Now, at 70 years of age, I look back to ask myself what I’ve learned and how this should govern what is said in this pulpit.
I’ve come to understand that life is a series of unanswered questions and unsatisfactory answers. In some, God has chosen, for His own good pleasure, not to answer; to those He has answered, we, in our unmitigated arrogance, argue “but why must I do this?” (or) “but why may I not do that?”
The Creator has every right to command: Thou shalt (or) Thou shalt not.
Sometimes He answers in the only way we will understand: “Because I said so.”
The advantage of having a dinosaur as your shepherd is that I am old. My time with you will be very short and I have no patience when what is at stake is nothing less than your immortal soul. You have the advantage of my already having “been there” so that I speak from experience, and of my having no interest in shepherding “happy” people who will, ultimately, not be welcomed to Paradise.
You come because you want the answers to life’s questions but, in truth, you come only to hear what you want to hear. Most have no interest in the only thing of value I have to offer.
Tonight I find myself in the second year of Elijah’s trouble, placed here in my own wilderness just as God once placed Adam, expelled from the Garden. It is a wilderness made even more alone by the realization that I am in the winter of my last years:
- waiting for the call to Judgment yet with so many questions unanswered, hurts not explained, brokenness not healed;
- crying in the night—behind closed doors when no one can hear—fearing that I will die alone and knowing that I cannot have the one I loved so dearly come to hold my hand as I pass my last moment;
- living with past mistakes and discourtesies that will never be corrected and realizing that I live unforgiven, unforgiven even by those whom I may still love and cherish deeply but whose love for me has turned cold;
- saddened over the death of loved ones, and living with memories of those I’ve hurt and to whom I might have shown better fellowship;
- living in illness, incurable;
- overwhelmed by a financial burden that wearies my soul through night and day;
- despite His promises, saddened because I sin so grievously against God and live in the fear that I may never be forgiven and that my eternal fate will be sealed by words and actions that I cannot undo;
- oftentimes feeling abandoned, abandoned even by God Himself.
I’m dying. Alone. I’ve lost everything of earthly value and I have nothing more to lose. You cannot show me any kind of hell that I don’t know already.
And so you’ll find that this pulpit will have neither patience for lazy and entitled “victims” nor fear of being “canceled” by angry woketoptians who wish to rule over humanity as the hyper-socially aware, self-appointed gatekeepers of language and behavior while often being so woefully illiterate of language, history, reality, and the Law given by the Creator.
In my remaining hours I am here for one purpose and one purpose only: to preach the Word of God according to the Word of God and not as some might wish it to be.
The only argument in which I will engage is this: is it, or is it not, according to the Word of God? If you have question of where you might find “that” in the Word of God, I’m here to point you in the direction; if you have some conflicting view of how it “should” be or stomp your feet because you are offended by what comes from this pulpit, please move to the Church of the Burger King where you can “have it your way.”
First Puritan is the conduit for “you” to come to God; it is not the conduit for God to come to you.
Our Lord has called His servant to minister to your soul and yet I fully realize that you have little interest in knowing what He demands of you and an even lesser interest in obeying what He demands of you.
And so harsh and bitter words will echo through this Assembly, words that will surely empty the pews of those who would not be called to everlasting life and words that may sound the immediate “eight bells”¹ to a ministry into which God may have called me to fail.
So be it.
As shepherd to the Assembly who loves you so dearly, allow me to answer your questions in a way that will not, for most, provide satisfactory comfort.
You come to me in my study or in the confessional or I to your hospital bedside and find me unable to answer because you don’t want the answer.
Jack Nicholson, in A Few Good Men, was absolutely correct: “You can’t handle the truth.”
And yet—aside from relatively meaningless services and sermons and ordinances—”truth” is all I have to offer.
As for the secret to your walk with Christ and to eternal life, the mature Christian need ask only three questions:
1. What am I commanded?¹
2. What am I promised?²
3. What obedience is required?³
For the Christian, this is all there is.³ There is nothing more. And in these you not only find the answer to all of your “why” questions but to all of the “why” and “what” of your actions that are to follow.
¹ You cannot know what’s commanded unless you read the instruction booklet—not just the 10 Commandments and not just your favorite childhood Bible lullabies but the entire Scripture so that you have it in context. But you won’t. Do you know why? Beyond the simple fact that you’re lazy, it’s because you know—deep in your heart—that you don’t want to know. You’d rather skitter about to find some social construct or false preacher or parent or some “new circle of friends” who would tell you that you are not beholden to the Law of God.
Why? Because you’re content to remain in your sin. Why? Because you don’t truly believe in God.
In my nightly prayers for this Assembly I weep that so many—believing that at the moment of death you will be known to our Savior—will have crossed the line of “no more chances” only to find yourself in the greatest of peril.
² If you don’t read, you cannot know what God has promised—what God “as He is” has promised and not what was (not) promised by the God “as you want Him to be.” And if you choose not to know the good and the bad of what He has promised and if you choose not to understand that “God delivers” and that God delivers always, you will remain at step zero. Don’t waste your time with step one and please stop calling yourself a Christian! You will die both the physical and the spiritual death of an unsaved and you will spend your eternity in the Lake of Fire just as God has (dare I say the word?) “promised.”
You ask that it be given you, but you want only the answer you want to receive and so you cast the Word of God to the wayside and turn to man to justify your adultery.
You seek mercy, but scoff at “obedience.”
You knock at the gate of Paradise, but you think you can enter without passing through the door of Judgment.
³ If you read the instruction booklet and understand what God has promised and if you grow to faith that He will deliver upon what He has promised you will always—always—do what’s right. You will do so not only for the love of God and for the certainty of His promises but because He will have, literally, “scared the hell out of you.”
There are no “gray areas” with this Creator; God that says what He means and means what He says and He calls you to be His follower in that terrible Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord Thy God in vain.
His commandment is neither a “suggestion” nor even about “God-damning” the dog; rather, it is a cold and frightening condemnation for wearing the paper hat of a Christian while showing the world, by your example, that you are no different from the rest.
If you say that you are a Christian God demands you act as a Christian—a Christian from Missouri. “Show me,” He calls. (James 2:14-18).
“No thanks,” you answer. “Too inconvenient. Too many rules that inconvenience my sinful lifestyle.”
Better had it been to have never heard of God and to rely upon His mercy than to have heard and then turned your back on a God of infinite anger, jealousy, and wrath. (2 Peter 2:21)
Hell is real. I suggest you won’t want to go there but I see that so many of you are willing to dismiss your Creator and trade your insignificant moments of earthy pleasure for a lifetime of torment that we humans cannot imagine.
The most difficult thing I’ve had to accept as Guardian of the Word of God is that “I” cannot save you. Salvation comes through the effectual call of the Holy Spirit and by no other means. The best we ministers can do is pray that God has saved you “not yet” and to cry for our own loved ones that He, for His own purpose, will allow to suffer in the eternal fire—suffering in total darkness without hope and without end and crying out for a forgiveness and mercy that will never come.
³ Taken from the trilogy of the 17th-century Puritan Divine Thomas Baxter: “Prayer for an Adulterous Wife, on the Book of Hosea”; “Suffer Not Thy Wife into Adultery”; and “Adultery as a Pathway to Faith.” I will preach upon these works in the coming weeks so that we may see—even if our individual situations may seem to be very different—that there is only a single pathway to salvation and that we, as God’s creatures, have neither the right nor the wisdom to question what He commands.
And what are the “rules”?
“Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” (The Westminster Larger Catechism, number 1)
“The duty which God requieth of man is obedience to His revealed will.” (The Westminster Larger Catechism, number 91).
Upon these two hang your eternity. But still so many of you seek to follow your own path, relying on a fallen society and a fallen self, and upon pride, to sail a course different from the course given—the course written in stone!—the course demanded!!—by Almighty God.
For the many, there is nothing I can do for you. I’m sorry. Truly.
Each night, I pray that God would give me one more. Just one more, even if it is to be in a ministry of one pulpit and one pew.
May my speech be an outlandish tongue to these Babylonians among whom I dwell,² and may your soul be the one that is preserved.
² Charles Spurgeon, Morning & Evening (1866); taken from Morning, 16 March.