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Leviticus 26     Psalm 33     Ecclesiastes 9     Titus 1


Leviticus 26

Blessings for Obedience

Leviticus 26:1 “You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the LORD your God. 2 You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.

3 “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, 4 then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. 5 Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. 6 I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. 7 You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. 8 Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. 9 I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. 10 You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. 11 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. 13 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

Punishment for Disobedience

14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. 18 And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, 19 and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.

21 “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. 22 And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.

23 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

27 “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. 31 And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. 32 And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. 33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.

34 “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. 36 And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them.

40 “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes. 44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God. 45 But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.”

46 These are the statutes and rules and laws that the LORD made between himself and the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai.


Psalm 33

The Steadfast Love of the LORD

Psalm 33 

Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
2  Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
3  Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

4  For the word of the LORD is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
5  He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.

6  By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
7  He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses.

8  Let all the earth fear the LORD;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
9  For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.

10  The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11  The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations.
12  Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

13  The LORD looks down from heaven;
he sees all the children of man;
14  from where he sits enthroned he looks out
on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15  he who fashions the hearts of them all
and observes all their deeds.
16  The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17  The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.

18  Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19  that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine.

20  Our soul waits for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.
21  For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
22  Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.


Ecclesiastes 9

Death Comes to All

Ecclesiastes 9:1 But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. 2 It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4 But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.

Enjoy Life with the One You Love

7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.
8 Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Wisdom Better Than Folly

11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.

13 I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14 There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.

17 The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.


Titus 1

Greeting

Titus 1:1  Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

Qualifications for Elders

5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

The Reformation Study Bible


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The Cults as Theological Judgment

By Albert Mohler 10/1/2005

     Writing early in the last century, J. K. Van Baalen argued that “the cults are the unpaid bills of the church.” Van Baalen’s influential work, The Chaos of the Cults, represented one of the first comprehensive efforts to evaluate the various cults of the day — Spiritism, Theosophy, Christian Science, Rosicrucianism, Swedenborgianism, Mormonism, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others — from the vantage point of orthodox Christianity.

     In Van Baalen’s analysis, orthodox Christianity had opened the door for the cults to proliferate throughout the culture. Sidelined by pragmatism, distracted by divisions, and committed to a “smallest common-denominator faith,” the orthodox churches had left the larger culture, and even some of their own members, unprepared to meet the challenge of the cults.

     If anything, the problem is more acute in our own day. The seductions of postmodernism and the complexities of a pluralistic culture compound the difficulty involved in engaging, understanding, and confronting the cults.

     In one sense, the rise of religious cults is nothing new. The religious pluralism confronted by the apostle Paul at Mars Hill must have represented something like a foreshadowing of postmodern America. This nation’s experiment in religious liberty provided cults with a safe environment for growth even as the spent emotionalism of American revivalism left a vacuum the cults were only too willing to fill. Writing in the 1920s, Charles W. Ferguson described the United States as “overrun with messiahs.”

     These new religious movements attracted both sociological and political attention. Walter R. Martin, whose book, The Kingdom of the Cults, became an evangelical classic, resisted the temptation to reduce the challenge of the cults to sociology. His particular concern was with those cults that, while deviating from historic Christianity, nonetheless insisted “that they are entitled to be classified as Christians.” Martin would cite Professor Lee Belford of New York University as stating, “The problem is essentially theological where the cults are concerned. The answer of the Church must be theological and doctrinal. No sociological or cultural evaluation will do.”

     Confronted by the challenges of the Enlightenment and its aftermath, many Christian denominations appeared confused and defensive about Christianity’s most crucial truth claims. Troubled by questions such as the faith of the unevangelized, the doctrine of predestination, and the anticipation of hell, many Christian churches appeared to lack confidence in biblical doctrines. Beyond this, the existence of rival Christian denominations, focused on debates over what some consider to be secondary issues, left the ground open for movements such as Mormonism to step in and claim to resolve those vexing difficulties.

     Inevitably, any Christian defense had to be rooted in biblical authority. The distinctive Christian revelation claim required orthodox believers to look backward into a distant past in order to define and defend Christianity. As a restoration movement, Joseph Smith and the Mormons claimed to speak with the authority of living apostolic witnesses whose experience was presumably far closer to that of contemporary Americans.

     Against the Christian doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ alone, Mormonism promoted a form of universalism. According to Joseph Smith and later Mormon teachers, hell would be inhabited only by a few “sons of perdition” who had obstinately rejected the light of Mormon doctrine. While orthodox Christians faced the difficult question of unevangelized persons, Mormonism assured the public that almost all persons would find some place in paradise.

     In other words, the Mormons capitalized on perceived doctrinal difficulties even as many Christian churches appeared to be befuddled, perplexed, or unwilling to confront the challenges. Confused by the emotional excesses of revivalism, many Americans saw Mormonism as an intellectually satisfying alternative to orthodox Christianity. Moreover, the Mormons were able to promote their system as an updating of Christianity for a new age — complete with a new book and new ecclesiastical authorities.

     This serves to remind contemporary Christians that J. K. Van Baalen was right — the cults are “the unpaid bills of the church.” Churches that surrender in the face of philosophical challenges, that reduce their doctrinal substance to minimal doctrines, and that fail to offer substantial theological arguments grounded in Scripture, leave their own members in a state of vulnerability to the cults and their arguments. Theological immaturity and doctrinal ambiguity represent an open invitation for cults old and new to proliferate.

     Moreover, when Christians appear befuddled, embarrassed, or inept in the defense of the faith, the Church’s witness is inevitably weakened. These “unpaid bills” demand to be paid.


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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.

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Cults ‘R’ Us

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 10/01/2005

     There are any number of ways that cultural confusion always walks down the aisle with relativism. Divorce, in this instance, isn’t an option. If, for instance, we all agree that there is no such thing as right and wrong, then what do we do with, say, people who like to torture animals? Or, better yet, what do you do with people who like to hijack airplanes and kill thousands of people? After all, jihad against Americans is “right to them.” How can we object, when all we object against is objecting?

nbsp;    The same is true theologically. Time was that even those outside the church were interested if not worried about the proliferation of various cults. But how does a nation that holds this truth as self-evident, that no religion is more or less true than another, distinguish between a religion, or a faith-group on the one hand, and a cult and cultists on the other hand?

nbsp;    The broader culture won’t draw the line at the doctrine of the incarnation or the Trinity. (Indeed, many inside the church won’t make that their line in the sand either. Several of the most influential “evangelicals” of the past fifteen years have denied the doctrine of the Trinity.) So where will they draw the line?

nbsp;    The mark of a cult, in the minds of the West in the twenty-first century, isn’t the assertion of gross error, but the gross error of assertion. Respectable religion is that religion that is held loosely, that may, if it must, assert this belief or that, so long as it does not deny any other assertion or belief. Rome gets a pass because both John Paul II and Benedictus affirm that there are many pathways to heaven, that what counts is sincerity.

nbsp;    The sad truth, however, is this same thinking has found a home in the church. We don’t determine something is a cult by the doctrines it affirms, but the way in which it affirms its doctrines. The distinguishing mark of the cult is authority. I know of what I speak.

nbsp;    A few years ago, a dear friend who had just recently joined the church where I serve entered into a conversation with the young lady serving at the local coffee shop. The young lady had been homeschooled, and was a member in good standing at a very conservative local church. The young lady asked my friend, “Where do you go to church?” He replied with great zeal, “My wife and daughter and I just became members of Saint Peter Presbyterian church in Bristol.” The joy left the young lady’s face, as she responded, “That’s a cult.”

nbsp;    My friend wasn’t offended, nor defensive, but he was interested in discovering where this idea came from. “Well,” he offered, “can you give me some notion of where you got that idea?” “Yes,” she answered with no hesitation, “I was over at the Sproul’s house one time. R.C. asked his wife Denise to do something…” and therein was the dramatic pause, “and she did it, right away.” This was her case against our church. Because my dear wife happily fulfilled my request, without grumbling or complaining, we are a cult.

nbsp;    How far we have come. Once cults were defined by a failure to submit to an objective standard. Now a cult is that place that affirms the existence of an objective standard. Which ought to help us understand the true nature of our culture’s embrace of relativism.

nbsp;    Relativism isn’t merely an errant philosophical understanding of epistemology and ethics. It isn’t a mere wrong turn in someone’s sincere journey looking for the truth. It isn’t a silly, yet benign, embracing of folly. It is instead a false religion. Irony of ironies, it comes with a confession of faith, and law written in stone. The confession is this, “All confessions are not true.” The law is this, “Thou shalt not affirm anything.” Failure to keep the law will bring forth at least social ostracism, and at worst, jail time. And no religion has proponents with greater evangelistic zeal. They will not stop until everyone affirms in unison that each of us constructs our own reality. They will tolerate no intolerance, except of course their own.

nbsp;    They are winning. Already, according to George Barna’s polls, more than 50 percent of people who describe themselves as evangelical Christians, affirm as true the claim that there is no objective truth. That number will surely climb, as the rest of us more and more get marginalized first as fundamentalists, then as extremists, and finally, as cultists. Our calling, however, isn’t to paint ourselves as reasonable. We don’t whip out our relativist credentials, and insist that we are no danger to the reigning religion. We confront the false religion. We tear down the stronghold. We take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. We do this, because we fear no man; we fear God.

     Our calling is to believe this objective truth, that those who are persecuted for His name’s sake, are blessed. Our calling is to confess that name before men, not as an option, not as God-to-me, not as something true in my heart. No, we must confess that Christ is Lord over all, that He speaks all truth, and that we must obey — right away. To put it another way, we must confess before men that He is the way, not a way, the truth, not a truth, and the life.

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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

God in the Hands

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 11/01/2005

     It was a strange time for me. I was attending a high school that was so nominal in its commitment to the Christian faith that the high school English teacher was an atheist. Still, his was among my favorite classes, both because of what we read and because of the things we talked about. While attending this school during the week, I also attended a decidedly Christian Sunday school. The late Dr. John H. Gerstner, my father’s mentor, was my Sunday school teacher. During the week, and during the weekend, for a delightful several months, we were studying the work of the Puritans. Dr. Gerstner’s class was called “The Puritans: The Church at Its Best.” Dr. Kupersmith’s tenth-grade English class was called just that, but we read snippets from several Puritan authors as a part of our survey of American literature. We read a bit of Cotton Mather’s masterwork, Magnalia Christi Americana, and we read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

     Although I was a convinced Calvinist at the time, I must confess that it seemed a little strange that we were reading Puritans in English class. It was a sort of a good news, bad news thing. We were reading the works of men who poured their lives into striving for change, to save souls, and to shape a culture. And we were reading them like curious old, cultural artifacts, as if the proclamation of the Word of God could be turned into sociological dinosaur bones. It was true enough, though it was supposed to shock us, that people who thought this way once shaped the nation. It was true enough that it was true enough that strangest of all, one Sunday morning my atheist English teacher showed up to hear my hero and Sunday school teacher expound on the Puritans and how their thought shaped their culture. I prayed during the whole class that God would show Him the light. Indeed He did. But this man still preferred the darkness.

     I think that Sunday morning at the feet of Dr. Gerstner at the least did this for my teacher, it helped him understand me a bit better. When the English class read through Edward’s sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” most of the students were repulsed. Well, to be more accurate, everyone in the room but me was repulsed. They couldn’t imagine that anyone could sit still to hear a sermon in which God was portrayed so harshly. If you are unfamiliar with the sermon, the imagery that shapes it is simple enough. Edwards encourages those in his audience to understand their situation, that they are like a spider, dangling on a single strand of web, precariously hanging above a raging fire. God holds the upper end of that strand, such that all that separates you and that burning cauldron is that gossamer thread. We didn’t, as a class, talk about God per se, but Edward’s perception of him. They knew for sure that God wasn’t at all like that. They were just shocked that anyone could think he was. But of course, they figured, this was a long time ago, practically all the way back to the dark ages.

     After all the bellowing from my classmates finished, I gingerly raised my hand. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but I think you all have completely missed the point of this sermon. Edwards wasn’t trying to paint God as an ogre. He wasn’t trying to impress upon his flock the harsh judgment of God. No, this is a sermon about the grace of God.” There was a brief and stunned silence as the class took in my hypothesis. When they understood what I said, they saw Edwards in a new light. He wasn’t the world’s worst Calvinist — I was. They bellowed like so many spiders dangling over a fire. Grace?! Grace?! How in the world could I argue that this was about grace?

     I went on to explain, though I doubt I persuaded anyone, that the grace was simple enough to see. It was found in that gossamer thread, and in the hand that held it. Edward’s isn’t telling his audience how mean God is to hold them over the fire, but how gracious He is that He hadn’t yet dropped them in the fire.

     The difference, then, between Puritan culture and our culture isn’t found, in one sense, in differing conceptions of God. Rather, it is found in different understandings of man. The culture’s wholesale rejection of the theology that served as its foundation isn’t of the predestinating God, but of the total depravity of man. The world, and that which is of the world in the church, hate the Reformed faith because of what it rightly tells us we deserve. We affirm we have earned the wrath of God, while they affirm God has earned our wrath. Which is why our attempts at soft-selling the living God have failed so miserably. As we, in trying to call the lost to Christ cover over the wrath of God, we in turn cover over the one thing they need to grasp. Everyone’s already alright with God, because we aren’t spiders, but the pinnacle of creation. Indeed, we are so committed to our own goodness that we leave God dangling over the fire, finding Him guilty for not making all our dreams come true.

     Perhaps by God’s grace, one day students will be shocked at how we in this century misunderstood the nature of God and the nature of man.

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

R.C. Sproul Jr. Books

A Snare in Your Midst

By R.C. Sproul 10/01/2005

     When is a church not a church? This question has received various answers throughout history, depending on one’s perspective and evaluation of certain groups. There exists no monolithic interpretation of what constitutes a true church. However, in classic Christian orthodoxy certain standards have emerged that define what we call “catholic,” or universal, Christianity. This universal Christianity points to the essential truths that have been set forth historically in the ecumenical creeds of the first millennium and are part of the confession of virtually every Christian denomination historically. However, there are at least two ways in which a religious group fails to meet the standards of being a church.

     The first is when they lapse into a state of apostasy. Apostasy occurs when a church leaves its historic moorings, abandons its historic confessional position, and degenerates into a state where either essential Christian truths are blatantly denied or the denial of such truths is widely tolerated.

     Another test of apostasy is at the moral level. A church becomes apostate de facto when it sanctions and encourages gross and heinous sins. Such practices may be found today in the controversial systems of denominations, such as mainline Episcopalianism and mainline Presbyterianism, both of which have moved away from their historic confessional moorings as well their confessional stands on basic ethical issues.

     The decline of a church into apostasy must be differentiated from those communions that never actually achieved the status of a viable church in the first place. It is with respect to this phenomenon that the consideration of cults and heretical sects is usually delineated. Here again we find no universal monolithic definition for what it is that constitutes a cult or a sect. Both terms are capable of more than one meaning or denotation. For example, all churches that practice rites and rituals have at their core a concern for their “cultus.” The cultus is the organized body of worship that is found in any church. However, this cultic dimension of legitimate churches can be distorted to such a degree that the use of the term cult is applied in its pejorative sense. For example, the dictionary may define the term “cult” as a religion that is considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist. When we talk about cults in this regard, what comes to mind are the radical distortions in fringe groups, such as the Jonestown phenomenon. There, a group of devotees attached themselves to their megalomaniacal leader, Jim Jones, and illustrated their devotion to such a degree that they willingly submitted to Jones’ direction to take their Kool-aid laced with cyanide. This is cultic behavior with a vengeance. The same kind of thing could be seen among the Branch Davidians, the followers of Father Divine in Philadelphia, and other lesser groups that have come and gone over the course of church history.

     It is noteworthy that almost any compendium that treats the history of cults will include within its studies large bodies of religion such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nevertheless, the sheer size and endurance of such groups tend to give them more credibility as time passes and as more people associate with their beliefs. When we look at groups, such as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we find elements of truth within their confessions. Yet at the same time, they express clear denials of what historically may be considered essential truths of the Christian faith. This certainly includes their unabashed denial of the deity of Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have this denial in common. Though both place Jesus in some type of exalted position within their respective creeds, He does not attain the level of deity. Both groups consider Christ an exalted creature. Following the thinking of the ancient heretic Arius, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that the New Testament does not teach the deity of Christ; rather, they argue it teaches He is the exalted firstborn of all creation. They say He is the first creature made by God, who then is given superior power and authority over the rest of creation. Though Jesus is lifted up in such Christology, it still falls far short of Christian orthodoxy, which confesses the deity of Christ. Passages in the New Testament such as Jesus being “begotten” and His being the “firstborn of creation” are incorrectly used to justify this creaturely definition of Christ.

     In the first three centuries of Christian history, the biblical passage that dominated reflection on the church’s understanding of Christ was the prologue of the gospel of John. This prologue contains the affirmation of Christ’s being the Logos, or the eternal Word of God. John declares in his gospel that the Logos was “with God in the beginning, and was God.” This “with God” suggests a distinction between the Logos and God, but the identification by the linking verb “was” indicates an identity between the Logos and God. The way in which this identity is denied by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cultists is by substituting the indefinite article in the text, rendering it that the Logos was “a god.” In order to wrest this interpretation from the text, one must have a prior affirmation of some form of polytheism. Such polytheism is utterly foreign to Judeo-Christian theology, where deity is understood in monotheistic terms.

     The threat of cultic distortions is something the church must struggle with in every generation and in every age. It is also important to understand that even legitimate churches may contain within it practices that reflect the behavior of the cults. Cults can emerge within the structures of certain churches. In the Roman communion, for example, we see in Haiti a mixture of Roman Catholic theology with the cultic practices of voodoo. Also in that same communion there is no question that large groups of people venerate Mary to a degree that is beyond the limits espoused by that church itself, degenerating their worship into a cult mentality. But such can be the case among Lutherans, Presbyterians, or any group, when orthodoxy is sacrificed for the devotion to idols.


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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:

The Fine Points of Calvinism

By R.C. Sproul 11/01/2005

     The late theologian Cornelius Van Til once made the observation that Calvinism is not to be identified with the so-called five points of Calvinism. Rather, Van Til concluded that the five points function as a pathway, or a bridge, to the entire structure of Reformed theology. Likewise, Charles Spurgeon argued that Calvinism is merely a nickname for biblical theology. These titans of the past understood that the essence of Reformed theology cannot be reduced to five particular points that arose as points of controversy centuries ago in Holland with the Remonstrants, who objected to five specific points of the system of doctrine found in historic Calvinism. Those five points have become associated with the acrostic TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints.

     It is the task of this article to approach the question of Reformed theology from the perspective of what is called in philosophy the via negativa. This method of approaching truth defines things in terms of what they are not; hence, it is called the “way of negation.” For example, when we speak of the nature of God, we say that He is infinite, which simply means that He is “not finite.” This is an example of the use of the way of negation. When we have a clear understanding of how to employ this method, the way of affirmation, its opposite, becomes manifest. As we look at what Reformed theology is not, it helps us to understand what it is.

     We begin by saying that Reformed theology is not a chaotic set of disconnected ideas. Rather, Reformed theology is systematic. We live in a time when systems of thought are decried in a postmodern world, not only in the secular arena of ideas, but even within Christian seminaries. Historically, the principle of systematic theology has been this: The Bible, being the Word of God, reflects the coherence and unity of the God whose Word it is. To be sure, it would be a distortion to take a foreign system of thought and force it upon Scripture, making Scripture conform to it as if it were some kind of procrustean bed. That is not the goal of sound, systematic theology. Rather, true systematic theology seeks to understand the system of theology that is contained within the whole scope of sacred Scripture. It does not impose ideas upon the Bible; it listens to the ideas that are proclaimed by the Bible and understands them in a coherent way.

     The next point we make by way of negation is that Reformed theology is not anthropocentric. That is to say, Reformed theology is not centered on human beings. The central focal point of Reformed theology is God, and it’s the doctrine of God that permeates the whole of the substance of Reformed thought. Thus Reformed theology, by way of affirmation, can be called theocentric.

     Though it is not often helpful to speak about paradoxes in our understanding of truth, there is nevertheless one paradox I like to maintain. On the one hand, the doctrine of God proper, that is, the doctrine of the nature, attributes, and character of God, affirmed by various creeds of Reformation thought, has little that is different from other theologies and other expressions of faith found among Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, and the like. At the same time, and herein lies the paradox, the most distinctive dimension of Reformed theology is its doctrine of God. Though it sounds like I’m writing out of both sides of my pen, let me hasten to clarify this paradoxical assertion. After Reformed theology articulates its doctrine of the nature and character of God in the first principles of its system of doctrine, it does not thereafter forget its affirmations when it addresses other doctrines. Rather, our understanding of the character of God is primary and determinant with respect to our understanding of all other doctrines. That is to say, our understanding of salvation has as its control factor, right at the heart of it, our understanding of the character of God.

     Reformed theology is not anti-catholic. This may seem strange since Reformed theology grows directly out of the Protestant movement of the sixteenth century, which movement was called “Protestant” because it involved a “protest” against the teaching and activity of Roman Catholicism. But the term catholic refers to catholic Christianity, the essence of which may be found in the ecumenical creeds of the first thousand years of church history, particularly the early creeds and church councils, such as the council of Nicea in the fourth century and the council of Chalcedon in the fifth century. That is to say, those creeds contain common articles of faith shared by all denominations that embrace orthodox Christianity, doctrines such as the Trinity and the atonement of Christ. The doctrines affirmed by all Christians are at the heart and core of Calvinism. Calvinism does not depart on a search for a new theology and reject the common base of theology that the whole church shares.

     Reformed theology is not Roman Catholic in its understanding of justification. This is simply to say that Reformed theology is evangelical in the historical sense of the word. In this regard, Reformed theology stands strongly and firmly with Martin Luther and the magisterial Reformers in their articulation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It affirms the solas of the Reformation, which are the formal and material causes of the sixteenth-century Reformation. Those two principles are the doctrines of sola Scriptura and sola fide. Neither of these doctrines are explicitly declared in the five points of Calvinism; yet, in a sense, they become the foundation for the other characteristics of Reformed theology. These introductory statements about what Reformed theology is not are given a much broader and deeper expression in my book What Is Reformed Theology?, which was written to help laypersons and Christian leaders understand the essence of Reformed theology. In this article I am giving the bare-bones approach to the doctrine, reminding Tabletalk readers that Reformed theology so far transcends the mere five points of Calvinism that it is an entire life and world view. It is covenantal. It is sacramental. It is committed to transforming culture. It is subordinate to the operation of God the Holy Spirit, and it has a rich framework for understanding the entirety of the council of God revealed in the Bible.


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

R.C. Sproul Books:

Leviticus 26; Psalm 33; Eccl. 9; Titus 1

By Don Carson 4/22/2018

     One of the common features of ancient suzerainty treaties — treaties between some regional superpower and a vassal state (see March 13) — was some section near the end that spelled out the advantages of compliance and the dangers of noncompliance. Inevitably, these blessings and curses were primarily promised the vassal states.

     In many respects, Leviticus 26 mirrors this ancient pattern, promising blessings for obedience (i.e., for compliance with the covenant) and punishments for disobedience (i.e., for noncompliance with the covenant). The pattern is repeated, somewhat modified, for the covenant renewal in Deuteronomy (see especially Deut. 27 — 30).

     We must not think of the alternatives offered in this chapter as promises made to mere individuals, still less as a simple scheme for acquiring eternal life. That the promises are not individualistic is demonstrated by the nature of many of the blessings and curses. When God sends rain, for instance, he does not send it on discrete individuals, but on regions, in this case on the nation, the covenant community; and similarly when God sends plague, or sends his people into exile. The same evidence shows that what is at stake is not in the first instance the acquiring of eternal life, but the well-being of the covenant community in terms of the blessings promised them.

     Nevertheless, we may reflect on two of the many parallels between these old covenant sanctions and what still pertains under the new covenant.

     First, obedience is still required under the new covenant, even though some of the stipulations to be obeyed have changed. It is therefore not surprising that John 3:36 contrasts the person who believes in the Son with the one who disobeys (NIV: rejects) him. Those who persist in gross sin are specifically said to be excluded from the kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-11). The Apocalypse repeatedly contrasts those who “overcome” (i.e., in fidelity to Christ Jesus) with those who are cowardly, unbelieving, vile (e.g., Rev. 21:7 — 8 ). The undergirding reason is that the new covenant provides for a new nature. Though we do not achieve perfection until the consummation, an utter lack of transformation under the terms of such a covenant is unthinkable. The result is that judgment is spelled out on both unbelief and disobedience; the two hang together.

     Second, one of the striking features of the punishments listed in Leviticus 26 is how God gradually ratchets them up, culminating finally in exile. Disease, drought, military reverses, plague, the dreadful famine of siege conditions (26:29), and even a sovereignly induced fearfulness (26:36) all take their toll. The Lord’s forbearance with covenant-breakers, over generations of delayed judgment, is massive. But the only real solution is confession of sin and renewal of the covenant (26:40-42).


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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).

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Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 41

O LORD, Be Gracious to Me
41 To The Choirmaster - A Psalm of David.

1 Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him;
2 the LORD protects him and keeps him alive;
he is called blessed in the land;
you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
3 The LORD sustains him on his sickbed;
in his illness you restore him to full health.

4 As for me, I said, “O LORD, be gracious to me;
heal me, for I have sinned against you!”
5 My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die, and his name perish?”
6 And when one comes to see me, he utters empty words,
while his heart gathers iniquity;
when he goes out, he tells it abroad.
7 All who hate me whisper together about me;
they imagine the worst for me.

ESV Study Bible

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     12. This necessity our opponents do not at all consider. Therefore, when we say that believers ought to feel firmly assured, they think we are saying the absurdest thing in the world. But if they had any experience in true prayer, they would assuredly understand that God cannot be duly invoked without this firm sense of the Divine benevolence. But as no man can well perceive the power of faith, without at the same time feeling it in his heart, what profit is there in disputing with men of this character, who plainly show that they have never had more than a vain imagination? The value and necessity of that assurance for which we contend is learned chiefly from prayer. Every one who does not see this gives proof of a very stupid conscience. Therefore, leaving those who are thus blinded, let us fix our thoughts on the words of Paul, that God can only be invoked by such as have obtained a knowledge of his mercy from the Gospel, and feel firmly assured that that mercy is ready to be bestowed upon them. What kind of prayer would this be? "O Lord, I am indeed doubtful whether or not thou art inclined to hear me; but being oppressed with anxiety I fly to thee that if I am worthy, thou mayest assist me." None of the saints whose prayers are given in Scripture thus supplicated. Nor are we thus taught by the Holy Spirit, who tells us to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need," (Heb. 4:16); and elsewhere teaches us to "have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Christ," (Eph. 3:12). This confidence of obtaining what we ask, a confidence which the Lord commands, and all the saints teach by their example, we must therefore hold fast with both hands, if we would pray to any advantage. The only prayer acceptable to God is that which springs (if I may so express it) from this presumption of faith, and is founded on the full assurance of hope. He might have been contented to use the simple name of faith, but he adds not only confidence, but liberty or boldness, that by this mark he might distinguish us from unbelievers, who indeed like us pray to God, but pray at random. Hence, the whole Church thus prays "Let thy mercy O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee," (Ps. 33:22). The same condition is set down by the Psalmist in another passage, "When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know, for God is for me," (Ps. 56:9). Again, "In the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up," (Ps. 5:3). From these words we gather, that prayers are vainly poured out into the air unless accompanied with faith, in which, as from a watchtower, we may quietly wait for God. With this agrees the order of Paul's exhortation. For before urging believers to pray in the Spirit always, with vigilance and assiduity, he enjoins them to take "the shield of faith," "the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," (Eph. 6:16-18). Let the reader here call to mind what I formerly observed, that faith by no means fails though accompanied with a recognition of our wretchedness, poverty, and pollution. How much soever believers may feel that they are oppressed by a heavy load of iniquity, and are not only devoid of every thing which can procure the favour of God for them, but justly burdened with many sins which make him an object of dread, yet they cease not to present themselves, this feeling not deterring them from appearing in his presence, because there is no other access to him. Genuine prayer is not that by which we arrogantly extol ourselves before God, or set a great value on any thing of our own, but that by which, while confessing our guilt, we utter our sorrows before God, just as children familiarly lay their complaints before their parents. Nay, the immense accumulation of our sins should rather spur us on and incite us to prayer. Of this the Psalmist gives us an example, "Heal my soul: for I have sinned against thee," (Ps. 41:4). I confess, indeed, that these stings would prove mortal darts, did not God give succour; but our heavenly Father has, in ineffable kindness, added a remedy, by which, calming all perturbation, soothing our cares, and dispelling our fears he condescendingly allures us to himself; nay, removing all doubts, not to say obstacles, makes the way smooth before us.

13. And first, indeed in enjoining us to pray, he by the very injunction convicts us of impious contumacy if we obey not. He could not give a more precise command than that which is contained in the psalms: "Call upon me in the day of trouble," (Ps. 50:15). But as there is no office of piety more frequently enjoined by Scripture, there is no occasion for here dwelling longer upon it. "Ask," says our Divine Master, "and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you," (Mt. 7:7). Here, indeed, a promise is added to the precept, and this is necessary. For though all confess that we must obey the precept, yet the greater part would shun the invitation of God, did he not promise that he would listen and be ready to answer. These two positions being laid down, it is certain that all who cavillingly allege that they are not to come to God directly, are not only rebellious and disobedient but are also convicted of unbelief, inasmuch as they distrust the promises. There is the more occasion to attend to this, because hypocrites, under a pretense of humility and modesty, proudly contemn the precept, as well as deny all credit to the gracious invitation of God; nay, rob him of a principal part of his worship. For when he rejected sacrifices, in which all holiness seemed then to consist, he declared that the chief thing, that which above all others is precious in his sight, is to be invoked in the day of necessity. Therefore, when he demands that which is his own, and urges us to alacrity in obeying, no pretexts for doubt, how specious soever they may be, can excuse us. Hence, all the passages throughout Scripture in which we are commanded to pray, are set up before our eyes as so many banners, to inspire us with confidence. It were presumption to go forward into the presence of God, did he not anticipate us by his invitation. Accordingly, he opens up the way for us by his own voice, "I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God," (Zech. 13:9). We see how he anticipates his worshippers, and desires them to follow, and therefore we cannot fear that the melody which he himself dictates will prove unpleasing. Especially let us call to mind that noble description of the divine character, by trusting to which we shall easily overcome every obstacle: "O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come," (Ps. 65:2). What can be more lovely or soothing than to see God invested with a title which assures us that nothing is more proper to his nature than to listen to the prayers of suppliants? Hence the Psalmist infers, that free access is given not to a few individuals, but to all men, since God addresses all in these terms, "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me," (Ps. 50:15). David, accordingly, appeals to the promise thus given in order to obtain what he asks: "Thou, O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, hast revealed to thy servant, saying, I will build thee an house: therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray this prayer unto thee" (2 Sam. 7:27). Here we infer, that he would have been afraid but for the promise which emboldened him. So in another passage he fortifies himself with the general doctrine, "He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him," (Ps. 145:19). Nay, we may observe in The Psalms how the continuity of prayer is broken, and a transition is made at one time to the power of God, at another to his goodness, at another to the faithfulness of his promises. It might seem that David, by introducing these sentiments, unseasonably mutilates his prayers; but believers well know by experience, that their ardor grows languid unless new fuel be added, and, therefore, that meditation as well on the nature as on the word of God during prayer, is by no means superfluous. Let us not decline to imitate the example of David, and introduce thoughts which may reanimate our languid minds with new vigor.

14. It is strange that these delightful promises affect us coldly, or scarcely at all, so that the generality of men prefer to wander up and down, forsaking the fountain of living waters, and hewing out to themselves broken cisterns, rather than embrace the divine liberality voluntarily offered to them. "The name of the Lord," says Solomon, "is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it, and is safe." Joel, after predicting the fearful disaster which was at hand, subjoins the following memorable sentence: "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered." This we know properly refers to the course of the Gospel. Scarcely one in a hundred is moved to come into the presence of God, though he himself exclaims by Isaiah, "And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." This honour he elsewhere bestows upon the whole Church in general, as belonging to all the members of Christ: "He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him." [467] My intention, however, as I already observed, is not to enumerate all, but only select some admirable passages as a specimen how kindly God allures us to himself, and how extreme our ingratitude must be when with such powerful motives our sluggishness still retards us. Wherefore, let these words always resound in our ears: "The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth," (Ps. 145:18). Likewise those passages which we have quoted from Isaiah and Joel, in which God declares that his ear is open to our prayers, and that he is delighted as with a sacrifice of sweet savour when we cast our cares upon him. The special benefit of these promises we receive when we frame our prayer, not timorously or doubtingly, but when trusting to his word whose majesty might otherwise deter us, we are bold to call him Father, he himself deigning to suggest this most delightful name. Fortified by such invitations it remains for us to know that we have therein sufficient materials for prayer, since our prayers depend on no merit of our own, but all their worth and hope of success are founded and depend on the promises of God, so that they need no other support, and require not to look up and down on this hand and on that. It must therefore be fixed in our minds, that though we equal not the lauded sanctity of patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, yet as the command to pray is common to us as well as them, and faith is common, so if we lean on the word of God, we are in respect of this privilege their associates. For God declaring, as has already been seen, that he will listen and be favourable to all, encourages the most wretched to hope that they shall obtain what they ask; and, accordingly, we should attend to the general forms of expression, which, as it is commonly expressed, exclude none from first to last; only let there be sincerity of heart, self-dissatisfaction humility, and faith, that we may not, by the hypocrisy of a deceitful prayer, profane the name of God. Our most merciful Father will not reject those whom he not only encourages to come, but urges in every possible way. Hence David's method of prayer to which I lately referred: "And now, O Lord God, thou art that God, and thy words be true, and thou hast promised this goodness unto thy servant, that it may continue for ever before thee" (2 Sam. 7:28). So also, in another passage, "Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant," (Psalm 119:76). And the whole body of the Israelites, whenever they fortify themselves with the remembrance of the covenant, plainly declare, that since God thus prescribes they are not to pray timorously (Gen. 32:13). In this they imitated the example of the patriarchs, particularly Jacob, who, after confessing that he was unworthy of the many mercies which he had received of the Lord's hand, says, that he is encouraged to make still larger requests, because God had promised that he would grant them. But whatever be the pretexts which unbelievers employ, when they do not flee to God as often as necessity urges, nor seek after him, nor implore his aid, they defraud him of his due honour just as much as if they were fabricating to themselves new gods and idols, since in this way they deny that God is the author of all their blessings. On the contrary, nothing more effectually frees pious minds from every doubt, than to be armed with the thought that no obstacle should impede them while they are obeying the command of God, who declares that nothing is more grateful to him than obedience. Hence, again, what I have previously said becomes still more clear, namely, that a bold spirit in prayer well accords with fear, reverence, and anxiety, and that there is no inconsistency when God raises up those who had fallen prostrate. In this way forms of expression apparently inconsistent admirably harmonize. Jeremiah and David speak of humbly laying their supplications [468] before God. In another passage Jeremiah says "Let, we beseech thee, our supplication be accepted before thee, and pray for us unto the Lord thy God, even for all this remnant." On the other hand, believers are often said to lift up prayer. Thus Hezekiah speaks, when asking the prophet to undertake the office of interceding. And David says, "Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." [469] The explanation is, that though believers, persuaded of the paternal love of God, cheerfully rely on his faithfulness, and have no hesitation in imploring the aid which he voluntarily offers, they are not elated with supine or presumptuous security; but climbing up by the ladder of the promises, still remain humble and abased suppliants.

15. Here, by way of objection, several questions are raised. Scripture relates that God sometimes complied with certain prayers which had been dictated by minds not duly calmed or regulated. It is true, that the cause for which Jotham imprecated on the inhabitants of Shechem the disaster which afterwards befell them was well founded; but still he was inflamed with anger and revenge (Judges 9:20); and hence God, by complying with the execration, seems to approve of passionate impulses. Similar fervor also seized Samson, when he prayed, "Strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes," (Judges 16:28). For although there was some mixture of good zeal, yet his ruling feeling was a fervid, and therefore vicious longing for vengeance. God assents, and hence apparently it might be inferred that prayers are effectual, though not framed in conformity to the rule of the word. But I answer, first, that a perpetual law is not abrogated by singular examples; and, secondly, that special suggestions have sometimes been made to a few individuals, whose case thus becomes different from that of the generality of men. For we should attend to the answer which our Saviour gave to his disciples when they inconsiderately wished to imitate the example of Elias, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of," (Luke 9:55). We must, however, go farther and say, that the wishes to which God assents are not always pleasing to him; but he assents, because it is necessary, by way of example, to give clear evidence of the doctrine of Scripture--viz. that he assists the miserable, and hears the groans of those who unjustly afflicted implore his aid: and, accordingly, he executes his judgments when the complaints of the needy, though in themselves unworthy of attention, ascend to him. For how often, in inflicting punishment on the ungodly for cruelty, rapine, violence, lust, and other crimes, in curbing audacity and fury, and also in overthrowing tyrannical power, has he declared that he gives assistance to those who are unworthily oppressed though they by addressing an unknown deity only beat the air? There is one psalm which clearly teaches that prayers are not without effect, though they do not penetrate to heaven by faith (Ps. 107:6, 13, 19). For it enumerates the prayers which, by natural instinct, necessity extorts from unbelievers not less than from believers, and to which it shows by the event, that God is, notwithstanding, propitious. Is it to testify by such readiness to hear that their prayers are agreeable to him? Nay; it is, first, to magnify or display his mercy by the circumstance, that even the wishes of unbelievers are not denied; and, secondly, to stimulate his true worshippers to more urgent prayer, when they see that sometimes even the wailings of the ungodly are not without avail. This, however, is no reason why believers should deviate from the law divinely imposed upon them, or envy unbelievers, as if they gained much in obtaining what they wished. We have observed (chap. 3, sec. 25), that in this way God yielded to the feigned repentance of Ahab, that he might show how ready he is to listen to his elect when, with true contrition, they seek his favour. Accordingly, he upbraids the Jews, that shortly after experiencing his readiness to listen to their prayers, they returned to their own perverse inclinations. It is also plain from the Book of Judges that, whenever they wept, though their tears were deceitful, they were delivered from the hands of their enemies. Therefore, as God sends his sun indiscriminately on the evil and on the good, so he despises not the tears of those who have a good cause, and whose sorrows are deserving of relief. Meanwhile, though he hears them, it has no more to do with salvation than the supply of food which he gives to other despisers of his goodness. There seems to be a more difficult question concerning Abraham and Samuel, the one of whom, without any instruction from the word of God, prayed in behalf of the people of Sodom, and the other, contrary to an express prohibition, prayed in behalf of Saul (Gen. 18:23; 1 Sam. 15:11). Similar is the case of Jeremiah, who prayed that the city might not be destroyed (Jer. 32:16). It is true their prayers were refused, but it seems harsh to affirm that they prayed without faith. Modest readers will, I hope, be satisfied with this solution--viz. that leaning to the general principle on which God enjoins us to be merciful even to the unworthy, they were not altogether devoid of faith, though in this particular instance their wish was disappointed. Augustine shrewdly remarks, "How do the saints pray in faith when they ask from God contrary to what he has decreed? Namely, because they pray according to his will, not his hidden and immutable will, but that which he suggests to them, that he may hear them in another manner; as he wisely distinguishes," (August. de Civit. Dei, Lib. 22 c. 2). This is truly said: for, in his incomprehensible counsel, he so regulates events, that the prayers of the saints, though involving a mixture of faith and error, are not in vain. And yet this no more sanctions imitation than it excuses the saints themselves, who I deny not exceeded due bounds. Wherefore, whenever no certain promise exists, our request to God must have a condition annexed to it. Here we may refer to the prayer of David, "Awake for me to the judgment that thou hast commanded," (Ps. 7:6); for he reminds us that he had received special instruction to pray for a temporal blessing. [470]

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



  • Session 6
  • Session 7
  • Session 8

#1 Lam 3:1-16 | Dr. Leslie Allen

 

#2 Lam 3:17-23 | Dr. Leslie Allen

 

#3 Lam 3:23-33 | Dr. Leslie Allen

 


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     8/1/2004    Out with the New, In with the Old

     I love old things. I love old furniture, old cars, and old houses, but I especially love old books — old, dusty books. And I don’t know about you, but dust makes me sneeze. Recently, my wife and I were in an antique shop, and I found an 1833 edition of Thomas Watson’s Body of Practical Divinity. The book was tucked away in the back of the store on the top of an old cherry-wood bookshelf that held dozens of copies of Reader’s Digest condensed books from the 1960s. Whoever placed it on that shelf certainly did not know the value of Watson’s publication. And by the look of the dust on top of the book, my guess is that this classic work had been sitting there for twenty years or more. And sure enough, immediately after opening the aged tome, I sneezed.

     Thankfully, my reaction to old, dusty things is merely a temporary and unpleasant expiration of breath that may or may not recur. However, the reaction that many people have to old things is not as meaningless. These days, our reaction to anything that is advanced in years is generally negative. In the twenty-first century, everything is new and improved. Out with the old, in with the new ­— whatever it is, if it even has the appearance of age, it’s time for something more contemporary. We are a society that revels in the latest thing, and we are so consumed by the thrill of what’s next that we have forgotten the things of our past. As a result, we have lost our way. And if we, the people of God, are to be faithful stewards of our past, if we are to make any difference, then we must remind ourselves of the hard lessons we have learned from history. We must take up and wipe the dust off the historic creeds of the church that have stood the test of time. We must revive our great heritage and reawaken our churches to the heroes of our faith who have stood against the world as guardians of the Christian faith.

     Throughout history, the world has attempted to destroy the church. In every century, emperors and heretics alike have tried to change the historic beliefs of the church, and every time they have failed. History has proven that the fourth century was a time of definition. It was an era of undying heroes and unwavering confessions. And now, in the twenty-first century, there has never been a more crucial time for the people of God to rekindle the faith of our fourth-century fathers so that we might live coram Deo, before the face of the God of history, the Ancient of Days.

     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

     A gunshot at high noon on this day, April 22, 1889, began the famous Oklahoma land rush. Within nine hours some two million acres became the private property of settlers who staked their claims. Riding as fast as they could, many found desirable plots already taken by "Sooners," individuals who entered the territory sooner than was permitted. The remaining land was assigned to the various Indian tribes, who joined together in approving the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma in 1907. The Preamble begins: "Invoking the guidance of Almighty God, in order to secure and perpetuate the blessings of liberty."

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams


Let no man pretend to fear sin that does not fear temptation also!
These two are too closely united to be separated.
He does not truly hate the fruit who delights in the root.
--- John Owen

We are secure, not because we hold tightly to Jesus,
but because he holds tightly to us.
--- R.C. Sproul

The person who does not know how to think will be relentlessly shaped and influenced by the dominant culture around him or her. But the transformed person (presumably transformed by the Spirit of Christ) will be busy thinking, reflecting, and making independent conclusions about the meaning of life and reality.
--- Gordon MacDonald
Ordering Your Private World

An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself.
--- Albert Camus
Notebooks, 1935-1942 (Volume 1)

... from here, there and everywhere

The Imitation Of Christ
     Thomas A Kempis

     Book Three - Internal Consolation

     The Forty-Fourth Chapter / Do Not Be Concerned About Outward Things

     THE VOICE OF CHRIST

     MY CHILD, there are many matters of which it is well for you to be ignorant, and to consider yourself as one who is dead upon the earth and to whom the whole world is crucified. There are many things, too, which it is well to pass by with a deaf ear, thinking, instead, of what is more to your peace. It is more profitable to turn away from things which displease you and to leave to every man his own opinion than to take part in quarrelsome talk. If you stand well with God and look to His judgment, you will more easily bear being worsted.

     The Disciple

     To what have we come, Lord? Behold, we bewail a temporal loss. We labor and fret for a small gain, while loss of the soul is forgotten and scarcely ever returns to mind. That which is of little or no value claims our attention, whereas that which is of highest necessity is neglected—all because man gives himself wholly to outward things. And unless he withdraws himself quickly, he willingly lies immersed in externals.

The Imitation Of Christ

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

     "HAVING BEGUN IN THE SPIRIT"

     The words from which I wish to address you, you will find in the epistle to the Galatians, the third chapter, the third verse; let us read the second verse also: "This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish?" And then comes my text--"Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?"

     When we speak of the quickening or the deepening or the strengthening of the spiritual life, we are thinking of something that is feeble and wrong and sinful; and it is a great thing to take our place before God with the confession:

     "Oh, God, our spiritual life is not what it should be!"

     May God work that in your heart, reader.

     As we look round about on the church we see so many indications of feebleness and of failure, and of sin, and of shortcoming, that we are compelled to ask: Why is it? Is there any necessity for the church of Christ to be living in such a low state? Or is it actually possible that God's people should be living always in the joy and strength of their God?

     Every believing heart must answer: It is possible.

     Then comes the great question: Why is it, how is it to be accounted for, that God's church as a whole is so feeble, and that the great majority of Christians are not living up to their privileges? There must be a reason for it. Has God not given Christ His Almighty Son to be the Keeper of every believer, to make Christ an ever-present reality, and to impart and communicate to us all that we have in Christ? God has given His Son, and God has given His Spirit. How is it that believers do not live up to their privileges?

     We find in more than one of the epistles a very solemn answer to that question. There are epistles, such as the first to the Thessalonians, where Paul writes to the Christians, in effect: "I want you to grow, to abound, to increase more and more." They were young, and there were things lacking in their faith, but their state was so far satisfactory, and gave him great joy, and he writes time after time: "I pray God that you may abound more and more; I write to you to increase more and more" (1 Thes. 4:1,10). But there are other epistles where he takes a very different tone, especially the epistles to the Corinthians and to the Galatians, and he tells them in many different ways what the one reason was, that they were not living as Christians ought to live; many were under the power of the flesh. My text is one example. He reminds them that by the preaching of faith they had received the Holy Spirit. He had preached Christ to them; they had accepted that Christ and had received the Holy Spirit in power. But what happened? Having begun in the Spirit, they tried to perfect the work that the Spirit had begun in the flesh by their own effort. We find the same teaching in the epistle to the Corinthians.

     Now, we have here a solemn discovery of what the great want is in the church of Christ. God has called the church of Christ to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the church is living for the most part in the power of human flesh, and of will and energy and effort apart from the Spirit of God. I doubt not that that is the case with many individual believers; and oh, if God will use me to give you a message from Him, my one message will be this: "If the church will return to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is her strength and her help, and if the church will return to give up everything, and wait upon God to be filled with the Spirit, her days of beauty and gladness will return, and we shall see the glory of God revealed among us." This is my message to every individual believer: "Nothing will help you unless you come to understand that you must live every day under the power of the Holy Spirit."

     God wants you to be a living vessel in whom the power of the Spirit is to be manifested every hour and every moment of your life, and God will enable you to be that.

     Now let us try to learn that this word to the Galatians teaches us--some very simple thoughts. It shows us how (1) the beginning of the Christian life is receiving the Holy Spirit. It shows us (2) what great danger there is of forgetting that we are to live by the Spirit, and not live after the flesh. It shows us (3) what are the fruits and the proofs of our seeking perfection in the flesh. And then it suggests to us (4) the way of deliverance from this state.


Absolute Surrender (The Colportage Library)

Proverbs 15:12-14
     by D.H. Stern

12     A scorner does not like being corrected;
he won’t go to the wise [for advice].

13     A glad heart makes a face happy,
but heartache breaks the spirit.

14     The mind of a person with discernment seeks knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool feeds on 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

          14

     And suddenly all was changed. I saw a great assembly of gigantic forms all motionless, all in deepest silence, standing forever about a little silver table and looking upon it. And on the table there were little figures like chessmen who went to and fro doing this and that. And I knew that each chessman was the idolum or puppet representative of some of the great presences that stood by. And the acts and motions of each chessman were a moving portrait, a mimicry or pantomime, which delineated the inmost nature of his giant master. And these chessmen are men and women as they appear to themselves and to one another in this world. And the silver table is Time. And those who stand and watch are the immortal souls of those same men and women. Then vertigo and terror seized me and, clutching at my Teacher, I said, ‘Is that the truth? Then is all that I have been seeing in this country false? These conversations between the Spirits and the Ghosts—were they only the mimicry of choices that had really been made long ago?’

     ‘Or might ye not as well say, anticipations of a choice to be made at the end of all things? But ye’d do better to say neither. Ye saw the choices a bit more clearly than ye could see them on Earth: the lens was clearer. But it was still seen through the lens. Do not ask of a vision in a dream more than a vision in a dream can give.’

     ‘A dream? Then—then—am I not really here, Sir?’

     ‘No, Son,’ said he kindly, taking my hand in his. ‘It is not so good as that. The bitter drink of death is still before you. Ye are only dreaming. And if ye come to tell of what ye have seen, make it plain that it was but a dream. See ye make it very plain. Give no poor fool the pretext to think ye are claiming knowledge of what no mortal knows. I’ll have no Swedenborgs and no Vale Owens among my children.’

     ‘God forbid, Sir,’ said I, trying to look very wise.

     ‘He has forbidden it. That’s what I’m telling ye.’ As he said this he looked more Scotch than ever. I was gazing steadfastly on his face. The vision of the chessmen had faded, and once more the quiet woods in the cool light before sunrise were about us. Then, still looking at his face, I saw there something that sent a quiver through my whole body. I stood at that moment with my back to the East and the mountains, and he, facing me, looked towards them. His face flushed with a new light. A fern, thirty yards behind him, turned golden. The eastern side of every tree-trunk grew bright. Shadows deepened. All the time there had been bird noises, trillings, chatterings, and the like; but now suddenly the full chorus was poured from every branch; cocks were crowing, there was music of hounds, and horns; above all this ten thousand tongues of men and woodland angels and the wood itself sang. ‘It comes, it comes!’ they sang. ‘Sleepers awake! It comes, it comes, it comes.’ One dreadful glance over my shoulder I essayed—not long enough to see (or did I see?) the rim of the sunrise that shoots Time dead with golden arrows and puts to flight all phantasmal shapes. Screaming, I buried my face in the fold of my Teacher’s robe. ‘The morning! The morning!’ I cried, ‘I am caught by the morning and I am a ghost.’ But it was too late. The light, like solid blocks, intolerable of edge and weight, came thundering upon my head. Next moment the folds of my Teacher’s garment were only the folds of the old ink-stained cloth on my study table which I had pulled down with me as I fell from my chair. The blocks of light were only the books which I had pulled off with it, falling about my head. I awoke in a cold room, hunched on the floor beside a black and empty grate, the clock striking three, and the siren howling overhead.

The Great Divorce

My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers

                The light that fails

     We all with open face beholding … the glory of the Lord.
--- 2 Cor. 3:18.

     A servant of God must stand so much alone that he never knows he is alone. In the first phases of Christian life disheartenments come, people who used to be lights flicker out, and those who used to stand with us pass away. We have to get so used to it that we never know we are standing alone. “All men forsook me: … notwithstanding the Lord stood with me” (2 Tim. 4:16–17). We must build our faith, not on the fading light, but on the light that never fails. When ‘big’ men go we are sad, until we see that they are meant to go; the one thing that remains is looking in the face of God for ourselves.

     Allow nothing to keep you from looking God sternly in the face about yourself and about your doctrine, and every time you preach see that you look God in the face about things first, then the glory will remain all through. A Christian worker is one who perpetually looks in the face of God and then goes forth to talk to the people. The characteristic of the ministry of Christ is that of unconscious glory that abides. “Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while He talked with him.”

     We are never called on to parade our doubts or to express the hidden ecstasies of our life with God. The secret of the worker’s life is that he keeps in tune with God all the time.


My Utmost for His Highest

What Help (One of my favorites)
     the Poetry of R.S. Thomas

           What Help

What cure for this, Lord?
And as you are compassion
do not say: "You brought it
upon yourselves". Were we sound
at the beginning? Was there
a moment the perfect man
emerged, spun like glass
for you to see yourself
in? Was his replication
his undoing? Did any good come
from committees, from conferences
of the double-talkers? Why are we
here, if your kingdom
is not of this world? Can we
believe it is in the heart
of the banker, leaving
his unsigned cheque-book
for the hungry to play with?
Now time blows out
of the empty tomb and the poor
are without a collar
to turn up. The easterners
are wiser and no better.
In the west, small as
the cross is, there is still room
for the gamblers and speculators
to play high in its shadow.

Selected poems, 1946-1968

Teacher's Commentary
     God's promises are intended to free us to follow the Lord.

     The emphasis in this first chapter on the vital role of obedience is repeated, not only in Joshua and in the Book of Judges which follows, but in every period of Old Testament history. Every event, every individual, reflects the basic principle: obedience brings victory, disobedience brings defeat.

     Responsiveness to God, the willingness to live as He directs and to stay in close fellowship with Him, is not only a prerequisite for leadership, It is also prerequisite for any kind of blessing. Then and now.

     Faith responds (
Josh. 2). One of the most striking statements in the Bible was made by Rahab, a woman of Jericho who hid the Israelite spies.

     Jericho was not a particularly large city. But it was strongly fortified. And most important, it controlled entry to the passes that led up into the interior of Canaan. Israel had to pass this way to reach the rest of the land.

     While the people were shut inside the high walls of the city, they were still terrified. Rahab voiced their conviction when she said, "We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to … the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan. When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below" (
Josh. 2:10–11). Rahab, a prostitute, heard and truly believed, for she acted on her conviction to save the spies. The rest, rather than turning to the Lord, locked themselves up, and trusted in stone walls.

     First steps (
Josh. 3–4). The Jordan River was in flood stage, blocking Israel from Palestine. These chapters tell how God began to demonstrate that He was with Joshua and with this generation. The flow of water stopped, and the people crossed on dry ground.

     A stone altar was constructed from stones that had lain underwater, to serve as a reminder of this fresh wonder God performed. The miracle also served to authenticate Joshua as one who himself followed God's directions; one whom others could safely follow (
Joshua 3:7–8).

     But there was also a great change about to take place. The text says that after their crossing, Israel ate some of the produce of the land. "The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan" (
Joshua 5:12). This is both a fulfillment, and a challenge. God had brought them to a land where they would find plenty. Yet the manna that had given daily evidence of the Lord's care now ceased. From now on the people of Israel would have to walk by faith in the unseen, where before they had had visible evidence of God's presence.

     We can look at what happened next at Jericho and Ai as powerful lessons to Israel and to us concerning the walk of faith.

     Jericho—"point" (
Josh. 5–6). When Joshua went to reconnoiter Jericho he was met by a Figure holding a drawn sword. This Figure announced that He Himself was "Commander of the army of the Lord" (Joshua 5:14). Joshua bowed low, to await orders.

     From a military standpoint, the orders this captain gave were ridiculous. Joshua was to march the people of Israel around the city of Jericho once a day for six days. On these circuits no one was to make a sound. On the seventh day, seven circuits were to be made. Then, at a signal, all the people were to shout. And, so the promise, when the people shouted, the walls of the city would fall down. Israel could then attack and was to utterly destroy the city, saving only those in Rahab's house. Nothing was to be salvaged. No booty was to be taken. All was to be destroyed.

     Joshua may have felt foolish giving such orders. And Israel may have felt foolish too. Certainly, after a day or so of fearful observation, the people of Jericho would have become bolder and in relief have shouted out taunts and ridicule.

     But Joshua was strong enough to do what he had been commanded. And the people too obeyed.

     On the seventh day, when the people shouted with a great shout, the walls did come tumbling down.

      It is this kind of belief, which expresses itself in obedience even when the nature of the command seems foolish or unclear, that is the kind of "trust" God calls all of us to have in Him.

     Ai—"counterpoint" (
Joshua 7–8). At Jericho, one of the Hebrew warriors, a man named Achan, disobeyed God's command and took gold and silver. This hidden sin led to Israel's defeat at Ai, a minor city higher up the pass. Sin had broken fellowship with God, and the flow of divine power was interrupted.

     Achan was sought out and he and his family were stoned. Perhaps the place Achan chose to bury his stolen treasure suggests a reason why the whole family had to die. He had buried the gold and silver and the garment he took "inside [his] tent." While he was responsible for his act, his family had been responsible to denounce that act of disobedience to God.

     But why was Achan's sin deserving of the death penalty? Because like other sins that merited death under the Law, this one endangered the survival of Israel as a theocratic community. In Achan's case, the defeat might have so reduced the terror of the people of the land that they would gather against Israel (cf.
Joshua 7:9). Perhaps more important, 36 men of Israel had died needlessly in the battle against Ai. The sin of Achan had caused the death of some of his companions.

     After Achan was put to death, Ai was taken and completely destroyed.

     A graphic lesson had been taught. Obedience to God was vital after all. Obedience brought victory; disobedience resulted in disastrous defeat.

     With both these lessons deeply impressed, Israel stood as Joshua read the whole of the divine Law. The way of blessing and the way of curses was laid out before them all once again.

     And so, with God's guiding truth again before them, the people of Israel went on to take the Promised Land.


The Teacher's Commentary

Joshua 9:18
     Pulpit Commentary

     Ver. 18.—And the children of Israel smote them not.

     There is great difference of opinion among the commentators as to whether this oath was binding on the Israelites or not. This difference is to be found among Roman Catholics as well as Protestants, and Cornelius à Lapide gives the ingenious and subtle arguments used on both sides by the Jesuit commentators. Many contend that as it was obtained by fraud, and especially by a representation that the Gibeonites did not belong to the tribes which Joshua was specially commanded to destroy, it was null and void, ab initio.

     But the Israelites had sworn by the sacred name of Jehovah to spare the Gibeonites. It would have been to degrade that sacred name, and possibly (ver.
20) to bring trouble on themselves, to break that oath under any pretence whatever. If they had been deceived the fault was their own.

     The Jehovah by whom they swore had provided them with a ready mode of detecting such deceit, had they chosen to use it. Calvin, though he thinks the princes of the congregation were unnecessarily scrupulous, remarks on the superiority of Israelitish to Roman morals. It would have been easy enough for the congregation to argue, as the Romans did after the disaster at the Caudine Forks, that the agreement was of no effect, because it was not made with the whole people.

     Cicero, however, had no sympathy with such morality. He writes (‘De Officiis,’ i. 13), “Atque etiam si quid singuli temporibus adducti, hosti promiserunt, est in eo ipso fides conservanda.” And not a few instances of similar perfidy since the promulgation of Christianity may lead us to the conclusion that the example of Israel under Joshua is not yet superfluous.

     As instances of such perfidy, we may adduce the battle of Varna, in 1444, in which Ladislaus, king of Hungary, was induced by the exhortations of Cardinal Julian to break the truce he had entered into with Amurath, sultan of the Turks. It is said in this case that Amurath, in his distress, invoked Jesus Christ to punish the perfidy of His disciples. Be that as it may, a signal defeat fitly rewarded their disregard of truth.

     Later instances may be drawn from the conflict between Spain and the Netherlands in the latter part of the sixteenth century, in which the Spaniards frequently and wantonly, in the supposed interests of religion, violated the articles of capitulation formally entered into with the insurgents. These breakers of their plighted word also found that “wrath was upon them;” that God would not prosper the arms of those who, professedly for His sake, were false to their solemn obligations.

     Both the princes, in the narrative before us, in withstanding the wrath of the congregation, and the congregation in yielding to their representations, present a spectacle of moral principle which few nations have surpassed.

     Cornelius à Lapide, after giving the opinions of others, as we have seen, and remarking on the opinion here followed as “probabilior,” sums up in the following noble and manly words: “Disce hic quam sancte fides, præsertim jurata, sit servanda hosti, etiam impio et infideli. Fide enim sublata, evertitur omnis hominum contractus et societas, quæ fidei quasi basi innititur, ut homines jam non homines, sed leones, tygrides, et feræ esse videantur.” Would that his Church had always acted upon these inassailable principles of justice and morality! In after years a terrible famine visited the Israelites as a chastisement for the infringement of this agreement (see
2 Sam. 21:1–9). Murmured. Literally, were stubborn.

The Pulpit Commentary (23 Volume Set)

Swimming In The Sea of Talmud
     Ketubbot 17a

     D’RASH

     A friendly game of basketball at the playground has degenerated into a huge shouting match. Robert, on defense, accuses Steve of stepping out of bounds while dribbling. "I saw it clearly," Robert yells, "you stepped over the line! It's our ball!" Steve isn't sure one way or the other. "Did anybody else see it?" he asks. There is silence. "Then I'm not giving up possession, just because you say so." Robert is furious. "But I saw it! You were out!" And the argument goes on and on …

     Rabbis Huna and Yehudah deal with a similar, though somewhat more serious, situation. Their response is that in the absence of better evidence, we do the best with what we have. A decision needs to be made and in a choice of one person who is certain, versus another person who is unsure, we go with the former over the latter. There is, of course, an underlying principle in this course of action: We take people at their word, trusting that they are telling us the truth. Rav Huna and Rav Yehudah will probably argue that it is a rare circumstance when we have clear, documented, objective evidence from a neutral outsider that will enable us to render a totally just verdict. And in the absence of that, we need to make decisions; life (and the game) must go on. We do the best we can, and trust that people will be honest.

     Rabbis Naḥman and Yoḥanan are troubled by such an approach. First of all, how do we know that a person is telling the truth? When a game is on the line, or a lot of money is at stake, it may be very difficult for a person to be completely honest. Emotions or greed can sometimes get in the way of telling what really happened. But even if a person is telling the truth, how can we be sure that what he saw, or remembers, is actually what happened? Eyesight or memory can both be very deceiving at times. Rabbi Naḥman and Rabbi Yoḥanan would counsel us to require more compelling evidence before taking the ball from Steve or the money from Shimon. Witnesses or documentation are necessary; otherwise, we leave things the way they are. Jewish law takes the more demanding approach. And yet, there is still sound wisdom in what Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Huna teach us: In a case of "sure" or "maybe," "sure" is better. Too often in life we take the easy way out. We rely on information that has not been verified, or rumors that have not been substantiated. We seem to feel: "What difference does it make?" We settle for "This is good enough." In a friendly game at the playground, it may not matter so very much. But with a doctor treating a patient, or a lawyer defending a client, or a architect designing a skyscraper, the difference between "sure" and "maybe" can mean the difference between life and death. We must always strive, to the best of our ability, for certainty and truth.

     Neither paint, nor rouge, nor hair dye, yet radiating charm.

     Text / When Rav Dimi came, he said: "This is what they sing before the bride in the West: 'Neither paint, nor rouge, nor hair dye, yet radiating charm.' " When the Rabbis ordained Rabbi Zeira, they sang this to him: "Neither paint, nor rouge, nor hair dye, yet radiating charm."

     Context / An alternative translation: "Neither powder, nor paint, nor waving of the hair, yet still a graceful gazelle." Keḥal is a powder that is used on the eye lids; serak is a paint for the cheeks; pirkus can refer to making the hair pretty by dyeing or "waving" it into locks; ya'alah is a gazelle. The root can also be from alah, meaning "to go up," "give off," or "radiate."

     Rabbi Zeira used to hide, so he would not be ordained, for Rabbi Elazar said: "Stay in the dark and stay alive." When he heard another teaching of Rabbi Elazar—"A person cannot rise up to greatness unless he is forgiven of all his sins"—then he strove to attain it. (Sanhedrin 14a) The implication of Rabbi Elazar's second teaching is that public office would lead one to seek forgiveness for one's sins.

     In the section just prior to ours, the Rabbis discuss the appropriate words that one should say to a bride on her wedding day. Rav Dimi, a teacher of the fourth century, traveled a great deal between Babylonia and Israel. On many occasions in the Talmud, he reports on the customs of the Jews "in the West," that is, in Israel, which is west of Babylonia.

     One of the songs of praise that was uttered at a wedding was also applied to a Rabbi on the occasion of his ordination. The stories about Rabbi Zeira inform us that he was quite short, disfigured from a fire, and perhaps somewhat crippled, with a physically unattractive face. No doubt, he was painfully aware of these attributes. Yet, when the Rabbis came to ordain him and looked to find one sentence that would summarize who he really was, they chose to emphasize that there was something very beautiful about him. Despite the external characteristics, his teachers found in him wonderful internal qualities that shone through the outer ugliness.

Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living

Jewish History from Alexander to Hadrian
     The Hasmonean Dynasty

     Seleucid interference in Judean affairs was not ended. But unlike earlier ventures, which had as their goal the elimination of the Maccabean insurgents, containment or curtailment of Hasmonean power now became their prime objective. Ongoing dynastic quarrels were complicated by an increasingly belligerent Parthian menace. The Parthian annexation of Babylonia in 140 posed a major threat to the coherence of Macedonian rule in the east, and the invaders’ readiness to play off one Seleucid against another compounded the crisis. The diversion of energies to meet these pressing new problems loosened the Seleucids’ grip on their ambitious Jewish clients. In response, Simon’s successors applied themselves to the pursuit of Hellenistic statecraft.

     Territorial acquisition commenced in earnest under Simon’s son, John Hyrcanus I (ruled 135/134–104), who extended Hasmonean hegemony into Idumea, Samaria, and Galilee. Aggrandizement accelerated during the tenure of Hyrcanus’ own sons, who pushed their conquests as far north as Iturea, while absorbing much of the Transjordanian and coastal zones. The transition to Hasmonean rule was not a smooth one. The Samarian campaign resulted in the demolition of the temple on Mt. Gerizim, intensifying Jewish-Samaritan animosity. Circumcision and adherence to Jewish laws became mandatory for continued residence within the newly subjugated Idumean and Iturean domains. Pompey’s later liberation of Greek cities controlled by the Hasmoneans signals both the extent of their military success and the unwelcome, imposed character of their rule.

     Militarism demanded manpower, which in turn required money. Hyrcanus is said to have plundered the tomb of David in order to buy off Antiochus VII and to supplement his own force with mercenaries. His son, Alexander Jannaeus (ruled 103–76), is known to have continued this practice, his territorial gains doubtlessly enhancing his purchasing power. With the development of standing armies beholden to their Hasmonean paymaster rather than to their fellow countrymen came overt monarchic assertion. Hyrcanus’ son, Aristobulus I (ruled 104–103), was the first to claim royal honors, and Jannaeus followed suit. And with kingship came dynastic struggles whose divisive potential and destructive impact was only amplified by the resources at each side’s disposal. Between 67 and 63 B.C.E., the sons of Jannaeus—Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II—became embroiled in a contest for the kingship that ultimately terminated the career of the Hasmonean state.

     Already under Hyrcanus I, Hasmonean pretensions met with Jewish resistance. Internal opposition reached its apogee during Jannaeus’ reign. So intense was their detestation of the king that his enemies actually appealed to the reigning Seleucid monarch for assistance in ousting him. The ouster failed. But the brutality of Jannaeus’ repressive regime thwarted any possibility of peace between himself and his alienated subjects. (Qumran texts remember him as the “Lion of Wrath.”) A more conciliatory situation appears to have developed under Jannaeus’ wife, Shelamzion (Salome) Alexandra, who succeeded him
(ruled 76–67).

     According to Josephus, a key ingredient in Alexandra’s success was her cultivation of the Pharisees, a group whose existence is first mentioned in the context of the time of Jonathan. Josephus himself ascribes anti-Hasmonean activity to Pharisaic instigation, a thesis that gains some plausibility from his claim that Jannaeus crucified 800 members of the sect. Alexandra, at any rate, placated the populace by involving the Pharisees in her administration. It is clear, however, that for some Jews, the excesses of Jannaeus and the sectarian flip-flopping of Hyrcanus were symptoms of a more fundamental wrong: monarchic rule itself. When the contentious sons of Alexandra appealed to Pompey for arbitration of their competing claims in 63 B.C.E., they were challenged by a third party, comprising more than 200 of the most prominent men of Judea. Virulently opposed to both Hasmoneans, these Jewish notables demonstrated to the Roman general that their own forebears had negotiated with the Senate, and had received the leadership of the Jews as a free and autonomous people—the title of king not having been taken, but with a high priest set over the nation. But that now these men [Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II] were holding power by virtue of the fact that they had annulled the ancestral laws and had unjustly reduced the citizenry to slavery; for by a mass of mercenaries and by outrages and by many impious murders they had acquired royal power for themselves. (Diodorus 40.2)

     The significance of this indictment, delivered at so pivotal a moment in Jewish history (the eve of Rome’s first direct intervention into Judean affairs), lies not in the historical veracity of its claims (which are debatable). Its importance lies rather in the contrast it draws between two visions of early Judaism: the ideal temple-community, governed by the Torah and presided over by a high priest; and the historical contingencies of a sovereign state, struggling to maintain its independence amidst the successor-kingdoms of Alexander the Great. In 63 B.C.E., both the Hasmonean princes and their aristocratic opponents viewed Rome as the key to preserving their vision.


The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

Take Heart
     April 22

     If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thicketsby the Jordan? --- Jeremiah 12:5.

     Jeremiah is being hardened in the fire like a Damascus blade. (Hugh Black, “The Heroism of Endurance,” in
( Classic Sermons on Suffering (Kregel Classic Sermons Series) ) Depressed, sick with his failure in the city, he longs for the quiet village of his youth. He turns to home like a tired bird to its nest—to find in the nest a scorpion! His townspeople, his own family, dealt treacherously with him. He is not only without friends, but sees friends become foes.

     This experience through which the prophet passes is a cruel one. But he never lets go of God. The complaint is not the seeming prosperity of the wicked but his own pain and sorrow and terrible adversity.

     The complaint here is answered by a countercomplaint. Jeremiah’s charge against God, of injustice, is met by God’s charge against Jeremiah, of weakness. The “thickets by the Jordan” means the dangerous ground by the river. It is a jungle of tangled bush where wild beasts lurk. The answer to the complaint against the hardness of his lot is that it will be harder still. He has only been racing with men on foot so far—he will have to contend with horses—then he may have cause to speak of weariness. He has only been living in a land of peace so far—he will have to dwell in the jungle, and then he may talk of danger.

     Does it seem an unfeeling answer? It was the answer Jeremiah needed. He needed to be braced, not pampered. He is taught the need of endurance. It is a strange cure for cowardice, a strange remedy for weakness, yet effective. The tear-stained face is lifted up, calm once more. God appeals to the strength in Jeremiah, not to the weakness. By God’s grace I will fight, and fighting fall if need be. By God’s grace I will contend even with horses, and I will go to the thickets by the Jordan. This was the result on Jeremiah, and it was the result required. Only a heroic soul could do the heroic work needed by Israel and by God, and it was the greatest heroism of all that was needed—the heroism of endurance.

     Nothing worth doing can be done without iron resolution. It is the spirit that never knows defeat, that cannot be worn out, that has taken its stand and refuses to move. This is the “patience” about which the Bible is full, not the counterfeit that so often passes for patience, but the power to endure all things, to die—harder still sometimes to continue to live.
--- Hugh Black


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

On This Day
     Clouds Over Geneva  April 22

     John Calvin arrived in Geneva in July, 1536, intending only to stop for the night. But Pastor John Farel found him and wouldn’t let him leave, threatening to curse him “with the curse of Almighty God” if he didn’t remain as his assistant. Geneva, population 12,000, seemed ripe for Reformation, and Calvin began his labors in September.

     Farel trusted Calvin with many responsibilities, confident of the young man’s industry and genius. Calvin, in turn, remained respectful and affectionate toward Farel. No jealousy ever clouded their relationship.

     Other clouds, however, were forming. Geneva wasn’t ready for the sobriety Calvin and Farel sought to impose. It was a light-hearted city, full of singing and dancing. It also brimmed with gambling, adultery, prostitution, and vice. Farel and Calvin led the City Council to issue laws prohibiting immorality, gambling, Sabbath-breaking, and foolish singing. The council further ordered all citizens to embrace the Confession of Faith, and on November 12, 1537, it voted to banish everyone who didn’t.

     Unrest formed over the city like storm clouds, and loud complaints rocked a November 15 meeting of the general assembly. In local elections the following February, the Libertine party gained ground. Calvin and Farel, continuing to thunder from their pulpits, were warned not to meddle in politics. They meddled anyway.

     The storm struck on Easter Sunday, April 21, 1538. Calvin preached in one church, Farel in another. Both refused to administer the Lord’s Supper, saying the city could not possibly partake of Communion under such conditions. Pandemonium broke out, men drawing their swords, women gasping, children crying. The preachers were hustled home under protection of friends. The next day, April 22, 1538, the City Council met, fired both ministers, and ordered them to leave town within three days.

     “Very well,” said Calvin, “it is better to serve God than man.” He fled to Strasburg, married Idelette, and pastored a group of French evangelicals until the tide again shifted in Geneva. By 1541 the time was ripe for Calvin and the Reformation to return, this time for good.

     I pray to you, LORD. So when the time is right, answer me and help me with your wonderful love. Don’t let me sink in the mud, but save me from my enemies and from the deep water. Don’t let me be swept away by a flood or drowned in the ocean or swallowed by death.
--- Psalm 69:13-15.


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

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - April 22

     “Him hath God exalted.” --- Acts 5:31.

     Jesus, our Lord, once crucified, dead and buried, now sits upon the throne of glory. The highest place that heaven affords is his by undisputed right. It is sweet to remember that the exaltation of Christ in heaven is a representative exaltation. He is exalted at the Father’s right hand, and though as Jehovah he had eminent glories, in which finite creatures cannot share, yet as the Mediator, the honours which Jesus wears in heaven are the heritage of all the saints. It is delightful to reflect how close is Christ’s union with his people. We are actually one with him; we are members of his body; and his exaltation is our exaltation. He will give us to sit upon his throne, even as he has overcome, and is set down with his Father on his throne; he has a crown, and he gives us crowns too; he has a throne, but he is not content with having a throne to himself, on his right hand there must be his queen, arrayed in “gold of Ophir.” He cannot be glorified without his bride. Look up, believer, to Jesus now; let the eye of your faith behold him with many crowns upon his head; and remember that you will one day be like him, when you shall see him as he is; you shall not be so great as he is, you shall not be so divine, but still you shall, in a measure, share the same honours, and enjoy the same happiness and the same dignity which he possesses. Be content to live unknown for a little while, and to walk your weary way through the fields of poverty, or up the hills of affliction; for by-and-by you shall reign with Christ, for he has “made us kings and priests unto God, and we shall reign for ever and ever.” Oh!, wonderful thought for the children of God! We have Christ for our glorious representative in heaven’s courts now, and soon he will come and receive us to himself, to be with him there, to behold his glory, and to share his joy.


          Evening - April 22

     “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night.” Psalm 91:5.

     What is this terror? It may be the cry of fire, or the noise of thieves, or fancied appearances, or the shriek of sudden sickness or death. We live in the world of death and sorrow, we may therefore look for ills as well in the night-watches as beneath the glare of the broiling sun. Nor should this alarm us, for be the terror what it may, the promise is that the believer shall not be afraid. Why should he? Let us put it more closely, why should we? God our Father is here, and will be here all through the lonely hours; he is an almighty Watcher, a sleepless Guardian, a faithful Friend. Nothing can happen without his direction, for even hell itself is under his control. Darkness is not dark to him. He has promised to be a wall of fire around his people—and who can break through such a barrier? Worldlings may well be afraid, for they have an angry God above them, a guilty conscience within them, and a yawning hell beneath them; but we who rest in Jesus are saved from all these through rich mercy. If we give way to foolish fear we shall dishonour our profession, and lead others to doubt the reality of godliness. We ought to be afraid of being afraid, lest we should vex the Holy Spirit by foolish distrust. Down, then, ye dismal forebodings and groundless apprehensions, God has not forgotten to be gracious, nor shut up his tender mercies; it may be night in the soul, but there need be no terror, for the God of love changes not. Children of light may walk in darkness, but they are not therefore cast away, nay, they are now enabled to prove their adoption by trusting in their heavenly Father as hypocrites cannot do.

   “Though the night be dark and dreary,
   Darkness cannot hide from thee;
   Thou art he, who, never weary,
   Watchest where thy people be.”


Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     April 22

          THE STRIFE IS O’ER

     Anonymous Latin hymn from approximately 1605
     English translation by Francis Pott, 1832–1909

     Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55, 56, 57)

     The thrilling news from the empty tomb is that life has triumphed over death! This is a message that dispels our fears and gives us the sure hope that because Christ lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). Alleluia!

     This inspiring Easter hymn first appeared anonymously in a Jesuit collection, Symphonia Sirenum, published in Cologne, Germany, in 1695. It was more than 150 years after its writing, however, before this hymn was used by English-speaking churches. In 1859 the translation was made by Francis Pott, an Anglican minister. The music is an adaptation from the “Gloria Patri,” published in 1591 by Palestrina, the great 16th century Catholic composer and director of the performing choir at St. Peter’s church in the Vatican. This musical arrangement was made by Dr. William H. Monk for inclusion in the well-known Anglican hymnal Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861 edition. In making this musical adaptation from Palestrina’s work, Dr. Monk used the first two phrases, repeated the first phrase and added original alleluias for the beginning and the end. (Alleluia is a Latin form of the Hebrew Hallelujah, which means “praise the Lord!”). It is interesting to note the interplay between the statements of fact related to Christ’s resurrection that are contained in the first half of each stanza and the personal response to these factual truths as expressed in the last half of each verse, concluding with the jubilant “AIleluia!”

     The strife is o’er—the battle done,
     the victory of life is won;
     the song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!
     The pow’rs of death have done their worst,
     but Christ their legions hath dispersed;
     let shouts of holy joy outburst: Alleluia!
     The three sad days have quickly sped;
     He rises glorious from the dead;
     all glory to our risen Head! Alleluia!
     He closed the yawning gates of hell;
     the bars from heav’n’s high portals fell;
     let hymns of praise His triumphs tell: Alleluia!
     Lord, by the stripes which wounded Thee,
     from death’s dread sting Thy servants free,
     that we may live and sing to Thee: Alleluia!
     Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!


     For Today: Isaiah 25:7–9; Romans 1:4; 6:9–10; Revelation 19:1, 2.

     Allow your soul to vibrate with the resounding “Alleluias” for all that the empty tomb means to you. Use this fine hymn to help realize ---

Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions

De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of the Will
     Martin Luther | (1483-1546)


     Sect. II. — BUT what will you say to these your declarations, when, be it remembered, they are not confined to “Free-will” only, but apply to all doctrines in general throughout the world — that, “if it were permitted you by the inviolable authority of the sacred Writings and decrees of the church, you would go over to the sentiments of the Sceptics?” —

     What an all-changeable Proteus is there in these expressions, “inviolable authority” and “decrees of the church!” As though you could have so very great a reverence for the Scriptures and the church, when at the same time you signify, that you wish you had the liberty of being a Sceptic! What Christian would talk in this way? But if you say this in reference to useless and doubtful doctrines, what news is there in what you say? Who, in such things, would not wish for the liberty of the sceptical profession ? Nay, what Christian is there who does not actually use this liberty freely, and condemn all those who are drawn away with, and captivated by ever opinion? Unless you consider all Christians to be such (as the term is generally understood) whose doctrines are useless, and for which they quarrel like fools, and contend by assertions. But if you speak of necessary things, what declaration more impious can any one make, than that he wishes for the liberty of asserting nothing in such matters? Whereas, the Christian will rather say this — I am so averse to the sentiments of the Sceptics, that wherever I am not hindered by the infirmity of the flesh, I will not only steadily adhere to the Sacred Writings every where, and in all parts of them, and assert them, but I wish also to be as certain as possible in things that are not necessary, and that lie without the Scripture; for what is more miserable than uncertainty.

     What shall we say to these things also, where you add — “To which authorities I submit my opinion in all things; whether I follow what they enjoin, or follow it not.” —

     What say you, Erasmus? Is it not enough that you submit your opinion to the Scriptures? Do you submit it to the decrees of the church also? What can the church decree, that is not decreed in the Scriptures? If it can, where then remains the liberty and power of judging those who make the decrees? As Paul, 1 Cor. xiv., teaches “Let others judge.” Are you not pleased that there should be any one to judge the decrees of the church, which, nevertheless, Paul enjoins? What new kind of religion and humility is this, that, by our own example, you would take away from us the power of judging the decrees of men, and give it unto men without judgment? Where does the Scripture of God command us to do this?

     Moreover, what Christian would so commit the injunctions of the Scripture and of the church to the winds, — as to say “whether I follow them, or follow them not?” You submit yourself, and yet care not at all whether you follow them or not. But let that Christian be anathema, who is not certain in, and does not follow, that which is enjoined him. For how will he believe that which he does not follow? — Do you here, then, mean to say, that following is understanding a thing certainly, and not doubting of it at all in a sceptical manner? If you do, what is there in any creature which any one can follow, if following be understanding, and seeing and knowing perfectly? And if this be the case, then it is impossible that any one should, at the same time, follow some things, and not follow others: whereas, by following one certain thing, God, he follows all things; that is, in Him, whom whoso followeth not, never followeth any part of His creature.

     In a word, these declarations of yours amount to this — that, with you, it matters not what is believed by any one, any where, if the peace of the world be but undisturbed; and if every one be but allowed, when his life, his reputation, or his interest is at stake, to do as he did, who said, “If they affirm, I affirm, if they deny, I deny:” and to look upon the Christian doctrines as nothing better than the opinions of philosophers and men: and that it is the greatest of folly to quarrel about, contend for, and assert them, as nothing can arise therefrom but contention, and the disturbance of the public peace: “that what is above us, does not concern us.” This, I say, is what your declarations amount to. — Thus, to put an end to our fightings, you come in as an intermediate peace-maker, that you may cause each side to suspend arms, and persuade us to cease from drawing swords about things so absurd and useless.

     What I should cut at here, I believe, my friend Erasmus, you know very well. But, as I said before, I will not openly express myself. In the mean time, I excuse your very good intention of heart; but do you go no further; fear the Spirit of God, who searcheth the reins and the heart, and who is not deceived by artfully contrived expressions. I have, upon this occasion, expressed myself thus, that henceforth you may cease to accuse our cause of pertinacity or obstinacy. For, by so doing, you only evince that you hug in your heart a Lucian, or some other of the swinish tribe of the Epicureans; who, because he does not believe there is a God himself, secretly laughs at all those who do believe and confess it. Allow us to be assertors, and to study and delight in assertions: and do you favour your Sceptics and Academics until Christ shall have called you also. The Holy Spirit is not a Sceptic, nor are what he has written on our hearts doubts or opinions, but assertions more certain, and more firm, than life itself and all human experience.


The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library


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