Oratio, meditatio, tentatio

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. (Psalm 119:67)

I have recently finished reading John Piper’s short and superb little biography, Martin Luther: Lessons from His Life and Labour (free to download here). Piper focuses on the significance of Scripture to Luther’s life and ministry, drawing out certain lessons to exhort those in gospel ministry.

Many of the points from the Luther story are largely expected — the importance of keen study of the Scriptures; original languages as the key to understanding the text; the necessity of prayer and utter dependency on God; and so on.

But the bit which caught me off guard, and which left the deepest impression on me, is what Luther called the “touchstone” of understanding Scripture: trials.

Reflecting on Psalm 119, Luther said:

I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself […] The method of which I am speaking is the one which the holy king David teaches in Psalm 119 […] Here you will find three rules. They are frequently proposed throughout the psalm and run thus: Oratio, meditatio, tentatio (prayer, meditation, trial).

Oratio, meditatio, tentatio. Prayer, meditation, trial.

And trials Luther called the “touchstone”, for they

teach you not only to know and understand but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s word is: it is wisdom supreme.

And Luther again, reflecting on his own experiences, said:

For as soon as God’s Word becomes known through you, the devil will afflict you and will make a real doctor of you, and will teach you by his temptations to seek and to love God’s Word. For I myself […] owe my papists many thanks for so beating, pressing, and frightening me through the devil’s raging that they should have turned me into a fairly good theologian, driving me to a goal I should never have reached.

The language of “trials” or “afflictions” feels so foreign to many of us who live in the developed world. More so if we are in our 20s and 30s. Most of us have yet to encounter any real suffering; many of us still view ourselves as invincible.

And so it is for me, someone who lives a relatively comfortable life in 21st century London.

Lately, though, I’ve been going through quite a difficult period. I’ve been forced to strip away many things I held dear and placed my hope in. It’s been humbling and painful.

But in each painful instance, Jesus has welcomed me with outstretched arms, saying, “I’m enough for you; if you have me, you have everything“.

Much like when Eustace is “undragoned” by Aslan in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, this pain is the necessary restorative work of turning me back to my loving Saviour. Or much like Luther (above), this trial is teaching me to know my Lord Jesus more deeply. Indeed, I am becoming a better theologian.

By no means am I holding myself out to be an expert or “holier than thou”. I don’t even think I’ve fully come out of this trial as yet. And in any case, my pain does not even begin to compare to the ordeals some of my brothers and sisters in Christ have endured, let alone to the anguish my Saviour suffered.

But I can testify that in my state, His Words bring me great comfort. They are sweeter, truer, lovelier. He is the living water who truly satisfies my deepest thirst; he is the bread of life who truly satisfies my deepest hunger; he is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear?

His grace is sufficient for me, for his power is made perfect in my weakness.

He has a plan; He is sovereign and will bring it to pass; He who promised is faithful, He will surely do it.

Dear brother or sister, if you are going through a similarly difficult situation, don’t neglect the tentatio which God will no doubt use to deepen your knowledge of Him. May this fiery trial bring you closer to Him and fill you with inexpressible joy.

Let me find Your grace in the valley
Let me find Your life in my death
Let me find Your joy in my sorrow
Your wealth in my need
That You’re near with every breath
In the valley

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why faith alone justifies

To get at the nature of that faith, it is helpful to ponder why faith alone justifies. Why not love, or some other virtuous disposition? Here’s the way J. Gresham Machen answers this question in his 1925 book, What Is Faith?

The true reason why faith is given such an exclusive place by the New Testament, so far as the attainment of salvation is concerned, over against love and over against everything else in man… is that faith means receiving something, not doing something or even being something. To say, therefore, that our faith saves us means that we do not save ourselves even in slightest measure, but that God saves us.

In other words, we are justified by faith alone, and not by love, because God intends to make it crystal clear that he does the decisive saving outside of us, and that the person and work of Christ are the sole ground of our acceptance with God.

A hundred years earlier Andrew Fuller (the main rope holder in England for missionary William Carey in India) gave the same explanation:

Thus it is justification is ascribed to faith, because it is by faith that we receive Christ; and thus it is by faith only, and not by any other grace. Faith is peculiarly a receiving grace which none other is. Were we said to be justified by repentance, by love, or by any other grace, it would convey to us the idea of something good in us being the consideration on which the blessing was bestowed; but justification by faith conveys no such idea.

John Piper, Think at 70

Isn’t the gospel just astoundingly beautiful?

on introvertedness, solitude, and the need for friendship

be encouraged by Noel Piper’s (John Piper’s wife) testimony on how she discovered the joy of friendship, at 60.

“Good things can happen in solitude. Quietness can be a sweet place to meet God. But there’s a dark side to solitude when I crave it above all. The I comes to mean not “introvert” but literally only “I”: I don’t want you around, because I am the one who makes me happy. I can solve my own problems. I am all I need.”

on introvertedness, solitude, and the need for friendship

“We often pit thinking and feeling against each other, especially when it comes to the Christian experience. Glorifying God with our minds and hearts, however, is not either-or, but both-and. Focusing on the life of the mind will help you to know God better, love him more, and care for the world. This book will help you think about thinking, and about how the heart and mind glorify God together.”

– from the back of Think, by John Piper. Can’t wait to start reading this one!

my happy confession of having no merit – John Piper

This is my confession:

I was born into a believing family through no merit of my own at all.

I was given a mind to think and a heart to feel through no merit of my own at all.

I was brought into the hearing of the gospel through no merit of my own at all.

My rebellion was subdued, my hardness removed, my blindness overcome, and my deadness awakened through no merit of my own at all.

Thus I became a believer in Christ through no merit of my own at all.

And so I am an heir of God with Christ through no merit of my own at all.

Now when I put forward effort to please the Lord who bought me, this is to me no merit at all, because

…it is not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

…God is working in me that which is pleasing in his sight. (Hebrews 13:21)

…he fulfills every resolve for good by his power. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)

And therefore there is no ground for boasting in myself, but only in God’s mighty grace.

Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:31)