The Dancing Puritan

Friday, October 17, 2014

Use the Pen: Guest Post by Charles Spurgeon

This column is taken from the April 1871 Edition of The Sword and The Trowel
Use the Pen
An Exhortation Charles Spurgeon
YOUNG ministers would do well to remember that for purposes of teaching there are two fields of usefulness open to them, and that both deserve to be cultivated. The utterance of truth with the living voice is their main business, and for many reasons this deserves their chief attention; but the publishing of the same truth by means of the press is barely second in importance, and should be used to the full measure of each man’s ability. It is a surprising thought that what is written to-day in our study may in a few weeks be read beyond the Alleghanies, and before long may lift up its voice at the Antipodes. And as space is thus overleaped, so also is time; for if the world should last another five hundred years, the author of an immortal sentence will continue still to speak from the glowing page. The press performs marvels. So noble an agency, so far reaching, so potent, so available, ought not to lie idle. Every man who addresses his fellow creatures with the voice should try his hand at pen and paper, if only for his own sake; it will correct his style, give it more accuracy, more condensation; probably, therefore, more weight. The possibility of doing good to the souls of men is a grand incentive which needs no other to supplement it, and such a possibility beyond all question exists when warmhearted thought is expressed in telling language, and scattered broadcast in type among the masses. Young men, look to your goosequills, your Gillets, or your Waverleys, and see if you cannot write for Jesus.

What, in the name of reason, can move an Editor to perpetrate such a paragraph as the above, when we are already bored and pestered with the immeasurable effusions of hundreds of scribblers, who are only spoilers of good foolscap?” We admit the naturalness of the question, and we feel its force: feel it all the more because we have just now been for some hours up to our neck in a stagnant pool of printed dulness, and have almost caught a literary cramp. Look at that volume of poetry. We cannot review it; we have tried till we do not mean to try again; we fear it would worry us into a fresh attack of our ever-ready enemy—the gout. “Our brain is tired, our heart is sick.” The poems are just an everlasting ding-dong, ding-dong of commonplaces and pretty phrases, all meaning nothing at all. Do you see that volume of sermons? The good man who issues them declares that he did it in deference to the wish of his hearers (a very common excuse, by the way). He might well have prayed, “Save me from my friends.” The discourses are no doubt pious, and well intended, but to print them was a blunder of the first magnitude. There is a book on Romanism, and another on Matrimony. We have read them both, and expect some day or other to be rewarded for our patient perseverance, but as yet it is numbered among those good deeds which bring no present profit to him who performs them. But indeed the list of volumes over which we have done penance is too long for rehearsal. We shudder at the recollection. We frequently wonder how we survive our sufferings in the review department; sifting a waggon load of chaff to find one solitary grain of wheat is nothing to the labour in vain which is allotted us by many authors. We pride ourselves upon our extreme gentleness in criticism, but we should soon lose all repute among our readers for this amiable virtue if we did criticise in print all the books sent to us; a considerable number of them it would be cruelty to notice, and in mercy to the authors we pass by their offspring, and say nothing where nothing good could be said. [N.B. Those gentlemen whose books are not yet noticed in our magazine will please not to write and scold us next post. Let them hope that their productions are so good that we are too fascinated to begin as yet to criticise; at any rate, let no author wear a cap unless he finds it to be a correct fit.]

All this is a digression, to show that we are not forgetful of the fact that this press-ridden nation already groans beneath tons of nonsense and platitude, and needs no addition to the enormous burden. We frankly own that if another great historical fire should do for modern literature a similar work to that which was so providentially wrought at Alexandria, we should not fret. If we saw the commencement of the blaze we should be in no hurry to arouse Captain Shaw and his men with the brass helmets, but should like to see it burn merrily on, especially if it would consume for ever all the small-beer poetry, the interpretations of prophecy, and—well—well, nineteen books out of twenty, at the least: ninety-nine out of every hundred would be a still more desirable purification.

Yet you began by stirring up young men to write. Where is your consistency?” Our answer is that we did not exhort anybody to write such stuff as commonly is written. On our bended knees we would say to many a man who threatens to commit authorship, “we pray you do no such evil.” But we return to our first paragraph, and say again that the pen is a great means of usefulness, and it ought not to lie idle. Let a man wait till he has something to write, and let him practise himself in composition till he can express his meaning plainly and forcibly, and then let him not bury his talent. Let him revise, and revise again. Let him aim at being interesting, endeavouring to write not for the butter-shop, but for readers; and above all, let him write under the impulse of a holy zeal, burning to accomplish a real and worthy end. The columns of religious magazines and newspapers are always open to such contributions, and if the author has no other broadsheet in which to publish his thoughts, he may be well content with the pages of periodical literature. Whatever may be the faults of our reviews and other periodicals, they are undoubtedly a great institution, and might be made far more influential for the highest ends, if men of greater grace were found among their writers. It is a worthy ambition to endeavour to seize these moulders of the public mind, and make them subservient to true religion. The words of Dr. Porter, in his “Homiletics,” may be most appropriately quoted here:—

“Young men destined to act for God and the church, in this wonderful day, think on this subject. Recollect that religious magazines, and quarterly journals, and tracts of various form, will control the public sentiment of the millions who shall be your contemporaries and your successors on this stage of action for eternity. To whose management shall the vast moral machinery be intrusted, if the educated sons of the church, the rising ministry of the age, will shrink from the labour and responsibility of the mighty enterprise? Learn to use your pen, and love to use it. And in the great contest that is to usher in the triumph of the church, let it not be said that you were too timid or indolent to bear your part.”

Good men there have been and are who could do far more service for God and his church by their pens if they would write less and write better. They flood our second-rate magazines with torrents of very watery matter; their style is slipshod to a slovenly degree; their thoughts are superficial; their illustrations hackneyed; they weary where they mean to win. Let such brethren take time to mend their pens, the world will continue to rotate upon its own axis if we do not see their names next month at the head of an article. Work must be put into papers if they are to last. Easy writing is usually hard reading. The common reader may not observe the absence of honest work in a poem, sermon, or magazine article, but he manifestly feels the influence of it, for he finds the page uninteresting, and either goes to sleep over it or lays it down. Young man, earnest in spirit, if you have any power with the pen, make up your mind to cultivate it. Do your best every time you compose. Never offer to God that which has cost you nothing. Do not believe that good writing is natural to you, and that you need not revise; articles will not leap out of your brain in perfect condition as the fabled Minerva sprang from the head of Jove. Read the great authors, that you may know what English is; you will find it to be a language very rarely written nowadays, and yet the grandest of all human tongues. Write in transparent words, such as bear your meaning upon their forefront, and let them be well chosen, correctly arranged, and attractively ordered. Make up your mind to excel. Aim high, and evermore push on, believing that your best efforts should only be stepping stones to something better. The very best style you can attain will be none too good for the glorious themes upon which you write.

But, remember, there is a more material business than mere excellence of composition. Your manner is important, but your matter is far more so. Tell us something well worth knowing when you write. It is folly to open your mouth merely to show your teeth; have something to say, or speak not at all: ink is better in the bottle than on the paper if you have nothing to communicate. Instruct us, impress us, interest and improve us, or at least try to do so. It is a poor achievement to have concocted a book in which there is neither good nor hurt, a chip in the porridge, a correctly composed nothing; but to have pleaded with men affectionately, or to have taught them efficiently, is a result worthy of a life of effort. Try, brother, not because it is easy, but because it is worth doing. Write until you can write; burn half a ton of paper in the attempt, it will be far better in the flames than at the printer’s; but labour on till you succeed. To be a soul-winner by your books when your bones have mouldered is an ambition worthy of the noblest genius, and even to have brought hearts to Jesus by an ephemeral paper in a halfpenny periodical is an honour which a cherub might envy. Think of the usefulness of such books as “James’ Anxious Enquirer,” and “The Sinner’s Friend.” These are neither of them works of great ability, but they are simple and full of the gospel, and therefore God blesses them. Is it not possible for others of us to produce the like? Let us try, and God helping us, who can tell what we may do.

One concluding word to our young brother. We would not recommend you to try poetry. Write reason before you write rhyme. The usual way is to sacrifice the sense to the jingle: do you adopt the other plan. Do not expect public men to spare time to read your manuscripts: apply to some judicious friend nearer home. Do not be thin-skinned, but accept severe criticism as a genuine kindness. Write legibly if you expect your article to be accepted by an editor: he cannot waste time in deciphering your hieroglyphics. Condense as much as possible, for space is precious, and verbiage is wearisome. Put as much fact as you can into every essay, it is always more interesting than opinion; narratives will be read when sentiments are slighted. Keep the main end in view, but aim at it prudently; do not worry readers with illtimed moralisings and forced reflections. Ask a blessing on what you compose, and never pen a sentence you will on your dying-bed desire to blot. If you attend to these things, we shall not repent of having said to you, “Use the pen.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Depression and Psalm 42

Godly people struggle with depression.  In Psalm 42 King David talks to himself: "Why are you cast down, O my soul?" When you see a person talking to himself your first reaction is probably, "That person has a problem." David is that guy. He talks to himself and he has a real problem, he is depressed.

How do we know that David is depressed? He tells us, "My tears have been my food day and night," (3a). For a strong and courageous king to say such a thing raises a red flag about his mental health. He is not even eating right. His diet consists of the tears that fall from his eyes, run down his face, land on his lips, and end up in his mouth.

David indicates his depression when he cries, "My soul is cast down in turmoil" (5). He is overwhelmed, "all your breakers and your waves have gone over me" (7).

What does David want in the midst of his depression? The answer may surprise you.  David wants God (1-2) and he wants congregational worship (4, 5,13). Certainly David wants to feel better, stop crying, find relief for his troubled soul, and to have the pressure lifted. However, his first desire is for God. Just like a thirsty deer wants water, David wants God.

The godly person who is depressed is different from the ungodly person, at this point. Some people just want relief from their sadness, and better circumstances, but they do not want God. In other words, they want relief on their own terms. The godly person, however, wants God.

Why does a godly person want God when he is depressed?

1. God is the living God (2).
2. God is his salvation (6,11).
3. God is his life (8). 
4. God is his rock (9).
5. God is his God (10,11).

The godly person looks to God because God is alive, God is the Savior, God is life, God is strong, and God is God. God is real when everything else seems surreal.

Where do you look and what do you reach for when you are depressed?

1. You should pant for, long for, and thirst for God (1-2). Make God your priority!
2. You should long to worship God with fellow believers at church (4).
3. You should pour out your soul in prayer to God (4,8,9).
4. You should remember who God is, through reading the Bible, and keep on trusting him (5,11).
5. You should talk to yourself (5,11).  Tell yourself to, "Hope in God!"

When you face depression, gauge your responses by David's responses. Do you long for God? Do you want to go to church and worship God with his people? Do you pour out your soul to God in prayer? Do you believe in God? Do you talk to yourself?

Depression is not to be taken lightly. However, the good news for Christians is that you have hope.  God is alive, he is your rock, and he is your salvation. As the hymn-writer put it, "God is not dead, nor does he sleep."

If you are not sure that you are a Christian, then there is also hope for you. You need to take an honest look at yourself. Gauge your responses by David's responses in Psalm 42. If you seldom or never respond to your depression as David did, then perhaps you are not a Christian. What should you do? Run to Jesus. He lived without sinning, died for sinners, was raised again from the dead, and is alive and reigning today. He receives humble sinners who come to him for salvation. He is the Shepherd who will lead you to green pastures and still waters (Psalm 23).

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Case For Family Worship

Are you stuck in the present? After all there are bills to pay and schedules to meet. You may be finding it difficult to think much beyond the next hour. You certainly cannot live anywhere but the present because the past is gone and the future is not yet. However, you might be so stuck in the present that you are missing the bigger picture. That can be true in every area of life including family life.

Much of what we learn about the family in Scripture is from a Hebrew perspective. Hebrew family life was deeply rooted in the past and was purposeful about the future. Where did the Jewish people develop such a multi-generational perspective? Their visionary outlook on family life came directly from God.

Deuteronomy chapter 6 describes Israel’s theology and practice on many fronts, including the family. The Israelites were to know and love God. They were to remember the promises that God had made to their forefathers (3). The fathers imbibed the truth about God and allowed it to burn with the hot iron of conviction upon their hearts so that they could teach their sons and grandsons.

When you engage in family worship you embrace a multi-generational view of family life. Your vision dips into history where you meditate on God’s faithfulness to ages past. Standing on a firm historical foundation you then invest biblical truth in the present generation with the objective of making a godly impact on future generations.

The Hebrew view of family life embraced an age-to-age philosophy. God taught their forefathers. The forefathers passed the faith down to their children. The children passed the faith onward to their children. You must do the same.

Resting on that foundation, consider this biblical framework for family worship.

Visionary Thinking is Essential in Family Worship. Family Worship requires a look back to the lessons of biblical history and then a look forward to our grandchildren. We must learn to think beyond the next bill we have to pay.

Biblical Knowledge and Wisdom is Required in Family Worship. 

And these words that I command you today must be on your heart (Deuteronomy 6: 6). 

The truth that God is one and must be loved, feared, and obeyed first captured the hearts of the fathers who then passed the faith on to their children. J.A. Alexander in his book, Thoughts on Family Worship, wrote:
There is no member of a household whose individual piety is of such importance to all the rest as the father or head. Where the head of a family is lukewarm or worldly, he will send the chill through the whole house.
Diligence is Required When Leading Family Worship (6: 7-8). In leading family worship you are aiming to pierce the hearts of each member of your family with truth about God. When you lead your children to worship God you are seizing opportunities to teach at all times (sitting, walking, bedtime, morning) as well as more structured times of instruction. You look for ways to keep truth about God and the call to love Him constantly before the eyes of your family (8-9).

Blessings are Promised to Those Who Practice Family Worship. God gave promises specific to Israel (Deuteronomy 6: 2-3). The Apostle Paul lifts those promises and applies them to Christian parents and their children (Ephesians 6). You have every reason to be hopeful for the spiritual well-being of your children as you lovingly and joyfully expose them to God.

What are some of the reasons that you should engage in family worship?

In the midst of plenty (or lack) there is the temptation to forget God (Deuteronomy 6:10-12; Proverbs 30:8-9). Family Worship is an important arrow in the quiver of God's truth that you can draw from to hit the bull’s eye of memory. Your aim is to stir up, in every member of your family, an active remembrance of God.

We are constantly tempted to worship other gods (Deuteronomy 6:14-15). Other gods can take the form of a job, technology, sports, popularity, people, or anything else. A god is what we devote an inordinate amount of our time, money, energy, and we invest hope in. We are idol worshippers when we buy into the promises of peace, prosperity, popularity, or whatever the god may be offering. Family Worship is a reminder that God is to be the sole object of our faith and obedience.

We are challenged with the idea that God is not trustworthy (6:16-17). Family Worship provides an opportunity to learn from biblical history that God, who was faithful in ages past, is faithful now, and will be faithful in ages to come.

Family Worship gives us opportunity to declare the gospel (6:20-25). As Hebrew parents recounted how God delivered them from Egyptian slavery to the Promise Land; you have a similar opportunity to recount how you were delivered from slavery to sin, are being delivered daily from the power of sin, and will one day be delivered to heaven where there is no sin.

Is Family Worship worthy of your time? Yes! From age-to-age God’s design is that we declare "the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78:4).

Remember the past. Engage the present. Invest in generations to come.

Ray Rhodes is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries and Books That Nourish. He leads family worship conferences and marriage retreats and serves as pastor of Grace Community Church in Dawsonville, GA.. He is married to Lori and they have six daughters. Ray is the author of seven books including three on Family Worship. You can order Ray's books at Books That Nourish

Thursday, October 9, 2014


I am not sure how I survived before the days of Pandora Radio. With Pandora I can just click on Fernando Ortega and it is like David playing his harp before Saul. The older I get, the more I need soft music, gentle melodies, and that "peaceful easy feeling."

The folks at WinShape seem to intuitively know, that when I show up for one of their retreats, I need my bed and my music soft.  I need fireplaces, mountainsides, flowing streams and a lake with a swan. Martha Berry, in the 1930's, seemed to know what I was going to need when she designed her dairy farm. And when Truett and Jeannette Cathy developed WinShape Retreat from that farm, they provided a treasure for those who long for a pilgrim's refuge along their journey to the Celestial City.

Life is a gift from God with many moving parts. If I want to sit around the table with my family and enjoy the bounty of the earth, God requires me work. If I am to work in the way God intended, I must learn to rest.

As I sit here in my office, I can hear my children and grandchildren upstairs running across the floor. Their little feet carry them to their next adventure. And gracing the room above me is a woman that has captured my imagination and has owned my heart for nearly 28 years. I want to love my family better. They need me to work hard. They need me to know both peace with God and the peace of God. They need for me to labor so passionately that the sweat from my brow soaks my shirt collar. And they need me to receive God's gifts of green pastures and still waters. They need for me to rest.

My heart overflows with thankfulness to God for the folks at WinShape for giving Lori and me a few days of peace and quiet. As I listen to my peaceful music, I am reminded that God offers peace, through Christ, to a noisy, hurting, and restless world.

Friday, October 3, 2014


R E S T! What a lovely word. Just look at the letters R E S T on your computer screen. Close your eyes and ponder, for just a minute, --R E S T. Does rest seem out of reach? Do you know that one of the most loving things that you can do for your family, friends, and boss is to learn how to rest? Best of all, God is glorified when His children rest. Someone once said, "The graveyard is full of indispensable men." People who fail to rest often imagine that they are "indispensable." I know.

I didn't realize the degree of my tiredness until Monday September 29th at 4:30 PM. It was like I unwittingly participated in the Ice-Bucket-Challenge. Yes, it was a wake-up-call. I enjoyed a great night of sleep on Sunday night. I know that because my hair was not disheveled on Monday morning. Monday started off with a nice breakfast on the veranda of Normandy Inn at WinShape.

After breakfast I read for a couple of hours before lunch. After lunch I fell into my soft bed and drifted into a deep sleep for several hours (something that I never do). When I woke up, I experienced another awakening. I just kept repeating to my bewildered wife, "I am so very tired." I have been running very hard for three years with rarely a break in the action. Like most people I juggle many responsibilities. It is hard to admit. I don't go around bragging about how busy I am or complaining about how tired that I am. I hope that I am not whining now, and I don't want to sound (or be) self-serving, but the reality is, I am tired and it is my own fault. This post is probably the last thing that you will ever read about my personal tiredness but I felt compelled to mention it this one time.

My awakening on Monday caused me to think, that without that safe-place and soft bed that I was headed for a Humpty Dumpty fall. I know, but have often ignored, that though God designed us for work, he has also given to His children rest. R E S T. Look at that word again just hanging there on your page. Does it seem like an impossible dream?

A familiar face met us as we drove into the parking lot on Sunday evening at 6:15 PM. Bill and Cecelia (Cilli) have been hosting events at the Normandy Inn at WinShape for 13 years. Bill met us at our vehicle and immediately reached for our luggage. Lori and I met Bill and Cilli about six years ago, they are the kind of folks that you never forget. When I think of them Colossians 3:14 comes to mind: "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."  Bill and Cilli "put on love" and the Lord uses them as he, through love, "binds everything together in perfect harmony."

Lori and I were at WinShape for their Pastor's R&R. This four night and five day event is a gift to full-time pastors by the Cathy family of Chick-fil-A and the WinShape foundation. Words are insufficient to describe how blessed we feel to have been given such a gift from such a generous family and ministry. Eight other couples from Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, and Georgia came for the same purpose--a few days to, R E S T. At the Pastor's R&R there is no real schedule, except for the fantastic  meals. We were charged to seek the Lord, work on our marriages, and R E S T. And to top it all off we were free to eat all of the Chick-fil-A ice cream that we wanted. I do have to confess that I worked some during my time at WinShape.

On Monday afternoon at 4:30 PM, I realized why I was there. I did not grasp my tiredness, until I rested. God provided. He provided "love which binds everything together in perfect harmony." He provided lively, encouraging, funny, happy, and joyful conversations around the table. He provided beauty--thousands of acres of beauty. He provided relaxing music. He provided quietness. He provided a comfortable room and a soft bed. He provided R E S T.

I am back at work today--a little stronger. I am still very tired from years of failing to rest. I am praying, "I repent, help my lack of repentance." Before me I see mountains of responsibility and I wonder how, on my small shoulders, I will carry the load. I want to be faithful to my Lord and family. Faithfulness, hard work, commitment to duty, and devotion to God, family, others, and work--these are not optional. However, there is something that I often miss as I race from responsibility to responsibility. Perhaps you know what I am talking about.  Do you see it? It is R E S T.  Jesus is our rest. He is our Sabbath. The road to recovery begins with faith in Christ. This means that we must realize that God's mercy "depends not on human will or exertion" (Romans 9:16). To rest we must first of all come to grips with the reality that we are not, in fact, God. Rest is a gift that must be received. Today, think a bit about R E S T.

It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep (Psalm 127:2).

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is pastor of Grace Community Church of North Georgia, president of Nourished in the Word Ministries, and author of numerous books on marriage and family.