Category Archives: God

Soli Deo Gloria (1)

Apparently this is what J. S. Bach wrote on every piece of music he wrote.

As I think and write on Reformation Sunday morning 2006, in another part of our home the strains of

and glory give to God alone.

It captivated him, just as it did the Apostle Paul in Romans 11:33–36, and the prophet Isaiah before him. No wonder the Westminster Divines placed it at the start of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Man’s chief end is to glorify God.

Undoubtedly Bach wrote SDG on his music as more than an acknowledgment that he wanted to bring glory to God through his music; it was an acknowledgment that soli deo gloria was his principal purpose in life—his chief end.

So the question is what is my chief end in life? Is it PFW or XYZ or SDG?

He knows the way he taketh

I’ve been reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s book The All-Sufficient God: Sermons on Isaiah 40 (reviewed by Richard John under the title A Spiritual Mars Bar!; definitely well worth reading). In the final chapter he mentions Anna L Waring‘s hymn.

I’ve often sung this hymn and thought it said or meant that God knew my way. But, of course, that was me putting myself at the centre of the universe, and making God merely my minder. Not that that’s not true. It’s just not what the hymn is saying. God knows his own way! And while both ideas are true and biblical, Anna Waring’s idea is the more glorious and comforting.

It’s certainly comforting to know God has his eye on me 24/7/365. It’s also good to know God’s leading and guiding in life. But sometimes even the guide can become unsure or uncertain of the path.

I remember taking a group of teenage boys on a hike in the mountains one weekend. Things were fine when we started. We had food, maps, compasses, torches/flashlights, wet weather gear, boots, etc. But just as we approached the final summit, the clouds descended and we became thoroughly disoriented. I’d been along those tracks before and since, but somehow I thought we were further along the trail than we were. So, thinking it more prudent to descend than continue, I started down what I thought was the path. It certainly looked like it when we started, but it was a valley too soon, and rapidly became treacherous. We were able to descend safely, but I was a guide who no longer knew the path he took.

What a blessing and a comfort that God is not that sort of guide. He knows the way he taketh.

Balancing the Books

“Learn to set spiritual riches over against temporal poverty. Balance all your present troubles with your spiritual privileges. Indeed if God has denied your soul the robe of righteousness to clothe it, the hidden manna to feed it, the heavenly mansion to receive it, you might well be pensive.”

John Flavel, Keeping the Heart. A Puritan’s View of how to Maintain Your love for God, Christian Heritage, 1999, ISBN: 1-85792-504-1, p. 88

How modern the concerns of seventeenth century man. He was concerned for clothes on his back, food in his stomach, and a roof over his head. These Gentile concerns (see Mat 6) are shown most vividly in contemporary British TV—cooking galore, makeover shows (whether looking good naked or clothes!), and DIY, house moving shows on every channel it seems, pretty much daily.

The trouble lies not in these temporal concerns, but when they become goals in life: to look good, to eat well, and to have an impressive house. “Life is more than food and the body more than clothing” (Mat 6:25). Our problem is that we become anxious about these things, and we seek them. And in seeking them we no longer seek God first (cf Mat 6:33). Our home becomes our priority, not God’s kingdom, the place we will spend eternity if we have been born again. Our clothes become a priority, instead of Christ’s robe of righteousness, our garments of salvation.

But unlike some religions where the choice is either … or, the Bible presents a different scenario. We seek God first, we put him first, “and all these things will be added to you” (Mat 6:33). It is not particularly spiritual not to bother with food, clothes and shelter, either for ourselves or to provide for our families. What is unspiritual is to elevate these daily necessities to the level of God, which is what we do when we do not seek God first. If he is toppled from his position of authority in our lives we are merely doing what caused Satan’s fall. He wanted to be higher than God (see Is 14, Ezk 28), and it led to his downfall. If we seek to emulate him, we can expect no less. The fact is “God knows [we] need them all” (Mat 6:32).

Is our greater attention to food, clothes and shelter than to God not an assertion of our own independence from God. If we pray for daily bread, then we need not concern ourselves with it. If we truly depend on God, then what he provides ought to be sufficient. If we believe “my grace is sufficient for you” (2Co 12:9) then we dare not complain about the size of the portion on our plates, or the style of the clothes on our backs.

Such an attitude does not come naturally—it must be learned. Even spiritual giants like the Apostle Paul had to learn this; it does not come naturally.

“I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Php 4:12)

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Php 4:11)

“There is great gain in godliness with contentment.” (1Tm 6:6)

We must do as Flavel says and “learn to set spiritual riches over against temporal poverty.”