‘Behold Your God’ – a review

‘The world is famishing for lack of the knowledge of God and the church is famishing for want of his presence.’

With these words A. W. Tozer captures as well as anything the thinking behind ‘Behold Your God’.

It is quite hard to pin this course down. It is not exactly a doctrine course, nor is it evangelism, nor is it discipleship. But then again, it is all three and more.

If you are looking for the next big idea then this is not the course for you. You could use it like that, and it would make a better fist of it than many, but to do so would be to miss the point. This is a course about the inadequacy of that whole way of thinking. It makes the case that our big need is not new methods or new ideas but a deeper knowledge of God himself.

So, above all, this is a course about God. It is about Him being bigger than we think; about us not knowing Him as well as we could and should; and, especially, about the fact that it doesn’t have to be that way. The call here is to a renewed knowledge of God, to a new discovery of the power of repentance and faith, and to a new delight in Christ Himself.

I think there is depth here – and weight; and orientation; and direction.

The course consists of a Workbook and a set of DVDs. It is twelve sessions long and set up to run over twelve weeks. The idea is that each participant does the five studies in the Workbook during the week, and then the group comes together to watch the DVD and share their thoughts. It is important to know that the key material is delivered through the five studies in the Workbook. The DVD sometimes repeats that material, but it usually assumes it, and is more ‘motivational’ in character.

Each DVD has three sections:

1. A 10 minute biographical sketch. The roll call is A. W. Tozer, Timothy Dwight, George Muller, Samuel Rutherford, George Whitefield, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Charles Spurgeon, Daniel Rowland, Amy Carmichael, Charles Finney, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Jonathan Edwards.

2. A 30 minute sermon from John Snyder filmed with an audience in a café setting. John Snyder studied at WEST in the late 90’s completing a PhD on the Theology of the 18th Century Revival.

3. A 10 minute ‘interview’ section edited from interviews with Andrew Davies, Conrad Mbewe, Eifion Evans, Paul Washer, Richard Owen Roberts, Jordan Thomas, and Anthony Mathenia. These men form a good cross section of ages and contexts and it is nice to see a couple of familiar faces in there.

That list of names is useful to know as it conveys a sense of the theology and ‘ethos’ of the course. It is setting out what I would call ‘Big Vision’ Christianity. Flowing from the Reformation, this vision of the Christian Faith was forged in the fires of the 18th Century Revivals and was, more recently, recovered in the 20th Century through the influence of Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

I was raised and converted in this ‘ethos’ but find that nowadays it is strangely out of fashion. It has been good to find a resource that presents it afresh. I think it has been a help to others also. We ran ‘Behold your God’ in our church every Friday for twelve weeks in 2013 with good attendance and largely positive feedback.

The course is from the USA. That does mean there is some translation work to do – linguistically, culturally and maybe spiritually. But we are used to things from the US and, unless you’ve got some personal issues, the problems are minor. In practice the themes being raised run much too deep for any cultural differences to get in the way.

So I would say invest in this course. It isn’t cheap but it is worth it. We are currently running it in our church with the sessions just once a month. This gives people time to do justice to the five home studies in the workbook. The Workbook is also worth cannibalising to use parts of it as ‘stand alone’ studies – the five on holiness were especially good in this regard. Also valuable as a ‘stand alone’ resource is the third part of each DVD, the ‘interview’ section. I have used these as discussion starters in other contexts. I think too they could be the way to use this course with teenagers – start with the ten minute ‘interview’ section from the DVD, do your own Bible study drawing on the Workbook, then maybe use the relevant biographical slot from the DVD to end. I have also been watching the ‘interview’ sections for my own personal encouragement now and again, and can see no reason why they wouldn’t be valuable in family devotions too – assuming any children are not too young. Check out www.beholdyourgod.org for more. Your best bet for getting a copy in the UK at the moment is the Heath Bookshop in Whitchurch Road, Cardiff.

Evangelism Training from George Whitefield

In the Spring of 1740 George Whitefield was travelling and preaching in what is now the USA. Unimaginable crowds attended his preaching and many people were converted.

One of the people who came to a life-changing knowledge of Christ at this time was an Indian Trader known to us only as Mr M. His new found faith gave him a concern for the Allegany Indians among whom he had worked and he sought Whitefield’s help and advice in what he should do. In response Whitefield wrote him two letters. The first was to him personally advising him how to conduct himself if he was to be fruitful as a witness to the grace of God among these people. The second letter was to the Indians themselves. It contained a summary of the gospel and was designed to help Mr M communicate his new found faith to the Indians.

It seems to me that these two letters are still relevant. You’ve got to be willing to span the years and do a little translation work, but together these letters offer some foundational instruction in the work of evangelism to which every Christians is called and for which every Christian has an appetite.

So here is some evangelism training from one of the most effective evangelists that ever lived.

Letter 1: The fruitful Witness

To Mr M, an Indian Trader

Dear Mr M, Reedy Island May 19, 1 740.

I received your letter, and have been reading part of your journal. I think it your bounden duty to go amongst the Indians again, not as a minister but as a private christian, whose duty it is, when converted himself, to strengthen his brethren.

An effectual door, I would hope, is opening amongst some of the heathen. I remember, when it was first impressed upon me, that I should go to Georgia this promise came with such power as never will be forgotten, and that too, long before I had any outward call — “I have made thee the head of the heathen.” I speak this for your encouragement but desire you would not mention it to others. Who knows but that time may be now near at hand? However that be, it is plain God calls you, and I wish you good success in the name of the Lord.

Be sure you keep a close walk with God. Be much in prayer, and prepare for the greatest hardships. Your greatest perils will be among your own countrymen. The heathens will be stirred up by them, as the Gentiles were by the Jews; but the Lord Jesus will make you more than conqueror over all.

The word of the Lord will make its own way.

Beg of GOD to give you true notions of our free justification by faith in Jesus Christ. Bring your Indian hearers to believe, before you talk of baptism, or the Supper of the Lord. Otherwise they will catch at a shadow and neglect the substance. Improve the leisure you now enjoy, and see that you feel the truths you speak. Feed on this promise, “It shall be given you in that hour that you shall say.’ Your circumstances call for a fulfilling of it.  Tell them what God has been doing here, and how happy Jesus Christ will make them. Be sure to tell them that true faith is not merely in the head, but in the heart, and that it will certainly be productive of good works.

Frequently meditate on God’s free love to yourself, and that will best qualify you to speak of it affectionately to others. I could say more, but time will not permit. Pray for me. All with me salute you. My poor petitions you may depend on, as the Lord shall enable me. My love to all, and believe me to be

Your affectionate friend, brother and fervent in Christ,

George Whitefield

Letter 2 – The Gospel we Bring

To the Allegany Indians.

My Dear Brethren, Reedy Island May 21, 1 740.

For so I call you, because you, and I, and all, have one common father, one God, in whom we live, move and have our beings. We all came at first out of the dust of the earth, for after God made the sun, moon, stars, and everything you see, he also made a creature called man and breathed into him the breath of life. He then became a living soul. He could not only walk and speak, but he could also think, and reason, and was full of goodness, peace and joy.

This man, this happy creature, God placed in a garden which his own right hand had planted. He then call him into a deep sleep and out of one of his ribs made what we call a woman that she might be his wife. Their names were Adam and Eve. With these God made an agreement that they should eat of every tree of that garden except one; but if they ate the fruit of that particular tree they should die; they should return to the dust from whence they were taken, lose the comforts they enjoyed in their souls, and be unhappy for ever in another world. But if they did not eat this fruit, none of these things should come upon them.

A being, which we call the devil (and who for his pride had been cast out of heaven) envying their happiness, tempted them to eat the forbidden fruit. They consented. They ate. They died. Their bodies became mortal, their souls were deprived of the presence and love of God; and unless a way was found out to make satisfaction for what they had done, they must have been lost for ever.

These were our parents, and God made this agreement with us their children as well as with them. For they acted in our name – as a king acts in the name of his people, or a father in the name of a child. What therefore befell them, befell us. We died in them; and come into this world poor and miserable, blind and naked, as they were when they had eaten of the forbidden tree. Hence it is, that we are given to lust, anger, envy, hatred, pride, and malice, and all those troublesome passions which you all must feel in your own hearts, and cannot but see even in the hearts of your children.

If then, you only look into yourselves, you must confess these things are so. But God hath given us a book wherein he assures us of the truth of all this: and we know that book came from God because none but God could tell us the things therein contained. And I speak first of this, because ’till you feel and believe this, you cannot come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ; and without the knowledge of Jesus Christ you cannot be saved.

For after our first parents, Adam and Eve, had taken the forbidden fruit, and, with all their children thereafter to be born, became guilty before God, God out of his own free love sent his only begotten Son into the world, to die, and so to make an atonement for the sin of fallen man, and also to obey the law which man had broken; so that though fallen man had no righteousness of his own, yet upon believing in God’s Son, he should find a perfect righteousness in him.

This Son is called Jesus, “A Saviour,” because he was to save us from the guilt and power of our sins. He was truly God, and therefore could satisfy; he was truly man, and therefore could obey and suffer in our stead. He was God and man in one person, that God and man might be happy together again.

My dear brethren, (for so I must call you, though I never saw you) these are strange things, but if you are willing to learn, the Holy Spirit shall teach you. For Jesus Christ by dying, and obeying God’s law, hath bought for us the Holy Spirit, who shall change your corrupt natures, and fit you for happiness hereafter with the ever-blessed God, if you do but believe in your hearts.

Thousands of white people only believe in their heads, and therefore are no more christians than those who never heard of Jesus Christ at all. They call Christ, “Lord, Lord,” but they do not live as Jesus Christ hath commanded. No, they curse and swear, they break the sabbath, they get drunk, they play, they whore, they commit adultery, and have taught many poor Indians to do these abominable things as well as themselves. Do not you therefore learn of them. For true christians are sober, chaste and holy. They will not get drunk, they will not play the whore, they will not cheat, lie, curse or swear; but they will bless and praise God, keep the sabbath, and do all the good they can; for thus Jesus Christ, their Lord and master, lived when he was here on earth.

I say, when he was here on earth; for after he died, he rose again, and went up into heaven from whence he came, and there he sits praying for all that shall believe on Him to the end of the world. For as the world had a beginning, so it also will have an end. And Jesus Christ will come again in the clouds to judge all mankind; and then he that hath believed in Christ, and hath shown forth his faith by his works, shall be saved; and he that hath not believed in Christ, shall be damned for ever, and be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone.

But before he comes, he hath promised that the heathen shall be brought to believe on him, and therefore I write this letter to you. I would come myself, and preach the glad tidings of salvation among you, as the bearer of this could interpret for me; but my other business will not permit. I am a minister of the same Jesus, and once was as ignorant of Him comparatively as you may be. I once lived like other people; but the Lord Jesus hath brought me to believe on Him, and I now do so no more. I once was full of envy, hatred, malice, and such like cursed tempers; but now I have love, and peace, and joy. And because Jesus Christ hath shown such mercy to me, I desire that all others should be made as happy, nay happier than I am myself.

Hearken therefore now to the voice of the Lord. Pray to God that you may feel yourselves poor, miserable sinners, and come by a living faith to Jesus Christ. Then he will pardon you of all your sins, make you holy by his Spirit here, and take you into everlasting happiness hereafter.

Your traders, some of them at least, will tell you, that you must be miserable, if you will be christians. But these know nothing of Jesus Christ; for they are ungodly men, walking after their own wicked lusts. Whosoever will follow Jesus Christ, though happy in himself, must be looked upon as a fool by others. The spirit of the world, and the Spirit of Jesus are quite contrary one to the other; and therefore if you will live godly in Him, you must suffer persecution; you must have all manner of evil spoken against you falsely, and be called madmen and fools. But let not that daunt you or make you afraid. There is a world to come, there is a judgment-day, and then Jesus Christ shall crown all those with glory who have suffered for his name’s sake.

Once more, therefore, hearken to the voice of the Lord. For the Lord Jesus died for you as well as for the white men among you and that you might be taught the gospel. But they have made you worse than you were before, and therefore shall receive the greater damnation.

He who brings this, no doubt, will be despised amongst them, because he will, I hope, neither get drunk, nor curse, nor swear. But I trust the Lord will strengthen him, and cause him to show many of you the true way of salvation. I shall not fail to pray for him, and for you; for though I know you not, yet if I could thereby save your precious souls, I think I could die for your sake. May the Lord Jesus bless you, and bring you out of darkness into his marvelous light, for his infinite mercy’s sake.

This is the prayer of, dear brethren, your soul’s well-wisher and servant in Christ,

George Whitefield