of conviction, such teaching would turn the sinner away from God in Christ to himself. The man begins at once to say, “Have I a broken heart? Do I feel the burden of sin?” This is only another form of looking to self. Man must not look to himself to find reasons for God’s Grace. The remedy does not lie in the seat of the disease—it lies in the Physician’s hands. A sense of sin is not a claim, but a gift of that blessed Savior who is exalted on high to give repentance and remission of sins. Beware of any teaching which makes you look to yourself for help! You must, rather, cling to that doctrine which makes you look only to Christ! Whether you know it or not, you are a lost, ruined sinner, only fit to be cast into the flames of Hell forever. Confess this, but do not ask to be driven mad by a sense of it. Come to Jesus just as you are and do not wait for a preparation made out of your own miseries. Look to Jesus and to Him alone.

If we fall into the notion that a certain sense of sin has a claim upon God, we shall be putting salvation upon other grounds than that of faith—and that would be false ground. Now, the ground of salvation is—“God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” A simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the way of salvation! But to say, “I shall be saved because I am horribly convicted of sin and driven to desperation,” is not to speak like the Gospel, but to rave out of the pride of an unbelieving heart. The Gospel is that you believe in Christ Jesus; that you get right out of yourself and depend alone on Him! Do you say, “I feel so guilty”? You are certainly guilty, whether you feel it or not! And you are far more guilty than you have any idea of. Come to Christ because you are guilty, not because you have been prepared to come by looking at your guilt! Trust nothing of your own, not even your sense of need. A man may have a sense of disease a long time before he will get healing out of it. The looking-glass of conviction reveals the spots on our face, but it cannot wash them away. You cannot fill your hands by putting them into your empty pocket and feeling how empty it is! It would be far wiser to hold them out and receive the gold which your friend so freely gives you. “God be merciful to me a sinner” is the right way to put it, but not, “God be merciful to me because I sufficiently feel my sinnership, and most fittingly bewail it.”

III.  My third observation is this—the knowledge of their sinnership guides men to right action. When a man has learned of the Holy Spirit that he is a sinner, then by a kind of instinct of the new life, he does the right thing in the right way. This publican had not often been to the Temple and had not learned the orthodox way of behaving. It is easy to learn how we all do it nowadays in our temples—take off your hat, hold it in front of your face and read the maker’s name and address! Then sit down and, at the proper moment, bend forward and cover your eyes and, furthermore, stand up when the rest of the congregation does. People get to do this just as if they were wound up by machinery—yet they do not pray when they are supposed to be praying, nor bow before the Lord when worship is being offered.

This publican is out of rank! He does not follow the rubric. He has gestures of his own. First, instead of coming for- ward, he stands afar off. He does not dare to come where that most respectable person, the Pharisee, is displaying himself, for he does not feel worthy. He leaves space between himself and God, an opening for a Mediator, room for an Advocate, place for an Intercessor to interpose between himself and the Throne of the Most High! Wise man, thus, to stand afar off! For by this means he could safely draw near in the Person of Jesus. Furthermore, he would not lift so much as his eyes to Heaven. It seems natural to lift up your hands in prayer, but he would not even lift his eyes. The uplifting of the eyes is very proper, is it not? But it was still more proper for “the sinner” not to lift his eyes. His downcast eyes meant much.

Our Lord does not say that he could not lift up his eyes, but he would not. He could look up, for he did in spirit look up as he cried, “God be merciful to me.” But he would not because it seemed indecorous for eyes like his to peer into the Heaven where dwells the holy God. Meanwhile, the penitent publican kept smiting upon his breast. The original does not say that he smote upon his breast once, but he smote and smote again! It was a continuous act. He seemed to say—“Oh, this wicked heart!” He would smite it. Again and again he expressed his intense grief by this Oriental gesture, for he did not know how else to set forth his sorrow. His heart had sinned and he smote it! His eyes had led him astray and he made them look down to the earth. And as he, himself, had sinned by living far off from God, he banished himself far from the manifest Presence.

Every gesture and posture is significant and yet all came spontaneously. He had no book of directions how to behave himself in the House of God, but his sincerity guided him. If you want to know how to behave yourselves as penitents, be penitents. The best rubrics of worship are those which are written on broken hearts. I have heard of a minister who was said to cry in the wrong place in his sermons—and it was found afterwards that he had written in the margin of his manuscript, “Weep here.” His audience could not see the reason for his artificial moisture. It must have had a ludicrous effect. In religion everything artificial is ridiculous, or worse! But Grace in the heart is the best “master of the ceremo- nies.” He who prays aright with his heart will not much err with foot, hand, or head. If you would know how to approach God, confess yourself a sinner and so take your true place before the God of Truth—throw yourself on Divine Mercy and thus place God in His true position as your Judge and Lord.

Observe that this man, even under the weight of conscious sin, was led aright, for he went straight away to God. A sense of sin without faith drives us from God, but a sense of sin with faith draws us immediately to God. He came to God alone. He felt that it would be of no avail to confess his fault to a mortal, or to look for absolution from a man. He did not resort to the priest of the Temple, but to the God of the Temple! He did not ask to speak to the good and learned man, the Pharisee, who stood on the same floor with him. His Enquiry Room was the secret of his own soul and he en- quired of the Lord. He ran straight away to God, who alone was able to help. And when he opened his mouth, it was, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” That is what you have to do, my dear Hearer, if you would be saved—you must go distinctly and immediately to God in Christ Jesus. Forget all things else and say, with the returning prodigal, “I will arise and go to my Father.” None but God can help us out of our low estate! No mercy but the mercy of God can serve our turn and none can give us that mercy but the God of Mercy! Let every broken-down sinner come to his God, against whom he has offended.

The publican did not look round on his fellow worshippers—he was too much absorbed in his own grief of heart. Especially is it noteworthy that he had no remarks to make upon the Pharisee. He did not denounce the pride, or the hypocrisy, or the hard-heartedness of the professor who so offensively looked down upon him. He did not return contempt for contempt, as we are all too apt to do. No, he dealt with the Lord alone in the deep sincerity of his own heart—and it was well. My Hearer, when will you do the same? When will you cease to censure others and reserve your severity for yourself, your critical observations for your own conduct?

When he came to God, it was with a full confession of sin—God be merciful to me a sinner.” His very eyes and hands joined with his lips in acknowledging his iniquities. His prayer was wet with the dews of repentance. He poured out his heart before God in the most free and artless manner—his prayer came from the same fountain as that of the prodigal when he said, “Father, I have sinned,” and that of David when he cried, “Against You, You only have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.” That is the best praying which comes from the lowliest heart.

Then he appealed to mercy only. This was wise. See how rightly he was guided. What had he to do with justice, since it could only condemn and destroy him? Like a naked sword, it threatens to sheathe itself in my heart—how can I appeal to justice? Neither power nor wisdom, nor any other quality of the great God could be resorted to—only Mercy stretched out her wing. The prayer, “God be merciful,” is the only prayer that you who have been greatly guilty can pray. If all your lives you have spurned your Savior, all you can now do is to cast yourselves upon the mercy of God.

The original Greek permits us to see that this man had an eye to the Propitiation. I do not say that he fully under- stood the doctrine of Atonement, but still, his prayer was, “God be propitiated to me, the sinner.” He had seen the morning and the evening lamb and he had heard of the sin-offering. And though he might not have known all about atonement, expiation and substitution, yet as far as he did know, his eyes were turned that way. “O God, be propitiated, accept a sacrifice and pardon me!” If you know your sin, you will be wise to plead the Propitiation which God has set forth for human sin. May the Spirit of God constrain you to trust in Jesus now! The new year is already gliding away— its second month is slipping from under us—how many months are to go before you, a guilty sinner, will come and ask mercy of God, the infinitely-gracious One? Great God, let this day be the day of Your power!

IV.  I now close with my last head, which is this—the believing confession of sinnership is the way of peace. “God be merciful to me a sinner,” was the prayer, but what was the answer? Listen to this—“This man went down to his house justified rather than the other”!

In a few sentences let me sketch this man’s progress. He came to God only as a sinner, nakedly as a sinner. Observe, he did not say, “God be merciful to me a penitent sinner.” He was a penitent sinner but he did not plead his penitence. And if you are ever so penitent and convicted of sin, do not mention it as an argument lest you be accused of self-righteousness. Come as you are, as a sinner and as nothing else! Exhibit your wounds. Bring your spiritual poverty before God and not your supposed wealth. If you have a single penny of your own, get rid of it. Perfect poverty, alone, will discharge you from your bankruptcy. If you have a moldy crust in the cupboard of self-righteousness, no bread from Heaven will be yours. You must be nothing and nobody if God is to be your All in All! This man does not cry, “God be merciful to me the penitent,” but, “be merciful to me the sinner.” He does not even say, “God be merciful to me the reformed sinner.” I have no doubt he did reform and give up his evil ways, but he does not plead that reformation.

Reformation will not take away your sinnership, therefore do not speak as if it could do so. What you are to be will make no atonement for what you have been! Come, therefore, simply as a sinner, not as a changed and improved sinner. Do not come because you are washed, but to be washed! The publican does not say, “God be merciful to me a praying sinner.” He was praying, but he does not mention it as a plea, for he thought very little of his own prayers. Do not plead your prayers—you might as well plead your sins! God knows that your prayers have sin in them. Why, Man, your very tears of repentance need washing! When your supplications are most sincere, what are they but the wailings of a condemned creature who cannot give a single reason why he should not be executed? Feel and acknowledge that you deserve condemnation—and come to God as a sinner. Off with your paltry finery, I mean your “filthy rags!” Do not trick yourself out in the weeds of your own repentance, much less in the fig leaves of your own resolutions—but come to God in Christ Jesus in all the nakedness of your sin—and everlasting mercy will cover both you and your sins.

Next, notice that this man did nothing but appeal to mercy. He said, “God be merciful to me.” He did not attempt to excuse himself and say, “Lord, I could not help it. Lord, I was not worse than other publicans. Lord, I was a public servant and only did what every other tax collector did.” No, no! He is too honest to forge excuses. He is a sinner and he admits it. If the Lord should condemn him out of his own mouth and send him to Hell, he cannot help it—his sin is too evident to be denied. He lays his head on the block and humbly pleads, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Neither does this publican offer any promises of future amendment as a setoff. He does not say, “Lord, be merciful for the past, and I will be better in the future.” Nothing of the sort! “Be merciful to me the sinner” is his one and only request.

So would I have you cry, “O God, be merciful to me! Although I am even now condemned and deserved to be hope- lessly damned by Your justice, yet have mercy upon me, have mercy on me now.” That is the way to pray and if you pray in that way God will hear you. He does not offer to pay anything. He does not propose any form of self-paid ransom. He does not present to God his tears, his abstinence, his self-denial, his generosity to the Church, his liberality to the poor, or anything else—he simply begs the Lord to be propitiated and to be merciful to him because of the great Sacrifice. Oh, that all of you would at once pray in this fashion!

Now, I want to cheer your hearts by noticing that this man, through this prayer and through this confession of sin, experienced a remarkable degree of acceptance. He had come up to the Temple condemned—“he went down to his house justified.” A complete change, a sudden change, a happy change was worked upon him! Heavy heart and downcast eyes were exchanged for glad heart and hopeful outlook. He came trembling into that Temple—he left it rejoicing! I am sure his wife noticed the difference. What had come over him? The children began to observe it, also. Poor father used to sit alone and heave many a sigh, but all of a sudden he is so happy! He even sings Psalms of David out of the latter end of the book! The change was very marked. Before dinner he says, “Children, we must give God thanks before we eat this meal.” They gather round and wonder at dear father’s happy face as he blesses the God of Israel!

He says to his friends, “Brethren, I am comforted. God has had mercy upon me. I went to the Temple guilty, but I have returned justified. My sins are all forgiven me. God has accepted a Propitiation on my behalf!” What good would come of such a happy testimony! This was a very sudden change, was it not? It was worked in a moment. The process of spiritual quickening is not a matter of hours, but of a single second of time. The processes which lead up to it and spring out of it are long, but the actual reception of life must be instantaneous. Not in every case would you be able to put your finger upon that second of time, but the passage from death unto life must be instantaneous. There must be a moment in which the man is dead and another moment in which he is alive. I grant you, life would be very feeble at first—still, there must be a time in which it was not there at all! And again, there must have been an instant in which it begins. There can be no middle condition between dead and alive. Yet a man may not know when the change took place.

If you were going to the Cape you might cross the equator at dead of night and know nothing about it, but still you would cross it. Some poor landsmen have thought that they would see a blue line right across the waves. But it is not perceptible, although it is truly there—the equator is quite as real as if we could see a golden belt around the globe. Dear Friends, I want you to cross the line this morning! Oh, that you might go out of this house saying, “Glory, glory, hallelujah! God has had mercy upon me!” Though you feel this morning that you would not give two-pence for your life, yet if you come to God through Jesus Christ, you shall go away blessing God not only that you are alive, but that you shall live forever, happy in His love!

Once more, this man went away with a witness such as I pray we all may have. “He was justified.” “But,” you add, “how do I know he was justified?” Listen to these words. Our blessed Lord says, “I tell you that this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” I tell you.” Jesus, our Lord, can tell! Into our ear He tells it. He tells it to God and the holy angels and He tells it to the man, himself! The man who has cried from his heart, “God be merciful to me a sinner” is a justified man! When he stood and confessed his sin and cast himself wholly upon the Divine Mercy, that man was unburdened so that he went down to his house justified! We are all going down to our houses. Oh, that we might go down justified! You are going home. I want you to go home to God, who is the true home of the soul. “He went down to his house justified,” and why should not you do the same?

Perhaps, my Hearer, you have never been to the Tabernacle before. Possibly, my Friend, you are one of those gen- tlemen who spend Sunday mornings in their shirtsleeves at home reading the weekly paper. You have come here this morning quite by accident. Blessed be God! I hope you will go home “justified!” The Lord grant it! Perhaps you always come here and have occupied a seat ever since the Tabernacle was built—and yet you have never found mercy. Oh, that you might find mercy this morning! Let us seek this blessing. Come with me to Jesus. I will lead the way! I pray you say with me this morning—“God be merciful to me the sinner.” Rest on the great Propitiation—trust in Jesus Christ’s atoning blood! Cast yourself upon the Savior’s love and you shall go down to your house justified!

Is it a poor cottage? Is it less than that—a back room up three flights of stairs? Are you very, very poor and have you been out of work for a long time? Never mind. God knows all. Seek His face. It will be a happy Sunday for you, if you, this day, begin a new life by faith in Jesus! You shall have joy, peace and happiness if you seek and find mercy from the great Father. I think I see you trudging home, having left your load behind you, but compassed about with songs of praise unto our God. So be it! Amen and Amen!

 

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Those Quiet Ones Will Surprise You. 

daleJWPastors and some others who read this blog may well have studied the work of the Rev. Dr. James W. Dale, on the subject of baptism. But who was this nineteenth-century author? Rev. James Roberts, author of a Memorial composed in memory of Dr. Dale, writes concerning his subject:

“…the story of such a life can never grow old, and can never cease to be instructive and helpful to others.

Yet Roberts also notes that “The written records from which to construct an adequate memorial [were] almost totally lacking. No diary was kept. No memoranda of personal experience remained. Only occasional dates of events, and a few letters to his family and friends, had been casually preserved.”

“Dr. Dale was a very reticent man and seldom spoke of himself or his personal affairs, except to his most intimate friends, and even to them with a lingering flavor of reserve. For instance, he carried on his remarkable researches on the subject of baptism, by day and by night, for twenty long years, without ever saying to a human being that he was making a book, until he had gone over the whole ground of the inquiry, and his first volume was ready for the press.”

James Wilkinson Dale was born October 16, 1812, at Cantwell’s Bridge (now Odessa) Delaware. He was the third son and the fourth child of Richard Colgate Dale, M.D. and Margaret (Fitzgerald) Dale. Following a term studying law, he turned to prepare for the ministry, initially at the Andover Theological Seminary. From his second year on, he continued his studies at Princeton, graduating there in 1835. He was appointed by the American Board to serve as a missionary in India, but could not gather the requisite financial support and had to withdraw. Undeterred, he next entered upon medical studies to further prepare for missions work, but upon graduation in 1838, entered into a term of service as an agent for the American Bible Society, 1838-1845. He later served as pastor of several churches near Philadelphia. It was during the time of these several pastorates that he wrote his famous works on the subject of baptism.

 daleJW_classic02Classic Baptism was published in 1867; Judaic Baptism in 1869; Johannic Baptism in 1871; Christic and Patristic Baptism, a volume approximately twice the length of the former works, was then published in 1874.

As these volumes were issued, one after another, from the press, they were noticed at considerable length in the editorial columns of many of the religious papers of the country. The foremost professors, pastors, teachers and preachers were strong in their commendation of the author and of the work which he had so well accomplished. Each volume as it came out increased, rather than diminished, the admiration of scholars for the author, and added fresh laurels

The publication of these scholarly volumes at once lifted their author out of the comparative obscurity in which he had lived. His company, his counsel, and his acquaintance, were sought by men eminent in the theological world, who had never seen or even heard of him before the appearance of his books. Other writers in the same field began to quote him as authority, and his works remain and authority on the subject to this day.

In recognition of his scholarship and of his ability as an author, Hampden Sidney College, in Virginia, conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity, as did also his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Dale received no profit from the sale of his books. Perhaps that is not unusual in itself, but he certainly did not publish with an intent to profit from them. In his retirement, he kept busy in part by working to condense and popularize his works on baptism. One friend expressed the wish that “out of this forest of philological learning [speaking of Dr. Dale’s prior works on baptism], there might be, in due time, a little grove selected for the security and comfort of the unlettered believer.” It was the intention of Dr. Dale to make such “a little grove,” in other words, to write a book on baptism which all Christian people could read with interest, pleasure and profit. He found that the books which he had already written and published could not well be abridged or condensed, without lessening their value to preachers and to theological students, for whom they were especially written. He, therefore, determined to prepare such a popular presentation of the subject as would put the valuable results of his studies within the reach of the masses of God’s people. This was the task which he had set for himself, and on which he was engaged when the Master called him to lay aside his pen and to enter upon his everlasting reward.

Words to Live By:
Most people, Christians included, live out their lives in relative obscurity. Few people, Christians included, achieve notoriety in any field. But every Christian has something of great worth that the world knows not. Regardless of our calling in life, we know that we have a purpose. We know that we serve the King of kings. And we know that God has declared that He will be our God, and we will be His people.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, KJV)

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Here We Stand

declarationOfCommitmentThere were four organizations that were formative of the Presbyterian Church in America. They were:
1. The Presbyterian Journal, which began in May of 1942. Founded by a group of conservative Presbyterians, including L. Nelson Bell, the Journal was founded to work against the liberalism infecting the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern Presbyterian Church).
2. The Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, founded by the Rev. William Hill, Jr., conducted revivals in PCUS churches.
3. Concerned Presbyterians, a laymen’s group
4. Presbyterian Churchmen United (PCU), an organization of conservative pastors in the PCUS.

Originally published on October 4, 1969 by the Presbyterian Churchmen United (PCU), the Declaration of Commitment was a clarion call issued to the ministers and people of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS)—a call for recommitment to the Word of God and to the Reformed Faith, signed by over 500 ministers and published in over 30 major newspapers.

DECLARATION OF COMMITMENT

To the membership of the Presbyterian Church, US, in light of the questions and concerns being expressed in the Church as to the nature of our faith and order, we, the undersigned ministers declare our conviction:

—That the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ turns men from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. By coming to faith in Him alone is there genuine reconciliation between man and God and man and man.

—That the Holy Scriptures are the infallible Word of God, and that these Scriptures commit the Church to a mission whose primary end is the salvation and nurture of souls.

—That Christian faith must bear fruit if it is to remain virile. These fruits vary from believer to believer. But common to them all are evidences of love, concern and neighborliness, toward all races of men without partiality and without prejudice, especially to the poor, the oppressed and the disadvantaged. The man of faith views all men as neighbors and himself as debtor, for Christ’s sake.

—That, for the implementation of the above principles, in obedience to our ordination vows, we must strive to preserve a confessional Church, thoroughly Reformed and Presbyterian. Thus, our support of or opposition to any proposed union will be determined by these considerations.

—That, being fully committed by our ordination vows to the system of doctrine set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, we must oppose all efforts to change in substance or otherwise debase our historic doctrinal commitment.

—That we are in the same context by vow committed to historic Presbyterian polity with its representative system and its parity among teaching and ruling elders. Thus, we are forced to oppose any efforts to take our Church into the massive organization envisioned by COCU [i.e., Consultation on Church Union.]

—That, should the basic theology or polity of the Church be altered or diluted, we shall be prepared to take such actions as may be necessary to fulfill the obligation imposed by our ordination vows, to maintain our Presbyterian faith.

Words to Live By:
In this clarion call, over 500 pastors called for the Church to remain true to the Reformed Faith, to remain a confessional and Presbyterian church, in doctrine and in polity. They staked out a position with this document, standing against a proposed ecumenical merger which would have taken their denomination into liberal and unbelieving waters. And they made it clear that they would not be party to such a merger but would honor their ordination vows.

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” – (2 Thess. 2:15)

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” – (2 Timothy 1:13)

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) – Hebrews 10:23)

Image source: News clipping from the Paul G. Settle Manuscript Collection, Box 256, file 27, at the PCA Historical Center. Date [circa 1969] and source of the clipping not known.

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Have You Improved the Sermon?

The bicentennial observation of the founding of the Fairfield Presbyterian Church, of Fairton, New Jersey, commonly known as the Old Stone Church, was observed on September 29, 1880, the church having been organized in 1680. That congregation continues on to the present day and is a member church of the Presbyterian Church in America.

osbornEthanEasily the most distinguished pastor in the history of the Old Stone Church was the Rev. Ethan Osborn.

For our Lord’s day sermon, the following is a transcript of the aged pastor’s last words to his congregation,

“the aged preacher, in all the faithfulness of his still loving heart, and under circumstances which could not fail to awaken for him the sympathy of his audience. He is now in his ninety-second year. The place where he stands was he scene of his eventful ministrations for more than half a century, and he does not expect ever to preach from that pulpit again. After referring to the ministry of his predecessor, who in 1780 preached the first sermon in the house, to his own labors there, and to those of the writer of this memorial, then the pastor of the congregation, he proceeds—”

“I may safely say that by the preaching of these three ministers, in this house, the doctrines and all things essential to duty and salvation, have been clearly explained and faithfully urged upon the people. The doctrine of human depravity has been explained and proved from Scripture and common observation. Here also the doctrine of regeneration has been repeatedly set forth, and the absolute necessity of it urged upon the people. It has been shown that we must be new created in Christ Jesus, must have the love of God ruling in our hearts, or we can never be admitted into his kingdom.

“Also the doctrines of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, have been faithfully preached in this house, and their absolute necessity in order to obtain pardon and heavenly felicity. Likewise the duties prescribed in the gospel have been explained and insisted on. The people have been informed that supreme love to God is their indispensable duty. Here also they have been taught the duties we owe, one to another, to do good to all according to our abilities and opportunities; and to ourselves, to live sober and religious lives in the world. Here also, that the law forbids every sin, whether in action, word or heart, and pronounces a curse on every transgression of it. For ‘cursed is every one that continueth not in all the things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’ And as all have sinned, therefore no human being can be justified before God by the deeds of the law, or by meritorious obedience. The law requires perfect and perpetual obedience. But as no man has yielded such obedience, or possessed sinless perfection, therefore in vain do you now look to the law for justification.

‘Since to convince and to condemn,
Is all the law can do.’

“But, thanks to God : the gospel reveals a way of justification, how we may obtain forgiveness and the favor of God. And this blessed gospel has often been preached in this house, the gospel which offers a free pardon to every humble penitent. ‘This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ The blessed Saviour invites the weary and heavy laden sinner to come to him, assuring him that he will raise him up at the last day to eternal life. Such is the inviting and beneficent language of the gospel. But at the same time, both law and gospel denounce everlasting punishment on such as reject the Saviour and die impenitent.

“Now the interesting question is, How have the people improved the preaching of the law and the gospel? Most of those who lived under the ministry of my predecessor have gone to the grave. But to you who are yet living and hearing the gospel, the question is solemn and important. Have you so improved the preaching of God’s word as to become wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus?

“To those who are pious believers, I would say, you have chosen the good part, and God has begun a gracious work in you which he will carry on until it terminates in glory. So that by faith in Christ, shaving laid hold on the hope set before us, you may have a strong consolation, and go on your Christian course rejoicing. Be not satisfied with your present relative attainments, but press forward to the work of perfection, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Use the appointed means of reading and hearing the word of God, not forsaking the assembling of yourselves for public worship, as many do, and by no means neglect the privilege and duty of prayer. Ask and receive, not only that you may have grace to serve God, but that you may also grow in grace and in the knowledge of your Lord Jesus Christ. In this way religion will become more pleasant. The nearer you advance toward heavenly perfection, the more delighted you will be with heavenly enjoyment. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.’

‘Come leave his pleasant ways,
And let us taste his grace.’

“Never be weary in well doing, for in perseverance, you shall in due time reap a glorious harvest. As an inducement thus to live and spend your remaining days, remember your judge and mind will ere long call us to answer, how I have preached the gospel and how you have improved it.

“I now turn to those of you whose future happiness is not yet secured by faith in the Mediator. Your situation is awfully dangerous. You are now suspended between the possibility of eternal happiness or eternal misery. You are now between the two vast extremes, or if I may more plainly express it between heaven and hell. Either celestial happiness or infernal misery must in a short time be your everlasting portion. How solemn is the prospect before you–the joys of heaven or the sorrows of hell, one of which must be your everlasting portion,–the latter except ye turn at God’s reproof. ‘As though God did beseech you, by us, we pray you, in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.’ Believe me when I say it is my heart’s desire and prayer to God, that you and I may have a joyful meeting at the judgment, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“As we expect this to be the last Sabbath on which I shall speak to you from this pulpit, let me say, in the presence of God who knows my heart, that I have endeavored and prayed that I might faithfully perform my ministerial duties. Though I am conscious of much imperfection, God is my witness, that I have ever preached such doctrine and precepts as I verily believe are agreeable to his word. I have repeatedly said, ‘the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.’ With gratitude to God, I look back upon the religious revivals with which he has blessed us and the friendly relations which have subsisted between us. It is no small satisfaction that as pastor and people we separated as friends, and that a pleasant intercourse subsists between myself and my successor, your present pastor. Never were the people more dear to me, I shall love them as long as I live.

“Excuse my plainness, and permit me once more to say in the fullness of my feelings, that my heart’s desire and prayer to God for you all is, that you may be saved. As it will not be long before we must each answer to God–I for my ministry, and you for your improvement of it, let us be diligent in what duty remains and in advancing toward heaven. Let brotherly love continue and abound, until it shall be perfected in the heavenly kingdom. And may God prepare us all to meet in heaven! I now bid you a cordial farewell, praying that it may fare well with you in this world, in blessings of health and prosperity, as far as shall be for God’s glory and your own good, and that in the future world, entered with your blessed Saviour into the joy of your Lord, you may FARE WELL.”

[excerpted from The Pastor of the Old Stone Church (1858), pp. 52-56. To read this work online, click here.]

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