Tag Archives: Meditation

A Pleasant River

I saw, then, that they went on their way to a pleasant river; which David the king called “the river of God”, but John, “the river of the water of life.” Now their way lay just upon the bank of the river; here, therefore, Christian and his companion walked with great delight; they drank also of the water of the river, which was pleasant, and enlivening to their weary spirits: besides, on the banks of this river, on either side, were green trees, that bore all manner of fruit; and the leaves of the trees were good for medicine; with the fruit of these trees they were also much delighted; and the leaves they eat to prevent surfeits, and other diseases that are incident to those that heat their blood by travels. On either side of the river was also a meadow, curiously beautified with lilies, and it was green all the year long. In this meadow they lay down, and slept; for here they might lie down safely. When they awoke, they gathered again of the fruit of the trees, and drank again of the water of the river, and then lay down again to sleep. Thus they did several days and nights. Then they sang—

Behold ye how these crystal streams do glide,
To comfort pilgrims by the highway side;
The meadows green, beside their fragrant smell,
Yield dainties for them; and he that can tell
What pleasant fruit, yea, leaves, these trees do yield,
Will soon sell all, that he may buy this field.

So when they were disposed to go on, (for they were not, as yet, at their journey’s end,) they ate and drank, and departed.

A Pleasant River

After Christian and Hopeful ponder the meaning of the pillar of salt, warning them to guard their hearts and flee from sin, they come to the bank of a pleasant river. This is more of God’s gracious provision for His pilgrims. God is faithful, not only to warn us of His wrath against sin, but to comfort us with His mercies in Christ. His Word not only implores us: “Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die…?” (Ezekiel 33:11); but also, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

The river represents the peace and joy that God abundantly supplies us in Christ. It is the assurance and delight that refreshes and revives our hearts as we meditate on the riches God has given us in His Son. It is through Christ alone that we can draw near to God and enjoy His presence.

We see all through the Scriptures this pleasant river pointing us to Christ.

In Genesis 2 a river flows from the place where God communes with man—the Garden of Eden:

“Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads” (Genesis 2:10).

In Psalm 65 King David sings of the Temple where God manifested His presence in the Old Testament:

Blessed is the man You choose,
And cause to approach You,
That he may dwell in Your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house,
Of Your holy temple.
(Psalm 65:4)

Later in the psalm he rejoices in the “river of God” as evidence of God’s gracious care for His people:

You visit the earth and water it,
You greatly enrich it;
The river of God is full of water;
You provide their grain,
For so You have prepared it.
(Psalm 65:9)

The people of God can rest in safety on the banks of this river.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
(Psalm 23:1–2)

The firstborn of the poor will feed,
And the needy will lie down in safety;
I will kill your roots with famine,
And it will slay your remnant.
(Isaiah 14:30)

Bunyan draws much of his imagery of the river and its banks from Ezekiel, where the river flows from the Temple.

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar. He brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gateway that faces east; and there was water, running out on the right side.

And when the man went out to the east with the line in his hand, he measured one thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the water came up to my ankles. Again he measured one thousand and brought me through the waters; the water came up to my knees. Again he measured one thousand and brought me through; the water came up to my waist. Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he brought me and returned me to the bank of the river.

When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. Then he said to me: “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many. But its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will be given over to salt. Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine” (Ezekiel 47:1–12).

This vision is repeated by the apostle John as he describes the “river of water of life” flowing from the throne of God in the final chapter of Revelation:

“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1–2).

Here is Christ with His people, “the tabernacle of God is with men” (Revelation 21:3). In Bunyan’s story, Christian and Hopeful are not yet at the Celestial City, but their meditation on the beauty and glory of Christ are a taste of heaven on earth.

It is Jesus who has brought God near. He is the source of living water, the fountain of life. He is Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). The Old Testament anticipates the joy of His coming:

And in that day it shall be
That living waters shall flow from Jerusalem,
Half of them toward the eastern sea
And half of them toward the western sea;
In both summer and winter it shall occur.
And the Lord shall be King over all the earth.
In that day it shall be—
“The Lord is one,”
And His name one.
(Zechariah 14:8–9)

And it will come to pass in that day
That the mountains shall drip with new wine,
The hills shall flow with milk,
And all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water;
A fountain shall flow from the house of the Lord
And water the Valley of Acacias.
(Joel 3:18)

Therefore with joy you will draw water
From the wells of salvation.
(Isaiah 12:3)

The Lord will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
(Isaiah 58:11)

They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house,
And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.
For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light.
(Psalm 36:8–9)

There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.
(Psalm 46:4)

Just as God nourishes and replenishes the earth with rivers of water, He revives His people with rivers of His pleasure and grace. God’s pleasure and grace come to us through Christ. Jesus declares Himself to be the source of living water and He invites us to come and drink.

On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:37–39).

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 14:10).

It is in Christ that our souls are fully satisfied. In Him is all we need. In Him we can rest and find peace. Bunyan describes his own spiritual refreshment meditating on Christ and the gospel:

Now had I an evidence, ‘as I thought, of my salvation’ from heaven, with many golden seals thereon, all hanging in my sight; now could I remember this manifestation and the other discovery of grace, with comfort; and should often long and desire that the last day were come, that I might forever be inflamed with the sight, and joy, and communion with him whose head was crowned with thorns, whose face was spit on, and body broken, and soul made an offering for my sins: for whereas, before, I lay continually trembling at the mouth of hell, now methought I was got so far therefrom that I could not, when I looked back, scarce discern it; and, oh! thought I, that I were fourscore years old now, that I might die quickly, that my soul might be gone to rest (Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 128).

Bunyan was amazed that Christ would suffer and die for him. He knew himself to be sinful and wretched. Yet he found the abundant mercy and love of God in Christ to be a peaceful, pleasant river. He was among the blessed whose—

… delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
(Psalm 1:2–3)

Believer, drink deeply from this pleasant river! Delight in God’s Word. Meditate on its promises. The gospel affords an invigorating taste of heaven, even as we press on in our journey here on earth. May God lead us often to the banks of this river to refresh and encourage our weary souls.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2017 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

A Song Book That Begins With Words of Wisdom

The Book of Psalms

The Book of Psalms is an important collection of songs in Scripture for the worship of God. These songs are commanded to be sung by God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments.

In the Old Testament they comprise the songbook of the Temple. God appointed the Levites to sing and teach the people to sing psalms to God in worship. As the people gathered in Jerusalem and brought their sacrifices, these were the songs being sung and heard in the congregation.

In the New Testament Paul sets the psalms at the forefront of church music, exhorting us in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The psalms speak of Christ, point us to Christ, and find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ (Luke 24:44).

When you think of the book of Psalms, and remember the purpose and use of the psalms, its beginning may at first surprise you. It might not be what you would expect.

The psalms are about our communion with God in worship.

How then would you expect such a collection of songs to begin?

What opening words do you envision?

  • A lofty song of praise?
  • A hymn exalting the attributes of God?
  • A call to God’s people to come to the Temple and enter into His presence?
  • A call to God, asking Him to hear His people as they lift their voices?

All of these are songs you will find in abundance in the Psalter, but not at the beginning.

Let’s go to the Word of God and read how the Psalms begin:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:1–6)

God opens His hymnal with a psalm of wisdom—a psalm for teaching that portrays a striking contrast between two groups of people: the ungodly and the righteous—those who are committed to walking according to the ways of God, and those who have forsaken that way.

For the righteous, the psalm offers a promise;
For the ungodly it declares a warning.

Continue reading this sermon from  Psalm 1 entitled “Two Paths and Two Ends.”

See more Sermons and Articles by Ken Puls

Above Image by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

How Shall We Stand in That Great Day?

Perhaps the most fertile ground for hymn writing is meditation on the preached Word of God. There is always great value, especially as we weather the storms and trials of life, of staying under the faithful preaching of the Bible. And there is even greater value in taking time to ponder, pray through, and preach that biblical truth to our own souls.

That has proven to be true with the recent sermon series through the book of Ecclesiastes entitled “Real Life in a Fallen World” preached by Dr. Tom Ascol at Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida. This is the third hymn I have written while meditating on messages from the series. The other two are: “What Can Be Gained by All Our Toil?” and “Eternal God Exalted.” When you consider the vanity of life, the wages of sin, and the certainty of coming judgment, how great is our need of a Savior!

Storm Clouds

How Shall We Stand in That Great Day?

For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.
(Ecclesiastes 12:14)

1. How shall we stand in that great day
When secrets are revealed,
When thoughts and motives are laid bare
And nothing is concealed?

2. On that great day when God will judge
Our every word and deed,
Without excuse, our mouths will close,
For guilty we must plead.

3. The deeds we do, the thoughts we think
Will matter on that day;
Each sinful act, each secret thought,
Each careless word we say.

4. O sinner, if you face that day
Alone, you will not stand.
The Law will charge and you will fall,
Condemned by just command.

5. Our only hope when that day comes:
That Christ died in our place;
He bore Himself the wrath of God
That we might know His grace.

6. O sinner, come before that day,
Come look to Christ and live!
Take refuge in His righteousness;
Your sins He will forgive.

7. With certainty that day draws near,
O why would you delay?
Tomorrow is not guaranteed,
Come trust in Christ today!

Words ©2017 Ken Puls

Download the lyrics and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune ARLINGTON for classical guitar.

Conversation with Prudence

Then Prudence thought good to ask him a few questions, and desired his answer to them.

Prudence: Do you not think sometimes of the country where you came from?

Christian: Yes, but with much shame and detestation: “Truly, if I had been mindful of that country from whence I came out, I might have had opportunity to have returned; but now I desire a better country, that is, an heavenly.”

Prudence: Are you ever enticed by some of the things that then you were accustomed to do?

Christian: Yes, but greatly against my will; especially my inward and carnal cogitations, with which all my countrymen, as well as myself, were delighted. But now all those things are my grief; and might I but choose mine own things, I would choose never to think of those things anymore. But when I would be doing of that which is best, that which is worst is with me.

Prudence: Do you not find sometimes, as if those things were vanquished, which at other times are your perplexity?

Christian: Yes, but that is seldom; but they are to me golden hours in which such things happen to me.

Prudence: Can you remember by what means you find your annoyances, at times, as if they were vanquished?

Christian: Yes, when I think what I saw at the cross, that will do it; and when I look upon my broidered coat, that will do it; also when I look into the roll that I carry in my bosom, that will do it; and when my thoughts wax warm about where I am going to, that will do it.

Prudence: And what is it that makes you so desirous to go to Mount Zion?

Christian: Why, there I hope to see him alive that did hang dead on the cross; and there I hope to be rid of all those things that to this day are in me an annoyance to me. There, they say, there is no death. And there I shall dwell with such company as I like best. For, to tell you truth, I love him, because I was by him eased of my burden; and I am weary of my inward sickness. I am eager to be where I shall die no more, and with the company that shall continually cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy!”

PrudenceThe conversation at Palace Beautiful continues with Prudence asking Christian some questions. Prudence represents our carefulness to walk in the wisdom and truth of God’s Word. To be prudent is to live and act with discretion and to exercise good judgment. Prudence is the practical outworking of wisdom. Christian prudence is godly wisdom in action, as we apply God’s Word to what we think, say and do.

Piety began the discussion by drawing out Christian’s story and testimony for the benefit of all in the Palace; Prudence probes deeper. She presses Christian into a more weighty conversation that explores his inner motivation and struggles. Her questions focus on:

    1. His inward battles with former lusts
    2. His fortitude to fend off carnal thoughts and worldly temptations
    3. His strategy to guard his heart and mind against sin

Earlier in his pilgrimage Christian had been careless and unwise. Rather than heeding truth and keeping in the Way, he was swayed for a time by the advice of Worldly Wiseman. The answers that Christian now gives to Prudence’s questions show us the progress that he has made on his journey in gaining spiritual wisdom.

First she asks him if he ever entertains thoughts about his former way of life: “Do you not think sometimes of the country where you came from?” Christian formerly resided in the town of Destruction, but when he thinks of that place now, it is with “shame and detestation.” Israel sinned in the Old Testament when their hearts were “turned back to Egypt” (Acts 7:39). But Christian is intent to leave behind his old way of life. He desires “a better country” quoting from Hebrews:

And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:15-16).

Prudence then asks if he is ever enticed by some of the things that he once was accustomed to do in his former way of life. Christian admits that he struggles, but he truly desires now to do what is right. He does not want carnal thoughts to disturb and trouble him. Those thoughts in which he once found sinful pleasure are a grief to him now. He acknowledges the ongoing battle in his heart against remaining sin.

If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice (Romans 7:16-19).

Sometimes evil thoughts are brought down and subdued. At other times they rise up to entangle and agitate. Christian confesses to Prudence that the hours when his thoughts are free from carnal temptations, while too few, are like gold to him.

Prudence then asks Christian about his strategy to guard against carnal thoughts. What means are most effective in vanquishing besetting sin?

Christian mentions the value of meditating on God’s Word. He ponders the truth of Scripture and preaches it to himself. He anchors his thoughts in the promises of the gospel: the cross of Christ (the place of deliverance), the imputed righteousness of Christ (the coat he now wears), the assurance of salvation (his roll that he carries close to his heart), and his destination (eternal life in heaven).

Finally Prudence asks him why he is so eager to reach heaven. Christian is anchored in God’s Word and aiming for eternity. He has embarked on a journey and understands that this world is not his home. It is filled with sin, death, trials and afflictions, and it can wearisome as we press on day by day. We must remember that we are just passing through. Christian longs for the joys that await us in glory:

    • There we will see Christ face to face (1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 22:4).
    • There we will be free, not just from sin’s condemnation and power, but from its presence (Revelation 21:27, 22:3).
    • There we will have life eternal; there will be no more death (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:4)
    • There we will be in the company of angels (Revelation 4:8) and the redeemed (Philippians 3:20) forever.

In the next post the conversation will continue with Charity.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

A Prayer for God’s Presence Throughout the Day

We sang this hymn today in our morning service at Grace Baptist Church. It’s a reminder of God’s faithful and abiding presence with us at all times, and the free access we have, because of the shed blood of Christ, to come boldly to throne of grace with our prayers and praise.

sunrise1bl

Lord, as I begin to wake,
Just as I become aware,
Draw my waking thoughts to You;
Stir my heart to praise and prayer.
Then as I arise from sleep,
Stand to face another day,
Let Your Word be my delight,
Guiding all I do and say.

Help me, Lord to meditate
And apply the truth I know;
As I preach to my own soul,
Grant that I may heed and grow.
As I walk throughout this day,
Help me cast away all fear;
Let me not forget or doubt
Your abiding presence near.

When the day gets busy, Lord,
Let my walk not stray from You;
Fix my heart and mind and will
On Your promises anew.
Many times throughout this day
Bring remembrance of Your Word.
Guard my heart from unbelief;
Keep my faith in You, O Lord.

When temptations rise and rage
Show me, Lord, the way to flee;
Lest I fall, teach me to pray:
Lord, uphold and strengthen me.
Ever, Lord, You are with me!
Keep this truth before my eyes.
May it guard my path from sin,
Comfort me and make me wise.

Lord, You are my joy and strength,
Through each hour, in ev’ry place.
Be there happiness or grief,
You uphold me by Your grace.
And when I lie down to sleep,
Lift my heart again to pray;
Let my thoughts to You return
In thanksgiving end the day.

Words ©2000 Kenneth A Puls

View / Download the lyrics and sheet music to this hymn.