In the port town of Dartmouth, 1673, a young man attempted to take his own life by inflicting wounds to his throat and stomach. He had just come from Virginia and was severely depressed. As he lay upon his death bed, a physician attended him and declared him too far gone. However, he stitched the cut on the young man’s neck and plastered the wound in his abdomen. Shortly thereafter, John Flavel, a Puritan nonconformist minster (c. 1630-1691) came to visit him. Given his closeness to death, Flavel asked, “Do you have any apprehensions of where you stand before God?” The man pronounced himself to be a Christian, trusting God for salvation.
However, this Puritan minister questioned his response and pressed the man to understand his desperate condition as a sinner. Eventually, his conscience broke, his heart melted, and he cried out, “Is there any hope for me?” To which Flavel replied, “There might be.” And then, he gave this now humbled sinner the Gospel of Christ and called him to repent and believe. In response, prayers by both were offered that Christ’s work would be savingly applied and that he, who stood at death’s door, would know God’s grace in full.
This story illustrates the heart of what the Protestant Reformation. Mankind is in desperate need because of sin (Rom. 3:10-14). Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-9, Acts 4:12, Rom. 10:13). Only the Spirit can open the eyes of the spiritual blind (John 3:5). God must work to awaken the dead sinner’s heart unto faith (Eph. 2:1-3). He is the one who grows his church, and he uses Gospel saturated things like his Word and prayer to do it (Acts 2:42-47). These are simple means the Spirit employs to save and sanctify (Titus 2:11-12). These are the means we are depending on to work in our families, our church, and our community. Let us take them up humbly and confidently, trusting God to do his will in us and around us. Let us reach out with the Word and in prayer, relying on Christ to work in the lives of others: in our homes and outside them. Heb. 12:1, we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us that trusted the same God we do and employed the same means we have, and the Lord shook the world. Might he do the same today? That is his prerogative. Growth is his business. Ours is to be faithful. May we do so …
If over this Reformation weekend, you need some encouragement to press ahead in Word and prayer, here is a good movie on Martin Luther (if you haven’t seen it before). — Pastor Clif