January 9, 2015

On the Shoulders of Giants

by Mike Riccardi

Shoulders of GiantsIt was Isaac Newton who famously penned the sentence, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In saying this, he meant to communicate his respect for and dependence on the great minds that had come before him. Whatever advances he was able to make, he recognized that he stood upon the work of those who had come before him, giving him greater views of the heights he was to ascend.

We’re very familiar with that principle in the Christian life. And if we’re not, we should be. I am able to make greater progress in my pursuit of Christ in my day-to-day life by reading the insights of those who have come before in this race, and who have long since reached the glorious finish line after a lifetime of faithfulness.

Today I wanted to gather a bunch of quotes that I’ve come across lately. I discovered some as I enjoyed some leisure reading over the Christmas holiday. Others I found as I work on a research project for seminary. And others I came across on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, as friends shared them with me. It’s by reading the thoughts of spiritual giants like these — by standing on their shoulders — that I am helped along in my worship of Christ. And so I wanted to share some of them with you. Read them slowly. Take them in. I hope it makes for an encouraging Friday.

  • Thomas Brooks: “It is not he who reads most, but he who meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest, and strong Christian.”
  • John Owen: “The glory and excellency that lies in the spiritual communion of the soul with God, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, in that heavenly intercourse which is between God and his saints in their worship, causes all the beauty of the world to fade and become as nothing, and brings all the outward pomp of ceremonious worship into contempt.”
  • Thomas Manton: “The favor of God is the life of our souls, and His displeasure is our death. . . . All the world without this cannot make a man happy. What will it profit us if the whole world smile upon us, and God frown and be angry with us? All the candles in the world cannot make it day; nay, all the stars shining together cannot dispel the darkness of the night nor make it day, unless the sun shines; so whatever comforts we have of a higher or lower nature, they cannot make it day with a gracious heart, unless God’s face shine upon us; for He can blast all in an instant.”
  • Wilhelmus a Brakel: “Such is our God, who not only is all-sufficient Himself but who with His all-sufficiency can fill and saturate the soul to such an overflowing measure that it has need of nothing else but to have God as its portion. The soul so favored is filled with such light, love, and happiness, that it desires nothing but this. ‘Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee’ (Psa. 73:25).”
  • Jonathan Edwards: “This pleasure of seeing God is so great and strong that it takes the full possession of the heart, it fills it perfectly full, so that there shall be no room for any sorrow, no room in any corner for anything of an adverse nature from joy. There is no darkness that can bear such powerful light. It is impossible that they who see God face to face, who behold his glory and love so immediately as they do in heaven, should have any such thing as grief or pain in their hearts.”
  • John Owen: “O to behold the glory of Christ! . . . Herein would I live; herein would I die; herein would I dwell in my thoughts and affections . . . until all things below become unto me a dead and deformed thing, no way suitable for affectionate embraces.”
  • John Owen: “That soul which can be satisfied without [beholding Christ’s glory], and that cannot be eternally satisfied with it, is not a partaker of the efficacy of His intercession.”
  • Richard Sibbes: “Better to be in trouble with Christ, than in peace without him.”
  • John Owen: “In this gust and relish lies the sweetness and satisfaction of spiritual life. Speculative notions about spiritual things, when they are alone, are dry, sapless, and barren. In this gust we taste by experience that God is gracious, and that the love of Christ is better than wine, or whatever else hath the most grateful relish unto a sensual appetite. This is the proper foundation of that ‘joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.’”
  • Jonathan Edwards: “Then will come the time, when Christ will sweetly invite his spouse to enter in with him into the palace of his glory, which he had been preparing for her from the foundation of the world, and shall as it were take her by the hand, and lead her in with him: and this glorious bridegroom and bride shall with all their shining ornaments, ascend up together into the heaven of heaven; the whole multitude of glorious angels waiting upon them: and this Son and daughter of God shall, in their united glory and joy, present themselves together before the Father; when Christ shall say, ‘Here am I, and the children which thou hast given me’: and they both shall in that relation and union, together receive the Father’s blessing; and shall thenceforward rejoice together, in consummate, uninterrupted, immutable, and everlasting glory, in the love and embraces of each other, and joint enjoyment of the love of the Father.”

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Which of these quotes resonated with you? What thoughts do the thoughts of these great men bring to your mind? How do they help you to worship Christ today?

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    Jonathan Edwards: “This pleasure of seeing God is so great and strong that it takes the full possession of the heart, it fills it perfectly full, so that there shall be no room for any sorrow, no room in any corner for anything of an adverse nature from joy…”

    There are often times when I have been praying that God’s love seems so overpowering that I cover my face with my hands, overwhelmed by His kindness. Those are precious moments for me.

  • Curt

    Thomas Manton: “The favor of God is the life of our
    souls, and His displeasure is our death. . . . All the world without
    this cannot make a man happy. What will it profit us if the whole world
    smile upon us, and God frown and be angry with us? All the candles in
    the world cannot make it day; nay, all the stars shining together cannot
    dispel the darkness of the night nor make it day, unless the sun
    shines; so whatever comforts we have of a higher or lower nature, they
    cannot make it day with a gracious heart, unless God’s face shine upon
    us; for He can blast all in an instant.”

    I almost feel “wrong” trying to add anything to this as it SO hit me! Being happy with anything worldly and yet not with my Lord, is false happiness. I am convicted and also filled with gratefulness at His grace and mercy towards me, a great sinner.

    Thanks for these, Mike!

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  • Christian brother

    I truly recognize and honor those men and benefit from their ministries but there is only one Giant who can support anybody on His shoulders and His name is Jesus! We should not forget that all these men were only able to accomplish something because of Jesus. All to His Glory. Every time we think these men were giants we miss an opportunity to recognize the Only True Giant, Jesus Christ. It is easy to take our focus from God and to focus on men instead, ourselves included.
    God bless!

    • I appreciate the sentiment of your comment, CB, but I don’t think it’s entirely accurate.

      …there is only one Giant who can support anybody on His shoulders and His name is Jesus!

      If we’re speaking of “standing on one’s shoulders” as referring to the ground of our righteousness or acceptance with God, then this is absolutely true. Relying upon anyone but Christ for salvation is futile, foolish, and damning.

      But that’s not the only sense of that phrase: “standing on one’s shoulders.” If these men, by their disciplined study of the Scriptures and their own pursuit of communion with Christ, have been able to write something that sheds light on a particular facet of Christ’s glory — something that I may not have been able to see at any given moment — then I have stood on their shoulders precisely in order to worship Christ more faithfully. You’re right to note that they “were only able to accomplish something because of Jesus. All to His Glory.” Indeed, they even say such things. Almost all of the quotes that I collated above explicitly extol the glory of Christ. If they help me to do the same in a more faithful way than before I read them, it’s wrong-headed to conclude that that is somehow at odds or in competition with the glory of Jesus.

      Which is what makes this statement false: “Every time we think these men were giants we miss an opportunity to recognize the Only True Giant, Jesus Christ.”

      That’s simply mistaken, a category error. I agree that it can be a real temptation to worship Christ’s gifts above Him, the Giver. But the Scriptures teach that we do not have to choose between enjoying God or His gifts (including the gifts of His servants whom He’s given to bless the church); the logical conclusion to that is monasticism and asceticism. Rather, we are commanded to enjoy God in His gifts — to trace the blessing of sound teaching and sound teachers, for example, back to their source and glorify Christ for what He has manifested of Himself and His glory in those teachers and their teaching.

      A passage from John Piper in God is the Gospel really helped me recognize this truth:

      When the gospel of Jesus Christ frees us to see and savor the glory of God above all things, the way is opened for us to experience seamless joy in God and His gifts. We are able to see every gift as a beam from the sun of God’s glory. Every joy in the beam runs up to the fountain of light and ends there. No created thing becomes a rival but only a revelation of God. Therefore we can say that, for the gospel-liberated mind, all joy in created things is seamless with joy in God.

      In other words, we don’t have to dichotomize (a) reverence for godly teachers and their biblical teaching with (b) reverence God Himself and the Bible itself. Insofar as (a) is consistent with (b), a reverence for (a) can be the worship of (b). Otherwise, Paul could have never said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1), or “Join in following my example” (Phil 3:17).

      So, we can properly revere these dear men as giants insofar what they have said is consistent with biblical truth and as their writings properly exalt the glory of God. And in doing so, we do not take away from the glory of the true Giant, but in fact we glorify Him all the more.

      • Mike Hovland

        Good stuff Mike.

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