Had a great time lately exploring Google Books, particularly the volumes of free books too long buried but now available and are fully searchable! One of these is the Diary of Andrew Alexander Bonar. Bonar is only known today, if at all, as the biographer of Robert Murray M’Cheyene. Mc’Cheyne was the subject of John Piper’s session in his Desiring God conference this past week.
Bonar was not and will never become “popular” like M’Cheyne is today, but his diary is a rich storehouse of godliness for the Christian. Bonar knew the uncertainties we all face, but on how communion with God is to be maintained he had no doubts. It is by the ministry of the Holy Spirit on God’s part, and by prayer on our own. The prayer that appears most in his diary is that of Ephesians 3.16-19:
That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
What caught me for quite a time was when he reflects in his diary on how the “fullness of God” enables him to “know his place”, in other words, how he enters humility. From time to time he thought himself like the sons of Merari among the Levites, whose work in the wilderness was to carry such things as “the pins of the Tabernacle” (Numbers 4.32 KJV). Here is a typical reference from a day when he was sitting reading the life of Thomas Chalmers (another “mega” of his day). He writes what happened next:
A man asked me to go with him to settle a quarrel between him and his wife. The Lord does not use me, like His servant, Dr. Chalmers, for great things, but my way of serving the Lord is walking three or four miles to quiet a family dispute! The Lord shows me that He wishes me to be one of the common Levites who carry the pins.
Here’s a convicting quote from Bonar’s Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne that I return to again and again: “It is not great talents that God blesses so much as a great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”
The essence of holiness is communion with God.
When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their work and interests, their acquaintances, the state of their churches—but rarely of their daily experience of God.
Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about the practical and pragmatic, systems and strategies, problems of conduct, techniques of inreach and outreach—but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God. We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all. We make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.
But how different were the Puritans and their heirs like Chalmers, M’Cheyne and Andrew Bonar. The whole aim of their “practical and experimental” preaching and writing was to explore the riches of the doctrine and practice of our communion with God.
In order to gather the pins, we must first go down on our knees.