The King Honors MordecaiEsther 6 1 On that night the king could not sleep. And he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles, and they were read before the king. 2 And it was found written how Mordecai had told about Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, and who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. 3 And the king said, “What honor or distinction has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” The king’s young men who attended him said, “Nothing has been done for him.” 4 And the king said, “Who is in the court?” Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king’s palace to speak to the king about having Mordecai hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for him. 5 And the king’s young men told him, “Haman is there, standing in the court.” And the king said, “Let him come in.” 6 So Haman came in, and the king said to him, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” And Haman said to himself, “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?” 7 And Haman said to the king, “For the man whom the king delights to honor, 8 let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set. 9 And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials. Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city, proclaiming before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’ ” 10 Then the king said to Haman, “Hurry; take the robes and the horse, as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Leave out nothing that you have mentioned.” 11 So Haman took the robes and the horse, and he dressed Mordecai and led him through the square of the city, proclaiming before him, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.”
12 Then Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered. 13 And Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened to him. Then his wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him.”
Esther Reveals Haman’s Plot14 While they were yet talking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried to bring Haman to the feast that Esther had prepared.
Esther Chosen QueenEsther 7 1 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2 And on the second day, as they were drinking wine after the feast, the king again said to Esther, “What is your wish, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. 4 For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king.” 5 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?” 6 And Esther said, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.
Haman Is Hanged7 And the king arose in his wrath from the wine-drinking and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm was determined against him by the king. 8 And the king returned from the palace garden to the place where they were drinking wine, as Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was. And the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” As the word left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face. 9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Moreover, the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, is standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the wrath of the king abated.
Esther Saves the JewsEsther 8 1 On that day King Ahasuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told what he was to her. 2 And the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.
3 Then Esther spoke again to the king. She fell at his feet and wept and pleaded with him to avert the evil plan of Haman the Agagite and the plot that he had devised against the Jews. 4 When the king held out the golden scepter to Esther, Esther rose and stood before the king. 5 And she said, “If it please the king, and if I have found favor in his sight, and if the thing seems right before the king, and I am pleasing in his eyes, let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, which he wrote to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king. 6 For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming to my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?” 7 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he intended to lay hands on the Jews. 8 But you may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.”
9 The king’s scribes were summoned at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day. And an edict was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded concerning the Jews, to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, 127 provinces, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, and also to the Jews in their script and their language. 10 And he wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed it with the king’s signet ring. Then he sent the letters by mounted couriers riding on swift horses that were used in the king’s service, bred from the royal stud, 11 saying that the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods, 12 on one day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. 13 A copy of what was written was to be issued as a decree in every province, being publicly displayed to all peoples, and the Jews were to be ready on that day to take vengeance on their enemies. 14 So the couriers, mounted on their swift horses that were used in the king’s service, rode out hurriedly, urged by the king’s command. And the decree was issued in Susa the citadel.
15 Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a robe of fine linen and purple, and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. 16 The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. 17 And in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them.
The Jews Destroy Their Enemies
Esther 9Esther 9 1 Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them. 2 The Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen on all peoples. 3 All the officials of the provinces and the satraps and the governors and the royal agents also helped the Jews, for the fear of Mordecai had fallen on them. 4 For Mordecai was great in the king’s house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces, for the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful. 5 The Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them. 6 In Susa the citadel itself the Jews killed and destroyed 500 men, 7 and also killed Parshandatha and Dalphon and Aspatha 8 and Poratha and Adalia and Aridatha 9 and Parmashta and Arisai and Aridai and Vaizatha, 10 the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, but they laid no hand on the plunder.
11 That very day the number of those killed in Susa the citadel was reported to the king. 12 And the king said to Queen Esther, “In Susa the citadel the Jews have killed and destroyed 500 men and also the ten sons of Haman. What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces! Now what is your wish? It shall be granted you. And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled.” 13 And Esther said, “If it please the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day’s edict. And let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.” 14 So the king commanded this to be done. A decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. 15 The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed 300 men in Susa, but they laid no hands on the plunder. 16 Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to defend their lives, and got relief from their enemies and killed 75,000 of those who hated them, but they laid no hands on the plunder. 17 This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness. 18 But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. 19 Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the rural towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and as a day on which they send gifts of food to one another.
The Feast of Purim Inaugurated20 And Mordecai recorded these things and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 obliging them to keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor.
23 So the Jews accepted what they had started to do, and what Mordecai had written to them. 24 For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur (that is, cast lots), to crush and to destroy them. 25 But when it came before the king, he gave orders in writing that his evil plan that he had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. 26 Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur. Therefore, because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, 27 the Jews firmly obligated themselves and their offspring and all who joined them, that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written and at the time appointed every year, 28 that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every clan, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.
29 Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim. 30 Letters were sent to all the Jews, to the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, in words of peace and truth, 31 that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther obligated them, and as they had obligated themselves and their offspring, with regard to their fasts and their lamenting. 32 The command of Esther confirmed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing.
The Greatness of Mordecai
Esther 10Esther 10 1 King Ahasuerus imposed tax on the land and on the coastlands of the sea. 2 And all the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia? 3 For Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people.
What I'm Reading
You Need to Be a Leader if You Hope to Lead People to Truth
By J. Warner Wallace 8/25/2017
Of all the topics I read about on Christian Case Making (apologetics) blogs, I seldom find anyone writing about leadership. But this aspect of theChristian life, while it is often overlooked, is critical to our success as Case Makers. When we think about what’s required to be a good Christian Case Maker, we need to remember that leadership is key; we’ll never lead anyone to the truth unless we learn how to become good leaders, and leaders, by definition, have followers. It’s really as simple as that. You may not consider yourself much of a leader, but I bet someone is looking to you for answers in some aspect of your life. Are you a mom or a dad? You’re leading your kids. Are you the senior employee at your job? You’re leading the junior members. Are you the person people rely on for an answer in your group? You’re leading those who are less informed. If you’re living in community with others, you are inevitably leading (and being led). If you hope to make a case for Christianity, you need to identify those you lead and become a good leader:
Followers Respect Their Leaders | While it’s true that excellence often elevates people to positions of leadership, excellence alone is not enough. I’ve worked for many excellent detectives who were terrible leaders once they were promoted. Leadership takes more than excellence; in fact, excellence is the baseline to which all of us should aspire (leaders and followers alike). Respect, however, requires much more. Have you been demonstrating Christian character to those who look to you for answers? Leaders go first; do the people in your world see you as a servant? Are your conversations about Christian evidence seen as an effort to demonstrate your knowledge or an effort to serve them? Are your conversations focused on what you know, or are they focused on the people you hope to influence? Followers respect leaders who are selfless rather than selfish; they can “sniff out” people who are more concerned about status than service.
Followers Trust Their Leaders | If there’s one thing law enforcement will teach you about leadership, it’s that trust is key in difficult situations, and trust requires time. When push comes to shove, I want to align myself with leaders who have proven themselves over the long haul. I’ve seen them do it before and I trust they can do it again. As a Christian Case Maker, I sometimes find myself thinking that the only people I am called to reach are folks who come to a talk or conference session. Meanwhile, there are lots of people in my life who have an extended relationship with me. They know me beyond the sixty minute presentation. They already trust me, because they’ve known me for years. These are the folks that I am most able to reach, yet I seldom think of them as an audience to whom I am called. I bet you’re in a similar situation. There are people who already trust you; these are the folks you can reach with the truth.
Followers Listen to Their Leaders | I’ve had the privilege of working with leaders who commanded the attention of their followers. They didn’t have to try hard; we simply quieted down when they began to speak. We respected them. We trusted them. We listened to them. But no one’s going to listen to leaders who don’t make an effort to say something! Are there people in your life who are waiting for you to talk to them about Jesus? While I typically have no problem making a case for Christianity to strangers, it’s often far more difficult to make the case to my father or to friends whom I’m afraid of alienating. Yet these are the people with whom I have the deepest relationship. These are the folks who respect and trust me. I already have their attention, why am I afraid to speak?
If you’re like me, you may have underestimated the power of leadership. Make an assessment of your situation today so you can become a good leader. Do the people in your life think you’re more concerned about the argument than their well-being? Do they think you’re more concerned about building a blog audience or a ministry than you are about sharing the truth? Have you taken the time to develop the depth of relationship necessary to have a real impact? Do people trust you? And finally, are you bold enough to speak up and share the truth with people you sometimes take for granted? You’re already a leader in some aspect of your life; take the time now to lead someone to the truth.
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of:
Death of objective truth on campus is destroying higher education, university president says
By Lauren Fox 8/14/2017
Higher education suffers when academics abandon objective truth for relativism, giving out degrees in opinions rather than knowledge, a university president says.
“When we as a community rejected truth … when we decided that there is no objective truth any longer and that everything is truth with a lowercase ‘t’ — nothing but a construct, nothing but a collection of cultural constructs where people agree together — then it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as it works for you–which is of course nonsense,” said Dr. Everett Piper, Oklahoma Wesleyan University president, in an interview with The College Fix.
John Piper, author of the newly released book Not a Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth, said the self-absorption of the current college generation is leading universities and students to glorify opinions, not truth.
“Opinions lead to bondage,” he told The Fix. “Truth sets you free.”
Piper (pictured) made national headlines in 2015 when he defiantly told students in a campus message that “This is not a daycare. It’s a university!” He was prompted to write the missive after a student responded to a chapel service that he felt victimized and uncomfortable.
How to Fight for Faith in the Dark Three Lessons for Depression
By Stephen Altrogge 4/19/2017
I’ve often said that depression is like wearing tinted glasses. Everywhere you look, things look dark. Bleak. Black. Hopeless. Helpless. The waiting room for depression says, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
Depression is both a physical and spiritual affliction. Neurons and synapses fail to fire properly, leading to chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances cause the depressed person to feel awful, like their entire world is a raw catastrophe hovering over the depths of despair. When everything is a catastrophe, it’s easy for faith to falter and stumble.
Normally, the prescription for faith is somewhat straightforward. We read the promises of God, let them diffuse throughout our hearts, and then embrace them fully. As we embrace these promises, our faith rises. When we have more faith, there is often a physical feeling of encouragement and hope.
But with clinical depression (and most other forms of mental illness), things don’t work quite that way. Depression usually causes a person to feel only gloom and despair, no matter what they’re thinking. Filling your mind with God’s promises is necessary, but it doesn’t usually alter the way you feel. It’s like having a migraine. Believing God’s word is essential, but it won’t take away the migraine (usually).
From Gloom Toward Gladness | When all you feel is gloom, it becomes very hard to have hope, no matter what you read in Scripture. As someone who labored under a lot of depression and anxiety throughout my life, I know that it usually doesn’t help a depressed person to say, “Just believe God’s word more!”
Stephen Altrogge is a husband, dad, and writer. His most recent book is entitled, Untamable God: Encountering the One Who Is Bigger, Better, and More Dangerous Than You Could Possibly Imagine. He also writes regularly at The Blazing Center.Stephen Altrogge Books:
- 1 Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff
- 2 Untamable God: Encountering the One Who Is Bigger, Better, and More Dangerous Than You Could Possibly Imagine
- 3 The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence
- 4 Game Day for the Glory of God: A Guide for Athletes, Fans, and Wannabes
- 5 Twists and Turns: Short Stories About Strange Situations
- 6 The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Thoughts On Following Jesus, Amish Romance, the Daniel Plan, the Tebow Effect, and the Odds of Finding Your Soul Mate
- 7 The Last Superhero
- 8 The Chip
Theology Learned in the Flames of Adversity
By Steven J. Lawson 8/11/2017
In 1527, Martin Luther experienced a trial so severe that church historian Philip Schaff described that year simply as “the disastrous year.” It was the time of Luther’s “severest spiritual and physical trials.” As the leading figure of the Reformation, Luther paid a high price in the struggle for truth, and his physical condition deteriorated under the movement’s mounting demands. On April 22, 1527, Luther was so overcome by dizziness in the pulpit that he stopped preaching and was forced to retire. Other physical problems followed for the Reformer, including severe heart problems, digestive ailments, and fainting spells. He also began to wear down emotionally, suffering bouts of discouragement and depression.
On July 6, another attack struck Luther. He was entertaining friends for dinner when he felt an intense buzzing in his left ear. He had to be carried to bed, where he frantically called for water or else, he believed, he would die. Luther became so chilled that he was convinced he had seen his last night. In a desperate prayer, he surrendered himself to the will of God and prepared to meet his Maker. Though Luther remained seriously ill for days, he eventually regained his strength.
In August, the Black Plague rapidly spread among the people in Wittenberg. Many died, and others fled for their lives. The University of Wittenberg moved to Jena, Germany. Frederick urged Luther to escape to spare his own life. Adding to the danger, Katie was pregnant and they had a one-year-old child, Hans. Luther, however, considered it his moral duty to remain and minister to the sick.
Weighty trials rested heavily upon Luther’s shoulders. Death surrounded him on every side. He watched people die in his house and in the streets. He chose to transform his spacious house into a hospital to care for those suffering from the plague. Hans became desperately ill, and Luther became so heavily burdened that he could not eat for eleven days. He was deeply concerned for Katie’s safety and grew weak with despair.
In a letter to his trusted friend and coworker Philip Melanchthon, Luther acknowledged his increasing bouts of depression:
- 1 The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (A Long Line of Godly Men Profile)
- 2 The Kind of Preaching God Blesses
- 3 The Daring Mission of William Tyndale (A Long Line of Godly Men Profile)
- 4 The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon (A Long Line of Godly Men Profile)
- 5 The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (A Long Line of Godly Men Profile)
- 6 Holman Old Testament Commentary - Psalms 76-150
- 7 The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield (A Long Line of Godly Men Profile)
- 8 Holman Old Testament Commentary - Psalms
- 9 Famine in the Land
- 10 The Expository Genius of John Calvin (A Long Line of Godly Men Profile)
- 11 The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (A Long Line of Godly Men Profile)
- 12 Pillars of Grace
- 13 Made in Our Image: The Fallacy of the User-Friendly God
- 14 Foundations of Grace
- 15 The Attributes of God Study Guide
- 16 Pillars of Grace (A Long Line of Godly Men, Volume Two)
- 17 When All Hell Breaks Loose: You May Be Doing Something Right : Surprising Insights from the Life of Job
- 18 The Legacy: Ten Core Values Every Father Must Leave His Child
- 19 In It to Win It: Pursuing Victory in the One Race that Really Counts
- 20 As Firmes Resoluções de Jonathan Edwards (Portuguese Edition)
- 21 Faith Under Fire: Standing Strong When Satan Attacks
- 22 Absolutely Sure: Settle the Question of Eternal Life
- 23 Men Who Win: Pursuing the Ultimate Prize
- 24 Final Call
- 25 Heaven Help Us!: Truths About Eternity That Will Help You Live Today Insights from the Book of Rev Elation (Christian living)
Fellowship With The Unorthodox? Some Thoughts On A Recent Controversy
By Wesley Hill 8/8/2017
In recent days, there’s been a discussion of the boundaries of orthodoxy in some corners of the evangelical blogosphere. James K.A. Smith, the prolific writer and professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, kicked off the discussion. Since his opening salvo, there have been a number of responses — by Alastair Roberts, Derek Rishmawy, Alan Jacobs, and others. Here’s the gist of Smith’s argument:
"Now, no one for a second can deny that [male-and-female, ordered-to-procreation] views of sexual morality and marriage have been the historic teaching of the church. … But it is surely also worth pointing out that conciliar standards of orthodoxy do not articulate such standards. If the adjective “orthodox” is untethered from such ecumenical standards, it quickly becomes a cheap epithet we idiosyncratically attach to views and positions in order to write off those we disagree with as “heretics” and unbelievers. If “orthodox” becomes an adjective that is unhooked from these conciliar canons, then it becomes a word we use to make sacrosanct the things that matter to “us” in order to exclude “them.” And then you can start folding all kinds of things into “orthodoxy” like mode of baptism or pre-tribulation rapture or opposition to the ordination of women—which then entails writing off swaths of Christians who affirm conciliar orthodoxy."
"So perhaps we should be more careful with how we use the adjective orthodox. It can’t be a word we flippantly use to describe what is important to us. The word is reserved to define and delineate those affirmations that are at the very heart of Christian faith—and God knows they are scandalous enough in a secular age."
Smith’s concern is that speaking of traditional Christian sexual ethics as orthodox (as opposed to calling them biblical or traditional) is not only a category confusion but a potentially dangerous one: If we decouple orthodoxy from its conciliar definition, who knows what content might arise to fill it out? Meanwhile Smith’s critics have replied that if we don’t see the traditional scriptural sexual ethic as entailed by the ecumenical creeds, then we’re in danger of downplaying the seriousness of its rejection in vast swaths of the modern church.
Without entering fully into the fray, I want simply to offer a kind of exegetical footnote to the debate, as well as a question for those — including most of us who blog here at Covenant — who choose to remain in a Christian communion in which there exists profound disagreement over the matter of what constitutes sexual morality (i.e., in particular provinces of the Anglican Communion: the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church in Wales, and others).
I discovered a love for Scripture and theology while an undergraduate at Wheaton College where I majored in Ancient Languages. From there, I began a long and winding journey into the Anglican fold and was confirmed in the Church of England while in graduate school at Durham University. My teaching and research interests are shaped by the conviction that the study of Scripture and attention to the church’s creedal and doctrinal traditions belong together in the theological task. I try to help my students understand how attention to Scripture formed the church’s creedal heritage and, likewise, how that heritage can now help us to read Scripture afresh as the word of the Triune God for us today.
Wesley Hill Books:
Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters
Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian
The Conciliar Nature of the Orthodox Church: Definition and Implications
By Eden Grace 2004
It is an unmistakable fact of the 20th century that the Christian church has rediscovered an interest in itself. Ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, has flourished in the last 50 years or more. Stimulated by such things as the modern ecumenical movement, the Second Vatican Council, and the Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar process, theologians, church leaders and ordinary Christians have brought renewed attention to the questions of “what is the church?” “How is meant to function in its earthly form?” “What are its instruments of authority?”
Eastern Orthodoxy has experienced a particularly poignant ecclesial renewal. After centuries during which Orthodox theology existed in what has been called a “Western captivity” — an exile of sorts, in which most theological activity took place in western Europe, subsumed by the Roman Catholic/Protestant polemic, while most autocephalous churches lived in isolation from each other, in uncongenial political contexts — Orthodox churches are now reasserting the living tradition of authentic Orthodox ecclesiology. Socio-political change, diaspora experience, development of missiology, and the ecumenical conversation have all stimulated new ecclesial self-understanding.
In attempting to express its authentic identity, the Orthodox church has rediscovered that it is “neither papal nor protestant.”1 Orthodoxy resists the vertical authority structure of the Roman Catholic church; “as a third way beyond the antithesis that had been set up during the Reformation era, Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology seemed to present a view of the church that hallowed its traditions as even Roman Catholicism did not and that nevertheless did not identify those traditions with an authoritarian and juridical institution.”2 Likewise, Orthodoxy resists the horizontal, individualistic pietism of the Protestant church. The Orthodox church is neither overly horizontal nor overly vertical in focus; rather, it is conciliar.
Under any circumstance, Orthodoxy has “an intense ecclesial consciousness.”3 The Church is a subject of doctrinal, and not simply political, consideration. The renewed interest in the conciliar nature of the church has highlighted the distinctive approach and importance of ecclesiology for Orthodoxy. The Church, as an article of faith, is neither a mystical body nor an historical institution. Rather, it is an incarnational reality, an embodiment of the triune God, set in order by the Holy Spirit.
The Church is constitutive of Christian faith precisely because of its trinitarian, relational nature. Human life in the image of God is life in relationship: relationship with the world, other people, and God. Human spiritual fulfillment is not a moral attainment or accomplishment, it is a way of being in relationship. The Church is the place where such relational fulfillment is (or should be) most realized. Indeed, a solitary Christian is a contradiction in terms. To be a Christian is to be part of a Christian community. Therefore, the qualities of the community are anything by incidental. The way of being as Church is the way of being as Christian.
Eden and her family are currently serving as Field Staff with Friends United Meeting, ministering among East African Quakers. They live in Kisumu Kenya, and are working with Kenyan colleagues to establish an Africa Ministries Office of Friends United Meeting, which will implement the programs and priorities of Friends United Meeting within the African Quaker constituency.
Eden seeks to promote Christian faithfulness among Quakers, and to work toward Christian unity and reconciliation for the sake of Christ’s mission in the world. As part of this ministry, Eden writes and speaks to both Quaker and ecumenical groups. In sharing her work on this website, she hopes to encourage others in their ministry. If you have thoughts or comments, please write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Eden would especially like to make contact with other Quaker ecumenists.
Reconciling the Irreconcilable
By Daniel Martins 3/1/2015
For as long as I have been an Anglican Christian and a member of the Episcopal Church, which exceeds four decades now, my ecclesial environment has never been free of dramatic conflict. The first General Convention that I paid attention to in real time (1976) dealt with the twin quagmires of Prayer Book revision and women's ordination. Every three years thereafter, the rhetorical decibel level has spiked.
In 2003, however, the baseline level of underlying conflict escalated not just incrementally, but exponentially. There has, since then, been a "new normal" in the way we engage one another over areas about which we are in fundamental disagreement. A relative trickle of Episcopalians departed in the 1970s over issues of liturgy and sacraments, forming what became a dizzying array of "alphabet soup" ecclesial entities. (Of course, there had been a notable schism a century before that over sacramental theology, resulting in the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church.) But these ruptures were mere blips, wrinkles, compared with with the departures that ensued in the wake of 2003. Solid (indeed, in all but one case, overwhelming) majorities in the conventions of five dioceses voted to separate themselves from the General Convention. Tens of thousands of Episcopalians and former Episcopalians have either engaged in protracted litigation, or walked away from buildings and financial assets, or both. A new generation of ecclesial acronyms has appeared, and multiplied, and been culled. Out of that soup, the Anglican Church in North America has emerged as an entity that appears to have some staying power, having made what looks like a successful transition from the first to the second generation of top leadership.
Of course, in our shrinking world, turmoil in North America creates waves for Anglicans in other regions. In recent decades, while TEC has been growing precipitously smaller, Anglican Christianity has been growing markedly larger, both numerically and in vitality, in Africa and Asia, in provinces that have become known as the Global South. These provinces, many of which are on a frontier with militant Islam, tend to be much more conservative on issues of sexual morality and marriage than their developed world counterparts. Most of them find the notion of condoning, via blessing, same-sex partnerships (let alone "marriage") to be unimaginable, a violation of core precepts of the Christian faith as revealed by God. Many (most?) within the Global South have made various alliances with Episcopalians and former Episcopalians in the U.S. who share their assessment of how the dominant thinking has evolved in TEC around sexuality and marriage.
The question that arises, then, is, Are these extramural Anglican entities in North America actually ... Anglican? And that, in turn, raises the question, What defines "Anglican"? The classic answer to the latter question, which would have been widely agreed to before the post-2003 fissiparation, is that "Anglican" denotes full sacramental communion with and recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury. By that standard, ACNA, despite the first 'A' in its acronym, is not Anglican, because Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is on record that he does not consider them a province of the Anglican Communion. On the other hand, the Diocese of South Carolina, which separated from the Episcopal Church late in 2012, and is not part of ACNA, has been given a foster home by the Global South under the provisions of an agreement developed by the primates of the whole Anglican Communion (reportedly including TEC's Presiding Bishop) in Dromantine, Ireland in 2005 and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 2007. This is arguably an official mechanism, endorsed by two of the four of the Anglican Communion's Instruments of Unity, and, I have it on good authority, is precisely why South Carolina chose to go that route rather than join ACNA.
Yet, there is another coalition within the Global South that muddies the waters. This is the Global Anglican Futures Conference, known widely by the acronym GAFCON. GAFCON does fully recognize ACNA as part of the Anglican fellowship, and for the most part withholds such recognition from the Episcopal Church, and while its leaders profess reverence for the historic role that the See of Canterbury has played as a sign of Anglican unity, they have at times seemed to proffer a narrative that Anglicanism could, in concept and if necessary, legitimately exist apart from a relationship with that ancient See. I think it can be safely said that the provinces and dioceses represented by GAFCON comprise a solid majority of those around the world who can currently claim to be Anglican even by the classical standard. So ... it's complicated, with lots of eddies and tide pools and countervaiing forces.
Daniel Hayden Martins, aka Dan (to my friends), Danny Boy (to some of my Brazilian relatives), Big Guy (to my kids and their friends), Bishop Daniel among those with whom I work, and probably some other aliases I'm not aware of. I'm an Anglican bishop, a Baby Boomer who was born in Brazil, raised in the Chicago suburbs (at the end of a runway at O'Hare), and has lived in both central and southern California, western Oregon, southeast Wisconsin, and south Louisiana. Married 43 years to Brenda, father of three fabulous grown children, and now serving the Diocese of Springfield (Episcopal Church).
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 95Let Us Sing Songs of Praise
1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
By K. Scott Oliphint 6/01/2012
When was the last time you withdrew? Not the last time you were the only person in the room or in the house — when was the last time you withdrew from contact with anyone else? Jesus “would withdraw” from the crowds “to deslolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16). He knew that His busy schedule required time alone — completely alone — with His heavenly Father.
In the twenty-first century, being alone and withdrawing mean much more than being the only person in the room. They mean being unplugged. In our appreciation for the help that technology can bring, we have perhaps been unaware of its more subtle dangers. And its dangers are not simply located in the content that technology can deliver, harmful as that may be. Its dangers lie also in the behavior that is required by its use. Owning a smartphone creates the peer pressure of immediate communication. How many times a day do you check your email — by phone, computer, laptop, or tablet? How many times do you check it even when you’re in the middle of a conversation? Also, with the reality of our new penchant to be in constant contact comes the reality of others’ constant expectations of us. Owning a cell phone brings expectations that one should never be alone.
One of the historical paradigm shifts in neurology came when the “standard view” of the brain as a hardwired machine was shown to be false. Instead, studies have shown, the brain is a pliable organ. It is shaped and molded, in large part, not simply by what we think but by the manner or way that we choose to inform our brains. This phenomenon of pliability is called “neuroplasticity.” The brain is a kind of soft and supple clay. Like clay, it can be formed and conformed; but like clay, it can gain a rigidity over time, once formed in a particular way. If we train the brain to be distracted, it will “learn” that distraction is its normal mode of operation. It will also “learn” that contemplation and thinking are foreign to its practice.
It was Marshall McLuhan who coined the phrase “the medium is the message.” What McLuhan was setting forth with that phrase was that it was not only the content of a particular medium that is important to recognize. For instance, it is not only the images that a television communicates that are important. Perhaps even more important, because it is more subtle, is that it communicates by way of images. The medium — that is, the communication of images on the television — is the message. Images are two-dimensional; they cannot communicate depth. They are not context dependent; they are their own context. Images are unable to communicate concepts like universals or the content of emotion (though they can communicate the emotion itself).
With the ever-burgeoning advances in technology, we have become a society (and a church?) that has committed itself, perhaps unwittingly, to distraction. The problem of distraction is serious enough, but the power of that distraction to train our plastic brains can be deadly for Christian growth. If the brain is really molded by how we think, then it is possible that our addiction to distraction will eventually train us not to think at all. We will be so mastered by our constant urge to check and answer our email, to look at our smartphones every time they buzz, to check the scores of our favorite teams, to “text” notes that our ability to think, to pray, to savor the truth of God will be all but gone.
Like Christ, Christians must withdraw, unplug. It is time to make sure that we are molding our plastic brains in a way that they will be trained again to think carefully, to concentrate, to work through difficulties, to meditate on God’s character, to revel in His glory. The Apostle Paul commanded us to let the Word of Christ dwell in us. It might be possible to fulfill that command by reading and memorizing Scripture. The adverb, however, is all-important. The word of Christ is to dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). The adverb expresses a depth and abundance that can come to us only if that Word that we read, even memorize, takes its place in our minds such that we contemplate and meditate on its truths. If the medium is the message, then the Word of God in Scripture is given to us so that we might continue to renew and train our plastic minds to think God’s thoughts after Him.
When the crowds pressed in on Jesus, He knew that obedience to His heavenly Father required that He must at times withdraw to focus on that relationship, and on it alone, in order to meet and confront a needy and hostile world afterward. A Christian who is serious about growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ will make technology a resourceful servant, not a mind-numbing master, and will commit to making a habit of withdrawing from it all in order to mold the mind, more and more, in conformity to the depth and truth of the Christian faith.
K. Scott Oliphint Books
- Things That Cannot Be Shaken: Holding Fast to Your Faith in a Relativistic World
- One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life
- The Defense of the Faith
- Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith
- Christian Apologetics Past and Present (Volume 1, To 1500): A Primary Source Reader
- Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
- Know Why You Believe (KNOW Series)
- Christian Theistic Evidences
- The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith
- Thomas Aquinas (Great Thinkers)
- Common Grace and the Gospel
- The Majesty of Mystery: Celebrating the Glory of an Incomprehensible God
- Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology
- Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics
- Should You Believe in God? (Christian Answers to Hard Questions) (Apologia)
- Christianity and the Role of Philosophy (Christian Answers to Hard Questions)
- Unshakable: Standing Firm in a Shifting Culture
- If I Should Die Before I Wake: What's Beyond This Life?
- Justified in Christ: God's Plan for us in Justification
- Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith by K. Scott Oliphint (2013-07-31)
- If I Should Die Before I Wake: Help for Those Who Hope for Heaven
- A Christian Worldview
- Hoping for Heaven: A Look Beyond This Life
- God with Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God
- Cornelius Van Til And The Reformation Of Christian Apologetics
- Christianity and the Role of Philosophy (Christian Answers to Hard Questions) (Apologia) by K. Scott Oliphint (2013-08-16)
The Church and Idolatry
By Jared Wilson 6/01/2012
“Now set your mind and heart to seek the LORD your God” (1 Chron. 22:19). All sin is idolatry because every sin is an exercise in trust of something or someone other than the one true God to satisfy, fulfill, or bless. It is not difficult to see how violations of commandments two through ten are automatic violations of commandment one. This truth reveals that the hottest “worship war” going is the one taking place daily in the sanctuary of our own hearts. But we must wage this war because none of us is a bystander to idol worship.
In Isaiah 44:12–17, we find a powerful and revelatory description of just how easy it is to slip into idolatry. We see in the passage that ironsmiths are simply working their tools over the coals, fashioning them with their hammers. Carpenters measure out cuts and notches. Artists capture the physical form in sketches and sculpture. Men chop down trees to build houses, then they plant more trees to replace them. They build fire, bake bread. Ah, look at what we’ve created.
The transition is seamless from everyday, workaday living to “he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it” (v. 15). Of the same fire he has used for warmth and cooking, the workman says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” (v. 17).
The move is subtle. The switch from ordinary human achievement to blasphemy requires no explanation. It just flatout happens. Isaiah 44:12–17 demonstrates that there is only one step to becoming an idolater, and it is simply to mind your own business.
The implication for our churches is huge. On Sundays, our sanctuaries fill with people seeking worship, and not one person comes in set to neutral. We must take great care, then, not to assume that even in our religious environments, where we put the Scriptures under so many noses, that it is Jesus the exalted Christ who is being worshiped.
Every weekend in churches everywhere, music is performed to the glory of human skill and artistry. Once upon a time, I sat through a little ditty in a church service in which the congregation was led to sing, “I can change the world with these two hands,” and the question struck me like a lightning bolt: “Who exactly am I worshiping right now?”
Likewise, every weekend men and women file into church buildings in order to exult in the rhetorical skill of their preacher, to admire him and think of their church as his church, not Christ’s church. Many of us file in each week to enjoy the conspicuous spiritual exercises of our brethren. We worship the worship experience; we tithe with expectation of return from heaven’s slot machine; we dress to impress; and we serve and lead to compensate for the inadequacies in our hearts that only Christ can fill. Every weekend, hundreds of preachers extol a therapeutic gospel from the pages of the same Bible where the real gospel lies. We Reformed are not exempt, as too often our affections are poured totally into doctrine with only vague admiration reserved for doctrine’s Author.
A church will become idolatrous in a heartbeat because it’s already there. So, we cannot set our worship on autopilot. We cannot mistake the appearance of busy religiosity for worship in spirit and truth. We see in Exodus 32:5 that even the worshipers of the golden calf ascribed their worship to the covenant Lord Yahweh.
The gospel imperative, then, is to return again and again to the gospel indicative. Our first duty is “gospel obedience” (Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17), which is to stand at attention to Christ upon the gospel’s “tenhut.” Our hearts and minds flow through the rut of idolatry, but the deliberate proclamation of Jesus at every possible turn will force us off our idolatrous course. Martin Luther advises us:
I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.
Tim Keller elaborates: “So Luther says that even after you are converted by the gospel your heart will go back to operating on other principles unless you deliberately, repeatedly set it to gospel-mode.”
The proclamation of the good news of Jesus and the extolling of His eternal excellencies is always an interruption, always a disruption. It alone will bring the sword of division between where even our religious hearts are set and where they ought to be. For this reason, we cannot go about minding our own business any more. We must mind God’s (Col. 3:1–4).
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
by Bill Federer
He was once one of America’s greatest generals. During the Revolution, he captured Fort Ticonderoga with Ethan Allen, and defeated the British at Saratoga. But it was on this date, August 30, 1780, that General Benedict Arnold conspired with General Clinton of Britain to surrender West Point for twenty thousand pounds. When discovered, George Washington wrote: “Treason of the blackest dye… General Arnold… was about to… give the American cause a deadly wound if not fatal stab…. Its [discovery] affords the most convincing proof that the Liberties of America are the object of divine Protection.”American Minute
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
Do not have your concert first,
and then tune your instrument afterwards.
Begin the day with the Word of God and prayer,
and get first of all into harmony with Him.
--- Hudson Taylor
This modern emphasis only on personal salvation makes us lose sight of the grandeur and glory of God’s church. I am not minimizing our personal experience with Christ, but I am affirming that it is not the primary goal that God has in mind. He is building His church. He is building up the Body of Christ. The glory and greatness of our personal salvation is but a reflection of what God is doing corporately in and through His church.
--- Warren Wiersbe Prayer Basic Training
Order my footsteps by Thy Word,
And make my heart sincere;
Let sin have no dominion, Lord,
But keep my conscience clear.
... from here, there and everywhere
In case you are wondering, this is not a post in which I am going to bash the church. Far from it. I love the church. But I am going to point out a “weakness” that we urgently need to address (see Proverbs 27:6).
How can I claim that Christians are so insecure? For the past decade, I have been role-playing an atheist at camps, conferences, churches, and other Christian events. I have done this in youth groups of ten students and in stadiums up to six thousand people. And I have done my role-play with parents, youth pastors, businessmen, and a variety of other groups from a myriad of denominations. During the presentation, I put on my “atheist glasses,” do my best to make the case for atheism, and then have two volunteers take microphones out into the audience so people can raise questions and challenges. People typically ask questions about morality, the origin of the universe, and evolution. And I simply respond back with the answers many of my atheist friends have given me.
Inevitably, people tend to get defensive, agitated, and quite upset. In fact, after the role-play is over, I often ask the audience to use individual words to describe how they treated me and “hostile” is one of the most common responses. Sure, there are undoubtedly people who are gracious and kind. But, in my experience it’s the exception to encounter a Christian who can engage the “atheist” both thoughtfully and graciously. Even though people know I am merely role-playing, I have had people call me names, yell at me across the room, walk out, and even threaten me—seriously!
This experience has caused me to ask the following question for some time: why do we Christians get so defensive? There can certainly be a variety of issues, but as I write in A New Kind of Apologist, there is one pressing reason we often overlook: Most Christians do not know what they believe and why. As a result, when I push back on their beliefs as an “atheist,” many get defensive.
It is human nature to get defensive when someone challenges us and we’re ill equipped to respond. If we really haven’t thought through how we know the Bible is true, why God allows evil and suffering, and how to reconcile science and faith, then when someone presses us to explain our beliefs, we have two options: admit we don’t know the answer, which takes humility, or get defensive. In reality, many Christians get defensive because they simply don’t have thoughtful answers to these big questions.
I don’t write this blog from a position of higher ground. I have fallen short many times in my interactions with non-Christians. Trust me, this post comes from my own frequent shortcomings. But I have seen firsthand the confidence training in apologetics brings to the church as a whole and students in particular.
Training in apologetics is especially important today because we find ourselves, as a church, increasingly at odds with the wider culture. If you believe the Bible is true, especially on issues related to sexuality, then you may find yourself getting tagged as hateful, intolerant, bigoted, and homophobic. We simply cannot respond with defensiveness. Rather, we must respond truthfully, but with kindness and charity. As the Apostle Paul wrote:
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:5-6).
Sure, some people learn apologetics and become haughty. There’s no question about that! But the problem is not with apologetics per se, but that it is often not coupled with grace. Here’s the bottom line: we Christians often get defensive because we don’t really know why we believe what we believe. If we want to be confident ambassadors of the faith, who can interact with both kindness and substance, we must get training in apologetics.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.
Thanks to Meir Yona
The Surrender Of Gischala; While John Flies Away From It To Jerusalem.
1. Now no place of Galilee remained to be taken but the small city of Gischala, whose multitude yet were desirous of peace; for they were generally husbandmen, and always applied themselves to cultivate the fruits of the earth. However, there were a great number that belonged to a band of robbers, that were already corrupted, and had crept in among them, and some of the governing part of the citizens were sick of the same distemper. It was John, the son of a certain man whose name was Levi, that drew them into this rebellion, and encouraged them in it. He was a cunning knave, and of a temper that could put on various shapes; very rash in expecting great things, and very sagacious in bringing about what he hoped for. It was known to every body that he was fond of war, in order to thrust himself into authority; and the seditious part of the people of Gischala were under his management, by whose means the populace, who seemed ready to send ambassadors in order to surrender, waited for the coming of the Romans in battle-array. Vespasian sent against them Titus, with a thousand horsemen, but withdrew the tenth legion to Scythopolis, while he returned to Cesarea with the two other legions, that he might allow them to refresh themselves after their long and hard campaign, thinking withal that the plenty which was in those cities would improve their bodies and their spirits, against the difficulties they were to go through afterwards; for he saw there would be occasion for great pains about Jerusalem, which was not yet taken, because it was the royal city, and the principal city of the whole nation, and because those that had run away from the war in other places got all together thither. It was also naturally strong, and the walls that were built round it made him not a little concerned about it. Moreover, he esteemed the men that were in it to be so courageous and bold, that even without the consideration of the walls, it would be hard to subdue them; for which reason he took care of and exercised his soldiers beforehand for the work, as they do wrestlers before they begin their undertaking.
2. Now Titus, as he rode out to Gischala, found it would be easy for him to take the city upon the first onset; but knew withal, that if he took it by force, the multitude would be destroyed by the soldiers without mercy. [Now he was already satiated with the shedding of blood, and pitied the major part, who would then perish, without distinction, together with the guilty.] So he was rather desirous the city might be surrendered up to him on terms. Accordingly, when he saw the wall full of those men that were of the corrupted party, he said to them, That he could not but wonder what it was they depended on, when they alone staid to fight the Romans, after every other city was taken by them, especially when they have seen cities much better fortified than theirs is overthrown by a single attack upon them; while as many as have intrusted themselves to the security of the Romans' right hands, which he now offers to them, without regarding their former insolence, do enjoy their own possessions in safety; for that while they had hopes of recovering their liberty, they might be pardoned; but that their continuance still in their opposition, when they saw that to be impossible, was inexcusable; for that if they will not comply with such humane offers, and right hands for security, they should have experience of such a war as would spare nobody, and should soon be made sensible that their wall would be but a trifle, when battered by the Roman machines; in depending on which they demonstrate themselves to be the only Galileans that were no better than arrogant slaves and captives.
3. Now none of the populace durst not only make a reply, but durst not so much as get upon the wall, for it was all taken up by the robbers, who were also the guard at the gates, in order to prevent any of the rest from going out, in order to propose terms of submission, and from receiving any of the horsemen into the city. But John returned Titus this answer: That for himself he was content to hearken to his proposals, and that he would either persuade or force those that refused them. Yet he said that Titus ought to have such regard to the Jewish law, as to grant them leave to celebrate that day, which was the seventh day of the week, on which it was unlawful not only to remove their arms, but even to treat of peace also; and that even the Romans were not ignorant how the period of the seventh day was among them a cessation from all labors; and that he who should compel them to transgress the law about that day would be equally guilty with those that were compelled to transgress it: and that this delay could be of no disadvantage to him; for why should any body think of doing any thing in the night, unless it was to fly away? which he might prevent by placing his camp round about them; and that they should think it a great point gained, if they might not be obliged to transgress the laws of their country; and that it would be a right thing for him, who designed to grant them peace, without their expectation of such a favor, to preserve the laws of those they saved inviolable. Thus did this man put a trick upon Titus, not so much out of regard to the seventh day as to his own preservation, for he was afraid lest he should be quite deserted if the city should be taken, and had his hopes of life in that night, and in his flight therein. Now this was the work of God, who therefore preserved this John, that he might bring on the destruction of Jerusalem; as also it was his work that Titus was prevailed with by this pretense for a delay, and that he pitched his camp further off the city at Cydessa. This Cydessa was a strong Mediterranean village of the Tyrians, which always hated and made war against the Jews; it had also a great number of inhabitants, and was well fortified, which made it a proper place for such as were enemies to the Jewish nation.
4. Now, in the night time, when John saw that there was no Roman guard about the city, he seized the opportunity directly, and, taking with him not only the armed men that were about him, but a considerable number of those that had little to do, together with their families, he fled to Jerusalem. And indeed, though the man was making haste to get away, and was tormented with fears of being a captive, or of losing his life, yet did he prevail with himself to take out of the city along with him a multitude of women and children, as far as twenty furlongs; but there he left them as he proceeded further on his journey, where those that were left behind made sad lamentations; for the farther every one of them was come from his own people, the nearer they thought themselves to be to their enemies. They also affrighted themselves with this thought, that those who would carry them into captivity were just at hand, and still turned themselves back at the mere noise they made themselves in this their hasty flight, as if those from whom they fled were just upon them. Many also of them missed their ways, and the earnestness of such as aimed to outgo the rest threw down many of them. And indeed there was a miserable destruction made of the women and children; while some of them took courage to call their husbands and kinsmen back, and to beseech them, with the bitterest lamentations, to stay for them; but John's exhortation, who cried out to them to save themselves, and fly away, prevailed. He said also, that if the Romans should seize upon those whom they left behind, they would be revenged on them for it. So this multitude that run thus away was dispersed abroad, according as each of them was able to run, one faster or slower than another.
5. Now on the next day Titus came to the wall, to make the agreement; whereupon the people opened their gates to him, and came out to him, with their children and wives, and made acclamations of joy to him, as to one that had been their benefactor, and had delivered the city out of custody; they also informed him of John's flight, and besought him to spare them, and to come in, and bring the rest of those that were for innovations to punishment. But Titus, not so much regarding the supplications of the people, sent part of his horsemen to pursue after John, but they could not overtake him, for he was gotten to Jerusalem before; they also slew six thousand of the women and children who went out with him, but returned back, and brought with them almost three thousand. However, Titus was greatly displeased that he had not been able to bring this John, who had deluded him, to punishment; yet he had captives enough, as well as the corrupted part of the city, to satisfy his anger, when it missed of John. So he entered the city in the midst of acclamations of joy; and when he had given orders to the soldiers to pull down a small part of the wall, as of a city taken in war, he repressed those that had disturbed the city rather by threatenings than by executions; for he thought that many would accuse innocent persons, out of their own private animosities and quarrels, if he should attempt to distinguish those that were worthy of punishment from the rest; and that it was better to let a guilty person alone in his fears, that to destroy with him any one that did not deserve it; for that probably such a one might be taught prudence, by the fear of the punishment he had deserved, and have a shame upon him for his former offenses, when he had been forgiven; but that the punishment of such as have been once put to death could never be retrieved. However, he placed a garrison in the city for its security, by which means he should restrain those that were for innovations, and should leave those that were peaceably disposed in greater security. And thus was all Galilee taken, but this not till after it had cost the Romans much pains before it could be taken by them.
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, by Flavius Josephus Translator: William Whiston
by D.H. Stern
and a forbidden woman like a narrow well.
28 She lies in wait to snatch her prey
and adds to the number of faithless men.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for His Highest
Am I convinced by Christ?
Notwithstanding in this rejoice not …, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.
--- Luke 10:19, 20.
Jesus Christ says, in effect, Don’t rejoice in successful service, but rejoice because you are rightly related to Me. The snare in Christian work is to rejoice in successful service, to rejoice in the fact that God has used you. You never can measure what God will do through you if you are rightly related to Jesus Christ. Keep your relationship right with Him, then whatever circumstances you are in, and whoever you meet day by day, He is pouring rivers of living water through you, and it is of His mercy that He does not let you know it. When once you are rightly related to God by salvation and sanctification, remember that wherever you are, you are put there by God; and by the reaction of your life on the circumstances around you, you will fulfil God’s purpose, as long as you keep in the light as God is in the light.
The tendency to-day is to put the emphasis on service. Beware of the people who make usefulness their ground of appeal. If you make usefulness the test, then Jesus Christ was the greatest failure that ever lived. The lodestar of the saint is God Himself, not estimated usefulness. It is the work that God does through us that counts, not what we do for Him. All that Our Lord heeds in a man’s life is the relationship of worth to His Father. Jesus is bringing many sons to glory.
the Poetry of RS Thomas
Selected poems, 1946-1968
The night my father got me
His mind was not on me;
He did not plague his fancy
To muse if I should be
The son you see.
The day my mother bore me
She was a fool and glad,
For all the pain I cost her,
That she had borne the lad
That borne she had.
My mother and my father
Out of the light they lie;
The warrant would not find them,
And here 'tis only I
Shall hang so high.
Oh let not man remember
The soul that God forgot,
But fetch the county kerchief
And noose me in the knot,
And I will rot.
For so the game is ended
That should not have begun.
My father and my mother
They had a likely son,
And I have none.
The reasons for keeping kosher are obscure to most people. The ignorance of and irreverence toward kashrut is epitomized by a brief tale and commentary from Woody Allen’s collection Getting Even :
Rabbi Zwi Chaim Yisroel, an Orthodox scholar of the Torah and a man who developed whining into an art unheard of in the West, was unanimously hailed as the wisest man of the Renaissance by his fellow Hebrews, who totaled a sixteenth of one percent of the population. Once, while he was on his way to the synagogue to celebrate the sacred Jewish holiday commemorating God’s reneging on every promise, a woman stopped him and asked the following question: “Rabbi, why are we not allowed to eat pork?”
“We’re not??” The Reb said incredulously. “Uh-oh.”
This is one of those few stories in all Hasidic literature that deals with Hebrew law. The rabbi knows he shouldn’t eat pork; he doesn’t care, though, because he likes pork. Not only does he like pork; he gets a kick out of rolling Easter eggs. In short, he cares very little about traditional Orthodoxy and regards God’s covenant with Abraham as “just so much chin music.” Why pork was proscribed by Hebraic law is still unclear, and some scholars believe that the Torah merely suggested not eating pork at certain restaurants.
Many people have been brought up believing that the avoidance of pork is for health reasons. They cite the prevalence of trichinosis in the ancient world, assuming that the rules of the Torah were to make us healthier. The Torah, however, never mentions hygiene. One could, in fact, keep all the laws of kashrut as outlined by the Bible and Talmud and eat a pretty unhealthy diet—low in fiber, high in fat and calories. Leviticus, as understood by the Rabbis, gives a clear rationale for the kosher laws—holiness.
Some say “You are what you eat.” The Rabbis said “You are how you eat.” They insisted that Jews find sanctity in every act, even in something as mundane as eating. When we assume it’s for health reasons, we consign kashrut to the past. When keeping kosher is to make us holy, then it can continue to serve a meaningful purpose in our lives.
There are all sorts of reasons why people observe religious traditions. Our Midrash teaches us that some reasons are better than others.
A woman maintains a kosher kitchen—buying only kosher foods, never cooking or serving dairy and meat together, using two sets of dishes and silverware and pots. When asked by a friend why she holds on to this ancient tradition, the woman explains, “Even though my mother is gone now ten years, I feel that she would be very disappointed in me if I didn’t keep a kosher home.”
An elderly man insists on fasting on Yom Kippur, despite the fact that he has medical problems. His doctor has told him that he should eat, and his children have pleaded with him not to fast. Even the rabbi has been enlisted to try to talk sense to the man. “Sol, I’m deeply impressed with your desire to do this mitzvah. But given your condition, you really shouldn’t.” “Rabbi, I can’t explain it. I just have a fear that God will punish me if I eat on Yom Kippur.”
A pair of twins—a girl and a boy—have been lighting Shabbat candles and making Kiddush every Friday night since they celebrated their Bar and Bat Mitzvah. Their parents are thrilled that their children have taken on these rituals. What they aren’t aware of is that the twins have made a bet to see which one can keep their “mitzvah streak” going longer than the other.
Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah would certainly be happy that the woman kept a kosher home. But he would think that there were many positive reasons why she should do so: adding holiness to her life; fulfilling God’s will; building up her self-discipline; strengthening her Jewish identity; showing consideration for animals. Maintaining the traditions out of a sense of guilt would not be high on his list.
He would also be pleased that the old man continued to have such strong feelings about his religious rituals. The Rabbi would, no doubt, quote the teaching that insisted that a sick person not fast, and would remind him that it was a mitzvah to eat if life and health were at stake. He would also teach him that the reason we observe our rituals is not out of fear of punishment, but because we believe that the rituals enrich our lives. Fasting is a way to show God our regret; it is a concrete act of contrition; it is a way of reminding ourselves that for at least twenty-four hours we can control our physical instincts; and it is a way of sensitizing ourselves to those who are without food so that we might resolve to reach out and help them.
Rabbi Elazar would surely understand that many people—adults as well as teenagers—embark on the observance of a particular mitzvah for the wrong reason, but in time end up doing it for the right reason. He might be amused at the twins and their “competition.” But he would teach them that candlelighting and Kiddush help make an otherwise ordinary day into sacred time, and that sacred times help to give our lives deeper meaning and purpose.
The Jewish people are strengthened by every mitzvah that they do. The people who do those mitzvot would be even more strengthened by searching for positive reasons for doing them.
He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. --- Psalm 33:9.
The power of God appears in preserving the souls of believers amidst the many dangers to which they are exposed and bringing them safely to glory. (Thomas Boston, “Of God and His Perfections,” downloaded from The Boston Homepage at www.geocities.com/~thomasboston, accessed Aug. 21, 2001.) They have many enemies without: a legion of subtle and powerful devils, a wicked and ensnaring world. They have many strong lusts and corruptions within, and their graces are but weak, in their infancy while they are here. It [is a] wonder how they are preserved. But the apostle tells us that they “through faith are shielded by God’s power” until salvation (1 Peter 1:5). Indwelling corruption would soon quench grace in their hearts if that grace were not kept alive by a divine power. But Christ’s power moderates the violence of temptations, supports his people under them, [and] defeats the power of Satan.
The power of God appears in the redemption of sinners by Jesus Christ. Thus in Scripture Christ is called the power as well as the wisdom of God. This is the most admirable work that God ever brought forth in the world.
More particularly, the power of God shines in Christ’s miraculous conception in the womb of a virgin. The power of the Highest overshadowed her (Luke 1:35), and by a creative act framed the humanity of Christ of the substance of the virgin’s body and united it to the divinity. If God will accomplish that stupendous wonder, much more will he rescue his people from their adversaries.
The power of God shines in uniting the divine and human nature in the person of Christ, without any confusion of the two natures or changing the one into the other. One nature does not swallow up another and make a third distinct from both. But they are distinct and yet united; the properties of each nature are preserved entire. What a wonder of power that two natures, divine and human, infinitely distant, should meet together in a personal conjunction! Here the Creator and the creature are miraculously allied in the same being. Here a God of unmixed blessedness is linked personally with a man of perpetual sorrows. That is an admirable expression, “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Nothing less than an omnipotent power could bring about what an infinite and incomprehensible wisdom projected in this matter.
Two Martyrs August 30
Christianity became firmly rooted in North Africa in the 200s, but the Roman emperors exerted every effort to pull it up. Among their targets: an urban bishop and a small-town pastor. The urban bishop was Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, who had turned his back on a promising political career to represent Christ. Though a relatively new convert, Cyprian was appointed bishop of Carthage in 248. “The stain of my earlier life had been washed away by the help of the water of birth [baptism],” he wrote, “and the second birth restored me so as to make me a new man.”
He served for ten years, steering the Carthage church through stormy days of persecution. At length, Roman Emperor Decius ordered the liquidation of all leading Christian bishops. News came of bishops executed in Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, Caesarea. Then the soldiers came for Cyprian, too. He was beheaded on August 30, 258.
Several years later, during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, a village pastor outside Carthage faced similar jeopardy. The persecution unleashed by Diocletian was the worst of all. Churches were destroyed, Bibles burned, and all civil rights of Christians were suspended. Diocletian required everyone to sacrifice to the gods. When Roman magistrates came to the village, they summoned leading Christians and ordered them to surrender their Bibles. The believers replied that their Pastor Felix had them in his possession, and he was away in Carthage. When Felix returned the next day, he was surrounded by troops who demanded he turn over the Bibles.
He refused. “It is better that I should be burnt myself than the Scriptures,” he told them. They gave him three days to reconsider his answer, then sent him to the proconsul in Carthage who suggested he wriggle out of the dilemma by offering some old Bibles and spare books.
Felix refused. “I have Bibles,” he said, “but I will not surrender them.” He was escorted to the lowest cell in the city’s filthiest prison for a month of misery, then shipped to Italy bound in heavy chains. He died en route on August 30, 303, in the hold of a ship carrying horses.
I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last. … So I command you to love each other. If the people of this world hate you, just remember that they hated me first.John 15:16-18.
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - August 30
“Wait on the Lord.” --- Psalm 27:14.
It may seem an easy thing to wait, but it is one of the postures which a Christian soldier learns not without years of teaching. Marching and quick-marching are much easier to God’s warriors than standing still. There are hours of perplexity when the most willing spirit, anxiously desirous to serve the Lord, knows not what part to take. Then what shall it do? Vex itself by despair? Fly back in cowardice, turn to the right hand in fear, or rush forward in presumption? No, but simply wait. Wait in prayer, however. Call upon God, and spread the case before him; tell him your difficulty, and plead his promise of aid. In dilemmas between one duty and another, it is sweet to be humble as a child, and wait with simplicity of soul upon the Lord. It is sure to be well with us when we feel and know our own folly, and are heartily willing to be guided by the will of God. But wait in faith. Express your unstaggering confidence in him; for unfaithful, untrusting waiting, is but an insult to the Lord. Believe that if he keep you tarrying even till midnight, yet he will come at the right time; the vision shall come and shall not tarry. Wait in quiet patience, not rebelling because you are under the affliction, but blessing your God for it. Never murmur against the second cause, as the children of Israel did against Moses; never wish you could go back to the world again, but accept the case as it is, and put it as it stands, simply and with your whole heart, without any self-will, into the hand of your covenant God, saying, “Now, Lord, not my will, but thine be done. I know not what to do; I am brought to extremities, but I will wait until thou shalt cleave the floods, or drive back my foes. I will wait, if thou keep me many a day, for my heart is fixed upon thee alone, O God, and my spirit waiteth for thee in the full conviction that thou wilt yet be my joy and my salvation, my refuge and my strong tower.”
Evening - August 30
“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed.”
--- Jeremiah 17:14.
“I have seen his ways, and will heal him.”
--- Isaiah 57:18.
It is the sole prerogative of God to remove spiritual disease. Natural disease may be instrumentally healed by men, but even then the honour is to be given to God who giveth virtue unto medicine, and bestoweth power unto the human frame to cast off disease. As for spiritual sicknesses, these remain with the great Physician alone; he claims it as his prerogative, “I kill and I make alive, I wound and I heal;” and one of the Lord’s choice titles is Jehovah-Rophi, the Lord that healeth thee. “I will heal thee of thy wounds,” is a promise which could not come from the lip of man, but only from the mouth of the eternal God. On this account the psalmist cried unto the Lord, “O Lord, heal me, for my bones are sore vexed,” and again, “Heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee.” For this, also, the godly praise the name of the Lord, saying, “He healeth all our diseases.” He who made man can restore man; he who was at first the creator of our nature can new create it. What a transcendent comfort it is that in the person of Jesus “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily!” My soul, whatever thy disease may be, this great Physician can heal thee. If he be God, there can be no limit to his power. Come then with the blind eye of darkened understanding, come with the limping foot of wasted energy, come with the maimed hand of weak faith, the fever of an angry temper, or the ague of shivering despondency, come just as thou art, for he who is God can certainly restore thee of thy plague. None shall restrain the healing virtue which proceeds from Jesus our Lord. Legions of devils have been made to own the power of the beloved Physician, and never once has he been baffled. All his patients have been cured in the past and shall be in the future, and thou shalt be one among them, my friend, if thou wilt but rest thyself in him this night.
I SURRENDER ALL
Judson W. Van De Venter, 1855–1939
Anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:38, 39)
The Bible teaches us that brokenness is a prerequisite to blessing and usefulness. No one ever achieves spiritual greatness until he has fully surrendered himself to God. Victorious living comes only as we abandon ourselves to the Lordship of Christ, becoming His loving bond slave. God’s best for our lives is not the result of struggle. Rather, it is simply the acceptance of His perfect will and the recognition of His authority in every area of our lives.
Higher than the highest heaven,
Deeper than the deepest sea,
Lord, Thy love at last hath conquered:
Grant me now my supplication,
None of self and all of Thee.
Judson Van De Venter wrote this text after surrendering his many talents to his all-wise Savior:
For some time, I had struggled between developing my talents in the field of art and going into full-time evangelistic work. At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all. A new day was ushered into my life, I became an evangelist and discovered down deep in my soul a talent hitherto unknown to me. God had hidden a song in my heart, and touching a tender chord, He caused me to sing.
After making his decision to devote his life to Christian service, Van De Venter ministered with much blessing in extensive evangelistic work both at home and abroad. Billy Graham is one of many who claim that Judson Van De Venter had greatly influenced their lives and ministry.
All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I free give; I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live.
All to Jesus I surrender, humbly at His feet I bow; worldly pleasures all forsaken, take me, Jesus, take me now.
All to Jesus I surrender, make me, Savior, wholly Thine; let me feel the Holy Spirit—truly know that Thou art mine.
All to Jesus I surrender, Lord, I give myself to Thee; fill me with Thy love and power; let Thy blessings fall on me.
Chorus: I surrender all, I surrender all, all to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.
For Today: Romans 6:8-14; 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20; Ephesians 3:16, 17
If you have lost the enthusiasm for Christ that you once had, make a fresh surrender to His will and Lordship. Sing as you go ---
DISCOURSE III - ON GOD’S BEING A SPIRIT
2. If God be a pure Spirit, “it is unreasonable to frame any image or picture of God.” Some heathens have been wiser in this than some Christians; Pythagoras forbade his scholars to engrave any shape of him upon a ring, because he was not to be comprehended by sense, but conceived only in our minds: our hands are as unable to fashion him, as our eyes to see him. The ancient Romans worshipped their gods one hundred and seventy years before any material representations of them; and the ancient idolatrous Germans thought it a wicked thing to represent God in a human shape; yet some, and those no Romanists, labor to defend the making images of God in the resemblance of maji, because he is so represented in Scripture: “He may be,” saith one, “conceived so in our minds, and figured so to our sense.” If this were a good reason, why may he not be pictured as a lion, horn, eagle, rock, since he is under such metaphors shadowed to us? The same ground there is for the one as for the other. What though man be a nobler creature, God hath no more the body of a man than that of an eagle; and some perfections in other creatures represent some excellencies in his nature and actions which cannot be figured by a human shape, as strength by the lion, swiftness and readiness by the wings of the bird. But God hath absolutely prohibited the making “any image” whatsoever of him, and that with terrible threatenings (Exod. 20:5): “I, the Lord, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon their children,” and Deut. 5:8, 9. After God had given the Israelites the commandment wherein he forbade them to have any other gods before him, he forbids all figuring of him by the hand of man; not only images, but any likeness of him, either by things in heaven, in the earth, or in the water. How often doth he discover his indignation by the prophets, against them that offer to mould him in a creature form! This law was not to serve a particular dispensation, or to endure a particular time, but it was a declaration of his will, invariable in all places and all times; being founded upon the immutable nature of his being, and therefore agreeable to the law of nature, otherwise not chargeable upon the heathens; and therefore when God had declared his nature and his works in a stately and majestic eloquence, he demands of them, “To whom they would liken him, or what likeness they would compare unto him?” (Isa. 40:18); where they could find anything that would be a lively image and resemblance of his infinite excellency? founding it upon the infiniteness of his nature, which necessarily implies the spirituality of it, God is infinitely above any statue: and those that think to draw God by a stroke of a pencil, or form him by the engravings of art, are more stupid than the statues themselves. To show the unreasonableness of it, consider,
1. It is impossible to fashion any image of God. If our more capacious souls cannot grasp his nature, our weaker sense cannot frame his image; it is more possible, of the two, to comprehend him in our minds, than to frame him in an image to our sense. He inhabits inaccessible light; as it is impossible for the eye of man to see him, it is impossible for the art of man to paint him upon walls, and carve him out of wood. None knows him but himself, none can describe him but himself. Can we draw a figure of our own souls, and express that part of ourselves, wherein we are most like to God? Can we extend this to any bodily figure, and divide it into parts? How can we deal so with the original copy, whence the first draught of our souls was taken, and which is infinitely more spiritual than men or angels? No corporeal thing can represent a spiritual substance; there is no proportion in nature between them. God is a simple, infinite, immense, eternal, invisible, incorruptible being; a statue is a compounded, finite, limited, temporal, visible, and corruptible body. God is a living spirit; but a statue nor sees, nor hears, nor perceives anything. But suppose God had a body, it is impossible to mould an image of it in the true glory of that body; can the statue of an excellent monarch represent the majesty and air of his countenance, though made by the skilfullest workman in the world? If God had a body in some measure suited to his excellency, were it possible for man to make an exact image of him, who cannot picture the light, heat, motion, magnitude, and dazzling property of the sun? The excellency of any corporeal nature of the (east creature, the temper, instinct, artifice, are beyond the power of a carving tool; much more is God.
2. To make any corporeal representations of God is unworthy of God. It is a disgrace to his nature. Whosoever thinks a carnal corruptible image to be fit for a representation of God, renders God no better than a carnal and a corporeal being. It is a kind of debasing an angel, who is a spiritual nature, to represent him in a bodily shape, who is as far removed from any fleshliness as heaven from earth; much more to degrade the glory of the divine nature to the lineaments of a man. The whole stock of images is but a lie of God (Jer. 10:8, 14); a doctrine of vanities and falsehood; it represents him in a false garb to the world, and sinks his glory into that of a corruptible creature. It impairs the reverence of God in the minds of men, and by degrees may debase men’s apprehensions of God, and be a means to make them believe he is such a one as themselves; and that not being free from the figure, he is not also free from the imperfections of the bodies. Corporeal images of God were the fruits of base imaginations of him; and as they sprung from them, so they contribute to a greater corruption of the notions of the divine nature: the heathens begun their first representations of him by the image of a corruptible man, then of birds, till they descended not only to four-footed beasts but creeping things, even serpents, as the apostle seems to intimate in his enumeration (Rom. 1:23): it had been more honorable to have continued in human representations of him, than have sunk so low as beasts and serpents, the baser images; though the first had been infinitely unworthy of him, he being more above a man, though the noblest creature, than man is above a worm, a toad, or the most despicable creeping thing upon the earth. To think we can make an image of God of a piece of marble, or an ingot of gold, is a greater debasing of him, than it would be of a great prince, if you should represent him in the statue of a frog. When the Israelites represented God by a calf it is said “they sinned a great sin” (Exod. 32:31): and the sin of Jeroboam, who intended only a representation of God by the calves at Dan and Bethel, is called more emphatically, “the wickedness of your wickedness,” the very scum and dregs of wickedness. As men deba sed God by this, so God debased men for this; he degraded the Israelites into captivity, under the worst of their enemies, and punished the heathens with spiritual judgments, as uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts (Rom. 1:24); which is repeated again in other expressions (ver. 26, 27), as a meet recompense for their disgracing the spiritual nature of God. Had God been like to man, they had not offended in it; but I mention this, to show a probable reason of those base lusts which are in the midst of us, that have scarce been exceeded by any nation, viz., the unworthy and unspiritual conceits of God, which are as much a debasing of him as material images were when they were more rife in the world; and may be as well the cause of spiritual judgments upon men, as the worshipping molten and carve images were the cause of the same upon the heathen.
3. Yet this is natural to man. Wherein we may see the contrariety of man to God. Though God be a Spirit, yet there is nothing man is more prone to, than to represent him under a corporeal form. The most famous guides of the heathen world have fashioned him, not only according to the more honorable images of men, but bestialized him in the form of a brute. The Egyptians, whose country was the school of learning to Greece, were notoriously guilty of this brutishness in worshipping an ox for an image of their God; and the Philistines their Dagon, in a figure composed of the image of a woman and a fish: such representations were ancient in the oriental parts. The gods of Laban, that he accuseth Jacob of stealing from him, are supposed to be little figures of men. Such was the Israelites’ golden calf; their worship was not terminated on the image, but they worshipped the true God under that representation; they could not be so brutish as to call a calf their deliverer, and give him so great a title (“These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt,” Exod. 32:4): or that which they knew belonged to the true God, “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” They knew the calf to be formed of their ear-rings, but they had consecrated it to God as a representation of him; though they chose the form of the Egyptian idol, yet they knew that Apis, Osiris, and Isis, the gods of the Egyptians adored in that figure, had not wrought their redemption from bondage, but would have used their force, had they been possessed of any, to have kept them under the yoke, rather than have freed them from it; the feast also which they celebrated before that image, is called by Aaron the feast of the Lord (Exod. 32:5); a feast to Jehovah, the incommunicable name of the creator of the world; it is therefore evident, that both the priest and the people pretended to serve the true God, not any false divinity of Egypt; that God who had rescued them from Egypt, with a mighty hand, divided the Red Sea before them, destroyed their enemies, conducted them, fed them by miracle, spoken to them from Mount Sinai, and amazed them by his thunderings and lightnings when he instructed them by his law; a God whom they could not so soon forget. And with this representing God by that image, they are charged by the Psalmist (Psalm 106:19, 20), “they made a calf in Horeb, and changed their glory into a similitude of an ox that eateth grass:” they changed their glory, that is, God, the glory of Israel; so that they took this figure for the image of the true God of Israel, their own God; not the God of any other nation in the world. Jeroboam intended no other by his calves, but symbols of the presence of the true God; instead of the ark and the propitiatory which remained among the Jews.
We see the inclination of our natures in the practice of the Israelites; a people chosen out of the whole world to bear up God’s name, and preserve his glory; and in that the images of God were so soon set up in the Christian church; and to this day, the picture of God, in the shape of an old man, is visible in the temple of the Romanists. It is prone to the nature of man,
4. To represent God by a corporeal image; and to worship him in and by that image, is idolatry. Though the Israelites did not acknowledge the calf to be God, nor intended a worship to any of the Egyptian deities by it; but worshipped that God in it, who had so lately and miraculously delivered them from a cruel servitude; and could not in natural reason judge him to be clothed with a bodily shape, much less to be like an ox that eateth grass; yet the apostle brings no less a charge against them than that of idolatry (1 Cor. 10:7); he calls them idolaters, who before that calf kept a feast to Jehovah, citing Exod. 32:5. Suppose we could make such an image of God as might perfectly represent him; yet since God hath prohibited it, shall we be wiser than God? He hath sufficiently manifested himself in his works without images: He is seen in the creatures, more particularly in the heavens, which declare his glory His works are more excellent representations of him, as being the works of his own hands, than anything that is the product of the art of man.
His glory sparkles in the heavens, sun, moon, and stars, as being magnificent pieces of his wisdom and power; yet the kissing the hand to the sun or the heavens, as representatives of the excellency and majesty of God, is idolatry in Scripture account, and a denial of God; a prostituting the glory of God to a creature. Either the worship is terminated on the image itself, and then it is confessed by all to be idolatry, because it is a giving that worship to a creature which is the sole right of God, or not terminated in the image, but in the object represented by it; it is then a foolish thing; we may as well terminate our worship on the true object without, as with an image. An erected statue is no sign or symbol of God’s special presence, as the ark, tabernacle, temple were. It is no part of divine institution; has no authority of a command to support it; no cordial of a promise to encourage it; and the image being infinitely distant from, and below the majesty and spirituality of God, cannot constitute one object of worship with him. To put a religious character upon any image formed by the corrupt imagination of man, as a representation of the invisible and spiritual Deity, is to think the Godhead to be like silver and gold, or stone graven by art and man’s device.
III. doctrine will direct us in our conceptions of God, as a pure perfect Spirit, than which nothing can be imagined more perfect, more pure, more spiritual.
1. We cannot have an adequate or suitable conception of God: He dwells in inaccessible light; inaccessible to the acuteness of our fancy, as well as the weakness of our sense. If we could have thoughts of him, as high and excellent as his nature, our conceptions must be as infinite as his nature. All our imaginations of him cannot represent him, because every created species is finite; it cannot therefore represent to us a full and substantial notion of an infinite Being. We cannot speak or think worthily enough of him, who is greater than our words, vaster than our understandings. Whatsoever we speak or think of God, is handed first to us by the notice we have of some perfection in the creature, and explains to us some particular excellency of God, rather than the fulness of his essence. No creature, nor all creatures together, can furnish us with such a magnificent notion of God, as can give us a clear view of him. Yet God in his word is pleased to step below his own excellency, and point us to those excellencies in his works, whereby we may ascend to the knowledge of those excellencies which are in his nature. But the creatures, whence we draw our lessons, being finite, and our understandings being finite, it is utterly impossible to have a notion of God commensurate to the immensity and spirituality of his being. “God is not like to visible creatures, nor is there any proportion between him and the most spiritual.” We cannot have a full notion of a spiritual nature, much less can we have of God, who is a Spirit above spirits. No spirit can clearly represent him: the angels, that are great sphits, are bounded in their extent, finite in their being, and of a mutable nature. Yet though we cannot have a suitable conception of God, we must not content ourselves without any conception of him. It is our sin not to endeavor after a true notion of him: it is our sin to rest in a mean and low notion of him, when our reason tells us we are capable of having higher: but if we ascend as high as we can, though we shall then come short of a suitable notion of him, this is not our sin, but our weakness. God is infinitely superior to the choicest conceptions, not only of a sinner, but of a creature. If all conceptions of God below the true nature of God were sin, there is not a holy angel in heaven free from sin; because, though they are the most capacious creatures, yet they cannot have such a notion of an infinite Being as is fully suitable to his nature, unless they were infinite as he himself is.
2. But, however, we must by no means conceive of God under a human or corporeal shape. Since we cannot have conceptions honorable enough for his nature, we must take heed we entertain not any which may debase his nature; though we cannot comprehend him as he is, we must be careful not to fancy him to be what he is not. It is a vain thing to conceive him with human lineaments: we must think higher of him than to ascribe to him so mean a shape we deny his spirituality when we fancy him under such a form. He is spiritual, and between that which is spiritual and that which is corporeal, there is no resemblance. Indeed, Daniel saw God in a human form (Dan. 7:9): “The Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hairs of his head like pure wool:” he is described as coming to judgment; it is not meant of Christ probably, because Christ (ver. 13) is called the Son of Man coming near to the Ancient of days. This is not the proper shape of God, for no man hath seen his shape. It was a vision wherein such representations were made, as were accommodated to the inward sense of Daniel; Daniel saw him in a rapture or ecstacy, wherein outward senses are of no use. God is described, not as he is in himself, of a human form, but in regard of his fitness to judge: “white,” notes the purity and simplicity of the Divine nature; “Ancient of days,” in regard of his eternity; “white hair,” in regard of his prudence and wisdom, which is more eminent in age than youth, and more fit to discern causes and to distinguish between right and wrong. Visions are riddles, and must not be understood in a literal sense.
We are to watch against such determinate conceptions of God. Vain imaginations do easily infest us; tinder will not sooner take fire than our natures kindle into wrong notions of the Divine Majesty. We are very apt to fashion a god like ourselves; we must therefore look upon such representations of God, as accommodated to our weakness: and no more think them to be literal descriptions of God, as he is in himself, than we will think the image of the sun in the water, to be the true sun in the heavens. We may, indeed, conceive of Christ as man, who hath in heaven the vestment of our nature, and is Deus figuratus, though we cannot conceive the godhead under a human shape.
1. To have such a fancy is to disparage and wrong God. A corporeal fancy of God is as ridiculous in itself, and as injurious to God, as a wooden statue. The caprices of our imagination are often more mysterious than the images which are the works of art; it is as irreligious to measure God’s essence by our line, his perfections by our imperfections, as to measure his thoughts and actings by the weakness and unworthiness of our own. This is to limit an infinite essence, and pull him down to our scanty measures, and render that which is unconceivably above us, equal with us. It is impossible we can conceive God after the manner of a body, but we must bring him down to the proportion of a body, which is to diminish his glory, and stoop him below the dignity of his nature. God is a pure Spirit, he hath nothing of the nature and tincture of a body; whosoever, therefore, conceives of him as having a bodily form, though he fancy the most beautiful and comely body, instead of owning his dignity, detracts from the super-eminent excellency of his nature and blessedness. When men fancy God like themselves in their corporeal nature, they will soon make a progress, and ascribe to him their corrupt nature; and while they clothe him with their bodies, invest him also in the infirmities of them. God is a jealous God, very sensible of any disgrace, and will be as much incensed against an inward idolatry as an outward: that command which forbade corporeal images, would not indulge /carnal imaginations; since the nature of God is as much wronged by unworthy images, erected in the fancy, as by statues carved out of stone or metals: one as well as the other is a deserting of our true spouse, and committing adultery; one with a material image, and the other with a carnal notion of God. Since God humbles himself to our apprehensions, we should not debase him in thinking him to be that in his nature, which he makes only a resemblance of himself to us.
2. To have such fancies of God, will obstruct and pollute our worship of him. How is it possible to give him a right worship, of whom we have so debasing a notion? We shall never think a corporeal deity worthy of a dedication of our spirits. The hating instruction, and casting God’s word behind the back, is charged upon the imagination they had, that “God was such a one as themselves” (Psalm 50:17, 21). Many of the wiser heathens did not judge their statues to be their gods, or their gods to be like their statues; but suited them to their politic designs; and judged them a good invention to keep people within the bounds of obedience and devotion, by such visible figures of them, which might imprint a reverence and fear of those gods upon them; but these are false measures; a despised and undervalued God is not an object of petition or affection. Who would address seriously to a God he has low apprehensions of? The more raised thoughts we have of him, the viler sense we shall have of ourselves; they would make us humble and self-abhorrent in our supplications to him (Job 42:6): “wherefore I abhor myself,”
3. Though we must not conceive of God, as of a human or corporeal shape; yet we cannot think of God, without some reflection upon our own being. We cannot conceive him to be an intelligent being, but we must make some comparison between him and our own understanding nature to come to a knowledge of him. Since we are enclosed in bodies, we apprehend nothing but what comes in by sense, and what we in some sort measure by sensible objects. And in the consideration of those things which we desire to abstract from sense, we are fain to make use of the assistance of sense and visible things: and therefore when we frame the highest notion, there will be some similitude of some corporeal thing in our fancy; and though we would spiritualize our thoughts, and aim at a more abstracted and raised understanding, yet there will be some dregs of matter sticking to our conceptions; yet we still judge by argument and reasoning, what the thing is we think of under those material images. A corporeal image will follow us, as the shadow doth the body. While we are in the body, and surrounded with fleshly matter, we cannot think of things without some help from corporeal representations: something of sense will interpose itself in our purest conceptions of spiritual things; for the faculties which serve for contemplation, are either corporeal, as the sense and fancy, or so allied to them, that nothing passes into them but by the organs of the body; so that there is a natural inclination to figure nothing but under a corporeal notion, till by an attentive application of the mind and reason to the object thought upon, we separate that which is bodily from that which is spiritual, and by degrees ascend to that true notion of that we think upon, and would have a due conception of in our mind. Therefore God tempers the declaration of himself to our weakness, and the condition of our natures. He condescends to our littleness and narrowness, when he declares himself by the similitude of bodily members. As the light of the sun is tempered, and difuseth itself to our sense through the air and vapors, that our weak eyes may not be too much dazzled with it; without it we could not know or judge of the sun, because we could have no use of our sense, which we must have before we can judge of it in our understanding; so we are not able to conceive of spiritual beings in the purity of their own nature, without such a temperament, and such shadows to usher them into our minds. And therefore we find the Spirit of God accommodates himself to our contracted and teddered capacities, and uses such expressions of God as are suited to us in this state of flesh wherein we are. And therefore because we cannot apprehend God in the simplicity of his own being, and his undivided essence, he draws the representations of himself from several creatures and several actions of those creatures: as sometimes he is said to be angry, to walk, to sit, to fly; not that we should rest in such conceptions of him, but take our rise from this foundation, and such perfections in the creatures, to mount up to a knowledge of God’s nature by those several steps, and conceive of him by those divided excellencies, because we cannot conceive of him in the purity of his own essence. We cannot possibly think or speak of God, unless we transfer the names of created perfections to him; yet we are to conceive of them in a higher manner when we apply them to the Divine nature, than when we consider them in the several creatures formally, exceeding those perfections and excellencies which are in the creature, and in a more excellent manner: “as one saith, though we cannot comprehend God without the help of such resemblances, yet we may, without making an image of him; so that inability of ours excuseth those apprehensions of him from any way offending against his Divine nature.” These are not notions so much suite to the nature of God as the weakness of man. They are helps to our meditations, but ought not to be formal conceptions of him. We may assist ourselves in our apprehensions of him, by considering the subtilty and spirituality of air; and considering the members of a body, without thinking him to be air, or to have any corporeal member. Our reason tells us, that whatsoever is a body, is limited and bounded; and the notion of infiniteness and bodiliness, cannot agree and consist together: and therefore what is offered by our fancy should be purified by our reason.
4. Therefore we are to elevate and refine all our notions of God, and spiritualize our conceptions of him. Every man is to have a conception of God; therefore he ought to have one of the highest elevation. Since we cannot have a full notion of him, we should endeavor to make it as high and as pure as we can. Though we cannot conceive of God, but some corporeal representations or images in our minds will be conversant with us, as motes in the air when we look upon the heavens, yet our conceptions may and must rise higher. As when we see the draught of the heavens and earth in a globe, or a kingdom in a map, it helps our conceptions, but doth not terminate them: we conceive them to be of a vast extent, far beyond that short description of them. So we should endeavor to refine every representation of God, to rise higher and higher, and have our apprehensions still more purified; separating the perfect from the imperfect, casting away the one, and greatening the other; conceive him to be a Spirit diffused through all, containing all, perceiving all. All the perfections of God are infinitely elevated above the excellencies of the creatures; above whatsoever can be conceived by the clearest and most piercing understanding. The nature of God as a Spirit is infinitely superior to whatsoever we can conceive perfect in the notion of a created spirit. Whatsoever God is, he is infinitely so: he is infinite Wisdom, infinite Goodness, infinite Knowledge, infinite Power, infinite Spirit; infinitely distant from the weakness of creatures, infinitely mounted above the excellencies of creatures: as easy to be known that he is, as impossible to be comprehended what he is. Conceive of him as excellent, without any imperfection; a Spirit without parts; great without quantity; perfect without quality; everywhere without place; powerful without members; understanding without ignorance; wise without reasoning; light without darkness; infinitely more excelling the beauty of all creatures, than the light in the sun, pure and unviolated, exceeds the splendor of the sun dispersed and divided through a cloudy and misty air: and when you have risen to the highest, conceive him yet infinitely above all you can conceive of spirit, and acknowledge the infirmity of your own minds. And whatsoever conception comes into your minds, say, This is not God; God is more than this: if I could conceive him, he were not God; for God is incomprehensibly above whatsoever I can say, whatsoever I can think and conceive of him.
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. CXXXIV. — THIS one thing, however, my friend Erasmus, I entreat of you — do not consider that I conduct this cause more according to my temper, than according to my principles. I will not suffer it to be insinuated, that I am hypocrite enough to write one thing and believe another. I have not (as you say of me) been carried so far by the heat of defensive argument, as to ‘deny here “Free-will” altogether for the first time, having conceded something to it before.’ Confident I am, that you can find no such concession any where in my works. There are questions and discussions of mine extant, in which I have continued to assert, down to this hour, that there is no such thing as “Free-will;” that it is a thing formed out of an empty term; (which are the words I have there used). And I then thus believed and thus wrote, as overpowered by the force of truth when called and compelled to the discussion. And as to my always conducting discussions with ardour, I acknowledge my fault, if it be a fault: nay, I greatly glory in this testimony which the world bears of me, in the cause of God: and may God Himself confirm the same testimony in the last day! Then, who more happy than Luther — to be honoured with the universal testimony of his age, that he did not maintain the Cause of Truth lazily, nor deceitfully, but with a real, if not too great, ardour! Then shall I be blessedly clear from that word of Jeremiah, “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully!” (Jer. xlviii. 10).
But if I seem to be somewhat more severe than usual upon your Diatribe — pardon me. I do it not from a malignant heart, but from concern; because I know, that by the weight of your name you greatly endanger this cause of Christ: though, by your learning, as to real effect, you can do nothing at all. And who can always so temper his pen as never to grow warm? For even you, who from a show of moderation grow almost cold in this book of yours, not unfrequently hurl a fiery and gall-dipped dart: so much so, that if the reader were not very liberal and kind, he could not but consider you virulent. But however, this is nothing to the subject point. We must mutually pardon each other in these things; for we are but men, and there is nothing in us that is not touched with human infirmity.
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library