Friday, November 15, 2019

We Need Not Parent in Fear

We Need Not Parent in Fear

Would you believe that many, if not most, of today’s working parents (especially mothers) spend just as much time engaged in parenting activities as stay-at-home parents of the 1970s did? I, for one, was astonished to discover that trend in one excellent, well-researched article.

Having written about the benefits of having moms stay at home if they can, I wondered, can this be true? The article outlined how “hyper-parenting” begins in utero, as moms today pay much more attention to their diet, read more parenting books, and sign up for more classes. It continues when the baby is born, with more monitoring, exclusive breastfeeding, sugar-free diets, homemade baby food, and Pinterest birthday parties. Apparently, parents today read more to their children (that surprised me), initiate more crafts at home, enroll their children in more lessons and sports (that did not surprise me), help more with homework, and the list goes on.

Interestingly, after all the additional time, energy and expense, today’s parents are still more anxious about the job they’re doing — and still worry it’s not enough.

Why Are We Hyper-Parenting?

What has driven all of the change? The article sums up the motivation: economic anxiety — “doing everything to ensure children climb to a higher class or at least not fall out of the one they were born into.” While the article didn’t mention it, I know from my experience and friendships that parents also simply want their children to be happy. They believe all of this effort and activity contributes to that well-being.

It is worth noting that many Christian parents can be just as preoccupied with providing every opportunity, protecting from every potential danger, and sacrificing to meet every desire. These loving parents may be somewhat less concerned with upward mobility than secular parents, but they similarly believe they are simply taking seriously the responsibility to be loving stewards over their children’s lives.

The article interviewed some experts who said that while there are some indications of benefits in upward mobility, there is no question children are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety, are more dependent on parents, lack self-reliance, and experience less satisfaction with life. Suicide rates among teens and young adults are much higher than in previous decades. In addition, many parents, especially mothers, feel more stress, exhaustion, and guilt, and have little time for spouses, friends, and other activities.

What Do We Fear?

As I reflected on these realities, I was struck by the fact that the bottom-line motivation behind it all boils down to fear. The article cited fears about children’s financial future and position in the world, but we might add some justifiable fears about greater risks to the physical safety of children in neighborhoods and schools. There is also evidence, fueled by the dynamics of social media, which suggests many parents are driven by a need for approval (a fear of what others might think).

These fears are grounded in earthly realities, and miss transcendent truths. These fears stir a response in human nature which addresses fears by seeking to do more and control more. In proper perspective, doing more may be a healthy response, but an unhealthy anxiety and fear that drives us to do more and more in order to assure a result flies in the face of what we hear in God’s word. And, as the article indicates, this kind of doing does not necessarily lead to happier, better adjusted, self-motivated children.

In fact, when we parent in fear, there’s a greater chance we will raise up fearful children. No parent wants to raise fearful children. As Christians, we also will be concerned that parenting out of such fears may foster in our children the lie that effort is more important than trusting God.

What Parents Cannot Do

The truth is that our efforts alone cannot guarantee any result, and the degree to which we depend upon our efforts may even put us at odds with God. Paradoxically, God’s way is for us to understand that he is the only one who truly controls anything. Our work is to “fan into flame the gift of God . . . for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:6–7).

Christian parents, if you find yourself in the cycle described in the New York Times article, I encourage you to take a deep breath, try to cease your anxious striving, and ponder the assurance we have of God’s help and care for us as we do everything in life, including parenting our children. God does not want us to do anything out of anxiety, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let [our] requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7).

Facing Fear with God

When, as parents, we become driven by fears for our children’s earthly well-being, we are forgetting what we know about the goodness of our God. God promises us that “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).

When we are anxious about whether our children will be able to get good jobs or be able to provide for themselves or their families, yes, we should make sure they get a good education and learn to work hard, but we also need to remember and be teaching them the higher truth in Philippians 4:19: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Our children’s ultimate provision is not up to our effort or theirs, but to God’s.

When we are concerned about our children’s future, we should stop projecting out our desires, and make sure that, instead of anxiety, they see the reason for our hope. What can blow away the anxiety that creeps into Christian parenting? For starters, ponder in wonder this amazing truth:

He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5)

Our greatest parenting task is to be sure our children see our hope and learn about the way they too can have this glorious assurance in Christ.

When we face inevitable parenting challenges, challenges that illuminate the reality that we are in far over our heads, we must remember and draw strength and hope that it is God who promises, “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you’” (Isaiah 41:13). Do you believe God wants to help you? Are you daily praying for this help?

God Knows We’ll Make Mistakes

Because of the saving grace available through Jesus Christ, Christians need never parent out of fear of punishment for getting it wrong. God knows we will not always get it right. God’s love rests on the perfect sacrifice of his beloved Son, Jesus, who did get it all right. Yes, there are consequences for foolish decisions, and we should make every effort to make responsible, godly decisions, and teach our children to do so, but our future and the future we want for our children does not rest on our getting everything right. Isn’t that wonderful news?

It is so freeing to know that our God is not standing somewhere on the sidelines waiting to see if we will get our children into the right schools, or involve them in enough sports, or even protect them from every possible earthly danger so that they never experience suffering. God holds our children’s future, and he is eager to guide and direct our parenting to help lead our children toward the things that assure a deeper joy and satisfaction than anything the world will ever be able to provide.

This God is watching to see if we are

  • loving him most and best (Luke 10:27),
  • praying earnestly for his help and leading as we parent our children (Philippians 4:6–7),
  • being obedient to his leading rather than catering to the world (John 8:31),
  • working to introduce our children to the wonders of who he is,
  • training our children from his word to understand, and long to be, the kind of people he wants them to be (Deuteronomy 6:4–7),
  • teaching them about the amazing sacrifice Jesus has made so that they might live in joy forever (1 John 4:10; Colossians 1:21–22; Ephesians 1:7),
  • displaying joy in Jesus and the life we (and they can) have in God (John 10:10; 15:11); and through all of these things if we are
  • encouraging them to love, trust, and enjoy God above all things.

The Result Is God’s

It is sobering to remember that even if we love and trust God, and do everything in our power to live our lives to display the goodness of God, and teach our children diligently the wonderful truths of the Bible, our kids may still have difficult lives and may ultimately reject Christ. We are promised that God will be with us as we parent, but we are not promised our children will have easy lives or be saved.

The truth is our children are not our own. We are merely stewards of them while they are young; they belong to God and he decides their future. None of our anxiety, worry, and fear changes this reality, and, paradoxically, this is glorious news! We are free to trust not in our own efforts, but in the loving God who first entrusted these children to our care.

Because God controls the outcome, we have perfect freedom to do all that we are able, drawing upon his strength, and then trust him for the result. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the best schools, most prestigious jobs, and accolades from the world, preoccupation with these things has the power to divert our eyes and our children’s eyes from God. Working to make sure our children receive these things will amount to nothing in eternity.

But if we introduce our children to the glories of their Creator and Redeemer, they have the opportunity of both an earthly life of deep joy, which sustains them in the trials and suffering that will surely come, and eternal joy in the presence of God, where there is no suffering or pain. That is the purpose of parenting, and the result is God’s. So parent diligently, but “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6).

from Desiring God
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Thursday, November 14, 2019

‘I Never Knew You’: Fatal Dreams of the Religious Lost

‘I Never Knew You’

Is any lostness worse than remaining lost while believing you’re found?

Of all those who finally travel the broad way to destruction, are any so wretched as those who sang Christian songs, prayed Christian prayers, and sat under countless Christian sermons along the way? The man sipping sand in the desert, because he thinks he holds a cup of water, is the most tragic and pitiable of sights. To plunge thoughtlessly into the next life is one horror; to play the saint, and still be deceived, is another.

There was a time I wouldn’t have believed such people existed — least of all, that I was one of them. Certainly, all who audibly called upon Jesus as Lord would be saved — why else would anyone show up every Sunday? But there it stood before me, glowing as if engraved in fire, Jesus’s own words giving us a transcript of some on judgment day:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21–23)

I read it again. And again. No verse had ever made me lose sleep before.

I realized that I must be one of the “many.”

Three Fatal Dreams

I was like so many sermon-hearers, Bible-readers, and synagogue-attenders of Jesus’s day: lost in a dream, traveling toward hell in church clothes. “As when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he is eating, and awakes with his hunger not satisfied, or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold, he is drinking, and awakes faint, with his thirst not quenched” (Isaiah 29:8), I merely dreamt of eternal safety .

But God, as I pray for many who read this, woke me up through his word. At the end of the greatest sermon ever preached, Jesus exposed three fatal dreams that I dreamt as one of the religious lost: dreams that mere intellectualism, mere emotionalism, and mere activism are solid grounds for the hope of my salvation.

Correct Doctrine Is Insufficient

First, Jesus shows the insufficiency of intellectualism — of the one who would say, “I know and, thus, I am saved.” Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” These men and women were addressing him with the appropriate term, “Lord” (Greek kyrios), the characteristic title for God in the Old Testament — and so he was.

Calling him Lord proved their orthodoxy, they may have thought. They knew something every child of God knew to say. They did not approach him as a mere prophet or religious teacher; they addressed him as exalted majesty. They knew the Scriptures, the books to read, and which podcasts to follow. But calling on him as Lord did not open the kingdom of heaven to them. As the scene shows in full sobriety: knowing the right mantras, solas, verses, or doctrines is not sufficient for eternal life.

Emotions Are Inadequate

Second, Jesus shows the inadequacy of mere emotionalism — of the one who would say, “I feel and, thus, I am saved.” Addressing him as “Lord, Lord” shows that this wasn’t spoken dryly. They spoke enthusiastically, expectantly, confidently. They spoke emphatically to convey a sense of familiarity with who they perceived to be their Lord.

No doubt, this was the product of lives filled with great sensations toward Jesus. Certainly, they had a relationship with him, they thought — he was not “Unknown judge” or “Distant deity” but “Lord, Lord.” If asked whether they felt affection toward Jesus, all would have answered, “Of course.” Yet, they heard in reply, “I never knew you; depart from me,” proving that positive emotions toward Christ are not in themselves an adequate response to his word.

Activity Can Be Deceptive

Finally, Jesus shows the fantasy of mere activism — of the one who would say, “I’ve done great things for God and thus I am saved.” Jesus says, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’” They took action in Jesus’s name. They performed visible, effective works for others. They had a résumé of miracles. They acknowledged him before the world. People heard them prophesy, watched them cast out demons, and do many other mighty works in his name — and they concluded that this counted for more than it did. They were “used of God” — surely, they must be his. And yet, they heard, along with those who outwardly hated God, “I never knew you; depart from me.”

Surprising Oversight

What was missing? Jesus’s answer might surprise us: They were not doers of the word. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Instead of doers of God’s will, they amounted to “workers of lawlessness.” They called him “Lord, Lord” but failed to do what he told them (Luke 6:46).

They heard the word of God — in the gospel message and in the written Scriptures — but they did not obey it. These were those who, as Jesus teaches in the next breath, built their lives on sand because they heard his words but did not do them:

Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:26–27)

They thought and felt and acted, at times, like saints, but their lives were marked by self and sin. They listened to the Sermon on the Mount, only to go away not to cut off limbs of lust, nor cease their adulteries, nor end the hatred toward their brother, nor renounce the love of money, nor forgive their neighbor, nor relinquish their anxieties, nor resolve to be charitable in their judgments — all by faith in and love for the Preacher. Nor would they be bothered to ask, seek, and knock for the Spirit’s help (Matthew 7:7–11). Their righteousness would not exceed that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).

They vainly thought — as I thought for many years, and ache over how many in our day still think it — that hearing was sufficient. That feeling was enough. That public displays of religion would do the trick. They wandered, as in a dream, trusting in the fact that they heard, that they felt, or that they did, even though they continued to practice sin.

James, who would have been unbelieving when he heard his brother preach this sermon, later urges the church not to similarly live in this dream of disobedience: “Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:21–22). Later he calls such “faith” useless, dead, and demonic (James 2:14–26).

Thy Will Be Done

We are justified by faith alone, as the Reformers taught, but not by a faith that is alone. To truly receive the words of God is to intentionally, through a joyous faith in our crucified and resurrected Lord and active reliance upon his Spirit, obey them. Consider that if exposure to God’s word in the spoken gospel and the written Scriptures doesn’t soon change your behavior (even if slower than you might hope), if the transformation of your inner person does not extend to your outer life, you may well be wandering in the dream of those who never knew him.

Remember, the word of God, by its very nature, reproves us, corrects us, and trains us in righteousness, that we “may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). It reaches into our homes, our work, our world, doing business in every crevice of our hearts, and having implications for all of our lives. The Bible is a Book to be obeyed, for it is the Book through which our God speaks.

And these words of our God are not burdensome. They are words of eternal life, and glad obedience to them is abiding in his love and the fullness of our joy (John 15:9–11). Scripture contains no impersonal instructions for everyday life, but living words to children from their Father, strategic commands from the General to his soldiers, necessary instruction from the Shepherd to his sheep, life-giving vows from a Groom to his bride. If we love him, we will obey him (John 14:15).

Thus, while requiring us to think (true doctrine matters), saving faith is not merely about thinking; while requiring us to feel (we must love the Lord with all of our hearts), it does not terminate in our passions; while affording great displays of power and wonders, it calls for private fruits of a holy life to corroborate public showings. It produces men, women, and children who, in union with Jesus and given new hearts, happily do the will of God with a new, childlike aim: to please him (2 Corinthians 5:9).

from Desiring God
via DG






from デイリーブレッド

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Key to Our Victory over Sin

The Key to Our Victory over Sin

Only the grace of supernatural delight can empower us to resist the allure of sin’s constant temptations.

Listen Now

from Desiring God
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Humility Was His Secret Strength: Charles Simeon (1759–1836)

Humility Was His Secret Strength

In my pastoral disappointments and discouragements, I have found great power for perseverance by keeping before me the life of a person who surmounted great obstacles in obedience to God’s call by the power of God’s grace.

I have needed this inspiration from another century, because I know that I am, in great measure, a child of my times. And one of the pervasive marks of our times is emotional fragility. It hangs in the air we breathe. We are easily hurt. We blame easily. We break easily. Our marriages break easily. Our faith breaks easily. Our happiness breaks easily. We are easily disheartened, and it seems we have little capacity for surviving and thriving in the face of criticism and opposition. And if we think that we are not children of our times, let us simply test ourselves to see how we respond when people reject our ideas or spurn our good efforts or misconstrue our best intentions.

We all need help here. We are surrounded by, and are part of, a society of emotionally fragile quitters. The spirit of the age is too much in us. We need to spend time with the kind of people whose lives prove there is another way to live. Scripture says, be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12). So I want to hold up for us the faith and patient endurance of Charles Simeon for our inspiration and imitation.

Raised with Christ

Charles Simeon was born on September 24, 1759. His father was a wealthy attorney, but no believer. We know nothing of his mother. She probably died early, so that he never knew her. From age 7 to 19, he attended England’s premier boarding school, the Royal College of Eton. The atmosphere was irreligious and degenerate in many ways. Looking back late in life, he said that he would be tempted to take the life of his son rather than let him see the vice he himself had seen at Eton.

At age 19, he went to King’s College in the University of Cambridge, and in the first four months God brought him from darkness to light. In January 1779, the provost announced that Simeon had to attend the Lord’s Supper. Simeon was terrified. He knew enough to fear that it was very dangerous to eat the Lord’s Supper as an unbeliever or a hypocrite. So he began desperately to read and to try to repent and make himself better. He eventually turned to a book by a Bishop Wilson on the Lord’s Supper. As Easter Sunday approached, a wonderful thing happened. Here is his own account:

In Passion Week, as I was reading Bishop Wilson on the Lord’s Supper, I met with an expression to this effect — “That the Jews knew what they did, when they transferred their sin to the head of their offering.” The thought came into my mind, What, may I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an Offering for me, that I may lay my sins on His head? Then, God willing, I will not bear them on my own soul one moment longer.

His hope gradually rose throughout the rest of Passion Week until, on Easter morning, “I awoke early with those words upon my heart and lips: ‘Jesus Christ is risen today! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’ From that hour peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul” (Charles Simeon, 25–26).

Unwanted Vicar

Through the next three years, Simeon often walked by Trinity Church in Cambridge, he tells us, and said to himself, “How should I rejoice if God were to give me that church, that I might preach the Gospel there and be a herald for Him in the University” (Charles Simeon, 37). His dream came true when Bishop Yorke appointed him “curate-in-charge” (being ordained only as a deacon at the time). He received the assignment and preached his first sermon at Trinity Church on November 10, 1782. He met with opposition and difficulty from the start.

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The parishioners did not want Simeon. They wanted the assistant curate Mr. Hammond. Simeon was willing to step out, but then the Bishop told him that even if he did decline the appointment, Hammond would not be appointed. So Simeon stayed — for 54 years! And gradually — very gradually — overcame the opposition.

The first thing the congregation did in rebellion against Simeon was to refuse to let him be the Sunday afternoon lecturer. This second Sunday service was in their charge. For five years, they assigned the lecture to Mr. Hammond. Then when he left, instead of turning it over to their pastor of five years, they gave it to another independent man for seven more years. Finally, in 1794, Simeon was chosen lecturer. Thus for twelve years he served a church who was so resistant to his leadership they would not let him preach Sunday afternoons but hired an assistant to keep him out.

The second thing the church did was to lock the pew doors on Sunday mornings. The pewholders refused to come and refused to let others sit in their personal pews. Simeon set up seats in the aisles and nooks and corners at his own expense. But the churchwardens took them out and threw them into the churchyard. When he tried to visit from house to house, hardly a door would open to him. This situation lasted at least ten years. The records show that in 1792 Simeon got a legal decision that the pewholders could not lock their pews. But he didn’t use it. He let his steady, relentless ministry of the word and prayer and community witness gradually overcome the resistance.

Despised in His Own University

As the students made their way to Trinity Church, they were prejudiced against the pastor by the hostile congregation, and for years he was smeared with all kinds of rumors. The students at Cambridge held Simeon in derision for his biblical preaching and his uncompromising stand as an evangelical. Students who were converted and wakened by Simeon’s preaching were soon ostracized and ridiculed. They were called “Sims” — a term that lasted all the way to the 1860s — and their way of thinking was called derisively “Simeonism.”

But harder to bear than the insults of the students was the ostracism and coldness of his peers in the university. One of the fellows at the university scheduled Greek classes on Sunday night to prevent students from going to Simeon’s service. In another instance, one of the students who looked up to Simeon was denied an academic prize because of his “Simeonism.” Sometimes, Simeon felt utterly alone at the university where he lived. He looked back on those early years and wrote, “I remember the time that I was quite surprised that a Fellow of my own College ventured to walk with me for a quarter of an hour on the grass-plot before Clare Hall; and for many years after I began my ministry I was ‘as a man wondered at,’ by reason of the paucity of those who showed any regard for true religion” (Charles Simeon, 59).

Deepest Root of Endurance

For decades, Simeon responded to trial and suffering in ways ordinary humans do not respond. Something else was at work here than a mere man. How did Simeon endure his trials for so long without giving up or being driven out of his church?

There were numerous biblical strategies of endurance. He kept before him, for example, a strong sense of his accountability before God for the souls of his flock. He learned to receive rebuke and grow from it. He saw suffering as a privilege to bear his cross with Christ.

But there was also a root that was deeper than any particular strategy of endurance. It is so utterly different from the counsel we receive today. Handley Moule captures the essence of Simeon’s secret of longevity in this sentence: “‘Before honor is humility,’ and he had been ‘growing downwards’ year by year under the stern discipline of difficulty met in the right way, the way of close and adoring communion with God” (Charles Simeon, 64). Those two things were the heartbeat of Simeon’s inner life: growing downward in humility and growing upward in adoring communion with God.

Growing Downward

The remarkable thing about humiliation and adoration in the heart of Charles Simeon is that they were inseparable. Simeon was utterly unlike most of us today who think that we should get rid once and for all of feelings of vileness and unworthiness as soon as we can. For him, adoration only grew in the freshly plowed soil of humiliation for sin. So he actually labored to know his true sinfulness and his remaining corruption as a Christian.

I have continually had such a sense of my sinfulness as would sink me into utter despair, if I had not an assured view of the sufficiency and willingness of Christ to save me to the uttermost. And at the same time I had such a sense of my acceptance through Christ as would overset my little bark [i.e., ship], if I had not ballast at the bottom sufficient to sink a vessel of no ordinary size. (Charles Simeon, 134)

He never lost sight of the need for the heavy ballast of his own humiliation. After he had been a Christian forty years he wrote, “There are but two objects that I have ever desired for these forty years to behold; the one is my own vileness; and the other is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ: and I have always thought that they should be viewed together” (Memoirs of the Life of the Rev. Charles Simeon, 518).

If Simeon is right, vast portions of contemporary Christianity are wrong. And I can’t help wondering whether one of the reasons we are emotionally capsized so easily today — so vulnerable to winds of criticism or opposition — is that in the name of forgiveness and grace, we have thrown the ballast overboard. Simeon’s boat drew a lot of water. But it was steady and on course and the mastheads were higher and the sails bigger and more full of the Spirit than most people’s today who talk more of self-esteem than self-humbling. He actually fled for refuge to the place that many today try so hard to escape.

‘My Proper Place’

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his work at Trinity Church, looking back over his many successes, he said, “I love the valley of humiliation. I there feel that I am in my proper place” (Charles Simeon, 159–60). Why? Why is this evangelical humiliation a place of happiness for Simeon? Listen to the benefits he sees in this kind of experience:

While we continue in this spirit of self-degradation, everything else will go on easily. We shall find ourselves advancing in our course; we shall feel the presence of God; we shall experience His love; we shall live in the enjoyment of His favor and in the hope of His glory. . . . You often feel that your prayers scarcely reach the ceiling; but, oh, get into this humble spirit by considering how good the Lord is, and how evil you all are, and then prayer will mount on wings of faith to heaven. The sigh, the groan of a broken heart, will soon go through the ceiling up to heaven, aye, into the very bosom of God. (Charles Simeon, 137–38)

My conclusion is that the secret of Charles Simeon’s perseverance was that he never threw overboard the heavy ballast of his own humiliation for sin, and that this helped keep his masts erect and his sails full of the spirit of adoration. As Simeon grew down in humiliation, he grew upward in worship and joy — all the way to the end. As he lay dying in October of 1836, a friend sat by his bed and asked what he was thinking of just then. He answered, “I don’t think now; I am enjoying” (Charles Simeon, 172).

from Desiring God
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