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Leviticus 19     Psalm 23-24     Ecclesiastes 2     1 Timothy 4


Leviticus 19

The LORD Is Holy

Leviticus 19:1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. 3 Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God. 4 Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the LORD your God.

5 “When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. 6 It shall be eaten the same day you offer it or on the day after, and anything left over until the third day shall be burned up with fire. 7 If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is tainted; it will not be accepted, 8 and everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from his people.

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. 11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.

13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

You Shall Keep My Statutes

19 “You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.

20 “If a man lies sexually with a woman who is a slave, assigned to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, a distinction shall be made. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free; 21 but he shall bring his compensation to the LORD, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. 22 And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven for the sin that he has committed. 23 “When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. 24 And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD. 25 But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you: I am the LORD your God.

26 “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. 27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. 28 You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.

29 “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity. 30 You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.

31 “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.

32 “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

33 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

35 “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. 36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. 37 And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the LORD.”


Psalm 23

The LORD Is My Shepherd

Psalm 23 A Psalm Of David.

1  The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2  He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3  He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

4  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5  You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.


Psalm 24

The King of Glory

Psalm 24 A Psalm Of David.

1  The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
2  for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

3  Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4  He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
5  He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6  Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

7  Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8  Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!
9  Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10  Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory! Selah


Ecclesiastes 2

The Vanity of Self-Indulgence

Ecclesiastes 2:1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.

9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

The Vanity of Living Wisely

12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. 13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. 14 The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. 15 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. 16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.

The Vanity of Toil

18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.

24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.


1 Timothy 4

Some Will Depart from the Faith

1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars "Telling The Truth" below. whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

A Good Servant of Christ Jesus

6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

The Reformation Study Bible


What I'm Reading

Patience, Now

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 9/1/2004

     The devil, if we are paying attention, presents us with something of a paradox. On the one hand, when he is introduced to us we are told, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made” (Gen. 3:1). On the other hand, he is likewise the biggest fool to ever walk the planet. If insanity is rightly defined as the propensity to try the same thing over and over again, all the while expecting different results, then our nemesis is certifiable. He has been on a losing streak since day one, and it will go on forever. That he fights is foolish. How he fights is crafty.

     Satan, despite the interesting parallels in how we spell their names, is not some sort of bad Santa, carrying around a sack full of illicit goodies by which he seeks to tempt us away from our calling. It is decidedly less than crafty, then, to take such a straightforward approach. We would, of course, be on our guard were he so crass. Instead, the devil delights to work in the background, and to work on the background. That is, he likes to lay low while laying the foundations for our thinking.

     Consider for a moment (but only for a moment, for I know how busy you must be) the biblical virtue of patience, that fruit of the Holy Spirit that seems always to be just outside our reach. What would you do if you, like the devil, wanted to squash this fruit of the Spirit, to turn it into a bruised mess fit only for the dumpster? Surely you would see that it would do you precious little good to try to create a crusade in favor of impatience. You would have to look long and hard to find a political action committee or a secular advocacy group that seeks to promote the virtue of impatience. You’d be more likely to find a brigade of zealots in favor of tooth decay. The devil is smarter than that. He does not preach the virtues of impatience. He just puts us in a world where it doesn’t make sense.

     Sociologists often speak of what they like to call “plausibility structures.” These are not particular ideas that are self-consciously being promoted by advocates. Instead they are systems, so to speak, that encourage a particular way of looking at the world. The pro-abortion lobby has glommed onto this idea in how it sells its morbid view of the world. We are pro-life, but they do not present themselves as pro-death. Rather, they describe themselves as “pro-choice.” During the first decade of the pro-life movement we spent our time trying to make the case that unborn children were just that, unborn children. Surely once they see what they are doing, this would all stop. Except we won that debate, and blood still runs in our streets. It does so because “choice” resonates with Americans. And it resonates with Americans not because of careful, thoughtful reasoning among Americans, but because of toothpaste. “Choice” makes sense to us because we live in a world of choice, where we choose not only among forty different brands of toothpaste, but among ten different sizes. This creates a “plausibility” structure, a world in which choice just makes sense to us.

     What has this to do with patience? Be patient — we’re getting there. “Choice” is not the only unspoken assumption that so often directs our conclusions. We live in a world not only where you can choose among so many toothpastes, but a world in which you can get that toothpaste whenever you want. You can get instant cash, and use it to buy instant coffee, all within the confines of your car. And lest that car should trouble you, you can get your oil changed, and be on your way in ten minutes or less. If that doesn’t help, you can get instant approval on a loan for a new car.

     Instant service in many ways is a great blessing. But it can encourage us to be impatient, even about the good things. If I can be an instant winner with the lottery, why can’t I be an instant winner in my race toward sanctification? Why is God taking so long in teaching me patience? Perhaps because He delights to do so. Perhaps because you not only can’t hurry love, but you can’t hurry joy, peace, and patience, or any of the fruits of the Spirit. Virtues are things we are called to cultivate, not order online. They don’t come with the option of overnight shipping for a mere twenty dollars more.

     If we would cultivate these virtues, however, we must eradicate the weeds that choke it out. It isn’t enough to try to bootstrap our way to more patience. We have to dig deep into these plausibility structures, and see where they are leading us. In short, we need to live in light of the culture to which we have been called, not in the dark of the one from which we have come. We must not have our minds conformed to this world. Instead, they must be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

     Such wisdom doesn’t come from an instant cash machine. You won’t cook it up in a microwave. There is but one source, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). If we ask Him for wisdom, He will give it to us. If we receive wisdom, He will give us patience. But it may take a while. Such is the wisdom of God, and such is His patience with us.

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     R.C. Sproul Jr. has served previously as a pastor, professor, and teacher. He is author of numerous books. Some are listed below.

R.C. Sproul Jr. Books

Telling The Truth | 2 Timothy 4:2–3

By Alistair Begg

     A second lesson from the dungeon is the importance of telling the truth without ambiguity, whether it’s good news or bad news.

     As soon as Pharaoh’s cupbearer told Joseph his dream, Joseph came back with the interpretation (Genesis 40:12–13). By telling the man that the three branches he saw were three days, after which he would be restored to his position, Joseph was putting his truthfulness on the line. It would have been the height of foolishness for him to make such a prediction without the authority of God behind him. But that’s what Joseph had.

     He also told the truth to Pharaoh’s baker without stuttering when the baker came to Joseph hoping for the same good news the cupbearer had heard (v. 16).

     The baker had seen the change in the cupbearer’s countenance and had come to Joseph. “Hey, that was a nice thing you said to the cupbearer. I liked that. Three days and then back on the job. Well, I had a dream as well. Let me tell you what I dreamed, so you can give me a good interpretation too.” But Joseph’s interpretation was a prediction of the baker’s death (Genesis 40:18–19).

     Maybe the baker thought that since he and the other man were in the same circumstances, he could expect the same outcome as his neighbor.

     But here’s a lesson within a lesson. George Lawson points out, “Let us remember that divine providence is under no obligation to be equally kind to us all. And that prosperity and adversity, life and death, are distributed to men by One who has a right to do what He will with His own.” In other words, God is God, and He can do what He likes.

     Now it would have been easy for Joseph to soothe this man and tell him some sweet little lies. After all, in three days he would be dead, so there would be nothing to answer for in Joseph’s case if he lied to him.

     There are plenty of people in the pulpits of our churches who are willing to soothe the feelings of spiritually dying men and women, to assure them they are all right. But when you’re dealing with matters of eternity, do you really want to go someplace where someone will tell you lies?

     The lesson from the dungeon is that if you are going to be the servant of God, you’re going to have to tell the truth—the good, the bad, and the ugly—no matter what. And you’re going to have to live with the blast furnace of criticism and opposition.

     Witness the integrity of Joseph in this matter. Some people must have looked at him years later and said, “He became the prime minister of Egypt overnight.”

     No, he didn’t. God was fashioning Joseph for leadership in the crucible of suffering, hammering out his convictions on the anvil of life. And one thing God was teaching Joseph was this: “Joseph, tell the truth. Do what is right, because it is always right to do right.” Joseph learned the lesson, and he stood out in the midst of the malaise around him.

     Just before his death, Paul told his spiritual son and disciple, Timothy, “Preach the Word …. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:2–3). Calvin says, “All love to be flattered. Hence the majority of teachers, in desiring to yield to the corrupt wishes of the world, adulterate the Word of God.”

     Joseph told the truth in the dungeon even when it was hard. What a shame that our nation is led for the most part not by people of this commitment, but by politicians who wait to see what popular sentiment is at the moment, and then follow it.

     Somebody has to stand up and tell the truth. If God’s people will not be strong and do exploits, then who shall?


     Dr. Alistair Begg | (Trent University; London School of Theology; Westminster Seminary) was born in Scotland and spent the first 30 years of life in the United Kingdom. Since September of 1983, he has been the senior pastor at Parkside Church in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. He is the daily speaker on the national radio program Truth For Life which stems from his weekly Bible teaching at Parkside. He and his wife, Susan, have three grown children.

Dr. Alistair Begg Books:

Beacon of Holiness

By Alistair Begg 10/1/2004

     “If the Word does not dwell with power in us,” wrote Puritan John Owen, “it will not pass with power from us” (The Works of John Owen (16 Volume Set), vol. 16, p. 76.). This godly minister personified this truth in his personal life and public ministry more than three centuries ago. For years he carried the message of Jesus Christ into the trenches of a culture as chaotic as our own while simultaneously dealing with the death of his wife and all eleven of his children. John Owen was no ivory tower theologian, but rather a zealous pastor who worked to the brink of exhaustion to further the work of the Reformers. He is remembered for shining gospel light into the spiritually dark arenas of politics and academia. And his love of Scripture was clearly and forcefully articulated from the variety of pulpits into which God called him.

     Yet what gave John Owen success in ministry was not so much his oratory skill, nor his evangelistic zeal, nor even his love for the people he shepherded. John Owen was used mightily by God in all these ways because he was a man characterized by personal holiness. And in an age when the church is emulating the world, where it is no longer distinguishable from our pleasure-oriented culture, the example of John Owen shines like a beacon on a stormy night.

     Let’s consider whether we have allowed contemporary culture to infiltrate our minds and hearts. Have we inverted Christ’s desire that the church be in the world by bringing the world into the church instead? If we take an honest look, perhaps we’ll discover that we are contributing to this trend. Rather than relying solely on the sufficiency of God’s Word, are we employing counselors in our churches who apply worldly methods of psychological analysis to address felt needs? Have we adopted worldly means to reach the seekers who sit skeptically in the back pews rather than offering them the truths of the Gospel and the Christian life? Faithful teaching of God’s Word is vanishing. Are we among the number that have replaced preaching with elaborate drama productions aimed at entertaining? In terms of covenantal relationships, the rate of divorce and remarriage reflects societal statistics. Where do we stand on this issue? The church has become tolerant of all kinds of biblical compromise, casting aside principles that Owen and his contemporaries would have given their lives to protect and defend.

     Unlike Owen, we are in danger of falling prey to the belief that without entertainment and other-worldly concessions, no one will want what Jesus offers. Let’s not forget the exchange, in the nineteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, between Jesus and the rich young ruler when Jesus told the man the realities of true discipleship. As the rich man realized that personal sacrifice is required to live in God’s kingdom, he walked away. What did Jesus do? He did not do what many churches do today: run after the man in an effort to make the Gospel more appealing. No, Jesus let him go, because the only terms on which anyone can truly follow Christ are God’s terms.

     Owen engaged the culture without capitulating to it because his chief desire was to reflect God’s purity in his life and ministry. He remained faithful in his preaching to the truths of Scripture — even in the face of life-threatening persecution — because of his commitment to holiness. People flocked to hear Owen preach because he reflected God’s character. Owen wrote, as noted in Peter Toon’s book God's Statesman: The Life and Work of John Owen: “I hope I may own in sincerity that my heart’s desire unto God, and the chief design of my life … are, that mortification and universal holiness may be promoted in my own life and in the hearts and ways of others, to the glory of God, so that the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be adorned in all things” (p. 56).

     I fear that personal holiness is not a priority within the church — even among its leaders — as it was in the days of the Puritans. Many ministers are often nowadays more concerned with visual growth and success than with cultivating personal purity. That was certainly not the case with John Owen. Rather than devoting much time to developing innovative amusements for the worship hour, Owen made private communion with God a top priority. He understood why the apostle Paul wrote: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2). The Word of God is the means employed by the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ, so if preaching and evangelism are to be effective, private communion with God in His Word must be more important than discovering the latest ministry technique. Owen wrote that “whatever else be done in churches, if the pastors of them, or those who are so esteemed, are not exemplary in gospel obedience and holiness, religion will not be carried on and improved among the people” (Works, vol. 16, p. 88).

     Yet holiness isn’t just a necessity for ministers. If the church is to recover its distinctiveness, holiness is a requirement for each individual member. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Unless we recover this emphasis on holiness, how will the world look in and be able to see the Jesus we profess? Evangelistic efforts will ring hollow if such efforts are not accompanied by personal purity.

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     Dr. Alistair Begg | (Trent University; London School of Theology; Westminster Seminary) was born in Scotland and spent the first 30 years of life in the United Kingdom. Since September of 1983, he has been the senior pastor at Parkside Church in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. He is the daily speaker on the national radio program Truth For Life which stems from his weekly Bible teaching at Parkside. He and his wife, Susan, have three grown children.

Dr. Alistair Begg Books:

The Death of Pride

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 10/1/2004

     I once had a girlfriend who was a classic liberal. Don’t misunderstand. She wasn’t a classical liberal, that is, one with a profound desire for liberty, one who was skeptical about the role of the state. No, strangely enough, this particular young lady was the prototype of a modern liberal. She never met a social cause she didn’t like. She was so far off center that she was the left wing-tip. She was a graduate of the mecca of liberals, the University of California at Berkeley. Her error motivated me not to end the relationship, but to try to put an end to her liberalism. I became, however briefly, an evangelist for limited government, for the free market. I started out by explaining that even Marx himself recognized that a free economy created a great deal of stuff. Productivity wasn’t the problem, according to Marx, in the capitalist economy. Instead, the problem was the distribution of the wealth that was created. So far, because I was in agreement with Marx, I was in agreement with her. Then I used one of my favorite analogies, “So you see,” I said, “capitalism provides, I confess, different sized portions of the donut. Socialism, I’m sorry to say, provides equal portions of the hole.”

     The trouble was, she didn’t see the trouble. Trying to help her see the point I asked her this: “Would you rather live in a world where everyone makes $5000 a year, or would you rather live in a world where the poorest people earn $100,000 a year, but the wealthiest earn $10,000,000 a year? She didn’t hesitate for a moment in making her choice. Better everyone at the same spot well under the poverty line, than for some to have more than others.

     Egalitarianism runs deep in our culture. We have taken the wise notion of our fathers, that all men are created equal and twisted it beyond recognition. They, in so claiming, were arguing that the law was to be blind to issues of background and wealth, that justice was indeed for all. The camel nudged its nose into the tent when we began to clamor instead for “equal opportunity.” Now society would be structured such that everyone would have to start the race at the same place. When this didn’t achieve the results desired we slipped to handicapping the race such that everyone will finish the same. Now we want an equal ending.

     Which may explain why it is that American Christians seem to have such a difficult time with the doctrine of election, especially as it is expressed in the doctrine of limited atonement. Our sense of fairness is not built around a concept of equity or fairness, but is built around a concept of equality, which is often rather unfair. We Americans tend to treat the grace of God the way our school teachers used to treat our treats — we were only allowed to eat them if we had enough for everyone. If God should show kindness toward one human, we reason, He is duty bound to do the same for everyone. Praise God that our king transcends these cultural quirks. Praise God He is not subject to the folly of His subjects.

     John Owen, in what is perhaps his greatest work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise in Which the Whole Controversy about Universal Redemption is Fully Discussed, goes to great pains to help us see the fulfillment of God’s divine prerogative, that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. Because we are all sinners, God owes us all only His just condemnation. But God, who is rich in mercy, has condescended to shower His mercy upon those whom He has chosen, for His good pleasure. To some He shows this mercy; to others He manifests justice.

     It is not, however, simply the American spirit of egalitarianism that gets in our way. We are a strange bunch, who want at the same time to live in that place where we all receive blue ribbons, but we also want to earn what we have. We are at the same time a bootstrap people. You don’t conquer a continent, after all, by sitting around waiting for your fair share of the donut hole. This pushes us to sundry forms of Pelagian theology wherein we claw our own way to heaven. These paradoxes are reconciled then when we see that we want God to treat us all the same not because that is our only chance, but so that when we do win the race, we can brag that we did it on our own. It is not ultimately a desire to make God look good in the eyes of socialists that makes us push Him to treat us all the same. Instead it is a desire to make ourselves look good. We want the credit.

     While The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise in Which the Whole Controversy about Universal Redemption is Fully Discussed dealt a death blow to the notion that God treats us all exactly the same, it is the death of Christ that puts to death any notion that we can do it on our own. The death of Christ does not make it possible for all of us to be saved, but certain for none of us. His death doesn’t move us closer to the finish line, and those who are good will finish. No, He died because we are dead in ourselves. Put a dead man just one inch from the finish line, and he will never finish. Instead, by His death we were made alive. As one wise wag put it, man doesn’t bring the final push to salvation. He doesn’t bring self-generated faith to the party. He doesn’t add his paltry works to the equation. No, what man contributes to his salvation is the need for salvation. We bring the sin that needs to be covered. Let, therefore, no man boast.

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     R.C. Sproul Jr. has served previously as a pastor, professor, and teacher. He is author of numerous books. Some are listed below.

R.C. Sproul Jr. Books

A Loving Provision

By R.C. Sproul 11/1/2004

     In recent years, we have been treated to the invention of a word previously unknown, or at least not used. That word that has entered into the general vocabulary of our time is the word oxymoron. A typical example of an oxymoron might be the phrase “jumbo shrimp.” The words that are used to describe a particular thing seem to be self-contradictory, or at least standing in an antithetical relationship. From this perspective, one might say that in theology the phrase “common grace” is such an oxymoron. I say this for this reason: God’s grace can never be reduced to the level of experience that may be deemed “common.” Though God’s grace in one sense is commonplace, it is always and everywhere an expression of something that He gives that is undeserved by the creature. That God bestows any grace at all upon fallen creatures is indeed an uncommon manifestation of His sovereign generosity. We neither merit nor deserve such benefits.

     Having said this, however, we need to look at the specific intent of the use of the term common with respect to grace. Common grace is distinguished not so much from what we might call uncommon grace, but rather from what we call “special grace.” Common grace refers to several concepts or experiences that we observe as Christians. On the one hand, we realize that in God’s divine providence He pours out benefits that are enjoyed not simply by believers, but by believers and non-believers alike. With respect to such benefits and such activities, the common grace of God is linked closely to two distinct aspects of the love of God. As I explained in my article from the May 2004 issue of Tabletalk, we distinguish among three distinct types of the love of God, two of which involve common grace.

     The first of these aspects is God’s love of benevolence. The term benevolence means simply “good will.” And God’s love for the human race may be defined in terms of His having a generally kind disposition to all of His creatures, fallen as they may be. This, of course, does not negate God’s stance of wrath and anger towards those who continue in disobedience and in resisting the proper worship and gratitude the creature owes to God. But God’s love of benevolence reflects His good will towards all creatures.

     This disposition, or kindness, that God displays towards all creatures indiscriminately is linked to the second type of love that we use to define God’s character. That is His love of beneficence. Where benevolence has to do with God’s will, beneficence has to do with God’s actions as they pertain to His activity on behalf of the whole created realm. We see that He not only has a divine kindness towards His creatures, He acts with a loving provision for the whole human race.

     Jesus said that rain falls upon the just as well as the unjust. If we have two farmers living side by side, laboring each day to bring forth produce from the soil, we know that both farmers require the light of the sun, as well as a sufficient amount of rain to bring forth a healthy crop. If the two farmers are distinguished in terms of faith, one being a regenerate believer and the other an unregenerate non-believer, we don’t expect the sun simply to shine on the believer’s fields and the rain simply to moisten his crop, while at the same time God withholds the gifts of rain and sunshine from the unregenerate. On the contrary, both farmers reap the benefits of the grace of God. He owes neither farmer the gifts of rain and sunshine, as both of those come from His sovereign bounty. Nevertheless, He pours out these gifts to both believer and unbeliever, commonly. So, in this respect, when we speak of the love of God in His beneficence, His beneficence is common, that is, the whole world benefits from God’s grace to a certain degree.

     We look also to the gifts that God gives and provides for people. We can go to unbelieving medical doctors who practice their trade perhaps with a superior skill than believers. It is not simply the believer who is a gifted physician, a gifted musician, or a gifted accountant. God blesses all sorts of people with gifts and talents, and these gifts all flow from His grace. They are not restricted simply to believers.

     In like manner, God’s law is given to benefit the whole of mankind. God established government initially with an angel guarding the entrance to Paradise. Such government involves a restraint of evil. When God gives such restraints to evil, that restraining power gives benefit to the whole world. As fallen as the world is, and as many atrocities that are committed by wicked individuals or corrupt governments, the world would manifest much greater depravity and decadence if not for the restraint of evil by God’s common grace. We see that God, in His common grace, restrains evil from going unchecked, even among the most wicked people and nations.

     Finally, those endeavors to which we as Christians give our attention that have salutary benefits for the whole are acts of common grace. For example, we march with the atheist and those of other religions to combat common evils such as abortion and human rights violations. These issues are not issues reserved for Christians but for the welfare of the entire human community. Common grace matters call the Christian often to work in arenas where there is a mixture of wheat and tares growing together.

     In the final analysis, the grace that is most significant for our concern is that special grace of regeneration, or that special love of God called His love of complacency, the benefits of which are directed solely to His elect. Only the elect receive that grace, and that’s what distinguishes the elect from the non-elect. We must not think of common grace as a saving grace given indiscriminately or provided indiscriminately by God’s intent to the whole human race. That would be to step into a semi-Pelagian or Arminian understanding of common grace. Common grace does not include within it the divine and sovereign selective grace that is reserved for His elect.

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Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.

R.C. Sproul Books:

Leviticus 19; Psalms 23-24; Eccl. 2; 1 Timothy 4

By Don Carson 4/15/2018

     Perhaps the most striking feature of Leviticus 19 is the repeated clause, “I am the LORD.” In each case, it provides the reason why the Israelites are to obey the particular command.

     Each must respect his mother and father, and must obey God’s Sabbaths: “I am the LORD” (19:3). They are not to succumb to idolatry: “I am the LORD” (19:4). When they harvest, they are to leave enough of the produce behind that the poor may find something to eat: “I am the LORD” (19:10). They are not to swear falsely using the name of God: “I am the LORD” (19:12). They are not to play foul jokes on the handicapped, such as cursing the deaf or putting a stumbling block in front of the blind: “I am the LORD” (19:14). They are not to take any action that endangers a neighbor’s life: “I am the LORD” (19:16). They are neither to seek revenge nor bear a grudge against a neighbor, but each is to love his neighbor as himself: “I am the LORD” (19:18). Upon entering the Promised Land, after planting any fruit tree they are not to eat its fruit for three years, and then must offer all the fruit to the Lord in the fourth year, before eating the fruit from the fifth year onward: “I am the LORD” (19:23-25). They are not to mutilate or tattoo their bodies: “I am the LORD” (19:28). They are to observe God’s Sabbaths and have reverence for his sanctuary: “I am the LORD” (19:30). They are not to resort to mediums or spiritists: “I am the LORD” (19:31). They are to rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly, and revere God: “I am the LORD” (19:32). Foreigners resident in the land must be treated as one of the native-born: “I am the LORD” (19:33-34). Business standards must be aboveboard: “I am the LORD” (19:35-36).

     Although some of the commandments and prohibitions in this chapter do not end with this formula, they are nevertheless blessed with the same motive, for the closing verse wraps the chapter up: “Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the LORD” (19:37).

     Moreover, judging by the opening verse of the chapter, the formula “I am the LORD” is in fact a reminder of something longer: “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy’” (19:1). We have already meditated a little on what holy means (cf. April 8). Here, what is striking is that many of these commandments are social in their effect (honesty, generosity, integrity, and so forth); yet the Lord’s holiness is the fundamental warrant for them. For the covenant people of God, the highest motives are bound up with pleasing him and fearing his sanctions.

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Don Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition. He has authored numerous books, and recently edited The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016).

Don Carson Books:

Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 39

What is the measure of my days?
39 To The Choirmaster - To Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.

1 I said, “I will guard my ways,
that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle,
so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
2 I was mute and silent;
I held my peace to no avail,
and my distress grew worse.
3 My heart became hot within me.
As I mused, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:

ESV Study Bible

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     6. This is the reason why the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews ascribes to faith all the good works which the holy patriarchs are said to have performed, and estimates them merely by faith (Heb. 11:2). In regard to this liberty there is a remarkable passage in the Epistle to the Romans, where Paul argues, "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace," (Rom. 6:14). For after he had exhorted believers, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof: Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God;" they might have objected that they still bore about with them a body full of lust, that sin still dwelt in them. He therefore comforts them by adding, that they are freed from the law; as if he had said, Although you feel that sin is not yet extinguished, and that righteousness does not plainly live in you, you have no cause for fear and dejection, as if God were always offended because of the remains of sin, since by grace you are freed from the law, and your works are not tried by its standard. Let those, however who infer that they may sin because they are not under the law, understand that they have no right to this liberty, the end of which is to encourage us in well-doing.

7. The third part of this liberty is that we are not bound before God to any observance of external things which are in themselves indifferent (adia'phora), but that we are now at full liberty either to use or omit them. The knowledge of this liberty is very necessary to us; where it is wanting our consciences will have no rest, there will be no end of superstition. In the present day many think us absurd in raising a question as to the free eating of flesh, the free use of dress and holidays, and similar frivolous trifles, as they think them; but they are of more importance than is commonly supposed. For when once the conscience is entangled in the net, it enters a long and inextricable labyrinth, from which it is afterwards most difficult to escape. When a man begins to doubt whether it is lawful for him to use linen for sheets, shirts, napkins, and handkerchiefs, he will not long be secure as to hemp, and will at last have doubts as to tow; for he will revolve in his mind whether he cannot sup without napkins, or dispense with handkerchiefs. Should he deem a daintier food unlawful, he will afterwards feel uneasy for using loafbread and common eatables, because he will think that his body might possibly be supported on a still meaner food. If he hesitates as to a more genial wine, he will scarcely drink the worst with a good conscience; at last he will not dare to touch water if more than usually sweet and pure. In fine, he will come to this, that he will deem it criminal to trample on a straw lying in his way. For it is no trivial dispute that is here commenced, the point in debate being, whether the use of this thing or that is in accordance with the divine will, which ought to take precedence of all our acts and counsels. Here some must by despair be hurried into an abyss, while others, despising God and casting off his fear, will not be able to make a way for themselves without ruin. When men are involved in such doubts whatever be the direction in which they turn, every thing they see must offend their conscience.

8. "I know," says Paul, "that there is nothing unclean of itself," (by unclean meaning unholy); "but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean," (Rom. 14:14). By these words he makes all external things subject to our liberty, provided the nature of that liberty approves itself to our minds as before God. But if any superstitious idea suggests scruples, those things which in their own nature were pure are to us contaminated. Wherefore the apostle adds, "Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin," (Rom. 14:22, 23). When men, amid such difficulties, proceed with greater confidence, securely doing whatever pleases them, do they not in so far revolt from God? Those who are thoroughly impressed with some fear of God, if forced to do many things repugnant to their consciences are discouraged and filled with dread. All such persons receive none of the gifts of God with thanksgiving, by which alone Paul declares that all things are sanctified for our use (1 Tim. 4:5). By thanksgiving I understand that which proceeds from a mind recognizing the kindness and goodness of God in his gifts. For many, indeed, understand that the blessings which they enjoy are the gifts of God, and praise God in their words; but not being persuaded shalt these have been given to them, how can they give thanks to God as the giver? In one word, we see whither this liberty tends--viz. that we are to use the gifts of God without any scruple of conscience, without any perturbation of mind, for the purpose for which he gave them: in this way our souls may both have peace with him, and recognize his liberality towards us. For here are comprehended all ceremonies of free observance, so that while our consciences are not to be laid under the necessity of observing them, we are also to remember that, by the kindness of God, the use of them is made subservient to edification.

9. It is, however, to be carefully observed, that Christian liberty is in all its parts a spiritual matter, the whole force of which consists in giving peace to trembling consciences, whether they are anxious and disquieted as to the forgiveness of sins, or as to whether their imperfect works, polluted by the infirmities of the flesh, are pleasing to God, or are perplexed as to the use of things indifferent. It is, therefore, perversely interpreted by those who use it as a cloak for their lusts, that they may licentiously abuse the good gifts of God, or who think there is no liberty unless it is used in the presence of men, and, accordingly, in using it pay no regard to their weak brethren. Under this head, the sins of the present age are more numerous. For there is scarcely any one whose means allow him to live sumptuously, who does not delight in feasting, and dress, and the luxurious grandeur of his house, who wishes not to surpass his neighbor in every kind of delicacy, and does not plume himself amazingly on his splendor. And all these things are defended under the pretext of Christian liberty. They say they are things indifferent: I admit it, provided they are used indifferently. But when they are too eagerly longed for, when they are proudly boasted of, when they are indulged in luxurious profusion, things which otherwise were in themselves lawful are certainly defiled by these vices. Paul makes an admirable distinction in regard to things indifferent: "Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled" (Tit. 1:15). For why is a woe pronounced upon the rich who have received their consolation? (Luke 6:24), who are full, who laugh now, who "lie upon beds of ivory and stretch themselves upon their couches;" "join house to house," and "lay field to field;" "and the harp and the viol, the tablet and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts," (Amos 6:6; Isa. 5:8, 10). Certainly ivory and gold, and riches, are the good creatures of God, permitted, nay destined, by divine providence for the use of man; nor was it ever forbidden to laugh, or to be full, or to add new to old and hereditary possessions, or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine. This is true, but when the means are supplied to roll and wallow in luxury, to intoxicate the mind and soul with present and be always hunting after new pleasures, is very far from a legitimate use of the gifts of God. Let them, therefore, suppress immoderate desire, immoderate profusion, vanity, and arrogance, that they may use the gifts of God purely with a pure conscience. When their mind is brought to this state of soberness, they will be able to regulate the legitimate use. On the other hand, when this moderation is wanting, even plebeian and ordinary delicacies are excessive. For it is a true saying, that a haughty mind often dwells in a coarse and homely garb, while true humility lurks under fine linen and purple. Let every one then live in his own station, poorly or moderately, or in splendor; but let all remember that the nourishment which God gives is for life, not luxury, and let them regard it as the law of Christian liberty, to learn with Paul in whatever state they are, "therewith to be content," to know "both how to be abased," and "how to abound," "to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need," (Phil. 4:11).

10. Very many also err in this: as if their liberty were not safe and entire, without having men to witness it, they use it indiscriminately and imprudently, and in this way often give offense to weak brethren. You may see some in the present day who cannot think they possess their liberty unless they come into possession of it by eating flesh on Friday. Their eating I blame not, but this false notion must be driven from their minds: for they ought to think that their liberty gains nothing new by the sight of men, but is to be enjoyed before God, and consists as much in abstaining as in using. If they understand that it is of no consequence in the sight of God whether they eat flesh or eggs, whether they are clothed in red or in black, this is amply sufficient. The conscience to which the benefit of this liberty was due is loosed. Therefore, though they should afterwards, during their whole life, abstain from flesh, and constantly wear one color, they are not less free. Nay, just because they are free, they abstain with a free conscience. But they err most egregiously in paying no regard to the infirmity of their brethren, with which it becomes us to bear, so as not rashly to give them offense. But [458] it is sometimes also of consequence that we should assert our liberty before men. This I admit: yet must we use great caution in the mode, lest we should cast off the care of the weak whom God has specially committed to us.

11. I will here make some observations on offenses, what distinctions are to be made between them, what kind are to be avoided and what disregarded. This will afterwards enable us to determine what scope there is for our liberty among men. We are pleased with the common division into offense given and offense taken, since it has the plain sanction of Scripture, and not improperly expresses what is meant. If from unseasonable levity or wantonness, or rashness, you do any thing out of order or not in its own place, by which the weak or unskillful are offended, it may be said that offense has been given by you, since the ground of offense is owing to your fault. And in general, offense is said to be given in any matter where the person from whom it has proceeded is in fault. Offense is said to be taken when a thing otherwise done, not wickedly or unseasonably, is made an occasion of offense from malevolence or some sinister feeling. For here offense was not given, but sinister interpreters ceaselessly take offense. By the former kind, the weak only, by the latter, the ill-tempered and Pharisaical are offended. Wherefore, we shall call the one the offense of the weak, the other the offense of Pharisees, and we will so temper the use of our liberty as to make it yield to the ignorance of weak brethren, but not to the austerity of Pharisees. What is due to infirmity is fully shown by Paul in many passages. "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye." Again, "Let us not judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall, in his brother's way;" and many others to the same effect in the same place, to which, instead of quoting them here, we refer the reader. The sum is, "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification." elsewhere he says, "Take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling-block to them that are weak." Again "Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake." "Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other." Finally, "Give none offense, neither to the Jews nor to the Gentiles nor to the Church of God." Also in another passage, "Brethren, ye have been called into liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another." [459] Thus, indeed, it is: our liberty was not given us against our weak neighbors, whom charity enjoins us to serve in all things, but rather that, having peace with God in our minds, we should live peaceably among men. What value is to be set upon the offense of the Pharisees we learn from the words of our Lord, in which he says, "Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind," (Mt. 15:14). The disciples had intimated that the Pharisees were offended at his words. He answers that they are to be let alone that their offense is not to be regarded.

     Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain      Institutes of the Christian Religion



  • Sinclair Ferguson
  • Nichols and Tweeddale
  • Steven Lawson

#1 Revive Us, O Lord | Ligonier

 

#2 Awakening & Theological Education | Ligonier

 

#3 Cut to the Heart: Awakening in Scripture | Ligonier

 


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     6/1/2008    Don’t Be So Open-minded

     Our enemy’s supreme deception is in his attempt to convince us that he doesn’t exist. Toward that end, he has launched his assault against us with every weapon in his carefully fashioned arsenal. Perhaps his greatest success is in persuading us that being open-minded is a good thing. For it is precisely when we accept the notion that open-mindedness is a Christian virtue that we fall into the same devilish trap by which our first parents were ensnared.

     Once our minds are open to open-mindedness, all ideas, no matter how absurd, can come and go as they please — with our sanction. We thus become headless and brainless philosophers who just want to get along. One such philosopher and self-proclaimed theologian has written: “So I believe we have radically to rethink our understanding of the place of Christianity in the global religious picture. And we have to face the fact that it is one path amongst others, and then reform our belief-system to be compatible with this. This is the big new challenge that theologians and church leaders have yet to face. We have to become consciously what are called religious pluralists.” This is the mantra of religious pluralists: Liberate your mind, lose your faith, and feel the love.

     Although many professed evangelicals have become precarious evanjellyfish, I would like to think that most have not yet succumbed to the most blatant sort of religious pluralism. Nevertheless, being the narrow-minded biblical fundamentalist that I am, I am decidedly closed-minded to anything that is not biblical, and I concur with John Calvin: “Wherefore all theology, when separated from Christ, is not only vain and confused, but is also mad, deceitful, and spurious; for, though the philosophers sometimes utter excellent sayings, yet they have nothing but what is short-lived, and even mixed up with wicked and erroneous sentiments.” As the closed-minded, Christ-minded faithful we must join arms against the satanic pluralism of our day, whether it is decreed from the Vatican or broadcast from Mecca. We live and breathe for Christ alone and proclaim that there is only one way to God. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

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     Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.

Ligonier     coram Deo (definition)

American Minute
     by Bill Federer

     April 15, the day income taxes are due to the IRS, is the day the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic in the year 1912. It had struck an iceberg the night before, just five days after departing from England on its maiden voyage. Over 1500 lost their lives. President Abraham Lincoln died this day in 1865. He had been shot the night before in Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth, just five days after the Civil War ended. Over a half a million lost their lives. Lincoln stated: “I made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee were driven back from Pennsylvania, I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves.”

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams


It is a fact of Christian experience that life is a series of troughs and peaks. In his efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, God relies on the troughs more than the peaks. And some of his special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.
--- Peter Marshall
20th Century Thoughts That Shaped the Church

Our tendency is to run away from the painful realities or to try to change them as soon as possible. But cure without care makes us into rulers, controllers, manipulators, and prevents a real community from taking shape. Cure without care makes us preoccupied with quick changes, impatient and unwilling to share each other's burden. And so cure can often become offending instead of liberating.
--- Henri J. M. Nouwen
A Letter of Consolation

The truest help we can render an afflicted man is not to take his burden from him, but to call out his best energy, that he may be able to bear the burden.
--- Phillips Brooks
Forty Thousand Sublime and Beautiful Thoughts Vol I and Vol II

Become the change you seek in the world.
--- Mohandas Gandhi
Venture Philanthropy Strategies to Support Translational Research: Workshop Summary

... from here, there and everywhere


Journal of John Woolman 4/15
     University of Virginia Libray 1994

     Thirtieth of eighth month. -- This morning I wrote a letter in substance as follows: --

     BELOVED FRIEND, -- My mind is often affected as I pass along under a sense of the state of many poor people who sit under that sort of ministry which requires much outward labor to support it; and the loving-kindness of our Heavenly Father in opening a pure gospel ministry in this nation hath often raised thankfulness in my heart to him. I often remember the conflicts of the faithful under persecution, and now look at the free exercise of the pure gift uninterrupted by outward laws, as a trust committed to us, which requires our deepest gratitude and most careful attention. I feel a tender concern that the work of reformation so prosperously carried on in this land within a few ages past may go forward and spread among the nations, and may not go backward through dust gathering on our garments, who have been called to a work so great and so precious.

     Last evening during thy absence I had a little opportunity with some of thy family, in which I rejoiced, and feeling a sweetness on my mind towards thee, I now endeavor to open a little of the feeling I had there.

     I have heard that you in these parts have at certain seasons Meetings of Conference in relation to Friends living up to our principles, in which several meetings unite in one. With this I feel unity, having in some measure felt truth lead that way among Friends in America, and I have found, my dear friend, that in these labors all superfluities in our own living are against us. I feel that pure love towards thee in which there is freedom.

     I look at that precious gift bestowed on thee with awfulness before Him who gave it, and feel a desire that we may be so separated to the gospel of Christ, that those things which proceed from the spirit of this world may have no place among us.

     Thy friend,
     JOHN WOOLMAN.

John Woolman's Journal

The Imitation Of Christ
     Thomas A Kempis

     Book Three - Internal Consolation

     The Thirty-Seventh Chapter / Pure And Entire Resignation Of Self To Obtain Freedom Of Heart

     THE VOICE OF CHRIST

     MY CHILD, renounce self and you shall find Me. Give up your own self-will, your possessions, and you shall always gain. For once you resign yourself irrevocably, greater grace will be given you.

     The Disciple

     How often, Lord, shall I resign myself? And in what shall I forsake myself?

     THE VOICE OF CHRIST

     Always, at every hour, in small matters as well as great—I except nothing. In all things I wish you to be stripped of self. How otherwise can you be mine or I yours unless you be despoiled of your own will both inwardly and outwardly? The sooner you do this the better it will be for you, and the more fully and sincerely you do it the more you will please Me and the greater gain you will merit.

     Some there are who resign themselves, but with certain reservation; they do not trust fully in God and therefore they try to provide for themselves. Others, again, at first offer all, but afterward are assailed by temptation and return to what they have renounced, thereby making no progress in virtue. These will not reach the true liberty of a pure heart nor the grace of happy friendship with Me unless they first make a full resignation and a daily sacrifice of themselves. Without this no fruitful union lasts nor will last.

     I have said to you very often, and now I say again: forsake yourself, renounce yourself and you shall enjoy great inward peace. Give all for all. Ask nothing, demand nothing in return. Trust purely and without hesitation in Me, and you shall possess Me. You will be free of heart and darkness will not overwhelm you.

     Strive for this, pray for this, desire this—to be stripped of all selfishness and naked to follow the naked Jesus, to die to self and live forever for Me. Then all vain imaginations, all wicked disturbances and superfluous cares will vanish. Then also immoderate fear will leave you and inordinate love will die.

The Imitation Of Christ

Andrew Murray's Absolute Surrender
     Practical religion. The Christian life

     God Can

     Now comes the second lesson. "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God."

     I said a little while ago that there is many a man who has learned the lesson, It is impossible with men, and then he gives up in helpless despair, and lives a wretched Christian life, without joy, or strength, or victory. And why? Because he does not humble himself to learn that other lesson: With God all things are possible.

     Your religious life is every day to be a proof that God works impossibilities; your religious life is to be a series of impossibilities made possible and actual by God's almighty power. That is what the Christian needs. He has an almighty God that he worships, and he must learn to understand that he does not need a little of God's power, but he needs--with reverence be it said--the whole of God's omnipotence to keep him right, and to live like a Christian.

     The whole of Christianity is a work of God's omnipotence. Look at the birth of Christ Jesus. That was a miracle of divine power, and it was said to Mary: "With God nothing shall be impossible." It was the omnipotence of God. Look at Christ's resurrection. We are taught that it was according to the exceeding greatness of His mighty power that God raised Christ from the dead.

     Every tree must grow on the root from which it springs. An oak tree three hundred years old grows all the time on the one root from which it had its beginning. Christianity had its beginning in the omnipotence of God, and in every soul it must have its continuance in that omnipotence. All the possibilities of the higher Christian life have their origin in a new apprehension of Christ's power to work all God's will in us.

     I want to call upon you now to come and worship an almighty God. Have you learned to do it? Have you learned to deal so closely with an almighty God that you know omnipotence is working in you? In outward appearance there is often so little sign of it. The apostle Paul said: "I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and . .. my preaching was . . . in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." From the human side there was feebleness, from the divine side there was divine omnipotence. And that is true of every godly life; and if we would only learn that lesson better, and give a wholehearted, undivided surrender to it, we should learn what blessedness there is in dwelling every hour and every moment with an almighty God. Have you ever studied in the Bible the attribute of God's omnipotence? You know that it was God's omnipotence that created the world, and created light out of darkness, and created man. But have you studied God's omnipotence in the works of redemption?


Absolute Surrender (The Colportage Library)

Proverbs 14:32-33
     by D.H. Stern

32     The wicked are brought down by their wrongdoing,
but the righteous can be confident even at death.

33     Wisdom is at rest in a person with discernment,
but in fools it has to call attention to itself.


Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
The Great Divorce - A Dream
     C.S. Lewis

          12

     ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.’

     While we spoke the Lady was steadily advancing towards us, but it was not at us she looked. Following the direction of her eyes, I turned and saw an oddly-shaped phantom approaching. Or rather two phantoms: a great tall Ghost, horribly thin and shaky, who seemed to be leading on a chain another Ghost no bigger than an organ-grinder’s monkey. The taller Ghost wore a soft black hat, and he reminded me of something that my memory could not quite recover. Then, when he had come within a few feet of the Lady he spread out his lean, shaky hand flat on his chest with the fingers wide apart, and exclaimed in a hollow voice, ‘At last!’ All at once I realised what it was that he had put me in mind of. He was like a seedy actor of the old school.

     ‘Darling! At last!’ said the Lady. ‘Good Heavens!’ thought I. ‘Surely she can’t—’, and then I noticed two things. In the first place, I noticed that the little Ghost was not being led by the big one. It was the dwarfish figure that held the chain in its hand and the theatrical figure that wore the collar round its neck. In the second place, I noticed that the Lady was looking solely at the dwarf Ghost. She seemed to think it was the Dwarf who had addressed her, or else she was deliberately ignoring the other. On the poor dwarf she turned her eyes. Love shone not from her face only, but from all her limbs, as if it were some liquid in which she had just been bathing. Then, to my dismay, she came nearer. She stooped down and kissed the Dwarf. It made one shudder to see her in such close contact with that cold, damp, shrunken thing. But she did not shudder.

     ‘Frank,’ she said, ‘before anything else, forgive me. For all I ever did wrong and for all I did not do right since the first day we met, I ask your pardon.’

     I looked properly at the Dwarf for the first time now: or perhaps, when he received her kiss he became a little more visible. One could just make out the sort of face he must have had when he was a man: a little, oval, freckled face with a weak chin and a tiny wisp of unsuccessful moustache. He gave her a glance, not a full look. He was watching the Tragedian out of the corner of his eyes. Then he gave a jerk to the chain: and it was the Tragedian, not he, who answered the Lady.

     ‘There, there,’ said the Tragedian. ‘We’ll say no more about it. We all make mistakes.’ With the words there came over his features a ghastly contortion which, I think, was meant for an indulgently playful smile. ‘We’ll say no more,’ he continued. ‘It’s not myself I’m thinking about. It is you. That is what has been continually on my mind—all these years. The thought of you—you here alone, breaking your heart about me.’

     ‘But now,’ said the Lady to the Dwarf, ‘you can set all that aside. Never think like that again. It is all over.’

     Her beauty brightened so that I could hardly see anything else, and under that sweet compulsion the Dwarf really looked at her for the first time. For a second I thought he was growing more like a man. He opened his mouth. He himself was going to speak this time. But oh, the disappointment when the words came!

     ‘You missed me?’ he croaked in a small, bleating voice.

     Yet even then she was not taken aback. Still the love and courtesy flowed from her.

     ‘Dear, you will understand about that very soon,’ she said. ‘But to-day—.’

     What happened next gave me a shock. The Dwarf and Tragedian spoke in unison, not to her but to one another. ‘You’ll notice,’ they warned one another, ‘she hasn’t answered our question.’ I realised then that they were one person, or rather that both were the remains of what had once been a person. The Dwarf again rattled the chain.

     ‘You missed me?’ said the Tragedian to the Lady, throwing a dreadful theatrical tremor into his voice.

     ‘Dear friend,’ said the Lady, still attending exclusively to the Dwarf, ‘you may be happy about that and about everything else. Forget all about it for ever.’

     And really, for a moment, I thought the Dwarf was going to obey: partly because the outlines of his face became a little clearer, and partly because the invitation to all joy, singing out of her whole being like a bird’s song on an April evening, seemed to me such that no creature could resist it. Then he hesitated. And then—once more he and his accomplice spoke in unison.

     ‘Of course it would be rather fine and magnanimous not to press the point,’ they said to one another. ‘But can we be sure she’d notice? We’ve done these sort of things before. There was the time we let her have the last stamp in the house to write to her mother and said nothing although she had known we wanted to write a letter ourself. We’d thought she’d remember and see how unselfish we’d been. But she never did. And there was the time … oh, lots and lots of times!’ So the Dwarf gave a shake to the chain and—

     ‘I can’t forget it,’ cried the Tragedian. ‘And I won’t forget it, either. I could forgive them all they’ve done to me. But for your miseries—.’

     ‘Oh, don’t you understand?’ said the Lady. ‘There are no miseries here.’

     ‘Do you mean to say,’ answered the Dwarf, as if this new idea had made him quite forget the Tragedian for a moment, ‘do you mean to say you’ve been happy?’

     ‘Didn’t you want me to be? But no matter. Want it now. Or don’t think about it at all.’

     The Dwarf blinked at her. One could see an unheard-of idea trying to enter his little mind: one could see even that there was for him some sweetness in it. For a second he had almost let the chain go: then, as if it were his lifeline, he clutched it once more.

     ‘Look here,’ said the Tragedian. ‘We’ve got to face this.’ He was using his ‘manly’ bullying tone this time: the one for bringing women to their senses.

     ‘Darling,’ said the Lady to the Dwarf, ‘there’s nothing to face. You don’t want me to have been miserable for misery’s sake. You only think I must have been if I loved you. But if you’ll only wait you’ll see that isn’t so.’

The Great Divorce

My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers

                The relapse of concentration

     But the high places were not taken away out of Israel; nevertheless the heart of Asa was perfect all his days. --- 2 Chron. 15:17.

     Asa was incomplete in his external obedience, he was right in the main but not entirely right. Beware of the thing of which you say—‘Oh, that does not matter much.’ The fact that it does not matter much to you may mean that it matters a very great deal to God. Nothing is a light matter with a child of God. How much longer are some of us going to keep God trying to teach us one thing? He never loses patience. You say—‘I know I am right with God’; but still the “high places” remain, there is something over which you have not obeyed. Are you protesting that your heart is right with God, and yet is there something in your life about which He has caused you to doubt? Whenever there is doubt, quit immediately, no matter what it is. Nothing is a mere detail.

     Are there some things in connection with your bodily life, your intellectual life, upon which you are not concentrating at all? You are all right in the main, but you are slipshod; there is a relapse on the line of concentration. You no more need a holiday from spiritual concentration than your heart needs a holiday from beating. You cannot have a moral holiday and remain moral, nor can you have a spiritual holiday and remain spiritual. God wants you to be entirely his, and this means that you have to watch to keep yourself fit. It takes a tremendous amount of time. Some of us expect to “clear the numberless ascensions” in about two minutes.


My Utmost for His Highest

Welsh Landscape
     the Poetry of R.S. Thomas

           Welsh Landscape

To live in Wales is to be conscious
At dusk of the spilled blood
That went into the making of the wild sky,
Dyeing the immaculate rivers
In all their courses.
It is to be aware,
Above the noisy tractor
And hum of the machine
Of strife in the strung woods,
Vibrant with sped arrows.
You cannot live in the present,
At least not in Wales.
There is the language for instance,
The soft consonants
Strange to the ear.
There are cries in the dark at night
As owls answer the moon,
And thick ambush of shadows,
Hushed at the fields' corners.
There is no present in Wales,
And no future;
There is only the past,
Brittle with relics,
Wind-bitten towers and castles
With sham ghosts;
Mouldering quarries and mines;
And an impotent people,
Sick with inbreeding,
Worrying the carcase of an old song.

Selected poems, 1946-1968

Teacher's Commentary
     Only Believe / Luke 17 ...

     Some object to the Gospel’s offer of forgiveness on the grounds that it is too easy. “Only believe?” a Navy buddy once objected. “Why, then you could go out and rob or rape or do anything you wanted to do!”

     I tried to explain that a person who trusts Jesus as Saviour doesn’t “want to” sin. That faith makes us different inside, and love for God, not fear of Him, motivates holiness. But somehow he just couldn’t see it.

     We Christians sometimes have just as much trouble seeing that “faith” as belief is not enough. Those who truly believe are called on to put faith into practice, and obey the One they have acknowledged as Lord.

     In the words and incidents that Luke reports in these crucial chapters of his book, we Christians are helped to see discipleship’s link between true faith, and necessary obedience.

     Faith and Works. Christians have often debated the relationship. But we can agree on certain basic statements. Salvation comes through faith and faith alone, for the death of Jesus purchased our forgiveness and new life. When a person has new life from God, that life will be expressed. Just as a living infant cries and moves, so a person with new life from Christ will express that life—in works. It is not that works bring life, but that those who are alive in Christ will work.

     We’ve all seen a child seated in complete concentration, taking apart a new toy. Somehow it seems so important to find out just how something new works.

     We may feel the same way about “faith.” What does it mean to “believe”? Does it mean sitting back and waiting for God to do something? Or does it mean acting? And how can I tell if my actions are just selfeffort, that activism which is to have no role in discipleship?

     Questions like these plague many Christians, and many who set out to be disciples hesitate at times, uncertain how to proceed.

     Jesus’ first disciples were uncertain too. Then the Lord taught them the functions of faith. Just as God teaches us the functions of faith through these vital chapters of Luke’s Gospel.

     Discipleship and Obedience: Luke 17:1–10 / One day the question of faith crept unexpectedly into a conversation between Jesus and the Twelve. Christ was speaking a word of woe about those who put temptation to sin in another’s way, to cause him to stumble (Luke 17:1-2). This was not a word for outsiders only: it was a word needed by disciples. Too often our ways of living with others harm rather than help!

     Jesus then became very specific. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). This is doubly hard. It’s much easier to keep still when someone sins against us, and to try to hide the pain. We sometimes even think we’re being “spiritual” by trying to ignore the wrong. But failure to be honest, trying to give the “outward show” of nothing wrong when there is something wrong, isn’t God’s way. “[Speak] the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Real love speaks out to remove the barrier that even inadvertent sins erect.

     The loving thing to do is to rebuke the person who sins against you, for he needs the cleansing that forgiveness can bring as much as you need the barrier of hurt removed. So Jesus said, “Rebuke him.”

     And if he repents? Forgive! And this is difficult too. For our old self dwells on slights and hurts and takes a perverse pleasure in self-pity and in “righteous indignation.”

     But then Jesus made it even more difficult. “If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” The disciples were upset at this. “Lord,” they cried, “increase our faith!”
(Luke 17:5)

     I can understand their feelings. When we were first married my wife and I lived in a house trailer 35¬ by 8¬. Our living room was only about 6 feet wide. And I had a problem. Ever since my teen years, I’ve been driven up the wall by mouth noises—especially gum, chewed with open-mouthed vigor. And my wife was a gum chewer! As I’d sit at the table, way across our 6-foot living room, I’d become aware of a growing, echoing sound: ker-chump, ker-chump, KER-chump, KER-CHUMP!

     Finally, in desperation, I’d mention the gum noise, and be given a quick, fullhearted apology. And there’d be silence, as gum and mouth were clamped carefully shut. For a while. But soon, engrossed in reading, she’d forget. And then the sound would reach me again. And grow. Until I just couldn’t stand it any longer, and in desperation would speak again. She was always quick to say, “I’m sorry.” But after several recurrences, I’d begin to wonder, and to feel upset. “She couldn’t care! Not and do it again!”

     No wonder the disciples cried out to Jesus. “Help! If we have to live like that with people, then, Lord, increase our faith!”

     But how can we understand Jesus’ answer? He hardly seemed to sympathize. Instead of promising needed faith, He seems to dismiss their concern. “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you”

(Luke 17:6). Now, the important thing to note here is that Jesus was not speaking to Pharisees, who had no faith. He was speaking to the Twelve, who did believe in Him, and who did have faith!


The Teacher's Commentary

Teacher's Commentary
     Only Believe / Luke 17 ...Pt. 2

     Jesus’ next words explain His reaction. Jesus asked them about a servant—literally, a bond slave. Doesn’t his master have him work and do the tasks assigned? Don’t both master and slave expect the servant to put his master’s needs before his own? (Luke 17:8) And, when the servant has done what he has been commanded, does he deserve any special commendation? Obviously not. A servant’s role is to obey his master: obedience is nothing out of the ordinary for a slave.

     And so Jesus applied the analogy. “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’ ” (Luke 17:10).

     What did Jesus mean? Simply this. Jesus had given His disciples a command. When a person sins, he is to be rebuked and forgiven. This is no optional activity, just for persons with exceptional faith! This is the way every disciple is to live with others—this is a matter of obedience to the Lord the disciple has determined to follow! In essence, Jesus said, “Faith is fine for moving mulberry trees, but faith has nothing to do with this!” When it comes to living by Jesus’ commands, the issue is not one of faith but of obedience!

     How this strikes at our excuses! We’re so prone to complain, “Oh, if only I were a better Christian,” or, “If I only had more, then, then I would do this, or that. Then I’d reach out to love, or pray for my enemy.” To such thinking, Jesus has once and for all cried, STOP! You don’t need extra faith to obey! What you need to do is to remember that Jesus is Lord, and we who are Jesus’ servants are called to do as He commands!

     This incident revealed the disciple’s confusion about the function of faith in the life of a follower of Jesus. It is a confusion that many believers share today. While this incident does not give direct teaching about the nature of faith, Jesus does settle one thing. We can never draw back from doing God’s revealed will because we feel we have inadequate faith. Or for any other reason. As servants of Jesus Christ, we are to obey when He speaks.

     But then Luke showed how Jesus moved on to illustrate and to teach about the role of faith in the disciples’ lives.

     The Functions of Faith: Luke 17:11–18:17 / Faith stimulates obedience (Luke 17:11–19). Jesus heard 10 lepers calling to Him from a hill some distance from the road. They stood away, as society decreed they must. Still, they cried out for mercy (Luke 17:13). In response Jesus told them to “go, show yourselves to the priests.” The implication was clear to the lepers. A person who had been healed of an infectious skin disease was told in the Law to show himself to a priest so that he might be certified well. He was then to offer the prescribed offering to God (Leviticus 13:2). They hurried away to do just this, and Luke says that “as they went, they were cleansed” (Luke 17:14). Because they trusted Jesus, they had not waited for the overt evidence of the disease to disappear. They went, confident that their need had been met, and that healing was theirs.

     Faith is like this. It impels us to obey before we see the full evidence of God’s work within us. Do you feel inadequate to rebuke, or even to forgive? Then remember who it is that spoke to you. Remember Jesus’ power and His love. Let that confidence encourage you to act, and as you obey His victory will come.

     Only 1 of the 10, when he saw that his healing was a reality, paused. He turned back, praising God in loud shouts, and thanked Jesus. Only 1 found time to return. And he was a foreigner
(Luke 17:16).

     Do we take time to thank Jesus for our salvation, and our new life? Do we praise God that we have been healed within?

     No, our salvation does not depend on gratitude. Jesus said to the leper as He sent him on his way again, “Your faith has made you well”

     (Luke 17:19). Our salvation does not depend on what we do after Christ has spoken forgiveness to us. But how appropriate it is to come back joyfully to Him, with thanks and praise, to offer our whole selves as His willing disciples
(cf. Romans 12:1–2).


The Teacher's Commentary

Swimming In The Sea of Talmud
     Ḥagigah 15b

     D’RASH

     What do you do when following the rules and doing the right thing gets you nowhere?

     A student in school studies hard and does her homework every night. She then watches as half the class uses stolen answers to take the course final. She scores a B, while the cheaters “ace” the exam.

     A storekeeper tries to maintain his business by offering quality items and friendly service to his customers. The competition down the street seems intent on doing everything, legal or otherwise, to capture the entire market and drive him out of business. Despite the inferior quality of its product and its reputation for not caring about its customers, it seems to be succeeding.

     A family is very involved in their synagogue and extremely generous to numerous charities. Despite devoting themselves religiously to God and to their fellow human beings, they suffer one tragedy after another.

     Many of us expect that good people will be rewarded for their goodness, and bad people will be punished for their evil. We would anticipate that religious teachers would reinforce that expectation and exhort us, accordingly, to be good. Experience shows us that life is often not as it should be or as we might expect it to be. Rava, in our section, has the courage to admit that there is a wide gap between what should be and what is.

     There is an unasked question that is at the center of Rava’s admission: If being good is no guarantee that good things will happen to you—as was the case with Rabbah—then why bother being good? What is the point? Whether you are rich or poor, live long or die young, celebrate many weddings or attend too many funerals is all a matter of luck, says Rava. Why should anyone care about following the rules or doing the right thing?

     Perhaps one response to this question is to be found in what we learn from Rabbah’s own life. We are told that, in times of drought, he would pray to God for rain, just like Rav Ḥisda, and he would be answered. We have to imagine that the same Rabbah who turned to God when his people were in trouble also turned to God when he and his family were in difficult straits. Yet God apparently answered only this righteous man’s communal prayers, not his personal ones. If there is any logic here, it is beyond our comprehension. What is instructive is that Rabbah continued to turn to God, using his powers to help whomever he could. The negative answer to his personal prayers did not prevent him from turning to God to seek help for others. Perhaps, then, it is not simply luck that determines what happens to us. It is the presence of good, decent people like Rabbah who help to make the lives of others better, richer, and happier. Their prayers and their good deeds benefit us even if they are incapable of doing the same for themselves. So it is not just luck that affects life, children, and food, but people who are willing to give of themselves, not because they will be rewarded for it, but because it is the right thing to do.

     He found a pomegranate: The inside he ate; its peel he threw away.

     Text / Rava explained: “What was the meaning of the verse: ‘I went down to the nut grove to see the budding of the vale’ [Song of Songs 6:11]? Why are scholars compared to a nut? To tell you that just as the nut is dirtied by mud and filth yet its contents are not spoiled, so too scholars—even though they have sinned—their Torah remains unspoiled.”

     Rabbah bar Shela met Elijah. He said to him: “What is the Holy One, blessed be He, doing?” He said: “He is uttering traditions in the name of all the Rabbis, but traditions in the name of Rabbi Meir He is not uttering.” He said: “Why not?” “Because he learned the tradition from Aḥer.” He [Rabbah] said: “Why not? Rabbi Meir found a pomegranate: The inside he ate; its peel he threw away.”

     Context / Aḥer [Rabbi Elisha ben Avuyah]—what happened to him? There are those who say he saw the tongue of Ḥutzpit the translator being dragged by a pig. He said: “The mouth that uttered pearls now licks the dirt.” He went out and sinned. (Kiddushin 39b)

     He went out and found a prostitute. He propositioned her. She said: “Are you not Elisha ben Avuyah?” He pulled a radish out of the ground on Shabbat and gave it to her. She said: “He is Aḥer [someone else].” (Hagigah 15a)

     Elisha ben Avuyah was a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva and a teacher of Rabbi Meir. Some time during the second century, he became a heretic and turned his back on the Jewish people. There are several stories that try to explain this radical change: Some say he was attracted to the ideas of other religions or philosophies; others show how he was deeply troubled by the seeming lack of justice in a world in which righteous individuals suffered terribly. He is referred to in the Talmud by the name Aḥer, meaning “someone else” or “the other one.” While most of the Jewish world turned against him, his student Rabbi Meir remained committed to bringing his teacher back into the fold.

     Rava begins the discussion by interpreting a verse from the Song of Songs to mean that even though teachers may sin, what they taught us still remains valid. As if to refute this, at least with respect to Elisha ben Avuyah, we are told that another Rabbi, Rabbah bar Shela, once happened upon Elijah the prophet. (According to tradition, Elijah never died. He often appeared to the Rabbis as a person with knowledge of what God in Heaven was thinking or doing.) Elijah tells Rabbah that Rabbi Meir is not held in esteem by God because he learned his teachings from Aḥer. Rabbah comes to Rabbi Meir’s defense by saying that Meir took only the valid teachings from Elisha ben Avuyah; the heretical beliefs and views he discarded like the bitter peel of a sweet pomegranate.

Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living

Luke 15 / HOMILETICS
     Pulpit Commentary

     Vers. 11–32.—The parable of the prodigal son. This parable is at once a history, a poem, and a prophecy. A history of man in innocence, in sin, in redemption, in glory. A poem—the song of salvation, whose refrain, “My son was dead, and is alive again, was lost, and is found,” is ringing through the courts of the Zion of God. A prophecy, speaking most directly and solemnly, in warning and meditation, emphasis of reproof or of encouragement, to each of us. It is beyond the reach of the scalpel of criticism. Its thoughts, its very words, have enriched every speech and language in which its voice has been heard. It stands before us “the pearl of parables,” “the gospel in the gospel” of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is the last of three stories, illustrative of Divine grace, which were spoken especially to the Pharisees, and to them with reference to their cavil as expressed in ver.

     2
. Without minutely analyzing the three, the progress of the teaching may be indicated. Bengel has, with his usual felicitousness of touch, indicated this progress. The silly sheep represents the sinner in his foolishness. The sinner lying in the dust, yet still with the stamp of Divinity on him, is figured by the piece of money. Finally, the younger of the two sons is the representation of the sinner left to the freedom of his own will, and falling into an estate of sin and misery. We can trace, too, a progress in the setting forth of the Divine love. The journey of the shepherd into the far wilderness speaks to us of the infinite compassion of highest God; for the sheep’s own sake he goes after it until he finds it; and the recovery is the occasion of the joy of heaven. The aspect specially illustrated by the search for the piece of silver is the infinite value to God of every soul. Not one will he lose; for his righteousness’ sake he will seek until he finds. The last of the parables combines the two former, with a glory superadded: Infinite Compassion recognizing the infinite preciousness of the human life, but this, now, in the higher region of Fatherhood and sonship. Let us discard all stiffening exposition of Christ’s words; e.g. that which takes as its key-thought that the younger son is the Gentile world, the elder son the Jewish Church. Let us regard it in the width of its generosity, as the picture of him whose love is reflected in the “Man who receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” The two words of the parable are “lost” and “found.” Let us try to open up the wealth of meaning in them.

     I. LOST. 1. Whence? There is a glimpse into the sweet home-life—the father with the two sons. The joy of the father’s home is the communion of his children. It was what he saw in the Father which moved the prayer of Jesus,
“That they whom thou gavest me may be with me where I am.” The joy of the child’s home is the communion of the Father, and is realized when the Father’s life—not the Father’s living—is the desire, and the word of the Psalm is fulfilled, “In thy presence is fulness of joy, and in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” So we think of the days speeding on—musical, blessed days, such as we recollect, perhaps, in the home of our childhood, when, as we look back, the sun seemed to shine far more brightly than now, and the day was longer, and all was peace. Parents and children together! For it is man’s home to abide with God as Father. By-and-by there comes the far country, because there is no Father.

     2. How? The younger son demands the portion of goods that falleth to him. Mark how the tone has lowered, how the eye has drooped. “Father, give me!” is the cry of the filial heart. “Give me my daily bread!” is a true prayer, because it waits on God; it sees the living in the life which he gives. But “my portion of goods” is the voice of a sinful independence. It separates “what is mine” from what is “my Father’s;” it conceives of his as being, by some right or title, mine. Himself, as the good, is no longer the all. This is the serpent’s life. “Ye shall not surely die, for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Such was the seductive whisper in the beginning. As if (1) God was keeping to himself a God-dom, in jealousy preventing the enjoyment of a blessedness which was the man’s right. And as if (2) the way to know good is through the experience of evil—good discerned as the opposite of that which we have tasted, instead of evil being felt only as the darkness seeking to overtake the light in which we are abiding. The serpent’s lie repeats itself in many forms, not the least familiar that which insinuates, “Let the young man sow his wild oats; the good oats will come afterwards. Let him take his fill of enjoyment; there will come the sober days and the quiet time.” It works in us all; it is the tendency of the sinful mind to withdraw from the authority of Heaven, from the rule of duteous love, to appropriate for self, and in mere self-will, the living of God. The father does not deny the son. He respects the sovereignty in the son which is derived from himself. “He who suffers us to go our way takes care indeed that it be hedged with thorns.” But a son cannot be forced as a slave. If go he will, go he must. The father divides the living.

     3. Whither? Not at once, possibly, does the separation in will show itself. It is not always easy to trace the first moment of the apostasy. Many a one continues, for a time, in the semblance of piety, even after he has ceased to desire spiritual things. But “not many days after” the rift in the lute appears. “He gathers all together.” Now the purpose of the will is active; no advice will stand in the man’s path. The father’s tear, the father’s smile, avails not, not the sight of the old roof-tree, or the remembrance of the sweet life that lies behind. There is an eager “farewell;” he rushes forward—Whither? “To a far country.” Yes; yield to appetite, to fleshly lust, it will take the soul on and on, away from the fences of religion, away to the far-off Nod, bidding it, as Cain did, build there the city of habitation, yet bidding only to mock, since he who would put miles between him and the face of his Father in heaven must be a sorry fugitive and vagabond. “A far country!” That is wherever God is forgotten, is dishonoured as the Father. No ship is needed to bear one to the uttermost parts of the earth; the distance is measured not by oceans or continents, but by tracts of affection and sympathy. “Alienated from the life of God”—this is the far country. Observe the two stages of the existence in the far country—the fulness and the famine. (1) There is fulness—a season of apparently inexhaustible happiness: “riotous living.” The life of the youth is like a mountain-torrent that has been pent up and bursts forth. The Greek word has the force of “prodigally.” And prodigal the wanderer is in the earlier period. Fill high the bowl; loud let the revel swell; eat, drink; there is more to follow, there is more behind.

  “Such is the world’s gay garish feast
  In her first charming bowl,
  Infusing all that fires the breast,
  And cheats th’ unstable soul.”

     But—what? “The substance is wasting;” literally, is “scattering abroad;” for so it is. As has well been said, “All creaturely possession consumes itself in the using; all wealth must turn itself into poverty, either by its actual dissipation or in consequence of the folly of covetousness, which the more mammon increases is the less satisfied by it. Thus man, in his sin, consumes first of all his earthly goods, so that he can no more find comfort or satisfaction in them; and then, alas! the true and real possessions which his heavenly Father communicated to him are also consumed.” What a description of substance scattered
(
Prov. 5:7–14)! (2) Then comes in the second stage. All which had been gathered together spent; then arises the famine. For one who has nothing there is always a famine in that land. The world will give you so long as you have to give it; when you can bring nothing, when you are used up; ah, the fields which seemed golden become the bleakest of moors. There is no sight more pitiful than a worn-out, used-up worldling.

  “The fire that on my bosom preys
  Is lone as some volcanic isle;
  No torch is kindled at its blaze—
  A funeral pile!”

     Alas! the pleasure has died out; the soul, the immortal self, not yet dead, is in want in a famine-stricken land. How is this want to be met?

     4. Wherein? It is an evil and bitter things to forsake the Lord. The son’s own wickedness is correcting him, and his backslidings are reproving him. In want, but not yet in poverty blessed with desire. Here is the witness. Hitherto the son has been the son, wicked, reckless, but still not naturalized in that far country. The day of this separation has passed; and, oh! the double degradation! “He joins himself”—“pins himself” is the word—becomes wholly, abjectly dependent on, “a citizen of that country.” He began by being his own master; he ends by being the slave of the citizen. The world uses for its pleasure the one who uses the world for his pleasure. A man’s passion is his minister for a time; by-and-by it becomes his tyrant. A very hard tyrant! The devil has no respect for the freedom of the will: “I was your companion, your Mephistopheles, your slave. Now I have you, you are mine; get out and feed these swine.” It was an employment which conveyed the idea of utter wretchedness to a Jew. Strong, thickly laid, is the colouring; it is not one whit too strong or too thickly laid for fact. How do we behold this prince, this son of the Father? Toiling in the fields, with no shelter except the rude but which he makes, and his only companions—the herd of swine! And all the while the hunger gnawing! Were not these swine, wallowing in the mire, picking the carobs, eating the scanty grass, happy as compared with him? They got what they wanted; he provided their food for them, but there is none to give him. He had rejected his father’s hand, and there is no hand in all the world outstretched to him. In Oriental lands there grows a tree whose fruit is like the bean-pod, though larger than it, with a dull, sweet taste; the swine would take of it; and the longing eye of the swineherd is cast on it. It is all he can get, for there is no food in that far country suited to him. The soul starves, whether in riotous living or in want, until it looks upwards and learns the old home-cry, “Father, give me!”

     II. FOUND. Consider the return, the welcome, the supper. “It is meet,” says the father, “that we should make merry and be glad.” 1. Mark the steps of the return. The hopeful feature about the poor swineherd is that, although pinned to the citizen of the country, he is yet a person distinct. He has sold himself; but himself is more than, other than, the citizen. There is an inalienable nobility which even “riotous living” cannot stamp out. There are “obstinate questionings,” “blank misgivings,” “fugitive recollections of the imperial palace whence he came.” Ponder the record of the finding of the conscience, and the Litany first, and the Jubilate afterwards, which followed the finding. “He comes to himself.” He has never been the right true self from the moment when he demanded the portion. The right self is sonship. This wallowing in the sty with swine, this bound-overness to tyrant appetite and earthliness ah! as one awaking from a horrid dream he recognizes the reality. And wherein does the conscience, now awakened, become articulate? (1) There is the sense of an awful discord and wrong. The menial of that citizen left to starve. How different are the menials in his father’s house! They have bread enough and to spare. “Whatever is orderly is blest. I, the disorderly, the one out of place, out of my right mind, am the unblest, the one perishing with hunger.” It was this feeling which came over the wild student when, in the solemn sweet moonlight, he gazed from the height on one of the fairest scenes of nature. And the cry was evoked, “All lovely, all peaceful, except myself!”—a cry that bade him back to another and nobler life. Who is there that in calmer moments does not understand the inward glance of the vision—the peaceful father’s house, and the misrule, unrule, of the self-willed and undutiful? (2) There succeeds a higher thought: “The menial in that house, and I, the son!” Gradually there emerges the feeling of the heaven—the authority from which the soul has broken, the order it has contravened, and more still, “against heaven, and before thee.” The recollection of the father rushes in, bringing tides of holy ardour. His eye, the son feels, has been following him in the journey, in the wasting of the substance; it has been all “before him.” “O my father, my father! to have grieved and wounded thee! I will weep no longer. I will arise and go. I will throw myself on thee. I will ask for a place anywhere, if only it is near thee; if I may be again in thy sight, and no longer the sinner!” It is a repentance not to be repented of. The matter of it is not, “I have played the fool exceedingly;” it is ever and throughout “I have sinned.” What causes the will to arise is the longing to be again with the father, to pour out the broken and contrite spirit on his bosom. And he arises and goes. “The best and most blessed said and done” that can be in heaven or on earth.

     2. And now for the welcome. The love that descends is always greater than the love that ascends. The love of the child is only a response to the love of the parent. And as to this father! Most touchingly explicit is the word of Jesus.
“When yet a great way off, the father saw him.” A very great way off! Even in the far country he had been near. The seeing expresses the knowing all about the misery, and the earnestness of the return—a seeing that is a drawing also, a drawing through the need, and all along the journey forming an atmosphere of love that compassed him about. To come to the love of God is to realize that he was first; it is to find that which found us when yet a great way apart. What more? A reproach? A reproof? The arms are at once thrown around the neck, and the kiss of reconciling fatherliness is printed on the cheek. The forgiveness, observe, comes before all confession. In confessing the sin we meet the blessing that has already covered us. But there is a confession. “The truest and best repentance,” as it has been said, “follows, and does not precede, the sense of forgiveness; and thus too, repentance will be a thing of the whole life long, for every new insight into that forgiving love is as a new reason why the sinner should mourn that he ever sinned against it.” Only, note, beneath the pressure of that fatherly heart there is no mention of the hired servant’s place. The “Father, I have sinned,” is sobbed forth on the father’s heart, and the son leaves himself to the father’s will. And how the expression of the welcome rises! The best robe is ordered out; a sonship higher than that of mere birth. “The adoption of children by Jesus Christ to the Father—” is the best robe. And the ring is to be put on the hand—the ring with the seal of the spirit of adoption. And shoes are provided for the torn and weary feet, that henceforth they may walk up and down in the Name of the Lord. And hasten, complete the tokens of the rejoicing—make ready the supper in which the father can rejoice over his child with joy, and rest in his love.

     3. The fulfilment of the welcome is the supper, with the slain fatted calf, and the dancing and music. It denotes the free festal joy of God, of heaven, in the found, repenting sinner. It denotes also the festal blessedness of the sinner himself when the great Object of all need and longing is found, when he is at home with his God. There is a representation of the supper in
Rom. 5. We hear the music and dancing in Rom. 8. They express the truth of the new existence. There had been, in the past, a living, but not a fellowship, with the Father; henceforth it is fellowship; God is the soul’s Good, and the life is lived in and out of him. Oh the swellings of harmony, of poetic triumphant raptures, now! “My son was dead; and is alive again; was lost, and is found.” So much for the younger son and the father. But we must not overlook the elder son. And we must not misjudge him. He was not bad; he is not a mere churl. He is faithful, if he is not free; he is just, if he is not generous. He had never transgressed a command; if his life had no heights, it had no depths; it had been even and calm. And he had been blessed, for he had been ever with the father, and all that was the father’s had been his. We need not fix on any particular representation of the elder son. The Pharisee-heart is, no doubt, castigated in the picture. But it touches many who would resent being associated with the Pharisee. Krummacher was once asked his opinion of the elder son. He quietly said, “I well know now, for I learned it only yesterday.” Being asked further, he laconically remarked, “Myself,” and confessed that yesterday he had fretted his heart to find that a very ill-conditioned person had suddenly been enriched with a remarkable visitation of grace. The sketch supplies the foil to the love of God. It brings out, also, his patience and gentleness in the dealing with the elder son. How the father bears even with the foolish wrath! How he reasons and expostulates, and invites to a share in the joy! “Meet that we should make merry, and be glad—I over my son, thou over thy brother.” Two things notice. 1. The one as bearing on the elder son. He comes out of the fields, punctual and orderly in all his ways. He cannot understand the merry-making; he never had received a kid. That son’s life had been a wholesome one. The prodigal had his ecstasies; but the elder son had had his lifetime. He is the man of habit—habit which is to us better than instinct. The danger to the man of habit is that he becomes mechanical, doing his part steadily, but without the oil of gladness. 2. The other as bearing on the younger son. Let not Christ’s teaching be misapplied. Do not think that it is a higher thing to be first irreligious and then religious; to spend the best part of the life in self-gratification, and give God only the remnants. Ah! years of godlessness leave their record. They write their impression on brain and heart; and, free and full as is God’s forgiveness, the impression cannot be obliterated. What a man sows, he reaps.

The Pulpit Commentary (23 Volume Set)

Law and the Kingdom of God
     Values and Jesus’ authority

     This brief interlude is among the more perplexing passages in the book of Luke. It comes between two passages that are clearly about wealth and possessions. Luke introduces it by noting that the Pharisees scoffed at Jesus’ teaching because they loved money. Yet though Jesus proceeds to rebuke the Pharisees, he does not mention money directly at all. On the surface the unit is so disjunctive that many interpreters despair of trying to ascertain where it fits in the chapter’s literary argument.

     But one approach is likely to explain the connection. The issue Jesus raises in this middle section has to do with values and Jesus’ authority. Coming under the authority of God’s kingdom influences disciples’ values. Kingdom causes call us to renounce divided loyalties (vv. 10–13), to have idolatries revealed, since God hates them (vv. 14–15) and to raise standards of obedience to reflect total integrity (v. 18). Verses 16–17 make up the hinge, suggesting that the kingdom’s arrival means that Jesus’ preaching comes with authority. His way will fulfill what the law and the promise anticipated. The passage ends up being yet another rebuke of the Pharisees. Their way is not the way to God. It is kingdom preaching that transforms people, not the way of these leaders.

     So the Pharisees are sneering at Jesus’ call to be generous and responsible stewards of the resources God gives. The Greek word for sneer, is particularly graphic. It means “to turn one’s nose up” at someone. They thoroughly reject Jesus’ teaching. The Pharisee’s consistent attitude toward Jesus’ teaching reveals hard hearts dead set against him. There is no attempt to hear him; there is only contempt.

     The official approach does not impress Jesus. They seek to justify themselves in the eyes of men. But God knows their hearts. It is what God thinks that counts. Accountability before the divine is more important than the world’s opinion. What human beings value is an abomination before God. The term “abomination” is strong. An abomination is the opposite of an acceptable offering before God. In other words, their values stink and are rejected as repugnant by God. The NIV rendering is detestable in God’s sight is on the mark. God hates their loving attitude toward money. Similar complaints from Jesus are recorded in 11:39–41 and 18:9–14.

     Jesus turns his attention to getting the right perspective on these events. The new era means that the Pharisees do not have an exclusive claim on God’s will: The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached. Here are the two basic eras as far as Luke is concerned. There is the era of promise and the era of preaching of the good news of fulfillment. The dividing line is John. He prepared a people (1:15–17), and now the new era is being preached. Jesus’ arrival means the new era’s arrival. The way of God is found in his kingdom preaching. Thus it is not the Pharisees’ scoffing that carries authority, but Jesus’ exhortations about how to walk with God.

Luke (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)

Jewish History from Alexander to Hadrian
     CHRIS SEEMAN / Before Alexander

     Before the conquests of Alexander, all Jews (so far as we are aware) resided within the confines of the Persian Empire. Stretching from Anatolia in the west to Afghanistan in the east and from the Caspian steppe in the north to Upper Egypt in the south, the multiethnic domain of the Achaemenid dynasty sustained numerous Jewish communities. Most of these are known to us only through indirect or retrospective testimony. Thus, our present understanding of Jewish life on the eve of Alexander’s conquests is imperfect, especially outside of Palestine.

     An obscure biblical allusion and a stray Aramaic inscription may attest to a Jewish presence in Asia Minor before Alexander, but their interpretation and dating are contested. In the absence of stronger evidence, it is more defensible to treat the Jewish settlement of western Anatolia as a Hellenistic development.

     The Babylonian Diaspora is a major focus of the prophetic corpus of the Hebrew Bible. The later flowering of talmudic culture in that region spawned a wealth of traditions concerning the Jews of Mesopotamia. But the historicity of the latter is often suspect, and the former deals mostly with the Neo-Babylonian period. This gap in reliable testimony is partly remedied by economic documents that locate individual Jews (as well as at least one predominantly Jewish town) in the Babylon-Borsippa and Nippur regions. As yet, there is no cuneiform evidence for a Jewish presence in the city of Babylon itself during Achaemenid times.

     Less certain still is the extent of pre-Hellenistic Jewish penetration of lands of the Zagros arc—Armenia, Adiabene, Media, Elam—or the vast Iranian plateau beyond. Late antique sources attest to an Achaemenid deportation of Jews to distant Hyrcania around 340 B.C.E., and the subsequent appearance of “Hyrcanus” as a Jewish name has been cited as corroboration for this tradition. It is possible, however, that the alleged deportation has been chronologically misplaced and that it actually happened six centuries later.

     The geopolitical situation of Palestine has traditionally linked it with Egypt. The Bible is rife with references to pro-Egyptian factions collaborating with allies on the Nile. Such interstate cooperation appears to have supplied the occasion for the emergence of a Jewish military colony at Elephantine (Yeb) in Upper Egypt. Although there were certainly other Jewish settlements in Egypt, the Elephantine garrison is the only one whose persistence into Achaemenid times has been verified by papyri. Unfortunately, this documentation peters out by the end of the fifth century B.C.E. One Hellenistic text, the largely fictional Letter of Aristeas, claims additional colonists settled in Egypt with the advent of Persian rule, but no precise chronology is offered. Still, it is a reasonable inference that there were Jews living in Egypt at the time of Alexander’s capture of that country in 332 B.C.E. The pattern of military settlement certainly continued under Macedonian rule.

     We are better informed about Palestinian Jewry than any other, though the picture remains woefully incomplete. Survey archaeology has revealed a gradual demographic expansion during late Achaemenid times, as well as significant commercial involvement with the Greek world via the Phoenician coast. Recent excavations on Mt. Gerizim have firmly dated the construction of a Samaritan temple there to the mid-fifth century, though it remains unclear whether or to what extent this event reflects the developed Jewish-Samaritan rivalry of the Hellenistic period.

     The wars of Alexander and his successors undoubtedly disrupted Jewish life in the late fourth century, but the core areas of Jewish settlement persisted and, in time, expanded. By the time of Pompey, Jews could be found not only within the lands of the former Persian Empire, but also in the Aegean, the Greek mainland, North Africa, even the city of Rome. The consolidation of the Hasmonean state in the late second and early first centuries extended Jewish settlement (or at least control) over much of Palestine, transforming Judea from a minute, land-locked, temple community into a major regional power. In Achaemenid times, many Jews—perhaps a majority—inhabited the hinterlands of the great urban centers of the Near East. This was to change during the age of Alexander. In the course of the Hellenistic period, many Jews would be drawn to the Greek polis and would absorb and appropriate its culture (selectively) as their own. This development, more than any other, propelled the creative genius of early Judaism.


The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

Take Heart
     April 15

     And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast. --- Revelation 15:2.

     If you keep seeking the truth, then somewhere, here or in some better world, the truth will come to you, and when it comes, the peace and the serenity of it will be made vital with the energy of your long search. ( Classic Sermons on Suffering (Kregel Classic Sermons Series) )

     Simon Peter is forgiven, becomes the preacher of the first sermon, the converter of the first Gentiles, the champion of faith. But he is always the same Simon Peter who denied his Master and struggled with himself on the crucifixion night. Paul mounts to the third heaven, hears wonderful voices, sees unutterable things, but he never ceases to be the Paul who stood by at the stoning of Stephen. You and I come by Christ’s grace into communion with God, but does the power of our conversion ever leave us?

     Aren’t we prodigals still, with the best robe and the ring and the fatted calf before us in our father’s house, conscious that our filial love is full of the repentance that first made us turn homeward from among the swine? The saved world never can forget that it was once the lost world.

     [And] isn’t a “sea of glass mixed with fire” a graphic picture of rest pervaded with activity—of contemplation pervaded and kept alive by work and service? Heaven will not be idleness, not any mere dreaming over the spiritual repose that has been forever won, but active, tireless, earnest work—fresh, lively enthusiasm for the high labors that eternity will offer. These inspirations will play through our repose and make it more mighty in the service of God.

     That life which we dream of in ourselves, we see in Jesus. Where was there ever gentleness so full of energy? What life so still [yet] so pervaded with untiring and restless power? Who ever knew the purposes for which he worked to be so sure, yet so labored for them as if they were uncertain?

     As more and more we get the victory over the beast, we too, are lifted up to walk where he walked. For this, all trial, all suffering, and all struggle are sent. May God grant us all much of that grace through which we can be more than conquerors through him who loved us and so begin now to walk with him in white on the sea of glass mixed with fire.
--- Phillips Brooks


Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers

On This Day
     Jerome of Prague  April 15

     Jerome loved travel, college life, and the Bible. He was born in Prague and excelled at the university there. Following graduation he traveled to England to study at Oxford, where he ran across the teachings of John Wycliffe, the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” The more he read, the more thrilled he became, and he returned to Prague with a heart full of new ideas. His zeal soon took him to other cities. He traveled to Jerusalem in 1403, Paris in 1404, Heidelberg in 1405, and Cologne in 1406. He visited the universities of Europe, sharing the Good News of justification by faith. He met King Sigismund of Hungary in 1410, discussing the vices of the clergy, trying to interest him in pre-Reformation ideas. He was in Moravia in 1412, then back in Prague. He traveled to Russia in 1413, and to Lithuania. Then in 1415 he came to the aid of his friend, John Hus.

     Hus, another pre-reformer, had been hauled before the Council of Constance and condemned for his faith. Hus warned Jerome to stay away, but Jerome traveled to Constance anyway. He was seized on April 15, 1415, put in chains, and imprisoned. Hus, meanwhile, was burned at the stake.

     Under great pressure Jerome temporarily wavered, reading a document on September 11, 1415 accepting the authority of the pope. Hoping to gain as much publicity as possible, the church placed him on trial at the Cathedral of Constance. They wanted all Bohemia to hear his recantation. Jerome, however, recomposed himself and defended his views with powerful eloquence. He renounced his recantation and proclaimed the innocence of Hus and his own adherence to the teachings of Wycliffe.

     The enraged authorities proclaimed him a “cast off and withered branch.” They stuffed a paper cap, painted with red devils, on his head and led him to the very spot where Hus had been burned. A cheerful expression flooded Jerome’s face and he sang Easter hymns as the wood was piled around him. The fire consumed him slowly, and his ashes were tossed into the Rhine.

     Be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope. Give a kind and respectful answer and keep your conscience clear. This way you will make people ashamed for saying bad things about your good conduct as a follower of Christ. You are better off to obey God and suffer for doing right than to suffer for doing wrong.
--- 1 Peter 3:15b-17.


On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - April 15

     "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
--- Psalm 22:1.

     We here behold the Saviour in the depth of his sorrows. No other place so well shows the griefs of Christ as Calvary, and no other moment at Calvary is so full of agony as that in which his cry rends the air—“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” At this moment physical weakness was united with acute mental torture from the shame and ignominy through which he had to pass; and to make his grief culminate with emphasis, he suffered spiritual agony surpassing all expression, resulting from the departure of his Father’s presence. This was the black midnight of his horror; then it was that he descended the abyss of suffering. No man can enter into the full meaning of these words. Some of us think at times that we could cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” There are seasons when the brightness of our Father’s smile is eclipsed by clouds and darkness; but let us remember that God never does really forsake us. It is only a seeming forsaking with us, but in Christ’s case it was a real forsaking. We grieve at a little withdrawal of our Father’s love; but the real turning away of God’s face from his Son, who shall calculate how deep the agony which it caused him?

     In our case, our cry is often dictated by unbelief: in his case, it was the utterance of a dreadful fact, for God had really turned away from him for a season. O thou poor, distressed soul, who once lived in the sunshine of God’s face, but art now in darkness, remember that he has not really forsaken thee. God in the clouds is as much our God as when he shines forth in all the lustre of his grace; but since even the thought that he has forsaken us gives us agony, what must the woe of the Saviour have been when he exclaimed, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

          Evening - April 15

     "Lift them up for ever." Psalm 28:9.

     God’s people need lifting up. They are very heavy by nature. They have no wings, or, if they have, they are like the dove of old which lay among the pots; and they need divine grace to make them mount on wings covered with silver, and with feathers of yellow gold. By nature sparks fly upward, but the sinful souls of men fall downward. O Lord, “lift them up for ever!” David himself said, “Unto thee, O God, do I lift up my soul,” and he here feels the necessity that other men’s souls should be lifted up as well as his own. When you ask this blessing for yourself, forget not to seek it for others also. There are three ways in which God’s people require to be lifted up. They require to be elevated in character. Lift them up, O Lord; do not suffer thy people to be like the world’s people! The world lieth in the wicked one; lift them out of it! The world’s people are looking after silver and gold, seeking their own pleasures, and the gratification of their lusts; but, Lord, lift thy people up above all this; keep them from being “muck-rakers,” as John Bunyan calls the man who was always scraping after gold! Set thou their hearts upon their risen Lord and the heavenly heritage! Moreover, believers need to be prospered in conflict. In the battle, if they seem to fall, O Lord, be pleased to give them the victory. If the foot of the foe be upon their necks for a moment, help them to grasp the sword of the Spirit, and eventually to win the battle. Lord, lift up thy children’s spirits in the day of conflict; let them not sit in the dust, mourning for ever. Suffer not the adversary to vex them sore, and make them fret; but if they have been, like Hannah, persecuted, let them sing of the mercy of a delivering God.

     We may also ask our Lord to lift them up at the last! Lift them up by taking them home, lift their bodies from the tomb, and raise their souls to thine eternal kingdom in glory.

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     April 15

          IN THE CROSS OF CHRIST I GLORY

     John Bowring, 1792–1872

     May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

     The cross has been the most significant symbol of the Christian faith throughout church history. It is said that as many as 400 different forms or designs of it have been used—among them the usual Latin Cross, the Greek Cross, the Budded Cross. Regardless of design, the symbol of the cross should always remind us of the price that was paid by the eternal God for man’s redemption. “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” is generally considered one of the finest hymns on this subject. It was written by John Bowring, one of the most remarkable men of his day as well as one of the greatest linguists who ever lived. It is said that he could converse in over 100 different languages before his death.

     Some writers claim that John Bowring had visited Macao, on the South Chinese Coast, and was much impressed by the sight of a bronze cross towering on the summit of the massive wall of what had formerly been a great cathedral. This cathedral, originally built by the early Portuguese colonists, overlooked the harbor and had been destroyed by a typhoon. Only one wall, which was topped by the huge metal cross, remained. This scene is said to have so impressed Bowring that it eventually served as the inspiration for this hymn text.

     The writing of the tune for this hymn is also most interesting. It was composed 24 years after Bowring’s text by an American organist and choir leader of the Central Baptist Church of Norwich, Connecticut. The composer, Ithamar Conkey, was sorely disappointed at one Sunday morning service when only one choir member appeared, a faithful soprano by the name of Mrs. Beriah Rathbun. Before the evening service Conkey composed a new tune for this text and named it after his one faithful choir member.

     The preaching of the cross may be a foolish message to many “but unto us who are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 KJV).

     In the cross of Christ I glory, tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time;
     all the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.
     When the woes of life o’er take me, hopes deceive and fears annoy,
     never shall the cross forsake me: Lo! it glows with peace and joy.
     When the sun of bliss is beaming light and love upon my way,
     from the cross the radiance streaming adds more luster to the day.
     Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure, by the cross are sanctified;
     peace is there that knows no measure, joys that thru all time abide.


     For Today: John 19; Romans 5:6–11; 1 Corinthians 1:17–19; Ephesians 2:16.

     Determine to allow the glory of Christ’s cross to be evident in all that you do. Sing this musical testimony as you go realizing that ---

Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions

A Guide to Fervent Prayer
     A.W. Pink | (1886-1952)


          Chapter 13 Revelation 1:5, 6 – Part 1

     The prayer now before us really forms the closing part of the salutation and benediction of verses 4 and 5 of Revelation 1, in which “grace and peace” are sought from the triune God in His distinct persons: (1) “from him which is, and which was, and which is to come,” that is, from Jehovah as the self-existing and immutable One—He is addressed by the equivalent of His memorial name (Ex. 3:13-17) by which His eternal being and covenant-keeping faithfulness were to be remembered (Ex. 6:2-5; “the LORD” equals “Jehovah” throughout the Old Testament); (2) “from the seven Spirits which are before his throne,” that is, from the Holy Spirit in the fullness of His power and diversity of His operations (Isa. 11:1, 2); and (3) “from Jesus Christ,” who is mentioned last as the connecting Link between God and His people. A threefold appellation is here accorded the Savior: (1) “the faithful witness,” which contemplates and covers the whole of His virtuous life from the manger to the cross; (2) “the first begotten [better, “Firstborn”] of the dead,” (brackets mine) which celebrates His victory over the tomb—this is a title of dignity (Gen. 49:3), and signifies priority of rank rather than time; and (3) “and the prince of the kings of the earth,” which announces His regal majesty and dominion. This third title views the Conqueror as exalted “Far above all principality, and power” (Eph. 1:21), as the One upon whose shoulder the government of the universe has been laid (Isa. 9:6), who is even now “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3), and before whom every knee shall yet bow (Phil. 2:10).

          An Analytical Synopsis of the Prayer

     The preceding recital of the Redeemer's perfections and dignities evoked from the mouth of the Apostle John this adoring exclamation: “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Thus the nature of our prayer is again a doxology. Its Object is the Son of God incarnate in His mediatorial character and office. Its adorers are those of “us” who are the beneficiaries of His mediation. Its inciting reasons are our apprehensions of His unfathomable love, the cleansing efficacy of His precious blood, and the wondrous dignities that He has conferred upon His redeemed. Its ascription is “to him be glory and dominion,” not merely for a thousand years, but “for ever and ever,” which closes with the assuring affirmation, “Amen”—it shall be so. For the benefit of young preachers I shall add a few more remarks on doxologies in general.

          The Doxologies Are Needed to Enlarge Our Conceptions of the Persons of the Godhead

     The doxologies of Scripture reveal our need to form more exalted conceptions of the Divine Persons. In order to do so, we must engage in more frequent and devout meditations on their ineffable attributes. How little do our thoughts dwell upon the display of them in the material creation. Divinity is “clearly seen” in the things that God has made, and even the heathen are charged with inexcusable guilt because of their failure to glorify God for His handiwork (Rom. 1:19-21). Not only should our senses be regaled by the lovely colors of the trees and perfumes of the flowers, but our minds ought to dwell upon the motions and instincts of animals, admiring the Divine hand that so equipped them. How little do we reflect on the marvels of our own bodies, the structure, convenience, and perfect adaptedness of each member. How few unite with the Psalmist in exclaiming, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well” (Ps. 139:14). How much more wonderful are the faculties of our inner man, raising us high above all irrational creatures. How better can our reason be employed than in extolling the One who has so richly endowed us? Yet how little grateful acknowledgment is made to the beneficent Fashioner and Donor of our beings.

     How little do we consider the wisdom and power of God as manifested in the government of the world. Let us take, for example, the balance preserved between the sexes in the relative number of births and deaths, so that the population of the earth is maintained from generation to generation without any human contriving. Or let us take into account the various temperaments and talents given to men, so that some are wise for counsel, administration and management, some are better qualified for hard manual labor, and others to serve in clerical functions. Or consider how His government curbs the baser passions of men, so that such a measure of law and order obtains generally in society that the weak are not destroyed by the strong nor the good unable to live in a world that wholly “lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). Or think how God sets bounds to the success of rapacious dictators, so that when it appears they are on the very point of carrying all before them, they are suddenly stopped by the One who has decreed that they shall go “no farther.” Or ponder how, in His application of the law of retribution, individuals and nations are made to reap what they sow, whether it be good or evil. It is because we pay so little attention to these and a hundred other similar phenomena that we are so rarely moved to cry, “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6).

          Doxologies Are Wholly Devoted to the Praises of Deity, Particularly to the Works of Divine Grace

     But it is the wondrous works of God in the realm of grace, rather than in creation and providence, that are most calculated to draw out the hearts of God's people in adoring homage. More particularly, those works wherein the Darling of His own heart was and is engaged on our behalf draw forth our admiration and praise. Thus it is in the verses we are now pondering. No sooner was the peerless Person and perfections of the eternal Lover of his soul set before the mind and heart of the Apostle John than that he cried exultantly, “To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” And thus it is with all of God's true saints. Such a cry is the spontaneous response and outgoing of their souls to Him. That leads me to point out the one thing that is common to all doxologies: in them praise is always offered exclusively to Deity, and never to any mere human agency or accomplishment. Self-occupation and self-gratulation have no place whatever in them. Different far is that from the low level of spirituality generally prevailing in the churches today. This writer was once present at a service where a hymn was sung, the chorus of which ran, “Oh, how I love Jesus.” But I could not conscientiously join in singing it. None in heaven are guilty of lauding themselves or magnifying their graces, nor should any Christians do so here upon earth.

          The Particular Object of this Doxology

     The Object of this adoration and thanksgiving is that Blessed One who undertook, with the Father and the Spirit, to save His people from all their sins and miseries by the price of His blood and the arm of His power. In His essential Person, God the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit “who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom. 9:5). He is the uncreated Sun of righteousness (Ps. 84:11; Mal. 4:2). In Him all the glory of the Godhead shines forth, and by Him all the perfections of Deity have been manifested. In response to this very homage, He declares, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). Before the worlds were made He entered into covenant engagement to become incarnate, to be made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3) to serve as the Surety of His people, to be the Bridegroom of His Church—its complete and all-sufficient Savior. As such He is the Man of God's right hand, the Fellow of the Lord of hosts, the King of glory. His work is honorable, His fullness infinite, His power omnipotent. His throne is for ever and ever. His name is above every name. His glory is above the heavens. It is impossible to extol Him too highly, for His glorious name “is exalted above all blessing and praise” (Neh. 9:5, ital. mine).

     In the immediate context this adorable One is viewed in His theanthropic person, as incarnate, as the God-man Mediator. He is set forth in His threefold office as Prophet, Priest, and Potentate. His prophetical office is clearly denoted in the title “the faithful Witness,” for in Old Testament prophecy the Father announced, “I have given him for a witness to the people” (Isa. 55:4). Christ Himself declared to Pilate, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth” (John 18:37). As such He proclaimed the Gospel to the poor and confirmed it by mighty miracles. His sacerdotal office is necessarily implied in the expression “first begotten of the dead,” for in death He offered Himself as a sacrifice to God to make satisfaction for the transgressions of His people. He then rose again that He might continue to exercise His priesthood by His constant intercession for them. His regal office appears plainly in the designation “prince of the kings of the earth,” for He has absolute dominion over them. By Him they reign (Prov. 8:15), and to Him they are commanded to render allegiance (Ps. 2:10-12). To Him we are to hearken, in Him we are to believe, and to Him we are to be subject. Singly and collectively these titles announce that He is to be greatly respected and revered.

          Angels Are Filled with Wonder over the Redeeming Love of Christ for His Church

     While an exile on the isle of Patmos, John was engaged in contemplating Immanuel in the excellencies of His Person, offices, and work. As he did so his heart was enraptured, and he exclaimed, “Unto him that loved us.” The love of Christ is here expressed by the Apostle John in the past tense, not because it is inoperative in the present but to focus our attention upon its earlier exercises. The love of Christ is the grandest fact and mystery revealed in Holy Writ. That love originated in His heart and was in operation for all eternity, for before the mountains were formed His “delights were with the sons of men” (Prov. 8:31). That wonderful love was put forth by Christ in connection with the everlasting covenant, wherein He agreed to serve as the Sponsor of His people and to discharge all their obligations. That He should take complacence in creatures of the dust is the marvel of heaven (Eph. 3:8-10; 1 Peter 1:12). That He should set His heart upon them while viewed in their fallen estate is incomprehensible. That love was expressed openly in His incarnation, humiliation, obedience, sufferings, and death.

     Holy Scripture declares that “the love of Christ passeth knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). It is entirely beyond finite computation or comprehension. That the Son of God should ever deign to notice finite creatures was an act of great condescension on His part (Ps. 13:6). That he should go so far as to pity them is yet more wonderful. That He should love us in our pollution entirely transcends our understanding. That the outgoings of His heart toward the Church moved Him to lay aside the glory that He had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5), to take upon Him the form of a servant, and to become “obedient unto death” for their sakes, “even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7, 8), surmounts all thought and is beyond all praise. That the Holy One should be willing to be made sin for His people (2 Cor. 5:2 1) and to endure the curse that endless blessing should be their portion (Gal. 3:13, 14) is altogether inconceivable. As S. E. Pierce so ably expressed it,

     “His love is one perfect and continued act from everlasting to everlasting. It knows no abatement or decay. It is eternal and immutable love. It exceeds all conception and surpasses all expression. To give the utmost proof of it, ‘Christ died for the ungodly’ (Rom. 5:6). In His life He fully displayed His love. In His sufferings and death He stamped it with an everlasting emphasis.”

          Christ's Love Is Completely Impartial, Not Evoked by Any Merit in Its Objects

     The love of Christ was an entirely disinterested love, for it was uninfluenced by anything in its objects or any other considerations external to Himself. There was nothing whatever in His people, either actual or foreseen, to call His love into exercise: nothing actual, for they had rebelled against God and had deliberately chosen as their exemplar and master one who was a liar and murderer from the beginning; nothing foreseen, for no excellence could they bear but that which His own gracious hand wrought in them. The love of Christ infinitely excelled in purity, in intensity, in its disinterestedness, any that ever moved in a human breast. It was altogether free and spontaneous. He loved us when we were loveless and unlovely. We were entirely unable to render Him any proper compensation or return. His own essential blessedness and glory could neither be diminished by our damnation nor increased by our salvation. His love was uninvited, unattracted, altogether self-caused and self-motivated. It was His love that stirred every other attribute—His wisdom, power, holiness, and so forth—to activity. The words of David, “he delivered me, because he delighted in me” (Ps. 18:19, ital. mine), provide the Divine explanation of my redemption.

     The love of Christ was a discriminating one. “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Ps. 145:9). He is benevolent toward all His creatures, making His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sending rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45). “He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 6:3 5, ital. mine). But Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it with a love such as He does not bear toward all mankind. The Church is the one special and peculiar object of His affections. For her He reserves and entertains a unique love and devotion that makes her shine among all the created works of His hands with the unmistakable radiance of a favorite. Husbands are bidden to love their wives “even as Christ also loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). The love of a husband toward his wife is a special and exclusive one; so Christ cherishes for His Church a particular affection. It is set upon His Bride rather than upon the human race at large. She is His peculiar treasure. “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1, ital. mine). Instead of caviling at this truth, let us enjoy its preciousness. Christ's love is also a constant and durable one, exercised upon its objects “unto the end”; and, as we shall now see, it is a sacrificial and enriching love.


A Guide to Fervent Prayer


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