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Leviticus 21     Psalm 26-27     Ecclesiastes 4     1 Timothy 6


Leviticus 21

Holiness and the Priests

Leviticus 21:1 And the LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them, No one shall make himself unclean for the dead among his people, 2 except for his closest relatives, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother, 3 or his virgin sister (who is near to him because she has had no husband; for her he may make himself unclean). 4 He shall not make himself unclean as a husband among his people and so profane himself. 5 They shall not make bald patches on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts on their body. 6 They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God. For they offer the LORD’s food offerings, the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy. 7 They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled, neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God. 8 You shall sanctify him, for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy to you, for I, the LORD, who sanctify you, am holy. 9 And the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by whoring, profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire.

10 “The priest who is chief among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil is poured and who has been consecrated to wear the garments, shall not let the hair of his head hang loose nor tear his clothes. 11 He shall not go in to any dead bodies nor make himself unclean, even for his father or for his mother. 12 He shall not go out of the sanctuary, lest he profane the sanctuary of his God, for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is on him: I am the LORD. 13 And he shall take a wife in her virginity. 14 A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin of his own people, 15 that he may not profane his offspring among his people, for I am the LORD who sanctifies him.”

16 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. 18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, 20 or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. 21 No man of the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the LORD’s food offerings; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. 22 He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, 23 but he shall not go through the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries, for I am the LORD who sanctifies them.” 24 So Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel.


Psalm 26

I Will Bless the LORD

Psalm 26 Of David.

1  Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
2  Prove me, O LORD, and try me;
test my heart and my mind.
3  For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in your faithfulness.

4  I do not sit with men of falsehood,
nor do I consort with hypocrites.
5  I hate the assembly of evildoers,
and I will not sit with the wicked.

6  I wash my hands in innocence
and go around your altar, O LORD,
7  proclaiming thanksgiving aloud,
and telling all your wondrous deeds.

8  O LORD, I love the habitation of your house
and the place where your glory dwells.
9  Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
10  in whose hands are evil devices,
and whose right hands are full of bribes.

11  But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12  My foot stands on level ground;
in the great assembly I will bless the LORD.


Psalm 27

The LORD Is My Light and My Salvation

Psalm 27 Of David.

1  The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

2  When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.

3  Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.

4  One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple.

5  For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.

6  And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the LORD.

7  Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
8  You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
9  Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
10  For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the LORD will take me in.

11  Teach me your way, O LORD,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12  Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.

13  I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living!
14  Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!


Ecclesiastes 4

Evil Under the Sun

Ecclesiastes 4:1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. 2 And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. 3 But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

4 Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

5 The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.

6 Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.

7 Again, I saw vanity under the sun: 8 one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.

9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

13 Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. 14 For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. 15 I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. 16 There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.


1 Timothy 6

1 Timothy 6:1 Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.

False Teachers and True Contentment

Teach and urge these things. 3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Fight the Good Fight of Faith

11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.

Grace be with you.

The Reformation Study Bible


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Worship According to the Word

By Albert Mohler 1/1/2005

     In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor offers this insight into fallen human nature: “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.” Though the Grand Inquisitor falls far short as a reliable guide to theology, at this point he is surely correct. Human beings are profoundly religious — even when we do not know ourselves to be — and humans incessantly seek an object of worship.

     Yet, human beings are also sinners, and thus our worship is, more often than not, grounded in our own paganism of personal preference. As John Calvin profoundly explained, the fallen human heart is an “idol-making factory,” always producing new idols for worship and veneration. That corrupted factory, left to its own devices, will never produce true worship, but will instead worship its own invention.

     The church is not comprised of those who found the true and living God by experimentation in worship, but of those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, incorporated into the Body of Christ, and are then called to true worship as regulated and authorized by Scripture. Worship is the purpose for which we were made — and only the redeemed can worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

     But, do we? The British philosopher Roger Scruton once advised his fellow philosophers that the best way to understand what people really believe about God is to observe them at worship. Theology books and doctrinal statements may reveal what a congregation says it believes, but worship will reveal what it really believes. If so, we are in big trouble.

     Just look at the confusion that marks what is called worship among so many evangelicals. Instead of engaging in worship that points to the glory of God, many churches feature services that look more like a carnival of chaos than a Christian congregation at worship. Years ago, A.W. Tozer lamented that many churches conceive of worship as “a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction.” Many Christians, he argued, would not even recognize worship as “a meeting where the only attraction is God.” True fifty years ago, those words now serve as a direct indictment of contemporary worship.

     The pathology of our problem must be traced to realities as fundamental as our worldview and as superficial as personal taste. At the worldview level, we must face the fact that modernism collapsed transcendence in many minds. The focus of worship was “horizontalized” and reduced to human scale. Theological liberalism simply embraced this new worldview, and it made the theological compromises that modernity demanded. Worship was transformed into an experiment in “meaningfulness” as judged by the worshiper, not an act of joyful submission to the wonder and grandeur of God.

     Now that postmodernism rules the worldview of the cultural elite and the culture’s most powerful centers of influence, the radical subjectivity, moral relativism, and hostility to absolute truth that marks the postmodern worldview shapes worship in some churches as well. Postmodernism celebrates the victory of the image over the word, but Christianity is a Word-centered faith, rooted in the verbal revelation of God and the identity of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Word.

     Postmodernists assert that all truth is constructed, not absolute. As philosopher Richard Rorty insists, truth is made, not found. Those who accept this radical pragmatism will see worship as an experiment in “making” meaning rather than a discipline of preaching, hearing, believing, and confessing eternal truths revealed by God in propositional form.

     While all Christians affirm the necessity and reality of the experiential dimension of faith, the experience must be grounded in and accountable to the Word of God. This is of central importance to the question of worship, for, left to our own devices, we will be inclined to seek worship that meets our desire for a “meaningful” experience or matches our personal taste as a substitute for authentic worship regulated by Scripture and centered on God, rather than His people.

     Concern for the proper worship of God was central to the Reformation, even as it is central to our most important theological debates today. Nothing is more important than our understanding of worship, for our concept of worship is inescapably tied to our understanding of God and His sovereign authority to reveal the worship He desires, deserves, and demands.

     Hughes Oliphant Old once summarized the Reformers’ understanding of worship in terms of “its sense of the majesty and sovereignty of God, its sense of reverence, of simple dignity, its conviction that worship must above all serve the praise of God.” As Old recognized, this path of renewal “may not be just exactly what everyone is looking for.”

     This is surely true, but it is the only path back to the worship God seeks, and to the recovery of our witness to the infinite glory, perfection, and worthiness of the triune God. We will either recover the biblical vision of true Christian worship, or we will slide into some form of pagan worship. There is no third option.

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Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

Albert Mohler Books:

American Idols

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 1/1/2005

     We are made in God’s image. The sheer fact that we could spend the rest of our lives contemplating what it means to be made in God’s image, without beginning to scratch the surface, reminds us that we are God’s image, not gods. We are, in some ways, to God as our mirror image is to us. There is a resemblance, a connection, but the difference is one of ontology, dimension. Thus, God creates, and we create. But when we look at creation more closely we find that He speaks things into reality, while we merely rearrange what He has already created. I’m stringing words together; He spoke language into being. Adam named the animals, but God formed them.

     God also, we remember, named Adam. Naming, whether from God or man, is the exercise of dominion. It is rule and authority. Naming has the capacity to shape not the thing in itself, but our perception of the thing. This is why we find the conjugation of adjectives so amusing — I am thrifty; you are cheap, and he is miserly. Each adjective lives in the same neighborhood, and could, in some sense, be used to describe the same behavior. But the choice of the name effects the perception of the reality.

     This is the game that the Devil plays with us. He, because he is merely a creature, hasn’t the power to create. Instead, he has only the power of naming, without the authority. We are seduced by him when we think his thoughts after him, when our perceptions are his perceptions. His very first assault was undermining the very words of God: “Hath God indeed said …?” That’s his game.

     We are told, for instance, that we live in a “secular” society. To be sure there are a few religious holdouts, most of them living in what is derisively named (there it is again) “fly-over” country. But the “real” world, the world that counts, exists on two coasts. On the east coast, in what we have named the “power corridor” of Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, and New York, we have titans of industry and governance. On the west coast we have the professional namers, the visual mavens who form our culture through entertainment. Where it counts we are supposed to be secular, that is, beyond worship. This, supposedly, is where culture is formed, and thus we have a secular culture.

     This too, however, is but the Devil’s sleight of hand. Renaming isn’t the same as remaking. And one thing man will never be is secular. When someone claims, “I’m not a very religious person” translate it to the more accurate, “I’m not a very truthful person.” We are all religious people. That we name our worship something else doesn’t change its true nature. We are still worshiping. The trouble is that the things we don’t call gods, but treat as gods, are merely his image bearers. We worship the creation rather than the creature, and none more frequently than that two dimensional copy of God, man.

     Here I am not referring to philosophical humanism, though such would fit. My point isn’t that those who will not have God in their thinking will instead worship man in the abstract. Rather, we worship men in the flesh. What is Beverly Hills but our own Mount Olympus? We watch television news magazines that tell us what the magazines are saying about what our gods on television are doing. We stand and gawk while they walk sundry red carpets. We build shrines to them on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

     We even have established religion in this country. Local and state politicians live or die by whether or not they are willing to gather the funding to build temples to the gods of this age. Yankee Stadium is less a copy of the Roman Colosseum than it is the Athenium. It is where we gather together for worship, where we hoot and holler for the home team, as if our souls depended on it. These gods never fade away; instead, they simply retire to their respective halls of fame.

     To note that we treat our celebrities like gods isn’t merely saying that we treat them better than we ought. Rather, it gets to the heart of the issue, the heart that Calvin rightly called a fabricum idolarum, an idol factory. Calling it cheering, calling it appreciation for the art of filmmaking, doesn’t change what it is — worship.

     The bad news of the world out there is that these gods cannot save. They are deaf and mute. The bad news for us in the church is that we too are idolaters. We gleefully blend together our worship of these gods with the worship of the living God and praise ourselves for our cultural relevance. There is, however, only one thing relevant to nationwide idolatry, the call to put away these gods, to repent and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We worry that God might judge us because of our national failure to keep the second table of the law. With abortion we murder more than a million babies a year. With tax-and-spend policies we live by stealing. With our eyes we commit adultery, even as we worship the gods of Hollywood. And we fuel it all with the envy of consumption. But we are fools if we think the first amendment trumps the first commandment. Our only hope is that we would worship the living and true God, and bring no other gods before Him.

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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

How Should We Then Worship?

By R.C. Sproul 1/1/2005

     Three-quarters of the way through the twentieth century, Francis A. Schaeffer asked the question, “How should we then live?” His How Should We Then Live? (L'Abri 50th Anniversary Edition): The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture of the same name answered the questions raised by the radical shift in our culture from modernity to post-modernity. The question that we face in our generation is closely related to it: “How should we then worship?” The “how?” of worship is a hotly disputed matter in our day. The issue has been described as the war of worship. If there has been a worship war in the church in America in the last thirty years, then surely by now its outcome has been decided. Far and away, the victorious mode of worship in our day is that form roughly described as contemporary worship. “Contemporary” in this context is contrasted with “traditional,” which is seen as being outmoded, passé, and irrelevant to contemporary individuals. Those who deem the contemporary shift in worship as a deterioration are in the minority, so it behooves us to explore the “how” question that Schaeffer first raised.

     The “how” question is related to the other questions usually pursued by the journalists who seek to unwrap the details of a particular story. They ask the questions: “Who, what, where, when, and how?” In like manner, the best place for us to answer the “how” question of worship is to begin with the “who” question. Manifestly the most important question we ask is, “Who is it that we are called upon to worship with our hearts, our minds, and our souls?” The answer to that question at first glance is exceedingly easy. From a Christian perspective, the obvious reply is that we are called upon to worship the triune God. As easy as this answer is on the surface, when we see the concern given to this question throughout the Old and New Testaments, we realize that as fallen creatures it is one of our most basic and fundamental inclinations to worship something, or someone, other than the true God. It’s not by accident that the first four commandments of the Ten Commandments focus attention on the true God whom we are to worship according to His Being. The New Testament likewise calls us to honor God with true worship. Paul reminds us that at the heart of our fallenness is a refusal to honor God as God or to show proper gratitude to Him with praise and thanksgiving. So it is imperative that the Christian, at the beginning of his pursuit to understand what true worship is, gets it clear that the object of our worship is to be God and God alone.

     When we move to the “where” question, it doesn’t appear to matter that much. We recall Jesus’ discussion with the woman at the well when He said that the New Testament church has no appointed central sanctuary where all true worship must take place. It’s not necessary for Christians to migrate to Jerusalem in order to offer authentic worship to God. Yet at the same time we notice throughout biblical history that people met together in a variety of locations, including house churches in the early years after Christ’s ascension. The house church phenomenon of the first century was not something intended to avoid institutional churches or to seek an underground church as such, but it was basically built on the foundation of convenience because the church was so small that the number of believers could easily meet in a home. As the church grew in number, it became necessary to find a place where a larger group could assemble for the solemn worship of God, as an act of corporate praise and celebration. So today it would seem that the obvious answer to the “where” question is that we should be worshiping together with other Christians as we gather in local churches.

     The “when?” is also a question that is given attention biblically. Obviously, it is the obligation of the believer to worship God everyday, at all times. But God appoints special times and seasons for the gathering of His people in corporate worship. In the Old Testament, that special time was established early to be on the Sabbath. The term sabbath means seventh, or a cycle of one in seven. In the Old Testament economy, it was on the seventh day of the week. After the resurrection and the split of the Christian community from Judaism, it was changed from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week, though the seven-day cycle remained intact. We understand that when the Christian community meets in solemn assembly, the communion of saints means that not only are Christians joined together locally in their own particular congregations, but that the worship of God goes beyond the walls of each individual church and incorporates churches around the nation and around the world, who, for the most part, are meeting at the same time. But the “where” and the “when” questions pale into insignificance when we return our attention to the “how” question. And the “how” question is ultimately determined by the “who” question.

     We are to worship God how God wants us to worship Him. This is the apparent crisis in the revolution of worship in our day. The driving force behind the radical shift in how we worship God today is not because of a new discovery of the character of God but rather through pragmatic studies on what works to attract people to corporate worship. Thus, we devise new ways of worship that will accommodate the worship of the people of God to those who are outside the covenant community. We are told that churches ought to be seeker-sensitive, that is, they ought to design worship to be appealing to people who are unbelievers. That may be a wonderful strategy for evangelism, but we must remember that the purpose of Sabbath worship is not primarily evangelism. Worship and evangelism are not the same thing. The solemn assembly is to be the assembling together of believers, of the body of Christ, to ascribe worship and honor and praise to their God and to their Redeemer. And the worship must not be designed to please the unbeliever or the believer. Worship should be designed to please God. We remember the tragic circumstances of the sons of Aaron in the Old Testament, who offered strange fire before the Lord, which God had not commanded. As a result of their “experiment” in worship, God devoured them instantly. In protest, Aaron went to Moses inquiring about God’s furious reaction. Moses reminded Aaron that God had said that He must be regarded as holy by all who approach Him.

     I believe that the one attribute of God that should inform our thinking about worship more than any other is His holiness. This is what defines His character and should be manifested in how we respond to Him. To be sure, God is both transcendent and imminent. He is not merely remote and aloof and apart from us. He also comes to join us. He abides with us. He enters into fellowship. He brings us into His family. We invoke His presence. But when we are encouraged to draw near to Him in New Testament worship, we are encouraged to draw near to a God who, even in His imminence, is altogether holy.

     The modern movement of worship is designed to break down barriers between man and God, to remove the veil, as it were, from the fearsome holiness of God, which might cause us to tremble. It is designed to make us feel comfortable. The music we import into the church is music that we draw from the world of entertainment in the secular arena. I heard one theologian say recently that he was not only pleased with this innovative style of worship and music but thought that what the church needs today is music that is even more “funky.” When we hear clergy and theologians encourage the church to be more funky in worship, I fear that the church has lost its identity. Rather, let us return to Augustine who agreed that we can use a variety of music in our worship, but all that is done should be done with a certain gravitas, a certain solemnity, always containing the attributes of reverence and awe before the living God. The “what?” of worship, the “where?” of worship, the “when?” of worship, and especially the “how?” of worship must always be determined by the character of the One Who is the living God.

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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:

Worship in Spirit and in Truth

By Ligon Duncan 1/1/2005

     In an unlikely encounter with an immoral Samaritan woman, our Lord Jesus uttered one of most important statements ever made about worship. In John’s deeply moving account of Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well, after Jesus uncovers her hidden sin and shame, she asks Him about a worship matter of long dispute between Jews and Samaritans — and of great importance to them both: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:20–26).

     Jesus’ answer thunders with points of significance regarding the momentous transition that He Himself was bringing about in the history of redemption through His own life, ministry, death and resurrection; but it also speaks specifically to the theology of Christian worship.

     First, Jesus’ great statement that we must “worship in spirit and truth” has implications for every aspect of biblical worship. The Bible indicates that worship is both a specific activity and a way of life. Worship, as an activity, has at least three aspects in the Bible (public worship, family worship, and private worship) alongside all-of-life worship.

     Public worship occurs when the people of God assemble for the express purpose of giving to the Lord the glory due His name and enjoying the joy of His promised special presence with His own people. This kind of worship is sometimes called “corporate worship” (because the body, or corpus, of Christ, that is, the Church, is collectively involved in this encounter with God), and sometimes it is called “gathered,” “assembled,” or “congregational” worship. This important aspect of worship is featured in both the Old and New Testaments. While Psalm 100:2 and Hebrews 10:25 speak of “coming before the Lord” and “assembling together” they are both addressing public worship.

     Family worship is led by fathers, or other heads of families, with a view to establishing God-centered homes, promoting worship in all of life in all the members of the household, and in preparation for public worship. The Bible makes clear the importance of family worship (Ex. 12:3; Deut. 6:6–8; Josh. 24:15).

     Private worship (which is sometimes called “secret worship” or “personal worship”) is taught and modeled throughout Scripture, especially by Jesus, Daniel, David, and Peter. Jesus gave specific instructions to His disciples about it in Matthew 6:6, and He exemplified it in Mark 1:35 and Luke 5:16. David spoke of it Psalm 5:3. Daniel spoke of it in Daniel 6:10, and Peter spoke of it in Acts 10:9.

     Worship in all of life is stressed in both the Old and New Testaments and is behind the Shorter Catechism’s assertion that “man’s chief purpose is to glorify God.” In Jonah 1:9, when the prophet Jonah described himself as one who reverenced God, he wasn’t speaking of something he did exclusively on Saturdays, but he was characterizing his whole manner of life. Paul, too, says we are to glorify God in everything we do (1 Cor. 10:31), and this is what we mean by all-of-life worship.

     Second, Jesus’ great statement that we must “worship in spirit and truth” means that we must glorify God (in public, family, private, and all of life) in accordance with God’s own nature and truth. This means at least two things: First, we must realize that God is Spirit, and, hence, He is not tied to one location for our worship. Second, we must worship according to the truth of Jesus’ person and work, for He is the truth (John 1:14; 14:6) and, thus, the only way whereby we may truly worship God. In other words, Jesus is Himself “the truth” according to which we must worship. He is the very incarnation of God (John 1:14), the embodiment of the Father’s character (John 14:6), and the fullest revelation of God’s nature and plan (John 1:18; Heb. 1:1–3). Thus, to worship in truth means to worship in accordance with the truth of and about Jesus — that He is the Son of God, the Messiah, and the only Savior of sinners.

     So, for starters, when we say that we are to “worship in spirit and in truth,” we are saying that in public, family, private, and all of life we are to glorify and enjoy God — which are the two parts of all worship. Second, we are to worship God in light of who He is (and since He is Spirit we must worship in spirit, or in accordance with the reality that He is Spirit). Third, we must worship God in accordance with His revelation (that is, carefully adhering to the directions of His Word). Fourth, we must worship God in complete dependence upon, and trust in, Jesus Himself (who is the truth in the flesh).

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     Dr. J. Ligon Duncan is the chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary and the John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology. He has authored, coauthored, edited or contributed to more than 35 books.

Ligon Duncan Books:

The Law of Life

By Albert Mohler 2/1/2005

     “It need not further be denied,” argued James Orr, “that between this view of the world involved in Christianity, and what is sometimes called ‘the modern view of the world’ there exists a deep and radical antagonism.” James Orr observed this “deep and radical antagonism” over a century ago. Can we possibly fail to see it now?

     As Christians, we are unavoidably engaged in a great battle of worldviews — a conflict over the most basic issues of truth and meaning. A worldview that starts with the existence and sovereign authority of the self-revealing God of the Bible will be diametrically opposed to worldviews that deny God or engage in what we might call “defining divinity down.”

     That said, there is probably no more illustrative focus of this worldview conflict than debate over the Pentateuch. The devout Christian sees the Pentateuch as the very foundation of biblical faith, while the secularist cannot even abide the thought of the Pentateuch, and the theological liberal breaks out in hives whenever the first five books of the Bible are mentioned.

     If the old adage “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” is true, nothing less than an explosion occurs at the intersection of the Pentateuch and the modern mind. The reason for this is simple — the first five books of the Bible present us with a non-negotiable presentation of God’s existence, power, character, authority, and purpose. It’s all there — the foundations of biblical faith set out in five inspired books that instruct us about everything from the perfection of creation to the reality of the Fall; from God’s election of His covenant people to the handing down of the Law. From beginning to end, the Pentateuch undermines the modern secular worldview at its very foundation.

     Those first four words land like nitroglycerin on the modern mind: “In the beginning, God ….” From that point onward, everything flows from the fundamental reality of God’s existence, power, and purpose. Creation itself is explained as the theater for God’s own glory, even as human beings, male and female, are created in God’s image. The institution of marriage is shown to be God’s gift and command, not a sociological adaptation to prevailing cultural conditions. Humans are given responsibility as both stewards and rulers of the earth, ordered to subdue the earth to the Creator’s glory.

     Of course, to the postmodern mind, Genesis is hopelessly “speciesist” even as (to use their language) it presents a “totalizing metanarrative of hegemonistic authoritarianism.” In other words, it tells us in no uncertain terms that God is God and we are not, even as it reveals that humanity fulfills a special purpose for God’s glory.

     The Pentateuch — all five books — presents an unvarnished picture of humanity’s sin and its consequences. To a culture deeply committed to a therapeutic worldview, this is just too much. Now that sin has been banished from our moral vocabulary, what are postmodern Americans to do with the Fall, the giving of the Law, the sacrificial system and blood atonement?

     The Law is another stone of stumbling for the modern mind. Moral relativism rules the field of postmodern ethics, with laws seen as socially constructed and needlessly oppressive instruments of subjugation. In many law schools, a movement known as “critical legal theory” claims that laws generally reveal hidden claims of manipulative power that should be de-constructed for the betterment of all humankind. Thus, consistent with the postmodernist’s complete embrace of subjectivity, laws exist to be endlessly renegotiated and reinterpreted.

     Of course, one of the most cherished maxims of the postmodern mind is the so-called “death of the author.” The reader, not the author of a text is the ruling authority. Put simply, the postmodernist believes that the text means what the reader says it means, not what the author intended. Jump from that to this: “You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it might go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deut. 5:32–33). So much for subjectivity, reinterpretation, and renegotiation! The postmodernist demands a hermeneutic of suspicion, demanding that the text meet his expectations. The Pentateuch sets down a hermeneutic of submission as God demands obedience from His people — nothing less.

     The Lord does not invite His covenant people to speculate about His character, His power, or His purpose. He demands total obedience, even as He reveals His saving purpose and sets down His covenant. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other Gods before me. (Ex. 20:2−3).

     The choice is clear — it’s postmodernism or the Pentateuch. Or, as God spoke through Moses: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you … may live” (Deut. 30:19).

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Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

Albert Mohler Books:

Leviticus 21; Psalms 26–27; Eccl. 4; 1 Timothy 6

By Don Carson 4/17/2018

     “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (Ps. 27:4). This glorious stance finds parallels elsewhere. Thus in Psalm 84:10-11 the psalmist declares, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.”

     This is not quite the same as saying that the psalmist wants to spend all his time in church. The temple was more than a church building, and synagogue buildings had not yet been invented. This was a way of saying that the psalmist wanted to spend all his time in the presence and blessing of the living God of the covenant, the God who supremely manifested himself in the city he had designated and the temple whose essential design he had stipulated. This necessarily included all the temple liturgy and rites, but it wasn’t a fine sense of religious aesthetics that drove the psalmist. It is nothing less than an overwhelming sense of the sheer beauty of the Lord.

     But there are two further connections to be observed:

     (1) The psalmist’s longing is expressed in terms of intentional choice: “this is what I seek” (27:4); “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (84:10). The psalmist expresses his desire and his preference, and in both cases his focus is God himself. We will not really understand him unless, in God’s grace, we share that focus.

     (2) The psalmist recognizes that there is in this stance abundant security for him. While it is good to worship God and delight in his presence simply because God is God, and he is good and glorious; yet at the same time it is also right to recognize that our own security is bound up with resting in this God. David wishes “to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple,” for “in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock” (27:4-5). “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God,” we read, for “the LORD God is a sun and shield” (84:10-11).

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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.

7 “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in you.
8 Deliver me from all my transgressions.
Do not make me the scorn of the fool!
9 I am mute; I do not open my mouth,
for it is you who have done it.
10 Remove your stroke from me;
I am spent by the hostility of your hand.
11 When you discipline a man
with rebukes for sin,
you consume like a moth what is dear to him;
surely all mankind is a mere breath! Selah
12 “Hear my prayer, O LORD,
and give ear to my cry;
hold not your peace at my tears!
For I am a sojourner with you,
a guest, like all my fathers.
13 Look away from me, that I may smile again,
before I depart and am no more!”

ESV Study Bible

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     12. The matter still remains uncertain, unless we understand who are the weak and who the Pharisees: for if this distinction is destroyed, I see not how, in regard to offenses, any liberty at all would remain without being constantly in the greatest danger. But Paul seems to me to have marked out most clearly, as well by example as by doctrine, how far our liberty, in the case of offense, is to be modified or maintained. When he adopts Timothy as his companion, he circumcises him: nothing can induce him to circumcise Titus (Acts 16:3; Gal. 2:3). The acts are different, but there is no difference in the purpose or intention; in circumcising Timothy, as he was free from all men, he made himself the servant of all: "Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ), that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:20-22). We have here the proper modification of liberty, when in things indifferent it can be restrained with some advantage. What he had in view in firmly resisting the circumcision of Titus, he himself testifies when he thus writes: "But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: and that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you," (Gal. 2:3-5). We here see the necessity of vindicating our liberty when, by the unjust exactions of false apostles, it is brought into danger with weak consciences. In all cases we must study charity, and look to the edification of our neighbor. "All things are lawful for me," says he, "but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth," (1 Cor. 10:23, 24). There is nothing plainer than this rule, that we are to use our liberty if it tends to the edification of our neighbor, but if inexpedient for our neighbor, we are to abstain from it. There are some who pretend to imitate this prudence of Paul by abstinence from liberty, while there is nothing for which they less employ it than for purposes of charity. Consulting their own ease, they would have all mention of liberty buried, though it is not less for the interest of our neighbor to use liberty for their good and edification, than to modify it occasionally for their advantage. It is the part of a pious man to think, that the free power conceded to him in external things is to make him the readier in all offices of charity.

13. Whatever I have said about avoiding offenses, I wish to be referred to things indifferent. [460] Things which are necessary to be done cannot be omitted from any fear of offense. For as our liberty is to be made subservient to charity, so charity must in its turn be subordinate to purity of faith. Here, too, regard must be had to charity, but it must go as far as the altar; that is, we must not offend God for the sake of our neighbor. We approve not of the intemperance of those who do every thing tumultuously, and would rather burst through every restraint at once than proceed step by step. But neither are those to be listened to who, while they take the lead in a thousand forms of impiety, pretend that they act thus to avoid giving offense to their neighbor, as if in the meantime they did not train the consciences of their neighbors to evil, especially when they always stick in the same mire without any hope of escape. When a neighbor is to be instructed, whether by doctrine or by example, then smooth-tongued men say that he is to be fed with milk, while they are instilling into him the worst and most pernicious opinions. Paul says to the Corinthians, "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat," (1 Cor. 3:2); but had there then been a Popish mass among them, would he have sacrificed as one of the modes of giving them milk? By no means: milk is not poison. It is false then to say they nourish those whom, under a semblance of soothing they cruelly murder. But granting that such dissimulation may be used for a time, how long are they to make their pupils drink that kind of milk? If they never grow up so as to be able to bear at least some gentle food, it is certain that they have never been reared on milk. [461] Two reasons prevent me from now entering farther into contest with these people, first, their follies are scarcely worthy of refutation, seeing all men of sense must nauseate them; and, secondly, having already amply refuted them in special treatises, I am unwilling to do it over again. [462] Let my readers only bear in mind, first, that whatever be the offenses by which Satan and the world attempt to lead us away from the law of God, we must, nevertheless, strenuously proceed in the course which he prescribes; and, secondly, that whatever dangers impend, we are not at liberty to deviate one nail's breadth from the command of God, that on no pretext is it lawful to attempt any thing but what he permits.

14. Since by means of this privilege of liberty which we have described, believers have derived authority from Christ not to entangle themselves by the observance of things in which he wished them to be free, we conclude that their consciences are exempted from all human authority. For it were unbecoming that the gratitude due to Christ for his liberal gift should perish or that the consciences of believers should derive no benefit from it. We must not regard it as a trivial matter when we see how much it cost our Savior, being purchased not with silver or gold, but with his own blood (1 Pet. 1:18, 19); so that Paul hesitates not to say that Christ has died in vain, if we place our souls under subjection to men (Gal. 5:1, 4; 1 Cor. 7:23). Several chapters of the Epistle to the Galatians are wholly occupied with showing that Christ is obscured, or rather extinguished to us, unless our consciences maintain their liberty; from which they have certainly fallen, if they can be bound with the chains of laws and constitutions at the pleasure of men. But as the knowledge of this subject is of the greatest importance, so it demands a longer and clearer exposition. For the moment the abolition of human constitutions is mentioned, the greatest disturbances are excited, partly by the seditious, and partly by calumniators, as if obedience of every kind were at the same time abolished and overthrown.

15. Therefore, lest this prove a stumbling-block to any, let us observe that in man government is twofold: the one spiritual, by which the conscience is trained to piety and divine worship; the other civil, by which the individual is instructed in those duties which, as men and citizens, we are bold to performs (see Book 4, chap. 10, sec. 3-6). To these two forms are commonly given the not inappropriate names of spiritual and temporal jurisdiction, intimating that the former species has reference to the life of the soul, while the latter relates to matters of the present life, not only to food and clothing, but to the enacting of laws which require a man to live among his fellows purely honorably, and modestly. The former has its seat within the soul, the latter only regulates the external conduct. We may call the one the spiritual, the other the civil kingdom. Now, these two, as we have divided them, are always to be viewed apart from each other. When the one is considered, we should call off our minds, and not allow them to think of the other. For there exists in man a kind of two worlds, over which different kings and different laws can preside. By attending to this distinction, we will not erroneously transfer the doctrine of the gospel concerning spiritual liberty to civil order, as if in regard to external government Christians were less subject to human laws, because their consciences are unbound before God, as if they were exempted from all carnal service, because in regard to the Spirit they are free. Again because even in those constitutions which seem to relate to the spiritual kingdom, there may be some delusion, it is necessary to distinguish between those which are to be held legitimate as being agreeable to the Word of God, and those, on the other hand, which ought to have no place among the pious. We shall elsewhere have an opportunity of speaking of civil government (see Book 4, chap. 20). For the present, also, I defer speaking of ecclesiastical laws, because that subject will be more fully discussed in the Fourth Book when we come to treat of the Power of the Church. We would thus conclude the present discussion. The question, as I have said, though not very obscure, or perplexing in itself, occasions difficulty to many, because they do not distinguish with sufficient accuracy between what is called the external forum, and the forum of conscience. What increases the difficulty is, that Paul commands us to obey the magistrate, "not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake," (Rom. 13:1, 5). Whence it follows that civil laws also bind the conscience. Were this so, then what we said a little ago, and are still to say of spiritual governments would fall. To solve this difficulty, the first thing of importance is to understand what is meant by conscience. The definition must be sought in the etymology of the word. For as men, when they apprehend the knowledge of things by the mind and intellects are said to know, and hence arises the term knowledge or science, so when they have a sense of the divine justice added as a witness which allows them not to conceal their sins, but drags them forward as culprits to the bar of God, that sense is called conscience. For it stands as it were between God and man, not suffering man to suppress what he knows in himself; but following him on even to conviction. It is this that Paul means when he says, "Their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing, or else excusing one another," (Rom. 2:15). Simple knowledge may exist in man, as it were shut up; therefore this sense, which sists man before the bar of God, is set over him as a kind of sentinel to observe and spy out all his secrets, that nothing may remain buried in darkness. Hence the ancient proverb, Conscience is a thousand witnesses. For the same reason Peter also employs the expression, "the answer of a good conscience," (1 Pet. 3:21), for tranquillity of mind; when persuaded of the grace of Christ, we boldly present ourselves before God. And the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, that we have "no more conscience of sins," (Heb. 10:2), that we are held as freed or acquitted, so that sin no longer accuses us.

16. Wherefore, as works have respect to men, so conscience bears reference to God, a good conscience being nothing else than inward integrity of heart. In this sense Paul says that "the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good consciences and of faith unfeigned" (1 Tim. 1:5). He afterwards, in the same chapter, shows how much it differs from intellect when he speaks of "holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away, have made shipwreck," (1 Tim. 1:19). For by these words he intimates, that it is a lively inclination to serve God, a sincere desire to live in piety and holiness. Sometimes, indeed, it is even extended to men, as when Paul testifies, "Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men," (Acts 24:16). He speaks thus, because the fruits of a good conscience go forth and reach even to men. But, as I have said, properly speaking, it refers to God only. Hence a law is said to bind the conscience, because it simply binds the individual, without looking at men, or taking any account of them. For example, God not only commands us to keep our mind chaste and pure from lust, but prohibits all external lasciviousness or obscenity of language. My conscience is subjected to the observance of this law, though there were not another man in the world, and he who violates it sins not only by setting a bad example to his brethren, but stands convicted in his conscience before God. The same rule does not hold in things indifferent. We ought to abstain from every thing that produces offense, but with a free conscience. Thus Paul, speaking of meat consecrated to idols, says, "If any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake:" "Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other," (1 Cor. 10:28, 29). A believer, after being previously admonished, would sin were he still to eat meat so offered. But though abstinence, on his part, is necessary, in respect of a brother, as it is prescribed by God, still he ceases not to retain liberty of conscience. We see how the law, while binding the external act, leaves the conscience unbound.

__________________________________________________________________

[458] French, "Mais quelcun dira"--But some one will say.

[459] Rom. 14:1, 13; 16:1; 1 Cor. 8:9; 10:25, 29, 32; Gal. 5:13.

[460] The French adds, "Lesquelles ne sont de soy ne bonnes ne mauvais;"--which in themselves are neither good nor bad.

[461] French, "de bon laict;"--good milk.

[462] See Epist. de Fugiendis Impiorum Illicitis Sacris. Also Epist. de Abjiciendis vel Administrandis Sacerdotiis Also the short treatise, De Vitandis Superstitionibus.

__________________________________________________________________

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



  • Kevin DeYoung
  • Kevin DeYoung
  • Kevin DeYoung

#1 Homosexuality | Truth Endures

 

#2 Glorified Without Being Sanctified? | Truth Endures

 

#3 Jesus and the Lost | Truth Endures

 


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     9/1/2008    One Nation, Under God

     As I have traveled abroad, I have had to endure all sorts of snide remarks about the United States. I have seen graffiti depicting the American flag with bombs in place of stripes and skulls in place of stars. I have seen disfigured pictures of our president. I have seen the remains of a torched American flag. However, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw as I stood with my luggage in hand outside the Laleh International Hotel in Tehran, Iran. Lying on the ground at the main entrance of the hotel is a giant American flag, which serves as the doormat of the hotel lobby. In order to enter the hotel, guests must walk across the American flag as a sign of disrespect. As a citizen of the United States of America and the son of a veteran of the Second World War, I have never had to endure anything more insulting to my nation.

     Although America is certainly not without its faults, we the people of the United States of America remain committed to that for which our founding fathers were willing to die — the unalienable right of every man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

     In most countries throughout the world, our flag still represents these rights, and countless nations have followed suit in adopting similar constitutional declarations. However, as I consider the present socio-political landscape of our nation I have found myself asking this question: Do we as a people still hold these truths to be self-evident?

     As citizens of America, we are still free to proclaim the name of Christ just as long as we don’t proclaim it too loudly, too publicly, or too boldly. However, as Christians, we are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of heaven and ambassadors of Jesus Christ. As such, we are commanded to proclaim the name of Christ as we defend not only our own unalienable rights but the God-given rights of every man, woman, and child, born or not yet born, to the end that we as God’s chosen people from every tribe and tongue might be one nation, under God, glorifying and enjoying the Creator and Sustainer of life, liberty, and true happiness, coram Deo, before His face forevermore.

     click here for article source

     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

     On this day, April 17, 1790, the son of a poor candle-maker died. He was 15th of 17 children, apprenticed as a printer and published a popular almanac. Retiring at 42, he taught himself five languages, invented the rocking chair, bifocal glasses, and the lighting rod, which earned him degrees from Harvard and Yale. He helped found the University of Pennsylvania, a hospital, America’s first postal system and fire department. The governor of Pennsylvania, signed the Declaration, called for prayer at the Constitutional Convention and was president of the first anti-slavery society. His name, Ben Franklin.

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams


Tears are often the telescope through which men see far into heaven.
--- Henry Ward Beecher
Best Funeral Meditations

When my body is pained, it is not wrong to wish for relief. When overtaken by sickness, it is not wrong to send for the physician. You may call this selfishness, which He who made us what we are, and who gave us these instincts, expects us to act upon; and in acting on which, we may count upon his blessing, not his rebuke. It is not wrong to dread hell, to desire heaven, to flee from torments, to long for blessedness, to shun condemnation, and to desire pardon.
--- Horatius Bonar
God's way of peace: a book for the anxious

Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.
--- Phillips Brooks
Visions And Tasks, And Other Sermons: Fourth Series

The Church is an organism that grows best in an alien society.
--- C. Stacey Woods
C. Stacey Woods and the Evangelical Rediscovery of the University
... from here, there and everywhere


Deuteronomy 30:19
     Human Responsibility


     ... is it fair to blame human beings for their misconduct? Are we really responsible for our actions? Are we not more often victims of other agencies than free agencies ourselves, and so more sinned against than sinning? A whole gamut of scapegoats is ready at hand – our genes, our chemistry (a temporary hormonal imbalance), our inherited temper and temperament, our parents’ failures during our early childhood, our upbringing, our educational and social environment. Together these seem to constitute an infallible alibi.
     Perhaps no more comprehensive attempt has been made to undermine the traditional concept of personal responsibility than Professor B. F. Skinner’s book Beyond Freedom and Dignity (Hackett Classics). His thesis is that ‘the terrifying problems that face us in the world today’ (especially the threats of population overgrowth, nuclear war, famine, disease and pollution) could all be solved by ‘a technology of human behaviour’. That is, ‘vast changes in human behaviour’ could be secured by changes in the human environment. Man could be programmed to behave properly. What stands in the way, then? Answer: the concept of ‘autonomous man’, his supposed ‘freedom’ (in that he is held responsible for his actions) and his supposed ‘dignity’ (in that he is given credit for his achievements). But these things are an illusion, for ‘a scientific analysis shifts both the responsibility and the achievement to the environment’ (pp.9–30). Man must have the courage to create a social environment or culture which adequately ‘shapes and maintains the behaviour of those who live in it’ (p.141). This is essential for the survival of humankind, which is more important than the traditional, ‘flattering’ concept of our ‘freedom and dignity’ (p.208). To be sure, C. S. Lewis called this ‘the abolition of man’. What would be abolished, however, is only ‘autonomous man, ...the man defended by the literature of freedom and dignity’. Indeed, ‘his abolition has been long overdue’ (p.196). Peering into the future, in which man creates an environment which controls him, and so performs ‘a gigantic exercise in self-control’, B. F. Skinner ends his book with the words: ‘We have not yet seen what man can make of man’ (p.210). It is a chilling prospect of self-determined determinism.
     The human spirit rebels against it, however. The concept of ‘diminished responsibility’ we certainly accept, but not the total dissolution of all responsibility, except in the most extreme circumstances. The parallel between moral responsibility and legal liability is instructive at this point. Generally speaking, the criminal law assumes that people have it in their power to choose whether they will obey or break the law, and it treats them accordingly. Nevertheless, responsibility for crime can be diminished, and even excluded, by certain ‘excusing’ conditions. In his essays in the philosophy of law entitled Punishment and Responsibility: Essays in the Philosophy of Law, H. L. A. Hart defines the principle as follows: ‘In all advanced legal systems liability to conviction for serious crimes is made dependent, not only on the offender having done those outward acts which the law forbids, but on his having done them in a certain frame of mind or with a certain will’. This state of mind and will is known technically as mens rea which, though a literal translation would be ‘a guilty mind’, really refers to the person’s ‘intention’. For example, the distinction between intentional and unintentional homicide, that is, between murder and manslaughter, goes right back to the Mosaic law. The principle also has a wider bearing. If a person commits an offence while insane, under duress or as an automaton, criminal liability cannot be established. Provocation may reduce murder to manslaughter. The plea of insanity has been accepted for centuries, and has been interpreted since the MacNaghten Rules of 1843 as ‘disease of the mind’, leading to such ‘a defect of reason’ that the offender either did not know ‘the nature and quality of the act he was doing’ or, if he did know it, ‘did not know he was doing what was wrong’.
     The Rules were criticized, however, for concentrating on the ignorance of the offender, rather than on his lack of capacity for self-control. So the Infanticide Act of 1938 made provision for acts done by a woman when ‘the balance of her mind was disturbed by reason of her not having fully recovered from the effect of giving birth...’, and the Homicide Act of 1957 provided that a person ‘shall not be convicted of murder if he was suffering from such abnormality of mind...as substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts...’. So, too, the British Parliament has decided that no child under ten years can be held guilty of an offence, while between the ages of ten and fourteen it has to be proved specifically that an offending child knew that what he or she was doing was seriously wrong.
     Thus, legal liability depends on mental and moral responsibility, that is, on mens rea, the intention of mind and will. But pleas based on lack of consciousness or control will always need to be precisely defined, and exceptional. An accused person certainly cannot plead his genetic inheritance or social upbringing (This book is over 20 years old) is not a mod as an excuse for criminal behaviour, let alone personal negligence (‘I simply wasn’t thinking what I was doing’). No, generally speaking, the whole procedure of trying, convicting and sentencing in the courts rests on the assumption that human beings are free to make choices and are responsible for the choices they make.
     It is the same in everyday situations. Admittedly we are conditioned by our genes and upbringing, but the human spirit (not to mention the Christian mind) protests against the reductionism which declares a human being to be nothing but a computer (programmed to perform and respond) or an animal (at the mercy of his instincts). Over against these concepts we appeal to the ineradicable sense which men and women have that within reasonable limits we are free agents, able to make up our own minds and decide our own actions. Faced with an alternative, we know we are able to choose. And when we make a wrong choice, we reproach ourselves, because we know we could have behaved differently. We also act on the assumption that other people are free and responsible, for we try to persuade them to our point of view, and ‘we all praise or blame people from time to time’. Essays in Liberality
     Sir Norman Anderson is, I think, right to draw attention to this human sense of responsibility. On the one hand, he writes, we can speculate about the extent to which people are ‘preconditioned by the constitution and condition of their brains, by the psychological make-up they have inherited or acquired, by the blind and inevitable course of “nature” or by the sovereignty of a Creator God, to behave in the way they do’. But on the other hand it is possible ‘unequivocally to affirm that there is no reason whatever to suppose that ordinary men and women are mistaken in their firm conviction that they have, within limits, a genuine freedom of choice and action, and that this necessarily entails a corresponding measure of moral responsibility’. Morality, law, and grace
     The three contributors to the 1982 London Lectures in Contemporary Christianity, entitled Free to Be Different, came to the same conclusion. Professor Malcolm Jeeves spoke and wrote as a psychologist, Professor Sam Berry as a geneticist, and Dr David Atkinson as a theologian. Together they investigated the respective influences on human behaviour of ‘nature’ (our genetic inheritance), ‘nurture’ (our social conditioning) and ‘grace’ (God’s loving and transforming initiative). They agreed that these things evidently both shape and constrain our behaviour. Nevertheless, their lectures were a vigorous, interdisciplinary rejection of determinism and assertion of human responsibility. Although the whole subject is admittedly complex and it is not possible neatly to disentangle all the threads, yet the three contributors were able to express this common conclusion:
     We are not automata, able to do nothing but react mechanically to our genes, our environment or even God’s grace. We are personal beings created by God for himself....Moreover, what God has given us is not to be regarded as a static endowment. Our character can be refined. Our behaviour can change. Our convictions can mature. Our gifts can be cultivated....We are indeed free to be different....Free to be Different: Varieties of Human Behaviour (London Lectures in Contemporary Christianity) by Malcolm Jeeves (1984-04-25)
     When we turn to the Bible, we find the same tension, of which we are aware in our personal experience, between the pressures which condition and even control us, and our abiding moral responsibility nonetheless. There is a strong biblical emphasis on the influence of our inheritance, of what we are ‘in Adam’. The doctrine of original sin means that the very nature we have inherited is tainted and twisted with self-centredness. It is, therefore, ‘from within, out of men’s hearts’, Jesus taught, that evil thoughts and actions come (Mark 7:21–23). It is not surprising that he also described the sinner as ‘a slave to sin’ (John 8:34). We are, in fact, enslaved to the world (public fashion and opinion), the flesh (our fallen nature) and the devil (demonic forces). Even after Christ has liberated us and made us his slaves instead, we are not yet entirely rid of the insidious power of our fallenness, so that Paul can conclude his argument in Romans 7 with the summary: ‘So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin’.
     Scripture recognizes the subtlety and strength of these forces, which indeed diminish our responsibility. It is because God ‘knows how we are formed’ and ‘remembers that we are dust’ that he is patient towards us, slow to anger, and ‘does not treat us as our sins deserve’ (Ps. 103:10, 14). Similarly, God’s Messiah is gentle with the weak, refusing to break bruised reeds or to snuff out smouldering wicks. (1)
     At the same time, the biblical recognition that our responsibility is diminished does not mean that it is destroyed. On the contrary, Scripture invariably treats us as morally responsible agents. It lays upon us the necessity of choice between ‘life and good, death and evil’, between the living God and idols. Deut. 30:15–20; Josh. 24:15. It exhorts us to obedience and remonstrates with us when we disobey. Jesus himself pleaded with recalcitrant Jerusalem to acknowledge and welcome him. Often, he said, addressing the city in direct speech, ‘I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing’ (Matt. 23:37). He thus attributed Jerusalem’s spiritual blindness, apostasy and coming judgment to her obstinacy. It is true that he also said ‘no-one can come to me unless the Father...draws him’, but only after he had said ‘you refuse to come to me’. John 6:44; 5:40 Why is it that people do not come to Christ? Is it that they cannot, or is it that they will not? Jesus taught both. And in this ‘cannot’ and ‘will not’ lies the ultimate antinomy between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. But however we state it, we must not eliminate either part. Our responsibility before God is an inalienable aspect of our human dignity. Its final expression will be on the day of judgment. Nobody will be sentenced without trial. All people, great and small, irrespective of their social class, will stand before God’s throne, not crushed or browbeaten, but given this final token of respect for human responsibility, as each gives an account of what he or she has done.
     Emil Brunner is surely right to emphasize our responsibility as an indispensable aspect of our humanness. ‘Today our slogan must be: no determinism, on any account! For it makes all understanding of man as man impossible.’ 13 Man has to be seen as ‘a thinking – willing being’, responsive and responsible to his Creator, ‘the creaturely counterpart of his divine self-existence’. Further, this human responsibility is in the first instance ‘not...a task but a gift,...not law but grace’. It expresses itself in ‘believing, responsive love’ (p.98). So then, ‘one who has understood the nature of responsibility has understood the nature of man. Responsibility is not an attribute, it is the “substance” of human existence. It contains everything..., [it is] that which distinguishes man from all other creatures....’ (p.50). Therefore ‘if responsibility be eliminated, the whole meaning of human existence disappears’ (p.258).
     But has not the Fall seriously weakened man’s responsibility? Is he responsible for his actions any longer? Yes, he is. ‘Man never sins purely out of weakness, but always also in the fact that he “lets himself go” in weakness. Even in the dullest sinner there is still a spark of decision’, indeed of defiant rebellion against God. So man cannot shuffle off his responsibility for his own wickedness. ‘No Fate, no metaphysical constitution, no weakness of his nature, but himself, man, in the centre of his personality is made responsible for his sin’ (pp.130–131).

(1) Isa. 42:1–3; Matt. 12:15–21. God also distinguishes between sins committed in ignorance and those committed knowingly and deliberately. See, e.g. Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17; 1 Tim. 1:13.
The Cross of Christ

Journal of John Woolman 4/17
     University of Virginia Libray 1994

     On this visit to England I have felt some instructions sealed on my mind, which I am concerned to leave in writing for the use of such as are called to the station of a minister of Christ.

     Christ being the Prince of Peace, and we being no more than ministers, it is necessary for us not only to feel a concern in our first going forth, but to experience the renewing thereof in the appointment of meetings. I felt a concern in America to prepare for this voyage, and being through the mercy of God brought safe hither, my heart was like a vessel that wanted vent. For several weeks after my arrival, when my mouth was opened in meetings, it was like the raising of a gate in a water-course when a weight of water lay upon it. In these labors there was a fresh visitation to many, especially to the youth; but sometimes I felt poor and empty, and yet there appeared a necessity to appoint meetings. In this I was exercised to abide in the pure life of truth, and in all my labors to watch diligently against the motions of self in my own mind.

     I have frequently found a necessity to stand up when the spring of the ministry was low, and to speak from the necessity in that which subjecteth the will of the creature; and herein I was united with the suffering seed, and found inward sweetness in these mortifying labors. As I have been preserved in a watchful attention to the divine Leader, under these dispensations enlargement at times hath followed, and the power of truth hath risen higher in some meetings than I ever knew it before through me. Thus I have been more and more instructed as to the necessity of depending, not upon a concern which I felt in America to come on a visit to England, but upon the daily instructions of Christ, the Prince of Peace.

     Of late I have sometimes felt a stop in the appointment of meetings, not wholly, but in part: and I do not feel liberty to appoint them so quickly, one after another, as I have done heretofore. The work of the ministry being a work of Divine love, I feel that the openings thereof are to be waited for in all our appointments. O, how deep is Divine wisdom! Christ puts forth his ministers and goeth before them; and O, how great is the danger of departing from the pure feeling of that which leadeth safely! Christ knoweth the state of the people, and in the pure feeling of the gospel ministry their states are opened to his servants. Christ knoweth when the fruit-bearing branches themselves have need of purging. O that these lessons may be remembered by me! and that all who appoint meetings may proceed in the pure feeling of duty!

     I have sometimes felt a necessity to stand up, but that spirit which is of the world hath so much prevailed in many, and the pure life of truth hath been so pressed down, that I have gone forward, not as one travelling in a road cast up and well prepared, but as a man walking through a miry place in which are stones here and there safe to step on, but so situated that one step being taken, time is necessary to see where to step next. Now I find that in a state of pure obedience the mind learns contentment in appearing weak and foolish to that wisdom which is of the world; and in these lowly labors, they who stand in a low place and are rightly exercised under the cross will find nourishment. The gift is pure; and while the eye is single in attending thereto the understanding is preserved clear; self is kept out. We rejoice in filling up that which remains of the afflictions of Christ for his body's sake, which is the church.

     The natural man loveth eloquence, and many love to hear eloquent orations, and if there be not a careful attention to the gift, men who have once labored in the pure gospel ministry, growing weary of suffering, and ashamed of appearing weak, may kindle a fire, compass themselves about with sparks, and walk in the light, not of Christ, who is under suffering, but of that fire which they in departing from the gift have kindled, in order that those hearers who have left the meek, suffering state for worldly wisdom may be warmed with this fire and speak highly of their labors. That which is of God gathers to God, and that which is of the world is owned by the world.

     In this journey a labor hath attended my mind, that the ministers among us may be preserved in the meek, feeling life of truth, where we may have no desire but to follow Christ and to be with him, that when he is under suffering, we may suffer with him, and never desire to rise up in dominion, but as he, by the virtue of his own spirit, may raise us.

John Woolman's Journal

The Imitation Of Christ
     Thomas A Kempis

     Book Three - Internal Consolation

     The Thirty-Ninth Chapter / A Man Should Not Be Unduly Solicitous About His Affairs

     THE VOICE OF CHRIST

     MY CHILD, always commit your cause to Me. I will dispose of it rightly in good time. Await My ordering of it and it will be to your advantage.

     The Disciple

     Lord, I willingly commit all things to You, for my anxiety can profit me little. But I would that I were not so concerned about the future, and instead offered myself without hesitation to Your good pleasure.

     THE VOICE OF CHRIST

     My child, it often happens that a man seeks ardently after something he desires and then when he has attained it he begins to think that it is not at all desirable; for affections do not remain fixed on the same thing, but rather flit from one to another. It is no very small matter, therefore, for a man to forsake himself even in things that are very small.

     A man’s true progress consists in denying himself, and the man who has denied himself is truly free and secure. The old enemy, however, setting himself against all good, never ceases to tempt them, but day and night plots dangerous snares to cast the unwary into the net of deceit. “Watch ye and pray,” says the Lord, “that ye enter not into temptation.” (Mat 26:41)

The Imitation Of Christ

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

     God Works in Man

     But again, we came to the question of absolute surrender, and felt that that is the want in the Church of Christ, and that is why the Holy Spirit cannot fill us, and why we cannot live as people entirely separated unto the Holy Spirit; that is why the flesh and the self-life cannot be conquered. We have never understood what it is to be absolutely surrendered to God as Jesus was. I know that many a one earnestly and honestly says: "Amen, I accept the message of absolute surrender to God"; and yet thinks: "Will that ever be mine? Can I count upon God to make me one of whom it shall be said in Heaven and on earth and in Hell, he lives in absolute surrender to God?" Brother, sister, "the things which are impossible with men are possible with God." Do believe that when He takes charge of you in Christ, it is possible for God to make you a man of absolute surrender. And God is able to maintain that. He is able to let you rise from bed every morning of the week with that blessed thought directly or indirectly: "I am in God's charge. My God is working out my life for me."

     Some are weary of thinking about sanctification. You pray, you have longed and cried for it, and yet it appeared so far off! The holiness and humility of Jesus--you are so conscious of how distant it is. Beloved friends, the one doctrine of sanctification that is scriptural and real and effectual is: "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God." God can sanctify men, and by His almighty and sanctifying power every moment God can keep them. Oh, that we might get a step nearer to our God now! Oh, that the light of God might shine, and that we might know our God better!

     I could go on to speak about the life of Christ in us--living like Christ, taking Christ as our Saviour from sin, and as our life and strength. It is God in Heaven who can reveal that in you. What does that prayer of the apostle Paul say: "That he would grant you according to riches of his glory"--it is sure to be something very wonderful if it is according to the riches of His glory--"to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man"? Do you not see that it is an omnipotent God working by His omnipotence in the heart of His believing children, so that Christ can become an indwelling Saviour? You have tried to grasp it and to seize it, and you have tried to believe it, and it would not come. It was because you had not been brought to believe that "the things which are impossible with men are possible with God."

     And so, I trust that the word spoken about love may have brought many to see that we must have an inflowing of love in quite a new way; our heart must be filled with life from above, from the Fountain of everlasting love, if it is going to overflow all the day; then it will be just as natural for us to love our fellow men as it is natural for the lamb to be gentle and the wolf to be cruel. Until I am brought to such a state that the more a man hates and speaks evil of me, the more unlikable and unlovable a man is, I shall love him all the more; until I am brought to such a state that the more the obstacles and hatred and ingratitude, the more can the power of love triumph in me--until I am brought to see that, I am not saying: "It is impossible with men." But if you have been led to say: "This message has spoken to me about a love utterly beyond my power; it is absolutely impossible"--then we can come to God and say: "It is possible with Thee."

     Some are crying to God for a great revival. I can say that that is the prayer of my heart unceasingly. Oh, if God would only revive His believing people! I cannot think in the first place of the unconverted formalists of the Church, or of the infidels and skeptics, or of all the wretched and perishing around me, my heart prays in the first place: "My God, revive Thy Church and people." It is not for nothing that there are in thousands of hearts yearnings after holiness and consecration: it is a forerunner of God's power. God works to will and then He works to do. These yearnings are a witness and a proof that God has worked to will. Oh, let us in faith believe that the omnipotent God will work to do among His people more than we can ask. "Unto him," Paul said, "who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. . . . unto him be glory." Let our hearts say that. Glory to God, the omnipotent One, who can do above what we dare to ask or think!

     "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God." All around you there is a world of sin and sorrow, and the Devil is there. But remember, Christ is on the throne, Christ is stronger, Christ has conquered, and Christ will conquer. But wait on God. My text casts us down: "The things which are impossible with men"; but it ultimately lifts us up high--"are possible with God." Get linked to God. Adore and trust Him as the omnipotent One, not only for your own life, but for all the souls that are entrusted to you. Never pray without adoring His omnipotence, saying: "Mighty God, I claim Thine almightiness." And the answer to the prayer will come, and like Abraham you will become strong in faith, giving glory to God, because you account Him who hath promised able to perform.


Absolute Surrender (The Colportage Library)

Proverbs 15:1-2
     by D.H. Stern

1     A gentle response deflects fury,
but a harsh word makes tempers rise.
2     The tongue of the wise presents knowledge well,
but the mouth of a fool spews out folly.


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

          13

     I do not know that I ever saw anything more terrible than the struggle of that Dwarf Ghost against joy. For he had almost been overcome. Somewhere, incalculable ages ago, there must have been gleams of humour and reason in him. For one moment, while she looked at him in her love and mirth, he saw the absurdity of the Tragedian. For one moment he did not at all misunderstand her laughter: he too must once have known that no people find each other more absurd than lovers. But the light that reached him, reached him against his will. This was not the meeting he had pictured; he would not accept it. Once more he clutched at his death-line, and at once the Tragedian spoke.

     ‘You dare to laugh at it!’ it stormed. ‘To my face? And this is my reward. Very well. It is fortunate that you give yourself no concern about my fate. Otherwise you might be sorry afterwards to think that you had driven me back to Hell. What? Do you think I’d stay now? Thank you. I believe I’m fairly quick at recognising where I’m not wanted. “Not needed” was the exact expression, if I remember rightly.’

     From this time on the Dwarf never spoke again: but still the Lady addressed it.

     ‘Dear, no one sends you back. Here is all joy. Everything bids you stay.’ But the Dwarf was growing smaller even while she spoke.

     ‘Yes,’ said the Tragedian. ‘On terms you might offer to a dog. I happen to have some self-respect left, and I see that my going will make no difference to you. It is nothing to you that I go back to the cold and the gloom, the lonely, lonely streets—.’

     ‘Don’t, don’t, Frank,’ said the Lady. ‘Don’t let it talk like that.’ But the Dwarf was now so small that she had dropped on her knees to speak to it. The Tragedian caught her words greedily as a dog catches a bone.

     ‘Ah, you can’t bear to hear it!’ he shouted with miserable triumph. ‘That was always the way. You must be sheltered. Grim realities must be kept out of your sight. You who can be happy without me, forgetting me! You don’t want even to hear of my sufferings. You say, don’t. Don’t tell you. Don’t make you unhappy. Don’t break in on your sheltered, self-centred little heaven. And this is the reward—.’

     She stooped still lower to speak to the Dwarf which was now a figure no bigger than a kitten, hanging on the end of the chain with his feet off the ground.

     ‘That wasn’t why I said, Don’t,’ she answered. ‘I meant, stop acting. It’s no good. He is killing you. Let go of that chain. Even now.’

     ‘Acting,’ screamed the Tragedian. ‘What do you mean?’

     The Dwarf was now so small that I could not distinguish him from the chain to which he was clinging. And now for the first time I could not be certain whether the Lady was addressing him or the Tragedian.

     ‘Quick,’ she said. ‘There is still time. Stop it. Stop it at once.’

     ‘Stop what?’

     ‘Using pity, other people’s pity, in the wrong way. We have all done it a bit on earth, you know. Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. You see, I know now. Even as a child you did it. Instead of saying you were sorry, you went and sulked in the attic … because you knew that sooner or later one of your sisters would say, “I can’t bear to think of him sitting up there alone, crying.” You used their pity to blackmail them, and they gave in in the end. And afterwards, when we were married … oh, it doesn’t matter, if only you will stop it.’

     ‘And that,’ said the Tragedian, ‘that is all you have understood of me, after all these years.’ I don’t know what had become of the Dwarf Ghost by now. Perhaps it was climbing up the chain like an insect: perhaps it was somehow absorbed into the chain.

The Great Divorce

My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers

                Neck or nothing

     Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him …, and did cast himself into the sea. --- John 21:7.

     Have you ever had a crisis in which you deliberately and emphatically and recklessly abandoned everything? It is a crisis of will. You may come up to it many times externally, but it amounts to nothing. The real deep crisis of abandonment is reached internally, not externally. The giving up of external things may be an indication of being in total bondage.

     Have you deliberately committed your will to Jesus Christ? It is a transaction of will, not of emotion; the emotion is simply the gilt-edge of the transaction. If you allow emotion first, you will never make the transaction. Do not ask God what the transaction is to be, but make it in regard to the thing you do see, either in the shallow or the profound place.

     If you have heard Jesus Christ’s voice on the billows, let your convictions go to the winds, let your consistency go to the winds, but maintain your relationship to Him.


My Utmost for His Highest: Quality Paperback Edition

The Vanishing Village
     the Poetry of R.S. Thomas

           The Vanishing Village

Scarcely a street, too few houses
  To merit the title; just a way between
  The one tavern and the one shop
  That leads nowhere and fails at the top
  Of the short hill, eaten away
  By long erosion of the green tide
  Of grass creeping perpetually nearer
  This last outpost of time past.

  So little happens; the black dog
  Cracking his fleas in the hot sun
  Is history. Yet the girl who crosses
  From door to door moves to a scale
  Beyond the bland day's two dimensions.

  Stay, then, village, for round you spins
  On a slow axis a world as vast
  And meaningful as any posed
  By great Plato's solitary mind.

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
     Commitment - Deuteronomy 30–31

     What is the outcome of commitment, for the nation and for the individual? We see it clearly in this chapter.

     Obedience brings blessing. For Israel there would be an increase of cattle and crops in the land. Israel’s undertakings would prosper. They would be victorious in warfare. God promised, “The Lord will establish you as His holy people, as He promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God, and walk in His ways. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 28:9–10).

     In serving the Lord “joyfully and gladly” (Deuteronomy 28:47), Israel would find her fulfillment.

     The men and women Moses spoke to that day beyond the Jordan River did move on. They lived a life of commitment. And their generation received all the blessings that God had promised. Theirs was an experience of true fulfillment.

     But their descendants, to whom Moses also spoke through the written Word, did not.

     The descendants of this generation turned from serving God, and the very experiences so graphically described in Moses’ warnings are inscribed on the record of history. In Deuteronomy 28:15–68 the destiny ahead of Israel is described, and the pivot on which sacred history turns defined. At every point in Israel’s history—and in our own personal destiny—the issue is one and the same.

     What was the future against which Israel was futilely warned?

     The Lord will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses. He will bring upon you all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will cling to you. The Lord will also bring on you every kind of sickness and disaster not recorded in this Book of the Law until you are destroyed. You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number; because you did not obey the Lord your God. Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please Him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.

     Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. --- Deuteronomy 28:59–66

     The land of milk and honey, of fulfillment and promise, would also bear the judgment, to become a “burnt-out waste.”

     And just this has happened.

     The destiny written as a warning so long ago has become history. The word was true. The danger inherent in rejection of commitment is very, very real.

     Israel’s Destiny / Return: Deuteronomy 30

     A German emperor of the last century is said to have asked his court pastor to prove to him that the Bible is true. The minister replied, “I can prove the Bible is God’s Book in just two words.”

     The Emperor looked amazed. “What are they?”

     And the pastor answered, “The Jew.”

     Along with the warning, God gave Israel promises. Even in the middle of judgment, if the blessings and the cursings would be called to mind and God’s people would “return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where He scattered you” (Deuteronomy 30:2–3).

     This too we have seen in history, in the return from Babylon. And many Christians believe that the establishment of Israel in 1948 is the precursor of an even more wonderful regathering that will be associated with the return of Christ.

     But what is important for us here is a bright and wonderful message:

     The invitation to commitment is an open one!

     It is never too late for the believer to return to God. The door remains open to the people of God. All the Lord asks is that we respond to Him. “I set before you today,” God says to every generation, “life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, decrees, and laws: then you will live and increase.… But if your heart turns away, and you are not obedient” (Deuteronomy 30:15–17).

     If you will not hear, then destiny becomes history. Again.

     So Jesus’ words to His disciples in Luke really echo an age-old story. The person who will not follow his Lord may gain the whole world, but he will forfeit himself. What he could have become he will not be, even as Israel’s tragic choices would lead her to forfeit the blessings of the Promised Land.


The Teacher's Commentary

Swimming In The Sea of Talmud
     Ḥagigah 17a

     D’RASH

     A mother came home late from work and found her three young children, ages six, nine, and twelve, “glued” to the television screen. To her horror, she discovered they were watching an R-rated movie on cable in which a particularly violent rape had been graphically depicted. When her husband came home a little later, a big argument ensued.

     “I want that television out of this house!” she yelled.

     “Hold on, honey, I understand you’re upset; I’m upset too. But getting rid of the TV is a little drastic, don’t you think? We can get one of those channel blockers for the cable movies.”

     “No! You don’t understand,” she replied. “It’s not just the cable movies that are the problem. It’s the whole TV thing! The kids watch too much television. There’s an hour before school, and the damn thing is on from the time they get home until they go to sleep! Do you have any idea of the number of violent killings they see each week? What is that doing to their minds and to their souls? You can’t watch a sitcom today without sexual innuendos and double-entendres. Most of what they watch is just stupid junk. And then there are the commercials brainwashing them ‘Buy this’ or ‘You gotta have that.’ We don’t talk any more as a family; we just watch TV in the same room. I’ve had it up to here! I want that thing out!”

     Pretty compelling arguments. Yet one thing that was forgotten in the heat of the argument is that there is also much of worth on television—educational shows, cultural programs, coverage of historical events, to name a few. Getting rid of television altogether from the home might very well be a positive for this family. However, it would come with a price, throwing away some of the positive things that TV brings into the home.

     It’s a difficult decision. Most people don’t even bother to struggle with it. They mindlessly take in everything and anything that is offered. Television is used as a babysitter and has taken the place of real conversation in many families. A few parents react like this mother and decide that the only way to protect and preserve their families is by getting rid of the TV altogether.

     There is a third approach, one offered by Rabbi Meir: Hold on to the good, while discarding that which is bad. This is a difficult path to follow. It requires a lot of thinking and some very hard choices. Every decision brings a plus, as well as a minus. We have to be eternally vigilant, aware of what we are being offered and discriminating about what we choose. It is a lot easier to take an all-or-nothing approach, but it is more honest to do what Rabbi Meir did. He understood that there is some truth and some good everywhere. It is extremely rare to find a mentor, role model, or source that is always good, always positive, always full of merit. Trying to find perfection is foolish; it does not exist (except in God). The secret is to find someone, or something, that has much to offer us and take it in, while rejecting that which is lacking in worth. In the words of the Gemara, we should eat the inside and throw away the peel.

     If you grab too much, you haven’t grabbed a thing.

     Text / Rabbi Elazar said: “Rabbi Oshiya said: ‘From where do we learn that [the missed sacrifices of] Shavuot can be made up any time during the seven days [following the festival]?’ As it says: ‘On the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks and on the Feast of Booths’ [
Deuteronomy 16:16]. It juxtaposes the Feast of Weeks to the Feast of Unleavened Bread: Just as [the missed sacrifices of] the Feast of Unleavened Bread can be made up any time during the seven days [following the festival] so too [the missed sacrifices of] Shavuot can be made up any time during the seven days [following the festival].”

     Why not say: “It juxtaposes it to the Feast of Booths: Just as [the missed sacrifices of] the Feast of Booths can be made up any time during the eight days [following the festival], so too [the missed sacrifices of] Shavuot can be made up any time during the eight days following the festival”? Because the eighth day of the Feast [of Booths] is considered a holiday unto itself.

     When we say that the eighth day of the Feast [of Booths] is a holiday unto itself, we mean with reference to P.Z.″R. K.S.″B. But regarding the making up [of missed sacrifices] it [the eighth day] serves to make up for [the missed sacrifices of] the first day, as it was taught: “One who did not offer the sacrifice on the first day of the festival may bring it any time during the festival, or on the last day of the festival.” If you grab too much, you haven’t grabbed a thing; if you grab a little, you have grabbed something.

     Context / Three times a year—on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks, and on the Feast of Booths—all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place that He will choose. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed, but each with his own gift, according to the blessing that the Lord your God has bestowed upon you. (Deuteronomy 16:16–17)

     On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the Lord, [to last] seven days. The first day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations; seven days you shall bring offerings by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to the Lord; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations. (Leviticus 23:34–36)

     The Rabbis raise the question of what is to be done when a person neglected to bring the prescribed sacrifices on the first day of any of the three pilgrimage festivals: The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Pesaḥ), the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and the Feast of Booths (Sukkot). Since all three are mentioned in one sentence (Deuteronomy 16:16), the Rabbis assumed that they must share something in common: Just as the Passover sacrifices can be brought on any of the seven days of the festival, so too the Shavuot sacrifices can be brought on the seven days following the festival. (Shavuot is a one-day holiday in the Torah.)

     Another possibility is raised: If we can learn the procedures for Shavuot from its proximity to Pesaḥ in the same verse, why not learn the procedures for the festival of Sukkot, which is also mentioned in the same sentence? And since Sukkot is an eight-day festival, perhaps the Shavuot sacrifices could be brought on any of the eight days that follow the festival.

     The Gemara first says no: Sukkot, while ostensibly an eight-day holiday, is really a seven-day festival with a special eighth day called Shemini Atzeret, both a part of Sukkot and a separate holiday unto itself. The Gemara then ultimately rejects this suggestion, stating that only for six things is Shemini Atzeret separate. However, regarding the issue of making up a missed sacrifice, we learn that the eighth day is considered a part of Sukkot. Consequently, the missed Shavuot sacrifice can be brought for an additional eight days.

     The six areas which characterize Shemini Atzeret as a holiday unto itself are noted in the Gemara by a two-word mnenomic (P.Z.˝R. K.S.˝B). The abbreviations stand for:

P.     (Payis = Lottery): On the first seven days of Sukkot, the twenty-four groups of kohanim officiated in order; on the eighth day, a lottery determined who would officiate.

Z.     (Z’man = Time): A separate she-he-ḥeyanu blessing was recited on Shemini Atzeret.

R.     (Regel = Festival): The eighth day has its own separate name—Shemini Atzeret—and is not called Sukkot.

K.     (Korban = Sacrifice): The offering on this day was different from that offered on the seven days of Sukkot.

S.     (Shir = Song): The Levites recited a special song,
Psalm 12, on Shemini Atzeret.

B.     (Berakhah = Blessing): The people recited a special blessing for the King on this day. (See
1 Kings 8:66.)

     The Gemara’s final answer to this question comes in the form of a maxim: “If you grab too much, you haven’t grabbed a thing.” Everyone agrees that the missed Shavuot sacrifice can be brought on any of the seven following days. The disagreement is whether it can be brought on the eighth day. Therefore, we are told, to be on the safe side we should offer the sacrifice only on one of the seven days following the festival. If we wait until the disputed eighth day, we may end up offering the sacrifice one day too late.

Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living

JPS Torah commentary
     Deuteronomy in the Ongoing Jewish Tradition

     Deuteronomy had a powerful impact on later Jewish tradition. This began in the biblical period itself. The book of the prophet Jeremiah, who lived in the time of King Josiah, is suffused with Deuteronomistic language and allusions. So, too, are the historical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, which all underwent Deuteronomistic editing, and may even have been compiled by Deuteronomists, as noted above (p. xxv). Echoes of Deuteronomy also appear in the prophetic books of Ezekiel and the “Second Isaiah,” who lived in Babylonia during the exile; of the postexilic prophets Haggaai, Zechariah, and Malachi; and of Daniel.

     Part of Deuteronomy’s impact on Judaism lies in the fact that it was made the last book of the Torah. Since God’s promises to the patriarchs would be completely fulfilled only with Israel’s settlement in the promised land, and many of the Torah’s laws could only be put into effect there, why did the Torah not continue on through the book of Joshua, which tells how Israel took possession of the land? Why did the Torah end with Moses’ death?

     According to M. Greenberg, this is because the covenant between God and Israel was predicated on the Exodus, not the gift of the land.111 The covenant was concluded in the wilderness and its fundamental obligations, such as monotheism, Sabbath, and Pesaḥ, took effect then. Once Moses finished teaching the covenant obligations and passed from the scene, Israel knew all that it needed to know in order to live in accordance with God’s will. As important as the land is to the life prescribed by the covenant, the validity of the covenant is independent of the land; on the contrary, Israel’s future possession of the land was dependent on her fidelity to the covenant. The separation between the Torah and the story of the conquest of the land expresses the absoluteness of the covenant and its independence of the land.

     Recognizing this, the Jews in the Babylonian exile were convinced that the covenant was still binding on them outside the land; just as keeping the covenant had been a precondition for Israel’s initial possession of the land, so it was for their return to it. This recognition enabled the covenant to survive the Babylonian exile, and subsequent exiles as well. It may not be too much to say that the survival of Judaism owes much to the perception that the promised land is ahead of us, but our duties to God are now.

     By the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (fifth century B.C.E.), Deuteronomy and the other Pentateuchal sources were combined into the Torah essentially as we now know it, and the Jewish community that returned from exile pledged to live its life by it, ratifying and canonizing the entire Torah, as Deuteronomy had been in the days of Josiah. One of the first tasks of Ezra and his colleagues was to enforce the laws of the Torah. This included enforcing the remission of debts (Deut. 15:1–3)112 and dissolving intermarriages, on the basis of Deuteronomy 23:4–9 and 7:1–4, so as to protect the identity and cohesiveness of the renascent Jewish community.113 Ezra’s successors set about interpreting inconsistencies between the laws of Deuteronomy and other books of the Torah in order to establish consistent laws by which to live.114 This activity marked the first flowering of Jewish legal exegesis.

     In rabbinic times, Deuteronomy helped shape many of the fundamental aspects of Jewish belief and practice that are still followed today. Fully two hundred of the traditional 613 commandments are based on Deuteronomy. One of the most far-reaching influences of the book was achieved through the interpretation of 17:11 by means of which the rabbis found the warrant to create new laws when necessary, and not only to interpret the Torah. This extraordinary understanding of the verse played a major role in allowing Judaism to develop and meet the needs of new historic situations, and not become fundamentalistic and stagnant.

     Deuteronomy’s contribution to Jewish worship has been extensive and profound. Parts of the book are recited in the daily liturgy and on special occasions. Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21 are recited twice daily as part of Keriʾat Shema, and its first verse is also recited on numerous other occasions.115 Phrases from Deuteronomy (like other books of the Bible) are woven into the wording of numerous important prayers: the attributes of God in the first paragraph of the ʿAmidah begin with a citation from 10:17; the declaration of monotheism in ʿAleinu is drawn from 4:39; the life-giving power of God’s laws in the second paragraph of the evening service is expressed in the words of 30:20; and the modern prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel quotes the promise of 30:4. Today, 4:4 is recited in many communities before every Torah reading, and 4:44 at the conclusion.

     Three passages from Deuteronomy figure prominently in the Haggadah of Pesaḥ. The child’s question in 6:20 is one of the passages on which the parable about four types of children is based.116 Deuteronomy 6:21, “You shall say to your children, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and the Lord freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand,’ ” introduces the first answer to the children’s Four Questions about the unique procedures at the seder banquet. The epitome of Israel’s history in 26:5–8, and a midrashic interpretation of it, are considered the core of the Haggadah, according to the Mishnah.117

     But Deuteronomy’s impact on worship goes beyond the recitation of its verses. Notwithstanding the fact that Psalms is the Bible’s book of prayer, it was Deuteronomy that shaped the very form of Jewish worship. As noted above (p. xvii), Deuteronomy sought to free religion from excessive attachment to sacrifice and priesthood, and to encourage rituals that teach love and reverence for God to every Israelite. These attempts prepared Judaism to develop new forms of worship that enabled it to survive and flourish after the loss of the Second Temple. In the true spirit of Deuteronomy, the rabbis interpreted its exhortation to “serve Him with all your heart” as proving that prayer is a religious obligation no less than sacrifice, since service “with the heart” must mean prayer.118 The core of Jewish worship is the recitation of the Shema, as noted, and the public reading of the Torah, which is rooted in 31:11.119 The duty of blessing God after every meal (Birkat Ha-Mazon) is based on 8:10, “when you have eaten your fill, give thanks [lit., “bless”] to the Lord,” and the rectation of Kiddush on the Sabbath is based on the rabbinic interpretation of le-kaddesho, “to sanctify it,” in the fifth commandment (5:12).

     Apart from the liturgy, Deuteronomy is the source of the idea that religious life should be based on a sacred book, and hence of the obligation of all Jews, not only an elite class, to learn the Torah and teach it to their children (5:1; 6:7). Deut. 6:4 and 33:4 are the first verses to be taught to a child as soon as the child is able to speak. The dietary laws are based in part on Deuteronomy 14:3–21. The Sabbath and pilgrimage festivals (5:12–15; 16:1–17) lie at the heart of the Jewish calendar. Other fundamental practices rooted in Deuteronomy are affixing mezuzot to doorposts and the wearing of tefillin (6:8–9; 11:18, 20)120 and fringes (tsitsit) (22:12). One of the sources of the obligation to give charity is 15:8. Among the laws of mourning, the thirty-day mourning period is based on 21:13 and 34:8 as well as Numbers 20:29.

     Deuteronomy plays a major role in Jewish theology, since it is the book of the Bible that deals most explicitly with matters of belief and attitude. This is shown in Sefer ha-Maddaʿ (“The Book of Knowledge”), the theological-ethical introduction of Maimonides’ classic digest of Jewish law and theology, the Mishneh Torah, itself named after Deuteronomy. There, Maimonides cites Deuteronomy far more often than any other book of the Bible.121 At the very outset, he cites Deuteronomy as the source of some of the most fundamental commandments, including the commands to believe in God, and Him alone, and to love, revere, and worship Him.

     It would be difficult to overstate the extent of Deuteronomy’s impact on Jewish life. No idea has done more to shape Jewish history than monotheism, which Deuteronomy asserts so passionately. And no verse has done more to shape Jewish consciousness and identity than the one that Judaism chose as the classic expression of the monotheistic idea, the Shema.


The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy 29
     Pulpit Commentary

     Vers. 1–6.—Witnessing without seeing. There is an instruction note on this passage in Dr. Jameson’s ‘Commentary.’ For nearly forty years the people had been witnesses of the extraordinary care of God in watching over them, in supplying their wants, and in conducting them through the wilderness; and yet the constant succession of mercies had had no proper effect on them. They did not read the loving-kindness of God in all as they should have done. Having eyes, they saw not; having ears, they heard not. The form, however, in which Moses here throws this is remarkable. If his words are not understood, he may seem even to cast a reflection on God, for having given them such great mercies, while at the same time he withheld the one mercy which would make blessings of all the rest. Yet we cannot for a moment think that Moses intended anything of the kind. He evidently reproaches the people for their dulness. If there had been an earnest desire to understand the deep meaning of God’s dealings with them, certainly the needful light and wisdom would not have been withheld. Our subject of thought arising hence is—Spiritual stolidity; or, witnessing without seeing. The following passages of Scripture should be studied in regard to this theme:—
Isa. 6:9, 10; 63:9, 10, 17; Jer. 5:21; Ezek. 12:2; 14
Matt. 11:25; 12:24; 13:14, 15; 15:16; 16:9; 21:27; Mark 3:5 (Greek); 5:23; 6:52; 8:10–13, 21; Luke 7:29–35; 12:56, 57; 19:42; John 4:33; 7:17; 8:31, 32, 47; 9:39–41; 14:9, 22; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 3:14, 15; Ps. 25:14
. Observe—

     I. THERE IS A MEANING, RICH AND FULL, IN THE INCIDENTS OF LIFE. Each one’s life is full of incident, from morning till evening, from the beginning of the year unto the end of it. There may not have been the succession of what is startling and striking, as there was in the case of Israel, but simply common mercies coming speedily and without pause, just as they were needed; the mercies one by one, fitting exactly into place, as if a gracious care had provided all. As if—do we say? That is it. A gracious care has provided all. That is precisely our present postulate. We should as soon think that the letters in a printing office would spontaneously arrange themselves into order for a printed book, as that the constant succession of our comforts in life should come as they do without any prearrangement. 1. Life’s comforts and supplies are a constant disclosure of Divine loving-kindness. They reveal God (
Ps. 107:43). 2. They are intended to help on the culture and growth of character. Even supplies which come in the physical region, when granted to moral beings, have a moral significance in them. 3. By winning us to God, his mercies are intended to lead us to repentance, and thus to open up to us a glorious goal in character and destiny.

     II. THIS DIVINE MEANING IN THE MERCIES OF LIFE IS OFTEN MISSED BY THOSE ON WHOM THOSE MERCIES ARE BESTOWED. Of how many it may still be said, “Having eyes, they see not; and having ears, they hear not”! This may arise from one or more of several causes. 1. There may be some preconceived assumption or foregone conclusion which, if indulged in, will shut out all acceptance of any thought of God’s loving-kindness in common life, or anywhere else. Some “high thought” may exalt itself against the knowledge of God. 2. There may be the lack of a spirit of loyalty, so that the individual is indisposed to read aright the messages of his Father’s goodness. 3. There may be a misuse or non-use of the organs and faculties by which spiritual knowledge may be acquired. See ‘A Candid Examination of Theism ,’ by Physicus, which is a striking example of total failure in this respect. 4. There may be distractions of heart and soul by the whirl and rush of life, so that the spirit has not leisure there from to learn of God in “secret silence of the mind.” 5. There may be entire indifference concerning the higher meaning of common things. Any one of these five causes will amply account for a man failing to learn of God through the experiences of life.

     III. THERE IS NO ADEQUATE REASON WHICH CAN JUSTIFY SUCH A FAILURE TO LEARN LIFE’S LESSONS. For: 1. We have a revelation of God given to as in the Book, whereby we may come at the true interpretation of life. Israel had their Law, by which they might read their life. We have both the Law and the gospel. And the preciousness of human life in the eye of God is taught us in
Luke 15, and in the light of such a chapter should the mystery of human life and Divine care be studied. 2. We have a distinct disclosure to us of the one condition on which religious knowledge and certitude can be acquired (John 7:17; Ps. 25:8, 9, 14). 3. There is a direct and clear promise of wisdom to those who lack it and seek it (Jas. 1:5–7). The promises given by our Lord are also abundant. 4. There is the testimony of the experience of such as are taught of God. They can tell of his mercies, and sing aloud of his righteousness (Ps. 34:6; 66:16). And such experience is or should be an invaluable help to those who have yet to learn “the secret of the Lord.” Now, with this fourfold clue, it is altogether needless for any to misunderstand life’s mystery and meaning. So that it follows—

     IV. THAT TO BE AND TO REMAIN WITHOUT SPIRITUAL PERCEPTION IS MATTER FOR SERIOUS REPROACH AND REBUKE. It is not against God that the words of ver.
4 are spoken. He would have given them eyes to see, had they desired and sought that blessing. And so he will now. Hence there is a fivefold injustice done by us if we remain without the true knowledge of the rich meaning in our mercies. 1. There is injustice to the Word of God. 2. There is injustice to the God of the Word. 3. There is injustice to ourselves. 4. There is injustice to the mystery of life. 5. There is injury to our future and eternal destiny.

     Well may we adopt for ourselves, on our own behalf, as well as on that of others, the prayers of the apostle for spiritual enlightenment (
Phil. 1:9–11; Col. 1:9, 10; Eph. 1:15–18). For as we understand the mystery of God in Christ will all minor ones have the light of heaven poured upon them.

     Vers.
10–21.—Apostacy in heart a root of bitterness. In the midst of this paragraph there is an expression of which the writer to the Hebrews makes use as a warning. It is found in the eighteenth verse: “Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood.” In the Epistle to the Hebrews 12:10, the sacred writer says, “Looking dligently … lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” The root bearing gall and wormwood which Moses deprecates is, Apostacy from God who has revealed his will through him. That which the New Testament writer dreads, and to ward off which his whole Epistle was written is, Apostacy from God who has revealed his will through his only begotten Son. The parallels between the two possibilities would furnish a most instructive theme for the preacher; so likewise would the contrasts. We propose now to suggest a line of thought which may “open up” and impress on the heart and conscience the truth that heart-apostacy is a root bearing gall and wormwood.

     I. THE CHRISTIAN, LIKE ISRAEL OF OLD, IS SURROUNDED WITH INFLUENCES THAT ARE UNFAVOURABLE TO FIDELITY TO ALL THAT HE BELIEVES AND HOPES. Israel was in the midst of other nations, who had a greatness and pomp with which they could not vie, who had a religious worship other than theirs, and a literature and learning which were greater than theirs; and it was not at all unnatural that now and then, at any rate, they should cast a longing look at them, and cherish a wish to rival them. And as their acquaintance with other nations increased in the course of the ages, it cannot be wondered at if they were tempted to depart from the simplicity of their monotheistic faith and worship. And now, the parallel between them and us is closer than even it has been. Increasing research has brought to light much religious literature in the world, which pertains to varied religions, in which even fifty years ago our fathers thought there was nothing good. The great religions of the world—Brahmanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Mohammedanism—were looked on by some as almost totally bad. And now, some are so elated by the features of excellence that may be traced in one and another, and so started by some parallels between the Christian religion and others, that they are tempted to indulge the thought that our faith is but one among many—the best, perhaps, of all the varied religions in the world, but yet differing from others rather in its superior measure of excellence, than in any features altogether and absolutely unique and incomparable. Hence—

     II. THERE IS A DANGER OF APOSTACY OF HEART FROM THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, ANALOGOUS TO THE PERIL WHICH BESET ISRAEL OF OLD. The peril to which Christians are now exposed is not merely the ordinary one arising from the fickleness of the human heart, and from the subtle temptations and fiery darts of the wicked one. With the larger knowledge just referred to of whatever excellence other religions may have, a new temptation is presented to the understanding, no longer to regard our Saviour as the one and only Redeemer, but as simply the Highest and Best of the Religious Teachers of the world. And so far as this temptation is yielded to, there may come a defection from the faith on any one or more—or all—of the five following points:—1. Christ may cease to be regarded as the only begotten Son of the Father. 2. His Godhead, and therefore his incarnation, may come to be denied, or at least may cease to be held as a part of the “faith once [for all] delivered to the saints.” 3. His redemption, as at once furnishing us with a gospel of deliverance and a gospel of power, may be lost sight of as the distinctive feature of his work, to which no religion in the world can furnish a parallel or point of comparison. We have many religions in the world; there is but one gospel. 4. His example may come to be regarded as simply one that towers above that of other men, and as unattended with any power of lifting the world up to his own level. 5. And with all this, the dread and august majesty with which he, as the Mediator of our race, exercises all power in heaven and on earth, may be thrown into the background, and may thus cease to sway the heart and life. No one who understands the times can fail to see the reality of these dangers, and the serious proportions they are assuming. That amid the storm, the kingdom of Christ will be shaken, we have no fear whatever, but many may depart from the faith meanwhile.

     III. SUCH APOSTACY WOULD BE A ROOT OF BITTERNESS. This of itself would require an entire homily to do it justice. We can but hint in outline. 1. If thus the heart loses its hold of Christ as a Redeemer, the attainment of salvation will henceforth become impossible. 2. If once the power of Christ ceases to renew, the old self will reign, and evil passions be under no adequate control. Inferior power may curb the manifestation of passion, but only Divine power can tear up its roots. 3. Such defection from the faith will “defile” many. The evil will not stop with one. It will be infectious. 4. Such dishonour done to the Son of God will bring upon those who are guilty thereof the Divine displeasure. 5. The sure effect will be the breaking up and disbanding of the Churches which are poisoned thereby. There will be no reason why Churches should hold together, if their Divine Christ is gone, and there will be no power that can keep them together, if his Spirit is grieved and departs.

     IV. HENCE AGAINST SUCH A GRIEVOUS RESULT CHURCH MEMBERS SHOULD CAREFULLY GUARD. “Looking diligently lest,” etc. 1. They should watch the signs of the times, in order that, as far as in them lies, they may guard the Church to which they belong from the dangers with which the changeful currents of human thought may threaten them. 2. They should seek so to quicken the zeal and inflame the fervour of piety around them, that temptations to apostatize may have no power. 3. They should cherish a loving solicitude, and fervently pray, for each other, that mutual care and prayer may be an effectual guard against the approach of disloyalty in faith or even in thought. 4. Each one should be very jealous over his own heart. In others we can discern only fruit; in ourselves we can detect the root, of evil. Hence this watchfulness over our own spirits is doubly important, since it may be doubly effective. Even in others we may perhaps lop off the evil fruit, but in ourselves we can see that even the root is plucked up. For this, the only radical, certain, and absolute preventive of apostacy, the Spirit of God can effect, and he will, if we resign ourselves to his almighty hands. He can so renew and sanctify the heart that no “root of bitterness” can find any hold. He can make the soil so receptive of truth that any living seed of righteousness will at once germinate, and yet withal so destructive of error that any seed of evil casually dropping in will perish in its fall. Happy man, whose heart is in the effectual keeping of the Holy Ghost, and who is so sanctified that no germ of ill can find even a momentary home!

     Vers.
22–28.—Historical witnesses to the wrath of God. The chapter preceding this is shaded, yea, dark indeed. Nevertheless, it is an exact forecast of the state of Israel at this very day. In fact, the comparison between the state of the land of Palestine and the words of the Book, suggests two lines of instructive thought.

     I. HOW MANIFESTLY, IN THE DESOLATION OF THE HOLY LAND, IS SEEN THE EFFECT OF THE WRATH OF GOD! To this even Volney bears witness. He asks, “From whence proceed such melancholy revolutions? For what cause is the fortune of these countries so strikingly changed? Why are so many cities destroyed? Why is not that ancient population reproduced and perpetuated? A mysterious God exercises his incomprehensible judgments. He has doubtless pronounced a secret curse against the land. He has struck with a curse the present race of men in revenge of past generations” (quoted by Jameson).

     II. HOW IS THE ACCURACY OF THIS PART OF THE OLD BOOK THEREBY CONFIRMED! It is now a favourite cannon of scientific men, that whatever cannot be verified must be relegated to the past and forgotten. To this there can be no objection, if those who insist on this negative will insist equally on the reciprocal positive, and say that whatever can be verified must be accepted. For it would be simply a proof, either of discreditable ignorance or of perversity, if men were to deny or to spurn the repeated verifications of the words of Moses in the subsequent course of history.

And it is of no use for men to declaim against the possibility of miracles, when there is the standing miracle before our eye, of some superhuman knowledge having forecast, three thousand years ago, precisely the line along which Hebrew history would move, down till the present day. While there is also this difference between miracle in mighty works, and miracle in prophetic words: The proof of the works is most clear to those who see them at the time; it may possibly diminish with the lapse of years. That of a prophetic word is nil at the time: it awaits confirmation from the lapse of years. And as long as our present historical records stand, so long will there remain the confirmation of the precision with which Israel’s lawgiver, speaking in the name of Jehovah, laid down beforehand the lines along which the Jewish nation should move for thousands of years. When we put together the land and the Book, the work and the word, and see the correspondence between them, we cannot but say, “This is the finger of God!”

     Ver.
29.—Secret things. “Secret things belong unto the Lord our God.” So says the great lawgiver. On a not dissimilar topic, Bishop Butler says, “We do not know the whole of anything.” Is it not so? Who can tell all about a stone or about a blade of grass? Who can aver that the furthest star has been yet discovered, or tell us what lies beyond it? There are secrets among the minute; there are secrets among the vast.

     I. LET US MAKE A DISTINCTION AS TO THE MANNER, KIND, OR DEGREE OF SECRECY. 1. Some things are secret, awaiting fuller discovery to reveal them. 2. Some things are secret, but await the unfolding of events in God’s providence. 3. Some things are secret in one sense, but not in another. We often know manifestations, but not essences; phenomena, but not noumena; facts, but not modes or reasons. 4. There are some secret things which are altogether unknowable, and must long remain so; e.g. Who can give an account of the reason why sin was permitted to enter? Who can tell whether it will always exist? Who can explain the doctrine of the Trinity? Who can descry the reason why this man had such and such suffering? etc., etc. How soon, when we come to ask questions like these, are we in “a boundless deep, where all our thoughts are drowned”!

     II. LET US INQUIRE, IN WHAT RESPECT DO SECRET THINGS BELONG UNTO GOD? They belong unto him: 1. To conceive them. 2. To will them. 3. To originate them. 4. To comprehend them. 5. To overrule them. 6. To conduct them to their final issue.

     III. LET US ASK, WHAT EFFECT SHOULD THE FACT THAT SECRET THINGS BELONG UNTO GOD HAVE UPON US? 1. It should humble us to find out how incompetent we are to scan the Divine works and ways. 2. It is obvious that we must leave secret things with him to whom alone they belong. 3. It is manifestly right to leave them with him. 4. It should give us no uneasiness to leave them there. 5. We should be fully content to leave them there. For we have (1) a revealed will of love; (2) plain and straightforward duty to discharge; (3) a full gospel of redeeming mercy; and (4) a good hope through grace. What more can we want? 6. We should be adoringly thankful that God keeps in his own hands what we could not understand, and entrusts us only with what we can. 7. Thankfully leaving in God’s hands what belongs to him, let us lovingly attend to that which belongs to us.

     Ver.
29.—Revealed things. This verse is so full of meaning that it is not easy to do even approximate justice to it in one discourse. Hence we have reserved the latter part thereof for a suggested outline of a distinct homily: “Those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this Law.” The statement here made concerning the Law of God in particular, is true of the entire Word of God as the regulator of faith and life. Three lines of thought here naturally follow on each other.

     I. WITHIN THE WORD OF GOD WE HAVE THE REVEALED MIND AND WILL OF GOD. He made known his ways unto Moses, etc. And now he hath spoken to us in his Son. The sum and substance of the Divine message is, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

     II. THE MANIFEST OBJECT OF THIS REVELATION OF AND FROM GOD IS THAT WE MAY THEREBY HAVE AN ADEQUATE GUIDE FOR FAITH AND LIFE. “That we may do all the words of this Law” is the Old Testament form of setting this. The New Testament form is, “Preaching … repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.”

     III. IN THIS RESPECT THE WORD OF GOD IS, EMPHATICALLY, “OURS.” “Those things which are revealed belong unto us,” etc. 1. They belong to us—our treasury of wealth. 2. They belong to us—our measure of responsibility. 3. They belong to us—our rule by which we shall be finally tried (
Rom. 2:1–16).

The Pulpit Commentary (23 Volume Set)

Jewish History from Alexander to Hadrian
     The Third Century

     The Ptolemaic Empire dominates the historical record of Jewish life in the third century B.C.E. From the Battle of Ipsus until the Seleucid seizure of Palestine in 198, roughly half the world’s Jews were subjects of the House of Ptolemy. (Of the other half, we possess virtually no evidence for this period.) From an Egyptian core, centered on the maritime metropolis of Alexandria, the Ptolemies projected their power across the eastern Mediterranean. Cyrenaica, Cyprus, Crete, the islands of the Aegean, the coasts of Anatolia and the Levant, along with much of the Syrian and Palestinian hinterlands, all felt the hand of Ptolemaic rule.

     Egypt itself provides the greatest wealth of documentation for Jews in the Ptolemaic realm. Third-century papyri reveal Jewish military settlements in the Fayyum, while funerary inscriptions from the vicinity of Alexandria indicate an early concentration of Jews there. This picture is reinforced by inscriptions from Schedia and Arsinoe-Crocodilopolis dedicating prayer houses to Ptolemy III (ruled 246–221 B.C.E.). The presence of one such building at Schedia on the Nile may also lend some credence to Josephus’ claim that Jews had been involved in official oversight of river traffic (Ag. Ap. 2.64).

     The vexed and ultimately insoluble problem of dating the Letter of Aristeas need not detain us. Most scholars conjecture a late second- or early first-century-B.C.E. setting; but whatever the date of its creation, Aristeas must have postdated (probably by several generations) the actual event of the Pentateuch’s translation into Greek. Since there is no convincing reason to question Alexandria as the site of the translation, we may infer that, by the end of the third century, the Ptolemaic capital supported a Greek-speaking Jewish population numerous enough to warrant such an extensive undertaking. It is unnecessary to account for the existence of this community by any single event or cause. A century of Ptolemaic rule, along with the city’s economic importance, is sufficient grounds for Alexandria’s reputation as the largest urban Jewish settlement of the Hellenistic age.

     The Libyan pentapolis of Cyrenaica was incorporated into the Ptolemaic realm already by the late fourth century. Predictably, Josephus attributes the origins of Jewish presence there to an act of Ptolemy I, bent on consolidating his hold over this tenuous frontier (Ag. Ap. 2.44). More substantial testimony for Jewish habitation of North Africa emerges only in the first century B.C.E., and so can tell us little about its possible beginnings two hundred years earlier (Ant. 14.115).

     As for Jewish settlement elsewhere in the Ptolemaic Empire (apart from Palestine), we have no direct third-century evidence. The book of 1 Maccabees, probably composed in the late second century B.C.E., contains a list of cities and countries, including Cyrene and many other communities that fell within the zone of Ptolemaic hegemony (1 Macc. 15:22–23). This list, which refers to a Roman request that the addressees extradite any Jews who may be seeking asylum among them, has sometimes been construed as evidence for Jewish habitation in those places. This, however, is neither stated nor implied in the passage, which is itself historically suspect. It is possible that Jews penetrated the islands and coasts of the Ptolemaic-controlled Mediterranean by this time or earlier, but firmer statements to this effect must await new discoveries.

     Our two primary sources for the history of Ptolemaic Palestine itself are Josephus and the so-called Zenon Papyri. Numismatic and archaeological data contribute to the assessment of this written testimony but also complicate its interpretation. Josephus’ narrative focuses upon the fortunes of the Tobiads, a clan of Jewish notables who achieved prominence as collaborators and mediators of Ptolemaic rule. These colorful tales depict Judea as a distinct ethnic unit within Palestine whose tributary relations with Alexandria are mediated by the high priest in Jerusalem—until, that is, this role is transferred to the Tobiads. Tensions with his countrymen (possibly coincident with the conquest of Palestine by the Seleucids) eventually prompt Hyrcanus, one scion of the family, to withdraw to Transjordan, where he establishes himself as an independent strongman (Ant. 12.154–222).

     Josephus’ account suffers from historical inaccuracies, and many features of the Tobiad cycle are patently folkloric. The Zenon Papyri, a dossier detailing the economic activities of an agent of the chief finance minister for Ptolemy II, reveals a much more centrally controlled fiscal regime than that envisioned by Josephus. Being occasional by its very nature, Zenon’s correspondence can offer only vignettes of Ptolemaic Palestine, not a comprehensive panorama. No reference is made in them, for example, to the high priest (or the Tobiads) as the nexus of Ptolemaic administration. Strikingly, though, one papyrus does verify a Tobiad military presence in Transjordan a half century prior to Hyrcanus’ settling in that region. Excavations have positively identified ʿAraq el-Emir and its environs with the fortified estate Josephus attributes to Hyrcanus (and possibly with the military colony of Hyrcanus’ ancestor, Tobias, associated by Zenon with “Birta in Ammanitis”). But scholarly consensus on the chronology of the surviving structures has yet to be achieved. What does emerge with certainty is that the institution of military settlement continued to be an important anchor for Macedonian control in the region, and that Jews could and did acquire power and prominence in other areas of life through that initial channel.

     Another avenue of inquiry into the history of third-century Palestine is afforded by coinage. A series of small silver denomination, dubbed by numismatists “Yehud coins,” crosscuts the boundary between the Persian and Hellenistic eras, and is coextensive with the period of Ptolemaic rule. Two features of these coins have attracted historical notice. The first is the fact that the name of the local governor (who apparently had acted as the minting authority under the Persians) disappears from the third-century issues. This absence, combined with the centrality of high priests in the literary sources, has led many to the conclusion that the Jewish high priest assumed an enlarged secular role under the Ptolemies. In addition to the Letter of Aristeas and the Tobiad romance, other texts referential to this period (1 Macc. 12:20–23; Sirach 50; 3 Maccabees 2; Hecataeus apud Diodorus 40.3.5–6) are unanimous in presenting the high priest as representative and leader of the Jewish people. These portraits may well be idealized, but the presumption that they reflect some degree of reality remains a defensible hypothesis. The modification of the coin legend Yehud to Yehudah on the later groups may indicate an administrative reorganization (perhaps during the reign of Ptolemy II). Advocates of the high priest-as-political-leader thesis often see the coins as indirect corroboration that the office was melding into a combination of cultic, diplomatic, and municipal roles. Enticing as these theories are, the numismatic evidence remains mute and therefore amenable to other interpretations. Whatever else they may point to, the coins do reveal that the coming of Ptolemaic rule did not involve a total break with existing institutions.

     But Ptolemaic rule was not to last. Seleucus I’s claim upon the lands of the Levant was never forgotten by his heirs, who, over the course of the third century, launched no fewer than five successive campaigns to recover the region. The last of these, fought between 202 and 198, definitively wrested Palestine from the Ptolemies, ushering in a century of Seleucid dominance.


The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

Take Heart
     April 17

     There will be no more… pain. --- Revelation 21:4.

     That leads me to touch on the purifying power of pain. ( Classic Sermons on Suffering (Kregel Classic Sermons Series) ) Now I am far from saying that pain always purifies. We have all known cases where it has not done so. We have known people who were hardened and embittered by the cup of suffering they had to drink. But who has not known some life that was transfigured not by the glad radiance of joy but by bearing the cross of pain? How many shallow people has pain deepened! How many hardening hearts has it made tender! How many has it checked, and checked effectively, when they were running headlong to their ruin! How many has it weaned from showy things, giving a vision that was fair and true, steadying them into a sweet sobriety as if something of the unseen were in their sight! Pain may warn us of the approach of evil. It is the alarm bell that nature rings. Pain may be used in the strong hand of God as a punishment of the sin we have committed. But never forget that far above such ministries, pain, when it is willingly accepted, is one of the choicest instruments of purifying that is wielded by the love of heaven. Fight against it and it shatters you. All the tools of God have double edges. Rebel against it as a thing of cruelty, and all the light of life may be destroyed. But take it up, absorb it in your life, weave it into the fabric of your being, and God will bring the blossom from the thorn.

     One of the hardest questions in the world is why the innocent should have to suffer so. There is no perfect answer to that question, nor ever shall be on this side of the grave. But isn’t there at least a partial answer in what I have been trying to say? If pain were a curse—and nothing but a curse—well might we doubt the justice on the throne, but if pain is a ladder to a better life, then light falls on the sufferings of the innocent. It is not the anger of heaven that is striking them. It may be the love of heaven that is blessing them.

     There are always tears and blood on the steps that lead people heavenward, to where the angels are. Mark you, not by the fraction of a penny’s weight does that lighten the guilt of anyone who causes suffering. It only shows us how the love of God can take the curse and turn it to a blessing.
--- George H. Morrison


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

On This Day
     Acts Revisited  April 17

     There are over 60 references to Ethiopia in the Bible, and Christianity there goes back to the days of Philip in Acts 8. But the modern story of the Ethiopian church also sounds like readings from the book of Acts, especially among the Wallamos. In 1927 the Sudan Interior Mission sent missionaries to evangelize this wild tribe, worshipers of Satan. During its annual “Passover” the Wallamos sacrificed a bull to Satan, sprinkling its blood on the doorposts of their houses and serving its raw flesh to every member of their families. The atmosphere smelled of demons.

     After several years a small church was established, but missionary labor was interrupted when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935. When Italian troops reached tribal areas, they demanded SIM to leave. The missionaries met a final time with Wallamos believers. When they had arrived not a single Wallamo had known of Christ. Now after 9 years, 48 native believers gathered around them. The little church worshiped, wept, and shared the Lord’s Supper. Then the 26 SIM missionaries boarded army trucks for evacuation. On April 17, 1937, their first day without missionary support, the little Wallamo church found itself having to stand on its own feet. “We knew God was faithful,” wrote missionary Raymond Davis, “that he was able to preserve what he had begun among the Wallamos. But still we wondered—if we ever come back, what will we find?”

     The invasion of Ethiopia marked the beginnings of World War II, and it wasn’t until July 4, 1943 that the missionaries returned. What they found almost defies belief. The Italian soldiers had tried to stamp out the small church. Church leaders were given 100 lashes, and one was given 400. They were unable to lie on their backs for months. Several had died. One of them, Wandaro, beaten in public, preached to the crowds between lashes. Another, Toro, stripped in the marketplace and flogged with a hippo-hide whip, bravely shouted out the gospel. Conversions multiplied, and tribal villages began sending missionaries to other villages.

     Instead of 48 believers, the returning missionaries now found—18,000.

     The Lord’s angel said to Philip, “Go south along the desert road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So Philip left. An important Ethiopian official happened to be going along that road in his chariot. … Philip ran up close and heard the man reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. … So Philip began at this place in the Scriptures and explained the good news about Jesus.
--- Acts 8:26,27a,30,35.


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

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - April 17

     "We are come to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel."
--- Hebrews 12:24.

     Reader, have you come to the blood of sprinkling? The question is not whether you have come to a knowledge of doctrine, or an observance of ceremonies, or to a certain form of experience, but have you come to the blood of Jesus? The blood of Jesus is the life of all vital godliness. If you have truly come to Jesus, we know how you came—the Holy Spirit sweetly brought you there. You came to the blood of sprinkling with no merits of your own. Guilty, lost, and helpless, you came to take that blood, and that blood alone, as your everlasting hope. You came to the cross of Christ, with a trembling and an aching heart; and oh! what a precious sound it was to you to hear the voice of the blood of Jesus! The dropping of his blood is as the music of heaven to the penitent sons of earth. We are full of sin, but the Saviour bids us lift our eyes to him, and as we gaze upon his streaming wounds, each drop of blood, as it falls, cries, “It is finished; I have made an end of sin; I have brought in everlasting righteousness.” Oh! sweet language of the precious blood of Jesus! If you have come to that blood once, you will come to it constantly. Your life will be “Looking unto Jesus.” Your whole conduct will be epitomized in this—“To whom coming.” Not to whom I have come, but to whom I am always coming. If thou hast ever come to the blood of sprinkling, thou wilt feel thy need of coming to it every day. He who does not desire to wash in it every day, has never washed in it at all. The believer ever feels it to be his joy and privilege that there is still a fountain opened. Past experiences are doubtful food for Christians; a present coming to Christ alone can give us joy and comfort. This morning let us sprinkle our door-post fresh with blood, and then feast upon the Lamb, assured that the destroying angel must pass us by.


          Evening - April 17

     "We would see Jesus." John 12:21.

     Evermore the worldling’s cry is, “Who will show us any good?” He seeks satisfaction in earthly comforts, enjoyments, and riches. But the quickened sinner knows of only one good. “O that I knew where I might find HIM!” When he is truly awakened to feel his guilt, if you could pour the gold of India at his feet, he would say, “Take it away: I want to find HIM.” It is a blessed thing for a man, when he has brought his desires into a focus, so that they all centre in one object. When he has fifty different desires, his heart resembles a mere of stagnant water, spread out into a marsh, breeding miasma and pestilence; but when all his desires are brought into one channel, his heart becomes like a river of pure water, running swiftly to fertilize the fields. Happy is he who hath one desire, if that one desire be set on Christ, though it may not yet have been realized.

     If Jesus be a soul’s desire, it is a blessed sign of divine work within. Such a man will never be content with mere ordinances. He will say, “I want Christ; I must have him—mere ordinances are of no use to me; I want himself; do not offer me these; you offer me the empty pitcher, while I am dying of thirst; give me water, or I die. Jesus is my soul’s desire. I would see Jesus!”

     Is this thy condition, my reader, at this moment? Hast thou but one desire, and is that after Christ? Then thou art not far from the kingdom of heaven. Hast thou but one wish in thy heart, and that one wish that thou mayst be washed from all thy sins in Jesus’ blood? Canst thou really say, “I would give all I have to be a Christian; I would give up everything I have and hope for, if I might but feel that I have an interest in Christ?” Then, despite all thy fears, be of good cheer, the Lord loveth thee, and thou shalt come out into daylight soon, and rejoice in the liberty wherewith Christ makes men free.

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     April 17

          BURDENS ARE LIFTED AT CALVARY

     Words and Music by John M. Moore, 1925–

     Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

     Today’s featured hymn was written in 1952 by one of our contemporary song writers, John M. Moore, currently a Baptist pastor and evangelist in Toronto, Canada. The hymn was prompted by an experience that Dr. Moore had while serving as the assistant superintendent of the Seaman’s Chapel in Glasgow, Scotland, one of that area’s outstanding evangelistic centers. He recalls:

     I wrote “Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary” after a most interesting experience. The company secretary of a large shipping firm telephoned the Seaman’s Chapel and requested that I visit a young merchant seaman who was lying critically ill in a Glasgow hospital. After getting permission from the nursing sister, I went in to visit the young sailor. I talked for a few moments and then put my hand in my case for a tract, not knowing which one I would pull out. It happened to be a tract based on The Pilgrim's Progress (Moody Classics), with a color reproduction of Pilgrim coming to the cross with a great burden on his back. I showed the young seaman this picture and told him the story in brief, adding that Pilgrim’s experience had been my experience too. I explained that when I came to the cross of Christ, my burden rolled away and my sense of sin and guilt before God was removed. He nodded his head when I asked him, “Do you feel this burden on your back today?” We prayed together and never shall I forget the smile of peace and assurance that lit up his face when he said that his burden was lifted!

     Later that night, sitting by the fireside with paper and pen, I could not get the thought out of my mind—his burden is lifted! I started writing, but never for a moment did I imagine that this little hymn would become a favorite throughout the world. Since that time, I hear of people all over the world who are being blessed and saved through the singing of this hymn.


* * * *

     Days are filled with sorrow and care;
     hearts are heavy and drear;
     burdens are lifted at Calvary—
     Jesus is very near.
     Cast your care on Jesus today;
     leave your worry and fear;
     burdens are lifted at Calvary—
     Jesus is very near.
     Troubled soul, the Savior can see
     ev’ry heartache and tear;
     burdens are lifted at Calvary—
     Jesus is very near.
     Refrain: Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Calvary, Calvary.
     Burdens are lifted at Calvary;
     Jesus is very near.


     For Today: Psalm 147:3; John 6:35; John 20:31; Colossians 1:20.

     Reach out to someone who is deeply burdened by sin and earthly cares and share your testimony of faith in Christ and the truth of this song.

Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions

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


          Chapter 14 Revelation 1:5, 6 – Part 2

     Two evidences of the love of Christ for His people are mentioned in this prayer: His cleansing of them from their sins by His own blood, and His enriching of them by the dignities He bestows upon them. But there is also a third expression and manifestation of His love that, though not distinctly expressed, is necessarily implied here, namely, His provision for them. As the result of the work that His love prompted Him to perform on their behalf, He meritoriously secured the Holy Spirit for His people (Acts 2:33). Christ therefore sends the Holy Spirit to regenerate them, to take of the things of Christ and show the same to them (John 16:14, 15), to impart an experiential and saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus, and to produce faith in their hearts so that they believe on Him to everlasting life. I say that all of this is necessarily implied, for only by these realities are they enabled truly and feelingly to exclaim “unto him that loved us,”yea, so that each of them may aver that this Christ the Son of God “loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). This is the quintessence of real blessedness: to be assured by the Spirit from the Word that I am an object of Christ's infinite and immutable love. The knowledge thereof makes Him “altogether lovely” in my esteem (Song. of Solomon 5:16), rejoices my soul, and sanctifies my affections.

          By Saving Faith, One Looks Outside Oneself to Christ

     See here the appropriating nature of saving faith. It takes hold of Christ and His sacrifice for sinners as made known in the Word of truth. It says, Here is a love letter from heaven about the glorious Gospel of the Son of God, which gives an account of Christ's love and the strongest and greatest possible proofs thereof. I see that this letter is for me, for it is addressed to sinners, yea, to the very chief of sinners. It both invites and commands me to receive this Divine Lover to myself and to believe unfeignedly in the sufficiency of His atoning blood for my sins. Therefore I take Him as He is freely proffered by the Gospel, and rely on His own word: “him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). This faith comes not by feelings of my love to Christ, but by the hearing of His love for sinners (Rom. 5:8; 10:17). True, the Holy Spirit, in the day of His power, makes impressions on the heart by the Word. Yet the ground of faith is not those impressions, but the Gospel itself. The Object of faith is not Christ working on the heart and softening it, but rather Christ as He is presented to our acceptance in the Word. What we are called upon to hear is not Christ speaking secretly within us, but Christ speaking openly, objectively, without us.

          The Blessed Fruits of Saving Faith

     A most dreadful curse is pronounced upon all who “love not the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 16:22). Solemn indeed is it to realize that that curse rests upon the vast majority of our fellows, even in those countries that are reputed to be Christian. But why does any sinner love Christ? One can only do so because he believes in the love of Christ toward sinners. He perceives the wonder and preciousness thereof; for “faith worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6), even by the love of Christ manifested toward us. It receives or takes His love to the heart. Then it works peace in the conscience, gives conscious access to God (Eph. 3:12), stirs up joy in Him, and promotes communion with and conformity to Him. That faith, implanted by the Holy Spirit, that works by love—the reflex of our apprehension and appropriation of Christ's love—slays our enmity against God, and causes us to delight in His Law (Rom. 7:22). Such faith knows, on the authority of the Word of God, that our sins—which were the cause of our separation and alienation from Him—have been washed away by the atoning blood of Christ. How inexpressibly blessed it is to know that in the fullness of time Christ appeared “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26) and that God says of all believers, “their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 10:17).

     On our trust in the Divine testimonies of the Gospel depends, to a large extent, both our practical holiness and our comfort. Our love to Christ and adoration of Him will grow or diminish in proportion to our faith in the Person and work of Christ. Where there is a personal assurance of His love, there cannot but be a joining with the saints in heaven in praising Christ for washing us from our sins (Rev. 5:9, 10). But many will object, “I still have so much sin in me; and it so often gets the mastery over me, that I dare not cherish the assurance that Christ has washed me from my sins.” If that be your case, I ask, Do you mourn over your corruptions, and earnestly desire to be forever rid of them? If so, that is proof that you are entitled to rejoice in Christ's atoning blood. God sees fit to leave sin in you, that in this life you may be kept humble before Him and marvel the more at His longsuffering. It is His appointment that the Lamb should now be eaten “with bitter herbs” (Ex. 12:8). This world is not the place of your rest. God suffers you to be harassed by your lusts, that you may look forward more eagerly to the deliverance and rest awaiting you. Though Romans 7:14-25 accurately describes your present experience, Romans 8:1 also declares, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”!

(Ro 7:14–25) 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
ESV

          The Exalted Positions and Privileges Enjoyed by Christians by Virtue of Union with Christ

     “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father.” Here is the third inspiring reason for the ascription that follows. Having owned the indebtedness of the saints to the Savior's love and sacrifice, the Apostle John now celebrates, in the language of “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Rev. 5:10; Heb. 5:10), the high dignities that He has conferred upon them. We who are children of the most High, in due measure, are made partakers of the honors of Him who is both the King of kings and our great High Priest; and the apprehension of this fact evokes a song of praise to Him. As we realize that the Lord Jesus shares His own honors with His redeemed, conferring upon them both regal dignity and priestly nearness to God, we cannot but exultantly exclaim, “To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” We were virtually made kings and priests when He contracted to fulfill the terms of the everlasting covenant, for by that engagement we were constituted such. By purchase we were made kings and priests when He paid the price of our redemption, for it was by His merits that He purchased these privileges for us. Federally we were made so when He ascended on high (Eph. 4:8; 2:6) and entered within the veil as our Forerunner (Heb. 6:19, 20). Actually we were made so at our regeneration, when we became participants in His anointing.

     “And hath made us kings and priests unto God.” Here we have the Redeemer exalting and ennobling His redeemed. This presupposes and follows upon our pardon, and is the positive result of Christ's meritorious obedience to God's Law (without which He could not have died in the place of sinners). The One who loved us has not only removed our defilements but has also restored us to the Divine favor and fellowship. Furthermore, he has secured for us a glorious reward; He took our place that we might share His. In order that we may be protected from certain insidious errors, which have brought not a few of God's children into bondage, it is important to perceive that these designations belong not merely to a very select and advanced class of Christians, but equally to all believers. It is also necessary, lest we be robbed by Dispensationalism, that we realize that these dignities pertain to us now. They are not postponed until our arrival in heaven, and still less till the dawn of the millennium. Every saint has these two honors conferred on him at once: he is a regal priest, and a priestly monarch. Herein we see the dignity and nobility of the Lord's people. The world looks upon us as mean and contemptible, but He speaks of us as “the excellent, in whom is all my delight” (Ps. 16:3).

     When Paul states in 2 Corinthians 1:21 that God “stablisheth us in Christ, and hath anointed us,” he is implying that God has made us kings and priests; for the word anointed is expressive of dignity. Kings and priests were anointed when inaugurated in their offices. Therefore when it is said that God has anointed all who are in Christ Jesus, it intimates that He has qualified and authorized them to the discharge of these high offices. In drawing a sharp contrast between true believers and false brethren and false teachers, the Apostle John says, “But ye have an unction from the Holy One . . . But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you” (1 John 2:20, 27). We have a participation in Christ's anointing (Acts 10:38), receiving the same Spirit wherewith He was anointed (a beautiful type of Christ's anointing is set forth in Ps. 133:2). The blessedness of the elect appears in that they are made both kings and priests by virtue of the Name in which they are presented before God. They who “receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). Though in all things Christ has the preeminence, being “the King of kings”—for He has been “anointed. with the oil of gladness above thy [His] fellows” (Ps. 45:7)—yet His companions are invested with royalty; and “as he is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). Oh, for faith to appropriate that fact, and for grace to conduct ourselves accordingly!

     Apparently there is a designed contrast between the two expressions, “the kings of the earth”and “hath made us kings and priests unto God.” They are kings naturally, we spiritually; they unto men, we unto God. They are merely kings, but we are both kings and priests. The dominion of earthly monarchs is but fleeting; their regal glory quickly fades. Even the glory of Solomon, which surpassed that of all the kings of the earth, was but of brief duration. But we shall be co-regents with a King the foundation of whose throne (Rev. 3:2) is indestructible, whose scepter is everlasting, and whose dominion is universal (Matthew 28:18; Rev. 21:7). We shall be clothed with immortality and vested with a glory that shall never be dimmed. Believers are kings, not in the sense that they take any part in heaven's rule over the earth, but as sharers in their Lord's triumph over Satan, sin, and the world. In that Christians are also distinguished from the angels. For they are not kings, nor will they ever reign, for they are not anointed. They have no union with the incarnate Son of God, and therefore they are not “joint-heirs with Christ” as the redeemed are (Rom. 8:17). So far from it, they are all “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Heb. 1:14). A subordinate place and a subservient task is theirs!

          The Moral Dominion Exercised by the Christian

     Christ has not only done a great work for His people, but He accomplishes a grand work in them. He not only washes them from their sins, which He hates, but He also transforms by His power their persons, which He loves. He does not leave them as He first finds them — under the dominion of Satan, sin, and the world. No, but He makes them kings. A king is one who is called to rule, who is invested with authority, and who exercises dominion; and so do believers over their enemies. True, some of the subjects we are called to rule are both strong and turbulent, yet we are “more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). The Christian is “a king, against whom there is no rising up” (Prov. 30:31). Though he may often be overcome in his person, yet he shall never be overcome in his cause. There is still a law in his members warring against the law of his mind (Rom. 8:23), yet sin shall not have dominion over him (Rom. 6:14). Once the world kept him in bondage, presuming to dictate his conduct, so that he was afraid to defy its customs and ashamed to ignore its maxims. But “whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). By God's gracious gift of faith, we are enabled to seek our portion and enjoyment in things above. Note well the words of Thomas Manton on this subject:

     “King is a name of honour, power, and ample possession. Here we reign spiritually, as we vanquish the devil, the world, and the flesh in any measure. It is a princely thing to be above those inferior things and to trample them under our feet in a holy and heavenly pride. A heathen could say, ‘He is a king that fears nothing and desires nothing.’ He that is above the hopes and fears of the world, he that hath his heart in heaven and is above temporal trifles, the ups and downs of the world, the world beneath his affections; this man is of a kingly spirit. Christ's kingdom is not of this world, neither is a believer’s. ‘Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth’ (Rev. 5:10), namely, in a spiritual way. It is a beastly thing to serve our lusts, but kingly to have our conversation in heaven and vanquish the world — to live up to our faith and love with a noble spirit. Hereafter we shall reign visibly and gloriously when we shall sit upon thrones with Christ.”

     The saints will yet judge the world, yea, and angels also (1 Cor. 6:2, 3).

A Guide to Fervent Prayer


Praying to the Lord

of the Harvest | W. Robert Godfrey





Loving the Stranger

Rosaria Butterfield | Ligonier






Be Holy

as I Am Holy | Albert Mohler





The Great Commission

Awakening | Burk Parsons






Ferguson, Godfrey, Núñez, Thomas Q&A

2018 National Conference | Ligonier





Not unto Us

O Lord: Awakening | Sinclair Ferguson






Guarding the Faith

Miguel Núñez | Ligonier





The Moment of Truth

Steven LawsonLigonier






Dispatches from the Front

Tim Keesee | Ligonier





Strength for the Weary

Derek Thomas | Ligonier






A Little Book

on the Christian Life | Burk Parsons





The Whole Christ

Sinclair Ferguson | Ligonier






Do Not Love The World

Kevin DeYoung | Ligonier





Walk by the Spirit

2018 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors
Kevin DeYoung