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Leviticus 27     Psalm 34     Ecclesiastes 10     Titus 2

Leviticus 27

Laws About Vows

Leviticus 27:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the LORD involving the valuation of persons, 3 then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 4 If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. 5 If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. 6 If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. 7 And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. 8 And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford.

9 “If the vow is an animal that may be offered as an offering to the LORD, all of it that he gives to the LORD is holy. 10 He shall not exchange it or make a substitute for it, good for bad, or bad for good; and if he does in fact substitute one animal for another, then both it and the substitute shall be holy. 11 And if it is any unclean animal that may not be offered as an offering to the LORD, then he shall stand the animal before the priest, 12 and the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall be. 13 But if he wishes to redeem it, he shall add a fifth to the valuation.

14 “When a man dedicates his house as a holy gift to the LORD, the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall stand. 15 And if the donor wishes to redeem his house, he shall add a fifth to the valuation price, and it shall be his.

16 “If a man dedicates to the LORD part of the land that is his possession, then the valuation shall be in proportion to its seed. A homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver. 17 If he dedicates his field from the year of jubilee, the valuation shall stand, 18 but if he dedicates his field after the jubilee, then the priest shall calculate the price according to the years that remain until the year of jubilee, and a deduction shall be made from the valuation. 19 And if he who dedicates the field wishes to redeem it, then he shall add a fifth to its valuation price, and it shall remain his. 20 But if he does not wish to redeem the field, or if he has sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed anymore. 21 But the field, when it is released in the jubilee, shall be a holy gift to the LORD, like a field that has been devoted. The priest shall be in possession of it. 22 If he dedicates to the LORD a field that he has bought, which is not a part of his possession, 23 then the priest shall calculate the amount of the valuation for it up to the year of jubilee, and the man shall give the valuation on that day as a holy gift to the LORD. 24 In the year of jubilee the field shall return to him from whom it was bought, to whom the land belongs as a possession. 25 Every valuation shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs shall make a shekel. 26 “But a firstborn of animals, which as a firstborn belongs to the LORD, no man may dedicate; whether ox or sheep, it is the LORD’s. 27 And if it is an unclean animal, then he shall buy it back at the valuation, and add a fifth to it; or, if it is not redeemed, it shall be sold at the valuation.

28 “But no devoted thing that a man devotes to the LORD, of anything that he has, whether man or beast, or of his inherited field, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the LORD. 29 No one devoted, who is to be devoted for destruction from mankind, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death.

30 “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’s; it is holy to the LORD. 31 If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. 32 And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the LORD. 33 One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.”

34 These are the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.

Psalm 34

Taste and See That the LORD Is Good

Psalm 34 Of David, When He Changed His Behavior Before Abimelech, So That He Drove Him Out, And He Went Away.

1  I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2  My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3  Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

4  I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
5  Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
6  This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
7  The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.

8  Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
9  Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
10  The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

11  Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12  What man is there who desires life
and loves many days, that he may see good?
13  Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking deceit.
14  Turn away from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

15  The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
16  The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17  When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18  The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.

19  Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
20  He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
21  Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22  The LORD redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Ecclesiastes 10

Ecclesiastes 10:1

1  Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench;
so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
2  A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right,
but a fool’s heart to the left.
3  Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense,
and he says to everyone that he is a fool.
4  If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place,
for calmness will lay great offenses to rest.

5 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error proceeding from the ruler: 6 folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place. 7 I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves.

8  He who digs a pit will fall into it,
and a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall.
9  He who quarries stones is hurt by them,
and he who splits logs is endangered by them.
10  If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge,
he must use more strength,
but wisdom helps one to succeed.
11  If the serpent bites before it is charmed,
there is no advantage to the charmer.

12  The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor,
but the lips of a fool consume him.
13  The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness,
and the end of his talk is evil madness.
14  A fool multiplies words,
though no man knows what is to be,
and who can tell him what will be after him?
15  The toil of a fool wearies him,
for he does not know the way to the city.

16  Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child,
and your princes feast in the morning!
17  Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility,
and your princes feast at the proper time,
for strength, and not for drunkenness!
18  Through sloth the roof sinks in,
and through indolence the house leaks.
19  Bread is made for laughter,
and wine gladdens life,
and money answers everything.
20  Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king,
nor in your bedroom curse the rich,
for a bird of the air will carry your voice,
or some winged creature tell the matter.

Titus 2

Teach Sound Doctrine

Titus 2:1  But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. 9 Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

The Reformation Study Bible

What I'm Reading

Dimness or Fidelity?

By Albert Mohler 12/1/2005

     With December 25 fast approaching, the secular media are sure to turn their interest once again to the virgin birth. Every Christmas, weekly news magazines and various editorialists engage in a collective gasp that so many Americans could believe such an unscientific, supernatural doctrine. For some, the belief that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin is nothing less than evidence of intellectual dimness. One writer for the New York Times put the lament plainly: “The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time.”

     Does belief in the virgin birth make Christians “less intellectual?” Are we saddled with an untenable doctrine? Can a true Christian deny the virgin birth, or is the doctrine an essential component of the Gospel revealed to us in Scripture?

     The doctrine of the virgin birth was among the first to be questioned and then rejected after the rise of historical criticism and the undermining of biblical authority that inevitably followed. Critics claimed that since the doctrine is taught in “only” two of the four Gospels, it must be optional. The apostle Paul, they argued, did not mention it in his sermons in Acts, so he must not have believed it. Besides, the critics argued, the doctrine is just so supernatural. Modern heretics like retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong argue the doctrine was just evidence of the early church’s over-claiming of Christ’s deity. It is, Spong tells us, the “entrance myth” to go with the resurrection, the “exit myth.” If only Spong were a myth.

     Now, even some revisionist evangelicals claim that belief in the virgin birth is unnecessary. The meaning of the miracle is enduring, they argue, but the historical truth of the doctrine is not important.

     Must one believe in the virgin birth to be a Christian? It is conceivable that someone might come to Christ and trust Christ as Savior without yet learning the Bible teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. A new believer is not yet aware of the full structure of Christian truth. The real question is this: Can a Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the virgin birth? The answer must be no.

     Matthew tells us that before Mary and Joseph “came together,” Mary “was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18). This, Matthew explains, fulfilled what Isaiah promised: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name ‘Immanuel,’ which translated means ‘God with Us’” (Matt. 1:23, Isaiah 9:6-7).

     Luke provides even greater detail, revealing Mary was visited by an angel who explained that she, though a virgin, would bear the divine child: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

     Even if the virgin birth was taught by only one biblical passage, that would be sufficient to obligate all Christians to the belief. We have no right to weigh the truthfulness of biblical teachings by their repetition in Scripture. We cannot claim to believe the Bible is the Word of God and then turn around and cast suspicion on its teaching.

     Millard Erickson states this well: “If we do not hold to the virgin birth despite the fact that the Bible asserts it, then we have compromised the authority of the Bible and there is in principle no reason why we should hold to its other teachings. Thus, rejecting the virgin birth has implications reaching far beyond the doctrine itself.”

     Implications, indeed. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, who was His father? There is no answer that will leave the Gospel intact. The virgin birth explains how Christ could be both God and man, how He was without sin, and that the entire work of salvation is God’s gracious act. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, He had a human father. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, the Bible teaches a lie.

     Carl F. H. Henry, the dean of evangelical theologians, argues that the virgin birth is the “essential, historical indication of the Incarnation, bearing not only an analogy to the divine and human natures of the Incarnate, but also bringing out the nature, purpose, and bearing of this work of God to salvation.” Well said, and well believed.

     The secularist editors of the nation’s news magazines and newspapers may find belief in the virgin birth to be evidence of intellectual backwardness among American Christians. But this is the faith of the church, established in God’s perfect Word, and cherished by the true church throughout the ages. Those who deny the virgin birth affirm other doctrines only by force of whim, for they have already surrendered the authority of Scripture. They have undermined Christ’s nature and nullified the incarnation.

     Christians must face the fact that a denial of the virgin birth is a denial of Jesus as the Christ. The Savior who died for our sins was none other than the baby who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin. The virgin birth does not stand alone as a biblical doctrine, it is an irreducible part of the biblical revelation about the person and work of Jesus Christ. With it, the Gospel stands or falls.

     This much we know: All those who find salvation will be saved by the atoning work of Jesus the Christ, the virgin-born Savior. Anything less than this is just not Christianity, whatever it may call itself. A Christian will not deny the virgin birth.

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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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The Year of Our Lord

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 12/01/2005

     The world is half full of half-empty thinkers, and I am one of them. Puddleglum is my patron saint. And nothing exposes the vast expanse of emptiness in the top half of the glass like listening to the evening news. Every year we seem to have a parade of ground-breaking Supreme Court decisions, all about culturally public affirmations of the lordship of Christ. Forty-two years ago the Supreme Court ruled that prayer to the Almighty would no longer be sanctioned in the state’s schools. To this day, however, we still don’t know if prayers are permitted prior to football games, or at graduations. We dicker over crosses on public lands, over the Ten Commandments in courthouses, and during this time of year, over whether there is any room in the inn for Christmas crèches.

     We half-empty folks, perhaps rightly, bemoan that we not only often lose these cases, but the hard fact that we have them at all. Time was that while we did not have an established church in America as such, we all understood where we came from. There is no question that corporately speaking, we are growing more forgetful. We are, as a culture, eager to keep Christianity on the reservation, somewhere safe inside our hearts and minds where no one will notice. We are as militant in our secularism as al Qaeda is in their Islam.

     Half-full people, on the other hand, are quick to point out that the federal government still finances the office of the congressional chaplain. No one seems to mind. Our coinage, though on the inside is still junk metals, nevertheless carries with it “In God We Trust.” So far, at least outside those states within the region of the Ninth District Court of Appeals, we are still able, should we so choose, to pledge allegiance to a flag that we are told represents a republic that is “under god.” We may be down in the late innings, but the game isn’t over yet.

     All of these tokens, cultural symbols of what matters, matter. While what we seek is absolute submission from the heart of all men everywhere, we have slipped into a cultural gnosticism if we believe there is nothing to be gained by a symbolic acknowledgement of the lordship of Christ. Civil religion will save no one, but then, neither will civil agnosticism. But we have better news. It is true enough that in certain academic circles we still have archaic cultural warriors who want us to begin using CE and BCE as a measurement of time, these abbreviations meaning “Common Era” and “Before the Common Era”. It is likewise true enough that while BC is clear enough (Before Christ) we have been dumbed down such that we can’t handle the simple Latin of Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord. But none of these cultural drifts can undo the fact that we (by “we” I don’t simply mean “Christians” but all citizens of the broader west, even the bce and ce crowd) measure time, one of the most elemental of elements, by the birth of Jesus Christ.

     In a little town of Bethlehem, backwater village in a backwater vassal state of the Roman empire, in a veritable stable, a baby was born. There was no ticker tape parade. There was no three-inch headline in the local paper. But that birth henceforth marked the very hinge of time. Everything that happened before this event would be marked as happening before this event. But better still, everything that happened after this event happened not just in time marked by our Lord, but in time belonging to our Lord. This is His year, as every year is.

     This doesn’t mean, of course, that revival is just around the corner. It doesn’t mean that we are well on our way to victory in the culture wars. It means, however, that this little babe is now Lord over all things, that He will bring in each one that has been given to Him and that He is about the business of bringing all His enemies into submission. That we live in 2005 ad reminds us, whether or not we hear that reminder, that our God reigns.

     While it is good and appropriate that we should mourn at the naked public square, while it is a sure sign of a sad decline that those in positions of political power will not kiss the Son, we would do better to remember that even this is the fruit of the reality of His reign. The hearts of all kings are in His hand. This babe, born king of the Jews, is likewise king of these United States, of Canada, England, East Timor, Iraq, Red China. He does not stand outside the United Nations knocking, but is already Lord over all.

     In the coming year, we would do well to watch our language. We who are His servants often, with well-intentioned zeal, determine to grow the kingdom of God, to expand its borders. But we, even empowered by the Holy Spirit, can do nothing of the kind. We cannot grow the kingdom, expand the borders where Christ reigns, for already He reigns everywhere. All authority, in heaven and on earth, has been given to Him. Our calling isn’t to make His kingdom bigger. Our calling is to make His kingdom clearer, to make manifest, visible, tangible, the already existing but shrouded reality that Jesus Christ is now and ever more shall be Lord. It is a glorious calling, and these are glorious times, for this is the year of our Lord.

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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

I Will Build My Church

By Kim Riddlebarger 12/1/2005

     Jesus Christ came to earth to establish His church, not to build an empire. At no point in our Lord’s messianic ministry is this made any clearer than in those days immediately after our Lord’s death and resurrection, but before His ascension. In the final chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we read of how our Lord’s disciples went to the mountain in Galilee where Jesus had directed them to go (Matt. 28:16). When they saw Jesus there they worshiped Him and then they received His final words of instruction. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (vv. 17–20).

     This important directive from our Lord has come to be known as the Great Commission. Not only do these words constitute marching orders of sorts for the church our Lord came to found, they loudly echo the words of the messianic prophecy of Daniel 7:14: “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Not only is Jesus that one about whom Daniel was speaking, Jesus alone possesses all authority on heaven and earth. With the authority given to Him, Jesus commands His disciples to go into the world with great confidence and make disciples, for Jesus will be with His people until the end of the age (His second advent).

(Da 7:14) And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

     Since we often remember what someone tells us the last time we see them, this is why we must understand our Lord’s first advent in light of the Great Commission. These were Jesus’ parting words to His disciples. Very likely they know they will never again see Jesus in this life. They know these words are important. They will recall these words vividly. For in them, Jesus expresses with a marked purpose and great clarity the reason why He came to earth — to establish His church through the making of disciples. But Jesus has also given His disciples the means to do this through the message of the Gospel — the message of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and the fulfilling of all righteousness through His own perfect obedience — and through the sacraments. Jesus speaks here of the sacrament of baptism in the name of the triune God.

     That the founding of the church is an essential part of Jesus’ redemptive mission can also be seen in the very fact of our Lord’s incarnation. Through His humble birth to a lowly Jewish virgin in the Judean backwaters of Bethlehem, God has taken to Himself a truly human nature. The child who was born was given the name Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The very fact Jesus will save His people from their sins implies that His people will not be rescued from the guilt and power of sin as isolated individuals. Jesus has a people who will be called out from the nations through the preaching of the Gospel to form a church, which is a new society of redeemed people from every race and language. These are people who gather together on the Lord’s day to worship the true and living God, to hear His Word, to receive His sacraments, to sing His praises, to pray and to give gifts of gratitude for all that God has done for us.

     That God saves a people can be seen in the remarkable discussion between Jesus and Peter as recorded in Matthew 16:13–20: “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’”

     When Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, Peter clearly affirmed that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, the One of whom the prophets foretold throughout the Old Testament. Peter also grasps the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and the one in whom all of Israel’s hopes are fulfilled. While Jesus responds to Peter’s confession of faith with words of blessing: “blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah,” Jesus goes on to extend His blessing to His people. This can be seen in the fact that Jesus promises that the “gates of hell” (the power of Satan) will not prevail against His church. This is why Jesus goes on to tell us that His church is given power both to bind and loose (through the preaching of the Gospel). The message of the Gospel will bind the strong man (Satan), conquer unbelief, and create disciples. And this, after all, is why Jesus came to earth. “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13).

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Dr. Kim Riddlebarger is senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, Calif. He is cohost of The White Horse Inn.

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Born of the Virgin Mary

By R.C. Sproul 12/01/2005

     Along with the great theologian and philosopher Anselm of Canterbury we ask the question, Cur deus homo? Why the God-man? When we look at the biblical answer to that question, we see that the purpose behind the incarnation of Christ is to fulfill His work as God’s appointed Mediator. It is said in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself ….” Now, the Bible speaks of many mediators with a small or lower case “m.” A mediator is an agent who stands between two parties who are estranged and in need of reconciliation. But when Paul writes to Timothy of a solitary Mediator, a single Mediator, with a capital “M,” he’s referring to that Mediator who is the supreme Intercessor between God and fallen humanity. This Mediator, Jesus Christ, is indeed the God-man.

     In the early centuries of the church, with the office of mediator and the ministry of reconciliation in view, the church had to deal with heretical movements that would disturb the balance of this mediating character of Christ. Our one Mediator, who stands as an agent to reconcile God and man, is the One who participates both in deity and in humanity. In the gospel of John, we read that it was the eternal Logos, the Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us. It was the second person of the Trinity who took upon Himself a human nature to work out our redemption. In the fifth century at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the church had to fight against a sinister teaching called the Monophysite heresy. The term monophysite is derived from the prefix mono, which means “one,” and from the root phusis, which means “nature” or “essence.” The heretic Eutyches taught that Christ, in the incarnation, had a single nature, which he called a “theanthropic nature.” This theanthropic nature (which combines the word theos, meaning “God,” and anthropos, meaning “man”) gives us a Savior who is a hybrid, but under close scrutiny would be seen to be one who was neither God nor man. The Monophysite heresy obscured the distinction between God and man, giving us either a deified human or a humanized deity. It was against the backdrop of this heresy that the Chalcedonian Creed insisted Christ possesses two distinct natures, divine and human. He is vere homo (truly human) and vere Deus (truly divine, or truly God). These two natures are united in the mystery of the incarnation, but it is important according to Christian orthodoxy that we understand the divine nature of Christ is fully God and the human nature is fully human. So this one person who had two natures, divine and human, was perfectly suited to be our Mediator between God and men. An earlier church council, the Council of Nicea in 325, had declared that Christ came “for us men, and for our salvation.” That is, His mission was to reconcile the estrangement that existed between God and humanity.

     It is important to note that for Christ to be our perfect Mediator, the incarnation was not a union between God and an angel, or between God and a brutish creature such as an elephant or a chimpanzee. The reconciliation that was needed was between God and human beings. In His role as Mediator and the God-man, Jesus assumed the office of the second Adam, or what the Bible calls the last Adam. He entered into a corporate solidarity with our humanity, being a representative like unto Adam in his representation. Paul, for example, in his letter to the Romans gives the contrast between the original Adam and Jesus as the second Adam. In Romans 5, verse 15, he says, “For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” Here we observe the contrast between the calamity that came upon the human race because of the disobedience of the original Adam and the glory that comes to believers because of Christ’s obedience. Paul goes on to say in verse 19: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Adam functioned in the role of a mediator, and he failed miserably in his task. That failure was rectified by the perfect success of Christ, the God-man. We read later in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians these words: “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man” (1 Cor. 15:45).

     We see then the purpose of the first advent of Christ. The Logos took upon Himself a human nature, the Word became flesh to effect our redemption by fulfilling the role of the perfect Mediator between God and man. The new Adam is our champion, our representative, who satisfies the demands of God’s law for us and wins for us the blessing that God promised to His creatures if we would obey His law. Like Adam, we failed to obey the Law, but the new Adam, our Mediator, has fulfilled the Law perfectly for us and won for us the crown of redemption. That is the foundation for the joy of Christmas.

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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 Constancy of a Pilgrim’s Life

By Ligon Duncan 1/1/2006

     It has been said that one hallmark of the Puritan view of the Christian life was the emphasis placed on being “constant” (or being steady and unchanging). Remember how John Bunyan puts the challenge to us to learn from the life of the pilgrim?

Who would true valour see,
let him come hither;
one here will constant be,
come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
his first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.

     That is, “if you want to know how to live a constant Christian life, come take a look at this guy.”

     The Puritans, and certainly Bunyan, highly valued the Bible’s accent on faithfully, consistently, tirelessly pursuing the Christian life with a view to the long haul. Key to this is the role of the ordinary means of grace (chief among them the reading/preaching of the Word, the right partaking of the sacraments, the engagement of the soul with God in prayer). If we are to manifest the constancy of the Christian pilgrim’s life then we will also place much stock in the ordinary means of grace.

     The Word, sacraments, and prayer — these are the ordinances given by God with which spiritual life is nurtured. By “ordinances” we mean spiritual instruments of grace and growth in grace appointed by God in the Bible. Here’s how the Westminster Shorter Catechism with Proof Texts (ESV): An aid for study of the Holy Bible, Question 88: “What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption? Answer: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.”

     How does one go about living the Christian life? How does one walk in the way of salvation? How does one become a “constant Christian?” By a careful use of God’s appointed, ordinary and outward means of growth. Again, the assembly of divines gives this helpful summation of the Bible’s answer: by “faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.” In other words, the constant Christian is strengthened for his pilgrimage by God’s grace held out to all who trust in Christ, bestowed and received through the ordinary means set forth in the Word.

     So, when we say that the Christian pilgrim highly values God’s ordinances and faithfully participates in the ordinary means of grace, we mean that the pilgrim believes the things that God says in the Bible are central to the spiritual health and growth of His people, are in fact central in his own Christian life. In other words, if God says in the Bible that the way His people grow is by a diligent use of His ordinary means, a true pilgrim believes God and lives accordingly.

     Thus, pilgrims (in order to know and grow in the true knowledge of God, and to keep fast in the way of faithfulness) delight in, highly value, and faithfully attend the public reading and preaching of the Word; mature in their assurance as they contemplate God’s saving promises to them each time they see baptism administered and joyfully commune in the Lord’s Supper; and engage in a life of prayer, especially expressed corporately in the local church.

     This isn’t just a Puritan thing though. It is a biblical thing. Throughout the New Testament, God explicitly instructs pastors and churches to do the following things: First, “Give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Tim. 3:13 NASB); Second, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2 NASB); Third, “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20 NASB); Fourth, “This is My body, which is for you.… This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:24–26 NASB); Fifth, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made…. Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands” (1 Tim. 2:1, 8 NASB).

     These are the main ways God’s people grow and become constant. We are saved by grace through faith — indeed, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But the means of God’s grace to bring us to faith and grow us in grace are the Word, prayer, and the sacraments. Nothing else we do in the church’s program should detract from these central means of grace; indeed, everything else we do should promote and coalesce with them. Nothing else is more important if we are to display the constancy of the pilgrim life.

     Walk this way, and you’ll be constant, come wind or weather.

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

Ligon Duncan Books:

Leviticus 27; Psalm 34; Eccl. 10; Titus 2

By Don Carson 4/23/2018

     One of the inevitable characteristics of those who genuinely praise the Lord is that they want others to join with them in their praise. They recognize that if God is the sort of God their praises say he is, then he ought to be recognized by others. Moreover, one of the reasons for praising the Lord is to thank him for the help he has provided. If then we see others in need of the same sort of help, isn’t it natural for us to share our own experience of God’s provision, in the hope that others will seek God’s help? And will this not result in an enlarging circle of praise?

     It is wonderful to hear David say, “I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips” (Ps. 34:1/). But he also invites others, first to share the Lord’s goodness, and then to participate in praise. Hence we read, first, “My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice” (34:2). The afflicted need to learn from the answers to prayer that David has experienced, and which he will shortly detail. And second, the broad invitation to expand the circle of praise follows: “Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together” (34:3).

     The next lines find David testifying to his own experience of God’s grace (34:4-7). The succeeding section is an earnest exhortation to others to trust and follow this same God (34:8-14), and the remainder of the psalm is devoted to extolling the Lord’s righteousness, which ensures he is attentive to the cries of the righteous and sets his face against those who do evil (34:15-22).

     God, David insists, did actually save him “out of all his troubles” (34:6). That is objective fact. Whether he can be seen or not, the “angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (34:7). But in addition to the troubles through which we pass, sometimes more threatening, certainly no less damaging, are the fears that attend them. Fear makes us lose perspective, doubt God’s faithfulness, question the value of the fight. Fear induces stress, bitterness, cowardice, and folly. But David’s testimony is a wonderful encouragement: “I sought the LORD and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (34:4). True the word fears could refer to his own psychological terror, or to the things that made him afraid: doubtless the Lord delivered David from both. But that his own outlook was transformed is made clear by the next verse: “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame” (34:5).

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

Don Carson Books:

Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 41

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

8 They say, “A deadly thing is poured out on him;
he will not rise again from where he lies.”
9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
10 But you, O LORD, be gracious to me,
and raise me up, that I may repay them!

11 By this I know that you delight in me:
my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
and set me in your presence forever.

13 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
Amen and Amen.

ESV Study Bible

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     16. It is also of importance to observe, that the four laws of prayer of which I have treated are not so rigorously enforced, as that God rejects the prayers in which he does not find perfect faith or repentance, accompanied with fervent zeal and wishes duly framed. We have said (sec. 4), that though prayer is the familiar intercourse of believers with God, yet reverence and modesty must be observed: we must not give loose reins to our wishes, nor long for any thing farther than God permits; and, moreover, lest the majesty of God should be despised, our minds must be elevated to pure and chaste veneration. This no man ever performed with due perfection. For, not to speak of the generality of men, how often do David's complaints savour of intemperance? Not that he actually means to expostulate with God, or murmur at his judgments, but failing, through infirmity, he finds no better solace than to pour his griefs into the bosom of his heavenly Father. Nay, even our stammering is tolerated by God, and pardon is granted to our ignorance as often as any thing rashly escapes us: indeed, without this indulgence, we should have no freedom to pray. But although it was David's intention to submit himself entirely to the will of God, and he prayed with no less patience than fervor, yet irregular emotions appear, nay, sometimes burst forth,--emotions not a little at variance with the first law which we laid down. In particular, we may see in a clause of the thirty-ninth Psalm, how this saint was carried away by the vehemence of his grief, and unable to keep within bounds. "O spare me, [471] that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more," (Ps. 39:13). You would call this the language of a desperate man, who had no other desire than that God should withdraw and leave him to relish in his distresses. Not that his devout mind rushes into such intemperance, or that, as the reprobate are wont, he wishes to have done with God; he only complains that the divine anger is more than he can bear. During those trials, wishes often escape which are not in accordance with the rule of the word, and in which the saints do not duly consider what is lawful and expedient. Prayers contaminated by such faults, indeed, deserve to be rejected; yet provided the saints lament, administer self-correction and return to themselves, God pardons. Similar faults are committed in regard to the second law (as to which, see sec. 6), for the saints have often to struggle with their own coldness, their want and misery not urging them sufficiently to serious prayer. It often happens, also, that their minds wander, and are almost lost; hence in this matter also there is need of pardon, lest their prayers, from being languid or mutilated, or interrupted and wandering, should meet with a refusal. One of the natural feelings which God has imprinted on our mind is, that prayer is not genuine unless the thoughts are turned upward. Hence the ceremony of raising the hands, to which we have adverted, a ceremony known to all ages and nations, and still in common use. But who, in lifting up his hands, is not conscious of sluggishness, the heart cleaving to the earth? In regard to the petition for remission of sins (sec. 8), though no believer omits it, yet all who are truly exercised in prayer feel that they bring scarcely a tenth of the sacrifice of which David speaks, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise," (Ps. 51:17). Thus a twofold pardon is always to be asked; first, because they are conscious of many faults the sense of which, however, does not touch them so as to make them feel dissatisfied with themselves as they ought; and, secondly, in so far as they have been enabled to profit in repentance and the fear of God, they are humbled with just sorrow for their offenses, and pray for the remission of punishment by the judge. The thing which most of all vitiates prayer, did not God indulgently interpose, is weakness or imperfection of faith; but it is not wonderful that this defect is pardoned by God, who often exercises his people with severe trials, as if he actually wished to extinguish their faith. The hardest of such trials is when believers are forced to exclaim, "O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?" (Ps. 80:4), as if their very prayers offended him. In like manner, when Jeremiah says "Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayers" (Lam. 3:8), there cannot be a doubt that he was in the greatest perturbation. Innumerable examples of the same kind occur in the Scriptures, from which it is manifest that the faith of the saints was often mingled with doubts and fears, so that while believing and hoping, they, however, betrayed some degree of unbelief, But because they do not come so far as were to be wished, that is only an additional reason for their exerting themselves to correct their faults, that they may daily approach nearer to the perfect law of prayer, and at the same time feel into what an abyss of evils those are plunged, who, in the very cures they use, bring new diseases upon themselves: since there is no prayer which God would not deservedly disdain, did he not overlook the blemishes with which all of them are polluted. I do not mention these things that believers may securely pardon themselves in any faults which they commit, but that they may call themselves to strict account, and thereby endeavour to surmount these obstacles; and though Satan endeavours to block up all the paths in order to prevent them from praying, they may, nevertheless, break through, being firmly persuaded that though not disencumbered of all hindrances, their attempts are pleasing to God, and their wishes are approved, provided they hasten on and keep their aim, though without immediately reaching it. 17. But since no man is worthy to come forward in his own name, and appear in the presence of God, our heavenly Father, to relieve us at once from fear and shame, with which all must feel oppressed, [472] has given us his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to be our Advocate and Mediator, that under his guidance we may approach securely, confiding that with him for our Intercessor nothing which we ask in his name will be denied to us, as there is nothing which the Father can deny to him (1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 2:1; see sec. 36, 37). To this it is necessary to refer all that we have previously taught concerning faith; because, as the promise gives us Christ as our Mediator, so, unless our hope of obtaining what we ask is founded on him, it deprives us of the privilege of prayer. For it is impossible to think of the dread majesty of God without being filled with alarm; and hence the sense of our own unworthiness must keep us far away, until Christ interpose, and convert a throne of dreadful glory into a throne of grace, as the Apostle teaches that thus we can "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 as a rule has been laid down as to prayer, as a promise has been given that those who pray will be heard, so we are specially enjoined to pray in the name of Christ, the promise being that we shall obtain what we ask in his name. "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name," says our Saviour, "that will I do; that the Father may be glorified in the Son;" "Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full," (John 14:13; 16:24). Hence it is incontrovertibly clear that those who pray to God in any other name than that of Christ contumaciously falsify his orders, and regard his will as nothing, while they have no promise that they shall obtain. For, as Paul says "All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him amen;" (2 Cor. 1:20), that is, are confirmed and fulfilled in him. 18. And we must carefully attend to the circumstance of time. Christ enjoins his disciples to have recourse to his intercession after he shall have ascended to heaven: "At that day ye shall ask in my name," (John 16:26). It is certain, indeed, that from the very first all who ever prayed were heard only for the sake of the Mediator. For this reason God had commanded in the Law, that the priest alone should enter the sanctuary, bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on his shoulders, and as many precious stones on his breast, while the people were to stand at a distance in the outer court, and thereafter unite their prayers with the priest. Nay, the sacrifice had even the effect of ratifying and confirming their prayers. That shadowy ceremony of the Law therefore taught, first, that we are all excluded from the face of God, and, therefore, that there is need of a Mediator to appear in our name, and carry us on his shoulders and keep us bound upon his breast, that we may be heard in his person; And secondly, that our prayers, which, as has been said, would otherwise never be free from impurity, are cleansed by the sprinkling of his blood. And we see that the saints, when they desired to obtain any thing, founded their hopes on sacrifices, because they knew that by sacrifice all prayers were ratified: "Remember all thy offerings," says David, "and accept thy burnt sacrifice," (Ps. 20:3). Hence we infer, that in receiving the prayers of his people, God was from the very first appeased by the intercession of Christ. Why then does Christ speak of a new period ("at that day") when the disciples were to begin to pray in his name, unless it be that this grace, being now more brightly displayed, ought also to be in higher estimation with us? In this sense he had said a little before, "Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name; ask." Not that they were altogether ignorant of the office of Mediator (all the Jews were instructed in these first rudiments), but they did not clearly understand that Christ by his ascent to heaven would be more the advocate of the Church than before. Therefore, to solace their grief for his absence by some more than ordinary result, he asserts his office of advocate, and says, that hitherto they had been without the special benefit which it would be their privilege to enjoy, when aided by his intercession they should invoke God with greater freedom. In this sense the Apostle says that we have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us," (Heb. 10:19, 20). Therefore, the more inexcusable we are, if we do not with both hands (as it is said) embrace the inestimable gift which is properly destined for us. 19. Moreover since he himself is the only way and the only access by which we can draw near to God, those who deviate from this way, and decline this access, have no other remaining; his throne presents nothing but wrath, judgment, and terror. In short, as the Father has consecrated him our guide and head, those who abandon or turn aside from him in any way endeavour, as much as in them lies, to sully and efface the stamp which God has impressed. Christ, therefore, is the only Mediator by whose intercession the Father is rendered propitious and exorable (1 Tim. 2:5). For though the saints are still permitted to use intercessions, by which they mutually beseech God in behalf of each others salvation, and of which the Apostle makes mention (Eph. 6:18, 19; 1 Tim. 2:1); yet these depend on that one intercession, so far are they from derogating from it. For as the intercessions which, as members of one body we offer up for each other, spring from the feeling of love, so they have reference to this one head. Being thus also made in the name of Christ, what more do they than declare that no man can derive the least benefit from any prayers without the intercession of Christ? As there is nothing in the intercession of Christ to prevent the different members of the Church from offering up prayers for each other, so let it be held as a fixed principle, that all the intercessions thus used in the Church must have reference to that one intercession. Nay, we must be specially careful to show our gratitude on this very account, that God pardoning our unworthiness, not only allows each individual to pray for himself, but allows all to intercede mutually for each other. God having given a place in his Church to intercessors who would deserve to be rejected when praying privately on their own account, how presumptuous were it to abuse this kindness by employing it to obscure the honour of Christ? 20. Moreover, the Sophists are guilty of the merest trifling when they allege that Christ is the Mediator of redemption, but that believers are mediators of intercession; as if Christ had only performed a temporary mediation, and left an eternal and imperishable mediation to his servants. Such, forsooth, is the treatment which he receives from those who pretend only to take from him a minute portion of honour. Very different is the language of Scripture, with whose simplicity every pious man will be satisfied, without paying any regard to those importers. For when John says, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous," (1 John 2:1), does he mean merely that we once had an advocate; does he not rather ascribe to him a perpetual intercession? What does Paul mean when he declares that he "is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us"? (Rom. 8:32). But when in another passage he declares that he is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5), is he not referring to the supplications which he had mentioned a little before? Having previously said that prayers were to be offered up for all men, he immediately adds, in confirmation of that statement, that there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man. Nor does Augustine give a different interpretation when he says, "Christian men mutually recommend each other in their prayers. But he for whom none intercedes, while he himself intercedes for all, is the only true Mediator. Though the Apostle Paul was under the head a principal member, yet because he was a member of the body of Christ, and knew that the most true and High Priest of the Church had entered not by figure into the inner veil to the holy of holies, but by firm and express truth into the inner sanctuary of heaven to holiness, holiness not imaginary, but eternal, he also commends himself to the prayers of the faithful. He does not make himself a mediator between God and the people, but asks that all the members of the body of Christ should pray mutually for each other, since the members are mutually sympathetic: if one member suffers, the others suffer with it. And thus the mutual prayers of all the members still laboring on the earth ascend to the Head, who has gone before into heaven, and in whom there is propitiation for our sins. For if Paul were a mediator, so would also the other apostles, and thus there would be many mediators, and Paul's statement could not stand, There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;' in whom we also are one if we keep the unity of the faith in the bond of peace," [473] (August. Contra Parmenian, Lib. 2 cap. 8). Likewise in another passage Augustine says, "If thou requirest a priest, he is above the heavens, where he intercedes for those who on earth died for thee," (August. in Ps. 94) imagine not that he throws himself before his Father's knees, and suppliantly intercedes for us; but we understand with the Apostle, that he appears in the presence of God, and that the power of his death has the effect of a perpetual intercession for us; that having entered into the upper sanctuary, he alone continues to the end of the world to present the prayers of his people, who are standing far off in the outer court.

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

  • Revelation 15-16
  • Revelation 17
  • Revelation 18

#1 5/13/2011 | Brett Meador


#2 5/20/2011 | Brett Meador


#3 5/27/2011 | Brett Meador


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     9/1/2004    Theology in Perspective

     While a student in Bible college I was faced with a dilemma. According to a professor of mine, as a minister, I could either be a student of theology or a student of Scripture. It was his contention that ministers are called to be students of Scripture, not students of theology. I wrestled between the two options for many months. Would I be a faithful student of Scripture or would I be an articulate student of theology? I was convinced that in order to pursue theological study I would need to sacrifice my devotion to the study of Scripture, and that if I were to continue as a student of Scripture, I would need to forget about theology. It later occurred to me that there is another option.

     Theology, properly speaking, is the study of God. As Christians, we are called to know God as He has revealed Himself to us. Therefore, in order to be students of theology, we must be students of His Word. On this point, Thomas Aquinas wrote: Theologia Deum docet, ab Deo docetur, et ad Deum ducit (theology teaches God, is taught by God, and leads to God).

     Theology is not a philosophical pursuit of abstract speculations about God. It is in fact the examination of that which God has revealed to us. As faithful students of the Word of God, we are, by necessity, students of theology. The two are not at odds with each other; rather, they serve to complement one another. Whereas the Word of God is the foundation of our knowledge, theology is the expression of our knowledge. Thus, the study of God cannot be separated from the Word of God.

     It is with this in mind that we look to John Owen who was, above all, a theologian of the Word. He is regarded as one of the church’s greatest systematic theologians. He expounded the depths of some of the most difficult doctrines of the faith, but in doing so he did not forsake the integrity of Scripture. On the contrary, his careful articulation of theology came as a result of his careful exegesis of the Word of God.

     Owen did not revere himself as a master of Scripture but as a humble servant of it. His devotion to the Word of God was in direct correlation to his devotion to God Himself. Indeed, Owen was a man of God who served the church of God as a student of God’s Word. To him we owe great respect, for he lived coram Deo, before the face of God, as a burning and shining light to the world.

     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

     Four years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, William Shakespeare died on this day, April 23, 1616. His 37 plays have impacted world literature. He married Ann Hathaway, had three children, moved to London, and became shareholding director of the Globe Theater, writing such classics as Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare wrote in his Will: "I commend my soul into the hands of God, my Creator, hoping and assuredly believing, through the only merits of Jesus Christ, my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting."

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams

Every evening I turn my worries over to God.
He's going to be up all night anyway.
--- Mary C. Crowley
Meditations for People Who (May) Worry Too Much

God loves each of us
as if there were only one of us.
--- St. Augustine
The Hiding Place

To stand in the presence of God, that is what the Gospel is. The Gospel is not primarily about forgiveness. It’s not primarily about good feelings. It’s not primarily about power. All those things are byproducts, sparks. It’s primarily about the presence of God.
--- Timothy Keller
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

I am persuaded that religious people do not with sufficient seriousness count on God as an active factor in the affairs of the world. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock," but too many well-intentioned people are so preoccupied with the clatter of effort to do something for God that they don't hear Him asking that He might do something through them.
--- Thomas R. Kelly
Notebooks, 1935-1942 (Volume 1)

... from here, there and everywhere

The Imitation Of Christ
     Thomas A Kempis

     Book Three - Internal Consolation

     The Forty-Fifth Chapter / All Men Are Not To Be Believed, For It Is Easy To Err In Speech

     The Disciple

     GRANT me help in my needs, O Lord, for the aid of man is useless. How often have I failed to find faithfulness in places where I thought I possessed it! And how many times I have found it where I least expected it! Vain, therefore, is hope in men, but the salvation of the just is in You, O God. Blessed be Your name, O Lord my God, in everything that befalls us.

     We are weak and unstable, quickly deceived and changed. Who is the man that is able to guard himself with such caution and care as not sometimes to fall into deception or perplexity? He who confides in You, O Lord, and seeks You with a simple heart does not fall so easily. And if some trouble should come upon him, no matter how entangled in it he may be, he will be more quickly delivered and comforted by You. For You will not forsake him who trusts in You to the very end.

     Rare is the friend who remains faithful through all his friend’s distress. But You, Lord, and You alone, are entirely faithful in all things; other than You, there is none so faithful.

     Oh, how wise is that holy soul8 who said: “My mind is firmly settled and founded in Christ.” If that were true of me, human fear would not so easily cause me anxiety, nor would the darts of words disturb. But who can foresee all things and provide against all evils? And if things foreseen have often hurt, can those which are unlooked for do otherwise than wound us gravely? Why, indeed, have I not provided better for my wretched self? Why, too, have I so easily kept faith in others? We are but men, however, nothing more than weak men, although we are thought by many to be, and are called, angels.

     In whom shall I put my faith, Lord? In whom but You? You are the truth which does not deceive and cannot be deceived. Every man, on the other hand, is a liar, weak, unstable, and likely to err, especially in words, so that one ought not to be too quick to believe even that which seems, on the face of it, to sound true. How wise was Your warning to beware of men; that a man’s enemies are those of his own household; that we should not believe if anyone says: “Behold he is here, or behold he is there.”

     I have been taught to my own cost, and I hope it has given me greater caution, not greater folly. “Beware,” they say, “beware and keep to yourself what I tell you!” Then while I keep silent, believing that the matter is secret, he who asks me to be silent cannot remain silent himself, but immediately betrays both me and himself, and goes his way. From tales of this kind and from such careless men protect me, O Lord, lest I fall into their hands and into their ways. Put in my mouth words that are true and steadfast and keep far from me the crafty tongue, because what I am not willing to suffer I ought by all means to shun.

     Oh, how good and how peaceful it is to be silent about others, not to believe without discrimination all that is said, not easily to report it further, to reveal oneself to few, always to seek You as the discerner of hearts, and not to be blown away by every wind of words, but to wish that all things, within and beyond us, be done according to the pleasure of Thy will.

     How conducive it is for the keeping of heavenly grace to fly the gaze of men, not to seek abroad things which seem to cause admiration, but to follow with utmost diligence those which give fervor and amendment of life! How many have been harmed by having their virtue known and praised too hastily! And how truly profitable it has been when grace remained hidden during this frail life, which is all temptation and warfare!

The Imitation Of Christ

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

     Receiving the Holy Spirit

     First of all, Paul says: "Having begun in the Spirit." Remember, the apostle not only preached justification by faith, but he preached something more. He preached this--the epistle is full of it—that justified men cannot live but by the Holy Spirit, and that therefore God gives to every justified man the Holy Spirit to seal him. The apostle says to them in effect more than once:

     "How did you receive the Holy Spirit? Was it by the preaching of the law, or by the preaching of faith?"

     He could point back to that time when there had been a mighty revival under his teaching. The power of God had been manifested, and the Galatians were compelled to confess:

     "Yes, we have got the Holy Spirit: accepting Christ by faith, by faith we received the Holy Spirit."

     Now, it is to be feared that there are many Christians who hardly know that when they believed, they received the Holy Spirit. A great many Christians can say: "I received pardon and I received peace." But if you were to ask them: "Have you received the Holy Spirit?" they would hesitate, and many, if they were to say Yes, would say it with hesitation; and they would tell you that they hardly knew what it was, since that time, to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us try and take hold of this great truth: The beginning of the true Christian life is to receive the Holy Spirit. And the work of every Christian minister is that which was the work of Paul--to remind his people that they received the Holy Spirit, and must live according to His guidance and in His power.

Absolute Surrender (The Colportage Library)

Proverbs 15:15-17
     by D.H. Stern

15     For the poor, every day is hard;
but the good-hearted have a perpetual feast.
16     Better little with the fear of ADONAI
than great wealth coupled with worry.
17     Better a vegetable dinner with love
than a stall-fattened ox with hate.

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


     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 worship of the work

     Labourers together with God. ---
1 Cor. 3:9.

     Beware of any work for God which enables you to evade concentration on Him. A great many Christian workers worship their work. The one concern of a worker should be concentration on God, and this will mean that all the other margins of life, mental, moral and spiritual, are free with the freedom of a child—a worshipping child, not a wayward child. A worker without this solemn, dominant note of concentration on God is apt to get his work on his neck; there is no margin of body, mind or spirit free, consequently he becomes spent out and crushed. There is no freedom, no delight in life; nerves, mind and heart are so crushingly burdened that God’s blessing cannot rest. But the other side is just as true—when once the concentration is on God, all the margins of life are free and under the dominance of God alone. There is no responsibility on you for the work; the only responsibility you have is to keep in living, constant touch with God, and to see that you allow nothing to hinder your co-operation with Him. The freedom after sanctification is the freedom of a child, the things that used to keep the life pinned down are gone. But be careful to remember that you are freed for one thing only—to be absolutely devoted to your co-Worker.

     We have no right to judge where we should be put, or to have preconceived notions as to what God is fitting us for. God engineers everything; wherever He puts us our one great aim is to pour out a whole-hearted devotion to Him in that particular work. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”

My Utmost for His Highest

The Welsh Hill Country
     the Poetry of R.S. Thomas

           The Welsh Hill Country

Too far for you to see
The fluke and foot-rot and the fat maggot
Gnawing the skin from the small bones,
The sheep are grazing at Bwlch-y-Fedwen,
Arranged romantically in the usual manner
On a bleak background of bald stone.
Too far for you to see
The moss and the mould on the cold chimneys,
The nettles growing through the cracked doors,
The houses stand empty at Nant-yr-Eira,
There are holes in the roofs that are thatched
with sunlight,
And the fields are reverting to the bare moor.
Too far, too far to see
The set of his eyes and the slow pthisis
Wasting his frame under the ripped coat,
There's a man still farming at Ty'n-y-Fawnog,
Contributing grimly to the accepted pattern,
The embryo music dead in his throat.

Selected poems, 1946-1968

Teacher's Commentary
     Threats to Discipleship: Mark 10:1–52

     Jesus had shown His followers several keys to living as disciples. Now in a series of incidents that Mark linked together, Christ warned against pathways that have attracted the religious of all the ages. Jesus' disciples, today as then, must be careful not to fall into these spiritual traps.

     Legalism (Mark 10:1–16). Again Jesus was met and questioned by some Pharisees. As always, they raised a legal question to "test" Jesus. There is one Greek word that suggests a "test" which is administered from a desire to prove the genuineness of the article tested. That word is not used here. The Pharisees did not wish to approve Jesus; they wished to discredit Him.

     Each of the Gospel writers reports words of Jesus on marriage. He must have spoken of it often. So when the Pharisees raised the question again to "test" Christ, we can assume that they already knew His position.

     Their question: "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

     This was intended as a trap. If Jesus said no, He would seem to speak against the Law of Moses. If He said yes, He would apparently contradict His own oftenexpressed commitment to a permanent relationship.

     Jesus answered by referring to the Law in which they claimed to trust. "What did Moses command you?"

     And they spoke of the "certificate of divorce" that the Mosaic Law permitted.

     Jesus' response showed a totally different perspective on the Law than was held by the Pharisees. The Pharisees held that the Law was "the" standard of perfection. They believed God had given that perfect standard to mark out the way of salvation. And they also believed that they, by their zealous effort to keep the Law, would win His approval.

     Jesus had a different perspective. He explained, "It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law." Look back to Creation, Jesus taught, and you will see God's intention. Marriage is to be a lifelong commitment.

     The reference to hard hearts is a reference to sin. It was only because sin warped and distorted this most intimate of relationships that Moses permitted divorce. God was willing to lower His standards, to provide imperfect human beings with a way to escape a destructive marriage. Divorce law, then, proved that Law itself was not the ideal standard the Pharisees thought it to be! In fact, Law involved a lowering of God's standards, permitting men who fell far short of His true ideal to continue in fellowship with Him.

     What Law does is to show how far short we fall of the divine ideal, and reveal our need for salvation (cf. Romans 3:19–20). The Pharisees' assumption that one could be saved by works of the Law, or even win God's approval by legalistic dedication, was completely wrong!

     Later the disciples asked about the incident. His answer again focused on the heart, and suggested that the law on divorce was being used simply to change an older mate for a younger one. Anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery. It is not conformity to the letter of the law, but intent, that God judges.

     How careful we must be not to let our living relationships with Jesus be translated into frozen rules that ignore the motives of our hearts and are insensitive to the true desires for our God. And how very careful we must be not to legalistically "test" our brothers as the Pharisees constantly tried to test Jesus, not to approve but to discredit Him.

     This sequence ends with another story. People were bringing little children to Jesus. The disciples objected, and tried to send the parents away. But Jesus indignantly commanded them to "let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." He went on to add that "anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

     What did Jesus mean? In Judaism a "little child" was not considered to be under the Law. Not until one's thirteenth birthday was a person old enough to begin to relate to God through the Law. To receive the kingdom like a "little child" meant to reject Law as a way of entering God's kingdom, and to rely instead as children did on the love and grace of the God who had made great promises to His people.

     Humanism (Mark 10:17–34). The "rich young man" who came to Jesus addressed Him as "good Teacher" and asked what he must "do" to inherit eternal life. These provide the key to understanding the next danger to the disciple: humanism.

     Jesus immediately challenged the young man's assumptions. Why did he call Jesus "good" and add a merely human title? Didn't he realize that only God is truly "good"?

     This is, of course, the key error of humanism. It seeks goodness in human motives and actions, without realizing that only God is good.

     To help the young man discover his error for himself, Jesus asked about the commands listed on the second tablet of the Law.

     When Moses brought God's Ten Commands down from Mount Sinai, they were written on two stone tablets. The first tablet contained commands that related to loving God. The second tablet contained commands related to loving other human beings. Now Jesus quoted only from the second tablet as He spoke of the commands not to murder, commit adultery, steal, give false testimony, or defraud, and to honor mother and father. This, the young man said, he had done since he was a boy.

     This young man was not lying. He had been a truly good person. "Jesus looked at him and loved him."

     But then Jesus spoke of a great lack. And He told the young man to sell everything, give it to the poor, and then follow Jesus.

     The young man's face fell, and he went away sad "because he had great wealth."

     What happened here? This young man who represented the best humanism has to offer—a truly "good" (by human standards) person—had related correctly to his fellowmen. But the very first commandment says, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (cf. Exodus 20:3). Jesus' instructions to sell all was a vivid demonstration that this lovely young man, so sensitive in his dealings with others, actually did have another god before God: his money. When the Son of God commanded him to sell his possessions, he made his choice—money.

     How hard it was for this rich young man to give God His proper place. Humanistic good—an honest consideration of other people—is not really costly. But putting God first may demand our everything!

     The disciples again misunderstood. When Jesus remarked on how hard it is for the rich to enter His kingdom, the disciples were stunned. Surely wealth was a sign of God's approval! If the wealthy found it difficult, who then could be saved?

     Jesus answered, "With man this is impossible." No matter how kind and considerate the humanist may be, mere human goodness can never win entrance to God's kingdom. But, "All things are possible with God" (Mark 10:27). In Jesus Himself God has made a way for His lost ones to return.

     Still the disciples misunderstood. Fascinated with riches, Peter wondered aloud. "We have left everything to follow You!" Jesus nodded and made Peter, and you and me a promise. In abandoning everything we will without fail receive "a hundred times as much in this present age." In Christ we become the possessors of all things. But many who seem "first" in this life will be last in God's kingdom, and those whom men account "last" will be first.

     Authoritarianism (Mark 10:35–45). The third danger to discipleship is the desire for the wrong kind of authority within the believing community. James and John were eager for positions of power in Jesus' coming kingdom. Jesus warned them that one who sought position in His kingdom must be ready to drink from Christ's cup and to be baptized with His baptism. In this He spoke of complete dedication to God's will, and the suffering that this might entail.

     Jesus warned them, however, to abandon the notion of "authority" as it was understood in the secular world. There the rulers "lord it over" others and "exercise authority over them." It is not to be this way in Jesus' kingdom. The person who is great is the one who gives himself to serve others, even as Jesus came to serve and to give His life (Mark 10:43–44).

     There is to be no hierarchy in the church! The greatest is the lowest: the one who dedicates himself not to be served by those to whom he gives orders, but to give service that they might become all that God wants them to be.

     The blind see (Mark 10:46–52). Again Mark closed a section with report of a miracle. But what a special miracle. A blind man was given his sight, and was told, "Your faith has healed you."

     It is the same with us. Jesus gives us the spiritual sight to see the emptiness in legalism, the futility of mere humanism, and the error of hierarchialism. What is it that truly can heal the disciple and lead him along the pathway of power? Jesus answers us in His words to the blind who now can see. "Go, your faith has healed you." And as with Bartimaeus, "immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road."

The Teacher's Commentary

Matthew 19:8-12
     Pulpit Commentary

     Ver. 8.—Moses because of (πρὸς, with a view to, to meet) the hardness of your hearts; your obstinacy, perverseness. You were not honest and pure enough to obey the primitive law. There was danger that you would ill treat your wives in order to get rid of them, or even murder them. The lesser evil was regular divorce. But the enactment is really a shame and reproach to you, and was occasioned by grave defects in your character and conduct. And it is not true to say that Moses commanded; he only suffered you to put away your wives. This was a temporary permission to meet your then circumstances. Divorce had been practised commonly and long; it was traditional; it was seen among all other Oriental peoples. Moses could not hope at once to eradicate the inveterate evil; he could only modify, mitigate, and regulate its practice. The rules which he introduced were intended, not to facilitate divorce, but to lead men better to realize the proper idea of marriage. And Christ was introducing a better law, a higher morality, for which Mosaic legislation paved the way (comp. Rom. 5:20; 8:3; Heb. 9:10). From the beginning. The original institution of marriage contained no idea of divorce; it was no mere civil contract, made by man and dissoluble by man, but a union of God’s own formation, with which no human power could interfere. However novel this view might seem, it was God’s own design from the first. The first instance of polygamy occurs in Gen. 4:19, and is connected with murder and revenge.

9.—And I say unto you. Our Lord here enunciates the law which was to obtain in his kingdom, which, indeed, was simply the reintroduction and enforcement of the primitive and natural ordinance. Except it be for fornication; εἰ μὴ ἐπὶ πορνεία: nisi ob fornicationem (Vulgate). This is the received reading. Tregelles, Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort omit εἰ. The parallel passage in St. Mark (where Christ is stated to have made the remark to his disciples “in the house”) omits the clause altogether. Lachmann, following some few manuscripts, has introduced παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας, “saving for the cause of fornication,” from ch. 5:32. The interpretation of this verse has given occasion to acute controversy. There are some questions that have to be considered in expounding this matter. (1) What is here meant by πορνεία? Does it bear its usual meaning, or is it equivalent to μοιχεία, “adultery”? Those who affirm that the sin of married persons is never expressed by the word porneia, hold that it here signifies ante-nuptial unchastity, which would make the marriage void ab initio; post-nuptial transgression would be punished by death, not by divorce. In this view, our Lord would say that no divorce is allowable except where the wife is proved to have been unchaste before marriage. In such a case, the union being void from the first, the man is free to marry again. But there are difficulties in this interpretation. Why, at the end of the verse, is it called adultery to marry the divorced woman, if she was never really and lawfully married? Again, it is not correct to say that porneia denotes solely the sin of unmarried people. All illicit connection is described by this term, and it cannot be limited to one particular kind of transgression. In Ecclus. 23:23 it is used expressly of the sin of an adulteress. We may also remark that metaphorically idolatry is often called by this name, whereas, since Israel is supposed to be married to the Lord, the breaking of this bond by the worship of false gods might more strictly be named adultery. And yet again, there is no proof that the discovery of previous immorality in a wife did ipso facto vitiate the marriage (see Hos. 1:2, etc.). The passages that are thought to bear on this matter are Deut. 22:13–21 and 24:1–4. In the former there is no question of divorce,—the offender is to be stoned; in the second passage the ground of divorce is “some uncleanness,” or some unseemly thing, whether immorality or personal defect is meant cannot be decided, the rival schools taking different sides. But it is quite certain that adultery is not intended, and ante-nuptial unchastity is not even hinted.

     The interpretation, therefore, given above cannot be maintained. (2) Omitting for the moment the limiting clause, may we say that the general teaching of Christ makes for the indissolubility of the marriage bond? The majority of the Fathers from Hermas and Justin Martyr downwards affirm this. Those who admit that divorce is permissible in the case of the wife’s adultery are unanimous in asserting that, by Christ’s ordinance, remarriage is prohibited to the husband during the culprit’s life; so that, practically, if divorce a mensâ et toro is allowed, divorce a vinculo is refused. All Christ’s utterances on the subject, saving the apparently restrictive clause (ch.
5:32) and here, absolutely and plainly forbid divorce, on the ground of law and nature. The words in Mark 10:11 and Luke 16:18 are given without any limitation whatever. St. Paul draws from such his conclusion of the indissolubility of the marriage tie, as may be seen in 1 Cor. 7:10, 11, 39; Rom. 7:2, 3. There could never have been a doubt about this subject had it not been for the difficulty in interpreting the parenthetical clause. (3) Are we, then, to suppose that Christ, by those words, modifies his general statement, and allows absolute divorce in the case of a wife’s misconduct? Such is the view taken by many theologians, and practically endorsed by the civil law of many countries. Neither the Roman nor the Anglican Churches support this laxity. Ecclesiastical and civil laws are here antagonistic. It is said that Christ allows the wronged party to marry again. If so, if the oneness of the parties is wholly destroyed by the sin of the woman, why is it not permitted to a man to marry a divorced woman? This cannot be called adultery unless she is still one flesh with her husband, although separated. We must argue from this that divorce in such a case does not destroy the vinculum matrimonii, the marriage bond, and if not under this circumstance, surely under no other; for any other ground must be always less serious than adultery. If the clause in question enunciated an exception to the absolute rule elsewhere given, Christ would seem to stultify himself, to give two opposite decisions, and to introduce uncertainty in a most important verdict. The principle on which he based his dictum would be overthrown, and his hearers might have accused him of inconsistency. The solution offered for this difficulty is this—that Christ is contemplating merely what we call judicial separation; he considers that no trivial cause justifies this, in fact, nothing but fornication, and that this modified divorce does not free the man so that he may marry again; he is bound by the Law as long as his wife lives. Our Lord seems to have introduced the exceptional clause in order to answer what were virtually two questions of the Pharisees, viz. whether it was lawful to “put away a wife for every cause,” and whether, when a man had legally divorced his wife, he might marry again. To the former Christ replies that separation was allowable only in the case of fornication; in response to the second, he rules that even in that case remarriage was wholly barred. And whosoever marrieth her which is put away (ἀπολελυμένην, without the article); her, when she is put away (Revised Version); or, a divorced woman. The clause is wholly omitted by א and some other manuscripts, and some modern editors, as Westcott and Hort. But it has very high authority in its favour. Alford renders, “her, when divorced,” and restricts the application to a woman unlawfully divorced, not extending it to one separated for porneia. But the language is too indefinite to admit of this interpretation as certain (see Luke 16:18, and the note on ch. 5:32†, where the popular view is expressed). The clause, pondered without regard to foregone conclusions, surely contains an argument for the indissolubility of the marriage tie, as we have said above. Marriage with a divorced wife can be rightly termed adultery only in consideration of the continuance of the vinculum. Doth commit adultery. The binding nature of marriage does not depend on the will or the acts of the persons, but on its primal character and institution. By the repeal of the Mosaic relaxation and the restoration of marriage to its original principle, Christ not only enforces the high dignity of this ordinance, but obviates many opportunities of wickedness, such, for instance, as collusion between husband and wife with a view to obtain freedom for marriage with others.

10.—His disciples say unto him. Our Lord appears to have repeated privately to the disciples what he had said publicly to the Pharisees. If the case (ἡ αἰτία) of the man be so with his wife. Some commentators take αἰτία to signify guilt: “if such guilt appertains to the married state.” But the meaning is plain enough anyway, and the word, as here used, corresponds to the Latin causa, and the Hebrew dibrah, which may denote “case,” “condition,” etc. The disciples reflect the feeling of their day. Marriage without any possibility of essential release (for they see that this is Christ’s law) seems to them a severe and unbearable connection. It were better never to marry at all than to fetter one’s self with such an inexorable obligation. Such a doctrine was entirely novel in that age, and most unpalatable; and even the apostles receive it with wonder and hesitation. They have not yet learned that in Messiah’s kingdom grace conquers natural inclination, and strengthens the weak will so that it rises superior to custom, prejudice, and the promptings of the flesh.

11.—Our Lord makes a gentle reply to this observation of the disciples concerning the inexpediency of marriage under some circumstances. You say true, he seems to mean, but all men cannot receive this saying; i.e. their words, “It is not good to marry.” But he endorses these words in a different signification from theirs. Their objection to marry arose from the impossibility of putting away a wife for any cause. Christ passes over these ignoble scruples, and enunciates the only principle which should lead a man to abstain from marriage. They to whom it is given. They to whom are given the call and the grace to abstain from marriage. These persons’ practice forms an exception to the general view of the propriety and blessedness of the marriage state.

12.—Our Lord proceeds to note three classes of men to whom it is given to abstain from marriage. There are some eunuchs, which were so born. The first class consists of those who are physically unable to contract matrimony, or, having the power, lack the inclination. They are compulsorily continent, and are not voluntary abstainers. Neither is the second class: those which were made eunuchs of men. Such were common enough in the harems and courts of Orientals. The cruel and infamous treatment which such persons underwent was practised against their will, and consequently their continence had no sort of merit. The third is the only class which of choice and for high reasons lived a celibate life: which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. This is not to be understood of excision; for this would be a contravention of the order of nature and the good work of creation. Origen, who took the passage literally, and with his own hands mutilated himself, was justly condemned by the verdict of the Church. The verb is to be understood in a metaphorical sense of the mortification of the natural desires and impulses at the cost of much pain and trouble, the spirit conquering the flesh by the special grace of God. The motive of such self-denial is high and pure. It is practised “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” that is, to be free from distraction and the cares and dangers involved in a married life. St. Paul carries forward the Lord’s teaching when he writes (1 Cor. 7:32, 33), “He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife” (comp. Isa. 56:3, 4). The celibate life, deliberately embraced for religion’s sake, is here approved by Christ, not to the disparagement of matrimony, but as a counsel which some are enabled to follow to their soul’s great benefit. It may be added that the counsel applies also to married persons who sacrifice conjugal endearments for spiritual reasons—“have wives as though they had none” (1 Cor. 7:29). Let him receive it. This is not an injunction, but a permission; it is no universal rule, prescribed to all or to the many; it is a special grace allowed to the few, and by few attained. “Each man,” says St. Paul, “hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that” (1 Cor. 7:7, 26). Some think the Essenes are here referred to; but it is not likely that our Lord would endorse the practices of a sect which in some of its tenets was by no means commendable. Rather he is laying down a limitation that, while self-sacrifice and self-dedication to God are acceptable and fraught with peculiar blessings, none should attempt to win heaven in this way, unless they are specially prepared for such a life by the grace of God mastering the human will and controlling every earthly desire. The pre-eminent value set on celibacy by the early Church was learned from this and similar passages; but Christ institutes no comparison between the single and married states; and it would have been wiser to imitate his reserve in estimating the spiritual merits of the two conditions.

The Pulpit Commentary (23 Volume Set)

Swimming In The Sea of Talmud
     Ketubbot 17a


     The story is told (Avodah Zarah 20a) of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel who once noticed a beautiful woman walking by. Seeing her, he quoted the verse in the book of Psalms (Psalms 104:24): "How great are the things You have made, O Lord! [author's translation]" Jewish law, in fact, later prescribed a blessing to be recited upon seeing a person of extraordinary beauty or handsomeness: "Blessed is God Who has created such as these in His world." The Rabbis were not oblivious to beautiful people. Where the Greeks saw beauty and worshiped and valued it, the Jews were prompted by beauty to worship God, Who created it.

     The world we live in is more beholden to Greek values than rabbinic ones. In our society, a tremendous emphasis is placed on how a person looks. Being beautiful or handsome is often more prized—and praised—than being smart (and certainly more than being good). The Rabbis tried to teach that outward appearances are often deceptive.

     "Rabbi [Yehudah ha-Nasi] says: 'Do not look at the vessel, but rather what is in it. There may be an new vessel filled with the old [wine], and an old vessel that does not even contain the new [Avot 4:22]." Or as we say today: "You can't judge a book by its cover."

     There is another blessing the Rabbis teach us to recite, upon seeing someone of exceptional ugliness: "Blessed is God Who has created all different kinds of beings." Some people might recoil in horror at seeing deformity or ugliness; others might scream or make a face. The Rabbis teach us to recite a blessing, one that reminds us that this person, too, is a creature of God. Beneath the outward ugliness there is to be found a person who was created by and in the image of God.

     This very same attitude is found in the origin of our phrase. This maxim was a wedding song sung to a bride. In the Gemara, it follows a disagreement between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai: The former believe we should praise all brides as beautiful, while the latter hold that we can do so only if she is indeed beautiful; otherwise we would be lying. Our wedding song brings another opinion altogether: Tell her that even without makeup she radiates an inner beauty and charm that makes her special and attractive.

     There is something else that is fascinating about this text: The wedding song usually sung in praise of a bride is also used on another occasion to praise a man as he is about to be ordained a rabbi. We often have very different ways of judging (and praising) men and women: The former are expected to be smart and strong, the latter to be pretty and sweet. The Rabbis here find a unique praise that fits both sexes in all situations: You have no superficial mask; you don't pretend to be someone you are not; you have an inner beauty that shines through.

     How refreshing a way to "look" at someone! And how refreshing that it applies to both men and women.

     Once he spoke, he cannot revoke!

     Text / Mishnah (2:3): If witnesses said: "This is our handwriting, but we were forced [to sign]," "We were minors," or "We were ineligible," they are believed. If there are other witnesses that it is their handwriting, or their handwriting can be identified from another place, they are not believed.

     Gemara: Rami bar Ḥama said: "We were taught this [they are not believed] only in the case of 'We were forced [to sign] because of money,' but 'We were forced because of our lives,' they are believed." Rava said: "Is his [the witness's] claim accepted? Once he spoke, he cannot revoke!"

     Context / One who marries without witnesses, we do not even consider it a marriage. (Arukh ha-Shulḥan, Even HaEzer, Hilkhot Kiddushin 42:18)

     When he marries before one witness, it is also of no legal import, according to the Rif [Rabbi Isaac Alfasi, eleventh century. North Africa], the Rosh [Rabbi Asher ben Yeḥiel, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Germany/Spain], the Rambam [Rabbi Moses Maimonides, twelfth century, Spain/Egypt] and most of the decisors. There are those who were stringent on this and wrote that we are suspicious of such a marriage, and so our rabbi the Rema [Rabbi Moses Isserles, sixteenth century, Poland] was suspicious according to the stringent position. Where there is not a case of iggun [when a husband has left a wife who is technically still "bound" to him while awaiting a get] and urgency, we should rely on the lenient position [that there is a marriage even without two witnesses], which is the majority of opinions. (Arukh ha-Shulḥan, Even HaEzer, Hilkhot Kiddushin 42:20)

     The previous Mishnah gave certain rules of testimony. Our Mishnah continues this theme. Two witnesses sign the ketubbah, the document which attests that a wedding ceremony took place. However, certain people are invalid witnesses, for example (the cases in our Mishnah) (1) someone who is forced to sign, (2) a minor, and (3) a relative. If the witnesses who signed a document like a ketubbah, upon later questioning by the court, make one of these three statements—"We were forced," "We were minors," or "We were ineligible"—they are believed. The document is invalid, and, in the case of a ketubbah, the legitimacy of the marriage is suspect. The reason for believing them is that they are both the signataries and the initiators of the question regarding their signatures.

     If, however, another set of witnesses comes forward and attests that these are the witnesses' valid signatures, or if their signatures can be checked and certified from another document, then the signatures are considered legitimate, the witnesses' protestations to the contrary. The independent proof is relied upon for authentication; the witnesses' words are of no import. Outside evidence is stronger than internal evidence.

     In the Gemara, Rami bar Ḥama tries to limit the case of disbelieving the witnesses' claim to financial coercion. In a matter of life and death ("We were forced because of our lives"), Rami bar Ḥama holds that we do believe the witnesses that these are not their valid signatures. Rava objects to Rami bar Ḥama's reasoning: There is an overriding rule that once testimony is given, it cannot be retracted. Their signatures themselves declare that the document is valid. Any claim to the contrary is "speaking after the fact" and automatically discounted, for once they spoke, they cannot revoke.

Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living

Jewish History from Alexander to Hadrian
     From Pompey to Hadrian

     The period from the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey the Great in 63 B.C.E. to the violent repression of the revolt under the emperor Hadrian in 135 C.E. was one of both tremendous accomplishments and incredible setbacks for the Jews as a people and Judea as a kingdom. This period began with the violation of the Jerusalem Temple and ended with the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem, during which the city morphed from the Jewish city of Jerusalem to the Roman polis Aelia Capitolina. At the same time, Hadrian changed the name of the province from Judea to Syria Palestina.

     This is not to say that life for Jews in Judea during this period was a perpetual nightmare. Indeed, for the majority of the 200 years from Pompey’s conquest to Bar Kokhba’s revolt, Jews in Judea lived in peaceful coexistence within the Roman Empire. Moreover, during this period, Jews were spreading all over the Diaspora and settling in or expanding within the major cities of the empire. Significant populations of Jews could be found in Egypt, Asia Minor, Syria, the Greek islands, and even Rome itself. Thus, although many of the major events in this period were ruinous for the Jews, there were prolonged periods of peace and prosperity.

The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

Take Heart
     April 23

     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.

     Christ’s church has survived through her power to endure. (Hugh Black, “The Heroism of Endurance,” in
( Classic Sermons on Suffering (Kregel Classic Sermons Series) ) She was willing to give up anything to hold her ground, to pour out blood like water in order to take root. The mustard seed, planted with tears and watered with blood, gripped the soil, twining its roots round the rocks, and spread out its branches a little fuller.

     It is a true parable of the church. It was given to them not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for his sake. When their persecutors thought they were scattered like chaff, it turned out that they were scattered like seed. The omnipotent power of Rome was impotent before such resolution. The church met the Empire and broke it, through the sheer power to endure.

     It is the same secret of success for the individual spiritual life. Patience is the Christian’s safety. Even if all else is lost, it saves the soul, the true life. It gives fiber to the character. It purifies the heart, as gold in the furnace.

     What do we know of this heroic endurance? We are so easily dispirited, not only in Christian enterprise, but also in personal Christian endeavor. We are so soon tempted to give up. The Enemy is too hard to dislodge; sin in us is too stubborn; evil is too deeply rooted; the kingdom of heaven of our dreams is impossible. What are we here in this world for? To look for a soft place? To find an easy task? What have we done, the best of us, for God or for humanity? What have we endured for the dream’s sake? What have we given up in our self-indulgent lives? What sacrifice have we ever made?

     Must Jeremiah harden himself forever and stiffen himself always to endure? Must we resist forever the sins of our own hearts? Must we protest forever against the evil of the world? Forever, if need be! To begin to serve God is to serve him forever. It knows no cessation. Complaining dies in his presence.

     If God sends someone to the thickets of Jordan, it is well. That individual will not go alone. A land of peace without God is a terror. The jungle of Jordan with God is peace.
--- Hugh Black

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

On This Day
     The Dragon Slayer  April 23

     Medieval Christianity, growing up amid superstitious people without widespread access to Scripture, began worshiping its heroes, the saints of earlier days. God seemed unapproachable. The Almighty Father was feared. The Holy Spirit was neglected. Jesus seemed less threatening, but he, too, was God, and many people thought it wiser to lay their prayers before saints, asking them to present the requests to Christ’s throne. So every day had its saint, and every nation, city, and group its patron.

     By the tenth century 25,000 saints had been canonized by the Church. France had St. Denis. St. Bartholomew was patron of tanners, having been skinned alive. St. John was invoked by candlemakers for he had been plunged into a caldron of burning oil. The Council of Oxford in 1222 established April 23 as St. George’s Day to honor the “Protector of the Kingdom of England.”

     But who was George? Each year, according to a familiar legend, a swamp-dwelling dragon threatened to poison a nearby village unless a youth, chosen by lot, was given him to eat. By and by, the lot fell to the daughter of the king. Walking toward the swamp, she was intercepted by George. “Fear not,” he said, “I will help you in the name of Christ.” When the dragon emerged, George made the sign of the cross and plunged his lance into the beast.

     Years later, in 1189, when English troops under Richard Coeur de Lion went forth in the Crusades, they went under the protection of St. George.

     In truth, our knowledge of George is slight. He was evidently born into a noble family in Cappadocia and martyred during the Great Persecution of Emperor Diocletian, reportedly on April 23, c. 304. One version says George was tied to a cross where his skin was scraped with iron combs. But it is his fabled tryst with the dragon for which he is best remembered in the hearts—and in the art—of medieval Christians.

     And after all perhaps he did, in a sense, slay the dragon.

     Michael and his angels were fighting against the dragon and its angels. But the dragon lost the battle. It and its angels were forced out of their places in heaven and were thrown down to the earth. Yes, that old snake and his angels were thrown out of heaven! That snake, who fools everyone on earth, is known as the devil and Satan.
--- Revelation 12:7b-9.

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

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - April 23

     “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”
--- Romans 8:37.

     We go to Christ for forgiveness, and then too often look to the law for power to fight our sins. Paul thus rebukes us, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth? 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? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” Take your sins to Christ’s cross, for the old man can only be crucified there: we are crucified with him. The only weapon to fight sin with is the spear which pierced the side of Jesus. To give an illustration—you want to overcome an angry temper, how do you go to work? It is very possible you have never tried the right way of going to Jesus with it. How did I get salvation? I came to Jesus just as I was, and I trusted him to save me. I must kill my angry temper in the same way? It is the only way in which I can ever kill it. I must go to the cross with it, and say to Jesus, “Lord, I trust thee to deliver me from it.” This is the only way to give it a death-blow. Are you covetous? Do you feel the world entangle you? You may struggle against this evil so long as you please, but if it be your besetting sin, you will never be delivered from it in any way but by the blood of Jesus. Take it to Christ. Tell him, “Lord, I have trusted thee, and thy name is Jesus, for thou dost save thy people from their sins; Lord, this is one of my sins; save me from it!” Ordinances are nothing without Christ as a means of mortification. Your prayers, and your repentances, and your tears—the whole of them put together—are worth nothing apart from him. “None but Jesus can do helpless sinners good;” or helpless saints either. You must be conquerors through him who hath loved you, if conquerors at all. Our laurels must grow among his olives in Gethsemane.

          Evening - April 23

     “Lo, in the midst of the throne … stood a Lamb as it had been slain."
Revelation 5:6.

     Why should our exalted Lord appear in his wounds in glory? The wounds of Jesus are his glories, his jewels, his sacred ornaments. To the eye of the believer, Jesus is passing fair because he is “white and ruddy;” white with innocence, and ruddy with his own blood. We see him as the lily of matchless purity, and as the rose crimsoned with his own gore. Christ is lovely upon Olivet and Tabor, and by the sea, but oh! there never was such a matchless Christ as he that did hang upon the cross. There we beheld all his beauties in perfection, all his attributes developed, all his love drawn out, all his character expressed. Beloved, the wounds of Jesus are far more fair in our eyes than all the splendour and pomp of kings. The thorny crown is more than an imperial diadem. It is true that he bears not now the sceptre of reed, but there was a glory in it that never flashed from sceptre of gold. Jesus wears the appearance of a slain Lamb as his court dress in which he wooed our souls, and redeemed them by his complete atonement. Nor are these only the ornaments of Christ: they are the trophies of his love and of his victory. He has divided the spoil with the strong. He has redeemed for himself a great multitude whom no man can number, and these scars are the memorials of the fight. Ah! if Christ thus loves to retain the thought of his sufferings for his people, how precious should his wounds be to us!

   “Behold how every wound of his
   A precious balm distils,
   Which heals the scars that sin had made,
   And cures all mortal ills.

   “Those wounds are mouths that preach his grace;
   The ensigns of his love;
   The seals of our expected bliss
   In paradise above.”

Morning and Evening: A New Edition of the Classic Devotional Based on The Holy Bible, English Standard Version

Amazing Grace
     April 23


     Charles Wesley, 1707–1788

     I am the First and the Last, I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! (Revelation 1:17, 18)

     What a glorious truth to ponder—Jesus is not the “Great I WAS” but rather the “Great I AM!” He is not only a historical fact but a present-day, living reality. The whole system of Christianity rests upon the truth that Jesus Christ rose from the grave and is now seated at the Father’s right hand as our personal advocate.

     “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” has been one of the church’s most popular Easter hymns since it was first written by Charles Wesley just one year after his “heart-warming” experience at the Aldersgate Hall in London, England, in 1738. The first Wesleyan Chapel in London was a deserted iron foundry. It became known as the Foundry Meeting House. This hymn was written by Charles for the first service in that chapel.

     Following his Aldersgate encounter with Christ, Charles began writing numerous hymns on every phase of the Christian experience, some 6,500 in all. It has been said that the hymns of Charles Wesley clothed Christ in flesh and blood and gave converts a belief they could easily grasp, embrace with personal faith, and if necessary, even die for.

     If all of our eternity is to be realized on this side of the grave, we are hopeless and to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19). But for the Christian, the resurrection assures us of God’s tomorrow. This anticipation makes it possible to live joyfully today, regardless of life’s circumstances.

     Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia! Sons of men and angels say: Alleluia! Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth reply: Alleluia!
     Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! Dying once He all doth save, Alleluia! Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!
     Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia! Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! Death in vain forbids Him rise, Alleluia! Christ has opened Paradise, Alleluia!
     Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia! Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia! Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

     For Today: Matthew 28:1–9; Acts 2:24–28; 1 Corinthians 15:4, 20; 55–57.

     The message of the resurrection is to “come and see”—to personally experience the transforming power of the living Christ. Then—“to go and tell.” Carry this hymn of triumph with you ---

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. III: — Now I come to the next head, which is connected with this; where you make a “distinction between the Christian doctrines,” and pretend that some are necessary, and some not necessary.” You say, that “some are abstruse, and some quite clear.” Thus you merely sport the sayings of others, or else exercise yourself, as it were, in a rhetorical figure. And you bring forward, in support of this opinion, that passage of Paul, Rom xi. 33, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and goodness of God!” And also that of Isaiah xl. 13, “Who hath holpen the Spirit of the Lord, or who hath been His counselor?”

     You could easily say these things, seeing that, you either knew not that you were writing to Luther, but for the world at large, or did not think that you were writing against Luther: whom, however, I hope you allow to have some acquaintance with, and judgment in, the Sacred Writings. But, if you do not allow it, then, behold, I will also twist things thus. This is the distinction which I make; that I also may act a little the rhetorician and logician — God, and the Scripture of God, are two things; no less so than God, and the Creature of God. That there are in God many hidden things which we know not, no one doubts: as He himself saith concerning the last day: “Of that day knoweth no man but the Father.” (Matt. xxiv. 36.) And (Acts i. 7.) “It is not yours to know the times and seasons.” And again, “I know whom I have chosen,” (John xiii. 18.) And Paul, “The Lord knoweth them that are His,” (2 Tim. ii. 19.). And the like.

     But, that there are in the Scriptures some things abstruse, and that all things are not quite plain, is a report spread abroad by the impious Sophists by whose mouth you speak here, Erasmus. But they never have produced, nor ever can produce, one article whereby to prove this their madness. And it is with such scare-crows that Satan has frightened away men from reading the Sacred Writings, and has rendered the Holy Scripture contemptible, that he might cause his poisons of philosophy to prevail in the church. This indeed I confess, that there are many places in the Scriptures obscure and abstruse; not from the majesty of the thing, but from our ignorance of certain terms and grammatical particulars; but which do not prevent a knowledge of all the things in the Scriptures. For what thing of more importance can remain hidden in the Scriptures, now that the seals are broken, the stone rolled from the door of the sepulchre, and that greatest of all mysteries brought to light, Christ made man: that God is Trinity and Unity: that Christ suffered for us, and will reign to all eternity? Are not these things known and proclaimed even in our streets? Take Christ out of the Scriptures, and what will you find remaining in them?

     All the things, therefore, contained in the Scriptures; are made manifest, although some places, from the words not being understood, are yet obscure. But to know that all things in the Scriptures are set in the clearest light, and then, because a few words are obscure, to report that the things are obscure, is absurd and impious. And, if the words are obscure in one place, yet they are clear in another. But, however, the same thing, which has been most openly declared to the whole world, is both spoken of in the Scriptures in plain words, and also still lies hidden in obscure words. Now, therefore, it matters not if the thing be in the light, whether any certain representations of it be in obscurity or not, if, in the mean while, many other representations of the same thing be in the light. For who would say that the public fountain is not in the light, because those who are in some dark narrow lane do not see it, when all those who are in the Open market place can see it plainly?

The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library

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Why Does God Allow So Much Suffering and Evil

John MacArthur | Ligonier