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Numbers 1     Psalm 35     Ecclesiastes 11      Titus 3

Numbers 1

A Census of Israel’s Warriors

Numbers 1:1 The LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, 2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. 3 From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company. 4 And there shall be with you a man from each tribe, each man being the head of the house of his fathers. 5 And these are the names of the men who shall assist you. From Reuben, Elizur the son of Shedeur; 6 from Simeon, Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai; 7 from Judah, Nahshon the son of Amminadab; 8 from Issachar, Nethanel the son of Zuar; 9 from Zebulun, Eliab the son of Helon; 10 from the sons of Joseph, from Ephraim, Elishama the son of Ammihud, and from Manasseh, Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur; 11 from Benjamin, Abidan the son of Gideoni; 12 from Dan, Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai; 13 from Asher, Pagiel the son of Ochran; 14 from Gad, Eliasaph the son of Deuel; 15 from Naphtali, Ahira the son of Enan.” 16 These were the ones chosen from the congregation, the chiefs of their ancestral tribes, the heads of the clans of Israel.

17 Moses and Aaron took these men who had been named, 18 and on the first day of the second month, they assembled the whole congregation together, who registered themselves by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names from twenty years old and upward, head by head, 19 as the LORD commanded Moses. So he listed them in the wilderness of Sinai.

20 The people of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go to war: 21 those listed of the tribe of Reuben were 46,500.

22 Of the people of Simeon, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, those of them who were listed, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go to war: 23 those listed of the tribe of Simeon were 59,300.

24 Of the people of Gad, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go to war: 25 those listed of the tribe of Gad were 45,650.

26 Of the people of Judah, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 27 those listed of the tribe of Judah were 74,600.

28 Of the people of Issachar, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 29 those listed of the tribe of Issachar were 54,400.

30 Of the people of Zebulun, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 31 those listed of the tribe of Zebulun were 57,400.

32 Of the people of Joseph, namely, of the people of Ephraim, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 33 those listed of the tribe of Ephraim were 40,500.

34 Of the people of Manasseh, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 35 those listed of the tribe of Manasseh were 32,200.

36 Of the people of Benjamin, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 37 those listed of the tribe of Benjamin were 35,400.

38 Of the people of Dan, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 39 those listed of the tribe of Dan were 62,700.

40 Of the people of Asher, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 41 those listed of the tribe of Asher were 41,500.

42 Of the people of Naphtali, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 43 those listed of the tribe of Naphtali were 53,400.

44 These are those who were listed, whom Moses and Aaron listed with the help of the chiefs of Israel, twelve men, each representing his fathers’ house. 45 So all those listed of the people of Israel, by their fathers’ houses, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war in Israel— 46 all those listed were 603,550.

Levites Exempted

47 But the Levites were not listed along with them by their ancestral tribe. 48 For the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 49 “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not list, and you shall not take a census of them among the people of Israel. 50 But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the tabernacle. 51 When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death. 52 The people of Israel shall pitch their tents by their companies, each man in his own camp and each man by his own standard. 53 But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel. And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony.” 54 Thus did the people of Israel; they did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses.

Psalm 35

Great Is the LORD

Psalm 35:1 Of David.

1  Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me!
2  Take hold of shield and buckler
and rise for my help!
3  Draw the spear and javelin
against my pursuers!
Say to my soul,
“I am your salvation!”

4  Let them be put to shame and dishonor
who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
who devise evil against me!
5  Let them be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the LORD driving them away!
6  Let their way be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the LORD pursuing them!

7  For without cause they hid their net for me;
without cause they dug a pit for my life.
8  Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it!
And let the net that he hid ensnare him;
let him fall into it—to his destruction!

9  Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD,
exulting in his salvation.
10  All my bones shall say,
“O LORD, who is like you,
delivering the poor
from him who is too strong for him,
the poor and needy from him who robs him?”

11  Malicious witnesses rise up;
they ask me of things that I do not know.
12  They repay me evil for good;
my soul is bereft.
13  But I, when they were sick—
I wore sackcloth;
I afflicted myself with fasting;
I prayed with head bowed on my chest.
14  I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother;
as one who laments his mother,
I bowed down in mourning.

15  But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered;
they gathered together against me;
wretches whom I did not know
tore at me without ceasing;
16  like profane mockers at a feast,
they gnash at me with their teeth.

17  How long, O Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their destruction,
my precious life from the lions!
18  I will thank you in the great congregation;
in the mighty throng I will praise you.

19  Let not those rejoice over me
who are wrongfully my foes,
and let not those wink the eye
who hate me without cause.
20  For they do not speak peace,
but against those who are quiet in the land
they devise words of deceit.
21  They open wide their mouths against me;
they say, “Aha, Aha!
Our eyes have seen it!”

22  You have seen, O LORD; be not silent!
O Lord, be not far from me!
23  Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication,
for my cause, my God and my Lord!
24  Vindicate me, O LORD, my God,
according to your righteousness,
and let them not rejoice over me!
25  Let them not say in their hearts,
“Aha, our heart’s desire!”
Let them not say, “We have swallowed him up.”

26  Let them be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who rejoice at my calamity!
Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor
who magnify themselves against me!

27  Let those who delight in my righteousness
shout for joy and be glad
and say evermore,
“Great is the LORD,
who delights in the welfare of his servant!”
28  Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness
and of your praise all the day long.

Ecclesiastes 11

Cast Your Bread upon the Waters

Ecclesiastes 11:1

Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.
2  Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.
3  If the clouds are full of rain,
they empty themselves on the earth,
and if a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
4  He who observes the wind will not sow,
and he who regards the clouds will not reap.

5 As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.

6 In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

7 Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

8 So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.

9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

10 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.

Titus 3

Be Ready for Every Good Work

Titus 3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. 9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

Final Instructions and Greetings

12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. 14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. 15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.

Grace be with you all.

The Reformation Study Bible

What I'm Reading

The Power of His Glory

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 1/1/2006

     You want to know what your problem is? You don’t love Jesus enough. I know this not because I know you, but because I know me. I’ve got the same problem. My wife has the same problem, as do my kids. The sheep in my flock suffer from the same problem.

     The folks I meet at conferences have the same problem too. Wherever there is a sin-problem, underneath it all, is this problem. Husbands don’t love their wives as Jesus loves the church, because husbands don’t love Jesus enough. Children disobey their parents, because they don’t love Jesus enough. Pastors soft-pedal the Bible because they don’t love Jesus enough. And people hop from one church to another because they don’t love Jesus enough. Politicians grow power hungry because they don’t love Jesus enough. Rich people suffer from greed, because they don’t love Jesus enough. Middle class people suffer from greed, because they don’t love Jesus enough. Poor people suffer from greed, because they don’t love Jesus enough. Find a sin and you will find there a heart that doesn’t love Jesus enough. Find Jesus, and you will find the solution to our problem. Which is just what Jesus has promised will happen.

     It is a good thing that evangelical Christians have wakened from their pietistic slumbers. It is good and proper that we should be about the business of making manifest the reign of Christ over all things. That He is Lord has effects that stray rather far from our hearts. We fight the culture wars because they are simply a manifestation of the war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. But the serpent is more crafty than any of the beasts of the field. He took the biblical wisdom that argued that we ought to tend to our souls, and turned it into world-denying piety. And now he takes the biblical wisdom that argues that we must push for the crown rights of King Jesus, and turned it into worldliness, and a denial of the call to piety. Jesus, on the other hand, calls us to seek first two things, the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

     How can we seek two different things first? We do so when we realize that the weapons of our warfare, that the very engine of changing the world, is changing ourselves. The reign of Christ will be manifest in the political, social, artistic, cultural realms only insofar and only through the manifestation of the reign of Christ within His people. We will only make known the great Gospel truth that this is our Father’s world, as we live as pilgrims, recognizing that this world isn’t our home, that we are just passing through.

     It is because we are worldly that we embrace the culture’s engines of change. We think that we will change ourselves and the world only as we read more books, make more movies, elect more politicians, produce more widgets, and add more programs to our churches. We think sanctification is a doctrine to be studied, rather than a calling to be pursued. In truth, it is neither. We do not pursue a calling, but a person. Sanctification isn’t merely the means by which we become more holy, but is the means by which we become more like Jesus. Just as He, the Son of God, is the express image of the glory of the Father, so we, the bride of Christ, are the image of our eternal Husband. We glorify Him by becoming more like Him.

     This is the promise of God, the end of our sanctification, our glorification: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Do you see the connection? We don’t know what we shall be, but we do know we will be like Him. How will we be like Him? What means brings this to pass? We shall see Him as He is. This is the glory of our King, not that He labors faithfully to change us, not that He changes us by the Word of His power, but that He changes us by the power of His glory. Seeing Him makes us like Him.

     Which brings us back to our troubles. Our sanctification is long and laborious simply because we do not seek His face. We do not long for His presence. We do not seek to behold His glory, because we are insufficiently impressed. It is the pomp and the power, the dazzle and the sizzle, the bright lights and the baubles of the world around us that have captured our hearts. We don’t find His glory glorious enough, and so we are not yet like Him. We do indeed see through a glass darkly, a glass darkened by our love affair with the world. If we loved Him, we would seek Him. If we sought Him, we would find Him. If we found Him, we would see Him. And if we saw Him, we would be like Him. And believing this, John tells us, will purify us, “and everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure” (v. 3). So may it be said of us.

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

R.C. Sproul Jr. Books

Pilgrims Who Make No Progress

By Gene Edward Veith 1/1/2006

     To describe life as a journey is such a perfect metaphor that writers in every age return to it again and again. Western culture is full of pilgrims, headed in different directions, to different destinations. Before John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, there was Piers Plowman by an anonymous medieval writer. Both are allegories that are, at the same time, highly realistic. Instead of reflecting the sophisticated society of the courts and the universities, both come out of the world of peasants, craftsmen, and farmers. Both authors were poor and uneducated, and yet both were literary geniuses.

     But they write about very different pilgrimages. The pilgrim in Piers Plowman goes through a tortuous path to find “Do-Well.” When he does, he next has to go on another trip to find “Do-Better.” But that is not enough. When he attains “Do-Better,” he next must go through another labyrinthine and confusing journey to find “Do-Best.” And he never finds what he is looking for. The author was never able to bring his story to a finish.

     Piers Plowman reflects the spiritual conundrums of the late middle ages. The problem with salvation by works is that one never knows how many works are enough. The plot in Piers Plowman goes around in circles, goes off on puzzling side-paths, and gets lost in bewildering tangles.

     An even greater work of literature than either of these is Dante’s Divine Comedy. It too is an allegorical pilgrimage. Dante as the pilgrim journeys through the depths of hell, then laboriously climbs the mountain of purgatory, then flies up through the heavenly spheres until he finally reaches God.

     Dante’s allegory is profound. For example, the punishments of hell are symbolic of the sins in their nature. (The wrathful cut each other apart, just as they did on earth. Those who betray the ones who loved them are frozen in ice, mirroring their cold, cold hearts. The damned are in hell because they choose to be there. The saved in heaven are mirrors, reflecting the light and the love of God.)

     But at its essence, again, is the arduous works-righteousness of medieval Catholicism. God is far above and far away. The pilgrim must somehow come to Him, slogging through hell, climbing up the mountain, transcending the world to reach God. In Bunyan, writing in the shadow of the Reformation, God comes down to the pilgrim in Christ, who is known personally through His Word.

     Another allegorical pilgrimage that came out of the Reformation is Spenser’s Fairie Queene. The first book of that sprawling, dream-like epic is about the journey of a pilgrim named Red Crosse Knight who seeks to attain holiness. Its subject is thus sanctification.

     The Red Crosse Knight starts out on the right road, accompanied by a maiden named Una, symbolic of the one, true faith. He gets confused by a man who looks holy on the outside but is, in reality, an evil wizard, Archimago. This symbol of the Church of Rome makes Red Crosse disillusioned with Una, so that he, literally, leaves his faith behind. He takes up instead with Duessa, a woman who appears beautiful but is really a wicked witch, a symbol of false belief. Poor Red Crosse thinks he is holy, through his pride and works-righteousness, but he only gets further and further off the path. Eventually, after confrontations with three knights named Without Faith, Without Law, and Without Joy, he is thrown into the dungeon of the giant Pride, where he wastes away in despair.

     Red Crosse has to be rescued. On his own, he is in bondage. But symbols of God’s grace — light from heaven, the balm from a tree, a fountain of water — not only free him from the dungeon but enable him to be re-united with Una and to defeat the dragon of Satan.

     After Bunyan, when a new vision of “progress” emerged, writers wrote about new kinds of pilgrimages. The great American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a takeoff of Bunyan called The Celestial Railroad. Reflecting nineteenth-century technology and liberal theology, the more modern pilgrim finds an easier way to the Celestial City: he takes the train.

     After all, engineers have built a bridge over the Slough of Despond and installed gas lights to illuminate the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The pilgrim has it easy. He goes to church in Vanity Fair, where he listens to the sermons of Rev. Stumble-at-Truth and Rev. Shallow-Deep. Guided by Mr. Smooth-it-Away, he makes fun of the handful of pilgrims he sees out the train window living the Christian life in the old way. Unfortunately, at the end of the line, his train plunges into a tunnel straight to hell.

     Today, people tend to see the journey of their lives as, in the words of a TV show, a Highway to Heaven. We drive on in our isolated automobiles, in a world of our own, on a vast interstate highway, to our own private destinations. That is not progress.

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     Dr. Gene Edward Veith is provost emeritus and professor of literature emeritus at Patrick Henry College and director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Gene Edward Veith Books:

Christian Loses His Burden

By R.C. Sproul 1/1/2006

     As a seminary student, I remember my favorite professor often setting forth arguments for particular theological positions. On many occasions, as these debates proceeded, the professor stopped in mid-sentence, paused, looked at his students and said, “I sense that you do not feel the weight of this argument.” His regular reference to the “weight” of arguments was an interesting metaphor for me. Arguments that we do not take seriously are those that we take lightly. The whole idea of weight or weightiness is one that is found throughout the Bible. In the first instance, the glory of God is described in terms of His inherent and eternal weightiness. Those who take God lightly are those who have no regard for His glory.

     One of the most important areas in which the whole idea of weight comes to bear in the New Testament has to do with the Law. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, in chapter 3, verse 9, after he has set forth the unrighteousness of both Jew and Gentile, he makes the comment, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin” (NKJV). Again in verse 19 of the same chapter, the apostle writes, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (NKJV).

     In our day, the weightiness of the Gospel itself has been eclipsed. I doubt if there’s a period in the history of the church in which professing evangelicals have been as ignorant of the elements of the biblical Gospel as they are today.

     There is a stark contrast between the second best-seller in the history of the English language, second only to the Bible, namely, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim's Progress (Moody Classics), and the runaway best-seller of the last two years, The Purpose Driven Life What on Earth am I Here For?. In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we see set forth in masterful literary style the depths and the riches of the biblical Gospel. When we compare it to The Purpose Driven Life, we see a book in which it is difficult to find a full explanation of the biblical Gospel. Justification, the relief from the burden of sin that weighs down the soul, is all but absent in the setting forth of a new and different gospel of achieving or discovering purpose in one’s life. One of the leaders of the recent emerging church movement boasts that he has not mentioned the word “sin” in the last ten years of his preaching. He wants to make sure that his people will not feel crushed by guilt or by a loss of their self-esteem. When the acute awareness of guilt is removed from the conscience, there is no sense of the burden of sin. There is no sense of being under the crushing weight of the law of God that bears down upon our souls relentlessly.

     However, if we turn our attention to the insights of Bunyan set forth in the Christian classic Pilgrim’s Progress, we see a story that focuses on the groaning pressure of a man who is weighed down to the depths of his soul with a burden of which he is unable to rid himself. It is like the apostle Paul’s description in Romans 7 of the body of death that crushes the spirit. In the very first paragraph on the first page of Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan pens these lines:

     “As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a den; and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and as I slept I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled: and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry; saying, ‘What shall I do?’”

     When preachers announce from their pulpits that God loves people unconditionally, there is hardly any reason for the hearer to feel any burden or cry out with any lament, saying, “What shall I do?” If indeed God loves us unconditionally and requires nothing of us, then obviously there is no need for us to do anything. But if God has judged us according to the righteousness of His perfect Law and has called the whole world before His tribunal to announce that we are all guilty, that none of us is righteous, that none of us seeks after God, that there is no fear of God before our eyes, that we are in the meantime, before the appointed day of judgment, treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath, then anybody in his right mind (and even those in their wrong mind) would have enough sense to cry out the same lamentation, “What shall I do?” The story of Christian is the story of a man who is burdened by the weight of sin. His conscience was smitten by the Law, but where the Law is eliminated in the church, no one needs to fear divine judgment. Without the Law there is no knowledge of sin, and without a knowledge of sin, there is no sense of burden. The pilgrim knew the Law, he knew his sin, and he realized he had a burden on his back that he could not, with all of his effort and his greatest strivings, ever remove. His redemption must come from outside of himself. He needed a righteousness not his own. He needed to exchange that weighty sack of sin on his back for an alien righteousness acceptable in the sight of God. For the pilgrim there was only one place to find that righteousness, at the foot of the cross. The crucial moment in Christian’s life is when he comes to the cross. We read the description: “He ran thus till he came to a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and little below in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back; and began to tumble, and so continued to do so until it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.”

     Shortly thereafter, Christian sang his song of deliverance: “Thus far did I come laden with my sin, nor could aught ease the grief that I was in, till I came hither. What a place is this! Must here be the beginning of my bliss? Must here the burden fall from off my back? Must here the strings that bound it to me, crack? Blessed cross! Blessed sepulchre! Blessed rather be the Man that there was put to shame for me.”

     This is the description of how salvation comes. It comes as a result of the atoning work of Christ and the exchange of our sin from our backs to His, as well as the cloak of His righteousness being transferred from His account to ours. Anything that eliminates this double exchange, this double imputation of sin and righteousness, falls short of the biblical Gospel. It’s time once more for the Christian community to follow the Pilgrim’s Progress.

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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:

An Historic Faith

By R.C. Sproul 2/1/2006

     “Once upon a time….” These words signal the beginning of a fairy tale, a story of make believe, not an account of sober history. Unlike beginning with the words “once upon a time,” the Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning God….” This statement, at the front end of the entire Bible, introduces the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Old Testament, and it sets the stage for God’s activity in linear history. From the opening chapters of Genesis to the end of the book of Revelation, the entire dynamic of redemption takes place within the broader setting of real space and time, of concrete history.

     The historical character of Judeo-Christianity is what markedly distinguishes it from all forms of mythology. A myth finds its value in its moral or spiritual application, while its historical reality remains insignificant. Fairy tales can help our mood swings, but they do little to give us confidence in ultimate reality. The twentieth century witnessed a crisis in the historical dimension of biblical Christianity. German theologians made a crucial distinction between ordinary history and what they called “salvation history,” or sometimes “redemptive history.” This distinction was based in the first instance on the obvious character of sacred Scripture, namely, that it is not only a record of the ordinary events of men and nations. It is not a mere chronicle of human activity but includes within it the revelation of God’s activity in the midst of history. Because the Bible differs from ordinary history and was called “salvation history,” it was a short step from there to ripping the biblical revelation out of its historical context altogether. No one was more important in the snatching of the Gospels out of history than the German theologian Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann devised a new theology that he called “a theology of timelessness.” This theology of timelessness is not interested in the past or in the future as categories of reality. What counts according to Bultmann is the hic et nunc, the “here and now,” or the present moment. Salvation doesn’t take place on the horizontal plane of history, but it takes place vertically in the present moment or what others called “the existential moment.”

     We might ask the question: How long does a moment last? There is a parallel between Descartes’ concept of the “point” and the existentialist’s concept of the “moment.” When Descartes searched for a middle position between the physical and the mental, the extended and the non-extended, he described a mathematical point as the transition between the two realms. The point serves as a hybrid between the physical and the non-physical in the sense that a point takes up space, but has no definite dimensions. In similar fashion, the function of the existential moment in salvation for people like Bultmann is this, that the moment is in time but has no definite duration. On the one hand, it participates in time; on the other hand, it transcends time and is what some have called “supratemporal,” that is, beyond time. When salvation is understood in these terms, the whole notion of linear history becomes basically insignificant and unimportant. The old quest for the historical Jesus can then be abandoned as being a fool’s errand. Again, for Bultmann’s existential Gospel, salvation comes directly and immediately from above. It comes from the vertical plane, in a moment of existential crisis.

     Bultmann went on to make a distinction between history and mythology, arguing that the Bible is a mixture of both. In order for the Bible to be relevant to modern people, it must first be stripped of its mythological husk in order to penetrate the salvific core. That is, it must be submitted to the task of “demythologizing.”

     Not everybody in twentieth-century biblical scholarship embraced the thought of Bultmann with respect to redemption and history. Some of his critics accused him of being a neo-gnostic for lifting salvation out of the plane of the knowable.

     Herman Ridderbos, the Dutch New Testament scholar, agreed that biblical history is redemptive history, but it is at the same time redemptive history. Though the content of Scripture is deeply concerned with redemption, that redemption is inseparably tied to the reality of the historical context in which it takes place. One need not be a philosopher or a theological scholar to understand the difference between the words, “once upon a time,” and the words, “in the year that king Uzziah died,” or, “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.” The biblical concept of redemption in history sees God moving in space and time, preparing His people for the consummation of His plan of salvation. Christ comes to the earth not at an accidental point in history but “in the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4).

     Oscar Cullman, the Swiss scholar, wrote strenuously combating the vertical, existential theology of Bultmann by doing a fascinating study of the concept of time itself in Scripture. He emphasized, for example, the distinction between two Greek words, both of which can be translated by the English word time. The two Greek words are kairos and chronos. Chronos refers to the moment-by-moment passage of time. It is the word from which English words like chronicle, chronology, or chronometer are derived. It refers to the ordinary passage of time in history. Kairos refers to a particularly pregnant moment in history that is of enduring significance. A kairotic moment is a moment that shapes the history of everything that comes after it. In the Old Testament, for example, the exodus was a kairotic moment. In the New Testament, the birth of Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection are all kairotic moments. The closest word we have to this in English is the word historic. Every event that takes place in history is historical, but not every event that takes place in history is deemed historic. To be historic it has to have special significance and special impact on life. So the Bible is the record of God’s historic works of redemption within the context of space and time. Take the Gospel and its message out of the context of history, and Christianity is destroyed altogether.

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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 God of Space and Time

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 2/1/2006

     We are all by nature Pelagians. Like the heretical monk Pelagius, we like to think in our hearts, even should our lips profess otherwise, that we are basically good. Defeating this temptation is one of the great blessings that comes from embracing that biblical system of thought known as Reformed theology. Now we understand not only that we are in ourselves only evil, but that God is sovereign over all things.

     However, this shift in our thinking, in itself another gift from God, doesn’t send the devil scurrying for cover. Embracing Reformed theology doesn’t make one immune to sin. Indeed, when we embrace sound, biblical thinking with respect to God’s sovereignty, we find ourselves walking a peculiar tightrope. On the one hand, it is rather a short, but dangerous step from, “God ordained whatsoever comes to pass” to “I know why God did this.” I once read a sermon from a Puritan that was a classic example of this error. It seems that the parson came into the meeting house one day and found there in the corner the tattered remains of the Book of Common Prayer, the very symbol of the Romish tendencies the Puritans wanted to purify out of the church. It seems a mouse had gotten to the book, and he chewed it to pieces. The pastor, rightly, expounded at great length on how God’s sovereignty descends down to such details. God, from all eternity, determined that that mouse would find that book on that day, and that the mouse would tear it to shreds. So far so good. Then the pastor went on to explain that God brought this to pass to show us how evil the Book of Common Prayer is. Had I been there that Sunday I would have loved to ask the pastor: “Isn’t it possible, pastor, that God had this happen so we might learn that even the mice are sensible enough to feed upon the wisdom in the Book of Common Prayer?” We need, when trying to interpret history, to remember the wisdom of Calvin who said, “When the Almighty has determined to close his holy lips, I will desist from inquiry.”

     There is, however, an equal and opposite temptation. We rightly affirm that God not only controls all things, but that He planned whatsoever comes to pass from before the beginning of time. God’s celestial plan, down to the color of my socks, was down in stone before God even said, “Let there be light.” Again, so far so good. The error is when we take one small step from affirming that it’s all decided to affirming, at least in our hearts, if not in our lips, that God doesn’t act in history. Too many Reformed people are practical deists. We rightly believe that God is the ultimate cause of all things, and then wrongly believe that He is the proximate cause of no things. God did indeed write the grand screenplay that is history. But He likewise wrote a rather large role therein for Himself.

     The history books of the Bible, thankfully, practice exactly the right balance here. God is not passively watching, while man determines the future, as the Pelagians would have us believe. Neither is He providing easy-to-read captions beneath each of His actions so that we might know what it means. And neither still is He passively watching because He did the hard work of setting up the dominoes long ago. God is actively bringing to pass that which He planned from the beginning. Sometimes He tells us how, and sometimes He doesn’t.

     As I write, the gulf coast region of the country is reeling from what insurance adjusters wisely call “an act of God.” Hurricane Katrina has hit our shores in fury. When the destruction is that dramatic, it is easy to see the hand of God. And when what He hit is a collection of gambling casinos and strip clubs, it’s hard not to play the Puritan pastor. That strip of playground that runs from Biloxi to New Orleans wouldn’t be confused by anyone with the Bible belt. The same God who sent fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah is the God who sent Katrina. What He hasn’t sent, however, is an authoritative message telling us why He has done so. Katrina wasn’t just another domino. Neither was she a random collision of ions and precipitates. She was sent by God. He is acting in our history. His motive most certainly could have been to smite the immoral. Or His motive might instead have been to give His people an opportunity to give water in His name. His motives could have been both, or a thousand other mysterious ways. We just don’t know.

     What we know is this. God has three great goals as He acts in history. There are three certainties that have been planned from the beginning. First, He will gather a bride for His Son. There are precious few acts of God in space and time more precious than when He gives life to the living dead, when His Spirit quickens those chosen before all time. Second, He will destroy all His enemies. Psalm 110 tells us that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father until all His enemies are made a footstool. We serve a God of vengeance and destruction, to the praise of His name. He destroyed the Canaanites, and He still destroys His enemies. And third (of this we can be sure), He is about the business of purifying His bride. He acts in history so that history can reach its end, the marriage feast of the Lamb, when we will appear, without blot or blemish, and we, because we will see Him as He is, will be like Him.

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

R.C. Sproul Jr. Books

Numbers 1; Psalm 35; Eccl. 11; Titus 3

By Don Carson 4/24/2018

     Psalm 35 is one of the Psalms given over to the theme of vindication (see also the meditation of April 10). They make many Christians uncomfortable. The line between vindication and vindictiveness sometimes seems a little thin. How can the line of reasoning in this psalm ever be made to square with the teaching of the Lord Jesus about turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:38-42)? Isn’t there an edge of, say, nastiness about the whole thing? After all, David does not just ask that he himself be saved from the ravages of those who are unjustly attacking him (e.g., 35:17, 22-23), he explicitly asks that his enemies “be disgraced and put to shame” (35:4), that they be ruined and ensnared by the very nets they have laid for others (35:8).

     Two reflections:

     (1) On some occasions David is not speaking only out of a sense of being threatened as an individual, but also out of a sense of his responsibilities as king, as the Lord’s anointed servant. If he is being faithful to the covenant, then surely it is the Lord’s name that is on the line when God’s “son,” the Lord’s appointed king, is jeopardized. For the Lord “delights in the well-being of his servant” (35:27), and David recognizes that his own preservation is bound up with the well-being of “those who live quietly in the land” (35:20). At issue, then, is public justice, not personal vendetta, against which the Lord Jesus so powerfully contends in the words already quoted.

     (2) More importantly, although Christians turn the other cheek, this does not mean they are slack regarding justice. We hold that God is perfectly just, and he is the One who says, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deut. 32:35). That is why we are to “leave room for God’s wrath” (Rom. 12:19). He is the only One who can finally settle the books accurately, and to think otherwise is to pretend that we can take the place of God. All David is asking is that God perform what he himself says he will ultimately do: execute justice, vindicate the righteous, defend the covenantally faithful.

     The last chapter of Job is not an anticlimax for just this reason: Job was vindicated. The sufferings of the Lord Jesus fall into the same pattern. He made himself a nobody and suffered the odium of the cross, in obedience to his Father (Phil. 2:6-8), and was supremely vindicated (Phil. 2:9-11). We, too, may suffer injustice and cry for the forgiveness of our tormentors, as Jesus did — even as we also cry that justice may prevail, that God be glorified, that his people be vindicated. This is God’s will, and David had it right.

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

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Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 42

Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul?
42 To The Choirmaster. A Maskil Of The Sons Of Korah.

1 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

ESV Study Bible

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     21. In regard to the saints who having died in the body live in Christ, if we attribute prayer to them, let us not imagine that they have any other way of supplicating God than through Christ who alone is the way, or that their prayers are accepted by God in any other name. Wherefore, since the Scripture calls us away from all others to Christ alone, since our heavenly Father is pleased to gather together all things in him, it were the extreme of stupidity, not to say madness, to attempt to obtain access by means of others, so as to be drawn away from him without whom access cannot be obtained. But who can deny that this was the practice for several ages, and is still the practice, wherever Popery prevails? To procure the favour of God, human merits are ever and anon obtruded, and very frequently while Christ is passed by, God is supplicated in their name. I ask if this is not to transfer to them that office of sole intercession which we have above claimed for Christ? Then what angel or devil ever announced one syllable to any human being concerning that fancied intercession of theirs? There is not a word on the subject in Scripture. What ground then was there for the fiction? Certainly, while the human mind thus seeks help for itself in which it is not sanctioned by the word of God, it plainly manifests its distrust (see s. 27). But if we appeal to the consciences of all who take pleasure in the intercession of saints, we shall find that their only reason for it is, that they are filled with anxiety, as if they supposed that Christ were insufficient or too rigorous. By this anxiety they dishonour Christ, and rob him of his title of sole Mediator, a title which being given him by the Father as his special privilege, ought not to be transferred to any other. By so doing they obscure the glory of his nativity and make void his cross; in short, divest and defraud of due praise everything which he did or suffered, since all which he did and suffered goes to show that he is and ought to be deemed sole Mediator. At the same time, they reject the kindness of God in manifesting himself to them as a Father, for he is not their Father if they do not recognize Christ as their brother. This they plainly refuse to do if they think not that he feels for them a brother's affection; affection than which none can be more gentle or tender. Wherefore Scripture offers him alone, sends us to him, and establishes us in him. "He," says Ambrose, "is our mouth by which we speak to the Father; our eye by which we see the Father; our right hand by which we offer ourselves to the Father. Save by his intercession neither we nor any saints have any intercourse with God," (Ambros. Lib. de Isaac et Anima). If they object that the public prayers which are offered up in churches conclude with the words, through Jesus Christ our Lord, it is a frivolous evasion; because no less insult is offered to the intercession of Christ by confounding it with the prayers and merits of the dead, than by omitting it altogether, and making mention only of the dead. Then, in all their litanies, hymns, and proses where every kind of honour is paid to dead saints, there is no mention of Christ.

22. But here stupidity has proceeded to such a length as to give a manifestation of the genius of superstition, which, when once it has shaken off the rein, is wont to wanton without limit. After men began to look to the intercession of saints, a peculiar administration was gradually assigned to each, so that, according to diversity of business, now one, now another, intercessor was invoked. Then individuals adopted particular saints, and put their faith in them, just as if they had been tutelar deities. And thus not only were gods set up according to the number of the cities (the charge which the prophet brought against Israel of old, Jer. 2:28; 11:13), but according to the number of individuals. But while the saints in all their desires refer to the will of God alone, look to it, and acquiesce in it, yet to assign to them any other prayer than that of longing for the arrival of the kingdom of God, is to think of them stupidly, carnally, and even insultingly. Nothing can be farther from such a view than to imagine that each, under the influence of private feeling, is disposed to be most favourable to his own worshippers. At length vast numbers have fallen into the horrid blasphemy of invoking them not merely as helping but presiding over their salvation. See the depth to which miserable men fall when they forsake their proper station, that is, the word of God. I say nothing of the more monstrous specimens of impiety in which, though detestable to God, angels, and men, they themselves feel no pain or shame. Prostrated at a statue or picture of Barbara or Catherine, and the like, they mutter a Pater Noster; [474] and so far are their pastors [475] from curing or curbing this frantic course, that, allured by the scent of gain, they approve and applaud it. But while seeking to relieve themselves of the odium of this vile and criminal procedure, with what pretext can they defend the practice of calling upon Eloy (Eligius) or Medard to look upon their servants, and send them help from heaven, or the Holy Virgin to order her Son to do what they ask? [476] The Council of Carthage forbade direct prayer to be made at the altar to saints. It is probable that these holy men, unable entirely to suppress the force of depraved custom, had recourse to this check, that public prayers might not be vitiated with such forms of expression as Sancte Petre, ora pro nobis --St Peter, pray for us. But how much farther has this devilish extravagance proceeded when men hesitate not to transfer to the dead the peculiar attributes of Christ and God?

23. In endeavouring to prove that such intercession derives some support from Scripture they labour in vain. We frequently read (they say) of the prayers of angels, and not only so, but the prayers of believers are said to be carried into the presence of God by their hands. But if they would compare saints who have departed this life with angels, it will be necessary to prove that saints are ministering spirits, to whom has been delegated the office of superintending our salvation, to whom has been assigned the province of guiding us in all our ways, of encompassing, admonishing, and comforting us, of keeping watch over us. All these are assigned to angels, but none of them to saints. How preposterously they confound departed saints with angels is sufficiently apparent from the many different offices by which Scripture distinguishes the one from the other. No one unless admitted will presume to perform the office of pleader before an earthly judge; whence then have worms such license as to obtrude themselves on God as intercessors, while no such office has been assigned them? God has been pleased to give angels the charge of our safety. Hence they attend our sacred meetings, and the Church is to them a theatre in which they behold the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10). Those who transfer to others this office which is peculiar to them, certainly pervert and confound the order which has been established by God and ought to be inviolable. With similar dexterity they proceed to quote other passages. God said to Jeremiah, "Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people," (Jer. 15:1). How (they ask) could he have spoken thus of the dead but because he knew that they interceded for the living? My inference, on the contrary, is this: since it thus appears that neither Moses nor Samuel interceded for the people of Israel, there was then no intercession for the dead. For who of the saints can be supposed to labour for the salvation of the peoples while Moses who, when in life, far surpassed all others in this matter, does nothing? Therefore, if they persist in the paltry quibble, that the dead intercede for the living, because the Lord said, "If they stood before me," (intercesserint), I will argue far more speciously in this way: Moses, of whom it is said, "if he interceded," did not intercede for the people in their extreme necessity: it is probable, therefore, that no other saint intercedes, all being far behind Moses in humanity, goodness, and paternal solicitude. Thus all they gain by their caviling is to be wounded by the very arms with which they deem themselves admirably protected. But it is very ridiculous to wrest this simple sentence in this manner; for the Lord only declares that he would not spare the iniquities of the people, though some Moses or Samuel, to whose prayers he had shown himself so indulgent, should intercede for them. This meaning is most clearly elicited from a similar passage in Ezekiel: "Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God," (Ezek. 14:14). Here there can be no doubt that we are to understand the words as if it had been said, If two of the persons named were again to come alive; for the third was still living, namely, Daniel, who it is well known had then in the bloom of youth given an incomparable display of piety. Let us therefore leave out those whom Scripture declares to have completed their course. Accordingly, when Paul speaks of David, he says not that by his prayers he assisted posterity, but only that he "served his own generation," (Acts 13:36).

24. They again object, Are those, then, to be deprived of every pious wish, who, during the whole course of their lives, breathed nothing but piety and mercy? I have no wish curiously to pry into what they do or meditate; but the probability is, that instead of being subject to the impulse of various and particular desires, they, with one fixed and immovable will, long for the kingdom of God, which consists not less in the destruction of the ungodly than in the salvation of believers. If this be so, there cannot be a doubt that their charity is confined to the communion of Christ's body, and extends no farther than is compatible with the nature of that communion. But though I grant that in this way they pray for us, they do not, however, lose their quiescence so as to be distracted with earthly cares: far less are they, therefore, to be invoked by us. Nor does it follow that such invocation is to be used because, while men are alive upon the earth, they can mutually commend themselves to each other's prayers. It serves to keep alive a feeling of charity when they, as it were, share each other's wants, and bear each other's burdens. This they do by the command of the Lord, and not without a promise, the two things of primary importance in prayer. But all such reasons are inapplicable to the dead, with whom the Lord, in withdrawing them from our society, has left us no means of intercourse (Eccles. 9:5, 6), and to whom, so far as we can conjecture, he has left no means of intercourse with us. But if any one allege that they certainly must retain the same charity for us, as they are united with us in one faith, who has revealed to us that they have ears capable of listening to the sounds of our voice, or eyes clear enough to discern our necessities? Our opponents, indeed, talk in the shade of their schools of some kind of light which beams upon departed saints from the divine countenance, and in which, as in a mirror, they, from their lofty abode, behold the affairs of men; but to affirm this with the confidence which these men presume to use, is just to desire, by means of the extravagant dreams of our own brain, and without any authority, to pry and penetrate into the hidden judgments of God, and trample upon Scripture, which so often declares that the wisdom of our flesh is at enmity with the wisdom of God, utterly condemns the vanity of our mind, and humbling our reason, bids us look only to the will of God.

25. The other passages of Scripture which they employ to defend their error are miserably wrested. Jacob (they say) asks for the sons of Joseph, "Let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac," (Gen. 48:16). First, let us see what the nature of this invocation was among the Israelites. They do not implore their fathers to bring succour to them, but they beseech God to remember his servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their example, therefore, gives no countenance to those who use addresses to the saints themselves. But such being the dullness of these blocks, that they comprehend not what it is to invoke the name of Jacob, nor why it is to be invoked, it is not strange that they blunder thus childishly as to the mode of doing it. The expression repeatedly occurs in Scripture. Isaiah speaks of women being called by the name of men, when they have them for husbands and live under their protection (Isa. 4:1). The calling of the name of Abraham over the Israelites consists in referring the origin of their race to him, and holding him in distinguished remembrance as their author and parent. Jacob does not do so from any anxiety to extend the celebrity of his name, but because he knows that all the happiness of his posterity consisted in the inheritance of the covenant which God had made with them. Seeing that this would give them the sum of all blessings, he prays that they may be regarded as of his race, this being nothing else than to transmit the succession of the covenant to them. They again, when they make mention of this subject in their prayers, do not betake themselves to the intercession of the dead, but call to remembrance that covenant in which their most merciful Father undertakes to be kind and propitious to them for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. How little, in other respects, the saints trusted to the merits of their fathers, the public voice of the Church declares in the prophets "Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not; thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer," (Isa. 63:16). And while the Church thus speaks, she at the same time adds, "Return for thy servants' sake," not thinking of any thing like intercession, but adverting only to the benefit of the covenant. Now, indeed, when we have the Lord Jesus, in whose hand the eternal covenant of mercy was not only made but confirmed, what better name can we bear before us in our prayers? And since those good Doctors would make out by these words that the Patriarchs are intercessors, I should like them to tell me why, in so great a multitude, [477] no place whatever is given to Abraham, the father of the Church? We know well from what a crew they select their intercessors. [478] Let them then tell me what consistency there is in neglecting and rejecting Abraham, whom God preferred to all others, and raised to the highest degree of honour. The only reason is, that as it was plain there was no such practice in the ancient Church, they thought proper to conceal the novelty of the practice by saying nothing of the Patriarchs: as if by a mere diversity of names they could excuse a practice at once novel and impure. They sometimes, also, object that God is entreated to have mercy on his people "for David's sake," (Ps. 132:10; see Calv. Com). This is so far from supporting their error, that it is the strongest refutation of it. We must consider the character which David bore. He is set apart from the whole body of the faithful to establish the covenant which God made in his hand. Thus regard is had to the covenant rather than to the individual. Under him as a type the sole intercession of Christ is asserted. But what was peculiar to David as a type of Christ is certainly inapplicable to others.

26. But some seem to be moved by the fact, that the prayers of saints are often said to have been heard. Why? Because they prayed. "They cried unto thee," (says the Psalmist), "and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded," (Ps. 22:5). Let us also pray after their example, that like them we too may be heard. Those men, on the contrary, absurdly argue that none will be heard but those who have been heard already. How much better does James argue, "Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit." (James 5:17, 18). What? Does he infer that Elias possessed some peculiar privilege, and that we must have recourse to him for the use of it? By no means. He shows the perpetual efficacy of a pure and pious prayer, that we may be induced in like manner to pray. For the kindness and readiness of God to hear others is malignantly interpreted, if their example does not inspire us with stronger confidence in his promise, since his declaration is not that he will incline his ear to one or two, or a few individuals, but to all who call upon his name. In this ignorance they are the less excusable, because they seem as it were avowedly to contemn the many admonitions of Scripture. David was repeatedly delivered by the power of God. Was this to give that power to him that we might be delivered on his application? Very different is his affirmation: "The righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me," (Ps. 142:7). Again, "The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him," (Ps. 52:6). "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles," (Ps. 34:6). In The Psalms are many similar prayers, in which David calls upon God to give him what he asks, for this reason--viz. that the righteous may not be put to shame, but by his example encouraged to hope. Here let one passage suffice, "For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found," (Ps. 32:6, Calv. Com). This passage I have quoted the more readily, because those ravers who employ their hireling tongues in defense of the Papacy, are not ashamed to adduce it in proof of the intercession of the dead. As if David intended any thing more than to show the benefit which he shall obtain from the divine clemency and condescension when he shall have been heard. In general, we must hold that the experience of the grace of God, as well towards ourselves as towards others, tends in no slight degree to confirm our faith in his promises. I do not quote the many passages in which David sets forth the loving-kindness of God to him as a ground of confidence, as they will readily occur to every reader of The Psalms. Jacob had previously taught the same thing by his own example, "I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast showed unto thy servant: for with my staff l passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands," (Gen. 32:10). He indeed alleges the promise, but not the promise only; for he at the same time adds the effect, to animate him with greater confidence in the future kindness of God. God is not like men who grow weary of their liberality, or whose means of exercising it become exhausted; but he is to be estimated by his own nature, as David properly does when he says, "Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth," (Ps 31:5). After ascribing the praise of his salvation to God, he adds that he is true: for were he not ever like himself, his past favour would not be an infallible ground for confidence and prayer. But when we know that as often as he assists us, he gives us a specimen and proof of his goodness and faithfulness, there is no reason to fear that our hope will be ashamed or frustrated.

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

  • Numbers 1-2
  • Numbers 1-6
  • Psalms 33-35

#1 2-02-2000 / W3093 | Jon Courson


#2 2-29-2012 / W7025 | Jon Courson


#3 10-15-2014 / W7141 | Jon Courson


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     12/1/2004    Preserved by God

     Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying, “Sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer. You have only to persevere to save yourselves.” Considering what he accomplished in his life, such a statement is certainly appropriate. Churchill‘s victories demonstrated his ability to persevere to the end. He overcame great odds, and his self-sustained fortitude enabled him to endure the hardships and complexities of political life during the Second World War.

     While Churchill’s assertion is accurate, it is only accurate insofar as it pertains to our natural human capability. Churchill’s call to persevere to save ourselves is by all means applicable to soldiers in wartime. It is a stern charge to fight to the end in order to overcome the enemy. And, indeed, it conveys a similar exhortation found in Scripture. In Hebrews, we are called to run the race that is set before us (12:1). The apostle Paul likewise exhorts us to endure so that we might reign with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12), and, while teaching His disciples about persecution, Jesus said, “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22). The testimony of Scripture is clear; we must persevere to the end in order to obtain salvation. However, this is only one part of the biblical equation.

     Although the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is the last point in the Calvinistic acrostic, it is by no means the final doctrine of salvation. On the contrary, it is foundational to every aspect of our salvation. At the very core of the perseverance of the saints is the sustaining power of God — the only reason we are able to persevere is because God almighty preserves us. He is both the Author and Finisher of our faith, and it is only in Him that we live, move, and have our being.

     Unfortunately, many Christians have become practical deists. They have been duped by the notion that after having begun the work of salvation in our lives, God leaves us to our own devices while He sits back awaiting our failure. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is precisely because God sustains us that we are able to endure faithfully to the end. By His loving hand, He blesses us with discipline. By His kindness, He leads us to repentance, and by His sacrifice, He has conquered the Enemy and defeated death. For this reason, we will endure because we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Therefore, we live coram Deo, before the face of the God of our salvation.

     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)

The lost
     are self-condemned

     'Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked?,' says the Lord God, 'And not rather that he should turn from his way and live? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,' says the Lord God. 'So turn and live! Say to them, "As I live," says the Lord God, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways. For why will you die?"' (Ez. 18.23,32; 33.11).

     Here God literally pleads with people to turn back from their self-destructive course of action and be saved. Thus, in a sense, the biblical God does not send any person to hell. His desire is that everyone be saved, and He seeks to draw all persons to Himself. If we make a free and well-informed decision to reject Christ's sacrifice for our sin, then God has no choice but to give us what we deserve. God will not send us to hell—but we shall send ourselves. Our eternal destiny thus lies in our own hands. It is a matter of our free choice where we shall spend eternity. The lost, therefore, are self-condemned; they separate themselves from God despite God's will and every effort to save them, and God grieves over their loss.

Click here to go to source

American Minute
     by Bill Federer

     The British set fire to it during the War of 1812, burning hundreds books, but the Library of Congress was restocked by Thomas Jefferson, who provided over six thousand volumes. Originally for legislators to do research, it was begun this day, April 24, 1800, with a five thousand dollar allocation from Congress and has since grown to be one of the largest libraries in the world. Relocated to its present site in 1897, The Library of Congress is inscribed with the verse: "What does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God."

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams

Facebook is a modern myth.
It is not a cohesive community of intimate relationships,
but an amalgamation of constantly revamped,
personally concocted projections,
where all too often the person on the Facebook stage
begins to believe they are really who they say they are.

Real life relationships demand an emotional investment
that shatters glass houses,
dissolves sweet clichés,
and eliminates the off line option.

After all, it is intimacy, not Facebook;
that draws the curtains aside to reveal the real you.
What seems liberating to the isolated self
can breed a false dependence on what is too easily disconnected.
--- Richard S. Adams

Young man,
young man,
your arm's too short to box with God.
--- James Weldon Johnson
The Hiding Place (Hendrickson Classic Biographies)

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.
--- Mother Theresa
The Hiding Place (Hendrickson Classic Biographies)

It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.
--- Abraham Lincoln
The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln Volumes 4 & 5

... 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 soul 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

     If those Galatians who received the Holy Spirit in power were tempted to go astray by that terrible danger of perfecting in the flesh what had been begun in the Spirit, how much more danger do those Christians run who hardly ever know that they have received the Holy Spirit, or who, if they know it as a matter of belief, hardly ever think of it and hardly ever praise God for it!

     Neglecting the Holy Spirit

     But now look, in the second place, at the great danger.

     You all know what shunting is on a railway. A locomotive with its train may be run in a certain direction, and the points at some place may not be properly opened or closed, and unobservingly it is shunted off to the right or to the left. And if that takes place, for instance, on a dark night, the train goes in the wrong direction, and the people might never know it until they have gone some distance.

     And just so God gives Christians the Holy Spirit with this intention, that every day all their life should be lived in the power of the Spirit. A man cannot live one hour a godly life unless by the power of the Holy Spirit. He may live a proper, consistent life, as people call it, an irreproachable life, a life of virtue and diligent service; but to live a life acceptable to God, in the enjoyment of God's salvation and God's love, to live and walk in the power of the new life—he cannot do it unless he be guided by the Holy Spirit every day and every hour.

     But now listen to the danger. The Galatians received the Holy Spirit, but what was begun by the Spirit they tried to perfect in the flesh. How? They fell back again under Judaizing teachers who told them they must be circumcised. They began to seek their religion in external observances. And so Paul uses that expression about those teachers who had them circumcised, that "they sought to glory in their flesh" (Gal. 6:13).

Absolute Surrender (The Colportage Library)

Proverbs 15:18-19
     by D.H. Stern

18     Hot-tempered people stir up strife,
but patient people quiet quarrels.

19     The lazy person’s way seems overgrown by thorns,
but the path of the upright is a level highway.

Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers

                The warning against wantoning

     Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you. --- Luke 10:20.

     As Christian workers, worldliness is not our snare, sin is not our snare, but spiritual wantoning is, viz.: taking the pattern and print of the religious age we live in, making eyes at spiritual success. Never court anything other than the approval of God, go “without the camp, bearing His reproach.” Jesus told the disciples not to rejoice in successful service, and yet this seems to be the one thing in which most of us do rejoice. We have the commercial view—so many souls saved and sanctified, thank God, now it is all right. Our work begins where God’s grace has laid the foundation; we are not to save souls, but to disciple them. Salvation and sanctification are the work of God’s sovereign grace; our work as His disciples is to disciple lives until they are wholly yielded to God. One life wholly devoted to God is of more value to God than one hundred lives simply awakened by His Spirit. As workers for God we must reproduce our own kind spiritually, and that will be God’s witness to us as workers. God brings us to a standard of life by His grace, and we are responsible for reproducing that standard in others.

     Unless the worker lives a life hidden with Christ in God, he is apt to become an irritating dictator instead of an indwelling disciple. Many of us are dictators, we dictate to people and to meetings. Jesus never dictates to us in that way. Whenever Our Lord talked about discipleship, He always prefaced it with an ‘IF,’ never with an emphatic assertion—‘You must.’ Discipleship carries an option with it.

My Utmost for His Highest: Quality Paperback Edition

The Gap in the Hedge
     the Poetry of R.S. Thomas

           The Gap in the Hedge

That man, Prytherch, with the torn cap,
  I saw him often, framed in the gap
  Between two hazels with his sharp eyes,
  Bright as thorns, watching the sunrise
  Filling the valley with its pale yellow
  Light, where the sheep and the lambs went haloed
  With grey mist lifting from the dew.
  Or was it a likeness that the twigs drew
  With bold pencilling upon that bare
  Piece of sky? For he's still there
  At early morning, when the light is right
  And I look up suddenly at a bird's flight.

Selected poems, 1946-1968

     Ekron in two places?

     I was asked why the Bible mentions Ekron being in two places. See the following: EKRON One of the lordships of the Philistines (Josh. 13:3), listed in one place as within the lot of Judah (Josh. 15:11, 45–6) but in another as within that of Dan (Josh. 19:43). Despite the reference in
( 1:18–19) it seems that the Israelites did not take Ekron in the early stages of the conquest. According to the Bible it was held by the Israelites in the time of Samuel
1 Sam. 7:14), but after the defeat of Goliath the Philistines fled to the gates of Ekron (1 Sam. 17:52). According to
2 Kings (1:2) there was a temple there, dedicated to Baal-Zebub. In 712 bc Ekron was captured by Shalmaneser V of Assyria and in 701 bc by Sennacherib. It is not mentioned again until the Hellenistic period, when Alexander Balas granted Ekron and the villages around it to Jonathan the Hasmonean. From that time onwards it was in the Judean kingdom. It continued to be mentioned in sources of the late Roman period. Eusebius (Onom. 22:9) called Akaron 'a very large Jewish village', east of the road from Ashdod to Jabneh. The biblical and post-biblical towns are also portrayed on the Medaba map.

          Ekron has been identified with several sites. Despite the similarity of its name to that of the Arab village of Agir, this identification has definitely been ruled out. Today it is identified with Tel Miqneh (Khirbet el-Muqanna), northeast of Ashdod.

     Excavations carried out since 1981 at Tel Miqneh on behalf of the Albright Institute, the Hebrew University and Brandeis University, under the direction of T. Dothan and S. Gittin. In the excavations 13 occupation levels were distinguished. The four earliest levels (
13–10) are represented by flint tools and pottery of the Chalcolithic period, Early Bronze Age I-II, Middle Bronze Age IIA-B, and Late Bronze Age I-II. Level 9, of the Iron Age I (12th century bc), contained a 13 feet wide city wall with a stone base, supported by bricks on the outside. The pottery of this level is Mycenaean and Philistine. The following Levels 8 (12th-11th century bc) and 7 (11th century bc) are represented by brick walls and pottery similar to that of Level 9. In Level 6 (end of 11th century bc) a two-room structure built of brick and paved with pebbles was discovered. Another structure probably had a cultic function. The site was abandoned and resettled in the 10th-9th centuries bc (Levels 5–3). The main feature of this period is a stone city wall and a gate with two rooms on each side, built in the 8th century bc. Its foundations penetrate down to the earlier Iron Age II occupation level. Inside the city were numerous oil presses, attesting that Iron Age Ekron was a major olive oil producing center. The last two levels contain burials of a late period. The destruction of Ekron is attributed to Sennacherib in 701 bc.

Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land

Teacher's Commentary
     Victory Won – Joshua 9-24

     The story of the Book of Joshua is not so much the record of a Conquest, but the report of entry into rest.

     The thrust of the book is summed up in
Joshua 21:43–45: "And they took possession of [the land] and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side.… Not one of their enemies withstood them.… Not one of all the Lord's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled."

     Militarily. The Conquest of Canaan is still studied in Israeli and other war colleges. It featured a quick attack in the center to divide the land, then forced marches and surprise attacks in Southern and then Northern campaigns. But the emphasis of the book on rest can be seen in this outline of Joshua.

I.   Preparation   1:1–5:12
II.  Central Campaign  5:13–9:27
III. Northern, Southern Campaigns 10:1–12:24
IV. The Land Divided   13:1–24:33

     Covenant Renewal. The covenant of Law defined the relationship between God as Israel's Ruler and the people as God's subjects. It spelled out how God expected His people to live and promised blessings for obedience. But each generation and individual had to ratify—to personally agree to—this national contract with God. Near his death, Joshua led the next generation in a service (Joshua 24), like the service led by Moses just before the Conquest (Deuteronomy 27).

     Conquest: Joshua 9–12 / After the Transjordan nations (those across the Jordan River to the east of Palestine) had been conquered, Joshua's campaign began with an attack on Jericho. This key city, just above the Israelite base of Gilgal, gave access both to the heart of Palestine and to Joshua's source of supply across the Jordan. It also controlled two trade routes up into the central highlands. In taking Ai and Bethel (Joshua 8:17; 12:16), Joshua cut the land in two and was then able to campaign against a divided enemy. He dealt first with the Southern and then with the Northern kings.

     The taking of Jericho first was thus of great strategic importance. And here divine intervention seemed essential. Leon Wood,   Survey of Israel's History, A   describes Jericho's walls:

     [They] were of a type which made direct assault practically impossible. An approaching enemy first encountered a stone abutment, 11 feet high, back and up from which sloped a 35 degree plastered scarp reaching to the main wall some 35 vertical feet above. The steep smooth slope prohibited battering the wall by any effective device or building fires to break it. An army trying to storm the wall found difficulty in climbing the slope, and ladders to scale it would find no satisfactory footing. The normal tactic used by an army to take a city so protected was siege, but Israel did not have time for this, if she was to occupy all the land in any reasonable number of months.

     Any impression we may have that Palestine was some rustic backwater and that Joshua's army was like some overwhelming horde of savages, is quickly dispelled by this description. The men of Palestine were acquainted with war; their offensive and defensive skills were highly sophisticated. But they had no defense against Israel's God. Jericho's walls, which normally would have held off Israel for months or even years, fell down in a moment.

     While God's power did provide victory in times of crisis, Joshua usually employed field tactics to defeat his enemies. Surprise attacks, forced marches, and flying columns which dashed ahead to cut off lines of retreat, were all tactics known by Hittite commanders of that day and used brilliantly by Joshua. As in Israel's Six-Day War with the Arab states, Israel, by aggressive tactics, defeated an enemy with forces much more powerful than its own.

     The purpose of Joshua's campaign was not to destroy all the peoples living in Palestine, but rather to eliminate all effective opposition. The power of the Palestinian people to threaten the existence of Israel was to be crushed. Thus Joshua did not concentrate on the Conquest of land but on the defeat of enemy armies. Some of the cities against which the Israelites fought were taken and their populations destroyed. But other cities were not burned. Later those unrazed cities were reoccupied by survivors. However, the principal cities were "devoted" to God; they and their entire populations were completely destroyed.

     Questions about the Conquest. Commentators have been universally impressed with Joshua's military strategy. The Israeli War College today features a study of his campaigns! But there are also questions the teacher of the Bible wants to explore.

     (1) The Gibeonites' deception (Joshua 9). Peoples of one city in Palestine's central highlands resorted to trickery. Sure they were doomed otherwise, they sent representatives to Joshua with worn clothing, and dry, moldy food. Pretending they had come from a great distance, they begged for a treaty. The terms were attractive. "We are your servants" (Joshua (9:8), meant that this "distant" nation would be completely subject to Israel, in exchange for a promise that Israel would not war against them.

     God had commanded His people to "make no treaty" with the peoples of Palestine. But He had said nothing about a treaty with people beyond its borders.

     The Bible says that "the men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord" (Joshua 9:14).

     They trusted the evidence of their eyes, and the word of strangers. They trusted their own ability and reason. And because they did, they failed to ask God for direction.

     What a lesson for us. There are severe limits on our capacities. We should never make crucial, life-shaping decisions relying simply on our own wisdom. We, like Joshua, need to inquire first of the Lord.

     After the treaty was made, Joshua learned that he and Israel had been tricked. The Gibeonites were actually near neighbors! But because the leaders had "sworn an oath to them by the Lord, the God of Israel," there was nothing they could do (Joshua 9:18). Too many decisions, once made, can never be taken back.

     But even this situation was redeemed by God. When other inhabitants of the land heard of the treaty, they determined to attack the Gibeonite cities. In a surprise attack, Joshua shattered the besieging armies. God had turned Joshua's mistake in making the treaty into an opportunity for victory!

The Teacher's Commentary

Chap. 13–14:5.
     Pulpit Commentary

     The allotment of the inheritance. I. THERE COMES A TIME WHEN WE MUST GIVE PLACE TO OTHERS. Joshua felt that his end was drawing nigh, and most likely, since we are not told otherwise, as in the case of Moses, his natural force was abated. So with ourselves. We cannot expect to see the end of our work. We must do what God has set before us, and leave results to Him. Yet we, unlike Joshua, need not fear the failure of our efforts. The law could not make its votaries perfect; but the bringing in of a better hope did. In this later dispensation no work shall altogether fail of its effect if done to God.

     II. WE MUST “SET OUR HOUSE IN ORDER” BEFORE WE GO HENCE. Though Joshua had to leave the completion of the task to others, he did not fail to put it in train. So we, when we have begun a good work, are bound to make proper and reasonable provision for its being carried on when God warns us that our time draws nigh. We are not to expect God to work miracles where our own reason would suffice. We must leave the result to God, but not until we have done all in our power to procure the fulfilment of His will. We must leave proper directions behind us to indicate what our wishes are, and a proper organisation, so far as possible, to carry out our purposes. We find nothing left to God in the Bible but what is plainly beyond the reach of man.

     III. GOD ASSIGNS TO EACH MAN HIS PORTION. In parcelling out the land of Israel, Joshua is a type of Christ, “dividing to each man severally as He will.” The various powers and faculties we have, bodily, mental, spiritual, are given us by God. Each one has his own proper share, according to the work God requires of him. There must be no murmuring or disputing. The foot must not ask why he is not the hand, nor the hand why he is not the head. Each has his own proper portion of the good gifts of God, and according as he has so will it be required of them. All murmurings were hushed in Israel because Joshua committed the disposal of the inheritance to the Lord. We are equally bound to refrain from discontent because it is clear that God has portioned out the gifts of the spiritual Israel. One man has wealth, another strength, another intellect, another imagination, another wisdom, another energy, another power over others, or these various gifts are apportioned in various degrees for God’s own purposes. Let none think of questioning the wisdom of the award.

     IV. GOD’S MINISTERS ARE TO BE DEPENDENT UPON THEIR FLOCKS FOR SUPPORT. Such is the meaning of St. Paul when he speaks of the double honour (no doubt in a pecuniary sense, as we use the word “honorarium”) to be given to the elders who rule well. In consequence of their special aptitude for the work, they were to be relieved from the burden of their own maintenance, that they might be able to devote more time to the supervision of the flock. Not necessarily that each minister should be maintained by his own flock, for he might be thereby deterred from speaking faithfully to them in the name of Christ. We do not find that each individual priest and Levite was maintained by some special synagogue of the Jews. But they who ministered in holy things lived of the sacrifice nevertheless. The offerings made at the temple at Jerusalem formed a general fund out of which the tribe of Levi was maintained, as its members went up by rotation to perform the duties of their office. And beside this, a proper number of cities was provided them, with a share, most probably, in the privileges of their fellow-citizens, of the tribe to which the land belonged. This ample provision for the ministers under the old law is in striking contrast, save in some special instances, to the provision made by Christians for their ministers now. A due maintenance for their clergy was one of the special characteristics of the Jewish religious system. According to the principles laid down by the apostles of Christ, and always acted upon, save in some special instances, it was an equally marked characteristic of the Christian Church.

     V. GOD IS THE PORTION OF HIS MINISTERS. A great comfort for those who are in straitened circumstances, as many are. They may remember the words, “I have been young and now am old, yet saw I never the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread.” If they abstain from murmuring, rigidly adapt their expenditure to their means, careless of appearances, careful only to do right, they will find their reward in God’s love and favour. He will be in truth their portion. Having food and raiment, they will be therewith content, for they will have abundance of spiritual blessings, the reward of an approving conscience, and the respect of all right-thinking men. Nor is the promise confined only to those who lack the good things of this life, but it is given to those who, by God’s disposition possessing them, know how to use them. All God’s ministers who love and serve Him shall have Him as their portion, and they will treasure this above all earthly goods. “They that fear Him lack nothing.” The Lord is the strength of their life, and their portion for ever.

The Pulpit Commentary (23 Volume Set)

Swimming In The Sea of Talmud
     Ketubbot 22b–23a


     A politician addresses his constituency: "My fellow Americans, when I spoke last week in the public forum, I mentioned certain facts and figures about the issue at hand. Clearly, I was emotional about this topic and did not fully research it. Since then, it has come to my attention that some of the statistics I used were based on outdated studies. Other information was supplied to me by an interested party who was biased. Thus, my presentation was one-sided and unfair. I apologize if I have offended any of my constituents, and I ask you, the voters of this great state, to give me a second chance."

     As critical as we may be of such a politician, forced to "eat his words," we also have a certain empathy for him. After all, every one of us, at one time or another, has had to take back a statement that we made. It may not have had major political ramifications or been so public, but we know that it was harmful and had to be retracted. We turn to a person—a family member, fellow worker, even a total stranger—and ask for a second chance.

     The problem is that some words cannot be retracted and certain actions are irrevocable. Once the damage is done, there is no opportunity for a second chance. Think, for example, what might happen if a parent publicly criticizes a child. Even if the criticism was reasonable, the time and place may not have been. The parent may feel guilty afterwards. As many times as the parent apologizes and explains, the damage has been done. A loved one has been publicly humiliated. The wound may never heal.

     What is true of words also applies to actions: Late one night while home alone, a teenager hears noise downstairs. He knows that his parents are away on vacation and his sister is staying at a friend's house. He calls out—"Who's there?"—but there is no answer. Fearful that there might be a burglar in the house, he removes the gun from his father's dresser drawer. "Who is it?" he shouts again, but there is no answer. A figure moves toward him in the dark; he raises the gun and pulls the trigger. Someone drops to the floor. As this young man turns on the light, he is shocked to see that he has shot his own sister. She lies near him in a pool of blood, suitcase still in hand. Apparently, hoping not to bother her brother, she snuck into the house to retrieve some clothes. What has been done cannot be undone.

     While most mistakes can be corrected, some cannot be taken back. Rava's saying should serve as a warning to us. There are some words and certain actions that, once taken, cannot be revoked.

     "We did not see her" is no proof.

     Text / Our Rabbis taught: If two [witnesses] say she was betrothed, and two say she was not betrothed, she may not marry, and if she does marry, we do not force her to divorce. If two say she was divorced and two say she was not divorced, she may not marry, and if she married, we force her to divorce. What is the difference between the first case and the second case? Abaye said: "Explain it using only one witness. If one witness says she was married and one witness says she was not married, both testify against an unmarried woman, but the one who testifies 'she was married' is only one, and the word of one does not stand up against the word of two! In the second case: One witness says she was divorced and one witness says she was not divorced, both testify against a married woman, and the one who says 'she was divorced' is only one, and the word of one does not stand up against the word of two!" Rav Ashi said: "This certainly deals with two witnesses in each case, and it's the opposite! If two say: 'We saw that she was betrothed,' and two others say: 'We did not see that she was betrothed,' then she may not marry, and if she does marry, we force her to divorce." This is obvious! "We did not see her" is no proof.

     Context / The idea of two corroborating witnesses goes back to the Torah, specifically to capital cases. The book of Deuteronomy specifies two witnesses in the case of idolatry, a capital crime:

     If there is found among you, in one of the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who has affronted the Lord your God and transgressed His covenant—turning to the worship of other gods and bowing down to them …—and you have been informed or have learned of it, then you shall make a thorough inquiry. If it is true, the fact is established, that abhorrent thing was perpetrated in Israel, you shall take the man or the woman who did that wicked thing out to a public place, and you shall stone them, man or woman, to death.—A person shall be put to death only on the testimony of two or more witnesses; he must not be put to death on the testimony of a single witness. Deuteronomy 17:2–6)

     The Gemara is dealing with proofs of whether or not a woman is allowed to marry based on various testimonies. If, for example, she says of herself: "I was married and divorced"—as we have in the case on the previous Mishnah on Ketubbot 22a—she is believed, "for the mouth that forbade is the mouth that permits." "The mouth that forbade" is her own; she declared herself married and therefore forbidden to other men. "The mouth that permits" is also her own; she declared herself divorced and thus permitted to other men. Since we believe her on one account ("the mouth that forbade") we likewise believe her on the other account ("the mouth that permitted").

     In the first case of our Gemara, there are conflicting testimonies. One set of witnesses claims that she did not marry, while another asserts that she did marry. She should not marry again, since her status is doubtful, but if she did nonetheless marry, she is allowed to remain with that husband, since there was testimony that she was not previously married. If, however, there is conflicting testimony over whether or not she divorced, there is the possibility that she is still another man's wife. In such a case, she is forced to divorce the new husband.

     Abaye, however, understands the Gemara's case as involving only one outside witness. In the case of the death of a man whose wife is then allowed to remarry, the testimony of one witness, even of the wife herself, is accepted. According to Abaye, this one witness, plus the wife, form a pair of witnesses. Their testimony outweighs that of a conflicting, single witness. Thus, if the wife plus one witness say she was not married, then their testimony is superior to that of another witness who claims that she did marry. Similarly, if the wife and one witness claim that she was not divorced, then their testimony is superior to that of a lone witness to the contrary.

     Rav Ashi sees the Gemara is a different light. He assumes that we are dealing with two outside witnesses (and not the wife as witness). In such a case, evidence that an event occurred carries more weight than lack of evidence that it occurred. The Gemara's answer to this is: "This is obvious!" "We did not see her" becomes a non-proof. Perhaps this latter pair of witnesses was unaware; maybe they did not see but it happened nonetheless. We accept the testimony of the two who did see something. The Gemara does not make decisions based on incomplete evidence or testimony to the negative. It is obvious that "We did not see her" is no proof.

Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living

Jewish History from Alexander to Hadrian
     The End of Hasmonean Rule and the Rise of the Antipatrids

     The twenty-year period from Pompey’s siege of Jerusalem to the accession of Herod the Great was one of almost constant civil war between two factions of the Hasmonean family led by John Hyrcanus II and Judah Aristobulus II, the sons of Alexander Jannaeus and Salome Alexandra. Both sides appealed to Rome for support. Pompey sided with Hyrcanus, and in response Aristobulus and his supporters barricaded themselves within fortresses and the Temple itself. Pompey and his army besieged Jerusalem and the Temple, and in the ensuing siege, the city was badly damaged. Aristobulus’ faction was massacred inside the Temple precinct itself, and Pompey himself violated the sanctity of the Temple by entering the Holy of Holies. After establishing order in the city, Pompey restored Hyrcanus to the high priesthood but stripped him of his royal title and political authority.

     During the next nine years, an Idumean family of courtiers, the Antipatrids, rose to preeminence in the Hasmonean court. They first achieved prominence during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus when he appointed an Idumean noble named Antipas as stratēgos of Idumea. It is likely that Antipas’ son, Antipater, succeeded him. Antipater quickly became the real power behind the Hasmonean throne. He was a consummate politician who excelled at cultivating and exploiting friendships with local rulers as well as with leading Romans. Antipater first secured the friendship of Pompey and then of Julius Caesar when he eclipsed Pompey. In 48 B.C.E., Julius Caesar found himself besieged in Alexandria by native Egyptians. Antipater came to his aid by enlisting the support of local rulers as well as personally leading an army into Egypt. In recognition of his support, Caesar bestowed Roman citizenship on Antipater and his family (J.W. 1.187–94; Ant. 14.127–39).

     Although Antipater was now clearly the main man at court, he still had powerful enemies, who assassinated him in 43 B.C.E. (J.W. 1.225–26; Ant. 14.280–84). Herod and his brother Phasael, who had been appointed stratēgoi of Galilee and Judea respectively (47 B.C.E.), assumed the leadership of their family as well their father’s position as the dominant courtiers in the Hasmonean court. Their power and influence increased further in 42, when Marc Antony appointed them tetrarchs (J.W. 1.244; Ant. 14.326). However, in 40 the Parthians and their ally, the Hasmonean Mattathias Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus II, invaded Judea and besieged Jerusalem. While on a diplomatic mission to the Parthians, Phasael and Hyrcanus were arrested and imprisoned. Phasael chose to commit suicide by dashing his head against a rock. Herod, on the other hand, fled to Rome to secure its support against the Parthians and Antigonus. With the support and lobbying of the triumvirs Antony and Octavian, the Roman senate proclaimed Herod King of Judea and promised him military aid in his war against Antigonus (J.W. 1.282–85; Ant. 14.381–89). It took Herod three years to defeat Antigonus and capture Jerusalem, but in Spring 37 B.C.E., he entered Jerusalem as both de jure and de facto King of Judea (J.W. 1.349–57; Ant. 14.476–91).

The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

Take Heart
     April 24

     It is by grace you have been saved, through faith. --- Ephesians 2:8.

     What do we mean by grace? (Classic Sermons on the Grace of God (Kregel Classic Sermons Series) ) The old definition called it “the free, unmerited favor of God.” On that definition I cannot improve. It means that at the heart of all true communion with God there lies this deep truth, that God himself took the initiative. He loves us better than we can ever love him. He loves us with a love that does not depend on any answering love of ours. We do not have to earn his love any more than we earned our mothers’ love. We have only to receive it.

     Always the initiative is from God! When you first came to him, you came because he first drew you. The very faith by which you lay hold of him is not of yourself, this also is a gift of God. Nor is it only in the beginning that your salvation is God’s free gift. Every onward step you have made in your spiritual pilgrimage has been possible by some bestowing of his grace. Even the life of holiness, to which all the time he is seeking to bring you—the Christlike quality that he wants to repeat in all of his children—even that you do not have to achieve but to receive. It is a gift of God.

     There is in us something that rejects the idea of this free and generous forgiving. Of course it is pride, the deadliest of all the deadly sins. Bernard Shaw may in some things, I suppose, be taken as an example of the modern mind. He says, “Forgiveness is a beggar’s refuge. We must pay our debts.” So speaks the modern world, but, my dear friends, we cannot pay our debts. We will never be able to pay our debts to God. As our spiritual predecessors saw so clearly, the only language that we can honestly use in the presence of our awful debt is this prayer:

  Just as I am, without one plea
  But that Thy blood was shed for me,
  And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
  O Lamb of God, I come.
   --- Charlotte Elliott.

     In response to this coming, the free, unmerited favor of God comes to us, cancels the debt, imputes the righteousness of Christ to sinners such as we are, and progressively, as we live with him, also imparts that righteousness.

     It is a part of the Holy Spirit’s work, too, to make us holy. He sets out not only to justify us, but to sanctify us, and all the time the whole work is by grace.
--- William E. Sangster

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

On This Day
     Monica’s Prayers  April 24

     He was born in 354 in a North African town set among the woods near the Mediterranean. His father was a pagan, but his mother, Monica, was of devout Christian stock. Augustine was an undisciplined child, idle and truant despite frequent beatings. He loved sports and pranks and soon discovered a host of adolescent pleasures. When he was 15 his father saw him in the public baths and realized his son was a man. He was. He later wished that “the high tides of my youth had spent their foam upon the shore of marriage.”

     Augustine was also brilliant, and he soon moved to Carthage to further both his studies and his fun. Monica warned him against fornication, but “I ran headlong with blindness.” At about 18 he found himself the father of a son. At the same time he joined a cult.

     Years passed, and Monica, praying ceaselessly, heard that Augustine was planning to leave Africa for Rome. She begged him not to go. When he refused, she determined to go with him. Using deception, he left her praying in a chapel and sailed without her; but she took a later boat and intercepted him. They traveled to Milan where she persuaded him to listen to the great Bishop Ambrose. The bishop’s razor-sharp sermons penetrated Augustine’s head, if not yet his heart. Monica continued praying, confiding her struggles to Ambrose. He told her not to worry: “It isn’t possible for the son of such prayers to be lost.”

     One day as Augustine sat in a friend’s garden he heard a child singing, “Take up and read!” He opened the Bible near him and read from Romans 13: Don’t go to wild parties or get drunk or be vulgar or indecent. … Let the Lord Jesus Christ be as near to you as the clothes you wear. By the time he finished the sentence, he later said, he was converted.

     On the eve of Easter, April 24, 387, Augustine and his son Adeodatus were baptized by Ambrose as Monica watched. Her lifetime of prayer was answered, and a church father was born.

     So behave properly, as people do in the day. Don’t go to wild parties or get drunk or be vulgar or indecent. Don’t quarrel or be jealous. Let the Lord Jesus Christ be as near to you as the clothes you wear. Then you won’t try to satisfy your selfish desires.
--- Romans 13:13,14.

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

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - April 24

     “And because of all this we make a sure covenant.”
--- Nehemiah 9:38.

     There are many occasions in our experience when we may very rightly, and with benefit, renew our covenant with God. After recovery from sickness when, like Hezekiah, we have had a new term of years added to our life, we may fitly do it. After any deliverance from trouble, when our joys bud forth anew, let us again visit the foot of the cross, and renew our consecration. Especially, let us do this after any sin which has grieved the Holy Spirit, or brought dishonour upon the cause of God; let us then look to that blood which can make us whiter than snow, and again offer ourselves unto the Lord. We should not only let our troubles confirm our dedication to God, but our prosperity should do the same. If we ever meet with occasions which deserve to be called “crowning mercies” then, surely, if he hath crowned us, we ought also to crown our God; let us bring forth anew all the jewels of the divine regalia which have been stored in the jewel-closet of our heart, and let our God sit upon the throne of our love, arrayed in royal apparel. If we would learn to profit by our prosperity, we should not need so much adversity. If we would gather from a kiss all the good it might confer upon us, we should not so often smart under the rod. Have we lately received some blessing which we little expected? Has the Lord put our feet in a large room? Can we sing of mercies multiplied? Then this is the day to put our hand upon the horns of the altar, and say, “Bind me here, my God; bind me here with cords, even for ever.” Inasmuch as we need the fulfilment of new promises from God, let us offer renewed prayers that our old vows may not be dishonoured. Let us this morning make with him a sure covenant, because of the pains of Jesus which for the last month we have been considering with gratitude.

          Evening - April 24

     “The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."
Song of Solomon 2:12.

     Sweet is the season of spring: the long and dreary winter helps us to appreciate its genial warmth, and its promise of summer enhances its present delights. After periods of depression of spirit, it is delightful to behold again the light of the Sun of Righteousness; then our slumbering graces rise from their lethargy, like the crocus and the daffodil from their beds of earth; then is our heart made merry with delicious notes of gratitude, far more melodious than the warbling of birds—and the comforting assurance of peace, infinitely more delightful than the turtle’s note, is heard within the soul. Now is the time for the soul to seek communion with her Beloved; now must she rise from her native sordidness, and come away from her old associations. If we do not hoist the sail when the breeze is favourable, we shall be blameworthy: times of refreshing ought not to pass over us unimproved. When Jesus himself visits us in tenderness, and entreats us to arise, can we be so base as to refuse his request? He has himself risen that he may draw us after him: he now by his Holy Spirit has revived us, that we may, in newness of life, ascend into the heavenlies, and hold communion with himself. Let our wintry state suffice us for coldness and indifference; when the Lord creates a spring within, let our sap flow with vigour, and our branch blossom with high resolve. O Lord, if it be not spring time in my chilly heart, I pray thee make it so, for I am heartily weary of living at a distance from thee. Oh! the long and dreary winter, when wilt thou bring it to an end? Come, Holy Spirit, and renew my soul! quicken thou me! restore me, and have mercy on me! This very night I would earnestly implore the Lord to take pity upon his servant, and send me a happy revival of spiritual life!

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     April 24

          CHRIST AROSE

     Robert Lowry, 1826–1899

     Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. (Romans 6:8, 9)

     “Alleluia, He is Risen!” “Alleluia, He is Risen Indeed!” If you and I had been living during the early Christian era, this undoubtedly would have been our greeting to one another as believers on an Easter Sunday. For the past century, however, many evangelical churches have been inspired anew in celebrating this triumphant day by singing “Christ Arose”, written and composed by Robert Lowry in 1874.

     Robert Lowry is a highly respected name among early gospel hymn writers. He served for a time as a professor of literature at Bucknell University, pastored several important Baptist churches in the East, and then became the music editor of the Biglow Publishing Company. It has often been said that the quality of Lowry’s numerous publications did much to improve the cause of sacred music in this country.

     During the Easter season of 1874, while having his devotions one evening, Robert Lowry was impressed with the events associated with Christ’s resurrection, especially with these words recorded in Luke 24:6, 7:

     He is not here, but is risen; remember how He spoke unto you when He was in Galilee, saying, the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

     Soon Robert Lowry found himself seated at the little pump organ in the parlor of his home, and in a very spontaneous fashion, the words and music of “Christ Arose” gave expression to the thoughts that had been uppermost in his mind. The hymn was published the following year and has been an inspirational favorite with God’s people ever since.

     Low in the grave He lay—Jesus, my Savior! Waiting the coming day—Jesus, my Lord!
     Vainly they watch His bed—Jesus, my Savior! Vainly they seal the dead—Jesus, my Lord.
     Death cannot keep his prey—Jesus, my Savior! He tore the bars away—Jesus, my Lord!
     Chorus: Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes; He arose a Victor from the dark domain, and He lives forever with His saints to reign: He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

     For Today: Matthew 27:5–66; John 19:41, 42; 1 Corinthians 15:4.

     Allow the truth of Christ’s resurrection to thrill your life anew. Sing with triumph as you go ---

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. IV. — WHAT you adduce, therefore, about the darkness of the Corycian cavern, amounts to nothing; matters are not so in the Scriptures. For those things which are of the greatest majesty, and the most abstruse mysteries, are no longer in the dark corner, but before the very doors, nay, brought forth and manifested openly. For Christ has opened our understanding to understand the Scriptures, Luke xxiv. 45. And the Gospel is preached to every creature. (Mark xvi. 15, Col. i. 23.) “Their sound is gone out into all the earth.” (Psalm xix. 4.) And “All things that are written, are written for our instruction.” (Rom. xv. 4.) And again, “All Scripture is inspired from above, and is profitable for instruction.” (2 Tim. iii. 16.).

     Therefore come forward, you and all the Sophists together, and produce any one mystery which is still abstruse in the Scriptures. But, if many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from their own blindness or want of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of the truth. As Paul saith concerning the Jews, 2 Cor. iii. 15. “The veil still remains upon their heart.” And again, “If our gospel be hid it is hid to them that are lost, whose heart the god of this world hath blinded.” (2 Cor. iv. 3-4.) With the same rashness any one may cover his own eyes, or go from the light into the dark and hide himself, and then blame the day and the sun for being obscure. Let, therefore, wretched men cease to impute, with blasphemous perverseness, the darkness and obscurity of their own heart to the all-clear Scriptures of God.

     You, therefore, when you adduce Paul, saying, “His judgments are incomprehensible,” seem to make the pronoun His (ejus) refer to Scripture (Scriptura). Whereas Paul does not say, The judgments of the Scripture are incomprehensible, but the judgments of God. So also Isaiah xl. 13, does not say, Who has known the mind of the Scripture, but, who has known “the mind of the Lord?” Although Paul asserts that the mind of the Lord is known to Christians: but it is in those things which are freely given unto us: as he saith also in the same place, 1 Cor. ii. 10, 16. You see, therefore, how sleepily you have looked over these places of the Scripture: and you cite them just as aptly as you cite nearly all the passages in defense of “Free-will.”

     In like manner, your examples which you subjoin, not without suspicion and bitterness, are nothing at all to the purpose. Such are those concerning the distinction of Persons: the union of the Divine and human natures: the unpardonable sin: the ambiguity attached to which, you say, has never been cleared up. — If you mean the questions of Sophists that have been agitated upon those subjects, well. But what has the all-innocent Scripture done to you, that you impute the abuse of the most wicked of men to its purity? The Scripture simply confesses the Trinity of God, the humanity of Christ, and the unpardonable sin. There is nothing here of obscurity or ambiguity. But how these things are the Scripture does not say, nor is it necessary to be known. The Sophists employ their dreams here; attack and condemn them, and acquit the Scripture. — But, if you mean the reality of the matter, I say again, attack not the Scriptures, but the Arians, and those to whom the Gospel is hid, that, through the working of Satan, they might not see the all-manifest testimonies concerning the Trinity of the Godhead, and the humanity of Christ.

     But to be brief. The clearness of the Scripture is twofold; even as the obscurity is twofold also. The one is external, placed in the ministry of the word; the other internal, placed in the understanding of the heart. If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures, but he that hath the Spirit of God. All have a darkened heart; so that, even if they know how to speak of, and set forth, all things in the Scripture, yet, they cannot feel them nor know them: nor do they believe that they are the creatures of God, nor any thing else: according to that of Psalm xiv. 1. “The fool hath said in his heart, God is nothing.” For the Spirit is required to understand the whole of the Scripture and every part of it. If you speak of the external clearness, nothing whatever is left obscure or ambiguous; but all things that are in the Scriptures, are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light, and proclaimed to the whole world.

The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library

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