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TEXT: Proverbs 13:20
SUBJECT: Follow the Lamb #6
A few weeks ago, we began to study Follow the Lamb, a short book by the Scottish pastor, Horatius Bonar. It was published, about 1840, to help new believers grow in grace. The goal of the book is implied in the title: Follow the Lamb-that's what the author wants us to do, to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you want to follow the Lord? If you do, the best place to start is with the Bible, of course. For, of all the books in the world, it alone is the very Word of God-not a good man's understanding of the Word, but the Word itself. But understanding the Word with no one's help is hard to do. We mustn't be too proud to ask for it.
One place to find the understanding of God's Word is in good books. And that's what we have before us tonight-a good book, a very good book on living the Christian life!
The book is elementary-and that's one of the things I like best about it. Horatius Bonar does not impress us with big words or deep thoughts, but simply opens the Bible and tells us how to follow Christ.
As long as we don't turn him into a guru or confuse his words with the words of God, he can really help us in our walk with the Lord.
Where do you start the Christian life? You start with repentance and faith. You turn from your sins and take the mercy God offers in Jesus Christ. That's how you become a Christian-and Bonar assumes you've done that. Have you? Is everyone in this room saved? Or do you just go to church? Are you a true Christian or only a Christian because you're not a Muslim or a Hindu or an Atheist?
What I say tonight is true, whether you're saved or not. But it won't help you unless you are saved. So why don't you repent right now? And turn to Christ in faith? Then, and only then, our book's advice will apply to you. Only then, after you've come to Christ, can you follow the Lamb.
Tonight, we'll look at a very important issue that, in a way, summarizes the whole book, and the whole Christian life, for that matter. How do you follow the Lamb? How do you grow in grace? Bonar says,
Keep company with God and with the people of God.
Two things need saying from the start. First, though Bonar includes fellowship with God's people in his title, he hardly mentions it in the chapter. I think he should have developed it, but he didn't. It seems to me that the Bible plainly teaches that fellowship with God and fellowship with His people are nearly the same thing! Not quite, but nearly! We are not saved to live in a monk's cell or in a hermit's cabin or in a bedroom listening to the radio. We're saved to live in the church-to exercise the gifts we have for the good of others and to receive their ministries as well.
In rare cases this is not possible-and I'm grateful we don't need the Church in the same way we need Christ. There are Christian who are cut off from the fellowship of other believers. The Lord has put them in lonely places and He's wise in doing so. But they are exceptions to the rule. The rule is
Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another daily, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.
I won't say any more about this for now. The second thing you need to underline in Bonar's chapter title is the word, keep-
Keep company with God.
He doesn't tell us to become the friends of God, for only the Lord can do that for us. And He has done it for us. Because of His death in our place, believers are in fellowship with God. Our duty is to not drift away from the Lord and to not permit the friendship to become cold and only formal.
What he's really getting at is this: Keep your fellowship with God warm and close and loving. Don't take it for granted the way some people ignore their friends for months or years at a time, and don't let issues come between you and the Lord.
This is what the chapter is about. And it needs saying! To new converts, to old saints-to every Christian. Lukewarmness was not a sin that only one church was guilty of long ago in a place far away. No, it is the Church's and the Christian's perennial temptation. We never free from the danger; we never outgrow the possibility.
Horatius Bonar was a Scottish Presbyterian minister. This means he was a learned man who took doctrine seriously. He was a Calvinist who knew what was wrong with free will, and could tell you what's wrong with it. But before he was a Calvinist, he was a Christian. And he warns us of confusing doctrine and God.
The understanding of doctrine is one thing, and intimacy with God is another. They ought to go together, but they are often seen apart, and when there is doctrine without intimacy, there is a hard and hollow religion.
Being familiar with the five points is different than being familiar with God. If all you know is doctrine-and all you care about is winning arguments-you'll be both hard and hollow-Bonar says. We all know the hard part-ugly people who won't listen to others or give them the benefit of the doubt. If you don't see things my way you're either stupid, dishonest, or unsaved! This is a hard edge, and not becoming to the servants of Christ.
But the other word he uses is even more interesting. He says doctrine without a warm devotional life is hollow. A hollow thing is a thing with nothing on the inside! We often think that if we've got our doctrines right, we're substantial Christians. But Bonar says we're not! He says we're more like mannequins-good looking on the outside-maybe-but empty on the inside. In other words, there's nothing to us. We're empty suits.
If the rebuke came from a silly man who thought Christianity consisted of babbling in tongues or singing the same words over and over, while raising your hands, you'd say, Of course. But Bonar is a man far more learned than anyone here. He read his Bible in Hebrew and Greek; he studied theology in Latin; he knew Church History, and he took philosophy, logic, French, and Astronomy in grade school! He knew doctrine and cared about it. But he also know knowing about God is not enough; we must know God Himself.
Do you want to grow in grace? If you do, keep company with God-and not just books or sermons about God.
What does it mean to know God? Or to keep company with the Lord? Bonar doesn't quite define it, but it explains it pretty well by giving three examples.
Let God be your companion. Take Him into the closet with you, into the study, into the shop, into the market place, into the railway carriage, into the boat. When you give a dinner party, invite Him as one of your guests. He is always willing to come, and there is no guest like Him. When you are in perplexity and taking advice from your friends, let Him be one of your councilors. When you feel lonely, let Him be the companion of your solitude.
Looked at in one way, God's friendship is unique. But, in another way, it's like that of anyone else. Good friends spend time together. And not just formal time, but as often as they can, and wherever they are. You can have lunch with a good friend or chat with him going up an escalator.
Do you ask the Lord to go with you in the car? Do you talk to Him when you're out for a walk? At a party, do you think about Him and speak as though He were standing next to you? This is what it means to keep company with God. This is what it means to walk in the Spirit. When the Bible says men walked with God, do you think it means physically-that God put His arm around Enoch's shoulder, and the two men split a sandwich or shared a bottle of wine? No, it means they were together spiritually-that Enoch wanted the Lord's company and he had it-at home, in the shop, going to the market, and so on.
Now, you do that.
Bonar's second example is prayer.
Beware of a decline in prayer. Whenever you feel the closet becoming a dull place, you can be sure that something is wrong. Backsliding has begun. Few things tend to deaden the soul more than cold formal prayer. Dread it, shun it, do not mock God by asking what you don't want, or by pretending to desire what you don't care for.
His big idea is right. A friendship in which one person does all the talking and the other does none of it is no friendship at all. Reading the Bible is good-very good and necessary-but what about responding to the Bible? What about thanking the Lord for its promises or confessing your sin when it rebukes you? Or asking Him to explain something you didn't get a verse or two back?
Pray without ceasing. You won't stay in close fellowship without a warm, lively, and regular prayer life.
But there's a line or two in Bonar that I'm not so sure about, and I wonder if this kind of thinking doesn't do more harm than good. I'm not sure dull, cold, formal prayer is as bad as he makes it. Not every conversation is sparkling! Though it seems incredible to me, my wife tells me that not everything I say is fresh and interesting and funny brilliant and deep!
When you don't feel like praying, pray anyway. If it's dull to you, admit to the Lord, and ask Him to accept the dull prayer because that's all you've got at the moment. He wants what we have, not what we don't have. If you're tired, mumble a word or two of thanks and be satisfied.
Of course, don't let this become your whole prayer life! Beware of backsliding! When all of your prayers are dull and routine, then your friendship with God needs tending to.
The third example is solitude.
Do not shrink from being alone. Do not suppose that such retirement will hinder your work. It will greatly help it. Much private fellowship with God will give you sevenfold success. Luther used to say, when business came upon him, 'I must pray more today'.
Not everyone has as much time to spend alone with God as everyone else. It is naïve to think the woman with five small children has the time a single man has. She doesn't! We mustn't look down on others or load ourselves with guilt. But having said that, Bonar is still right: time spend alone with God is not wasted! The half-hour a lumberjack spends sharpening his axe won't slow down his cutting. But chopping with a dull axe will.
From a practical standpoint, nothing hinders efficiency more than non-stop working! An hour spent organizing your work might save six hours of work. In the same way, an hour spent praying for your kids will do more for your mothering than six hours of nagging them to clean their room!
This, then is what it means to keep company with God. It means to include Him in your activities, to pray often, and to spend time alone with Him-even if you've got other things to do (and who doesn't?).
What's the good of keeping company with God? I don't have to answer that in any detail, do I?
In your presence is the fullness of joy. At your right hand are pleasures forever more!
It also pleases the Lord Himself. It's hard to believe that He wants our company. He doesn't put up with it, He enjoys it! And surely, we ought to spend time with a Friend who loves us as He does!
Bonar touches on these things in other place. In this chapter, though, he says something else-and it's extremely important,
If you are known to enjoy God's company, you will be saved from much idle and wasteful company and conversation. You will not feel at home with worldly men nor they with you.
Some Christians are spared bad friends because they're holier than thou. Nobody wants to be around a Pharisee-someone who picks at every little thing. We must beware of this-and especially of confusing righteousness with self-righteousness.
But setting that aside for now, Bonar's point is well taken. Few things in life will hurt you more than bad friendships-the companion of fools will be destroyed! The best way to stay clear of these friendships is to be a saint. If you are, they won't like your company, and they'll stay clear of you.
Do you want to grow in grace? If you do, keep good company-and the best company of all is God Himself!
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