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PRUDENCE

February 9, 2009

23 “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: 24 and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is My body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me. 25 After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in My blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me. 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come. 27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”

 

Our text for this morning’s message is founding verse “28 where Paul says; “But let a man examine himself and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.  I want you to know that the material for this message was taken from the book “Characters in Pilgrims Progress” and specifically from the character of Prudence from whom we receive much searching truth, much deep and profound doctrine which we would do well to improve upon in our lives.

 

The scene before us is set in the House Beautiful, a symbol of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ where we go for comfort, instruction and strength for the day. It is in the Church that the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ hears the truth of the word of God read, explained. It is here that the Word of God which is sharper than any two edged sword is applied to the life of the believer, where the Christian kneels before the searchlight of Truth, where all of his sins are laid bare and plain before him. And with this knowledge, the Christian finds strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow: where he can plead for forgiveness at the Throne of grace; find strength to help in time of need and cleansing for his soul before the Lord whom he loves.

 

It is in the Church that fellow believers can share their burdens with one another, pray for one another and encourage one another in the faith. And it is in this setting where we find Pilgrim. But it is interesting that before the pilgrim was invited to sit down at the supper table in the House Beautiful, quite a number of most pointed and penetrating questions were put to him by those who had charge of that house and its supper table. 

 

It is interesting that today there are no such questions asked for fear of hurting the feelings of others, offending them so they never come back etc. Today quantity is far more important than quality. And you can trace probably 85 to 90% of Church’s problems back to non converted converts who have brought the world into the church. The standards of the world, its forms of entertainment and its psychological doctrines have infiltrated the Church to the point where sermons are now little more than Freudian discourses which last no more than 20 minutes for that is the perceived attention span of the average person. What nonsense! During the Water Gate revival in the book of Ezra the people stood from early morning till noon and gave rapt attention to the Word of God. I dare say that we would do well to return to the Scriptural model of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ and cast out any and all worldliness, For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Ro 8:6 Before us we have a beautiful illustration of how churches used to take members into their midst.

We would do well to embrace the example set before us for we are called by God to examine ourselves and it behooves us to examine prospective members to our churches as well. If they leave we are spared the pain of having a wolf in our midst.

 

Piety, Prudence, Charity and Discretion are thus engaged in this time of examination. Note that the Porter who represents the Pastor of the Church directs Pilgrim to the path of light and then proceeds to question him. After hearing his tale he says “Well, I will call out one of the virgins of this place, who will, if she likes your talk, bring you in to the rest of the family, according to the rules of the house. (Yes there are rules) So WATCHFUL the porter rang a bell; at the sound of which, came out at the door of the house a grave and beautiful damsel, named DISCRETION, and asked why she was called.” Watchful answered, “This man is in a journey from the city of Destruction to Mount Zion; but being weary and benighted, he asked me if he might lodge here tonight: so I told him I would call for thee, who, after discourse had with him, mayest do as seemeth thee good, even according to the law of the house.”

 

Christian and Discretion began to talk after which they were joined by Piety, Prudence, Charity “And thus the time was excellently improved till the table was spread” which means that they were redeeming the time, using it to full advantage rather than wasting it on frivolous activities which neither improve the mind nor fill the soul. They were building up on another according to Jude 1:20  “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” In Ro 14:19 Paul says “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. And we see the result of such use of time. It is said that the short delay and the successive exercises (the deep questioning and examination of Pilgrim, the sharing of their hearts, rather than driving him away from the church) whetted to an extraordinary sharpness his hunger for the supper!”  

 

Now I have to ask you; can you actually say that you hunger for this supper, this memorial meal that we as Christians partake of? Have you ever actually hungered to partake of the Lords Supper? I find the statement extraordinary. Most Church goers just think of the Lords Supper as something we do; it’s just a ritual, a rite that we partake of every so often. It’s on the schedule. But until reading this I never thought of hungering for the Supper but now I am beginning to get an inkling of what Jesus meant when He said in Lu 22:15  And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; Is there any earnestness in your heart?

 

Now I understand those who believe that the Lords Supper has some saving qualities to it; indeed they would practically be desperate to partake for they believe their salvation depends upon this. But then they believe that salvation is gained by works that they must perform. They have certain deeds they must perform in order to be saved, in order to gain favor with God. But real Christians understand that this is a memorial, a meal of remembrance in which we look back upon the day when Jesus gave His body and blood for our salvation. The Lords Supper does not save but it points us to Him who alone can save the soul! Therefore the earnestness in our souls is the earnestness of remembering our Loving Savior who lived died and rose again for our salvation! And it is a looking forward to the day when we will enter in to the banquet hall and partake of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Ponder these things if you will.

 

Piety and Charity, who had joint charge of the house from the Master of the house, each held conversation with Christian, but it was left to Prudence to hold the most particular discourse with him until supper was ready, and it is to that so particular discourse that I much wish to turn your attention now. With great tenderness, but at the same time with the greatest possible seriousness, Prudence asked the pilgrim whether he did not still think sometimes of the country from whence he had come out.  Yes, he replied; how could I help thinking continually of that unhappy country and of my sad and miserable life in it; but, believe me, it is with the greatest shame and detestation I always think of my past life.  My face burns as I now speak of my past life to you, and as I think what my old companions know and must often say about me. I detest every remembrance of my past life, and I hate and never can forgive myself, who, with mine own hands, so filled all my past life with shame and self-contempt. Gently stopping the remorseful pilgrim’s self-accusations about his past life, Prudence asked him if he had not still with him, and, indeed, within him, some of the very things that had so destroyed both him and all his past life.  ‘Yes,’ he honestly and humbly said. ‘Yes, but greatly against my will: especially my inward and sinful thoughts.’ At this Prudence looked on him with her deep and soft eyes, for it was to this end that she had been leading the conversation up to. 

 

Prudence had a great look of satisfaction, mingled with love and pity, at the way the pilgrim said ‘especially my inward and sinful thoughts.’ Those who stood by and observed Prudence wondered at her delight in the sad discourse on which the pilgrim now entered. But she had her own reasons for her delight in this particular kind of discourse, and it was seldom that she lighted on a pilgrim who both understood her questions and responded to them as did this man now sitting beside her. 

 

Now, I must ask you a pointed question: is that your religious experience? Are you full of shame and detestation at your inward meditations?  Are you tormented, enslaved, and downright cursed with your own evil thoughts? I do not ask whether or not you have such thoughts always within you because I know that you do! But I ask, because I would like to make sure that you know what, and the true nature of what, goes on incessantly in your mind and in your heart. 

 

Spurgeon said; “Do you, or do you not, spit out your most inward thoughts ten times a day like poison? Do you not find yourself shuddering at the evil you have perpetrated before a Holy God? If you do then you are a true Christian, and if you do not, then I dare say you do not yet know the very ABC of true religion, and your dog has a better errand at the Lord’s table than you have.”  And if your minister lets you partake of the Lord’s table without holding from time to time some particularly close and painful discourse with you about your sinful thoughts, he is deceiving and misleading you, besides laying up for himself an awakening to shame and everlasting contempt. What a mill-stone his list of those who partook of communion will be round such a minister’s neck!  And how his congregation will gnash their teeth at him when they see to what his miserable ministry has brought them!

 

Let a man examine himself, said Paul. What about your inward and sinful meditations asked Prudence?  Jeremiah the Prophet cried; Wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem, that you may be saved. How long will your wicked thoughts lodge (or find a home) within you?” Jer 4:14  Now what have you to say to that particular accusation? Do you know what vain thoughts are? Are you at all aware what multitudes of such thoughts lodge within you?  Do they drive you every day to your knees, and do you blush with shame when you are alone before God concerning the fountain of folly that fills your mind and your heart continually? 

 

The Apostle speaks of vain thoughts and schemes that travel through our minds each day; things which make us ashamed we ever entertained them. You have been often ashamed by such things and yet do not such musings still too easily arise in your heart? What fantasies, what castles of idiotic folly we still build! Were a sane man or a modest woman even to dream such dreams of folly overnight, they would blush and hide their heads all day because of it.  What a world of nonsensical fantasy we build out of words and looks.

 

The question of Prudence is not whether or not you are still a fool at heart, she does not pose unnecessary questions: hers to you is the more pertinent and particular question, specifically; whether, since you left your former life and became a Christian, you feel every day increasing shame and detestation at yourself on account of the pride of your inward thoughts. Can you satisfy her who is has been sent by her Master to hold such particular dialogue with all true Christians before supper?  Can you say with the Psalmist, “I hate those who are double-minded, (half hearted) But I love Your law?” Ps 119:113 And would you be able to tell her that her Master alone knows with what shame you think that He has such a fool as you are among His people?

 

Consider the sin of anger and I am speaking of the sin of raging fury which causes us to sin against God. The Bible tells us to BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger…Eph 4:26 There is a sense in which we can be angry; angry at injustice or against those who hate God and rail against Him. But we must not join in their sin by repaying evil with evil. We must hold up the standard of God before the world and direct them to the wicket gate where they may find mercy and salvation from their sins. We must fight with all our being, in the power of the Holy Spirit to refrain from sinning before the world: from bringing a blight upon the Name of Jesus Christ. We must strive to do everything with the Glory of God in mind!

 

Does this keep you not only watchful and prayerful, but, what is the best ground in you of all true watchfulness and prayerfulness, full of secret shame, self-fear, and self-detestation? One small table would easily hold all our communicants if Prudence were there to ask hard questions.

 

And, then, we who are true pilgrims, are of all men the most miserable, on account of that ‘failing,’ that irritating pang in our hearts, when any of our friends has more of this world’s possessions, honors, and praises than we have, that pain at our neighbor’s pleasure, that sickness at his health, that hunger for what we see him eat, that thirst for what we see him drink, that imprisonment of our spirits when we see him set at liberty, that depression at his exaltation, that sorrow at his joy, and joy at his sorrow, that evil heart that would have all things to itself. Deep down inside we think we are owed more, that we should have this or that…that we must be at least as big if not bigger than the Jones’s.

 

And Christian agrees for he says: “I am only too aware with all these sinful ponderings of heart, but they are all greatly against my will, and might I but choose mine own thoughts, do you suppose that I would ever think these things any more? What a fight goes on in my mind each and every day. The old man wants to rear his ugly head and lead me to do that which is displeasing to my Heavenly Father For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” Gal 5:17

 

‘I cannot be free of sin,’ said Thomas Boston, ‘but God knows that He would be welcome to make havoc of my lusts tonight and to make me henceforth a holy man.  I know no lust that I would not be content to part with. My will bound hand and foot I desire to lay at His feet.’ Yes: such is the mystery and depth of sin in the hearts of all God’s saints, that far deeper than their will, far back behind their will, the whole substance and very core of their hearts is wholly corrupt and enslaved to sin. 

 

And so it is that while their renewed and delivered will works out their salvation in fear and trembling; while they seek to glorify God as they live before sinful men, the helplessness of their will in the cleansing and the keeping of their hearts is to the end the sorrow and the mystery of their sanctification.  To will was present with Paul, and with Bunyan, and with Boston; but their heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. No man can trust it. ‘Might I but choose mine own thoughts, I would choose never to think of these things more: but when I would be doing of that which is best, that which is worst is with me.’ 

 

God alone is able to say, I search the heart and therefore our daily prayer should and must be “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts;  and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Ps 139:23-24  Bunyan says: ‘As for secret thoughts,’ speaking of his own former religious life, ‘I took no notice of them, neither did I understand what Satan’s temptations were, nor how they were to be withstood and resisted.’  But now all these things are his deepest grief, as they are ours, as many of us as have been truly turned in our deepest hearts to God.

 

‘But,’ replied Prudence, ‘do you not find sometimes as if those things were vanquished which at other times are your perplexity?’ ‘Yes, but that is but seldom; but they are to me golden hours in which such things happen to me.’ ‘Can you think of those times when your pet sins seem to be vanquished?’ asked Prudence. ‘Yes, when I think what I saw at the cross, that will do it; and when I look upon my broidered coat, that will do it; also, when I look into the roll that I carry in my bosom, that will do it; and when my thoughts wax warm about whither I am going, that will do it.’ 

 

Yes; and these same things have many times done it done it for us as well.  We also, my brethren have such golden moments, when we feel as if we should never again have such an evil heart within us. The Cross of Christ to us also has done it.  It is of such golden hours that Isaac Watts sings in his noble hymn: ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross;’ and as often as we sing that hymn with our eyes upon the object, that will for a time vanquish our worst sinful musings. 

 

Also, when we read the roll that we too carry in our bosom that is to say, when we examine ourselves; when we remember how sin ruled our lives and then when we remember that moment when God in grace visited us and delivered us from His wrath; when we ponder those golden hours when grace abounded above our sins, it is at these times that we are granted a brief respite from the wickedness that dwells within our hearts. Then too when we have immersed ourselves in the lives of godly men like Brainerd and McCheyne we are lifted above the earth and given a glimpse of the celestial city. 

 

In closing, consider this final question from Prudence, “what is it that makes you so desirous to go to Mount Zion?’ ‘Why,’ replied the pilgrim, and the water stood in his eyes, ‘why, there I hope to see Him alive that did hang dead on the cross; and there I hope to be rid of all those things that to this day are a source of misery and rebuke to me. There they say is no death, and there shall I dwell with such company as I love best. For, to tell you truth, I love Him, because by Him I was eased of my burden, and I am weary of my inward sickness; and I would fain be where I shall die no more, and for ever with that company that shall continually cry, Holy, holy, holy.’ Amen!

 

 

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