Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character

Back in 1982, a very dear Christian friend gave me a copy of Gardiner Spring's book, Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character.

I have returned to in many times over the decades, always with new blessing and insight.  Gardiner Spring was a close friend and classmate of Adoniram Judson, the latter of whom would become America's first foreign missionary, who along with his wife Ann Hasseltine Judson departed for Burma in 1812.  Gardiner Spring's father, Dr. Samuel Spring, was one of New England's prominent conservative ministers and a vigorous champion of foreign missions.  Gardiner Spring became the distinguished pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City where he ministered for over fifty-five years.

Judging from Dr. Gardiner Spring's little book, there were many more professing Christians than possessing Christians even one hundred-eighty-five years ago, and the problem is much more evident today.  Many people profess salvation and believe they are on their way to heaven, yet they show few if any distinguishing marks of a biblical, born-again Christian.  The chapter titles from Spring's book challenge professing believers:  Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!  (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Here is the table of contents organized in outline form.  I highly recommend this little book, which is available from Amazon.

  1. Visible Morality
  2. Speculative Knowledge
  3. Form of Religion
  4. Eminent Gifts
  5. Conviction for Sin
  6. Strong Assurance
  7. Time of Your Supposed Conversion
  1. Love to God
  2. Repentance for Sin
  3. Faith in Christ
  4. Evangelical Humility
  5. Self-Denial
  6. Devotion to Divine Honor and Glory of God
  7. The Spirit of Prayer
  8. Brotherly Love
  9. Separation from the World
  10. Growth in Grace
  11. Practical Obedience
These chapters are richly supported by Scripture in Spring's book.  Oh, how this dark world needs genuine Christians!  And churches need to be purified! May God send revival!

Saturday, April 12, 2014


The summer of 1857 had been frustrating for businessman and lay missionary Jeremiah C. Lanphier.  Business itself had been good, but week after week he had knocked on doors in lower Manhattan, inviting people to worship services at the Dutch Reformed Church at Fulton and Williams Streets with little success.  The church had fallen on hard times. Old families had moved away and the neighborhood had become a business district, populated by transient laborers and recent immigrants.
            But the bigger problem was prosperity.  The young nation was in its Golden Age. Railroads and steamship lines had expanded trade and facilitated the great westward movement. New cities were springing up and states were being added.  The telegraph speeded communication, and gold was discovered in California!
            The boom was on!
            But the increase in gain brought a decrease in godliness.  Church attendance was pitiful. The new materialism was also having political repercussions as the cloud of civil war hung over the land.
            Lanphier knew that the only hope for the nation was a spiritual awakening.  But how could he get the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to a money‑mad nation? Lanphier took his frustrations to the Lord in prayer.
            Later, while making his rounds of visitation, the answer came to him.  Businessmen might be interested in a noonday prayer meeting once a week.  Excited, Lanphier passed out handbills and put up placards announcing the first noonday prayer meeting for Wednesday, September 23, 1857.  Five businessmen and the pastor showed up.  The meeting seemed in no way extraordinary.  But unknown to Lanphier, God was about to do something that very week that would bring the nation to its knees.
            On September 25, the Bank of Philadelphia failed.  Twenty men came to the next prayer meeting.  The third week there were forty, and Lanphier decided to hold daily meetings in a larger room.  On Wednesday, October 14, the nation was struck by the worst financial disaster in its history.  Fortunes evaporated, banks closed, railroad companies went bankrupt, unemployment soared, and families faced hunger.
            In a short time, the Fulton Street prayer meeting had taken over the whole church building, drawing crowds of more than 1,000 people.  People from all walks of life attended: “leading capitalists, prominent lawyers and judges, eminent physicians, merchants, bankers, mechanics (and) tradesmen.”  Shop keepers hung signs on their doors at noon: “Closed—Be back after prayer meeting.”  Police and Fire stations provided space for meetings, as did Burton’s Theater and the New York City Music Hall.
            Because of the large numbers at the meetings, rules were drawn up and posted:
Brethren are earnestly requested to adhere to the five‑minute rule:  Prayers and exhortations not to exceed five minutes in order to give all an opportunity.
            Prayer meetings spread throughout New York and Canada.  A revival broke out in Hamilton, Ontario, and a New York newspaper reported that over 300 people were converted within a few days.
            By January, 1858, there were at least twenty daily meetings in New York City, drawing as many as 10,000 people in total.  Newspaper reporters were sent to cover the meetings, and “The Progress of the Revival” became a regular headline.  Stories of human drama abounded.
            A man bent on killing his wife and himself wandered into the Fulton Street meeting and listened to a fervent exhortation urging repentance.  Suddenly, the desperate man cried out, “Oh! What shall I do to be saved?”  Then another man stood with tears streaming down his cheeks and asked the people to sing “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.”  By the end of the meeting, both men had put their trust in Christ.
            Noted prize fighter Earl “Awful” Gardiner was converted at another meeting.  He then visited Sing Sing Prison to give his testimony to some old friends there.  As a result, Jerry McAuley, a notorious river pirate, was converted.  McAuley later founded the Water Street Mission, one of the nation’s first rescue missions.  The spiritual movement not only reached the lowest of society, but the highest.  President James Buchanan began attending meetings in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania, and showed great interest in the progress of the revival.
            In a Midwestern church, twenty-five women began meeting once a week to pray for their unconverted husbands.  Later, the pastor traveled to the Fulton Street meeting to testify that the last of the twenty-five husbands had repented, trusted Christ, and joined the church.           
At a special meeting in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a prayer request was read to the group:
“A praying wife requests the prayers of this meeting for her unconverted husband that he may be converted and made a humble disciple of the Lord Jesus.”  A stout, burly man arose.  “I am that man,” he confessed.  “I have a pious, praying wife.  This request is for me.  I want you to pray for me.” As soon as he sat down, another man got up. “I am that man,” he said.  “I have a praying wife. She prays for me, and now she has asked you to pray for me.  I am sure that I am that man, and I want you to pray for me.”  As many as five men stood up claiming to be that husband in need of prayer.
            Prayer requests flooded in by telegraph and mail from all over North America and even Europe.  No request was refused.  Letters told of many specific answers to prayer.  A Chicago newspaper summed up the results of the revival in that city:
So far as the effects of the present religious movement are concerned, they are apparent to all. They are to be seen in every walk of life, to be felt in every phase of society.  The merchant, the farmer, the mechanic—all who have been within their influence—have been excited to better things, to a more orderly and honest way of life.  All have been more or less influenced by this excitement.
            It has been estimated that no fewer than 300,000 and perhaps as many as one million people were converted to Jesus Christ through the influence of the Fulton Street Prayer Meeting Revival.  And the greatest impact was made in one year!
            The repercussions, however, were felt for years after.  While the revival did not stop the Civil War, neither did the Civil War stop the revival.  The Confederate Army Revival saw 150,000 conversions, and by the end of the war Confederate soldiers professing faith in Christ made up one third of the army.
            The effects of the revival were also felt across the Atlantic in the “awakening” which swept the British Isles.
            The slow, frustrating labors of Jeremiah Calvin Lanphier had culminated in the most intense, fast‑spreading revival in our nation’s history. It was also the last great national revival in the United States.  Could it happen again?  Could our present economic distress be the avenue to spiritual renewal?  Should we not be praying?

First published in Conquest, January 13, 1987  Copyright Thomas L. Jones 1987

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Ark of the New Covenant

God delivered the Ten Commandments twice.  The manner in which God dispensed His law each time was dramatically different, and the difference illuminates God’s entire plan of salvation through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

God first pronounced His Ten Commandments aloud from Mt. Sinai in the hearing of the entire congregation of Israel before calling Moses up to the mountain to receive the two tablets engraved by God Himself (Exodus 19:9; 20:1; Deuteronomy 5:4, 23).  Although the people promised obedience to all that the LORD had said (Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7; Deuteronomy 5:27), the sound of the LORD’s voice pronouncing the Ten Commandments, accompanied by thunder, lightning, and loud trumpet sounds, terrified them into requesting that Moses convey the LORD’s words to them and that the LORD no longer speak the them directly, “lest we die” (Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:23-27; compare Hebrews 12:18-21). 

Then Moses went up high into Mt. Sinai (also called Horeb) to receive the tablets, tablets sculpted by God and engraved by God.  But before Moses could return with these sacred tablets, the people had already spurned God’s spoken words, giving themselves over to idolatrous revelry in worship of a golden calf!  God sent Moses back down to witness and deal with their apostasy, and when Moses saw and heard what was happening, he smashed the tablets at the foot of the mountain!  The Law of God was given to Israel, the Israelites vowed to obey it, the Israelites promptly broke it.  This dramatically pictures the inability of fallen humans to keep God’s law through fleshly effort, regardless of good intentions.  The Law of God was shattered – totally!  The physical destruction of the tablets dramatized the fact.  Undoubtedly the Israelites violated several of the Ten Commandments in the course of their revelry, but it was only necessary to break one to be guilty of all: the Law of God is an organic whole.  As James would explain many centuries later: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).   And they certainly broke the most important commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

Israel’s failure in keeping God’s Ten Commandments set the stage for the second giving of the Law. God’s second giving of the Ten Commandments foreshadowed the covenant of grace.  This time there was no thunderous pronouncement from the mountain.  God agreed that the people had spoken well when they asked that God not speak to them directly (Deuteronomy 5:28), so he gave his Law and all His ordinances through Moses from then on.  The beauty of the second administration of the Law is in the details.

First, there had to be new tablets, and this time God would not supply them.  Moses was instructed to “cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones.”  Upon them God would “write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered.” (Exodus 34:1, 4)  Why did Moses have to cut out the tablets?  The obvious implication is that since Moses shattered them, Moses must restore them.  But isn't there more to it than that?  Moses was not rebuked by the LORD for shattering the tablets; the act was the suitable consequence of the people’s apostasy.  They no longer deserved God’s Law.  And God was still working through Moses and honoring him, even granting him a reflected glory that caused fear even in Aaron (Exodus 34:29-30).  John Gill observes that the new tables hewn by Moses but written on by God would establish Moses as the mediator of the covenant, and as mediator, he was a type of the Messiah.  (Compare Deuteronomy 18:15)  The Book of Hebrews, the best commentary on the spiritual meaning of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), states that Jesus is “the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises,” a “new covenant” through Christ’s shed blood. (Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). 

As mediator of the Old Covenant, Moses was also the intercessor for the people.  After smashing the tablets, dramatizing the enormity of their sin, Moses interceded with God on their behalf when the LORD threatened to destroy them and make a great nation of Moses (thus testing and demonstrating Moses’ humility and love for the people).  (See Exodus 32:7-14; Deuteronomy 9:12-29)  Moses was even willing for God to blot him out of His book and let Israel live (Exodus 32:32)  That which Moses pictured, Jesus Christ fulfilled perfectly.  Jesus is now our Intercessor with the Father, interceding on our behalf on the basis of his own sacrifice for our sins. (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1-2)  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, could and did die for our sins and rise again for our justification (Romans 4:25), and he “always lives to make intercession” for us. (Hebrews 7:25)

The second and most important feature of this second giving of the Ten Commandments was its disposition:

At that time the LORD said to me, “Cut out for yourself two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood for yourself.  I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered, and you shall put them in the ark.” (Deuteronomy 10:1-2, italics added; compare Exodus 40:20)

The Ark of the Covenant represented Christ.  Its wooden construction pictured his humanity, its gilding pictured his deity, and the mercy seat represented His redemptive mission.  The cherubim with their wings arched over the mercy seat pictured the angelic beings who worship Him continually.  (Exodus 37:1-9)  Meditate on this: the new tablets of the Law were placed inside the Ark! Only Jesus Christ could and did fulfill God’s holy Law, and then He took our sins upon Himself, paying the full penalty for all who believe.  In Christ, we have a right standing before God; we are both forgiven and declared righteous in Him!  What’s more, we are given new life and the power of the Holy Spirit in order that we might fulfill God’s righteousness.  

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  (Rom 8:3-4)

When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple that separated the Most Holy Place and the Ark of the Covenant from all but the high priest, was torn from top to bottom.  (Matthew 27:51) God’s message is clear to all who have spiritual eyes: the way to Christ – the “Ark of the New Covenant” – is open to all.  His mercy is extended to all who receive Him!

And as for the mountain, there’s Good News about that too!

For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: "And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow." And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.")  But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.  (Hebrews 12:18-24 NKJV)

(For further study of the symbolism of the tabernacle and the Old Testament sacrifices, see the following commentaries:Lectures on the Tabernacle by Samuel Ridout and A Commentary on The Book of Leviticus by Andrew Bonar.